One with others : [a little book of her days]

by C. D. Wright

Hardcover, 2010

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Available

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Port Townsend, WA : Copper Canyon Press, 2010.

Description

The author returns to her native Arkansas and examines an explosive incident grounded in the Civil Rights Movement. Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, interviews, newspaper accounts, and personal memories--especially those of her mentor, V--as she draws directly upon the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, activists, and a group of black students at the eye of the storm.

Media reviews

In 1969, a Tennessean known as "Sweet Willie Wine" led a small group of African-American men on a "walk against fear" through small-town Arkansas. This event grounds Wright's most recent blending of poetry and investigative journalism. A tribute to Wright's mentor--an autodidact, activist, and bourbon-swilling mother of eight, whose support for the march ("I would have followed Sweet Willie Wine into hell") made her "a disaffiliated member of her race"--the book probes the limits and intersections of the personal and the political. Wright intersperses descriptions of the Arkansas landscape; her own journey researching; transcriptions from V, her family, and others who experienced the events of that violent summer; lists of prices ("the only sure thing in those days"); the weather ("temperatures in the 90s even after a shower"), newspaper headlines; and personal memories. Through juxtaposition and repetition, she weaves a compelling, disturbing, and often beautiful tapestry that at once questions the ability of language to get at the complicated truth of history ("because the warp is everywhere"), and underscores the ethical imperative to try. As Wright learns from V, "To act, just to act. That was the glorious thing."

User reviews

LibraryThing member kidzdoc
The setting for this outstanding poetry collection, which won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, is Forrest City, Arkansas, a small Delta town with nearly equal numbers of black and white residents, who lived in separate and very unequal conditions in 1969. Schools remained segregated, despite the passage of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision 15 years earlier, and although black residents were not formally excluded from white-owned establishments and neighborhoods, they knew that they were putting their lives at risk if they dared to anger any white person in town.

In March of that year, a school teacher at an all-black school in Forrest City was fired due to his participation in the town's fledgling civil rights movement, which included encouraging his students to engage in peaceful protests. The students, who were tired of attending classes in a decrepit building and having to use torn textbooks discarded by students at the all-white school, responded by nearly destroying the hated building and its contents. The local police, headed by a virulently racist sheriff, beat and arrested the youths, herded them into an empty swimming pool, and threatened to kill them en masse before they were eventually released.

Tension mounted in the broiling summer of 1969, as members of the John Birch Society stirred up extreme racial hatred amongst the town's white residents; most blacks cowed publicly, while a smaller number engaged in limited protests, and community leaders sought to organize a substantial protest movement. Help was requested from a group in nearby Memphis known as the Invaders, which became prominent in the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike that led to Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination on April 4. The Invaders were led by Lance "Sweet Willie Wine" Watson, a former hustler turned community activist and self appointed Messiah, and the group was portrayed as a group of dangerous, violent militants by the white media in Memphis. The group set off on a four day march from West Memphis, Arkansas to Little Rock, Arkansas, which included a stop in Forrest City. Local white officials there learned about the march, and a group of whites awaited their arrival.

C.D. Wright, who grew up in Arkansas and was a young woman in 1969, describes the events that took place in Forrest City that year, mainly through the eyes of her friend and mentor 'V', a white resident of the town who crossed over and supported the marchers, but also through interviews with other residents and information obtained from newspaper clippings. Wright expertly weaves these stories into a unique poetic narrative that brings the story to light and compellingly portrays the town's oppressive atmosphere and its black and white residents, none better than V:

She woke up in a housebound rage, my friend V. Changed diapers. Played poker. Drank bourbon. Played duplicate bridge, made casseroles, grape salad, macaroni and cheese. Played cards with the priest. Made an argument for school uniforms, but the parents were concerned the children would be indistinguishable. She was thinking: affordable, uniforms. You can distinguish them, she argued, by their shoes. It was a mind on fire, a body confined.

And, on the other side of Division, a whole other population in year-round lockdown.

A girl that knew all Dante once
Live{d} to bear children to a dunce.

{Yeats she knew well enough to wield as a weapon. It would pop out when she was put out. Over the ironing board. Over cards. Some years the Big Tree Catholic foursome would all be pregnant at once, playing bridge, their cards propped up on distended stomachs. Laughing their bourbon-logged heads off.}

She had a brain like the Reading Room in the old British Museum. She could have donned fingerless gloves and written Das Kapital while hexagons of snowflakes tumbled by the windowpanes. She could have made it up whole cloth. She could have sewn the cotton out of her own life. While the Thames froze over.

She loved: Words. Cats. Long-playing records. Laughter. Men.

Alcohol. Cigarettes. The supernatural. It makes for a carnal list. Pointless to rank. Five in diapers at once—a stench, she claimed, she never got used to.


One with Others is easily one of the best poetry collections I've ever read, one whose terrifying beauty deserves to be widely appreciated and savored.
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LibraryThing member Paulagraph
Predates the Help (#1 read in local books stores in 2011) & is so much better (truer, more authentic, whatever you want to call it)than that bestseller. No stereotyped white frat boys or stereotyped debutantes as easy villains. Nor stereotyped philandering black husbands for that matter. But rather, one white woman, as well as many black civil rights activists, with plenty of warts & flaws and some very admirable virtues & appealing idiosyncrasies. This book just brought so much to mind, past and present. History & the very personal life both.… (more)

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