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Early in poet Charif Shanahan’s latest collection, Trace Evidence, we encounter the lines: “I want to tell you what for me it has been like. // To speak at all / I must occupy a position // In a system whose positions / I appear not to occupy.” How does one connect to others, be seen and heard by others, make art about oneself in language, when language itself does not capture one’s identity, when the available categories do not describe your life, when one’s identity is defined by its instability or uncategorizability? Today’s conversation looks at complex intersections between Arabness and Blackness, between North Africa and North America, between a mother’s self-conception and a son’s very different one, and the ways different legacies of race—historically, geopolitically—can ripple through the most intimate of spaces, within a family, between lovers, before one’s therapist, among one’s peers. Shanahan’s very particular journey around finding a language, a poetics, that can more fully evoke his embodied life experience tells us all something about the construction of self more generally, about the relationship of language to self-making, and about what possibilities the ways we are categorized, or categorize ourselves, either open up or foreclose.
For the bonus audio archive Shanahan contributes a reading of a long excerpt from what will be his next book, a polyvocal, epistolary project called Dear Whiteness. In addition, Mizna, the journal of Arab American art, literature, and culture, has also contributed copies of issues related to today’s conversation, or which might be of particular interest to listeners of the show, for new supporters of the show. These are only two of many possible benefits of joining the Between the Covers community as a listener supporter. You can find out more at the show’s Patreon page.
Finally here is the Bookshop for today’s episode, with Charif’s books but also books by everyone from Safia Elhillo to Chouki El Hamel.