The Beauty, Terror, and Grace of Growing Up Black in America According to Imani Perry

By Gayatri Patnaik

Imani Perry
Author photo: Sameer Khan

Several months ago, when I was in the midst of editing Imani Perry’s biography of Lorraine Hansberry (Looking for Lorraine), I remember stopping and thinking about how special Imani’s voice was. She is extremely knowledgeable and intellectually sophisticated, but she also had this ability to write about Hansberry in an intimate way, and with an eloquent simplicity. A few minutes later, I happened to read a Facebook post from Imani about one of her sons and I immediately thought, How lucky her kids are to have Imani as their mother. And then I became curious and wondered, How is she educating them? What is Imani telling them about life and about coming of age as Black men in America? That led to my asking her if she’d write a book about it . . . and it’s almost as though Imani were waiting to be asked, because Breathe: A Letter to My Sons literally poured out of her in two months!

Breathe is a profound take on parenting and mothering. It’s moving, tender, gut wrenching, wise, and intense. Most of all, it’s fresh and authentic. To me, Breathe feels like spending time with a brilliant, thought-provoking, and true friend—one who never shies away from harsh realities but simultaneously refuses to succumb to despair. Imani effectively conveys how terrifying it is to be Black in America; however, she also instructs her sons to refuse to be cowed by fear and injustice, insisting they live a robust and full life.

 I wanted to mention that the cover art here is original and was created for the book by Ekua Holmes, a Roxbury-based artist. Using Ms. Holmes’s art, a suggestion by assistant editor Maya Fernandez, was a good one; her art hangs in many collections, and Imani happens to be a fan of her work as well. Ms. Holmes’s goal was to create a bold, rich, meditative, elegant, and rhythmic design. We think she succeeded!

Finally, I would say that this is a book you’ll want to re-read, discovering something new each time. It’s truly a remarkable book and an original one, and I can’t wait for more readers to discover it.


About the Author 

Gayatri Patnaik is associate director and editorial director at Beacon Press. She was previously an editor at both Palgrave Macmillan and Routledge, has been at Beacon Press over fifteen years and has published authors including Imani Perry, Cornel West, Kate Bornstein, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and Jeanne Theoharis. She acquires in US History, with a focus on African American History and race/ethnicity/immigration, and began Beacon’s award-winning “ReVisioning American History” series. Gayatri occasionally signs memoir, began Beacon’s LGBTQ series, “Queer Action/Queer Ideas,” (edited with Michael Bronski) and developed books in “The King Legacy,” with Joanna Green, in a series about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Follow her on Twitter at @gpatnaik1.

The Patriarchy Doesn’t Stand a Chance Against Mona Eltahawy’s 7 Necessary Sins

By Rakia Clark

Mona Eltahawy_The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls
Author photo credit: Angel García.

Meeting Mona Eltahawy for the first time is like a bolt of lightning. Bold, vibrant, bright red hair, tattoos on both forearms, big, big smile, the works. Sitting down for the first time to discuss what would become The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, I was captivated by the powerful simplicity of the book’s central questions: What would happen if girls around the world were trained up to embrace the same qualities we encourage in boys? What if women around the world lived their lives with the same freedom men felt?

These are not difficult questions and yet they don’t get asked enough, much less implemented. Mona’s been asking these questions for years, of course, through her journalism and through her activism. But never have the questions felt as important as they do today.

In a moment when the rights of women worldwide are slowly being rolled back and the cultural markers of progress are being relitigated, The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls feels like a much-needed breath of fresh air. Mona’s advocacy for the tactical use of anger, attention, profanity, ambition, power, violence and lust feels provocative and daring, because she is unapologetic in her demands for equality. It becomes clear why she is one of the loudest, most followed voices on feminism today. She weaves in her personal experience as a woman of color and as a Muslim throughout. And I was particularly heartened to read stories of foreign activists whose struggles are often portrayed as distant or unrelated to Western feminism. They’re not as different as you think. Mona connects it all.

Both Mona and the book are fantastic. (This is not the only F word you’ll find associated with either!) The writing is lively, energetic and utterly compelling. There are passages where you will cheer. You will take out your highlighter. And you will share this book with women and men so that they, too, can feel what you feel after reading it: that, to paraphrase Mona, the book is not a roadmap to peace with patriarchy; rather, it is a Molotov cocktail to throw at it.


About the Author 

Rakia Clark was former senior editor at Beacon Press and the editor of Mona Eltahawy’s The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls. Follow her on Twitter at @rakiathegreat.

Believe It or Not, Young Climate Change Activists Need Us to Show Up

By Lyn Mikel Brown

Greta Thunberg, outside the Swedish parliament.
Greta Thunberg, outside the Swedish parliament. Photo credit: Anders Hellberg.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg made her way to New York City a few weeks ago via an emission-free racing yacht. She’s here to tell us, as she’s been doing since she was eleven, that “our house is on fire.” The climate crisis is urgent. We dismiss it at our own peril.

You don’t have to believe her. You don’t have to believe photos of starving polar bears rummaging through piles of garbage or videos of Greenland’s glaciers transformed to rushing water. You don’t have to believe NASA or the Academies of Science from eighty countries or 97% of climate researchers. You can dismiss non-sharpie-altered maps of sea level rise and floods devastating the Midwest and South, wave aside the significance of fires burning in the Amazon rainforest, roll your eyes at UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet’s assessment that climate change is an unprecedented global threat to human rights.

No, you don’t have to believe any of it. But if you are a parent or a teacher, if you raise or educate or care for a young person, you have a responsibility to listen and understand why they do and why this matters so much to them. Because if there’s any chance, any chance in hell, that this is all really happening, it’s in their lap, and trust me, they are plenty worried and plenty angry. 

I’ve been listening to and working with young activists for a long time. Guess what? They don’t need adults to believe in their causes. But they do need us to support them, to have faith in them, to care that they believe enough to act. And we should. It is good for all of us when youth feel they are in the world to change the world. It is good for a world rife with wicked problems to have a young generation filled with energy that hasn’t yet been dispersed, drained, or redirected.

Activism isn’t something anyone does alone. For Greta and fellow US youth climate activists like Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, Isra Hirsi, Jerome Foster II, and Jamie Margolin, indeed for any young person working for social change, there’s always a network of adults and fellow activists supporting. And make no mistake, youth want us in their corner, helping them to create the conditions for movement. But being the kind of adult youth activists need isn’t easy. The hardest thing of all is learning how not to be a well-intentioned version of what feminist scholar Sarah Ahmed calls “the wall”: how not to be the barrier between youth and their passions; how not to interrupt the flow of energy and ideas; how not to be the force that cuts them off from the deepest parts of themselves.

When I ask young activists what advice they would give adults who want to support them, they say, “Let us be creative and have our strong feelings.” Give us “the opportunity to speak out and have our opinions heard.” Don’t “dim down our energy and excitement,” don’t “take control over a lot of things.” The list goes on: “be honest,” “be a decent person,” “show that you care,” “be open,” “listen,” “check your adult privilege.” And, most of all, “show up!”

As Rebecca Solnit says, “perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible.” What makes youth activism especially powerful—its rich, organic imperfection—can turn adults off. But I can say from experience that showing up is not only vital to the success of youth movements, it’s good for us. Youth have a way of teaching us unexpected things, helping us rediscover the value of openness, of messiness; they reveal truths we’ve forgotten. Listening to young people is mind-altering. As they learn to care deeply and act to make the world better, as they bravely step into the fray, as their willfulness reveals the wall, we learn how to be more porous, more open; we learn to let go, to use our power to create more space and opportunity.

As we speak, Greta and team are marshalling a youthful army of climate activists via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to join a global climate strike on Friday, September 20. They are hoping adults everywhere believe enough in them and in this cause to walk out of our homes and work places in support.

I hope you believe. I hope you take your kids out of school, arrange carpools and class trips, and attend Friday’s march-out with the young people in your life. If you don’t buy it, I hope you engage in a little willing suspension of disbelief and support them on this issue they feel so passionate about. They can’t vote, but they can march; they can be visible and heard. If you do nothing else, just write the permission slips, purchase the markers and posters, pack the lunches, and make sure they get on the bus.


About the Author 

Lyn Mikel Brown is professor of education at Colby College, founder of SPARK Movement, and author of Powered By Girl: A Field Guide For Supporting Youth Activists. Follow her on Twitter at @LynMikel and visit her website.

Beacon Behind the Books: Meet Bella Sanchez, Assistant to the Director of Sales and Marketing

Isabella Sanchez

In these times when readers are responding to our books “more than ever,” when our authors—including Richard Blanco, Imani Perry, Robin DiAngelo, Dina Gilio-Whitaker, and Bettina Love—are appearing in the media, their ideas going viral on social media, their voices being heard on so many platforms, we thought it might be good to take a break to focus on some of the staff who work hard to find, shape, edit, produce, and promote those works. Our blog series “Beacon Behind the Books” introduces to you a member of our staff and gives you a behind-the-scenes look, department by department, at what goes on at our office.

For the month of September, we introduce you to our assistant to the director of sales and marketing, Bella Sanchez! 

What drew you to publishing, Bella? How did you find your way to Beacon?

As most people in publishing will say, I’ve always really, really, loved reading. English was the only subject throughout school that I truly cared about, and the idea of getting to work with books all the time always seemed like an absolute dream to me.

What’s your advice to someone interested in entering the publishing field?

Intern anywhere you can! Even if you don’t get one of those elusive publishing internships that four hundred people apply to, find an internship that will help you get the skills that you need.

What helps you focus when you’re at work?

I like listening to some mellow music to help block any distractions. I’m currently into Clairo and Omar Apollo. I particularly recommend Clairo’s newest bop, “Sofia, which I’ve listened to an unhealthy amount of times.

What do you wish someone had told you about publishing when you were entering the industry?

When I was first thinking about working in publishing, I only had my sights set on editorial. Once I began working at Beacon, however, I realized just how many other jobs there are within the industry. What I enjoy the most about books is convincing other people to read them, and my role within marketing, sales, and foreign rights lines up well with that. Keep your mind open to other jobs and tasks outside of editorial! You might find something that you enjoy even more.

What’s your commute like? What do you do to pass the time on your way into the office?

My commute is a solid hour from Brighton, but I don’t mind it too much. I always read or listen to audiobooks on the ride and end up at work before I know it. There are usually frequent delays on the green line, but I find that it really puts things into perspective. It makes you ask yourself questions like, “If I never get off this train, can I say I have lived a life worth living?” or “Do I have enough snacks in my bag if my train derails and I’m stuck for five hours in a tunnel?”

Hobbies outside of work?

I teach yoga outside of work, and I work out quite a bit—anything from yoga, to spin, to weightlifting. It really helps me destress but it also means that I have the back of an 82-year-old. But in the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” The last part truthfully does not apply to me, but I can appreciate the sentiment.

Current favorite books?

I read a quite a bit, to the point that my librarian has asked me if I am “going through something.” I did feel a little judged, but that has not stopped me from requesting an obscene amount of books from the library every week. My current favorites are:

Normal People by Sally Rooney. This book will absolutely break your heart, but it’s worth it. I rarely read something where the characters feel completely, wholly real. I highly recommend it!

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. This is a great book to read immediately after you have fallen into a Sally Rooney-induced depression. It’s very fun and adorable, and you’ll have a smile on your face the entire time you read it.


About Bella Sanchez 

Bella Sanchez joined Beacon Press in 2018 as the assistant to the director of sales and marketing. She received her BA in English from Boston University in 2018, where she worked as a research assistant for the director of Museum Studies and as a Writing Fellow. She is particularly fond of podcasts and reading five books at once.