Robin Coste Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus—a poetry collection that explores the intersections among motherhood, beauty, gender violence, and art history in the elusive and obscured figures of Black women in Western art—is extraordinary in its scope and ambition and is perhaps unlike any poetry collection hitherto published. Below are six titles that would pair well with and amplify many of the core themes, questions, and narrative concerns of the collection. Be sure to sign up for Alta Journal’s California Book Club, which will discuss Voyage of the Sable Venus with Lewis at its June 17 gathering. To join the California Book Club, click here.•
Hartman offers an intimate speculative history of the lives of Black women in Philadelphia and New York during the early 20th century. Using history and fiction, Hartman explores the meaning of kinship, visibility, and intimacy within the quotidian rhythms of people who have been marginalized, forsaken, or degraded, centering their contributions to Black cultural and political movements.
Eady takes the infamous 1994 Susan Smith criminal case as the subject of the first cycle of poems in his poetry collection, which became a finalist for a National Book Award for Poetry. In particular, Eady conjures the imaginary Black man whom Smith accused of stealing her car and kidnapping her sons to startling and harrowing effect, outlining the construction of Blackness in a white psychic landscape.
In her groundbreaking essay, Hartman considers the ubiquity of the Venus figure in historical archives of Atlantic slavery, as well as the stunning contradiction that she is everywhere and nowhere. Like Lewis, Hartman investigates the cruelty of the archive, along with how encountering it shifts our relationship with history and knowledge production.
Singh offers a multiform book that is memoir, critical theory, and poetry all at once to explore the nature of the human body and what it means to remember and memorialize it.
English makes the argument that if we look at Black art with a capacious perspective, one that is not limited by the Blackness of the artist, we will be able to apprehend and assess the tensions between one’s creative vision and artistic obligation, with all its attendant historical and aesthetic particularities.
Professor and historian Cooks takes a deep dive into the practices of curation in American museums, with a focus on the primary methodologies of exhibiting the work of Black artists, exposing the larger problems and complexities of art history’s relationship with Blackness and difference.