Rambling, Surviving, Painting: Underlife Times Three, DC 2020

The “What It Cost Us” Authors

The events that shook DC in 2020 are the backdrop for each of this month’s stories. Each offers unique insider’s perspectives ‒ razor wire around the Capitol and National Mall, virtual school days and family dynamics, finding humor and joy and movement to stave off the numbing disquiet ‒ during the isolating and trying events of 2020 and early 2021.

American Ramble: A Walk of Memory and Renewal

When Neil King’s story of walking for 26 days and over 330 miles to New York City begins, he’s just dodged a cancer diagnosis and the National Mall is still fenced-off and patrolled by the National Guard. In this unusual travelogue, peppered with history, encounters with the folk of farmland and suburb and reflections on who we are as a people ‒ soured, skeptical, anxious, standoffish, frank, yet too, curious, welcoming, encouraging, hopeful and enigmatic ‒ King narrates his journey and gives voice to a living US both banal and strange below the national news cycles. 

Early in his recounting, King cites poet Mary Oliver: “Attention … is the beginning of devotion.” As he walks, the former Wall Street Journal writer dwells in fond attentiveness on the fields and streams, the byways and forests, historic sites, place markers, cemeteries, homes and exurbs that are the way. Readers will enjoy King’s keen descriptions of encounters with the people and places (some more open to strangers than others) on his route to the crossroads of Central Park. An ode to the ramble, to “measuring time by foot fall,” to the underlives of our region and to human connection that will stay with readers.

Spare but moody black and white drawings by George Hamilton complement King’s narrative, making a hard copy a must-have for readers who want an endearing and poetic vision of the region.

“American Ramble: A Walk of Memory and Renewal” can be found at local booksellers.

What It Cost Us: A Summer of Pandemic & Protest in DC

Coming of age in 2020, a year of pandemic isolation, Black Lives Matter marches and protests for social justice, stoppered by the January insurrection, is the topic of this local publication from DC-based Shout Mouse Press. The 10 young BIPOC authors who contribute to this collection share snapshots and reflections on their everyday lives during a year cleaved by tumultuous unrest and tight monotony.

From the dissociated mundanity of preparing to graduate from high school via virtual technology, to emotional text exchanges, break ups and difficulties with friends, parents and siblings, to the mental health struggles of isolation, and the uncertainties of irascible marginality, this collection of fierce young voices is, in turns, raw, humorous, angry, hopeful, loving and simply very real.

As Bilal Saleem writes in his bio for the collection, “Despite all the nastiness and turmoil that the past couple of years had to offer, we’re still getting through it, one day at a time.”

Stories are complemented by original artwork, maps, headlines, DC Council press releases, text exchanges and social media posts. Shout Mouse Press, a nonprofit, seeks to amplify the voices of underheard youth.

Readers will find “What It Cost Us” at www.shoutmousepress.org.

“The Corona Diaries: Sketches from 400 Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Graphic artist and designer Debora Naylor’s book of daily watercolors captures the tempered anxieties of lockdown in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Captured with humor, affection and ragged color in 128 diary entries, here is Capitol Hill life under a shelter-in-place order: parks and open spaces as furtive social sites, walking routes, boredom, varied parades of masks as “personal protective fashion statements,” small elations of ordering take out coffee in a cafe and a snow day, day-to-day strategizing to avid contagion, aka “emerg[ing] from our cave shortly after dawn to hunt and gather at the best time of day ‒ (taking advantage of old-geezer hour at the grocer).”

The diary ends as the author and her husband peer out their front doors gazing with relief and exuberance into a future that is sunshine and greenery. Steeped in a heartfelt gratitude for the people, places, health and neighborhoods that carried us through.

For more info about the “Corona Diaries” visit www.dchistory.org and look for “Corona Diaries” under the “Books and Posters” tab.

Podcasts for DC Booklovers

For lit-lovers looking for a good listen, three excellent local podcasts about authors, books and writing craft, and the library.

“The Black Writer’s Studio”

The Hurston Wright Foundation’s podcast, an outgrowth of its annual awards celebration, explores the books and craft of Black writers of all genres. Episodes feature award winners such as poet Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, journalist Gary Younge and novelist Jacqueline Woodson.

Visit www.hurstonwright.org or stream, or download on iTunes and SoundCloud.

“Inner Loop: A Literary

Reading Series”

Led by Rachel Coonce and Courtney Sexton, “Inner Loop” hosts readings of local writers as well as community-focused discussions of events and opportunities in the DC metro area. Authors to be featured in the remaining months of 2023 include Jacki Lyden, Bethane Patrick, Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Eric Weiner, Thea Brown, and Alexia Arthurs. Find the podcast at www.theinnerlooplit.org, Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, GooglePlay and other podcast hosting sites.

You can also view the podcast on the “Inner Loop” dedicated You Tube page.

DC Public Library Bookcast

Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the DC Public Library podcast hosts book and historical talks, stories about the library, library services and events and other conversations for book lovers, library goers and residents. The podcast is recorded at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library Lab. Transcripts are available upon request. To listen go to https://dcplpodcast.simplecast.com/.

2023 Literary Hill Bookfest

Typically held in early May, the Literary Hill Bookfest has pushed back to autumn this year. The annual celebration of the “vibrant literary culture” of Capitol Hill, including local authors and booksellers, will be held on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in historic Eastern Market.

This fall’s bookfest will host returning vendors and ‒ the stars of the show ‒ fiction, history, mystery, memoir and political and children’s books authors who happen to be our neighbors.

For more info, to volunteer or to highlight your published work, email info@literaryhillbookfest.org.

Michelle LaFrance is associate professor of English at George Mason University. She teaches creative nonfiction, life writing and civic writing at the Hill Center. In her free time, she can be found reading, writing and hiking the region’s forests with two mischievous four-leggeds.