mónica teresa ortiz

As the Texas legislature attempts to ban books; dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion; and threaten LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, poet and author KB Brookins’ debut memoir, Pretty, arrives when we need it most. Brookins is a Black, queer and trans writer and cultural worker whose previous work includes two poetry collections, Freedom House and How to Identify Yourself With a Wound. Pretty details their experience navigating gender and Black masculinity while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, exploring how they have moved through a world of cisgender Black and non-Black people, from their biological parents to their adopted family, from classmates to lovers, and from their gender transition through adulthood.

Brookins spent their youth challenging binary spaces and expectations. From early childhood to the present, they have desired to be seen as pretty, and this book is the search to find out what that means for them: “Though not gendered, we often associate prettiness with womanhood, femininity, and objects we see as dainty,” they write. “I’ve never been interested in womanhood, but I’ve always wanted to be treated softly, like a fat pleasantry to the eyes.” Through often striking prose and imagery, Brookins questions the restrictions involved in those associations: “When I was femme, my prettiness was canceled out by Blackness. When I was butch, my prettiness was seen as invalidating my masculinity. Who taught us that masculinity can’t be pretty? Who taught us that Blackness was devoid of prettiness and delicacy?”

While Brookins searches for answers to these questions, they continuously remind us of how hostile the U.S. is to Black and trans people: “As the perception of me changes before my eyes, I realize that it is a specific sadness—embodying patriarchal masculinity in a country that wants your blood more than it wants you to breathe.” We need words and stories like this. By describing their movement through the world, Brookins simultaneously critiques the conditions that oppress Black and racialized people who seek radical self-acceptance, and refuses the state’s malicious attempts to criminalize gender and sexuality.

Pretty offers far more than just pretty words—Brookins tells their side of the story as an act of resistance against those who would silence them. This book is as much a story of self-discovery and survival as it is a love letter to their younger and current self.

As Texas threatens LGBTQ+ people with draconian laws, KB Brookins’ memoir, Pretty, is an act of resistance against those who would silence trans writers.

Julian Randall’s The Dead Don’t Need Reminding: In Search of Fugitives, Mississippi, and Black TV Nerd Shit is a dazzling ghost story that braids intimate narratives with cultural commentary to explore the author’s own past, present and future.

Randall, a Chicago-born poet and author, opens The Dead Don’t Need Reminding in Oxford, Mississippi, where he is attending an M.F.A. program. There, living in the South for the first time in his life, he reflects on the origins of plantation-style architecture in the university’s modern-day fraternity houses and endures violent encounters with racists. He seeks out the history of his Southern-born great-grandfather who “fled his home under threat of tar and feather.” Throughout, he riffs on Miles Morales, Jordan Peele, “BoJack Horseman” and many more cultural touchstones to tell stories of his lineage, of himself and of the places that shaped his family. 

These are the “stories that shape us. The stories we turn to out of scarcity, the cousins we make out of characters.” While there are tender notes in his writing, Randall never avoids the violence of our American history and present, writing that “white supremacy is a death cult, a religion for the feral.” And, “America is a gaping mouth with an insatiable appetite for Black suffering, Black labor, Black cool, Black flex, Black silence, Black death.”

This is a story not just about a Black man surviving a visit to the Deep South, but about him staying alive long enough to learn where he came from. Our narrator invites us to witness his vulnerability and imagination, shepherding us through time and place from Chicago to the South and back again as he shares his research into his lineage and the depths of his depression. Through smart cultural critique to rich poetic imagery, Randall’s writing moves at a quick pace that reflects his city roots; but when he slows down to describe the lands and people that haunt him, we witness a gifted Southern storyteller. And so we gather on the porch, waiting to hear this story, low and soft, drifting through the kudzu.  

In The Dead Don’t Need Reminding, Chicago poet Julian Randall braids memoir, history and cultural criticism, revealing himself to be a gifted storyteller.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features