In this penetrating new essay collection, 21 writers of color explore the joys and heartbreak of living in the contemporary American South, a vast and diverse region heavy with history, possibilities and contradictions. Edited by author Cinelle Barnes, a resident of Charleston, South Carolina, A Measure of Belonging aims to answer the question: Who belongs here?
Written by a mix of established and emerging writers, these piercing essays present a refreshing and nuanced view of the South by never engaging in flat Southern stereotypes or assuming a veneer of homogeneity. Instead the collection subverts the cultural dominance of whiteness by engaging with topics as varied as Black college majorettes, the DMV and apartment hunting. Kiese Laymon, writer of the critically acclaimed memoir Heavy, looks into the difficulties of living in Oxford, Mississippi, as a Black professor. In his essay “That’s Not Actually True,” he explores the layered tension of race and class in trying to record his own audiobook. In the essay “Foreign and Domestic,” Jaswinder Bolina talks about the unique sensation of being mugged in Miami and feeling a kinship to his muggers because of their similarities. He feels at home in a neighborhood with people who look like him, in a city that is technically part of the South but also a world away. In “My Sixty-Five-Year-Old Roommate,” Jennifer Hope Choi delightfully describes the unexpected comfort of moving in with her mother in South Carolina after a veritable lifetime of living precariously in New York City. Latria Graham painfully deals with the never-ending flooding on her family’s farm, while Minda Honey relishes in her newfound auntie status.
Not all of the writers are originally from the South, but they all contribute to a well-rounded view of the Southern United States as a place that isn’t a monolith. Sharp and witty, this collection shows that there are many different ways to live, breathe, thrive and be a person who belongs in the South.