Front Table Newsletter 5/06

May 6th, 2024

On This Week's Front Table, find stories of disabled sexual discovery, disabled love, and disabled joy, examine the personal and global histories of Borderline Personality Disorder, and consider those whose lives evidenced the profound trauma of the AIDS crisis. Through these stories, we find the angst and activism that emerges out of systemic inequality, moving portraits of a collective, and bodies that refuse to conform with societal norms. Find these titles and more at
Disability Intimacy: Essays on Love, Care, and Desire
Alice Wong, Ed.

What is intimacy? More than sex, more than romantic love, the pieces in this stunning and illuminating new anthology offer broader and more inclusive definitions of what it can mean to be intimate with another person. Explorations of caregiving, community, access, and friendship offer us alternative ways of thinking about the connections we form with others--a vital reimagining in an era when forced physical distance is at times a necessary norm. But don't worry: there's still sex to consider--and the numerous ways sexual liberation intersects with disability justice. Plunge between these pages and you'll also find disabled sexual discovery, disabled love stories, and disabled joy. These twenty-five stunning original pieces--plus other modern classics on the subject, all carefully curated by acclaimed activist Alice Wong--include essays, photo essays, poetry, drama, and erotica: a full spectrum of the dreams, fantasies, and deeply personal realities of a wide range of beautiful bodies and minds. Disability Intimacy will free your thinking, invigorate your spirit, and delight your desires.

Borderline : The Biography of a Personality Disorder
(Beacon Press) 
Alexander Kriss

Mental illness is heavily stigmatized within our society, and folks with BPD are portrayed as especially hopeless by doctors and popular culture alike. When, as a graduate student, Alexander Kriss first began working as a therapist in the field, his supervisors warned him that borderline patients were manipulative and had a tendency to drop out of treatment. Yet, years later, when Kriss was establishing his private practice and a patient named Ana came to his office, he felt compelled to try to help her, despite all of the warnings he'd heard. Borderline is the story of his work with Ana--how their relationship led Kriss to a deeper understanding of the borderline experience and what it means to be a person. Borderline is also the story of the disorder itself--Kriss traces accounts of the condition going back to antiquity, showing how this diagnosis has been known by many names over the millennia, most of them gendered: witchcraft, hysteria, moral insanity. All referred to a person--usually a woman--whose behavior and personality were seen as unstable, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. Kriss illustrates the pivotal role borderline patients played in the invention of psychotherapy, the development of modern psychology and psychiatry, and current attitudes about what it means to be healthy. Through the interweaving of personal and global histories, he ultimately argues that BPD is the most important diagnosis of our time: the individual expression of cultural angst that emerges out of systemic inequality, the fracturing of narratives, and our collective search for meaning and identity.


COMBEE : Harriet Tubman, the Combahee River Raid, and Black Freedom during the Civil War
(Oxford University Press) 
Edda L. Fields-Black

Most Americans know of Harriet Tubman's legendary life: escaping enslavement in 1849, she led more than 60 others out of bondage via the Underground Railroad, gave instructions on getting to freedom to scores more, and went on to live a lifetime fighting for change. Yet the many biographies about Tubman omit a crucial chapter: during the Civil War, hired by the Union Army, she ventured into the heart of slave territory--Beaufort, South Carolina--to live, work, and gather intelligence for a daring raid up the Combahee River to attack the major plantations of Rice Country, the breadbasket of the Confederacy. Edda L. Fields-Black--herself a descendent of one of the participants in the raid--shows how Tubman commanded a ring of spies, scouts, and pilots and participated in military expeditions behind Confederate lines. Using previous unexamined documents, Fields-Black brings to life intergenerational, extended enslaved families, neighbors, praise-house members, and sweethearts forced to work in South Carolina's deadly tidal rice swamps, sold, and separated during the antebellum period. After the war, many returned to the same rice plantations from which they had escaped, purchased land, married, and buried each other. These formerly enslaved peoples on the Sea Island indigo and cotton plantations, together with those in the semi-urban port cities of Charleston, Beaufort, and Savannah, and on rice plantations in the coastal plains, created the distinctly American Gullah Geechee dialect, culture, and identity--perhaps the most significant legacy of Harriet Tubman's Combahee River Raid.


It Was Vulgar and It Was Beautiful : How AIDS Activists Used Art to Fight a Pandemic
(Bold Type Books) 
Jack Lowery

In the late 1980s, the AIDS pandemic was annihilating queer people, intravenous drug users, and communities of color in America, and disinformation about the disease ran rampant. Out of the activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), an art collective that called itself Gran Fury formed to campaign against corporate greed, government inaction, stigma, and public indifference to the epidemic. Writer Jack Lowery examines Gran Fury's art and activism from iconic images like the "Kissing Doesn't Kill" poster to the act of dropping piles of fake bills onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Lowery offers a complex, moving portrait of a collective and its members, who built essential solidarities with each other and whose lives evidenced the profound trauma of enduring the AIDS crisis. Gran Fury and ACT UP's strategies are still used frequently by the activists leading contemporary movements. In an era when structural violence and the devastation of COVID-19 continue to target the most vulnerable, this belief in the power of public art and action persists.

(Copper Canyon Press) 
Philip Metres

In Fugitive/Refuge, Philip Metres follows the journey of his refugee ancestors--from Lebanon to Mexico to the United States--in a vivid exploration of what it means to long for home. A book-length qasida, the collection draws on both ancient traditions and innovative forms--odes and arabics, sonnets and cut-ups, prayers and documentary voicings, heroic couplets and homophonic translations--in order to confront the perils of our age: forced migration, climate change, and toxic nationalism. Fugitive/Refuge pronounces the urge both to remember the past and to forge new poetic forms and ways of being in language. In one section, Metres meditates on the Arabic greeting--ahlan wa sahlan--and asks how older forms of welcome might offer generous and embodied ways of responding to the challenges of mass migration and digital alienation in postmodern societies. In another, he dialogues with Dante to inform new ways of understanding ancestral and modern migrations and the injustices that have burdened them. Ultimately, Metres uses movement to create a new place--one to home and dream in--for all those who seek shelter.

Birnam Wood : A Novel
Eleanor Catton 

A landslide has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand's South Island, cutting off the town of Thorndike and leaving a sizable farm abandoned. The disaster presents an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice. For years, the group has struggled to break even. To occupy the farm at Thorndike would mean a shot at solvency at last. But the enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine also has an interest in the place: he has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, or so he tells Birnam's founder, Mira, when he catches her on the property. He's intrigued by Mira, and by Birnam Wood; although they're poles apart politically, it seems Lemoine and the group might have enemies in common. But can Birnam trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust one another? A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize-winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton's Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its drama, Austenian in its wit, and, like both influences, fascinated by what makes us who we are. A brilliantly constructed study of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is a mesmerizing, unflinching consideration of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.

Mia Oberländer; Nika Knight, trans.

In the sleepy German countryside live the Annas, cursed to be too tall for their small town. Laughably long-limbed and gangly, their bodies refuse to conform with societal norms of delicate femininity, and the trauma of being different ripples across generations. And yet, there may be a blessing to their burden; like the mighty mountains surrounding their town, they find that there is resilience and strength to be gained from their heightened perspective. Drawn with delightful exaggeration and formal inventiveness, Anna is a tongue-in-cheek, modern-day fairy tale about being "too big" for a narrow-minded world.

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