The anthology "Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic" begins with an introduction by Valerie Boyd called "Profit and Loss," a lovely tribute to Boyd's father, who exemplified resilience. It serves as a purposeful segue to how the poets and essayists who contributed to "Bigger Than Bravery" examine what it means to persevere.
Boyd's father died in 2020. Boyd is mainly known for her critically acclaimed 2003 biography, "Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston." She finished editing this anthology just before she died from cancer earlier this year. The contributions to "Bigger Than Bravery," and the effort it must have taken to see it completed, encourage readers to consider how to make good use of the moments we have — to persist past hardship, find joy in adversity, be resilient, survive, live on (or be remembered).
The second essay in the collection, "The Quarantine Album: Liner Notes," by Deesha Philyaw, is built like a mixtape. It uses songs with pandemic associations as frames for personal memories about this perilous time. Aretha Franklin's "Who's Zoomin' Who" makes a fun entry point for the world of online meetings, readings and dates. James Brown's "It's a Man's World," and Beyonce's "All the Single Ladies" capture Philyaw's challenges in finding a relationship during social distancing. R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It" sets Philyaw's joy in her recent success as a writer against the sadness and devastation caused by coronavirus.
Good anthologies like "Bigger Than Bravery" play like mixtapes, too (although I think they're called playlists now). You want hits; you don't want misses. Every track should stand on its own and be in sync with all the other songs. The whole thing should flow from one track to another like an epic DJ set at the best club in town.
The title for this playlist comes from Jericho Brown's poem "Crossing," which opens the book. Brown's poem ends "I'm more than a conqueror, bigger / than bravery. I don't march. I'm the one who leaps."
Kiese Laymon's "What We Owe and Are Owed" (which he read on a recent visit to Minnesota) brings forward his already prominent heart, mind and voice. Honorée Fanonne Jeffers adds a poignant "Lockdown Prayer," written to Boyd. "Get Well Slow" by Josina Guess is what I'll read years from now to remind me exactly what it was like to have COVID-19.
Alice Walker adds two sharp political poems. There are wonderful, thoughtful and varied contributions from Tayari Jones, Pearl Cleage, Destiny O. Birdsong, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and 23 other important, established or emerging Black writers sharing their specific experience during this time of lingering pandemic and nationalist fervor.
Here's my suggestion: Read one track a day for the 33 days it will take you to do that. Spend time with each writer. See strength in struggle; find joy in hardship. Consider the different ways we are and can be moved. Savor every song.
Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet, essayist and teacher in St. Paul. His first collection, "Worldly Things," won the 2020 Max Ritvo Poetry Prize.
Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic
Edited by: Valerie Boyd.
Publisher: Lookout Books, 227 pages, $18.95.