We believe in the power of history to help us understand the crises unfolding around us. Every week, we recommend a book selected by a member of the UCLA history department that sheds light on our current moment.

This week’s book is a collection of poems that makes powerful use of historical documents: 1919 by Eve L. Ewing (2019). It is selected by Professor Carla Pestana. Here is why Professor Pestana recommends this book:

“In 1919, racial violence rocked Chicago. An African American boy drifted too close to a white beach at the lake, and he drowned. Whether because he stayed out too long for fear of coming ashore or because he was knocked unconscious by one of the rocks beachgoers threw at him, no one knew. The violence that erupted after his death resulted in many deaths and injuries, as well as much loss of property. In 1922, a commission made up of leading black and white men authored a report about the situation in Chicago. Eve Ewing, a sociologist and poet at the University of Chicago, found the report in the course of research, and here she uses it to a different purpose: she combines passages from the report with poetry responding to it. The result is a powerful short book that brings a seemingly dry primary source into conversation with her poetry. The result is haunting.”

Previous weekly selections:

Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Anti-racist (2019), selected by Professor William Marotti.

Professor Marrotti recommends this book because it provides clear and well-defined definitions, consistently applied, and woven together with personal and social history. The conceptual rigor gets past any number of rhetorical snares and problems. Absolutely essential reading!

Brenda Stevenson, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots, selected by Katherine Marino. Here is why Professor Marino recommends this book:

“Latasha Harlins was a 15-year-old African American girl who was murdered in LA in March 1991, two weeks after the police beating of Rodney King. She was fatally shot by a Korean storeowner who thought she was stealing orange juice. Although often overlooked, her death was a catalyst of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising. Stevenson recovers her story in this vital history that reminds us to think intersectionally about anti-black violence and miscarriages of justice. It reminds us to honor Latasha Harlins, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, and the many other black cis- and trans-women who have been killed by police brutality and anti-black violence, and to #SayHerName.”

Eve L. Ewing, 1919 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2019)