Violent or Peaceful?

My last year at the University of Virginia, I took a masters-level Applied Sociology class. There I learned that small changes in our public spaces—placement of the exit on the bus, arrangement of an apartment complex courtyard—can lead to huge changes in group behavior. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by forces that influence us in ways...

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Do You Want to Be Lied to, or Not?

They use it as an asterisk. Like when the governing commission is forced to add an explanation to a sports stat. Babe Ruth and Roger Maris or whatever. The sports hero is the greatest ever…except with this teensy asterisk caveat. The same treatment is granted to the white men who established America. Historians, politicians, we white people—we...

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My Date with a Neo-Nazi

I went to lunch with a Neo-Nazi. We had gyros and iced tea, I’m pretty sure, but the details of the food escape me. What I’ll never forget was my dawning realization that this man was a nutcase. He was tall and incredibly good-looking in a blond Aryan blue-eyed way. (Yes, this is a true story, though it’s starting to sound...

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If I Had Two Wings

I didn’t know what I was doing. I had quit practicing law to become a writer. In typical lawyerly fashion, I formulated a “private MFA” where I would take 2 years and teach myself to write. I didn’t want to get an actual MFA because I figured, as a lawyer who had been the office’s managing partner, I would be a terrible...

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China, Words, and Hope

I don’t know if this is appropriate or not, but I need to tell you that a really nice publishing house is, right now, reading the full manuscript on MUD ISLAND, the mystery featuring a formerly homeless young woman set in Memphis in 1997 (which I revised from being a formerly homeless old man set in 2019), and I’m trying not to think...

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White People’s Ego Will Get You Killed

The two young men had been high school friends. One was Black, one was white. The Black man went missing. He had last been seen with the young white man, his friend. The white man schemed with his half-brother to shoot the young Black man and rob him. The brothers buried the Black man in a shallow grave, and the white man’s wife allegedly later...

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The Mississippi that Might Still Be

When I heard that Mississippi during this massive moment of potential change was focusing on its racist flag, at first I thought, oh, dear Lord —that’s what Mississippians think matters now? But. I lose count when I try to say how many generations I’ve been from Mississippi (’cause, you know, we’re not very good at...

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My Best Reader has Left Me

Mother at her 90th birthday party Marguerite Virginia Price Van Hecke died on May 29, 2020, following emergency surgery. Virginia was born on June 9, 1929, on the Road of Remembrance in Jackson, Mississippi, as the second child of Maggie Mae and James Murray Price, a little girl who was to have been named George William. From the start, she never...

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When a White Woman Accuses a Black Man

He was a writer, a man I’ll call Jonathan. Jonathan was in writing group with me one hour before he was accused of having snatched a purse from a woman on the street, a felony even though the purse had less than $10 in it. I told the investigators that Jonathan had just left writing group when this crime supposedly occurred; there was no way...

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