A MOUTH IS AL­WAYS MUZ­ZLED

Six Dis­si­dents, Five Con­ti­nents, and the Art of Re­sis­tance

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Writers Of Color - —RACHEL JAGARESKI

Natalie Hop­kin­son makes an im­pas­sioned case for artists to have a more cen­tral role in re­think­ing so­ci­etal prob­lems in A Mouth Is Al­ways Muz­zled.

The book bril­liantly re­counts the his­tory of the sugar and slave trades, as well as the West’s con­tin­ued plun­der of nat­u­ral re­sources in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion is given to Great Bri­tain’s strate­gi­cally im­por­tant for­mer colony, Guyana. In­ter­views help to il­lu­mi­nate the back­sto­ries of six writ­ers and artists con­nected to the small coun­try; they are over­laid with tautly con­trolled sus­pense about loom­ing na­tional elec­tions.

Hop­kin­son’s knowl­edge of Guyanese cul­ture and his­tory adds great depth to her tightly or­ga­nized anal­y­sis. She ex­am­ines the writ­ings and ac­tivism of poet Martin Carter, artist Kara Walker, his­to­rian Wal­ter Rod­ney, and nov­el­ist John Berger.

Her in­ter­views and friend­ships with Guyanese painter Ber­nadette Per­saud and poet/pub­lisher Ruel John­son are no less well re­searched, even as they are im­bued with con­cern about the artists’ eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence and per­sonal safety. These are artists, she shows, who changed the pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion.

Hop­kin­son’s writ­ing is jour­nal­is­tic, cre­ative, and per­sonal, en­livened by out­rage and flair. It cap­tures a coun­try that is “eco­nom­i­cally ship­wrecked,” cyn­i­cally di­vided by cor­rupt lead­ers to form a never-end­ing “grudge match be­tween brown and black sugar work­ers.” She is in­dig­nant over vi­o­lence against women, po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, global dis­in­vest­ment, and soar­ing sui­cide and em­i­gra­tion rates.

Hop­kin­son paints the cre­ative class as es­sen­tial play­ers in mod­ern society—they “have vi­sion out of a prob­lem” and can imag­ine an al­ter­na­tive fu­ture, away from racial and eco­nomic in­equities. Be­ly­ing its ti­tle, the book loudly and el­e­gantly ar­tic­u­lates why artists are nec­es­sary cat­a­lysts in that shared bet­ter fu­ture.

Natalie Hop­kin­son, The New Press (FE­BRU­ARY) Hard­cover $23.95 (208pp), 978-1-62097-124-6

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