While we’re unable to meet in the theater, we’re taking our book club online. Join us on Friday, August 28 from 5-6pm on Zoom. We’ll be reading and discussing one of the texts from the NYU Office of Global Inclusion and Diversity’s Anti-Black Racism Education Resource ListRSVP here to receive the Zoom link.

Order a copy of The Fire This Time from our list, and NYU Skirball will receive a portion of the proceeds.


Jesmyn Ward gathers our most original thinkers and writers to speak on contemporary racism and race, including Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Edwidge Danticat, Kevin Young, Claudia Rankine, and Honoree Jeffers. “An absolutely indispensable anthology” (Booklist, starred review), The Fire This Time shines a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestles with our current predicament, and imagines a better future.

Envisioned as a response to The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin’s groundbreaking 1963 essay collection, these contemporary writers reflect on the past, present, and future of race in America. We’ve made significant progress in the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essays were published, but America is a long and painful distance away from a “post-racial society”—a truth we must confront if we are to continue to work towards change. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about; The Fire This Time “seeks to place the shock of our own times into historical context and, most importantly, to move these times forward” (Vogue).


Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and has received the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, a John and Renee Grisham Writers Residency, and the Strauss Living Prize. She is the winner of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) and Salvage the Bones (2011). She is also the author of the novel Where the Line Bleeds and the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the Media for a Just Society Award. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.

Talking Points

If you’re not sure where to start a conversation in a breakout room during Book Club, find an example in the text related to one of these themes. Or, pick a passage that stood out to you and share it with the group. If you don’t have time to read the whole collection, focus on the introduction, and the essays by Edwidge Danticat, Kiese Laymon and Claudia Rankine.

  • If you have read Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time – what resonances/echoes do you hear in these pieces, and where is his work challenged? (Ward’s introduction has some helpful points of comparison!)
  • The weight of history & hope, 2020 vs 2016 vs 1963, differently rendered in each essay
  • Consider the audience of each piece – for example, Isabel Wilkerson’s specific “we” – in relation to Baldwin’s address in the 2 essays comprising The Fire Next Time
  • The role of social media throughout several of the essays – including Daniel José Older’s bon mot – “the revolution wasn’t televised… but it was live-tweeted” (203)

Get Into It

NPR Codeswitch

Interview with Jesmyn Ward

I do think that people will claim a certain fatigue about talking about race. But I think that even though they do, it’s still necessary — completely necessary. Because if we don’t, [and] if it’s a conversation that we walk away from because we’re too tired of having it, then nothing really changes.

Sometimes you get tired of fighting. I think you just sort of come to this realization that yes, that you will get tired, but that doesn’t mean that you can give up the fight.

The New York TImes

Review: The Fire This TIme

Essayist after essayist in this powerful book (there are also some poems) considers black experience in America in light of the recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and others. Most agree with Ms. Ward, who declares: “Replace ropes with bullets. Hound dogs with German shepherds. A gray uniform with a bulletproof vest. Nothing is new.”

Close Reading

Jesmyn Ward

  • Everything, from Zimmerman stalking and shooting Trayvon to the way Trayvon was tried in the court of public opinion after his death, seemed insane. How could anyone look at Trayon’s baby face and not see a child? And not feel an innate desire to protect, to cherish? How? (4)
  • Replace ropes with bullets. Hound dogs with German shepherds. A gray uniform with a bulletproof vest. Nothing is new. (6)
  • [After rereading The Fire Next Time in 2014] I knew I wanted to call on some of the great thinkers and extraordinary voices of my generation to help me puzzle this out… A book that would reckon with the fire of rage and despair and fierce, protective love currently sweeping through the streets and campuses of America. (7-8)
  • All these essays give me hope. I believe there is power in words, power in asserting our existence, our experience, our lives, through words. (10)
  • I hope this book makes each one of you, dear readers, feel as if we are sitting together, you and me and Baldwin and Trethewey and Wilkerson and Jeffers and Walters and Anderson and Smith and all the serious, clear-sighted writers here – and that we are composing our story together. That we are writing an epic wherein black lives carry worth… I burn, and I hope. (11)

Where Do We Go from Here?
Isabel Wilkerson

  • Before the summer of 2014… we may have lulled ourselves into believing that the struggle was over, that it had all been taken care of back in 1964. (59)
  • We seem to be in a continuing feedback loop of repeating a past that our country has yet to address. Our history is one of spectacular achievement… followed by a violent backlash that threatens to erase the gains and then a long, slow climb to the next mountain, where the cycle begins again. (59)
  • We have learned that the journey is far from over and that we must know our history to gain strength for the days ahead. We must love ourselves even if – and perhaps especially if – other do not. We must keep our faith even as we work to make our country live up to its creed. (61)

Da Art of Storytellin’ (a Prequel)
Kiese Laymon

  • Grandmama… went into that plant every day, knowing it was a laboratory for racial and gendered terror. Still, she wanted to be the best at what she did. (117)
  • I already knew I was going to be a writer… I knew I had to write to be a decent human being. (120)
  • All my English teachers talked about the importance of finding “your voice.” … What my English teachers didn’t say was that voices aren’t discovered fully formed, they are built and shaped – and not just by words, punctuation, and sentences, but by the author’s intended audience, by the composition’s form, and by subject. (121)
  • Disregarding our particular stank in favor of a stink that didn’t love or respect us was like taking a broken elevator down into artistic and spiritual death. (122)

The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning
Claudia Rankine

  • Though the white liberal imagination likesto feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black. (145-146)
  • We live in a country where Americans assimilate corpses in their daily comings and goings. Dead blacks are a part of normal life here… Historically, there is no quotidian without the enslaved, chained, or dead black body to gaze upon or to hear about or to position a self against. When blacks become overwhelmed by our culture’s disorder and protest (ultimately to our own detriment, because protest gives the police justification to militarize, as they did in Ferguson), the wrongheaded question that is asked is, What kind of savages are we? Rather than, What kind of country do we live in? (147)
  • The American imagination has never been able to fully recover from its white supremacist beginnings. (149)
  • The American tendency to normalize situations by centralizing whiteness was consciously or unconsciously demonstrated again when certain whites… sought to alter the language of “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter” … a subtle shift away from valuing the black body in our time of deep despair. (150)
  • Anti-black racism is in the culture… All of this good life is surrounded by the ambient feeling that at any given moment, a black person is being killed in the street or in his home by the armed hatred of a fellow American. (150)
  • As my friend the critic and poet Fred Moten has written: “I believe in the world and want to be in it. I want to be in it all the way to the end of it because I believe in another world and I want to be in that.” This other world, that world, would presumably be one where black living matters. But we can’t get there without fully recognizing what is here. (151)
  • We need to see or hear the truth. We need the truth of how the bodies died to interrupt the course of normal life. But if keeping the dead at the forefront of our consciousness is crucial for our body politic, what of the families of the dead? How must it feel to be a family member for the deceased to be more important as evidence than as an individual to be buried and laid to rest? (152)

This Far: Notes on Love and Revolution
Daniel José Older

  • You can’t tiptoe toward justice. You can’t walk up to the door all polite and known once or twice, hoping someone’s home. Justice is a door that, when closed, must be kicked in. “No state,” Baldwin wrote, “has been able to foresee or prevent the day when their most ruined and abject accomplice… will grown, ‘The far and no further.'” And maybe that day is more like a series of days, the whole year of protest that erupted between now and then, a culminating mass of days and nights, bodies laying down in intersections, symphony halls, strip malls, superhighways across this country, stopping traffic and business-as-usual, declaring by their very presence: “No further,” and again, “No further.” (200)
  • The simple, resonating demand that black lives matter laid bare the twin lies of American equality and exceptionalist… Words mean things, we say again and again, but actions mean much more. (200-201)

Message to My Daughters
Edwidge Danticat

  • Parents are often too nervous to broach difficult subjects with their children. Love. Sex. Death. Race. But some parents are forced to have these conversations early. Too early. (211)
  • “The world is before you,” I want to tell my daughters, “and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” (214)
  • I want to look happily forward. I want to be optimistic. I want to have a dream. I want to live in jubilee. I want my daughters to feel that they have the power to at least try to change things, even in a world that resists change with more strength than they have. I want to tell them they can overcome everything, if they are courageous, resilient, and brace. Paradoxically, I also want to tell them their crowns have already been bought and paid for and that all they have to do is put them on their heads. But the world keeps tripping me up. My certainty keeps flailing. (214)