To Our Readers

8 May 2024

Last week, we had yet another great event here in Athens, Georgia. Xinyue Huang and Hanif Abdurraqib read at our storied music venue, the 40 Watt, to a house packed by locals and out-of-towners. Avid Bookshop was onsite with sales, as the event was part of Abdurraqib’s tour promoting his new memoir, There’s Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension. Milling about after the reading, I thought, What a blessing to be in a town that has spaces like Avid and 40 Watt as central gathering points for culture and community.

The week before, graduate editor Zack Anderson and I visited a group of about twenty high school students during their lunch break for an extracurricular book club chat about There’s Always This Year. We provided the books; our friend, eleventh-grade English teacher Ian Altman, gathered the crowd. Last year we had a memorable book club around Dawn Lundy Martin’s Life in a Box Is a Pretty Life, and this year I was excited to continue, in part because I wanted to hear what they had to say about 1) youth, and 2) Athens. There’s Always This Year is a moving reflection on how a city of one’s youth (for Abdurraqib, Columbus, Ohio) grows with a person as that person grows in and out of the various communities therein. I wanted to hear from the students because I am somewhat new to middle age and Athens. Coolness has evaporated from my life, as if burned off by the climb of the desert sun. Pastimes like a punk/metal radio show and b-boying have given way to things like fountain pens and pleated pants (I maintain that I’m only into the stylish ones). And I feel like I have much more to learn about Athens. I might know my way around town, but I can’t say with any amount of certainty that I have a good sense of its pulse. So listening to a group of high schoolers react to this book seemed like a great opportunity to get some insider information about Athens and the joie de vivre of youth. 

It was a lively hour laser-focused on the text, but full of insights on personal pastimes like video games, music, dapping, and sports. A work as inviting and engaging as Hanif’s book enables a conversation like that. When Zack and I chatted on our way out of the school, we learned that we both found the talk about Athens the most interesting and strange. The whole talk started when I announced I wanted to hear from them about Athens. (So much for subtlety.) I then asked, “How many of you were born here?” Only half the hands, at most? “What do you think about Athens? Do you love it?”—the underscore not the downbeat that makes the question interrogative, but rather the lilt that spirals up and away, which opens the door to skepticism. The students who answered invariably strode through that entryway, itching to get out of this town, remarking, individually, that all Athens folks were this and that (which varied from student to student) and that Athens was too small in this and that way (ditto). As Zack pointed out in his introduction for Hanif at the reading, the central question, as cried out by one of the students, is “when do you know too much about a town?” After listening to these students’ passionate litany of discontent with the town, I respectfully pushed back by noting that this is a book about one who manages often contradictory impulses to stay in and leave his hometown, and when he stays, he learns whole new worlds within the seemingly small communities that constitute his hometown by paying ever closer attention to the people and culture around him. The few who could respond before our time ran out backed off a little bit—I did generalize a little bit; I do like Athens—but each still maintained that he/she gotta leave the town. 

This is exactly how I felt as high school ended for me, but not so much for my brother. I bounced around during my twenties, while he stayed put. This spring was a season of sitting with powerfully moving reflections on one’s past, what with Hanif Abdurraqib visiting for There’s Always This Year a mere month after Hua Hsu came for Stay True. The close proximity between the two has made me sensitive to how both books masterfully immerse the reader into the mindset of the youthful past and shed light on past happenings with the wisdom cultivated since then, while, most importantly, balancing these two in a way that does not fall prey to a teleological fallacy of improvement or corruption. Not once does either Abdurraqib or Hsu take the codger’s stance that categorically dismisses youthful thoughts and passions as pure folly. Nor does either ever take a stance of unmitigated nostalgia, an overwrought feeling that all is meaningless and miserable as one turns toward middle age.

Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that both Abdurraqib and Hsu started out in zines. One of the central stories in Stay True is the way zine-making emerged as the first and fundamental mode of composition for Hua Hsu. This became particularly clear to me when I stumbled upon this passage, which reflects on starting his zine practice:

I began making a zine because I’d heard it was an easy way to get free CDs from bands and record labels. But it was also a way to find a tribe. My worldview was defined by music. . . . I thought I had a lot to say, but I felt timid about saying it. Making my zine was a way of sketching the outlines of a new self, writing a new personality into being.

When taken to heart, the periodic, ephemeral nature of the zine can be rendered into a way of living defined by a continual deferral of self-actualization. Running life in such a way, one is growing all the time, which also means there is no consummate stage of one’s life, youth or old age. There are no glory days, a concept the Boss famously ironizes. No boring stories here; Time has definitely given these writers something of worth. This speaks to what I value about them as cultural critics. The critic Raymond Williams famously pointed out that the word “culture” was essentially an active word before the Victorian age of industrialization transformed it into the term as we understand it today, “culture as an abstraction and an absolute”:

Before this period [1780–1950], [culture] had meant, primarily, the “tending of natural growth,” and then, by analogy, a process of human training. But this latter use, which had usually been a culture of something, was changed, in the nineteenth century, to culture as such, a thing in itself. It came to mean, first, “a general state or habit of the mind,” having close relations with the idea of human perfection. Second, it came to mean “the general state of intellectual development, in a society as a whole.” Third, it came to mean “the general body of the arts.” [emphases in the original]

What I’m suggesting is that the cultural criticism of Abdurraqib and Hsu are particularly enlivening because they undertake the mode of writing archaically, attending to the idea of culture as a tendency of growth rather than as a generality predicated on the idea of human perfection. The idea of human perfection necessarily pinpoints a particular stage as the ne plus ultra, which inevitably occurs on the level of civilization as well as individual life. But could I ever in good faith tell my five-year-old son that my life now is absolutely closer to perfection than his? Or what about vice versa? Yes, I have had more experience with, say, knowing how words can unintentionally hurt others. But if you could see the gusto he has in eating and running around, hear how effortlessly poetry can spill forth from his mouth, and feel the warmth surge through my body when I catch these moments, the answer to both questions is definitively no.

There are a number of parent-child works in this issue. Julia Elliott shares a coming-of-age story that toys with Gothic and horror conventions by way of the movie The Exorcist. Emi Nietfeld and Suzi Wong publish strong essays that reflect on their respective parents. And Virgil Suárez’s poem about his mother runs on a heady mix of pathos and humor that results in something hard to forget.

The issue also includes a bracing Emersonian meditation on friendship by philosopher John Lysaker. I recommend reading it in tandem with Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s poem after Emerson. Garrett Hongo’s essay on the formative Asian American scholar and activist Franklin Odo is a tour de force. Dave Eggers shares the latest installment of his serial novel. And Monika Cassel’s translations of the preeminent German ecopoet and Hölderlin scholar Daniela Danz are simply amazing.

From the office:

• We are thrilled to share the news that Brandon Som’s Tripas, our fall 2023 title for the Georgia Review Books series with University of Georgia Press, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award, which puts it in the select company of books that have done well in both. If you haven’t gotten your own copy, get it from our website, straight from the source—and with free shipping!

• We are excited to partner with the UGA low-residency MFA program in Narrative Nonfiction to host Kristal Zook in Athens, Georgia, on 30 July. Join us if you are in town. Free and open to the public, as always.

• Congratulations to our outgoing graduate editors, Drs. Zack Anderson and Sarah Shermyen! Zack will be moving to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to work as a full-time instructor of English at the University of Alabama. Sarah will move four floors down to start as an acquisitions editor at the University of Georgia Press. We are sad to see you leave, but we are excited to see what wonderful things you will accomplish in these upcoming years and beyond. Thank you and godspeed.



Gerald Maa is a writer, translator, and editor based in Athens, GA.  His poetry and translations have appeared in places such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, and Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China (Copper Canyon, 2011).  His essays have appeared in places such as Criticism, Studies in Romanticism, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race (University of Georgia, 2015), and The Little Magazine in Contemporary America (University of Chicago, 2015).  Work from his practice of activated writing have been performed and mounted in Los Angeles, New York, and Sweden.  In 2010, he founded The Asian American Literary Review with Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, where he served as editor-in-chief until starting his job at The Georgia Review in August 2019.