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A New Day Has Come: A Review of Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times

Natalie Lima

On Election Night 2016, I was sitting in a liberal, newly opened brewery in Tuscaloosa, Alabama —otherwise known as The Deep South—with friends from my graduate program. The evening started off with loud chatter, lots of drinks being passed around, as a feeling of hope swaddled the entire room. But by the end of the night, that hope had dissipated and I suddenly felt like I was sitting silently with my friends at a quiet wake. The first few pages of Radical Hope reminded me, once again, that I wasn’t alone in the darkness of that night. In this collection of letters and essays—many addressed to loved ones and ancestors, others to artists, and some addressed to strangers—the aftermath of the election is captured by renowned writers and thought leaders, voices that include Viet Thanh Nguyen, Cherríe Moraga, Cristina García, Junot Díaz, Meredith Russo, and many more. They each offer us, in solidarity, perspective about that night last November and advice for moving forward.

In the opening letter, “A Symphony of Voices,” Editor Carolina De Robertis, author of the novels The Gods of Tango and the international bestseller The Invisible Mountain, explains how, in her post-election grief, she decided to reach out to writers to help her create a “collection of love letters” in response. This became Radical Hope, a collection divided in three parts: “Roots,” focused on histories, “Branches,” which explores the present day, and “Seeds,” which reaches out to future generations. In the title essay, Junot Díaz leads off the collection with a letter addressed anonymously to “Querida Q.,” who contacted him the day after the election, writing: “My two little sisters called me weeping this morning. I had nothing to give them. I felt bereft. What now?” In his response, Díaz reminds Q., and us, that we must fight, “but all the fighting in the world will not help us if we do not also hope.” And this opens a series of essays about pain and disappointment, about allowing oneself to feel the grief, but also about the radical hope that must follow.

Though the collection revolves around a single distressing day last year, many of the essays and letters share a universal message of optimism in spite of the world’s ugliness. In a moving letter to her imagined future great-great-great-great-great granddaughter Paloma, novelist Cristina García writes, “It isn’t easy to change this world, corazón. No easier for you in your time than it is for us in ours. But what I wish for you is to keep trying, nietecita mía…” In a letter titled, “A Time To Demand The Impossible,” Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, stresses the importance of the artist’s role in creating societal change in dark times. His letter is addressed not to a specific person but “to my fellow writers and artists; to my fellow readers and lovers of art; to my fellow believers in peace and a more perfect world.” Nguyen implores us, particularly the writers and artists, to take risks and to get involved, “Now is the time for a commitment to an art that is explicitly political.”

Following Nguyen’s letter is “A ‘Holla’ From the West Side,” by Chicana feminist icon Cherríe Moraga, who has written often about love, dissent, and social change. “Dear Radically Hopeful Artist,” her letter begins, and in a few pages, reminds us, yet again, of the force that is art, especially when it comes to effecting social progress. “I am fool enough to believe that storytelling matters; that metaphors make spirits sing; that only art can convince us…that we, as human beings, long for meaning in our lives and that this longing ennobles us.”

While some letters in the collection are more focused in offering consolation, others directly call their reader to action in these dangerous times. Each could be addressed to me or to you, counseling us, as Celeste Ng does, not to “let fear convince us hardness is good.” By the end of the collection I am convinced of this. I am more hopeful. And I know that I am among many who believe in what Díaz assures us in the close of his own letter: “Darkness, after all, is breaking. A new day has come.”

Natalie Lima is a 2016 Pen Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow and VONA/Voices alum. She is a first-generation college graduate of Northwestern University and can be found on Twitter @NatalieLima09.