Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman addresses the repressed history and forgotten odysseys of this marginalized group of colonial women—runaways, widows, and others who, as indentured servants, replaced newly emancipated slaves (slavery was abolished by the British Empire in 1833) on sugar plantations around the globe. Recent profiles of Bahadur discussing the book’s subject matter have appeared at the Guardian and The Writer’s “How I Write” series. For Bahadur, the story is personal; through mining the archives of these women’s stories, well as digging up her own roots, she encounters her great-grandmother’s own traumatic “middle passage” from India to Guyana in 1903.
“I found out that her story was extraordinary but it wasn’t exceptional in that most of the women who went to West Indies as indentured laborers were like her, they were by themselves” says Bahadur. “What motivated me to write this story was to sort of rescue them from anonymity if I could. To give them names.”
For many of these women, as Bahadur conveys in her recent appearance on NPR’s Tell Me More, their journeys were only the start of life marked by widespread and blatant oppression: upon arrival, they were met with hard labor, sexual exploitation, violence, . . .
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An excerpt from Where the North Sea Touches Alabama by Allen C. Shelton
This is the sketch I made the day my father was buried:
The beaver, long leaf pine, flint and quartz, swamp age: 1–1600. The first graves in the shape of a snake at the foot of Crooked Mountain are constructed. Beans and corn arrive from Mexico. De Soto passes by. The final collapse of the mound builders takes place as the blue celt is left behind in the dirt where the Big House will be built.
The mule, corn, cotton, creek, and iron age: 1799–1942. Revolutionary war veteran Tyree Landers arrives. The first Baptist and Methodist churches are established. The Creek Indian War brings Andrew Jackson and Davy Crockett to within miles of my home. The Big House is built with bring interior colors. Elizabeth Champion dies. The Trail of Tears sucks the Creeks out of the area. They leave gold buried in secret places. The Confederate officer John Pelham is killed. The map of this world is drawn by the Confederate officer. The original families that settled the valley go . . .
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John Lardas Modern (I almost typed “Vardas”—let’s call it an accidental homage to Agnès Varda, who is someone I think about when I think about those weird spaces at the edge of realism, when you fall into pure perspective and some sort of spiritual fizzing or its harsher alternative; anyhow, she was one of five people present at Jim Morrison’s burial, so I am filing my moment of misprision as subliminally relevant) has a really interesting website. In addition to penning Secularism in Antebellum America and serving as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame, Modern is a curator and vinyl collector. Interested, interesting.
His Vinyl Prayers Project, “a virtual mix-tape of vinyl prayer,” allows him to (and for the most part—seamlessly) blend those identities into the persona of a monkishly meditative steward of tracks repressed and unhinged from pop culture that hover in the realm of what he defines as prayer, or, “a weapon, a request to heal the body or boost the brain, an epistemic cry, a meditation, a mediation, a quip, a plea, a means of passive resistance, a wonderful gift from God.” Like for all collectors and most seekers, there is a strange borderland to cross between obsession and devotion, and this is likely the archive you’d desire to listen to again and . . .
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