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To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness

To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness

Robin Coste Lewis
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Twenty-five years ago, after her grandmother’s death, Robin Coste Lewis discovered a stunning collection of photographs - from tintypes to color Polaroids - under her bed. The poetry Lewis joins to these vivid daily images of 20th-century Black delight stands forth as an inspiring alternative to the usual way we frame the old stories of “race” and “migration," and investigates time from a fresh perspective.  Lewis writes, “I am trying / to make the gods / happy,” she writes amidst her ancestors. “I am trying / to make the dead / clap and shout.”  

Communing with the engaging photographic vernacular of her particular Louisiana Gulf / Southern California family, from birth announcements and graduations to glamorous outings, ball teams, and back-porch giggles, Lewis reverses all our expectations of both poetry and the history of photography. She puts white type on black pages; she makes a personal documentary public; instead of colonial nostalgia, she offers us an exalted Black privacy. What emerges is a dynamic reframing of what it means to be human, with Blackness at its center.


Robin Coste Lewis is the author Voyage of the Sable Venus, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry and a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The book was named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The New York Times, and a best book of the last twenty years by Literary Hub. Lewis is also the coauthor, with Kevin Young, of Robert Rauschenberg: Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno. The former poet laureate of Los Angeles, she holds a PhD in Poetry and Visual Studies from the University of Southern California, an MFA in poetry from New York University, an MTS in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from Harvard's Divinity School, and a BA from Hampshire College. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Transition, and many other journals. Lewis, who has taught at Hampshire College, Hunter College, Wheaton College, and the NYU MFA in Paris, is writer-in-residence at the USC.

  • Publisher: Knopf (December 6, 2022)
  • Language: English
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • ISBN-10: 1524732583
  • ISBN-13: 9781524732585
  • Item Weight: 1.25 pounds
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