Kate Tuttle

Writer, critic, editor.

Sep 30, 2021
Published on: BostonGlobe.com
1 min read
Jelani Cobb
Jelani CobbDavid Wilson

It started in the summer of 2020, when a nation already grappling with a pandemic found itself forced to reckon with racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a police officer that May.

“We were having a conversation, like a lot of people were, about what people were thinking after George Floyd,” said New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb. That summer, the magazine republished on its website an essay it originally ran in 1962: James Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region of My Mind,” which later became the cornerstone of Baldwin’s book “The Fire Next Time.”

“I think it became clear that there was this connection between Baldwin and what he was writing in 1962 and subsequent conversation,” Cobb said. “We thought it would be helpful — people were really interested in these questions that multiple generations of New Yorker writers had been pondering. And we wanted to bring that together in one place.”

This week sees the publication of “The Matter of Black Lives” (Ecco), an anthology co-edited by Cobb and New Yorker editor David Remnick, which collects some 45 pieces from the magazine’s archives by contributors including Baldwin, Hilton Als, Elizabeth Alexander, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Edwidge Danticat, Calvin Trillin, Toni Morrison, and Cobb himself. “It was an embarrassment of riches,” he said.

“I was careful to say in the introduction that it isn’t an anthology about race per se; it’s an anthology about people who are overwhelmingly tasked with confronting it,” Cobb added. “Race is an American conundrum, but it lands disproportionately on the shoulders of Black people.”

Some of the pieces he had known intimately; others were new to him. “I had never read Rebecca West’s ‘Opera in Greenville,’ which is about a lynching in 1947 in South Carolina,” Cobb said. “I had gone back and researched that lynching when I was writing about the trial of Dylann Roof for The New Yorker. I saw West and myself in dialogue across decades.”

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.