Book Review: ‘We Are Meant To Rise’

In “We Are Meant to Rise,” Minnesota indigenous writers and writers of color reflect on and react to the year 2020: the year that began the COVID pandemic, a year ripped apart by the brutal police murder of George Floyd, a year of isolation and uprising. 

Carolyn Holbrook, one of the editors of this anthology, is also the founder of More Than A Single Story. She explains that the name “is loosely based on Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s well-known TED Talk, ‘The Danger of a Single Story,’ which warns against fostering stereotypes by treating one story of a people as their only story.”

No danger of that in this volume! Some of the 30 contributors are new to me, some I have read and admired for years. Each has a unique voice and story. Some resonate readily with me, some challenge with new insights, and a few seem too abstract for my understanding.

Overall, the wealth of stories, poetry, and perspectives leaves me filled with gratitude.

Since 2016, and especially since the January 6 insurrection, the continuing and accelerating manifestations of racism, attacks on voting rights, and threats to democracy, that question of national identity looms ever larger. Attempts to rewrite our history and to outlaw the teaching of history in schools highlight the racist and xenophobic quest to define our national identity as white and European and Christian. 

David Mura, the second editor of this anthology, writes in his introduction about the question of national identity and history:

“From America’s inception, the confrontation between white settlers and Native Americans, between white slave owners and their Black slaves, have engendered questions of identity, of who we are as a nation. And now, for many, each day in America, a stranger walks into our village, or we are strangers walking into someone else’s village.”

Reading these words, I remember the hysterical and entirely invented rants about Sharia law in Minneapolis and “no-go areas”: neighborhoods where I regularly went in pre-pandemic days, unrecognizable in the racist ravings of the rancid right.

I recall the visit of one particular pair of provocateurs, and their “we’re under siege” internet broadcast from a street corner blocks away from my house—and kitty-corner from one of the oldest, wealthiest, and Whitest, golf clubs in the state. 

“We Are Meant To Rise” offers a different vision of past and present, unflinching in its gaze on our national and local sins but ultimately affirming hope and possibility. After reading the whole book, I return again to the promise Mura’s introduction: 

“But our present-day encounters with our fellow Americans can involve a very different process. We can look at the stranger as a fellow human being, a fellow traveler, a fellow American. We can choose to learn from the stranger, learn a different language, a different culture, a different history. And we can comfort ourselves by the fact that this process has always been occurring in America. And in so many cases, such encounters and the exchanges they have catalyzed, have only made us stronger, more resilient, more creative and innovative, more capable of making connection with the rest of the world outside America—that is, if we let that stranger into our village, into our nation, and indeed, into our hearts.” 

We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World.” Edited by: Carolyn Holbrook and David Mura. Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 224 pages, $18.95.