Rebecca Solnit says Lacy M. Johnson’s The Reckonings gives us something essential: "a vision of who and where we are that's both scathing and generous." Kiese Laymon says "I don't know that I've ever been happier to be alive after reading any book. In this weird way that probably says way too much about the smallness of my life, I felt like everything would be okay -- like we will make and sustain justice -- because a book I needed but never imagined reading was in the world." Lacy joins David on Between the Covers to talk about justice and art, justice as art, about #metoo accountability, about what it means to be against whiteness and accountable to one's complicity in white supremacy, about making art in a time of global climate apocalypse, and how joy is an essential part of the equation.
Houston-based Lacy M. Johnson’s recent essay collection, The Reckonings, grapples with vital questions: the concept of evil, police killings, the BP oil spill, and the complexity of speaking truth to power. Finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in the category criticism, Johnson’s essays move between the personal and the political with deftness and precision. This interview was conducted via email where we talked about Johnson’s curatorial project, the Houston Flood Museum, her activism, and the tension—in the space of individual essays—between telling the truth about the epidemic of violence against women and the reproduction of spectacle. Johnson is also the author of The Other Side, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in autobiography, as well as the author of Trespasses: A Memoir, excerpted and anthologized in both The Racial Imaginaryand Literature: The Human Experience.
Our legal system has methods for punishing perpetrators of sexual assault. But prison time for the guilty doesn’t necessarily equal peace for the victim. Lacy Johnson joins Krys Boyd to talk about her own experience as a sexual assault survivor – and about how she considers her rapist in terms of justice, vengeance and retribution. Her new collection of essays is called “The Reckonings” (Scribner).
Lacy M. Johnson often gets asked, “What would you like to see happen to your rapist?” The question usually comes from readers of The Other Side, her 2014 memoir about being kidnapped and raped by her boyfriend, who planned to kill her. Her latest collection of essays, The Reckonings (Scribner), is an attempt to answer this question, and, more broadly, address the complexities of seeking retribution.
Each essay in the collection grapples with an injustice that includes and goes beyond the self: from sexual assault to the death penalty to environmental disaster. There is no “irritable reaching” for certainty as John Keats put it. Through each exacting and deliberate examination, Johnson’s project moves ideas of justice beyond vengeance, into compassion, mercy, and grace. She contends deeply with injustice, including a frank admission and in-depth exploration of her own white privilege in the essay “Against Whiteness.” At the very heart of her thesis is that “the failure to reckon” may be the greatest injustice of all.
Read more below.
In her new essay collection, The Reckonings, releasing tomorrow from Scribner, Johnson turns [an] unflinching eye outward, onto the biggest, most insurmountable issues of our time: capital punishment and what defines justice; dismantling whiteness; speaking out about sexual assault; making art when it feels like the world is ending; and how to carry the collective caring, bravery, and generosity that humans show in the midst of disaster into every day of our lives—just to name a few. In a world that feels more overwhelming and unhealable every day, Johnson has provided a grounding, clarifying text to remind us of what’s at stake, and what we should be striving toward. She’s created a compass, pointing forward, that I know I’ll return to over and over again.
The Millions: The epigraph to these essays is a quote from Djuna Barnes’s novel Nightwood: “The Unendurable is the beginning of the curve of joy.” How and when, in the aftermath of trauma, did you find yourself no longer wanting—if you ever did—a vengeful justice? And when did you sense your capability to curve toward joy?
Cultures of Energy | Cymene Howe & Dominic Boyer
On the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, Lacy talks with Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer of Cultures of Energy Podcast about how discovery might be a better way to think about life after trauma, the newly opened Houston Flood Museum, and Lacy’s new book The Reckonings.
Between the Covers | KBOO with David Naimon
In early 2016, Lacy sat down with David Naimon to talk about The Other Side. David says of the book, "Lacy M. Johnson’s “powerfully moving and brilliantly structured memoir, The Other Side, asks, “How is it possible to reclaim the body after devastating violence?” Her intense desire and demand for a life lived in the body is triumphant. Johnson’s strength to free not only her physical self, but also to move through years of incapacitating fear by writing this book, is breathtaking."
"Claiming My Body, Claiming My Voice" | Los Angeles Review of Books with Nathan Goldman
"I HEARD Lacy M. Johnson read from her new memoir, The Other Side, at the Tin House Writers’ Workshop this past July. After hearing the first few lines of her shattering prose, I knew that I would read the book. And I did — in a single rapt sitting, on the plane ride out of Portland.
The Other Side tells how Johnson was kidnapped and raped by a man with whom she’d actually been involved, and how she has come to understand herself and the world in the wake of this trauma. In the book, which is as ambitious as it is affecting, Johnson refashions our culture’s narratives about violence and victimhood, deepens our understanding of the lived experience of systemic misogyny, and illumines the elusive interplay of body, word, memory, and meaning.
Johnson took the time to respond to my questions over email..."
"The Other Side: A Domestic Violence Survivor's Story" | Houston Matters with Craig Cohen
Marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Violence Against Women Act, Lacy sat down with Houston Matters host Craig Cohen in September 2014 to discuss the suspension of Ray Rice after video surfaced of him punching his then-girlfriend Janay so hard that he knocked her unconscious. In this conversation, Lacy talks about the reality of domestic violence, and some of the difficult thoughts, challenges, and decisions facing Janay Rice, and other women in abusive relationships.
The Rumpus Interview with Melissa Chadburn
"In her stunning memoir The Other Side, Lacy M. Johnson tells the story of being held prisoner in a soundproofed basement of her ex-boyfriend’s apartment. Though the violence in her book is easy to sensationalize, her narrative is a universal one of survival. Moreover, Johnson herself is anything but a victim..."
After "Antigone, Jr.": An Interview with Trajal Harrell
Following the capacity performance of his critically acclaimed "Antigone, Jr." at Portland's TBA:13, Lacy spoke with choreographer and Guggenheim fellow Trajal Harrell over email.
"LJ: At Sunday night’s performance of Antigone, Jr., you introduced the piece by saying that you began the work with a question: what if one of the post-modern choreographers from Judson Church (Judson Dance Theater) had gone uptown to Harlem to perform in the ball scene? (Correct me if I’m stating that incorrectly.) I wonder if you could start by talking about this question. Why is it urgent to ask this question now (or at the time that you started working on the pieces)? Is it still an urgent question, in your view?