Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times edited by Carolina De Robertis


Radical Hope is a collection of letters–to ancestors, children, strangers, and friends–written in the wake of the 2016 election. The collection includes work from 31 diverse writers, and their voices represent the best of America.

The book is divided into three sections. “Roots” addresses the past, and includes letters mostly written to ancestors, grandparents, and beloved elders. In these letters, writers seek solace and guidance, and draw strength from the courage and commitment of those who came before.

In “Branches”, the letters are addressed primarily to contemporaries—friends, other artists, passing acquaintances. These letters deal with the immediate problems of our time. What do we do now? How do we stay strong? How do we take care of each other in the face of hatred and bigotry? The last section, “Seeds” addresses the future. In these letters, written mostly to children or imagined children, writers contemplate the world as it is now and imagine what it may look like in the future. They offer some hope, some anger, some answers, ask many questions, impart love, and pass on wisdom.

This book was a balm to read. It wasn’t earth-shattering, and though a few of the essays gave me shivers, they were not all staggering works of literary art. That was okay. I liked that reading it wasn’t a challenge. Challenge is what I mostly look for in nonfiction–I seek out books that will expand my thinking, push my brain in new directions, change my perspectives. This book didn’t do that. It was like sitting down in a room full of the best, smartest, kindest people and listening to them tell stories. It was like they were saying: “It’s not okay, and here are all of the reasons why. But we’re here; we’ve survived; we are strong and beautiful. We are going to fight and celebrate.”

Carolina De Robertis, who edited the collection, did a fantastic job. The best thing about this book was the beautiful diversity of voices. The writers who contributed to Radical Hope represent the real America: immigrants and refugees, the children of immigrants and refugees, queer people and straight people, trans and cis people, writers of many races, religions, and cultures, of varying ages, at different stages in their careers. None of these writers look at the world the same way, and that was reflected in the essays. Though common threads wove through the whole collection–from where to draw strength and resilience, the importance of taking joy in each other, speaking out, and acting in solidarity–each writer’s experiences varied widely. Here was everybody

There was real creativity and imagination in the breadth of the letters. No two were alike, and there was a lovely balance between famililal letters and letters written to strangers, distant friends, imaginary people, or a theoretical, universal “you”. I was especially moved by the letters addressed to children. It was a much needed reminder that there are many people, all over the world, doing their best to raise kind, compassionate, courageous children.

If you need a break, a breather, a reminder that you’re not alone, or just a few words to inspire and comfort you, Radical Hope is your book.


I flagged many passages as I worked my way through this book. I’m including some of my favorites here, in case you’d like a taste of what his book has to offer.

“Colonial power, patriarchal power, capitalist power, must always and everywhere be battled, because they never, ever quit. We have to keep fighting, because otherwise there will be no future–all will be consumed. Those of us whose ancestors were owned and bred like animals know that future all too well, because it is, in part, our past. And we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe. Our ancestors did this with very little, and we who have more must do the same.

What I’m trying to cultivate is not blind optimism or inane positivity but what the philosopher Jonathan Lear calls radical hope. ‘What makes this hope radical, Lear writes, ‘is that it is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.’ Radical hope is not so much something you have but something you practice; it demands flexibility, openness, and what Lear describes as ‘imaginative excellence.’ Radical hope is our best weapon against despair, even when despair seems justifiable; it makes the survival of the end of your world possible. Only radical hope could have imagined people like us into existence. And I believe that it will help us create a better, more loving future.”
–Junot Diaz, Radical Hope

“Mama Harriet, I wonder what sustained you after all of the heartbreak and disappointment that you endured. I wonder how you kept going. I imagine it was ancestors to you, as you are to me, that kept you steady and focused, soothed your heart when it felt like it was shattered into a million pieces, gave you visions of what freedom could be, gave you courage, and infused you with a deep love for your people, whether or not they always loved themsleves.”
–Alicia Garza, Dear Mama Harriet

“You may take pride in the lattice of scars your ancestors received from the lash and for how long your blood pumped underwater while they waited for you to bob to the surface just so they could drown you again, and how long you kept your eyes open when your head rolled, and how long you sang aloud while your limbs burned…but hold on to the truth of how sometimes your people held the lash, and sometimes you knotted the witch’s wrists, and sometimes loosed the guillotine, and threw the match. Because none of us is truly free of past misdeeds, and that will help you forgive in the future.”
–Achy Obejas, You

“Our salvation is not somewhere out in cyberspace. It’s inside us; that’s where the deeds begin.”
–Jewelle Gomez, Not a Moment but a Movement

“Chipper Boy, this ain’t a scolding. Sure, I’m prone to coaching, but this is also a celebration. You exist. Despite everything they’ve done to us, you exist. With everything they’re doing now to silence and undermine your objections and confidence, Chebon, you exist. As long as you’re alive to witness and protest, you still exist. So don’t get down. Instead, get up and shout. Then dance. Don’t forget to stomp and dance. Feel your feet on the sand. That’s your freedom.”
–Chip Livingston, Dear Chebon

“So when people ask you where you’re from, you won’t have a one-word answer for them. Some people, the kind who use cosmopolitan and migrant as insults, will call you rootless. They will call you inauthentic. They will tell you that you lack some important anchor to the earth, that your loves and attachments have less face then theirs because of all the journeys in our family’s past. When they say such things, remind yourself that they, too, are migrants, even if they’ve forgotten it. The human story is one of continual branching movement, out of Africa to every corner of the globe. When people talk of blood and soil, as if their ancestors had sprung fully formed from the earth of a particular place, it involves a kind of forgetting. Place is not nothing, and you need to understand that many families have histories that are unlike ours. There is something noble about staying put and building, something worthy of respect. But there is also something noble bout the nomad who carries the whole world in a suitcase….It’s not a loss or a lack. Your experience is no more or less authentic or beautiful than a person who lives on land their ancestors have farmed for generations. It’s different.”
–Hari Kunzru, A Letter to My Son

“Our ability to move back and forth, between countries and cultures and identities, is a  tremendous privilege that enriches you in ways we need more that ever during these days of tribalism and nationalism. It can also be exhausting. Resist the demands to choose between your identities; resit the demands that you translate for one side or the other; resist the attempts by those on all the different sides of you to dilute you to one thing or shrink you into one box.

Turn those boxes upside down! Complicate and confuse! I’m a big fan of complication–it humanizes us–and confusion–it scrambles the signals of the racists and biggots and creates space for you to be marvelous in all your multitudes.

You are more powerful when you complicated and confuse.”
–Mona Eltahawy, #Fuckfascism #Fuckthepatriarchy

“All this is to say: I am fool enough to believe that storytelling matters; that metaphors make spirts sing; that only art can convince us–in its brutal complexity, in its myriad contradictions, and its nuanced portraiture of love–that we, as human beings, long for meaning in our lives and that this longing ennobles us.”
–Cherrie Moraga, A “Holla” from the West Side

“You are the most trusting person I know, but you are not at all certain of being understood. You are not always certain that the language you have at your disposal–of murmurs, of cries and babbles–is enough. You cry and you shout, and when that fails, you merely implore with your gaze. But you persevere, because instinct tells you that language is, for all its imperfections, integral to your survival. Language is how you will make the world around you. It is how you will make yourself.”
–Katie Kitamura, Language Is how You Will Make Yourself

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