Emily Bernard and Mychal Denzel Smith
Black artists, intellectuals, and writers have long been asked to process their pain for white audiences—which has led some well-intentioned white progressives to view pain as the entirety of the black experience. Recognizing this fact inevitably leads us to wonder: what would have James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time been like if he had only addressed his fourteen-year-old nephew, or included a letter to his nieces?
Emily Bernard, author of Black Is the Body, and Mychal Denzel Smith, author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, both seek to expand and break out of limiting narratives around race in their work. On March 7, Harper’s Magazine senior editor Rachel Poser moderated a discussion with Bernard and Smith at Book Culture that weighed the delicacies of genre, the expectations of audiences, and the act of parlaying experience into art.