Could there be a better pairing of writer and subject than William T. Vollmann on the southern border in the age of President Donald J. Trump? Exactly. So, Harper’s Magazine gave the master chronicler of lives on the margins the entire July issue for “Keep Going North,” reported earlier this year from the area in and around Tucson, Arizona. Never one for refraining, as his voluminous, richly imagined novels and daring battlefield journalism attest, Vollmann has won awards and passionate readers the world over with writing that is assured, surprising, warm, illuminating, and, most of all, generous. Here, in 28,000 words and 41 black and white photographs, Vollmann gives voice and face to detained migrants, asylum seekers, shelter operators, soup-kitchen hands, attorneys, and law-enforcement officials. These are the people the United States would rather not know—a diverse population that still believes in the promise of America even as America has forgotten its own promise to welcome the stranger.
That fallen America shows up in the rest of the July issue as well. In Easy Chair, Kevin Baker writes about the college-admissions scandal, the Index tallies up the numbers on drunk shopping and finds that the swill-and-click is good for the economy. Readings opens with a reflection on Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson, and the characters in Nell Zink’s fiction seek fame and fortune in rock music. Norman Mailer serves as a guru in one of the books reviewed in the New Books column, which reminds me—the last time Harper’s devoted an issue to a single feature was March 1971, when we published Mailer’s “The Prisoner of Sex.” That cri de coeur of a white male writer arrogantly confronting an earlier wave of feminism went on to have a long life, spurring a book, a documentary, and most recently, a play. May the yearning souls Vollmann imbues with so much dignity here enjoy similar longevity.