Editor's Note — May 9, 2019, 12:17 pm

Inside the June Issue

Marilynne Robinson on poverty; Alexander Chee, T Cooper, Garth Greenwell, T Kira Madden, Eileen Myles, Darryl Pinckney, Brontez Purnell, and Michelle Tea on Stonewall; and more

June is our birthday month. In 2019 Harper’s Magazine marks 169 years of continuous publication. Throughout its history the magazine has been associated with an expansive roster of the most eminent names in American letters, among them Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, and Mark Twain. A standout name from Harper’s past half century is Marilynne Robinson, a writer with whom the magazine has been associated since her first novel, Housekeeping, was excerpted in the February 1981 issue.

Robinson went on to win much acclaim for her writing, including a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In this month’s cover story she reads Karl Marx alongside some of the greatest economic theorists of the past two centuries in an attempt to understand why the rich keep getting richer while the poor remain poor. Robinson is struck by how ideas on labor and capital have remained fixed while the means of production grow ever more alienating.

The global shipping industry has seen profound changes over the past sixty years, exploding, as Rowan Moore Gerety writes, “into an arms race of bigger boats, deeper ports, and automated terminals, allowing more stuff to move in less time, with less fuel, and, above all, less labor.” Moore Gerety finds one last holdout, the Miami River, along whose five-plus miles, much of America’s junk is transported piece by piece to Haiti to be sold. This method, known as break-bulk shipping, has been otherwise abandoned like the millions of mattresses we toss away every year—some of which become hot commodities for the entrepreneurs Moore Gerety meets as he follows the route of a throwback business that, as one terminal owner tells him, “is all labor.”

Job creation is a rationalization that politicians on both sides of the aisle use to explain away a vote in favor of increased defense spending. But, as Washington editor Andrew Cockburn explains, bloated military budgets are no boon to employment; they don’t even hold much promise for our safety. In “The Military-Industrial Virus,” Cockburn describes a corrupt and mismanaged system that exists only to sustain itself and grow, demands more money every year, and, contrary to common belief, is not propelled by foreign wars but rather uses war to justify its quest for bigger budgets.

This June we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a definitive moment in the continuing struggle for L.G.B.T.Q. rights and equality. While much could be said about the historical importance of Stonewall and the political gains that have, and have not, followed, Harper’s has taken a more personal approach, asking eight writers to respond to the simple but surprisingly fraught question: What does Stonewall mean to you? Alexander Chee, T Cooper, Garth Greenwell, T Kira Madden, Eileen Myles, Darryl Pinckney, Brontez Purnell, and Michelle Tea were kind enough to answer.

Also in this issue: Lionel Shriver on yet another New York Times mea culpa; Justin Taylor solves the mystery behind a father’s farewell; Max Nelson on Abbas Kiarostami’s all-seeing eye; Madeleine Schwartz on Lore Segal’s effervescent immigrant novels; and, in Readings, prison officials foil a literary escape.

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More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note April 11, 2019, 1:29 pm

Inside the May Issue

Kevin Baker on the (Green) New Deal; Daniel Castro meets the negotiator of a historic gang truce in El Salvador; Joe Kloc encounters full-time boat residents in Sausalito

Editor's Note March 15, 2019, 7:34 am

Inside the April Issue

Christian Lorentzen on the decline of book reviewing; Rachel Nolan on the troubled legacy of Guatemalan adoptions; Lisa Wells on the fear of flying

Editor's Note February 14, 2019, 2:32 pm

Inside the March Issue

Andrew Cockburn on Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy; James Pogue on the myth of white genocide in South Africa; Sallie Tisdale on species in conflict on the Columbia River

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In 1989 I published a book about a plutonium-producing nuclear complex in En­gland, on the coast of the Irish Sea. The plant is called Sellafield now. In 1957, when it was the site of the most serious nuclear accident then known to have occurred, the plant was called Windscale. While working on the book, I learned from reports in the British press that in the course of normal functioning it released significant quantities of waste—plutonium and other transuranic elements—into the environment and the adjacent sea. There were reports of high cancer rates. The plant had always been wholly owned by the British government. I believe at some point the government bought it from itself. Privatization was very well thought of at the time, and no buyer could be found for this vast monument to dinosaur modernism.

Back then, I shared the American assumption that such things were dealt with responsibly, or at least rationally, at least in the West outside the United States. Windscale/Sellafield is by no means the anomaly I thought it was then. But the fact that a government entrusted with the well-being of a crowded island would visit this endless, silent disaster on its own people was striking to me, and I spent almost a decade trying to understand it. I learned immediately that the motives were economic. What of all this noxious efflux they did not spill they sold into a global market.

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Stonewall at Fifty·

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Early in the morning on June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street, the city’s most popular gay bar. The police had raided Stonewall frequently since its opening two years before, but the local precinct usually tipped off the management and arrived in the early evening. This time they came unannounced, during peak hours. They swept through the bar, checking I.D.s and arresting anyone wearing attire that was not “appropriate to one’s gender,” carrying out the law of the time. Eyewitness accounts differ on what turned the unruly scene explosive. Whatever the inciting event, patrons and a growing crowd on the street began throwing coins, bottles, and bricks at the police, who were forced to retreat into the bar and call in the riot squad.

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The Wrong Side of History·

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Left to the tender mercies of the state, a group of veterans and their families continue to reside in a shut-down town

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The squat warehouse at Miami’s 5th Street Terminal was nearly obscured by merchandise: used car engines; tangles of coat hangers; bicycles bound together with cellophane; stacks of wheelbarrows; cases of Powerade and bottled water; a bag of sprouting onions atop a secondhand Whirlpool refrigerator; and, above all, mattresses—shrink-wrapped and bare, spotless and streaked with dust, heaped in every corner of the lot—twins, queens, kings. All this and more was bound for Port-de-Paix, a remote city in northwestern Haiti.

When I first arrived at the warehouse on a sunny morning last May, a dozen pickup trucks and U-Hauls were waiting outside, piled high with used furniture. Nearby, rows of vehicles awaiting export were crammed together along a dirt strip separating the street from the shipyard, where a stately blue cargo vessel was being loaded with goods.

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My father decided that he would end his life by throwing himself from the top of the parking garage at the Nashville airport, which he later told me had seemed like the best combination of convenience—that is, he could get there easily and unnoticed—and sufficiency—that is, he was pretty sure it was tall enough to do the job. I never asked him which other venues he considered and rejected before settling on this plan. He probably did not actually use the word “best.” It was Mother’s Day, 2013.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

Gene Simmons of the band Kiss addressed Department of Defense personnel in the Pentagon Briefing Room.

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