This is one of those stories that I show my students when we discuss what it means for art to be revolutionary. What does that even mean, they wonder, and I wonder too. How can art influence a discourse in a meaningful way? How can art challenge state violence? I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I show them ‘The Alive Sister’ and let it speak for itself. This story does so much in such a tight space – it spandrels, offers multiple versions of itself, references the writer’s role in the creation of the story, references the skeptical reader of the story (the skeptical reader, who, in my experience, inevitably exists – but also usually feels confounded that the story calls out their skepticism before/as they’re experiencing it). I am skeptical of empathy as a concept – I can never truly know what it means to be Black in the United States, or from any identity not my own. Art is a simulation of experience, one we willingly enter and exit at our own discretion. But I believe greatly in this story – in how it navigates tragedy, heartbreak, and anger, and tries to build a space where greater possibilities can exist.
Originally published in The Offing, 2016. Read the story here