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If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence. If we desire a society without discrimination, then we must not discriminate against anyone in the process of building this society. If we desire a society that is democratic, then democracy must become a means as well as an end. — Bayard Rustin
Wanting something, the essence of desire is, for many, the thing that is hardest to express. Bayard Rustin, the gay, black, socialist labor and civil rights leader desired to live in a peaceful democracy where the labels that defined him might slowly fade into oblivion as his country embraced a new understanding of what the post-war US could and should be.
You know what fucked him up? The desire to have sex with another man. He doesn’t speak of that particular desire above. He didn’t speak of it for a long time after he got caught in the back of a car with a couple of guys in 1953. He was punished for that by the law. He was marginalized by the very people he fought alongside in his effort to drag this country kicking and screaming into a new age.
Desire is complicated in that as much as it burns inside of you and demands an outlet as is it born of heart, of love, of wanting something that is so essential, that will make life so good once you tell the world, once you manifest it in your life, it can also fuck you up.
Litro launches in the US at an extraordinary time. Just as we thought we were entering the 21st Century with the hope that our collective desire to live in the kind of world Rustin desired, we were trumped. But writers can help us to mitigate our fears, their work can push us toward action, toward embracing our essential values in the face of being cast down, being made menial by the forces of those in power. Writers can give us hope and stoke our desires.
In this issue a group of emerging writers including BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellow Frederick McKindra; Whiting Award winner Nadia Owusu; PEN Beyond Margins Award winner Laila Halaby; one of the Hay Festival’s Africa 39 Chika Unigwe; and Best American Experimental Writing of 2020’s s Leah Sophia Dworkin give voice to desire in a range of stories and essays that embrace the 21st Century with the empathy, anger, and poetry that makes for a portfolio of exceptional literary expressions of our time. Oh, and there’s sex too. And fear. And fun.
Some of these writers speak of the desires of the body, of the flesh. Some speak more to a body politic or “real” politic. They all, including the poetic writer and translator Lawrence Schimel whose prose sparkles and sears with the heat of eroticism; Chika Onyenezi who brings us nostalgic longings; Hannah Seidlitz whose melancholic desire sings; and Ingrid Norton who offers us dreamy prose, contribute dutifully and beautifully to this exploration of this most basic and complicated thing we all share: desire.
Remember their names as, over time, you’ll want to grab more of their work. And remember Bayard Rustin who I think of as the godfather of this section. Litro’s US launch is a tribute to what he fought for.