TIR Editors on Racial Justice

Over the past months of seemingly daily reports of racialized violence—and especially now, as we’ve celebrated the accountability the jury decision in Derek Chauvin’s case represents while also acknowledging how far it is from true justice—the staff of The Iowa Review have felt conflicting impulses toward urgent response and toward communicating the earnest and personal. 

We are a diverse staff for whom these violences are not abstract. We’ve talked about how we can communicate the grief we’ve felt in reaction to George Floyd’s death and the many deaths at the hands of the police since; that we’ve felt at the deaths of Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, and Paul Andre Michels, victims of the anti-Asian shooting in Atlanta; that we’ve felt at the deaths and atrocities associated with the detention of immigrants at the southern border; and that we’ve felt at the many deaths and abuses that feel unnamable in their numerousness. Can that grief be accurately communicated on the contrasincere fora of social media, in a way pithy enough for Twitter? How do we encompass each of our particular responses in language that avoids the deadness of committee-crafted, institutional statements? 

We are lucky to have an archive of work that engages in serious thought and feeling about state-sanctioned, racialized violence against Black people; about the experiences of Asian Americans as they struggle against AAPI hate; and about our borders as a violence, dating back to nearly this journal’s inception. We have collected some of these pieces here. We hope this collection speaks at least some of what feels urgent to express to you now. Most importantly: that we see you, we’re with you, we are you. 

—Lynne Nugent, Katie Berta, Joan Li, Abagail Petersen, and Darius Stewart at The Iowa Review


Pieces engaging with racialized violence against Black people:

In Shane McCrae’s “Community,” the police are a looming menace who expose themselves to the speaker.

Audre Lorde’s “Power” laments the unjust killing of a ten-year-old by police (CW: this poem contains descriptions of a policeman killing a child and graphic descriptions of the body of a murdered child).

In “Singing Counter,” Honorée Fanonne Jeffers responds to the lynching of Hayes and Mary Turner--and we see the tradition of violence that our system of policing is still a part of (CW: this poem includes several passages of graphic description of lynching).

Marcus Wicker’s “Silencer on the Arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. after Sassing an Officer Who Assumed He’d Unlawfully Entered His Own Home” explores the ideas, attitudes, and assumptions that led to the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Justin Phillip Reed’s excerpt from “Paroxysm” is a long poem presenting a series of meditations that center around police killings and being policed, as well as intimacy, sex, and queerness.


Pieces engaging with AAPI experience, published before the current wave of violence against Asian Americans but revealing the othering thoughts and actions that can foreshadow and underlie violence.

Stella Wong’s “How to say break-up in a new language or Which number favored concubine am I?” draws connections between the sexualization and the exoticization of Asian women.

Marilyn Chin’s “How I Got That Name” takes on sexism, the pressure to assimilate, and the “model minority” myth by examining how she was named.

Diana Khoi Nguyen’s “The Exodus” describes the intergenerational trauma of fleeing a home country.

In Jenny Zhang’s “You Fell Into The River and I Saved You!” the narrator negotiates connection with her family in China.

Kyunghee Pak, Realtor,” by Sandra K. Hong, recounts the relationship between two immigrant mothers and how their changing class statuses shape their friendship.


Pieces engaging with immigration from Latin America and the detention of undocumented immigrants:

Shame, Documented,” by Leslie Contreras Schwartz, archives the many dehumanizing experiences undocumented detainees suffer (CW: this poem includes many graphic descriptions of deprivation and abuse, including mentions of rape).

This is the border simulator,” by Gabriel Dozal, investigates the inventedness of the border—and the real violences it inflicts and maintains against individuals and families.

In Jennifer De Leon’s “House Keepers,” an immigrant from Guatemala negotiates the power disparities between herself and her wealthy white employer.

In Gabriela Garcia’s “Frosted Glass” a mother and daughter try to negotiate intergenerational differences in their understanding of assimilation, race, and borders.