The word geography originates from the Greek word geographia which, in turn, is comprised of the Latin words for earth (gēo-) and writing (-graphia): writing the world. In this reading list, which is adapted from a second-year university course that I taught a few years ago, I consider places and spaces and locations and sites at different scales. The geographies written here start with the body, moving up into the home, then the street, the city, the state, other places, and finally, outer space.
The texts that I have chosen are examples that offer thoughtful responses to various questions: What is the author’s place? How do we locate ourselves in these texts and how do we relate to them? How does geography produce and re-produce space? How do we — and others — write the world into being? I also want to explore how writing about sites at different scales reveals connections and other ways of writing: What do writings about the city unfold about our understanding of the body? How can our approach to public space explain what happens in the home?
[Image by Muhd Asyraa.]
The Skin I’m In
In this important Toronto Life article, Cole describes how his body — a black man’s body — makes him hypervisible and vulnerable to state violence in a city that lays claim to being “a post-racial city, a multicultural utopia.”
It’s In My Blood, My Face — My Mother’s Voice, the Way I Sweat
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
Valerio describes the visceral way the landscape of his body contains and reflects his Blackfoot and Chicana heritage, how his body feels within the languages, traditions, and cultures he belongs to.
Homeplace: A Site of Resistance
Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics
In this essay, hooks describes the ways in which her grandmother’s home was a safe space, bounded from the racism and violence (or the constant presence of the possibility of violence) of the journey. Home is where one could be human, and in that humanity, find the love and care to organise and resist the outside world.
When It’s Time to Say Goodbye to the Old House
Mahanta’s article on the meaning of home for his immigrant father ranges from the family’s immigratory movements, to the inherited family home in India his father had to legally claim, to the first home his father bought (and sold) in the United States.
Istanbul: Memories and the City
Alfred A. Knopf
The city is a repository for desires, dreams, tragedies, memories. A non-fiction book from laureate Orhan Pamuk, this is writing that immortalises Istanbul and the author’s relationship to it. Pamuk’s descriptions of Istanbul are highly-detailed and specific renderings; intimate portraits of the author and his city as he knows it to be.
The Spectral: Assembling Douala, Cameroon
For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities
Duke University Press
The spectral — “a series of refractions among real life, artiﬁce, imagination, and action whereby residents hedge their bets as to what events, relationships, resources, and opportunities actually mean to their everyday navigation of the city” — unfolds space in Douala to expose how the urban is a multiscalar site, how the city is a collection of interpersonal relationships.
A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging
A Map to the Door of No Return is a collection of journeys: Brand’s personal journey from Trinidad to Canada, her journeys to different countries throughout the world, all existing among the memories of the historical journeys of members of the Black diaspora.
Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Elkin’s book traces the history of the flâneuse, or the female equivalent of the strolling man who observes public urban life. It’s a paradoxical space for women, this hypervisibility of being female and public, yet at the same time, absented and unplanned for.
V: OTHER PLACES
Dance Revolution: How Disaster and Tragedy Spawned a Radical Music Movement in Haiti
What does raboday reveal about Haiti? How can a cultural product tell us so much about a place, its people, its needs? In this article for Buzzfeed, Ferreira writes about the music that emerged from an urgent need for expression.
A Most American Terrorist: The making of Dylann Roof
Ghansah received the 2018 Pulitzer for Feature Writing for this piece on Dylann Roof; presented as a profile, the article also looked at the role of the places shaped Roof, providing a particular geographic understanding of who he came to be.
VI: (OUTER) SPACE
A classic essay by Dillard in which she narrates a trip to witness a total solar eclipse. Dillard travels with her husband to experience the enormity of the event, and here, the focus is on relationality: what does being human mean?
Are the Planets Habitable?
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Spoiler alert, the answer to the posed question is: No, but maybe Mars. With renewed interest in exploring Mars, and NASA’s recent directive to build a foundation for exploratory trips in the near future, this historical article still holds relevance. And when analyzed from a contemporary perspective, alerts us to the questions raised by our desire to explore (colonize) other planets.