Nate Powell is best known as the March Trilogy artist, a collaboration with John Lewis to tell the story of his early years as a Civil Rights Activist through the end of his days at SNCC. A new series telling John Lewis’ story after his days at SNCC will start coming out in August.
This interview at Paste in 2015 says that after his kids were born, he has a hard time doing more than 250 pages of art a year. Graphically, he tends toward black and white with occasional splashes of color for effect. In many ways, he has become one of the best-known artists in the country—the first to win a National Book Award and the winner of many other awards. There are a ton of good articles on Powell. He has also talked many times about the near impossibility of making a living as an artist. Even one that is as well known as he.
Save it for Later is a memoir. I preordered as soon as I heard about it, and like many books that I buy because of the author, I intentionally did not read much about it before I read it. I was unprepared for how much of the book was about navigating parenting as an activist. And it was that part that really spoke to me as a reader.
You cannot read my book reviews regularly and not know that I am somewhat of an activist myself. As I discussed yesterday, part of what motivates me is that I cannot parent as I want to if I do not deal with my own issues first. I am an activist in part because I want my kids to be activists. I want my kids to work for change in the world and see their responsibility to work for change for the sake of others. I took my kids, 3 and 4 at the time, to the 50th Anniversary march remembering MLK’s funeral. They came with us to several marches and prayer services in response to Floyd, Aubry, and Taylor’s deaths last year. I discussed with my daughter the death of Daunte Wright and the protests going on this morning.
Powell is five years younger than I am, but his kids are slightly older. He is a stay-at-home father as well. In this memoir, he draws his kids with animal heads in a brilliant move of protective reality. He communicates the difficulty of informing his kids of the world’s problems because he thinks it is important, and struggling with how much to tell them at what age. There is a point where he recounts a conversation between himself and his daughter about the police. He wants her to know that policing is corrupted and racially discriminatory, but he does not want her to fear the police.
When my daughter heard the NPR reports of arrests at protests in Minnesota yesterday, she asked why people are arrested. ‘Did they do something bad?’ I reminded her that protests were a response to injustice. And sometimes, we have to be willing to be arrested to opposed injustice. And she knows enough civil rights history and enough about the problem of police brutality to connect protests to justice movements immediately. But that does not make these discussions easier.
The opening of the book was about the election of Trump. It was apocalyptic in tone and as I glanced through reviews on Goodreads, many of the negative or mixed reviews were complaining about politics or about ‘preaching to the choir.’ This morning I listened to an NPR report about YouTube and its role in the rise of disinformation and misinformation and how that has helped fuel conspiracy theory-based family and other relational breakdowns. I know some will view Powell’s opposition to Trump and his commitment to civil rights as a type of conspiracy theory. The rise of Trump has mattered to the increasing problems in communicating across political lines. It is not that Trump has caused the problem, but that he has exposed and widened the problems of race and the inability to work across political lines. The world’s tribalism is becoming worse, but the way to deal with tribalism isn’t to reject commitments to justice but to build relational networks. I had a long conversation yesterday about the difficulty of having an in-house conversation about forgiveness within a church setting because of the ways that forgiveness has been abused to shut down conversations around race. The tribalism problem is not just ‘out there.’
Powell does not have a lot of hope in Save It for Later. He is grappling with frustration and depression and the world going in a way he does not want. But in some ways, grappling with parenting is always an expression of hope. Caring for children and parenting them to be adults that will work for justice requires a level of hope, even if it is not at the top of mind. He also is self-reflective enough to know that while he can respect his parents and their growth, he knows that his own children will be frustrated with him for his own lack of growth in the future. It is the nature of things.
One of the reviews on Goodreads said that in some ways, Powell is ‘preaching to the choir,’ but the choir isn’t only there to sing; they are also there to be in solidarity with one another and to hear the sermon. And while Powell can be a bit didactic at times, his passion carries through, and I find it honest and inspiring. I was surprised at how much I connected with Save it for Later. I instantly thought of several people I want to pass my copy onto. I don’t think you need to be an activist Gen X parent to appreciate Save it for Later, but I think that is who will most identify with it.
Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest by Nate Powell Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition (I always buy my paper books at Hearts and Minds Books which has a small online shop, but most books are ordered through their old school system.