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Saturday Links: Chavela Vargas Edition

Goodbye to la voz áspera de la ternura.

Emma S.

I was so happy to see this video of Malala Yousafzai walking out of the Birmingham, England, hospital where she’s been in treatment since the attempt on her life in October. The article makes it clear that she is not done with hospital life, but it is still amazing to see her up and around. We are all cheering for you, Malala!

Ever since I came across his short story collection Pastoralia in college, George Saunders has been my literary hero. I once went to see him read at a cafe in San Francisco. My boyfriend at the time had bought me Saunders’s latest book, In Persuasion Nation, and after the reading, we both waited in line for him to sign it. When it was my turn to meet him, I kind of stuttered, “You’re my hero, thank you for everything!” Saunders flipped to the first page of my book, where my boyfriend had written an uber-romantic love letter. He chuckled, then told us that the key to a happy and long-lasting romance is to always remember to praise your significant other and never take them for granted. “For example,” he said to us, “just the other night, I told my wife that she has an incredible behind, because, well, she really does.” HOW COULD I NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH THIS GUY? This New York Times profile of Saunders, published in anticipation of his newest short story collection, Tenth of December, is the ultimate pump-up tribute to his incredible writing. And it’s full of all kinds of delightful stories about him–like how he attended the Colorado School of Mines and got sick from swimming in a river infested with monkey feces. Oh, and also that he used to get together with the writers David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and Ben Marcus for intense discussions about how to be emotional in fiction without being sentimental or cheesy. Real talk for writing bros.

WARNING: DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO IF IT HAS BEEN A WHILE SINCE YOU’VE EATEN A CORNUCOPIA OF DELICIOUS CHINESE FOOD. Because OH MY BAO, this li’l video of two documentarians eating their way through China is gonna come after your salivary glands. I’m talking noodles; I’m talking meat on sticks; I’m talking glistening, pudgy silk tofu literally quivering with hot oils and scallions. Holy mother of Chinese cuisine, have mercy on me.

The latest issue of my favorite comics anthology, Gang Bang Bong, edited by Ginette Lapalme and Ines Estrada, is now available for purchase online. I bought it a couple of months ago at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, and it’s the best issue yet. Get it! Read it! Love it!

You know that feeling of satisfaction when a big fancy publication writes about someone you like and they totally GET it? I felt that way reading this New York Times profile of Julie Klausner and her wonderful podcast.


When I was little, I asked my parents why half the members of U.S. Congress were not women. I think they mumbled something about voters and sexism and patriarchy. My baby feminist brain just could not compute. Why are the people’s representatives predominately white men when this country is made up of so many other kinds of people, I wondered? Years have passed since then, and although the gender balance is far from even and the number of people of color in office remains shamefully low, this election brings the most female Senators ever to D.C. They all got sworn in this week, and to celebrate that, ABC released this inspiring group interview, done before the holidays. It’s pretty amazing to see them all together in one room (aka Leslie Knope’s dream) talking about their governing style, the issues that really matter, and the possibility–or rather the inevitability–of having a female president very soon.

Every January, Seattle’s alternative weekly The Stranger runs a series of posts asking notable locals about their regrets from the past year. My favorite edition is always the compilation of musicians’ remorseful admissions, called “Let It Out.” Not only is it entertaining to read local stars’ tales of guilt; it also reminds me that even the coolest of people make stupid mistakes from time to time, which makes me feel better about my own not-so-cool screw-ups. Side note: I feel as if Rookie readers will especially appreciate the regret listed 7th from the bottom. That is, if the name Ryan Gosling means anything to you.

Haim topped the BBC Sound of 2013 list. I love this band! They are unbelievably talented and genuine and I’m really glad they won.

I haven’t known what to do with my feelings of horror and helplessness since reading about the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on December 16 near Munirka, India, and then, a few days later, about her death, from injuries sustained in that attack, in a hospital in Singapore. I scoured newspapers and websites for more information, but I found myself faced over and over again with the same horrible, incomprehensible facts: the brutality of the assault, the failure on the part of several passersby to help the victim and her male companion, who had also been terribly beaten, the extent and nature of her injuries. I was desperate to learn more, but I’m not sure what I was looking for—I think in the wake of something so earth-shakingly terrible, we long for some kind of explanation, or maybe an assurance that it wasn’t really as bad as the stark facts made it seem. We need things to make sense, to appease our fear that things happen, for absolutely no reason at all, that are worse than almost anything we have imagined. I know that nothing I read will give me any of that, and that nothing will placate my sorrow over what happened to that woman and her friend. But when I read this blog post by Basharat Peer on The New Yorker’s website a few days ago, I finally felt I could stop searching for new info. (Warning: that post explicitly describes details of the rape.) Peer goes into the cultural, political, and legal context in which the crime took place; talks about the massive protests that followed (and are still going on) and how they’re different from any that she’s seen before, because they involve everyone, not just committed activists and lefties; calls for reform of India’s regressive sexual-assault laws; and includes this video of a speech given by Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, at a protest outside the Delhi Chief Minister’s house. I found a loose English translation here, and it reminded me of the kinds of things people say at SlutWalks (“We are here,” Krishnan said, “to [say] that women have every right to be adventurous. We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don’t you dare tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, in the day, or how to walk or how many escorts we need!”), and that helped me remember that what happened in Dwarka wasn’t a list of unfathomable data—it was something I already knew, something we all know but can’t accept. Krishnan’s words woke me up and filled me with raw, righteous anger—which was what I needed, not more facts.

In August of 2012, Chavela Vargas, one of my favorite people who ever lived, passed away. She left her native Costa Rica in the 1920s to pursue a musical career in Mexico, where she became a hugely popular folk singer with the most grizzled, gorgeous voice. She was also a gender-bucking feminist: in the conservative climate of 1950s Mexico, she’d appear onstage wearing pants and smoking a cigar; she refused to change the pronouns in love songs from she to he, and she partied with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. That all feels like a super-reductive way of describing her, but luckily ANOTHER amazing Latina, Sandra Cisneros, wrote the most loving celebration of Chavela’s life in The New York Times Magazine. I can only hope that we all live lives as full and juicy as hers. RIP Chavela.

On a more contemporary note: my friends are all having intense but necessary discussions about race and culture right now, sparked by things like Django Unchained, white people who love Chief Keef, and a certain awful new reality show which shall go unnamed. This led my friend Rembert to write a crucial meditation at Grantland on Django, the N-word, and how we need to keep talking about these things in 2013. ♦


  • ginette January 5th, 2013 12:22 PM

    Hey! I’d like to say thank you Rooke (and Hazel especially!) for mentioning the comic anthology Gang Bang Bong that I along with Ines Estrada co-edit and produce. It was quite a surprise to me to see it mentioned here!

    Thanks again! ♥_♥

  • FlaG January 5th, 2013 12:24 PM

    The attack in Dwarka an absolutely terrible thing to have happened to the young woman, who is only a year younger than I am. It’s sad that it has required this sort of event to act as a catalyst to change the bureaucratic and social attitudes towards rape in India. I hope it’s not in vain, and that the entire system gets a complete overhaul.

  • Ree January 5th, 2013 12:57 PM

    I live right next to Birmingham and I go to an all girls school so we all signed a get well soon card and sent it to Malala. I’m so happy that she is recovering well and I think she’s not only an inspiration to teenage girls like ourselves but also to our whole generation. However I still find it impossible that in the 21st century, women do not have equal rights and the world has been bitterly reminded of this, particularly in the past few months.

    • Naomi Morris January 6th, 2013 6:21 AM

      yo, i live like 10 minutes away from the hospital!!

  • Lascelles January 5th, 2013 1:23 PM

    Naomi, I would have given it to 5. Chvrches from that list. Here is the colonies, fun. easily wins best new band.

  • Ladymia69 January 5th, 2013 3:45 PM

    Rembert’s feelings about Django Unchained were very interesting. I can totally relate to his sense of confusion about what is right/wrong, or acceptable/unacceptable to laugh at in entertainment when it comes to slurs and whatnot.

  • Eryn January 5th, 2013 4:24 PM

    Oh my gosh, I called my mom in and we watched Malala walk out – that is so powerful and thank you so much for sharing.

  • jenaimarley January 5th, 2013 4:44 PM


    Also thank you so much Anaheed for your link. That brutal tragedy was weighing really heavily on me too and it is inspiring to see the outrage and power of the Indian people standing up for such a courageous woman.
    I encourage all Rookies to participate in one billion rising on February 14th!
    Watch and share the video too!

    • Eryn January 5th, 2013 8:46 PM

      Thank you so much for sharing that!! I now plan on going to the event in my city.

      • Violet January 6th, 2013 4:05 AM

        Me too!
        Thanks jenaimarley !!!

  • Pearl January 5th, 2013 6:16 PM

    The gang rape took place in New Delhi, the capital of India in a bus which is shocking because as an Indian woman haven’t heard of anything more brutal than this. Especially after the way it was handled by our politicians almost battling to say the most misogynistic statements, (The President’s son, I repeat the President’s son called the women protesting “dented & painted”) blaming the victim for being out late, blaming the clothes she wore, etc. You absolutely cannot blame a rape victim or a victim of any kind for that matter for bringing it on to them. I find this quote quite apt for this- “Beauty provokes harassment , the law
    says, but it looks through men’s eyes
    when deciding what provokes it. – Naomi Wolf. ”
    A TV news channel also interviewed the man who was with her – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75uMQgSAtJU&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D75uMQgSAtJU you can read about it here- http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/delhi-gangrape-victims-friend-appears-on-tv-slams-police-apathetic-public/1054860/
    Also, one of the rapists is a minor & may be off the hook! It enrages me that the brutality of what he did will be cancelled out by his age! Preposterous & enraging! All we can do is hope & pray that laws against rapists are stricter & that rapists get what they deserve. I hope that no one ever has to go through with the kind of suffering that she went through.

  • Betsy January 5th, 2013 8:31 PM

    Malala Yousafzai is an inspiration.

  • bubbles January 5th, 2013 8:57 PM

    Julianne – great suggestion for the article on Django. The author writes very eloquently about race and the transformation of the discussion in the public sphere. Race is no longer a “Black” and “White” issue so to speak. Culture is increasingly overlapping and we are still figuring out how to discuss issues of race in this ever-changing environment. I was feeling ambivalent about watching the movie but this article has convinced me to go to see it and form my own opinion. Side note, the comments on this article are very insightful and for the most part portray all sides of the argument in a respectful manner.

  • LilySew January 5th, 2013 9:32 PM

    It’s so good to see Malala well again. The video of the female senators is really nice, it’s not toooo political but it’s still thought provoking enough to raise important issues. :D


  • llamalina January 5th, 2013 11:26 PM

    CHINESE FOOD. <3333333

    I also really like the link about Malala Yousafzai and the one about the fact that there are more female senators than ever before. WE'RE MAKING HISTORY!!!


  • strawb3rrysandsugar January 6th, 2013 8:29 AM

    So moving seeing her walk out waving to everyone who helped her. Very inspirational.

  • xdogbaitx January 9th, 2013 10:05 AM

    I just clicked on the chief keef link, and am more concerned with the way he writes about woman than whether white people listen to his music.