This is a review essay of Letters to the Future: Black WOMEN / Radical WRITING (2018), an anthology of innovative and cross‐genre writing produced primarily in the twenty‐first century. Edited by the poets and essayists Erica Hunt and Dawn Lundy Martin, the book collects poetry and prose by thirty‐five Black women, particularly poets, including LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Duriel E. Harris, Robin Coste Lewis, Harryette Mullen, Akilah Oliver, M. NourbeSe Philip, Claudia Rankine, and Evie Shockley, as well as artists such as Adrian Piper and Kara Walker. The essay first assesses the framing and organization of the book in terms of its professed radicalism—a term that encompasses formal innovation and radical politics while eliding the differences between them. This portion of the essay contextualizes the book by examining its relationship to recent scholarship on race and poetry in general and innovative Black poetry in particular. The essay then turns to a major through line of the anthology, in which many writers consider Black futures by revisiting historical archives and imaginaries. Drawing on a lineage of Black feminist thinkers, Joshua Lam uses Christina Sharpe's concept of “wake work” from In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016) to examine how these writers engage with the language of disaster, from the legacy of slavery and its afterlives to quotidian contemporary manifestations of anti‐Blackness. Navigating between what Saidiya Hartman calls “the violence of abstraction” and what Phillip Brian Harper calls “abstractionist aesthetics,” Lam argues that the writings most successful in imagining Black futures are those that, paradoxically, turn to the past: works that explore how the creation and curation of the past (in museums, memorials, historical documents) establishes the limitations of the present.

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