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Messy and Beautiful

Messy and Beautiful

Diversity in literature is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. Last month I attended a workshop run by the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA), which sponsors programs for writers of color working in a variety of genres. I sat at the orientation looking around in disbelief at more than 150 writers crammed into a room at UC Berkeley, thinking, “Holy fuck, I had no idea there were so many of us.”

Don’t Underestimate Vladimir Putin

Don’t Underestimate Vladimir Putin

Speaking at West Point on Wednesday, President Obama touted his administration’s response to Russia’s recent belligerence in Ukraine. “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away,” he said. The public outcry and the pressure exerted by international institutions, he added, have served as an effective “counterweight” to “Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.” In spite of the crisis Ukraine has gone on to hold elections—“without us firing a shot.”

Unfortunately, Obama is mistaken. The momentum is still on Russia’s side. It has forcibly seized and annexed the strategically valuable peninsula of Crimea. It has succeeded in destabilizing eastern Ukraine through a proxy war­—secretively supporting ethnic Russian rebellions against the Ukrainian government there. It is quite possible Ukraine will end up losing more of its territory.

May Is the Cruelest Month

May Is the Cruelest Month

May in Los Angeles is breathtaking. I know this because it’s all people talk about when the city explodes in Technicolor and flowers rip open. Everything is lush and living, or so they say. I live in Los Angeles too, but I don’t see it the same way. Not anymore. The sunshine is harsh. The colors unkind.

When I walk to the corner liquor store with my sunglasses on and hoodie pulled up, hoping to be left alone, neighbors still yell out, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I smile politely, nod. Always polite.

I stood on this same street four years ago, a few days before Mother’s Day. It was early in the morning, around 3 a.m., and I was on the phone with a steely 911 operator, wondering why she was being so cold to me. I realize now it was probably better that way, but in those moments I hated her. I remember saying, “This doesn’t feel real. This feels like a movie. Is this real?” There was silence on the other end of the line.

The Lethal Snows of Everest

The Lethal Snows of Everest

Today, twelve Sherpas died in an avalanche on Mount Everest, the worst accident in the mountain's history. (Four are still missing.) The Sherpa community, an ethnic group in Nepal renowned for their mountaineering skills, has long guided foreign visitors up the world's tallest peak. "Sherpas bear the real burden of climbing Mount Everest," American mountaineer Conrad Anker told National Geographic. "They're the ones who take the biggest risks."

Last year we published a story by Stephanie Lowe that described the growing dangers of the mountain and the concerns of the Sherpa guides, whose very job is to risk their lives on Everest's slopes.

Call for Submissions: Resistance

Ukraine. Venezuela. Thailand. The Arab Spring. We are living in a time of vibrant protest, captured and magnified by cellphone videos and Twitter feeds. On both the political right and left, grassroots movements have emerged everywhere—including America and Europe—to resist authority and overturn the establishment.

We want to hear your stories of resistance: from powerful mass movements to personal relationships.

Losing Mama

Losing Mama

At the height of my teenage apathy, my mom made me squeal with delight by smuggling a kitten into our home in a cardboard box she’d found at work. She burst into my bedroom excitedly and shoved the box toward me. When I saw its tiny, grey nose and bright, yellow eyes, I fell in love just like my mom.

My dad, however, had a strict "no pets" policy. Caring for a cat would cost too much money, he said. He and my mom already struggled to afford food. For days, my parents fought over the kitten while I held out hope I could have this one little, good thing in a house that all too often felt devoid of good things.

Best of In The Fray 2013

Best of In The Fray 2013

Out of everything we published this year, our editors chose the following pieces from each section for being standouts among their peers. As we see it, they best represent what In The Fray is all about: stories that further our understanding of other people and encourage empathy and compassion.

Click here to read our best commentary, news, photo essay, culture, and blog pieces from 2013.

Support Stories of Inspiration and Change

Support Stories of Inspiration and Change

I am writing to ask you for your support. For twelve years, In The Fray has published stories that further our understanding of other people and encourage empathy and compassion. The staff work hard — for me and others, on a strictly volunteer basis — to bring you original reporting, photo essays, personal narratives, and reviews that we think are timely and compelling on a global scale.

Our small nonprofit urgently needs your help to continue our mission to be a forum for real, honest discussion and provocative, informed storytelling.

The Slippery Slope of Social Media

The Slippery Slope of Social Media

I am a writer who recently noticed I spend more time reading articles about writing, absorbing Top Ten lists of famous authors’ work practices, and laughing at clever memes than doing any writing. Social media is an infinite playground for intellectual stimulation. It is an unhinged door with no threat of being closed.

Maybe in America: A Review of Captain Phillips

Maybe in America: A Review of Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips, the new film based on a real-life encounter between an American commercial-shipping crew and Somalian pirates, opens with the titular character in Vermont, driving to the airport with his wife. Richard Phillips expresses concern about the state of the shipping industry, sunk by the global recession that struck a year earlier. On the other side of the globe, Muse, a poor Somalian fisherman forced into piracy by his own economic woes, wakes up to news that the local warlord has demanded that his village capture another ship, or suffer violent consequences. The angular fisherman-turned-pirate is an obvious foil for Phillips, their stories woven together through crosscut scenes that emphasize the economic anxieties shared by the men, even as they highlight the brutality of the Horn of Africa’s most chaotic state.

The Brutal Beauty of Sister

The Brutal Beauty of Sister

At the heart of Sister, Brenda Davis' documentary debut, are three inspiring stories of an Ethiopian health officer, a midwife in rural Cambodia, and a traditional birth attendant in Haiti. When Davis met Goitom Berhane in Ethiopia in 2008, she was taken with his vivacious personality and dedication to solving the maternal health crisis in his country. Goitom's example encouraged Davis to explore women's health as an international human rights issue. Eventually, he became a central figure in her film.

Rebel Blues: A Review of Mojo Hand

Rebel Blues: A Review of Mojo Hand

Blues legend Sam Hopkins — known as Lightnin’ Hopkins to his fans — influenced everyone from musical giants like Bob Dylan and John Coltrane to activists like Black Panther Party cofounder Bobby Seale. Long after his death, Rolling Stone named him one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Yet not much is known about him. Notoriously private, Hopkins fabricated and exaggerated details about his early life, preferring to keep his origins a mystery. Mojo Hand, a new biography of Hopkins, details the obscure life and music of an iconoclastic bluesman who was the consummate musician’s musician, inspiring legions of artists across many genres.