Marilynne Robinson on poverty; Alexander Chee, T Cooper, Garth Greenwell, T Kira Madden, Eileen Myles, Darryl Pinckney, Brontez Purnell, and Michelle Tea on Stonewall; and more
une is our birthday month. In 2019 Harper’s Magazine marks 169 years of continuous publication. Throughout its history the magazine has been associated with an expansive roster of the most eminent names in American letters, among them Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, and Mark Twain. A standout name from Harper’s past half century is Marilynne Robinson, a writer with whom the magazine has been associated since her first novel, Housekeeping, was excerpted in the February 1981 issue.
Robinson went on to win much acclaim for her writing, including a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In this month’s cover story she reads Karl Marx alongside some of the greatest economic theorists of the past two centuries in an attempt to understand why the rich keep getting richer while the poor remain poor. Robinson is struck by how ideas on labor and capital have remained fixed while the means of production grow ever more alienating.
The global shipping industry has seen profound changes over the past sixty years, exploding, as Rowan Moore Gerety writes, “into an arms race of bigger boats, deeper ports, and automated terminals, allowing more stuff to move in less time, with less fuel, and, above all, less labor.” Moore Gerety finds one last holdout, the Miami River, along whose five-plus miles, much of America’s junk is transported piece by piece to Haiti to be sold. This method, known as break-bulk shipping, has been otherwise abandoned like the millions of mattresses we toss away every year—some of which become hot commodities for the entrepreneurs Moore Gerety meets as he follows the route of a throwback business that, as one terminal owner tells him, “is all labor.”
Job creation is a rationalization that politicians on both sides of the aisle use to explain away a vote in favor of increased defense spending. But, as Washington editor Andrew Cockburn explains, bloated military budgets are no boon to employment; they don’t even hold much promise for our safety. In “The Military-Industrial Virus,” Cockburn describes a corrupt and mismanaged system that exists only to sustain itself and grow, demands more money every year, and, contrary to common belief, is not propelled by foreign wars but rather uses war to justify its quest for bigger budgets.
This June we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a definitive moment in the continuing struggle for L.G.B.T.Q. rights and equality. While much could be said about the historical importance of Stonewall and the political gains that have, and have not, followed, Harper’s has taken a more personal approach, asking eight writers to respond to the simple but surprisingly fraught question: What does Stonewall mean to you? Alexander Chee, T Cooper, Garth Greenwell, T Kira Madden, Eileen Myles, Darryl Pinckney, Brontez Purnell, and Michelle Tea were kind enough to answer.
Also in this issue: Lionel Shriver on yet another New York Times mea culpa; Justin Taylor solves the mystery behind a father’s farewell; Max Nelson on Abbas Kiarostami’s all-seeing eye; Madeleine Schwartz on Lore Segal’s effervescent immigrant novels; and, in Readings, prison officials foil a literary escape.