‘Call Them by Their True Names’ Plants Seeds of Change

Rebecca Solnit’s Book Renders Visible What Mass Media Hides

<em>Call Them by Their True Names</em>
Courtesy Photo

“I find great hope and encouragement,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her latest collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays), “in the anxiety, fury, and grief of my fellow residents of the United States. It’s not that I’m eager to see people suffer but that I’m relieved that so many are so far from indifferent.”

Solnit, the author of more than 20 books, including Men Explain Things to Me and Hope in the Dark, has a unique ability to render visible what was locked out of view by a mass media obsessed with the status quo. She also has an exquisite eye for irony, such as the Republican Party’s fixation on freeing corporations from government regulation while with equal and often greater fervor seeking to restrict the rights of women to control their own reproductive capacity.  

The pieces in this collection showcase Solnit’s range and depth, whether she’s writing about gentrification in San Francisco, visiting a prisoner on death row, the meaning of Civil War monuments in the South, or a letter to then candidate Donald Trump in which she challenges the New York City native to actually walk the city so he might see — if he would — the beauty of differences so at odds with his inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants.

As well as being a writer and historian, Solnit is an activist, but one with a long view who traces events back, from the branch to the trunk, the root to the seed, reminding us that social change isn’t linear. Real change moves to the center from the edges. For Solnit, standing up for what one believes in, even when victory seems impossible, is how the seeds of change are planted.


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