Tyranny Lessons
Guest-edited by
Alok Bhalla and Ming Di
Series Editor Frank Stewart

 Acting My Age

by Thomas Farber
with photographs by
Wayne Levin and Geoffrey Fricker

In Tyranny Lessons: International Prose, Poetry, and Performance, outstanding international authors address the rise of social intolerance, racial injustice, and political despotism. In their passionate prose, poetry, essays, and drama, these contemporary writers speak to the experiences and struggles of ordinary people against the restrictions on their lives, movements, and thoughts imposed by illiberal democracies, failed states, discriminatory communities, and coercive relationships. Their stories of survival and resilience are indispensable lessons in a troubled time.

Included are new translations of outstanding writers in China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Latvia, Slovenia, Syria, Taiwan, Tibet, and Turkey, plus work by U.S. writers.

American writer Walter White depicts the history of violence and segregation in the U.S. As a newspaper reporter, White investigated forty-one lynchings and eight race riots for various newspapers. His book Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch (1929) was a major exposé of lynching in the United States, and his book Rising Wind (1945) inspired President Truman to desegregate the military in 1948. His essay in this volume, “I Investigate Lynchings,” is an example of his powers as a fearless writer and reporter.

Women contributors include Tang Danhong, Catherine Filloux, Efe Duyan, and Ann Pancake. They each highlight different forms of tyranny and emphasize the violence that it imposes and the helplessness and fear that are felt by its victims.

Tang Danhong writes about the death of Mao Zedong from the perspective of a child in her essay, “Chairman Mao is Dead!” She captures the ways her community both feared and adjusted to the policies of the Cultural Revolution and the ways the imperative to conform outlasted Mao.

Catherine Filloux is a playwright whose work focuses on human rights and social justice. Her drama in this volume, whatdoesfreemean? reveals the injustices and violence experienced by black women in American prisons. The main character is Mary Washington, who struggles to keep her sanity in solitary confinement while mourning the death of a close friend, reminiscing about her childhood, and contemplating what freedom means.

Efe Duyan, in “A Nightmare of the June 17, 1970, Martial Rule,” writes about the terror unleashed by Turkey’s armed forces when ordered to put down mass protests. Tanks and paratroopers were mobilized against more than 100,000 demonstrators in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmit.

Ann Pancake portrays opiod addiction and its enslavement of the soul in her essay, “Epidemic.” The addicted man never makes an appearance, but he is everpresent to the narrator; her impressions of betrayal and horror overlie the indifference and numbness of the parents.

Featured throughout are photographs from the 1960s by Danny Lyon, from his book Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. Lyon was the first photographer of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Internationally honored for his photography, he was jailed alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and worked on the front lines with activists Julian Bond, John Lewis, and Howard Zinn. The photographs record the resistance to a persistent form of tyranny in the U.S.

Guest editor Alok Bhalla is a scholar, translator, and poet based in Delhi, India, a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, and editor of the four-volume collection Stories About the Partition of India.

Guest editor Ming Di is a Chinese poet, translator, and editor based in the U.S., recipient of multiple Henry Luce Foundation fellowships, and China editor for Poetry International Rotterdam. 

Elegant, exuberant, and idiosyncratic, Acting My Age is a memoir and meditation by one of America’s most playful and inventive writers.

“In Acting My Age, Thomas Farber gives us an unflinching, luminous, cleverly conceived meditation on his own mortality as well as on the extinction of the coral reefs, snow leopards, dolphins, and, ultimately, the human species. Couching his observations in a series of short, interconnected, almost-epigrammatic essays that read like prose poems, Farber creates a narrative style reminiscent of Joyce and Melville: oceanic in depth and all-encompassing in range.”—Mary Mackey, author of The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams

“A praise song, an exultation in the beauties and brutalities of being human. Though Thomas Farber is wide-eyed at the miracle of our existence, his prose details both the collapse of species and ultimate trajectory of our aging bodies. This polymathic dive into a writer’s remaining time—into the life of the earth, the sea, and meaning itself—is no mere memoir, but an elegant, instructive page-after-page of language-love.”—Gerald Fleming, author of The Choreographer

“Tom Farber is always good company, and his ‘late writings’ are more and more indispensable, full of comfort for the perplexed, rich in learning, humorous, masculine and tender, evoking large sensations and vast views; a reader thinks of Mon­taigne, Whitman, and others of the great truth-tellers, modest of tone, intimate in approach, friends bringing deep gifts.”—Robert Roper, author of Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita


Thomas Farber is the author of more than two dozen books of fiction, nonfiction, and epigrams, as well as a screenplay and numerous collaborations on photography. Awarded Guggenheim and National Endowment fellowships for fiction and creative nonfiction, he has been a Fulbright Scholar, recipient of the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize, and Rockefeller Foundation scholar at Bellagio. Former visiting writer at Swarthmore College and the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa, he teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.

THROB interview

The Rumpus interview

Wayne Levin received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from Pratt Institute in New York. His books and monographs include Kalaupapa: A Portrait (1989), Through a Liquid Mirror (1998), Other Oceans (2001), Akule (2010), Ili Nā Ho‘omana‘o o Kalaupapa (2012), and Flowing (2014). Levin’s photographs were also included in Kaho‘olawe: Nā Leo o Kanaloa (1996) and in such publications as Aperture, American Photographer, Camera Arts, and LensWork. He has exhibited widely in the U.S. and abroad.

Geoffrey Fricker received an MFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute. His book Sacrament: Homage to a River (2014) documents the many faces of California’s Sacramento River, and his work is included in The Altered Landscape: Photographs of a Changing Environment (2011). He has partnered with groups that include the Nature Conservancy, River Partners, and Sacramento River Preservation Trust. His work is in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and elsewhere.

216 pp., summer 2020 (32:1), $25
ISBN 978-0-8248-8881-7
Project Muse
192 pp., winter 2020 (32:2), $25
ISBN 978-0-8248-9038-4
Project Muse