Aby Wolf, K'naan, and P.O.S. top Artists of the Year '09

Paying homage to those who speak the language of creativity

In fact no entry could be more perfect for the post-memoir, perpetual present moment we now find ourselves in. Lit, the longest of her three books by far, presents Mary Karr as an artist working along a kind of biographical continuum; it is her first book to deal with her life as an adult, and it picks up, as Cherry did, where her last book leaves off.

There is nothing either disposable or particularly sensational about this part of her story. Karr writes a memoir about finding her way out of solipsism and self-absorption (traits often associated with the form), excavating the time during which she wrote The Liar's Club—it's a memoir of a memoir. The Herculean strength of her prose alone (she writes of alcohol- and exhaustion-induced slumber as "black-brained sleep"; of her sudden wish to have a child she says, "I carry in me the feverish craving of a woman wanting to lodge some luminescent bubble of baby in my middle") certifies Lit as a giant book. Her ability to craft true art—not simply biography and not what we have come to call memoir—from her life raises Karr above her peers this year and for many to come.

Michelle Orange is the author of The Sicily Papers and the editor of From the Notebook, a story collection published by McSweeney's. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, and The Virginia Quarterly Review, among other publications.

Michael Jackson

Aby Wolf
Sharolyn B. Hagen
Aby Wolf
Tony Kushner
Joan Marcus
Tony Kushner

By Dessa

Dancing and singing are special kinds of art. You don't need gear. Or money. Or instructions. You just need a room with air in it. Watching a Michael Jackson performance is watching a man turn calories and oxygen into something so entertaining that people lose consciousness. They're just physically incapable of being more entertained. In fact, hulking men are paid to find the over-entertained, lift their limp bodies above the crowd, and carry them to safety.

I've heard that the first time Michael Jackson moonwalked on TV, viewers thought it was a trick—thought he'd rigged his socks with mirrors. A skinny grade-school girl at the time, I remember leaning toward Michael's image onscreen. Afterward, I danced on the carpet till I accumulated enough static electricity to shock myself on the doorknob.

I'm from a pretty cerebral family: Dad was a broke lute player, Mom earned her master's in Elizabethan stagecraft. The general understanding was that our bodies existed to carry our heavy minds from place to place. Michael Jackson rattled that worldview. He made it look good to be a body, good to be an animal. He made it look like we weren't the soft, slow creatures who conquered the planet on the technicality of an opposable thumb.

Jackson has been as confounding a celebrity as we've had. We're partial to binary thinking, to yes-or-no answers. And along comes Michael singing like a girl, interviewing like a child, and looking lighter every year. He re-brands the common zombie as a sex object and, strangely, we love the idea. He becomes a self-styled humanitarian, then arouses concern about his conduct at home. He pairs outrageously sexualized dance with an irresistible smile and pretty tame lyrics. In doing so, he retains his position in the industry as a family entertainer. He complicates our ideas of maleness, of blackness, of heterosexuality, of gloves.

I don't know what to think about Michael Jackson, not exactly. But sitting in the darkness of a theater, watching This Is It, the film of rehearsal footage from the London concerts he was about to perform, I got exactly the same feeling I'd had 20 years before. His every syncopated flourish made me want to get up and try it myself. Rocking in my chair, I thought, There is nothing like this on the Nature Channel. This is something that only our kind of animal can do.

Dessa is a writer, rapper, singer, and member of the Doomtree crew. She is the author of a short volume of essays called Spiral Bound. Her upcoming full-length album is A Badly Broken Code.

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