Told through the lives of the American Century's most talented and stubborn dissidents, Flights is the archetypal hero's journey of two dozen progressives whose struggle for truth, and for freedom from persecution, sent them into exile both literal and metaphorical.
In 1949, the poet Pablo Neruda escaped anti-communist Chile on horseback. Scrambling across Andean rivers disguised as an ornithologist named Antonio Ruiz, he had days before served as an elected senator in the Chilean legislature. Now he was on the run from enforcers of the Truman doctrine, hiding in safehouses while a police dragnet closed in on him. During his flight, his masterpiece, Canto General, was printed as samizdat, in secret, with a false dust jacket affixed.
A year later, poets George and Mary Oppen crossed into the Sonoran Desert, fleeing F.B.I. agents who surveilled their house in the L.A. suburbs. The Oppens spent most of the 1950s as political refugees in Mexico City, exiled from the United States for their relief work with the Communist Party, to stop evictions during the Great Depression. Before Neruda would win the Nobel Prize in literature and George Oppen would add the Pulitzer Prize in poetry to his World War II Purple Heart, they were refugees from anti-communism.
What did these refugees feel as they fled their homelands and friends? Wanted for a crime she did not commit, Professor Angela Davis went on the run twenty years after the Oppens, describing the struggle against panic in her nightly safehouse transfers: "Living as a fugitive means resisting hysteria, distinguishing between the creations of a frightened imagination and the real signs that the enemy is near." In her quest "to elude him, outsmart him," she recalled, "Thousands of my ancestors had waited, as I had...for nightfall to cover their steps..."
With new profiles of Lorraine Hansberry, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, Diego Rivera, Angela Davis, Gabriel Garc a M rquez, Graham Greene, Miguel ngel Asturias, Octavio Paz, Frances Stonor Saunders, Guatemalan guerrilla fighter Everado and his American wife, Jennifer Harbury, Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Mench , deposed Honduran President Mel Zelaya and murdered Lenca environmentalist Berta C ceres, these artists and activists took imaginative and other flight from American oppressors and their allies, from the Truman through the Trump presidencies.
At once a group portrait of these geniuses of creative escape, Flights is also a prehistory (and indictment) of American mass surveillance culminating in Snowden's revelations, of torture culminating in Abu Ghraib, of censorship culminating in the incarceration of journalist Julian Assange, of fascism culminating in January 6, and of political murder culminating in the Bush-Obama-Trump air assassination program.
About the Author
Joel Whitney is the author of Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World's Best Writers, which The New Republic called a "powerful warning." His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Baffler, The Wall Street Journal, Boston Review, New York Magazine, and elsewhere. He is a former features editor at Al Jazeera America and a founder and former editor-in-chief of Guernica: A Global Magazine of Art & Politics, for which he was awarded the 2017 PEN/Nora Magid Award for Excellence in Editing. His essays in The Baffler, Dissent and Salon were Notables in Best American Essays 2017, 2015 and 2013. A graduate of Columbia University's School of the Arts, Joel's poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, The Nation, and Agni, and was awarded the Discovery Prize from the 92nd Street Y and The Nation. Joel curates literary programs at Brooklyn Public Library's BPL Presents. In 2022, he co-edited Lenapehoking, an anthology of historical essays, interviews and poetry, co-published by Ugly Duckling Presse, Lenape Center & Brooklyn Public Library.