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Expanding Black Representation One Superhero at a Time

In this post-President Obama, post-Black Panther America, Black representation has been on the rise. Charlie J. Eskew’s debut novel, Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark, joins the likes of Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout in expanding Black representation. After getting struck by lightning, Donald McDougal develops electricity-related superpowers in a world where other superheroes openly fight Super Predators. Driven by his financial troubles and his sense of duty, Donald sets out to join a team of superheroes.

Hilarious, self-aware, and poignant, Eskew captures the intricacies of the Black male experience. For years in American literature and film, Black representation has focused on the strife of being Black. Until recently, stories about African Americans that had little to do with the characters’ Blackness were few and far between. Growing up Black in the South, the types of stories I would see about people like me made me think that the entertainment industries—and maybe even the world at large—believed that if people like me are not suffering, we are not existing. Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark subverses this trope in the literary canon by showing the full complexities of Donald’s Black experience. Eskew comments on the canon when he writes, “. . . I’m aware that two more racially aimed comments will officially land this little memoir in the dusty African-American section of your local bookstore.”

The novel finds its strength when commenting on the strangeness of geek culture (“Detective Comics Comics? Does that bother anyone else?”) and the fluidity of the Black experience when it comes to interactions with friends, strangers, and code switching with other members of the community (“We switch codes like skipping stones across a lake.”). This humor and authenticity makes the world that Eskew creates feel so full, and in some ways, fuller than our own. The novel is unapologetic about its self-referential nature. The reader who is steeped in geek culture and understands references to things like Uwe Boll’s poor performing films and manga series from the early 2000s, will see themselves reflected in Donald’s rollicking journey as he comes of age as a superhero. Overall, Tales of the Astonishing Black Spark is a novel that should be read and reread for its fresh humor and its nuanced commentary on race in America.

SPARK-epub-cover
TALES OF THE ASTONISHING BLACK SPARK by Charlie J. Eskew | Paperback, 380 pages PURCHASE

Kat Lewis is the author of the short story collection, In and of Blood. Lewis graduated from Johns Hopkins IMG_3048University where she held the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund Fellowship. In 2018, she received a Fulbright Creative Arts grant in South Korea. She is currently an MFA student at the University of San Francisco.

Kat tweets at @iRkat525.

Mycology — Switchback’s 2018 Contest Winner

the man creeping behind my tongue is an angry man
he sounds like me, rusted, like a busted garden gate that aches to be used, like me,
older, a Tony grown into Anthony, a Scooter grown into Scott, a regret grown into grief
I hide him in memories, like

that blind date in Fall Creek,
a wannabe punk who loved Paramount Pictures,
wore black and white fishnets, gripped
the back of my neck and reeled me into her painted face
to eat me like a pie contest, a messy kiss
so hard and a tongue so eager it vined through the back of my neck,
waved to the stoned goths on the couch watching us, watching
Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s watching us

the man creeping behind my tongue intercepts words as they are thrown, tosses
them down to gastric juices and Tebows a victory stance to the language rising
from hydrochloric acid, like a skeleton in the pit of a William Castle film,
words on an invisible wire, like confidence, battered, worthy, stripped
of meat and muscle and shaken for effect by someone out of shot

she made me her instrument,
kept one Horus eye open and her Wite-Out nails
latched onto my thigh, a tense moment of change
between lips, she, Wadjet,
the papyrus-colored one sucking ink from idea,
a cobra composing in an orifice, undulating, hypnotizing
and lulling me to do what is asked under pungi mantra

the woman creeping behind my tongue punches my uvula
when I unbox my childhood, makes laboring sounds with repetitive jabs,
a prize fighter practicing revision with one fist tucked behind her pregnant belly
I hide her in extended metaphors, like

her tongue writhed in my throat
and licked bitterness from my scruff
waved goodbye to the goths
and dove, determined, to my guts,
lapped up all vocabulary, slurped
at sinking etymologies, and grew
and grew and grew, cordyceps unilateralis
on an ant, changing identity, leaving important
organs to sustain and feed the spore

the tongue hardens to stalk and bursts alphabets over my fruiting body


Howd_Eric_MachanEric Machan Howd (Ithaca, NY) is a professor at Ithaca College where he teaches professional and technical writing. He is also an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Eric’s poems have appeared in “Nimrod,” “River City,” “The Healing Muse,” and “Yankee Magazine.” He writes, lives, and loves in the Fingerlakes region of central New York with his glorious spouse, Katharyn Howd Machan, and their two cats Footnote and Byron.

Photo Credit: Jim Stafford

We bathe in miles of dust

because it’s a type of hunger
that drives the small changes
in ourselves: hair of wasps,
pit-mine eyes, sapwood bones.

But what if we fill our bellies so fully
that we begin to chew the sun,
which in turn chews us
like a rough road through a rubber tire?

Will the mirror then expose
the give-and-mostly-take nature
of our bodies? There will be a time
when we no longer remember

north, south, the race to the dollop
of light at the day’s end.
It’s not that we’ve been taught
to fear nightfall, but rather

the moment when our machinery
hesitates and begins to run
in reverse. There will be a point
when the mirror tells us that,

really, we’ve been consuming
ourselves, leaving nothing except
salt-sweetened scars traced
like fragile roads across our skin.

It’s hunger that cannot be satiated
even with bright knives of open sky.
We’ll feast on gravel until we lie
scattered like fallen birds in the fields.


Dane Hamann Bio photoDane Hamann works as an editor for a textbook publisher in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, where he also serves as the poetry editor of TriQuarterly. His work has recently been published in Calamus Journal, Half Mystic, Wildness, and Water~Stone Review, among other places. He can be found at www.danehamann.com.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

Today, with great excitement, Switchback Journal launches its new website. As Editor-in-Chief, I welcome you all to the new home for our magazine. Our previous site will hold all of our archives. Past publications can be found at www.swback.com.

We’re ecstatic to launch this new site with two visceral poems by Dane Hamann. In addition, we’re proud to announce that the winner of our 2018 Your Monster Contest is Eric Machan Howd’s poem, “Mycology.”

Here at the University of San Francisco, we’re starting our Fall semester with a bang. We have a fantastic line up of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that we cannot wait to share with you all. We will be publishing weekly every Friday starting on August 24th with “Mycology.” Our reading period will be open from September 15th through December 1st. We want your best work, your strangest work, your most honest work. Take a look at our submission guidelines and submit to us via Submittable.

Now, I’d like to take some time to introduce our new editors and thank the people that make Switchback possible. I will be on leave this academic year to research my next book, but Sayantika Mandal will serve as our interim Editor-in-Chief. I’m also excited to introduce Rachael Moore who will be our Fiction Editor while Sayantika takes the helm of the magazine.

Switchback would not be possible without the guidance of our wonderful advisor Bich (Beth) Minh Nguyen. We also owe a big thank you to our administrative director, Micah Ballard, and our program assistant, Kimberly Garrett.

This last school year has been an exciting time as, for the first time, all of our editors of the magazine are women, with a majority being women of color. This year, we look forward to publishing work that expands the representation of underrepresented voices.

As a whole, what we publish can be summarized with something
Nietzsche once wrote: “Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood.” Sylvia Plath also referred to this ineffable quality of brilliant writing as “the blood jet.” The
Switchback editorial team looks forward to reading everything you’ve written with blood.

— Kat Lewis
Editor-in-Chief
August 2018


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Twitter: @Switchback_usf
Facebook: SwitchbackUSF

A Conversation with Jill Talbot

jill_talbotWhere are you right now? What can you see out of your nearest window?
I’m sitting on my couch, and the open balcony door leads to the three stories of apartments across the parking lot. My favorite balcony across the way is adorned with potted plants, the pots purple and teal and orange, the plants reaching above the railing or huddled between the railing’s bars. Every once in a while, a large black and white dog wanders out to look out over the edge, and when the door to that balcony opens, I can see a road sign on the wall, a 30 miles an hour speed limit sign, which always slows me down inside. Continue reading A Conversation with Jill Talbot

The Breakers

With straps to AR-15s slung over their shoulders, two New Jersey State Troopers warmed their gloved hands over barrel fires in the sand-covered median of Route 35 in Toms River, approximately 100 yards from the Tunney-Mathis Bridge that extends over the Barnegat Bay and into Seaside Heights. The two barrels, with orange flames and burnt-out holes in the sides, looked like jack-o-lanterns, dark smoke rising into the cold November morning. Continue reading The Breakers