This slim but forceful book-length essay by Aisha Sabatini Sloan is many things at once: travelogue, art study, memoir. Sabatini Sloan recalls the summers she spent in Homer, Alaska and considers alongside these recollections the loneliness and discomfort of inhabiting a landscape where she was often the only Black person in figurative and literal sight. Glacier paintings, queer relationships, and political anxieties form the backdrop to this moving work on Sabatini Sloan's experience in the Alaskan outdoors, perfect for readers of Fred Moten, Gabrielle Civil, and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi.— Claire
Art about glaciers, queer relationships, political anxiety, and the meaning of Blackness in open space--Borealis is a shapeshifting logbook of Aisha Sabatini Sloan's experiences moving through the Alaskan outdoors.
In Borealis, Aisha Sabatini Sloan observes shorelines, mountains, bald eagles, and Black fellow travelers while feeling menaced by the specter of nature writing. She considers the meaning of open spaces versus enclosed ones and maps out the web of queer relationships that connect her to this quaint Alaskan town. Triangulating the landscapes she moves through with glacial backdrops in the work of Black conceptual artists and writers, Sabatini Sloan complicates tropes of Alaska to suggest that the excitement, exploration, and possibility of myth-making can also be twinned by isolation, anxiety, and boredom.
Borealis is the first book commissioned for the Spatial Species series, edited by Youmna Chlala and Ken Chen. The series investigates the ways we activate space through language. In the tradition of Georges Perec's An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Spatial Species titles are pocket-sized editions, each keenly focused on place. Instead of tourist spots and public squares, we encounter unmarked, noncanonical spaces: edges, alleyways, diasporic traces. Such intimate journeying requires experiments in language and genre, moving travelogue, fiction, or memoir into something closer to eating, drinking, and dreaming.
About the Author
Aisha Sabatini Sloan was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her writing about race and current events is often coupled with analysis of art, film, and pop culture. She studied English literature at Carleton College and went on to earn an MA in cultural studies and studio art from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU and an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona. She is the author of the essay collections The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White and Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit. With her father, she is the author of Captioning the Archives, a conversation through image and text. She is a recipient of the 2018 CLMP Firecracker Award for Creative Nonfiction and a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. She teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.