The World Doesn't Require You / By Rion Amilcar Scott / A Review
The World Doesn’t Require You, by Rion Amilcar Scott / A Review
by Norah Vawter
When you start reading Maryland native Rion Amilcar Scott’s new short story collection, The World Doesn’t Require You, you realize, almost from the first page, that this is something special. The attention this book is getting from major outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR is well deserved. In October, the author will appear with two of his former professors from his M.F.A. days at George Mason University--Susan Shreve and Helon Habila--to talk about the search for truth and identity in their writing.
Check out this free event at George Mason's Fall for the Book Festival, October 12, 2019. https://fallforthebook2019.sched.com/event/TQ3c/now-i-long-for-yesterday-searching-for-truth
The seemingly varied themes that run throughout these stories—race, misogyny, the othering of women by men, violence and aggression, and what it means to be an artist—are not competing against each for dominance. Instead, these themes wrap around each other, inform each other, until they seem utterly connected.
The World Doesn’t Require You is a collection of linked stories set in the fictional community of Cross River, Maryland (where Scott’s first book, Insurrections, also a story collection, was set). Many generations ago there was a successful (and bloody) slave uprising; these slaves founded the town of Cross River. Of course, we know from history that no slave revolts succeeded in our country, but Scott was inspired by the very real and successful Haitian Revolution, which began in 1791.
In stories spanning the 20th and 21st centuries, and mixing realism with elements of fantasy and the surreal, we meet a varied cast of characters: including underground railroad re-enactors, robot slaves who rise up in revolt against their masters, the last son of God (as the first line of the book tells us “God is from Cross River, everyone knows that,”) who creates a new type of music by tapping into the rhythms of nature in inherent in his hometown, and an anarchist professor who wants to take apart the academy so that he can build up something new, and therefore manipulates a colleague to self-destruct.
Scott is asking a lot of nuanced questions about race and identity, and what the true legacies of slavery are. He’s also asking questions about violence and aggression. Is there such a thing as good violence? Is there good aggression? At what point does it cross the line from self-defense to cruelty or pathology? If you are never aggressive, if you don’t demand things from the world, are you really living? As the title tells us, the world doesn’t require you. So maybe we have to force ourselves on the world.
I’m still thinking about these stories. I’m still mulling them over, talking to people about them, trying to figure out how I feel about these characters. This book was often funny, but it wasn’t an easy read. The World Doesn’t Require You is a book that doesn’t let you stay passive. You have to interrogate the work and your own preconceptions. You have to be aggressive. You have to be in revolt.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Rion Scott to talk about his new book, his approach to writing, and the ways that his fiction intersects with our political reality and social change. Look out for our feature on Rion next week, but here is a sneak peek into our conversation.
“I think it's always political to tell your story as of as person of color. For so long, you know, black people weren't allowed to speak. They weren't allowed to even read. Telling that story, speaking that story is important. I think that if you're a person and you're paying attention even halfway, and you're writing, [ideas about race] are going to slip into your work. First and foremost, I'm trying to tell a story. When that stuff slips into the work, it's like, okay, I have to chase that. I have to explore that idea. And exploring those ideas, that’s important.”-Rion Amilcar Scott
Rion Amilcar Scott is the author of the story collection, The World Doesn’t Require You (Norton/Liveright, August 2019). His debut story collection, Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky, 2016), was awarded the 2017 PEN/Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and the 2017 Hillsdale Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. His work has been published in journals such as The Kenyon Review, Crab Orchard Review, and The Rumpus, among others.
Debut short story collection:
Norah Vawter is excited to join DCTrending as an editor. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from George Mason University. She has published articles, op-eds, and essays on parenting, politics, and lifestyle topics in The Washington Post, OtherWords, Posh Seven, Scary Mommy, JustBE Parenting, among others.