Identity as a Hall of Mirrors: Descent by Lauren Russell

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2021-11-03 22:02Z by Steven

Identity as a Hall of Mirrors: Descent by Lauren Russell

The Rumpus

Jesi Buell (Bender)

Lauren Russell, Descent (Grafton, Vermont: Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2020).

A while back, my husband and I took DNA ancestry tests. When the results come in, they give you a map with circles colored in to indicate where your ancestors came from. My husband’s blue-green circles swallowed almost the entire world. Mine, on the other hand, was a dot above England and Ireland with a small opaque dip down into Germany. One tiny point in the entirety of the world. It reminded me of a Conan O’Brien segment where he did his own test and it came back one hundred percent Irish.

I’m not sure if it was a bit but the technician told him it was a certainty that his family was inbred. Joking aside, it struck me then that how we see ourselves and how we understand the past can be, for some people, as simple as looking into a mirror and, for others, as complicated as walking through a hall of mirrors.

As a biracial woman, Lauren Russell examines her history in Descent through many mirrors, from both personal and cultural memories, and through prose, verse, and historical documents, to better understand herself. The title itself suggests a delving, a digging into, and we join Russell as she explores her family’s past like a new land, like something that has long been buried.

In my high school U.S.
History class, when we
got to the part on the
inhumanity of slave
holders, I said,
“Actually, I am
descended from slave
holders.” For some
reason nobody stated
the obvious: that I am
also descended from

Read the entire review here.

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Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Poetry, Slavery, United States, Women on 2021-11-03 21:28Z by Steven


Tarpaulin Sky Press
120 pages
6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
Paperback ISBN: 9781939460219

Lauren Russell

In 2013, poet Lauren Russell acquired a copy of the diary of her great-great-grandfather, Robert Wallace Hubert, a Captain in the Confederate Army. After his return from the Civil War, he fathered twenty children by three of his former slaves. One of those children was the poet’s great-grandmother. Through several years of research, Russell would seek the words to fill the diary’s omissions and to imagine the voice of her great-great-grandmother, Peggy Hubert, a black woman silenced by history. The result is a hybrid work of verse, prose, images and documents that traverses centuries as the past bleeds into the present.

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