Steven Harvey
The Beloved Republic

“The ease and grace of Harvey’s prose belies the big issues he tackles – race, politics, culture. And, in his personal life, a mother who committed suicide, a brilliant student who cuts herself, and a keen awareness of approaching mortality. This book, perfect for its time, puzzles over questions about where we fit in the upheaval all around us, and does not give up on the possibility of a more luminous humanity. Harvey’s mind and heart work in tandem in these thoughtfully emotional essays. If only those in our halls of power had half this much intelligence and empathy!”

—Sue William Silverman, author, How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences

“And nobody, nobody, writes a sentence like Steve Harvey. Pick a page, any page.”

—Jill Christman, author of If This Were Fiction: A Love Story in Essays

The Beloved Republic

The Beloved Republic,” a phrase coined by E. M. Forster during the rise of Hitler, is the last bulwark against authoritarianism. Ordinary people who are creative rather than destructive gather there in the darkest times to keep civilization alive. Steven Harvey's newest book can be read as dispatches from that besieged land. Two of the essays were published in The Best American Essays which over the years has recognized fourteen of his essays as notable.

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from The Beloved Republic

An Excerpt

The Beloved Republic is the peaceful and fragile confederacy of kind, benevolent, and creative people that is necessary for civilized life in a world of tyrants, thugs, and loud-mouth bullies. During the darkest times, it sheds light and keeps us civil. Though the Beloved Republic has always been with us, E. M. Forster named and defined it in the essay “What I Believe” in 1939 when it was most under threat, putting his faith in the “natural warmth” of its happy and mutual reliability during the worst of times. “Tolerance, good temper, and sympathy” are its traits which, as Nazi Germany loomed, were “no stronger than a flower, battered beneath a military jackboot,” an image fast becoming a cliché for the hobnailed crunch of German conquest and occupation. In a radio address before the war started, Forster explained that “thousands and thousands of innocent people” had been “killed, robbed, mutilated, insulted,” and “imprisoned.” Millions more would follow. News reports of book burnings at the University of Berlin and the mass deportation of Jews prefigured the “Age of Bloodshed” that Hitler’s fanaticism would bring to Europe and the world. Against this backdrop of atrocity Forster argued for the existence, and persistence, of the Beloved Republic.

 

I don’t remember the first time I read “What I Believe,” but I do know the time that it brought the most comfort to me. It was after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. I had entered election night, like almost everyone, expecting a victory for common sense. We had long ago given up buying champagne after Al Gore’s loss in 2000 when a bottle of it went bad after eight years of waiting, but we were anticipating popcorn for sure. Then around 10:30 Trump won Ohio and the calls from my kids started rolling in, each beginning with an identical Dad?! I use the interrobang to indicate the mixture of incredulity and indignation in their voices. It came across over the phone like an accusation: Everything you ever taught us about America is coming apart, Dad. While I was reassuring them that it was still early and we had the blue firewall in the upper Midwest, Trump went on a roll: North Carolina, Utah, Iowa. I particularly remember telling my angry and hurt daughter Alice not to worry. We still had Pennsylvania which the Republicans almost never win. Then, a little after 1:35, Trump won Pennsylvania, and was ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona.


I went to bed defeated and a little terrified, and when I woke the next morning Trump had won. The country had elected an authoritarian who modelled himself after Vladimir Putin to be President of the United States. A day or two later, still feeling vanquished and vulnerable—dazed really—I looked up Two Cheers for Democracy and turned to “What I Believe.” Forster claims that the Beloved Republic can be found everywhere, its citizens easily recognizable. They are not heroes or saviors or politicians who exude “iron will, personal magnetism, dash, flair,” and “sexlessness.” It does not consist of special people, but of ordinary folks with a creative, rather than destructive, bent. Forster describes this band of true friends this way: “Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky.” Yes, I thought nodding in recognition. These people, he writes, amplifying on the idea, “are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.” I thought about the inability of the President-in-waiting to take a joke, and knew that Forster had predicted it all, and then he offered a paradox that is both terrifying and comforting in its simple truth: The Beloved Republic make up “an invincible army, yet not a victorious one.”

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Photos with Captions

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from “The Beloved Republic”

In the shade of the Orchid Pavilion on KuiJi mountain, Wang XiZhi and guests gathered to purge evil from their lives. More than sixteen hundred years ago, young and old partied against a backdrop of upland ridges, steep peaks, abundant forests, and groves of towering bamboo. Clear creeks glittered, rippling past the pavilion, the winding streams carrying candle-lit cups of wine to those who lined the bank. When a cup arrived, the guest who drank from it composed a poem on the spot. Even without pipes or pipa to play, the poets were happy sharing wine at creekside, content to find words to match their feelings.


Wang XiZhi, the most famous calligrapher of all time, wrote this Preface to the Orchid Pavilion poems that day while drinking wine himself, using his distinctive running script, the brush never leaving the page as he shaped each character with lines looping playfully or darkening by turns. When he thought about someone in the future writing about him and his friends long dead, the brush slipped so he blotted out the mistake, an error prized for its sincerity. Forming the characters bei fu for the bereaved he turned maudlin at the thought of all those loved ones long gone and stained the rice paper with his heavy stroke. Later he copied the Preface while sober but was unable to reproduce lines with the original emotions of that day centuries ago when the sky above the Orchid Pavilion was bright, the air clear, and a chance breeze delighted him and his guests. With a bountiful earth spread before them, the tipsy poets gazed into an expanding universe giddy, the outer world mirroring their joy. Cheeks flush with wine, they composed in a rush seeking words worthy of a day spent beside the rippling border of the Beloved Republic.

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photo credit: Ryan Paterson

from “Madre Luz”

Madre Luz: What strikes me most is the majestic power of her nakedness. She wears a white skirt with the upper half of her ebony body fully exposed. The pregnant belly and breasts droop heavily but the sling on her back carrying a child seems to pull her upright, standing triumphant despite the burden of life here and to come weighing her down. Her left arm is broken and repaired in two places but still upright. Her nearly featureless face bears a doleful but stoic expression, and the scratches and rips in the papier-mâché only add to her fearlessness. There is defiance in the pose, but the roundness of her body and the widening s-shaped curve of her fully erect self is invitation as well, a summons to do your best or do your worst. She has been embraced, photographed, and admired. She has been beaten, toppled, and thrown to the ground only to rise again. She has heard it all—all the bile of Cantwell and Ray and the other racists—and she can stand before their symbol of white supremacy, powerless and exposed, and still raise a fist sprinkled with glitter.

 

Her nakedness defies the violence it invites.

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Photo Credit: Namrata Harvey 

from “The Arc of the Universe”

The arc of the universe swirls at the fingertips of Alice as she passes the engagement gift to Namrata who holds it up to the light. Strings of color like the dying threads of fireworks locked in glass follow the curves, a reminder of what happens to any straight lines in our universe. Like the torso of a dancer, it twists in the glow, thrusting a muscular loop of rainbow-colored glass toward us, lit from within by the furnace of its creation.

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from “Gatherin’ around J. P. Fraley”

When J. P. Fraley takes the amphitheater stage at the Carter Caves Campground, a hush falls over the chatty audience and everyone in the semi-circular rows of benches leans forward a little in anticipation. He sits in a chair beside Barbara Kuhns who plays harmony lines for him on her fiddle, his legs spread in a slightly open stance that looks comfortable and relaxed. He runs the bow over open strings—the tuning is fine—brings the fiddle to his chin and looks out over the group assembled around him wearing on his face an impish, almost quizzical, expression that puts us all at ease. Even before he draws on the first note of “Stepdown,” one of his most familiar tunes, he has created a sense of intimacy among us all. Gathered here for a Friday concert, in the presence of one of America’s finest old-time fiddlers, we feel welcome and at home.

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Photo Credit: Nate Shiver

Photo Credit: Nate Shiver

from “Blood Mountain”

Standing on the stone ledge of Blood Mountain, I have to check a foolish impulse to fly. I put my hand to my eyes, surveying a blue that looks pristine simply because it hangs above a horizon line that is so far away, and see a blanket of treetops a half mile below spread in lumpy folds to a misty horizon, promising me a safe landing somewhere in Tennessee. I inch closer to the edge and plant my feet, drawn by the power of the panorama and buoyed by an unearthly feeling of calm. The urge to spread my arms, lean into that emptiness, and yield to infinity is hard to resist.

Just a step, I think. It would be easy.

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Videos

The Video Trailer

“One Boy's Luminous Skin”

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Advance Praise

Steve Harvey always writes with elegance, kindness, and a seemingly fathomless generosity. In his humane and magisterial collection of essays, The Beloved Republic, he offers readers even more. His beautiful writing aches for what is ailing us, but he doesn’t simply leave us aching. He offers readers a balm of love for ourselves and each other. Whether he’s writing about a mother’s suicide, racial unrest, American politics, or an attempt to save a beached whale, Steve Harvey

reminds us of our shared humanity, and reveals paths of redemption.

 

—Joe Mackall, author of Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish

 

Steven Harvey’s elegant essays in The Beloved Republic span centuries and continents, guiding us from a third century poetry-writing celebration at the Orchid Pavilion to the 2017 Neo-Nazi violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. Harvey’s generosity to his readers grows with every page, his warm, thoughtful presence inviting us not only into his own domestic sphere of family, home, and music, but also into the worlds of scientists, writers, artists, philosophers, mathematicians, and religious, cultural, and political icons. He offers no answers, only deeply observed questions that take us deeper and deeper into the mysteries of this twinned world we inhabit, one populated by “tyrants, thugs, and loud-mouth bullies,” yes, but also by a “peaceful and fragile confederacy of kind, benevolent, and creative people,” the beloved republic Harvey invites us all to become part of.

 

—Rebecca McClanahan, author of In the Key of New York City: A Memoir in Essays and The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change

 

 

The ease and grace of Harvey’s prose belies the big issues he tackles – race, politics, culture. And, in his personal life, a mother who committed suicide, a brilliant student who cuts herself, and a keen awareness of approaching mortality. This book, perfect for its time, puzzles over questions about where we fit in the upheaval all around us, and does not give up on the possibility of a more luminous humanity. Harvey’s mind and heart work in tandem in these thoughtfully emotional essays. If only those in our halls of power had half this much intelligence and empathy!

 

—Sue William Silverman, author, How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences

 

"Steven Harvey has written a remarkable, gently urgent, and poignantly beautiful book with the vibrant power to lend courage and spiritual sustenance in the difficult times we face. This is a book to treasure, to return to for reflection and guidance, and to give away: to remind all citizens of the Beloved Republic of the ties that anchor us together."

 

—Sonya Huber, author of Supremely Tiny Acts: A Memoir of a Day

 

Steven Harvey’s The Beloved Republic is a masterful collection of essays, provocative, always engaging, a compelling journey from page to page. Harvey tackles challenging issues, societal and personal, with intelligence and compassion. Yes, our beloved republic is under siege, but these thoughtful “dispatches” ultimately offer hope and beauty." 

 

—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire

 

Welcome, intimates. Open your palms to cradle this book inside which resides “the solace of

comradery.” We need heartening daily, Harvey knows, having written “The Book of Knowledge” and offered it here among the resources and character models. Exemplars like Madre Luz who have been “beaten, toppled, and thrown to the ground only to rise again,” comport the bow that tugs toward justice. We need her story as we need ears attuned “to the music in the air” to make such efforts, more than moral, comely. The Beloved Republic is a whale of a find. Like the beached giant onto which Harvey lays his hands alongside many kindred strangers, these essays demonstrate that nothing can be lost which has been drawn together. 

 

—Amy Wright, author of Paper Concert

 

The Beloved Republic should be required reading for all of us. With his gentle, sanguine essays, Steven Harvey reinvigorates me with hope that all is not lost, that goodness will prevail, that art and literature and music continue to move people to love and kindness.

 

—Patrick Madden, author of Disparities: Essays

 

Steve Harvey explores the many ways that a love of words, natural beauty, books, music, creativity and decency can transform a world of struggle into his “beloved republic.”  A master of the personal/political essay, Harvey reveals how moments of darkness—be it racial issues, a mother’s suicide, a dying beached whale--can lead to light. Often a reliable cup of steaming pre-dawn coffee makes the difference.

 

—Mimi Schwartz, author of Good Neighbors, Bad Times Revisited

 

 

I would follow the narrator of the essays in Steve Harvey’s The Beloved Republic anywhere—and I do: into the water to lay hands on a beached sperm whale, through the classroom doors to teach Beowulf in the wake of the September 11th attacks, or under the stairs of his childhood home after his mother’s suicide where the nails poke through: “Like stars they glittered in the crawl space, and I looked into them as I listened to the groan in the floorboards.”

 

Steve Harvey is an essayist’s essayist, a writer’s writer, a reader’s writer. These urgent and gorgeous essays help us to make sense of this broken and beautiful world with compassion, wisdom, love, and art. Steve Harvey is one of our best. What can I say? I needed this book.

 

—Jill Christman, author of If This Were Fiction: A Love Story in Essays