Lessons For Survival

Community Room 301 & 302

In this scrupulous and searching examination of the intersections of social and environmental justice, Raboteau offers her perspective as a mother raising children in the midst of protracted crises and existential threats. In confronting a range of these threats—from the over-policing of Black bodies to the devastation of climate collapse this innovative and provocative book asks how we can cope with the myriad, multiplying dangers that constitute life in the 21st century. How can we protect our children as they begin to grasp the asymmetries of power that shape their worlds? How can we raise them to be good citizens of a country that too often endangers Black life? What does it mean to be deeply local and sensitively global? And the grand container for all these questions: what does it mean to occupy the morally impure position of ‘mother,’ principally responsible for bringing life into a fallen world?

In her quest for answers, Raboteau traces art, politics, history, and nature across her New York City home. Birds both in the air and painted on buildings spark conversations about the interconnectedness of environmental issues; a pond serves as refuge to wildlife but also threatens to flood her home when it swells; the eroding beaches of the Rockaways call to mind an hourglass, reminding her that we are running out of time to prevent the worst climate catastrophes. She seeks ways for her children to safely play in city parks while avoiding pollution, pandemics, and the police. She ventures abroad to learn from Indigenous Peoples and discovers the most intimate meanings of resilience in her own family and community. She bears witness to the inner life of Black motherhood and to the brutalities and possibilities of cities, while celebrating the beauty and fragility of nature. Along every avenue of this nimble exploration, Raboteau floodlights the systems that perpetuate inequity, and finds alternatives toward a more sustainable future. In its sharp observations and its stories of protection and hope, Lessons for Survival blazes with insight.

In conversation with Erika Meitner. 

Emily Raboteau


Emily Raboteau writes at the intersection of social and environmental justice, race, climate change, and parenthood. Her previous books are Searching for Zion, winner of an American Book Award and finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and the cult classic novel, The Professor’s Daughter. Since the release of the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, she has focused on writing about the climate crisis. 

Her distinctions include an inaugural Climate Narratives Prize from Arizona State University, the Deadline Club Award in Feature Reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists’ New York chapter, and grants and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Bronx Council on the Arts, the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, the Lannan Foundation and Yaddo. She serves regularly as nonfiction faculty at the Bread Loaf Environmental Writing Conference and is a full professor at the City College of New York in Harlem, once known as “the poor man’s Harvard.” She lives in the Bronx with her husband, the novelist Victor LaValle, and their two children.

Recent Book
Lessons for Survival

Erika Meitner

Photo of author, Erika Meitner

Erika Meitner is the author of six books of poems, including Ideal Cities, which was a 2009 National Poetry series winner; Copia; and Holy Moly Carry Me, which won the 2018 National Jewish Book Award in Poetry, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her newest book, Useful Junk, was published by BOA Editions in April of 2022. Meitner’s poems have been anthologized widely, and have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, The New Republic, Virginia Quarterly Review, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Poetry, Orion, The Believer, and elsewhere. Other honors include fellowships from MacDowell, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Hermitage Artist Retreat, Blue Mountain Center, and Bethany Arts Community. She was also the 2015 US-UK Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast, and is currently a 2022 Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellow. Meitner is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Recent Book
Useful Junk