Niela Orr

Niela Orr is a deputy editor of the Believer and the Black Mountain Institute’s inaugural Sidney and Bébé Wolf Fellow.

From The Blog
2 December 2021

Virgil Abloh, the artist and fashion designer, died on 28 November of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare cancer. He was 41. The news was unexpected, as Abloh had chosen to keep his diagnosis private. An exhibition of his work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2019 was called Figures of Speech. One of his best jokes was to put the words ‘FOR WALKING’ in bold, all-caps lettering on a pair of women’s cowboy boots.

From The Blog
10 September 2021

The death of the actor Michael K. Williams, at the age of 54, was reported on 6 September. He had been found unresponsive in his Brooklyn penthouse. Williams was a major player in The Wire, one of American culture’s sharpest analyses of what happened to the country in the wake of 9/11.

The book’s title refers to made-up events and fake online avatars, and if Fake Accounts is the burner phone of Lauren Oyler the critic, this passage reads slightly differently. ‘To look at one’s phone while walking up the stairs is a hazard and a menace. To have been plucked special from one group only to be reincorporated into another more debased is an insult to pride.’ Oyler the critic has bumped into Oyler the novelist (I don’t know which group, novelists or critics, is more debased). Their collision is this book. 

From The Blog
2 April 2021

‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’, a sermon delivered by Jonathan Edwards in Massachusetts and Connecticut in July 1741, takes as its text Deuteronomy 32:35, ‘their foot shall slide in due time.’ Edwards warned of the ‘fearful danger’ people were in: ‘There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment,’ he said. If the events of the last week are to be believed, Lil Nas X is a singer in the hands of an angry God, and certain ultra religious, homophobic segments of the American public, including Edwards’s televangelical heirs. Made famous in 2018 by his smash single ‘Old Town Road’ and its chart-topping remix with Billy Ray Cyrus, Lil Nas X is now at the centre of a media firestorm.

In​ ‘The Wizard of Oz: A Parable on Populism’ (1964), Henry Littlefield, a high-school teacher, interpreted L. Frank Baum’s novel as an extended metaphor for American politics in the 1890s. He argued that Baum, who in 1888 moved to the territory that became South Dakota, sympathised with the plight of the region’s farmers and was influenced by the views of a man he...

The Masks of Doom

Niela Orr, 21 January 2021

Paul Laurence Dunbar​’s poem ‘We Wear the Mask’ was published in 1895.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, –This debt we pay to human guile;With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,In counting all our tears and sighs?Nay, let them only see us, while   ...


Niela Orr, 3 December 2020

Late​ in the evening, early this century, Washington Square West, Philadelphia. Washington Square West overlaps an area identified by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Philadelphia Negro as the Seventh Ward, the site of many places famous in Black history: Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church; the Institute for Coloured Youth; the home of Frances E.W. Harper, one of the first Black American women to have her...

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