Rumba Under Fire: The Arts of Survival from West Point to Delhi


A professor of poetry uses a deck of playing cards to measure the time until her lover returns from Afghanistan. Congolese soldiers find their loneliness reflected in the lyrics of rumba songs. Survivors of the siege of Sarajevo discuss which book they would have never burned for fuel. A Romanian political prisoner writes her memoir in her head, a book no one will ever read. These are the arts of survival in times of crisis.

Rumba Under Fire proposes we think differently about what it means for the arts and liberal arts to be “in crisis.” In prose and poetry, the contributors to Rumba Under Fire explore what it means to do art in hard times. How do people teach, create, study, and rehearse in situations of political crisis? Can art and intellectual work really function as resistance to power? What relationship do scholars, journalists, or even memoirists have to the crises they describe and explain? How do works created in crisis, especially at the extremes of human endurance, fit into our theories of knowledge and creativity?

The contributors are literary scholars, anthropologists, and poets, covering a broad geographic range – from Turkey to the United States, from Bosnia to India. Rumba Under Fire includes essays, poetry and interviews by Tim Albrecht, Carla Baricz, Greg Brownderville, William Coker, Andrew Crabtree, Cara De Silva, Irina Dumitrescu, Denis Ferhatović, Susannah Hollister, Prashant Keshavmurthy, Sharon Portnoff, Anand Taneja, and Judith Verweijen.

Available in print or pdf from Punctum Books and from Amazon. Read the introduction here.


“the book makes a cohesive argument not just about how engagement with the humanities can help temper or explain various political or humanitarian crisis, but that there will always be multiple, equally vital ways — from poetry to scholarship, and more — to process ideas in and of themselves, and that these multiple approaches can be tools for survival in harsh times”

“While no one wishes for hard times, they do come. This book reminds its readers that frequently these times are out of one’s individual control. No amount of care in how we live can protect us from war or an oppressive regime. But even if our books burn and our music is away, even if our prayers must come from memory, all is not yet lost. There is still hope, even under fire.”

“The humanities evolve to survive regardless of the circumstances, but this book makes a good case for the value in preserving and promoting them at all costs.”

“Rumba Under Fire was published before the US entered its present circumstances, but it feels like a tool of the resistance. Add it to your belt”

“Amid laments about the crisis of the humanities, it’s good to read about the power of humanities in times of crisis.”

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