This issue investigates our shifting understanding of the term "essential" as it applies to businesses, resources, human beings and human bonds. This language has been used to define what work is most urgently needed for our collective survival. Across the country, “essential workers” place their wellbeing and their bodies on the line daily, while protestors do the same in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to demand that Black lives not only matter, but are recognized as essential and irreplaceable. As the mounting social and economic pressures of the pandemic intersect with calls to dismantle the systemic racism at the root of our country’s failing infrastructure, we are asking Philly writers what they can and cannot sacrifice, for their own sake and for others.
Our essential questions include (but are not limited to):
1. What daily work must you do to survive? To help others survive with you?
2. How can language be harnessed in that work: on the page, in the streets, in your community?
3. What concrete tools, actions and words are needed to heal and rewrite our histories?
4. What people, places, objects, and rituals keep you grounded -- or propel you forward?
5. What are you learning to cast away, and what will you never give up?