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Author Spotlight: Rhonda Wilcox

ImageBook: Reading Joss Whedon

Rhonda Wilcox is a professor of English at Gordon State College in Georgia. Besides Reading Joss Whedon, the author has also worked on titles such as Why Buffy Matters and Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is also known for being the Co-Founder/Editor of Slayage: The Journal of Whedon Studies Association.

Tell us a little bit about your forthcoming title, Reading Joss Whedon.

For this book, we (coeditors Tanya R. Cochran, Cynthea Masson, David Lavery and I) were fortunate enough to get over two dozen of the scholars who have done the most perceptive and eloquent work on Whedon in recent years. We have about 400 pages of insightful discussion of all the major works. There are essays about the television series, the comics, the films, the internet. In addition to the in-depth essays, there are general introduction essays to Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, so that readers who are mainly familiar with one can follow discussions of the others. The essays cover a great range of topics, from tight focus on a particular episode to thematic discussions across the whole oeuvre (gender, religion, identity, and so forth). The chapters are written with great respect for the work of Whedon and his collaborators—and expressed in a lucid, thoughtful style. Furthermore, the essays are full of references to other good essays on Whedon (and other subjects) too, so that I think it’s fair to say that this book opens up the world of Whedon.

You’ve been called the world’s foremost authority on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what does your current title offer that hasn’t been studied before in the Joss Whedon universe.

I recently saw an internet article that listed the fifteen Whedon episodes that needed more attention. Well, one of those episodes (“Conversations with Dead People,” from Buffy) has a whole chapter on it in our book. The book has work on Whedon’s film of the Shakespeare play Much Ado about Nothing; on his very different film Marvel’s The Avengers (which he wrote and directed); on The Cabin in the Woods; on the Buffy Season 8 comics; on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog—as well as material on all the old stand-bys, but from new angles. Have you ever thought about Buffy’s apocalypses from the perspective of serious Disaster Studies research? Have you thought about the mythology of Echo and Narcissus in relation to Dollhouse? How about Whedon’s directing echoing Douglas Sirk in Angel? I could go on and on about these essays. I will also mention that the final chapter is actually a history of the academic work that has been done on Whedon and his collaborators—so it can be a springboard to finding other strong scholarship on Whedon.

Can you tell us a bit about your background with Joss Whedon, when did you first become interested in his work and how have you pursued it over the years.

I had already been publishing television scholarship for a number of years—starting with a little essay called “TV and the Curriculum,” which was actually my way of publishing something on Remington Steele and Moonlighting. I had published on many significant Science Fiction-Fantasy series (Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Star Trek, among others). I started watching Buffy when it first aired, and the longer I watched it, the more impressed I was. David Lavery and I published the first U.S. collection of scholarly essays on Buffy in 2002 (Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). There were so many more good essays than we could fit in the book that David suggested we start an online scholarly journal, a peer-reviewed journal—which we did in 2001, before the book was even out. (It is still running today, now under the title Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association, with an international editorial board of scholars.) In 2002 I was invited to be keynote speaker at the Blood, Text, and Fears conference at the University of East Anglia in England—the first academic conference on Whedon, and one of the best experiences of my life. In 2004 David Lavery and I convened the first Slayage conference—again, an academic conference, not a convention (although those have joys of their own). It was the first Whedon conference in the U.S. These Slayage conferences have met biennially since, in the U.S. and Canada. (The next one is to be at California State University – Sacramento, June 19-22, 2014. It is too late to submit a proposal to present, but not too late to register to attend.) In 2005 I published Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I am proud to say was a finalist for the Stoker award and won the WSA’s award for the best book that year (the “Mr. Pointy” award). In 2008, with Tanya R. Cochran, I published a collection of essays on Firefly and Serenity; that was also the year that Tanya, David, and I legally formed the non-profit Whedon Studies Association—an organization that had existed de facto for many years. For the last five years I’ve been working with co-editors Tanya, David, and another outstanding Whedon scholar (and very hard-working person), Cynthea Masson, and two dozen plus wonderful (and patient) contributors, to bring out this collection of essays, Reading Joss Whedon. I make forays into publishing on other good TV as well (I edited a collection of essays on Veronica Mars with Sue Turnbull, for example, and later this year an essay of mine will be coming out in a collection on Fringe), but I do not foresee an end to writing on Joss Whedon and Co.

For those who don’t know much about Joss Whedon or his works, what would you tell a reader picking up Reading Joss Whedon?

Earlier this year, there was a report on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show about Russians who were bravely, publicly protesting against their government’s policies. When asked why, a Russian woman quoted a line from the “Epiphany” episode of Whedon and David Greenwalt’s Angel series. How much more meaningful can you get than that? Whedon helps us think through the big issues—but he doesn’t batter you with them. He gives us characters who develop over time in believable ways, and as they live, they inhabit those issues, those ideas. Furthermore, they do it in some of the wittiest, most memorable language around. Viewers get the pleasure of symbolic depth expanding the meaning beyond the specific plots, too. And the longer you watch, the more striking and meaningful the visuals become—not to mention the music, more and more of which he is writing himself. (In Whedon’s version of Much Ado about Nothing, we get Shakespeare’s lyrics set to Whedon’s melody.) Those of us who’ve written this book think that Joss Whedon is one of the creators whose work is going to last. In Reading Joss Whedon, we hope to show you why.

We love that this is an extensive reader, covering all of Joss Whedon’s work; do you have a specific essay or section that you are particularly excited for?

That is an absolutely unfair question. How can I pick? The answer would depend on my mood, I suppose. There’s a whole section, a batch of essays, on Buffy, shorter sections on the other series—and more. I genuinely am impressed by each essay in the book. I’ve already mentioned some of them (directly or indirectly) above. Perhaps I might note that the “Overarching Topics” section contains some really significant work drawing together new insights and earlier research. (It could be a little book on its own.) There’s an essay that explores the way Joss Whedon displays his mastery of TV as a long-form art through “Character, Narrative, and Time”; there’s a philosophical one on the way narrative embodies and divines ethics; there’s one that discusses the vexed question of Whedon and the soul; and I must say, I was astonished at how much was packed into a relatively short essay on the debated issue of Whedon’s feminism (it’s called “Hot Chicks with Superpowers”). And what the hey, I will add that it was a great happiness to me that I got to write about Much Ado about Nothing.

Why do you think that Joss Whedon’s work is important enough to have a scholarly anthology of essays published?

The world at large is finally catching up to the idea that TV can be art. Joss Whedon is one of a handful of really exemplary TV auteurs, a person who thoroughly uses his medium—and he somehow managed to do it on network television, not HBO. He has the gift of true collaboration, drawing to him wonderful collaborators (other writers such as Jane Espenson, musicians such as Christophe Beck, art designers such as Carey Meyer, editors such as Lisa Lassek, directors of photography such as Michael Gershman, and many more.) Furthermore, his work (as writer, director, producer, musician) is expanding, with the internet Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the comics such as Buffy Seasons 8-9, and films ranging from the mighty Marvel’s The Avengers to the black-and-white intimacy of his screwball noir version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. Like most creators who are worth paying attention to, Whedon helps us deal with the difficult issues of life through the joy and solace of art.

Author Spotlight: Joseph E. Fahey

faheyphoto Book: James K. McGuire: Boy Mayor and Irish Nationalist

 Joseph E. Fahey is a judge in the New York State Unified Court System and an adjunct professor of law at Syracuse University College of Law. He is a member of the American Conference of Irish Studies, the American Irish Historical Society, and the Irish American Cultural Institute.

Can you briefly tell us about your new book, James K. McGuire?

James K. McGuire: Boy Mayor and Irish Nationalist is the only account of this man’s fascinating journey through American History. Forced to leave school at the age of thirteen to support his family and educated by his mother, he became an orator, author, publisher, public official and the leader of two Irish independence groups. He influenced American policy and politics on the local, state and national level. At the same time he engaged in the fight for Irish independence both overtly and clandestinely, legally and illegally. Investigated by the Justice Department and Congress, he was indicted twice but never convicted. He left his imprint on most of the events of his day without leaving a paper trail.

How did the tragedy he overcame when he was young influence McGuire’s success as a young adult?

In the wake of his younger brother’s death by drowning in a local canal, McGuire’s father sank into a deep alcohol fueled depression from which he never emerged. Leaving school at the age of thirteen, McGuire learned quickly that he had to rely on his intelligence and other talents to successfully provide for the family. He became a teetotaler who never wasted a moment of his life and devoted his energies to learning to become a gifted orator, prolific writer of public policy tracts and a talented, hardworking young businessman who was promoted early to the highest level of his employer’s company. His talents were such that he was offered and declined the nomination for various public offices before he was old enough to serve. When the time was right, he wrestled the Democratic Party nomination for mayor from the party bosses and became the youngest Mayor in Syracuse’s history.

As the youngest Mayor of a major city in the U.S. and after his successful election, how did McGuire’s influence help shape the City of Syracuse into what it is today?

While Syracuse has changed greatly over the past century, McGuire was responsible for the construction of the Carnegie Library and the municipal golf course at Burnet Park He championed the creation of an art museum. He was responsible for construction of thirty-eight of the City’s schools at the time he left office. He was the first mayor to serve under the White Charter or strong mayor form of government.

How do you think politics (in Syracuse and in general) have changed or remained the same since McGuire’s time?

Politics in Syracuse has changed from Republican Party dominance to Democratic Party dominance. After his defeat by Jay Kline in 1901, Syracuse did not have another democratic mayor for almost fifty years; The Republican Party’s grip on power was so strong that despite his achievements not one school or public building is named after McGuire. Political campaigns, which were primarily waged through the numerous newspapers that published several times per day, are now waged on the television, radio and internet at tremendous cost to the candidates. This has given campaign finance and large money contributors an outsized influence in many political races. It has also led to the rise of Political action committees and “super pacs” which are allowed to advocate and engage in political discourse on a semi-anonymous basis.

How has your background in law influenced your writing this book?

My legal training has caused me to be an exhaustive investigator and researcher in writing this book. McGuire left no personal papers, diaries or correspondence. I suspect the reason for that was due to his clandestine activities as head of the secret organization named Clan-na-Gael which worked for Irish independence, sometimes, not always legally. As a result I had to recreate his life from other sources. I collected hundreds of newspaper articles from the Local History section of the Central Library. I spent days in the City Hall Archives scanning his correspondence into a computer. I traveled to New York City to copy correspondence between him and other Irish-American leader. I obtained copies of his indictments and testimony about him from a U.S. Senate sub-committee that investigated his activities just prior to World War I. I obtained copies of all of his books and read them. I was fortunate to have assistance from the archivist in control of Eamon de Valera’s record and obtained correspondence between McGuire and Harry Boland. My first draft of the biography contained an almost daily chronicle of the six years he was Mayor and approached nine-hundred pages. Fortunately I had the assistance of excellent editors at the Press who brought it to a more manageable length.

How has your Irish heritage contributed to this book?

This book started as a profile requested by the local Irish-American Cultural Institute Chapter who knew that McGuire was my great-uncle. It originally was thirty-four pages long. Following a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Conference of Irish Studies in New York City in 2006, I was approached by Jim MacKillop of the Press who was interested in my writing a biography. Seven years later, it is about to be released. I would not have been approached to write the initial profile if I were not Irish and a descendant of McGuire. My Irish heritage fueled my curiosity and kept me engaged in the exhaustive investigation and journey learning about this fascinating individual and his life and times.

Do you think McGuire’s term did more good or harm to the City of Syracuse?

McGuire’s terms as mayor have to be weighed in the context of the forces that were arrayed against him. His first term was marked by a hostile Board of Aldermen who blocked many of his reform initiatives. During his second two terms, he was confronted by a united Republican Party locally and an aggressive and hostile Republican Administration at the state level. The utilized everything at their disposal to try and end his career, including imposing fiscal burdens on his administration and unsuccessfully prosecuting him for malfeasance. Still, he was able to build schools, a library, a golf course, a shelter for the male homeless population (and advocating a shelter for the female homeless) and establishing public works programs for the unemployed. On balance, I think he serves Syracuse well.

Do you think readers will have a positive view of McGuire after reading this book?

I believe readers will come away with admiration for someone who overcame the tragedies and obstacles that McGuire endured, accomplished all that he did in so many different undertakings and rose to the top of American and Irish-American politics.

Is there anything new we can expect from you in the near future?

I have just completed a book about one of the cases I defended while in practice as a lawyer. It is an account of a double homicide in which mental illness and the concept of legal insanity are paramount. I’m currently seeking a publisher for that work. I have also begun research and investigation into the life of an Irish Fenian leader, who was imprisoned by the British, exiled to America, sought political office here and was a target of an assassination attempt. It is the story of another fascinating life.

Reading Joss Whedon Goodreads Giveaway!

Make sure you enter our first Goodreads giveaway!
We’re giving away 10 copies of our Spring release, Reading Joss Whedon, you can find out more about the title here.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reading Joss Whedon by Rhonda Wilcox

Reading Joss Whedon

by Rhonda Wilcox

Giveaway ends March 20, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Spring 2014 Catalog is Now Available!

Happy New Year from the Syracuse University Press office!  We are excited to share the Spring 2014 Catalog.  This season we have a diverse list of new titles in series such as Sports and Entertainment, Gender and Globalization, Television and Popular Culture, as well as many others.  With our variety of titles and genres, there are books to interest all readers!

For television and film buffs, we have Reading Joss Whedon which explores the work of the exceptionally talented Joss Whedon. His works include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Much Ado about Nothing, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and most recently, the Avengers: the third highest-grossing film of all time.

9780815610366For those looking to start or restart an exercise routine in the new year, you will find inspiration in Charles Kastner’s book The 1929 Bunion Derby. This remarkable account of human endurance and long-distance running unfolds against the backdrop of America’s swift decline from the heady Roaring Twenties to the devastating Great Crash, and is precisely the kind of underdog story that university presses bring to light. 

Take a look at the full Spring 2014 book catalog for further information on these two books.  In addition, check out any of the other new SU Press books coming this spring, they’re worth a read!

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The 1929 Bunion Derby Book Trailer

The 1929 Bunion Derby: Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace across America is the true story of the marathon that took place between New York and Los Angeles.

The book is written by Charles B. Kastner. It is published by Syracuse UniversityPress and set to release in Spring of 2014.

Music was received from Archive.org and is licensed under Creative Commons.

The Importance of Regional Publishing

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In the spirit of partnership that pervades the university press community, Syracuse University Press and 36 other presses unite for the AAUP’s second annual blog tour during University Press Week. The tour highlights the value of university presses and the contributions they make to scholarship and our society.

Schedule your week’s reading with the complete blog tour schedule here http://bit.ly/HjQX7n.

Today’s theme is the importance of regional publishing, discussed by one of our favorite regional authors, Chuck D’Imperio.

Regional publishing is a wonderful source of information, data, traditional stories, reflections, memories and history.  Although in many cases the parameters can be small, their importance cannot be denied. Not every author can write a serious piece on the nuances of global affairs or the ramifications of economic turmoil.  And not every writer’s heart beats with the longing and sentimentality of a romance novelist.  We can’t all be adventure writers or cookbook authors.  We cannot all come up with clever mystery twists and turns.

But we can all become regional writers.  Why?  Because we all have stories to tell, no matter how provincial or how far-flung.  And these stories, these observations stand the test of time serving an important purpose for the past, present and the future.

Centuries ago familial tales were handed down in oral testimonies from grandparents to grandchildren.  Stories of hardships endured and triumphs enjoyed.  Of bitter harvests and sharecropping, of transoceanic flight and new beginnings.  Of shadowy injustices and illuminating liberations.  Of slavery.  Of migration.  Of life on the dusty prairie as well on the teeming sidewalks of immigrant America.

 These stories, eventually written down in small books and disseminated by small presses, have served as some of the most important tools in any writer’s arsenal.  Read the legendary works of Herman Melville, Willa Cather, John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck or Mark Twain and it is apparent that at the heart of each of these writers’ opuses lies a work of regional scent.  Though disguised as great literary epics and tomes it is still clear to any reader that these authors (and legions more) are simply writing about what they know, where they lived and what they did.  Many of the settings of the famous American novels or short stories reflect the simple concept of a regional book masked in the patina of “great literature.”

 Story placements as varied as family farms, the sea, a rural Main Street, unpronounceable places abroad, on the river, in the big shouldered cities and more all are the regional backdrop of some of the most familiar works of American writing, from Tara to Cannery Row to “Our Town.”

 I am proud to be a regional writer.  I have six books currently in stores exploring the width and breadth of my own backyard, Upstate New York.  I have written of the great legends of the Hudson Valley, the history of the small towns in the high peaks of the Adirondacks, the whimsy of the tiny museums of the Finger Lakes and the verdigris- covered war memorials which dot the Leatherstocking Region.  These books are small, yet timeless.  My readers can identify with the stories and tales I have told whether they come from the busy streets of our capital city, Albany or from the bucolic bosom of the Schoharie Valley.

 Anybody can be a regional writer to some degree.  To paraphrase Grandma Moses, it’s easy.  Just pick up a pencil and start writing.

Unknown Museums of Upstate NY

University Press Week day 2!

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On our second day of the University Press Week blog tour we have some great content from seven different university presses!  All this week, a total of 37 different press bloggers are recognizing the importance of scholarly publishing and how it benefits society.  Today the tour focuses on the following presses:

Priscilla Wald, Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Duke, writes about the slow future of scholarly communication for the Duke University Press.

Harvard University Press provides a post by Jeffrey Schnapp, faculty director and editor of the new metaLABprojects book series at Harvard, as he touches on the emerging currents of experimental scholarship for which the series provides a platform.

Standford University Press offers a a discussion by the Press Director, Alan Harvey, about the challenges presented by new technologies in publishing, and how the industry model is adapting to new reading-consumption habits.

Temple University Press promotes Alex Holzman as he explores the partnerships university presses and libraries can forge as the means of communicating scholarship evolves.

A new University of Minnesota Press initiative is discussed by editor Dani Kasprzak.

Robert Devens, Assistant Editor-in-Chief for the University of Texas Press, examines the future of scholarly communication.

Historian Holly Shulman, posts for the University of Virginia Press and looks at the need for university presses to adapt to new technologies, while acknowledging the difficulties of doing so.

Keep an eye out for more great content by checking back throughout the rest of University Press Week!  Follow the tour with this schedule or the hashtag #UPWeek on Facebook or Twitter. 

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