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Author Spotlight: Joan Dean

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Joan FitzPatrick Dean is Curators Professor of English at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is the author of Riot and Great Anger: Stage Censorship in Twentieth-Century Ireland.

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How and where did you get the inspiration for All Dressed Up?

My mother-in-law was a city-dweller. She lived all of her life in Newark, New Jersey. In her forties, after the death of her husband, she took up square dancing, an activity closely associated with rural America. On July 4, 1976, she appeared on national television in an elaborate square dancing costume on the deck of an aircraft carrier as part of the festivities that celebrated the bicentennial of the founding of America. Along with millions of others, I watched. I was even able to catch a glimpse of her. She was delighted to perform and her family and friends were thrilled to see her, but the possible irony of an often-chauvinistic urban-dweller appearing as a country girl wasn’t lost on me. When people get all dressed up they can do surprising things.

Like most people, I experienced pageantry from a young age.   Like many, I first became aware of pageantry when I participated in it. I participated in First Communion processions, parades, and Christmas pageants. I have home movies of these events where I can see myself in my First Communion dress, my Brownie beanie and uniform, and my Tin Soldier costume. I distinctly recall watching my blond, blue-eyed younger sister as the child selected to place a floral crown on a larger-than-life-sized statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 1, 1957 before the assembled parishionners of St. Mary’s Church.   That remains my earliest and most vivid memory of envy.

In the broadest sense of the term, pageantry involves a display of an identity or affiliation. Pageantry is typically a public, open-air event, often free or at modest price, in which large numbers of participants hope to attract even larger numbers of viewers. Participants wear special, usually symbolic, clothing on select dates that are connected with holidays, annual observances, or anniversaries.

In my research there was another impetus to explore pageantry when I was working through the financial records for the Theatre of Ireland, which ended up in the P. S. O’Hegarty Collection at the University of Kansas. I knew how few people were attending some of these performances and began to ask myself if there wasn’t another way in which ordinary Irish people experienced “theatre.” Was there something like a Cirque du Soliel, a very popular, accessible theatrical genre, early in the twentieth century? And the answer was yes: pageantry.

For readers who might not be familiar with the Irish culture, what can you tell them about the Irish aesthetic standards?

Early in the twentieth century Irish historical pageantry shares with other visual idioms an impulse to draw on an older, sometimes ancient or pre-historic, but most important non-British, aesthetic.

It’s important to appreciate that the vogue of historical pageantry was not confined to Ireland. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York had a pageant, so did St. Louis for its centennial and hundreds of other towns and cities. In the early decades of the twentieth century, not least because of the expansion of the franchise, pageants hope to educate and inspire patriotism in the US and in Britain as well as in Ireland.

If you could tell us something surprisingly interesting about Irish pageantry and its history, what would it be?

The number of visual artists who, especially early in the twentieth century, were deeply involved pageant making and promotion: Austin Molloy, John P. Campbell, Micheál macLíammóir, Jack Morrow, and to a lesser extent people like Paul Henry, Harry Kernoff, Art O’Murnaghan, William Conor, Mabel Annesley, and a score of others. Ireland has produced more than its fair share of writers, but the visual artists are certainly less widely recognized.

In All Dressed Up, the notion of popularity is heavily embedded in your research? How does that concept of popularity compare with our contemporary understanding of it?

The cliché tells us that everyone loves a parade. As a kid I certainly did, particularly drum and bugle corps, although they carry a very different resonance in Ireland than they did in a small town in upstate New York. The operative aesthetic that cuts across time and place can be summarized in one word: epic. Think about the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. In 2008, China celebrated four great inventions: paper, movable type, gunpowder, and the compass. Four years later, Danny Boyle (who directed Slumdog Millionaire) developed an extravaganza of British history, Isles of Wonder, in London for the Games; both aspired to stage a nation’s past and remain memorable for their epic scale. Several of the pageants I discuss drew enormous audiences, audiences that dwarf those drawn by many of the plays central to the canon of Irish drama; some were revived and even toured.

Tell us about the images you’ve chosen to use for the book – why did they stand out for you and what do they entail?

These images stood out because I could obtain permission to use them. Many of the images are exquisite, some are hilarious. I have a hundred more. Any chance we could discuss this on the phone? I have free long distance and can call at your convenience. I can’t type fast enough to do this question justice.

Can you tell us about the process of weaving in mythical elements and cultural references into a history book?

I’m not a historian, but All Dressed Up aspires to be theatre history. I hope the book also suggests how the Irish came to create and to understand their history in the twentieth century. Early in the twentieth century, the recourse was to mythical figures like Cuchulainn and Fionn. By the 1940s, the time frame of the Irish historical pageants had become a moving wall pressing toward the present: while in 1927 the pageants reached back to an ancient past and proscribed everything after 1800, those in the 1940s began in 1867 and moved right up to the present. By the 1990s, the story of Cuchulainn in the Tain as staged by Macnas is the story of Irish people killing other Irish people that resonates with the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Plus, the relationship between myth and history moves in both directions in pageants: In the 1920s, myth could be historicized as when Fionn mac Cumhaill was described as “an undoubtedly historical personage,” but throughout the century, historical events, such as the Easter Rising, were mythologized in pageants.

How did your own Irish heritage contribute to the writing of this book?

Not at all or perhaps barely. I’m fourth generation and grew up in a place without a strong Irish tradition. There is a geographical connection is to SUP through western NY, where I grew up, and coincidentally between Syracuse and Penn Yan both in the Finger Lakes where my ancestors, the Finnegans and FitzPatricks, settled. I’m very conscious that mine is an Irish-American rather than an Irish heritage. My father never denied that an Irishman, Patrick Boyle, was his great-grandfather, but he only identified as German-American rather than Irish-American. My mother, a FitzPatrick from home (as they say), strongly identified as Irish-American. They both picked and chose; we all do. So did these pageants: they were always selective in constructing their sense of the Irish past.

I did see one of the pageants I discuss in detail in 1992 while on a Fulbright in Galway: the Macnas Tain. I went back the next night with my kids; it was the first “dramatic performance” that I took my daughters to see. I have wanted to write about it ever since. It just took me twenty-two years and 248 pages to really get to it.

What was the most enjoyable part about writing this book?

The research, especially discovering of connections with the visual arts—Irish Arts and Crafts in particular. I had a Fulbright lectureship Nancy, France in 1982-83 and have been fascinated by Art Nouveau, especially l’école de Nancy, ever since. I confess I didn’t see this connection when I started the project but slowly and very clearly it emerged in the programs, posters, photographs, and costume designs buried in the archives in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, Lawrence, Kansas, and Evanston, Illinois. The other pleasure was in seeing the parallels and analogues that surface in different visual cultures and theatrical idioms in France, Ireland, the US, etc. at about the same time. These pageants offered people the opportunity to perform their identities, the role as citizens. Often it’s the newest citizens who are most eager. I saw two St. Patrick’s Day parades in Galway, first in 1993 and then in 2012. The difference between the two was that in the second, a number of immigrant groups—the Poles, the Slovenians, the Brazilians, and so on—were there in number to display their affiliation with Ireland. It’s that festive, celebratory spirit that infused most of the pageants I discuss.

Beyond that, I thoroughly enjoyed working with archivists and librarians, who were unfailingly generous. I can’t overstated how helpful many of these archivists were in bringing an overlooked item to my attention or just by engaging with the material I was looking at.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Copyright permissions. The final one came from Katy O’Kennedy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina whom I located only because she has a presence (as “Chief Stink Buster” see http://www.linkedin.com/in/silveredgegear) on the web for Silver Edge Gear, the technology she developed that uses silver to prevent odors in athletic gear. In 1945 her father, Niel O’Kennedy, drew a cartoon about the Military Tattoo for the humor magazine Dublin Opinion that appears in the book. I’m delighted I found her and that she so generously gave me permission to include the image.

What are you working on now?

I have co-edited, with Jose Lanters, a collection of essays on non-realistic Irish theatre called Beyond Realism that will be available early in 2015. I have an essay on the performance pieces of Pat Kinevane coming out soon. One longer-range project returns to the Theatre of Ireland, the renegade company that competed with the Abbey between 1906 and 1913, and in particular at Maire nic Shiubhlaigh (Mary Walker).

All Hallow’s Read

Here at SU Press, we’d like to think of Halloween as more than just a weekend of candies and costumes – it’s another excuse for book-giving! Introducing “All Hallow’s Read” – a Halloween tradition that encourages you to give someone a scary book in honor of the festivities. Whether it’s a gothic novel from way back or a modern tale of zombies, there will always be a book out there ready to quench your thirst. If you’re as excited as we are to hop on the “All Hallow’s Read” bandwagon, here are two recommendations for you. You know what they say – a book is a present you can open again and again!

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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Allow someone to indulge in this classic Irish tale with our new critical edition. First published in the late 1800’s, it tells the story of a young woman’s susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire named Carmilla. Beautifully written and charged with powerful rhetoric, the book is the answer for anyone who’s hunting for a timeless novel.

Beauty and the Beast by Arnold Arluke and Robert Bogdan

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From fairy tales to photography, nowhere is the complexity of human-animal relationship more apparent than in the creative arts. Arts illuminates the nature and significance of animals in modern, Western thought, capturing the complex but interesting union that has always existed between the animal kingdom and us. Packed with photo postcards and captivating stories, this book perfect for animal and history lovers!

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Eye Candy Friday: The “Harmonic Possibilities” of Art

The eighth annual issue of Stone Canoe showcases an intriguing collection of writing and visual arts from 70 contributors with ties to the Upstate New York region. Notable features include 40 pages of visual art, a photo essay on Saudi Arabia by Janice Levy, Bruce Smith’s interview with acclaimed poet Stephen Dunn, and a collection of written work that includes poetry, drama, fiction, creative nonfiction, and provocative essays on topics such as warfare, incarceration, music, and technology. Visit the Stone Canoe website for additional content, along with e-book versions of current and past issues.

Editor Robert Colley describes the eighth issue in the Editor’s Notes:

The classic definition of harmony (from the Greek harmonia) involves the joining together of dissimilar sounds in such a way as to demonstrate their inherent relatedness, thereby inducing a pleasurable reaction in the observer who discovers the connection. . . . In literature or art, heightened exposure to complex harmonic possibilities can involve a more intimate relationship with various kinds of unhappiness or injustice, but in the long run these encounters can provide a deeper satisfaction, one that accompanies a new awareness of how things ‘fit together’ in the world.

In honor of the recent release of Stone Canoe 8, we’ve compiled some of our favorite artwork from the journal.

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“Wishing Clint Eastwood” by Vykky Ebner (journal cover)

warlord

“Warlord” by Megan Biddle (winner of the 2014 Hedy and Michael Fawcett Prize for Visual Arts)

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“She Got on a Train in Taos” by Ron Throop

health of planet

“Health of the Planet #504″ by Steve Miller

violence and disbelief

“Violence and Disbelief” by Paul Weiner

star

“A Star in Waiting for its Gleam” by Walter Kopec

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“Pathways for Wandering II” (detail) by Werner Sun

Author Spotlight: Maureen O’Rourke Murphy

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Compassionate Stranger:
Asenath Nicholson and the Great Irish Famine

Maureen O’Rourke Murphy is the Joseph L. Dionne Professor of Teaching, Literacy, and Leadership at Hofstra University. She is coeditor of An Irish Literature Reader: Poetry, Prose, Drama, the editor of Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger and Annals of the Famine in Ireland in 1847, 1848, and 1849, and the director of New York State’s Great Irish Famine Curriculum.

 

What first sparked your interest in Aseanth Nicholson and how have you pursued your interest over the years?

I was a graduate student in Dublin who was interested in the relationship between pre-famine travel literature and pre-famine fiction. Roger McHugh, my mentor at University College, Dublin suggested I have a look at the American traveler Asenath Nicholson’s Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger. While the book was not well known in 1965, it has come to be regarded as one of the most important and reliable accounts of Ireland on the eve of the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852).

What authors and books have influenced your writing?

Roger McHugh’s essay on the folklore of the Great Irish Famine, Constantia Maxwell’s The Stranger in Ireland, Cecil Woodham-Smith’s The Great Hunger and the work of contemporary Famine historians like James S. Donnelly, Margaret Kelleher, Chrstine Kinealy, Cormac Ó Gráda and the first team of Irish scholars: Thomas Flanagan, John V. Kelleher, Emmet Larkin, Joe Lee, Margaret MacCurtain, Máire MacNeill and Helen Vendler

Of Asenath Nicholson’s written works, which is your favorite and why?

I would have to say Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger is my favorite Nicholson title. The book is based on NIchoslon’s visit to Ireland in 1844-18445 when she walked through the country and lived among the poor.

Where is your favorite place to visit in Ireland and why?

I like Connemara, the stretch of coastline on the north shore of Galway Bay between Bearna and Carna that is known in Irish as Cois Fharraige (The Foot of the Sea). I lived in a small townland called Teach Mór in 1965 to learn Irish. It was the same time that I first read Ireland’s Welcome to the Stranger, and I was struck by the similarity between Nicholson’s experience and mine. We were welcomed warmly and with great kindness by the small fisher/farmer households who had great affection for Americans, and I tried to follow Nichoslon’s example by setting down my account of living in a small Gaeltacht community.

When and why did you decide to become a writer?

When I became an historian I knew that I would be a writer. I had started as a folklorist interested in the relationship between oral and written history, so narrative has always been attractive to me.

What did you enjoy most about writing about Compassionate Stranger?

The thing I most enjoyed about writing Compassionate Stranger was the challenge of reconstructing Nicholson’s life. She left no papers and few written records apart from her books, so it required years of sleuthing and sifting through records to write her life.

What was the hardest part about writing Compassionate Stranger?

The hardest thing was linked to the best part of writing. The hardest thing was tracking down the details of Nicholson’s life. Threads would emerge and then the trail would grow cold again. There are still unanswered questions, but after forty years, one must be satisfied.

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

Yes. When Nicholson returned to Dublin during the Great Irish Famine to do what she could to help the Irish poor and was faced with their overwhelming need, she had to decide what she would do with her limited resources. She couldn’t save everyone, but she could save some. She said in Annals of the Famine in Ireland, “I saw that a little thrown over a wide surface was throwing all away, and no benefit that was lasting would ensue. Ten pounds divided among a hundred would not keep one from starvation many days; but applied to twenty, economically, might save those twenty till more efficient means might be taken.” The message I take from her and share with my students is that we can’t help everyone but we can help some and we are meant to do what we can.

Author Spotlight: William Loizeaux

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Book: The Tumble Inn

 

William Loizeaux is writer-in-residence in the Department of English at Boston University. In addition to essays and stories, Loizeaux has published two novels for children and two memoirs. His memoir Anna: A Daughter’s Life was a New York Times Notable Book.

 

 

How did you come up with the idea for The Tumble Inn?

Probably like most people, I’ve often wondered about an alternate way of being. What if I radically changed my life, did something entirely different? The Tumble Inn, which begins with a couple abruptly leaving their usual circumstances in suburban New Jersey to become innkeepers in the Adirondacks, enabled me to engage in that fantasy—and without leaving my comfortable study.

What inspired you to choose the Adirondacks as your primary setting?

For many years, my wife and I have left our urban, academic lives every summer to vacation at an old inn on a lake in the Adirondacks. My wife’s family has long been associated with the inn. That’s where we were married—on the knoll overlooking the lake. That’s where our first daughter was conceived—in a tent on rooty ground beside the lake. That’s where we returned to stand on that knoll in the days after she died. And that’s where we brought our second daughter a few months after she was born, where we spent a large part of her childhood summers, where we hiked with her, where she learned to swim, and where she got her first job—at the inn. The inn, the lake, and especially the low, rounded mountains around it, are for me an emotional setting. I can’t look at that landscape without some tangle of feelings. And feeling, ultimately, is what drives the writing for me.

Are experiences in The Tumble Inn based on your own life or someone you know?

Both. A number of the events are imaginative extrapolations from things that have happened to me or to people that I know. For example, one central event of the novel sprang from my memories, thoughts, and feelings surrounding the tragic, accidental death some years ago of one of the innkeepers with whom my wife and I were acquainted.

What authors and books have influenced your writing?

I began by writing short stories, so authors like Chekov (Anton Chekov’s Stories), Bernard Malamud (The Complete Stories), Eudora Welty (The Collected Stories), and Tillie Olsen (Tell Me a Riddle) were helpful in showing me the shapes of narrative, how to write dialogue, the power of suggestion and concision. Later I gravitated toward fiction writers like Peter Taylor (The Old Forest), Andre Dubus (Selected Stories), and Richard Ford (Rock Springs), whose retrospective narrators often both tell a good story and think about it. Later yet, I became interested in literary nonfiction: E. B. White’s wit and humor (Essays of E.B. White), the pure lyricism of Annie Dillard (Teaching a Stone to Talk), and the attitude or voice that comes through Joan Didion’s prose (Slouching Towards Bethlehem). While his life was altogether different from mine, James Baldwin’s intelligence and passion also set the bar for me. Few writers that I’ve read get feeling into words quite as powerfully as he does. I read “Notes of a Native Son” at least a couple of times a year.

When and why did you decide to become a writer?

Though I didn’t altogether know it at the time, my interest in creative writing was born in a Herman Melville college seminar led by the fiction writer Frederick Busch. He read, and encouraged his students to read, like writers—so we heard the words and felt their poetry and power almost physically, it seemed.   Moreover, in his comments on my submitted essays—essays that I have to this day—he said that I could write, which was incredibly heady to hear. Then a few years later when I was in graduate school, studying to be a literary scholar, I found that I was more interested in trying to write fiction than write about it—this, of course, without knowing a thing about how difficult it would be. That I discovered a year later, when I’d left graduate school, and began painting houses in the afternoons, while devoting my mornings to writing stories, which at first were terribly bad but eventually got somewhat better. I wouldn’t say that I ever “decided” to be a writer as much as I gropingly became one.

 

What is your writing process like?

It’s hard. I try to be disciplined. I try, but don’t always, show up for work each day to do my hours at my desk.   I’m a slow writer. I struggle—even with straightforward assignments like this! Things seldom come right the first time, or the second or third. Discovery usually arrives, if it does, incrementally through the process of writing, rethinking, and revising, rather than beforehand. That’s why I have to show up and do my hours. That’s why I have to leave time between revisions, and let a few trusted writer friends, along with my wife, read drafts and offer suggestions along the way. In thinking about subject matter, character, and situation, I try to find some emotional vein, something that I feel strongly about, and then plug into it and follow where it takes me. Later I cut, add, rewrite, shape, and sometimes reconceive. The “process” is always different for each project in either my fiction or nonfiction. I’m afraid there is no blueprint, except to show up, find the vein, and remain open to the unexpected.

 

What did you enjoy most about writing The Tumble Inn?

When I hit that vein, it is wonderful while it lasts, and usually in The Tumble Inn it came when I was writing a moment, a particular scene, when I was fully inhabiting or feeling with the narrator and main character. There were a number of such moments in The Tumble Inn that, though they may not have come the first or second time, I knew, when they did come, that I had nailed them. The moment had come alive.

 

What was the hardest part about writing The Tumble Inn?

The passages between those fully imagined moments were the hardest to write—the connective tissue.   One chapter in particular, which moves through many years of the main character-narrator’s life, I must have rewritten six or seven times, each time trying to make the narrative feel less like authorial summary and more like my particular narrator remembering and summarizing—and touching down briefly in particular moments—in his own unique voice.

 

What are you working on now?

I write and have published long- and short-form nonfiction, as well adult short stories and children’s fiction. This variety of genres, with their different constraints, challenges, and opportunities, seems to suit me—and I hope keeps my work from going stale. At the moment, I have a children’s novel on my desk, another one of those projects that requires more rethinking, cutting, adding, shaping…

 

We Are Iraqis: Winner of the 2014 Arab American Non-Fiction Book Award!

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The Arab American National Museum has selected We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War as the Winner in the Non-Fiction category for the 2014 Arab American Book Award! Congratulations to the co-editors, Nadje Al-Ali and Deborah Al-Najjar, and to the contributors!

In We Are Iraqis, Al-Ali and Al-Najjar showcase written and visual contributions by Iraqi artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, photographers, and activists. Contributors explore the way Iraqis retain, subvert, and produce art and activism as ways of coping with despair and resisting chaos and destruction. The first anthology of its kind, We Are Iraqis brings into focus the multitude of ethnicities, religions, and experiences that are all part of Iraq.

We Are Iraqis will be honored at a reception on Saturday, September 20, 2014, during the Radius of Arab American Writers Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

 

50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer

This summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a time when nearly one thousand student volunteers traveled to the Mississippi Delta to assist black citizens in the South in registering to vote. Two white students and one black student were slain in the struggle, many were beaten and hundreds arrested, and churches and homes were burned to the ground by the opponents of equality. Yet the example of Freedom Summer— whites united with heroic black Mississippians to challenge apartheid—resonated across the nation.

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No one experienced Freedom Summer quite like illustrator and journalist Tracy Sugarman. He interviewed the activists, along with local civil rights leaders and black and white residents not directly involved in the movement and drew the people and events that made the summer one of the most heroic chapters in America’s long march toward racial justice.

In We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns: The Kids Who Fought for Civil Rights in Mississippi, Sugarman chronicles the sacrifices, tragedies, and triumphs of that unprecedented moment in our nation’s history. Blending oral history with memoir, Sugarman draws the reader into the lives of his subjects, showing the passion and naiveté of the volunteers, the bravery of the civil rights leaders, and the candid, sometimes troubling reactions of the black and white Delta residents. Sugarman’s unique reportorial art, in word and image, makes this book a vital record of our nation’s past.

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