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Pride Month Featured Interview with “Gay is Good” Editor Michael Long

To commemorate Pride Month, a celebration of the progress made in the fight for equality among the LGBTQ community, SU Press interviewed Michael Long, the editor of Gay is Good: The Life and Letters of Gay Rights Pioneer Franklin Kameny. Long is the author or editor of numerous books on nonviolent protest, civil rights, politics, and religion.

“A must-read for anyone interested in the history of the gay rights movement.”
-Publishers Weekly

SUP: You’ve published books on Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther, and other historic figures. What drew you to civil rights activist Franklin Kameny and how important did you feel it was to tell the world his story?

Michael Long: I first came across Kameny when researching connections between the modern civil rights movement and the early LGBTQ rights movement. That research led me to the collection of his papers at the Library of Congress, where I found a treasure trove of his unpublished letters.

I’ve read thousands and thousands of letters in my life—Robinson’s, Marshall’s, Bayard Rustin’s—and I dare say I’ve enjoyed none more than Kameny’s.

 I was captivated not just because of their rich historical quality, but especially because of their style. His letters are strident and loud. Clear and logical. Demanding and urgent. Full of capitalized words and exclamation points. Like his brash personality, they’re brutally honest and transparent. Kameny bled all over the page.

Given my long-term interest in the letters of historical figures, you can understand why I was hooked. 

I was also attracted to the project because at that time there was no other single book devoted to Kameny. Historians had largely ignored him, even though he was one of the most influential leaders of the early LGBTQ movement. So telling his story was important for correcting his ongoing erasure from much of history.  

SUP: How does your book and the 150 letters included give voice to his drive for equality?

Michael Long: The letters track Kameny’s transition from a relatively closeted gay man to an activist picketing the White House and marching through New York City.

Kameny was fired from his federal job as an astronomer during the height of the Lavender Scare, when the federal government deemed LGBTQ individuals as significant threats to national security. Typically, gay men and lesbians fired during at this point retreated into the private sector without publicly protesting their dismissals. But Kameny was far from typical.

Not long after he begged for the return of his job—and I mean begged—he began demanding equality for all “homosexuals” in the federal government and throughout the public square. It’s really a breathtaking transition. The letters show how the government unintentionally radicalized him and pushed him to become a hard-driving pioneer in the early homophile movement.

Perhaps what’s best about Gay Is Good is that it offers Kameny’s unfiltered voice. The letters reveal his feelings in all their intensity—his despondency after losing his job, his fury at the government’s treatment of “homosexuals,” his arrogance when dealing with anyone who wants to treat LGBTQ individuals as second-class citizens, his relentless passion for gay rights everywhere, and his pride about making the government treat LGBTQ individuals with respect, dignity, and equality.

SUP:  Why do you feel Franklin Kameny isn’t as well-known as Harvey Milk when it comes to LGBTQ history?

Michael Long:  Kameny had a much greater impact on the national LGBTQ movement than Milk did, especially in shaping federal policy, declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, and organizing marches for gay rights at the White House and other public institutions long before the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. But Kameny could be abrasive, and he possessed none of Milk’s political charm and willingness to compromise. He alienated a lot of people.

Milk was also seemed more adept at building a constituency of younger people in the growing LGBTQ movement, the ones who would become its future leaders. Compared to Milk, Kameny appeared staid and conventional. Plus, after Milk was assassinated in 1978, his life took on a near-mythological quality.

SUP:  What unique contribution does Gay is Good make to LGBTQ history?

Michael Long:  Gay Is Good gives Kameny his rightful place in LGBTQ history, and it makes a compelling case that his name deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Milk’s. Indeed, our book clearly shows that it’s utterly impossible to tell the story of the early LGBTQ rights movement without placing Kameny at its center.

By the way, one of the interesting things about the early LGBTQ rights movement in the United States is that it’s so diffuse. Unlike the black civil rights movement, the LGBTQ rights movement never had a Martin Luther King, Jr. figure—a single leader who represented the general movement. But this does not mean that the LGBTQ rights movement lacked individuals whose ambition was to become its national leader. In fact, Gay Is Good shows that Kameny struggled mightily to become the single leader. He failed at that, but he certainly gave it his all. 

SUP: Are there a few specific letters or writings that really stood out to you when working on the book?

Michael Long: One of my favorite excerpts comes from a letter he wrote to his mother in 1972:

Some thirty years ago, I told you that if society and I differ on anything, I will give society a second chance to convince me. If it fails, then I am right and society is wrong, and if society gets in my way, it will be society which will change, not I. That was so alien to your life that you responded with disdain. It has been a guiding principle in my life. Society was wrong. I am making society change.

Another favorite writing comes from his petition to the Supreme Court. Given the year he wrote this—1961—it’s quite the radical sentence:

Petitioner asserts, flatly, unequivocally, and absolutely uncompromisingly, that homosexuality, whether by mere inclination or by overt act, is not only not immoral, but that, for those choosing voluntarily to engage in homosexual acts, such acts are moral in a real and positive sense, and are good, right, and desirable, socially and personally.

Still another comes from a 1965 letter he wrote to the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), who had expressed reservations about picketing for “homosexual rights”:

[W]e were informed that DOB would picket only when the action was backed by the larger community.            

First, this is arrant nonsense! When one has reached the stage where picketing is backed by the larger community, such picketing is no longer necessary. The entire force and thrust of picketing is a protest on issues not yet supported or backed by the larger community, in order to bring issues to the fore, and to help elicit that support.

Second, this is in keeping with a mentality which has pervaded this movement from its beginning—homosexuals must never do anything for themselves; they must never come out into the open. They must work through and behind others. They must never present their own case—let others do so for them. We have outgrown this “closet queen” type of approach, and it is well that we have.

SUP:  Are there any misconceptions about Franklin Kameny that you’d like readers to know about?

Michael Long: I’m less concerned about misconceptions than I am about the lack of basic knowledge about Kameny’s life and legacy. I implore the readers here to dig in and learn about the person I consider to be the most important pioneer of the early LGBTQ rights movement. 

SUP: If a movie was made about Franklin Kameny, what actor do you feel would best portray Kameny’s powerful voice?

Michael Long: Billy Eichner would be an excellent choice!

 

Quarantine Cooking!

Food historian Peter Rose has written several books on Dutch cooking and foodways of the Hudson River Valley. In her latest book, History on Our Plate: Recipes From America’s Dutch Past for Today’s Table, she introduces readers to the art of cooking on an open fire. Here, she discusses her book and what she’s been cooking lately.

SUP: How did you get interested in Dutch cooking and studying historical foodways? Did the cooking or the history come first?

Peter Rose: I was born in the Netherlands just before WWII in 1939. The following year, the Germans invaded the country. Although I was so young I remember the war very well: the bombings, the scarcity of food , and the fear… The year 1944, when I was 5 years old, is remembered as the Hunger Winter in the Netherlands. The Germans had cut off all transportation of food supplies to the Western part where we lived. Finding food and being able to make do with what you had became extremely important. Witnessing those times was a valuable lesson for me, one that lasted all my life. I have always loved history and been interested in antiques and old things, but as you can see the interest in cooking came early on as well. I think actually both existed simultaneously.

SUP: What dishes that we eat today can be traced back to Dutch cuisine?

Peter Rose: The Dutch settlers brought made many foods in the early 17th century that we still eat today: waffles, wafers, pancakes, olie-koecken, the forerunner of the doughnut, above all cookies, but also coleslaw – the Dutch word “koolsla” (pronounced almost the same) means cabbage salad.

SUP: Dutch cooking is not as well-known as other cuisines such as Italian or Spanish. Why do you think that is? Are there any iconic Dutch dishes?

Peter Rose: Yes, Dutch cooking is not as well-known as Italian, Spanish or French cooking. It is more homey fare, particularly winter fare with one-pot dishes and especially good thick winter soups such as kidney bean or pea soup, but ESPECIALLY excellent baked goods, particularly cookies. Each town’s bakery has its own special kind.

“Breads are especially wonderfully fragrant and have a very good crust when baked in a Dutch oven over the open fire.”

SUP: Your latest book, History on Our Plate, includes recipes cooked over an open fire? How does this method change the flavor, texture of food, and the experience of cooking?

PR: Cooking over an open fire/hearth cooking is a skill that needs to be learned by practice. The first part of it has to do with fire building and maintaining and the second part is being able to judge the heat you need for cooking your particular dish. Breads are especially wonderfully fragrant and have a very good crust when baked in a Dutch oven over the open fire. To start cooking over the fire, read the instructions on pages xiii, xiv and xv. Begin with your own recipe for a vegetable soup. It has enough liquid to prevent burning the dish and it will teach you how to use the fire; then go on to the recipes in the book.

SUP: What have you been cooking during the Coronavirus lockdown?

PR: I have been reminded of WWII, especially when grocery store shelves were/are empty or sparsely stocked. Right from the start I stocked up on canned goods. What have I been cooking? The mushroom quiche, which is easy to make and serve and the Brabant Hutspot, a spiced but not spicy stew that can easily be reheated. Plus dishes made from canned goods, in order to practice for times when it would be necessary to know… I told you WWII has made a lasting impression.

Mushroom Quiche without a Crust

The recipe was adapted from Traktaet van de Kampernoeljes, Genaamd Duivelsbrood (Treatise of Mushrooms, Named “Devil’s Bread”) (1668) by Franciscus van Sterbeeck. You’ll find it is remarkably easy to make.

  • 10 oz white mushrooms, wiped clean
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or 2 tbsps finely chopped chives
  • 1/4 tsp EACH freshly ground pepper, salt, and dried marjoram
  • 2 tbsps minced parsley
  • 1 cup grated Gouda cheese
  • 3 eggs, beaten with 1/3 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Break off mushroom stems and chop. In a large bowl, combine stems, garlic or chives, seasoning, cheese, and eggs. Place mushroom caps, opening up, in a 9-inch pie plate in an even layer and pour the egg mixture over the caps. Bake for 10 minutes at 375°F and reduce the heat to 325°F and bake for 30 minutes until set. Cut into wedges and serve.

For a modern meal: serve with a large mixed salad and crusty rolls or whole grain bread to make a light but delicious lunch. This might also be added as a vegetarian option to Thanksgiving dinner.

Waled Mahdi on Arab Americans in film

Waled Mahdi discusses his forthcoming book, Arab American in Film: From Hollywood and Egyptian Stereotypes to Self-Representation, and talks about the politics of portraying Arab Americans in the cinema.

SUP: Your work, Arab Americans in Film, compares Arab American portrayals in both the movie making hubs of Hollywood and Egypt. Why these two culture centers? And what is gained by surveying these film landscapes side by side?

WM: Indeed, these are important movie-making hubs. For decades, Hollywood filmmakers have produced works that model good citizenship and normalize what it means to be American in ways that alienate Arab and Muslim Americans along with indigenous Americans, Latino/a Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, and African Americans, among other minorities. When it comes to subverting Hollywood in the Arab world, the most important media culture to examine is that of Egypt, home to the largest, most popular, and most prolific Arabic film industry. Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and boasts a critical history in developing anticolonial and postcolonial narratives of struggle for Arabic and Islamic identities.

Both industries have played major roles in mediating the collective imagination of the dominant forces in the two respective cultures. Comparing them reveals clues about East-West polarization in the cultural imaginations of “Self” and “Other” that exist in both US and Arab nationalist rhetoric. Despite major differences between the two cinematic industries in power, production, and circulation, I argue, the filmmakers in these filmic sites have subjected their imagery of Arab Americans to binaristic portrayals through glorification of Americanness and vilification of Arabness in Hollywood and vice versa in Egyptian cinema, leaving no imagination of Arab Americans as complex communities defined by a multitude of identities and  experiences.

SUP: Today’s media environment is a crowded one. From traditional forms like broadcast television and music, to new social media platforms and streaming services, audiences don’t have to look far for cultural productions. Why did you choose film as the means for your comparative analysis? What does film uniquely offer as a site of inquiry?

WM: It is true that our age is saturated with content, especially with the quality improvement of television series and emergence of social media as well as subscription-based platforms. Film remains an important medium with multi-layered importance in popular culture, especially in countries like the United States and Egypt, as it serves a venue for both entertainment and education.

Films are intriguing because they mold visual imagery into codes that reflect and shape both a nation’s collective memory and national identity in an entertaining way. They tend to be accessible to audiences regardless of their language competency, educational status, or cultural background. They often serve as educational tools in a world increasingly centered around, if not mobilized by, mediated images and messages. They also have the power to function as tools for visibility, podiums for authenticity, and mirrors of reality.

And when adding the enriching effects of genres, it becomes obvious that the medium of film is a vehicle of thoughts and emotions that is often packaged as mere entertainment, but that carries the power to connect with audiences in personal terms, voice social commentary, mobilize public sentiments, and patrol the boundaries of national and cultural realms of belonging.

And the process of inclusion and exclusion that goes into all aspects of film making presents itself as a rich site for analysis of constraints and monopolies of power. Therefore, I should emphasize the instrumentality of film imagery especially in relation to this book’s critical site of inquiry, i.e., identity and representation.

SUP: How have your experiences influenced and inspired the task of writing this book?

WM: One of the key contributions of the book is to illustrate how Arab Americans’ struggle for belonging and citizenship is not exclusively a product of US Orientalist and racialized histories. I rather imagine this struggle as one against existing polarizations in the cultural imaginations in both US and Arab state nationalist narratives. This argument is inspired by my personal experience as an Arab American of Yemeni background constantly wrestling with American, Arab, Muslim, and Yemeni narratives of belonging and citizenship.

In my travels, I have encountered conflicting public attitudes and government policies preconfigured to define me and confine my identity within a specific national, ethnic, or even religious frame. During trips to Malaysia, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Yemen over the past few years, people would often question me about US foreign policy towards Arabs and Muslims. Uniting such questions, in most cases, was not so much interest in my scholarship but rather a desire to read my responses through the prism of allegiance. My interlocutors sought to package me as either an American or a Yemeni—identities implicitly presumed to be incompatible.

In the meantime, my return story to the US in the aftermath of every overseas trip has involved an additional layer of security, whether before boarding in Tokyo, London, Dubai, Doha, and Amman, or when landing at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The “SSSS” designation on my boarding passes, which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection, speaks of an institutional anxiety around my ethnic background and conflates it with a potential act of terrorism.

Since I consider myself as a film buff, I have watched hundreds of films that perpetuate the sense of alienation that I have experienced in travels and while growing up in both Arabic and American cultures. This sense of alienation strips Arab Americans like me of our capability of occupying our own third space, one that does not have to be completely rooted in either Arabic or American cultures, and one that does not present Arab Americans as either aliens to our American culture or traitors to our Arabic heritage. And that’s why the book adds emerging Arab Americans films, limiting as they may be, as an important site for projecting a sense of Arab American authenticity that is about how Arab American individuals define themselves rather than how others define them.

SUP: The American dream is one subject that Egyptian cinema constantly returns to in its portrayals of the Arab American experience. In certain segments of US society there is an increasing disillusionment surrounding the idea of the American dream. Do you see a similar cynicism toward the American dream in more recent Egyptian films?

WM: Egyptian filmmakers have always attached a sense of disillusionment to the American dream and presented it as unrealizable and unrewarding, urging their audience to seek out their own dreams in Egypt. As early as the film Amricany min Ṭanṭa (An American from Tanta, 1954) and as late as Talq Senaʿi (Induced Labor, 2018), Egyptian films have done so as part of a nationalist critique of the public fascination with the American culture. And as I argue in the book, this sentiment is driven less by a hatred of the US than by a sense of insecurity, loss, and anxiety regarding Egypt’s relative appeal as a place to live in and build a future. This is especially the case since many Egyptians would express a desire to live in the US, where hard work, social mobility, and justice are relatively cherished. Some Egyptian corporations have even capitalized on this fascination with the American dream via consumerist trends that primarily market US commodities, pop culture products, and shopping malls.

That’s why Egyptian films not only articulate disillusionment in the American dream but also imagine and advance an alternative Egyptian dream, one predicated on deterring Egyptians from leaving their homeland. This alternative dream will be made in Egypt, one in which migrating in search of social mobility, individual success, and even personal ambition is considered a selfish measure divorced from a commitment to one’s own Egyptian community. It is also worth noting that this simultaneous critique of and construction of alternatives to the American dream not only is limited to the films’ portrayals of Egyptian immigrants but also is deeply critical of the Egyptian elite’s promotion of consumerism and neoliberal economics as a global fulfillment of the American dream in Egypt.

As for American-based experiences, the American dream has always been a socio-political construct meant to uphold the American nationalist project, often entrenched in white privilege, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color. The surveyed Arab American films in the book both celebrate and critique the limitations of the American dream. The films present Arab immigrant characters seeking to fulfill their own aspirations in the US but not without providing insightful critiques of the American dream notion as a celebratory site of inclusion in the American society. The lead Arab immigrant characters in films like American East (2007), Amreeka (2009), and The Citizen (2012) have various strives to fulfill material desires (e.g., houses, jobs, cars, etc.) and seek belonging to the United States, but they are forced to navigate both a racialized system and a post-9/11 reality that constantly challenge their American cultural citizenship. The characters enjoy happy endings with their dreams fulfilled or reconciled but the films are filled with situations and images that question the very idea of dreaming in a country that itself questions the presence of Arab immigrants.

The fact that many Arab American filmmakers and actors have struggled for decades to make their voices heard in Hollywood, an industry reluctant to embrace diverse Arab and Muslim perspectives, is a testimony to many of the critiques that the films themselves communicate.

SUP: In a post 9/11 world, there is an issue of typecasting Arab American talent. But, film making is a multilayered operation. From funding producers, to script writers, and even on marketing teams, what area of film making do you see as most in need of Arab American self-representation?

WM: 9/11, the growth of Arab and Arab American independent film festivals, particularly in the US, has provided Arab American filmmakers with a valuable alternative to casting and narrating their communities, with some limited success in distribution. And the prospect of providing support for Arab Americans seems promising with the competitive rise of such content-streaming services as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Yet, Hollywood presents an institutionalized challenge for truly diverse narratives and experiences. Most Arab and Arab American actors, for example, have struggled against a casting practice that feeds on their vulnerability. Their roles are usually subsidiary and deeply entrenched in a racial hierarchy—despite evidence suggesting consumer demand for more diversity in lead roles.

It is certainly hard to prioritize any aspect of film making because production, writing, acting, filming, and marketing are all parts of a crucial process in film making. But I see the most urgent and past due change within Hollywood is to mainstream images of Arab Americans’ experiences beyond stereotypical lenses of national security and foreign policy. While some Arab American actors like Emmy Award winners Tony Shalhoub and Rami Malek have achieved prominence in Hollywood and transcended being cast in stereotypical ethnic roles, I am not convinced that success for such actors should only be limited to the desire of the privilege of being non-racialized in the industry.

I am for once hopeful that Hollywood’s production companies will experience a shift from their institutionalized lack of appetite to entertain non-mainstream perspectives, particularly ones that feature critical voices and ethnic community narratives. But this will not be possible without truly embracing the notion of multiculturalism. Until then, Hollywood’s positive portrayals of Arab Americans are merely sympathetic and function no more than tokens for inclusion in films that primarily entertain white perspectives.

Editor Q&A: Guilt Rules All

Fans of Irish crime fiction are no strangers to anticipation. From the classic police procedural to the emerging domestic noir, this genre and its nail-biting stories have exploded across the global literary sphere. And that popularity is in no small part due to the curiosity and excitement that readers feel as they consume this popular fiction. We at Syracuse University Press are feeling the same way about the publication of Guilt Rules All, edited by Elizabeth Mannion and Brian Cliff. Guilt Rules All is an essay collection that explores the roots and also the fluidity of this developing genre. Both scholars and enthusiasts of Irish crime fiction have come together to discuss topics spanning from globalization, to women and violence, and even to Irish historical topics like the Troubles. We asked Cliff and Mannion to tell us a little more about how the project was started, why the collaborative format, and where their love for Irish crime fiction began.

Guilt Rules All hopes to find an audience in both the academic sphere of Irish Studies and with the general readership of Irish crime fiction. How was it trying to balance this diverse readership spanning from scholars to aficionados?

For the most part, it was exciting and a bit liberating. We’ve worked hard to make sure the collection offers insights to Irish Studies scholars new to crime fiction criticism, while doing just as much to welcome experienced crime fiction readers and scholars who may be newer to Irish materials.

Of the five sections of Guilt Rules All, the final discusses the very recently emerged subgenre of domestic noir. This subgenre, and the entirety of Irish crime fiction, is deeply influenced by female writers. How is the discussion of women authors and their work addressed in this collection?

A central goal as we developed this collection was to make the contents reflect the full scope of subgenres and the ways women are writing across all of them, from police procedurals to psychological thrillers. So many women are producing some of the richest, most exciting Irish fiction of any genre, and accounts of Irish crime fiction need to address that in detail. Not enough critical work has yet been done on writers beyond Tana French and Benjamin Black, but any dive into Irish crime writing will reveal that writers like Julie Parsons and Arlene Hunt were there from the earliest stages of the genre’s recent growth.

What unique perspectives do nonacademic writers bring to the discussion of Irish crime fiction, that Guilt Rules All would suffer without?

Mannion: Gerard Brennan has a PhD from Queen’s Belfast, so he has one foot in that academic world, but his other is firmly set in the creative realm. Like Declan Burke, who has perhaps done more than anyone to spread the word about Irish crime fiction’s strengths, Brennan is a seasoned crime writer. Both Declan and Gerard were important to this collection because they were able to discuss their subjects – Steve Cavanagh for Gerard, and Alex Barclay for Declan – from the perspective of practicing novelists. Joe Long’s perspective is that of a hard-core fan. He’s one of the undersung heroes of Irish crime writing in America, a real advocate for these writers. Together, these three contributors reflect some of the different perspectives from which people have done so much to support the genre’s growth in recent decades.

In editing Guilt Rules All, what new or different conclusions did you come to about the Irish crime fiction genre?

Both of us have worked extensively on the genre, Beth with her 2016 edited collection The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel and Brian with his 2018 monograph Irish Crime Fiction. The experience of editing and contributing to Guilt Rules All was another reminder of just how diverse and energetic the genre is, and an exciting chance to see what insights our colleagues have been able to glean from their array of authors. The main conclusion we’ve reached is that Irish crime fiction – in general, and in the particulars given here – is marked by a defining fluidity and a generosity in fusing subgenres. These traits show how both crime fiction and Irish literature are more capacious than they may sometimes seem. It’s our hope that, by tracing these traits, these essays will contribute to a foundation on which to build further accounts of the genre’s role in Irish culture. It’s also become crystal clear to us that there are some amazing scholars out there who want to track those directions.

What was the impetus for Guilt Rules All? Why this book, and why a collaborative project?

We had worked well together on The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel, to which Brian contributed a chapter on John Connolly’s work, and we had a number of discussions about what – beyond our own previous publications – could be done to broaden the discussion’s scope, and to reflect the range of authors who’ve made a place for themselves in that discussion. We also saw that the field was expanding faster than most readers can keep up. It was important to us that an attempt be made to keep pace and—before too much more time passed—capture the impact of some writers who were there before the field gained international attention.

Love of Irish crime fiction shines through every chapter of Guilt Rules All. As this passion propels the collection, can you recall your introduction to the genre? What was the first book or series that lit the spark?

Mannion: My sparks were Declan Hughes and Jane Casey. I was familiar with Declan’s plays, and when I heard he wrote crime fiction, I jumped in. I think Brian is the person who introduced me to Jane’s Maeve Kerrigan series. I was hooked with the first book (The Burning).

Cliff: My reading of crime fiction in general was set off decades ago with the Irish poet Paul Muldoon’s “Immram,” which fuses to delirious effect the Southern California of Chandler and Macdonald with medieval Irish vision quests. My specific love for Irish crime fiction, though, began with John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, Tana French’s Faithful Place, and Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series.

In your opinion, why is Irish crime fiction such a booming genre in today’s global literary field?

As we explore in our introduction, the genre’s growth really kicks in at a point where many of the parameters of Irish fiction in general could seem at times to have been pretty thoroughly delineated, but Irish crime fiction – like other forms of popular fiction in Ireland – has offered a wealth of new angles, perspectives, and approaches, to which scholars are increasingly attending. At the same time, for genre readers outside of Ireland, Irish crime fiction offers characters and contexts that are accessible to a wide range of readers in and beyond the Irish diaspora, while still maintaining a strong sense of specificity, a combination that seems to give readers an easy path into a complex world.

Author Spotlight

A Conversation with Rick Burton & Scott Pitoniak authors of “Forever Orange: The Story of Syracuse University”

SU Press: March 24th marks the sesquicentennial of Syracuse University. What in SU’s 150-year history do you think readers will find most fascinating and why?

Scott: Since its inception in 1870, SU was ahead of the curve, opening its doors to females, students of color and international students long before other institutions became inclusive. When I think of SU, I don’t think just of Jim Brown or Dick Clark or Bob Costas, but also of pioneering alumni such as Ruth Colvin, who founded literacy volunteers, and Belva Lockwood, the first woman to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and run a full campaign for president. I think of Dr. Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the first artificial heart, and literary giants such as Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson and George Saunders. I think of Hollywood and Broadway heavyweights, like Vanessa Williams, Aaron Sorkin and Detective Columbo himself – Peter Falk. And I think of SU’s strong ties to NASA, especially Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle pilot and commander. The list of extraordinary SU people in all walks of life goes on and on – so much so that Rick and I found it impossible to include everyone who deserved to be included, given the space and time constraints.      

SU Press: How about faculty that left the greatest impact?

Rick: We showcased/featured approximately 20 in our “It’s Academic” chapter, but could have written about 200 – if not more.

SU Press: How has the university changed the most in its 150 years?

Rick: I’m not sure that it has. It’s bigger and more famous – a globally recognized ‘brand’ – but it still sits on its hill overlooking the Onondaga Valley and the city of Syracuse. It still attracts amazing students and faculty and it still generates world-class and world altering results. Scott and I may share a bias, a love for Syracuse, but there is no denying that the flag so many of us treasure means a great deal to a lot of us.

Scott: I agree with Rick. To paraphrase that great philosopher and wordsmith, Yogi Berra, “it’s changed, but it hasn’t.” It’s stayed true to its original mission statement espoused by founding father, Bishop Jesse Truesdale Peck. Undoubtedly inspired by the women’s suffragist movement at nearby Seneca Falls and the abolition of slavery brought about by the end of the Civil War just five years earlier, Peck called for admissions to be open to all persons, regardless of gender, skin color or religion. In his inaugural address, he said, “brains and heart shall have a fair chance.”

SU Press: What was the most rewarding part of writing this fascinating book?

Rick: I would say working with Scott and discovering the fine details on so many nuanced stories. We’ve all heard bits and pieces about someone famous or a notable event, but have rarely been able to find them in one setting with rich narrative and stunning photography.

Scott: I second Rick’s sentiments. It was wonderful working with him and getting to know him better as a person. As a former student and current journalist, I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about my alma mater. How wrong I was! This turned into a labor of love because I’m a history buff and because I’ll always be grateful for the lasting impact Syracuse has had on me. SU truly was a place where I blossomed as a person; a place that launched this five-decade-long story-telling career of mine. To be able to do a deep-dive, and tell the story of this place that’s profoundly influenced my life, Rick’s life and the lives of millions of others was amazing.

SU Press: How did you cover 150 years of history in one book?

Rick: To quote the Beatles, we turned left at Greenland. The more appropriate answer is that we only scratched the surface. SU is historically significant in so many ways and we approached our task of wanting to make the treasured moments, the alums, faculty and events come to life. But entire books could be written about any one of the subjects we touched upon. Let’s say it this way … we tried, with a historian’s eye (think of us as a giant Cyclops) … to make the history of the last 150 years come to life through the words and the actions of the people who created that history.

SU Press: What are your personal favorite parts of the book, images, stories?

Rick: Springsteen’s Born to Run album cover; the New York Yankees logo; F. Story Musgrave fixing the Hubble Telescope; Dr. King on the Mall in Washington D.C.; the six-overtime box score from a historic basketball game Syracuse easily could’ve lost; a story about the Jabberwocky; photos of M Street, etc. The list for each of us would be endless because each story we wrote helped comprise the mosaic we were intending. And each photo or graphic colored those stones so that someone could see Orange in the spectrum of hues presented.

Scott: I think the stories that resonated most for me were the essays about 44 alumni of note in the middle of the book. F. Story Musgrave’s story, in particular, struck a chord. He is one of the most significant astronauts of all-time, a true genius who earned five graduate degrees and also became a surgeon. What makes his story all the more remarkable is that he dropped out of high school to join the Armed Forces. At the end of his service, he applied to Syracuse. Because he didn’t have a high school diploma, several members of the admissions committee wanted to reject him. But one committee member advocated on Musgrave’s behalf, saw great potential in him, so Musgrave was accepted. His story speaks to the bigger story of how Syracuse has often taken chances on “marginal” students like Musgrave with remarkable results.

I also loved researching and writing about famous visitors, everyone from Presidents of the United States to Babe Ruth. One of my favorite stories is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “auditioned” his I Have a Dream and I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speeches on the SU campus. Those speeches, along with Lyndon Johnson’s “Gulf of Tonkin” address during the dedication of Newhouse I, are reminders that history often happened here.

SU Press: Why should readers be interested in Forever Orange?

Rick: If they have a connection to Syracuse University, Forever Orange gives them a treasure trove of short stories, long features and images that will allow them to appreciate the breadth and diversity of our university. SU has really been an amazing place for the last 150 years and the very entities still survive in their original form from 1870. I think it’s safe to say that the mission envisioned at the beginning is one that still resonates today.Scott: Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious! That’s why they should read the book. 😉 In all seriousness, that funny-sounding, non-sensical, 14-syllable word popularized in the film Mary Poppins has Orange origins. While researching Forever Orange, I discovered the Oxford English Dictionary traces the word’s birth to a column written by SU student Helen Herman in the student newspaper in 1931. The word means “extremely good and wonderful.” We have hundreds of these “Wow! I didn’t know that!” revelations in this book, which we obviously hope readers will find extremely good and wonderful.

International Women’s Day

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked our acquisitions editor Peggy Solic to share a few of her favorite SU Press women’s studies titles. Her selections show the essential role women have played in societies around the world, inspiring females to continue working towards equality between genders.

Gladiators in Suits: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Representation in Scandal edited by Simone Adams, Kimberly R. Moffitt, and Ronald L. Jackson II.

While I haven’t yet watched Scandal, this volume has inspired me to add it to my must-watch list! It brings together scholars who take a critical look at the complex interplay of race, gender, sexuality, and representation on the show, and audience reaction both to the show in general and to specific episodes. 

Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920 

by Tara M. McCarthy

This is a fascinating look at Irish American women active in both labor and Irish nationalist movements, as well as the women’s suffrage movement. Between 1880 and 1920, these women had a transnational perspective – advocating for labor reform and regulation, critiquing industrial capitalism, and pursuing cross-class alliances in suffrage organizations, as well as advocating for Irish nationalism. 

Reservoir Year: A Walker’s Book of Days 

by Nina Shengold

This beautiful book follows Nina Shengold’s year-long challenge to walk along the Ashokan Reservoir in Kingston, NY every single day (not nearly every day, but every single day). Leaving her phone at home enables Nina to keenly observe both the natural world (encountering bald eagles, bears, and deer) and other human beings who walk alongside her. Nina’s determination to engage with the natural world around her has inspired me to spend more time outside, take up a running habit, and pay closer attention to the world around me. 

This is a brilliant book that follows a diverse group of women in Istanbul and looks at what exercise means in their lives – how their relationship to it influences their self-conceptions, how that relationship to exercise is influenced by cultural messaging, but also how it empowers them to resist it, and how their engagement with exercise is interconnected with their identities as women, mothers, daughters, friends, and Istanbulites. I can’t wait to see it in print! 

Interpreters of Occupation: Gender and the Politics of Belonging in an Iraqi Refugee Network 

by Madeline Otis Campbell

This is an important study that looks at the lives of twelve men and women who worked as interpreters for the US army in Iraq. These men and women had to negotiate lives in both Iraq and the US, on and off base, and were often caught in situations made complex by the US military, immigration policies, and life as refugees, as well as gendered expectations and obligations, love of family, and economic needs. 

Mid-Winter News and Reviews

The Middle East Journal included Political Muslims: Understanding Youth Resistance in a Global Contextedited by Tahir Abbas and Sadek Hamid, in the Winter 2019 volume. Their accolades included, “The agency and diversity of young Muslims are demonstrated, which not only helps us to better understand Muslim youth within Western societies but better informs engagement with those around the globe, including the Middle East.” 

Making Peace with Referendums: Cyprus and Northern Ireland, written by Joana Amaral, was recently praised by the Nationalism and Ethnic Politics journal. The book was described as “an extremely welcome addition to the field” that is “likely to remain relevant so long as there are agreements put for public approval.” 

The Asian Review of Books called Gaia, Queen of Ants “so impressive is the novel that one need not be familiar with other Uzbek works or culture, or even other Central Asian writing, to recognize its high quality. Any patience the novel may demand from the reader is an effort well-rewarded.” 

Author Talks and Interviews

Ursula Lindsey’s The New York Review of Books piece on Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish featured several books, including Khaled Mattawa’s Mahmoud Darwish: The Poet’s Art and His Nation. 

Tablet reviewed Moishe Rozenbaumas’ autobiography, The Odyssey of an Apple Thiefcalling it “a remarkably compelling read.” This review praises Rozenbaumas’ ability to objectively reflect on many decades of his life, stating “Rozenbaumas is eager to reflect on his life, good and bad, rather than gloss over the difficult and unflattering moments.” 

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