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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.” 

Author Spotlight: Charles Kastner

In honor of Black History Month, we interviewed author Charles Kastner who has written multiple books on the 1928 and 1929 ‘Bunion Derbies’. His most recent book on these transcontinental races, Race across America, focuses on the struggles of one of the few black racers participating in the derbies. Eddie ‘the Sheik’ Gardner ran through states that did everything except welcome him, yet persevered and inspired Black Americans throughout this journey.

Do you remember when you first learned about the ‘Bunion Derbies’? Did you learn about Eddie Gardner then as well, or did that come to light throughout your years of research?  

My introduction to the Bunion Derbies began while my father-in-law lay dying in a hospital bed in Seattle—a sad start to a topic that would occupy my time for the next twenty-two years. He told me about a footrace he remembered from his childhood that started in Port Townsend and finished in Port Angeles, Washington, a race distance of about fifty miles. At first, his statement seemed hard to believe: I had no idea that people were competing at the ultra-marathon distances so long ago.  

Several months after his death, I traveled from my home in Seattle to Port Angeles and began scrolling through rolls of microfiche at the city local library to see if I could uncover any information about the race. This was before the days of digitized newspapers. Finally, in the roll marked “June 1929,” I found articles in the Port Angeles Evening News about what was billed as the “Great Port Townsend to Port Angeles Bunion Derby.” My first reaction was “What is a Bunion Derby?” and my second was “Why would a bunch of ‘average Joes’—lumberjacks, farmers, postmen, and laborers—attempt such a thing?” Of the twenty-two men who started, only eleven finished the event, as they had little training and little understanding of what they had gotten themselves into. Most crossed the finish line with blisters the size of half dollars, shoes oozing blood, and legs so sore and cramped that one finisher had to crawl across the finish line–all this for small cash prizes that ranged from $100 for first to $10 for tenth. One article noted that local officials had dreamed up the event after the famous sports agent Charles C. Pyle held his first-of-its-kind trans-America footrace, or “Bunion Derby” as it was nicknamed by the press, in the spring of 1928. The article also mentioned that a Seattle runner, Eddie “the Sheik” Gardner, had competed in the event. That information piqued my interest. 

After I returned home, I went to the main branch of the Seattle Public Library, pulled rolls of microfilm from the newspaper file and began scanning through the sports pages of the Seattle Post- Intelligencer and the Seattle Times. I quickly found article after article about the event starting in late February 1928. I then realized that Seattle’s entry, Eddie Gardner, was black. I wondered about the challenges a black runner would face running in an integrated footrace, especially when the 1928 race took the derby through Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, where either by custom or law, blacks and whites were not supposed to compete against each other in sporting events. I also learned that Gardner earned his nickname “the Sheik” from his trademark outfit he wore when he competed in local footraces. Wearing a white towel tied around his head, with a white sleeveless shirt and white shorts, he reminded his Seattle fans of Rudolph Valentino, a 1920’s heartthrob who starred in the silent films “The Sheik” in 1921 and “The Son of the Sheik” in 1926. For the rest of his life, local sports writers referred to him as Eddie “the Sheik” Gardner. 

How did you decide to specifically highlight Gardner out of the five African American runners who participated in this race?

Eddie Gardner was the only black runner who could challenge his white competitors for the $25,000 first place prize money in the 1928 derby. The other African American bunioneers were out of contention for any prize money–the top ten finishers with the lowest cumulative times won cash that ranged from $25,000 for first to $1,000 for tenth–and hoped only to complete the 3,400-mile course. Eddie Gardner’s elite status made him the focus of the taunts and death threats that white fans felt free to hurl at him as the bunioneers passed through Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Gardner had a brutal passage through these three Jim Crow states. In Texas, he held back from challenging the lead runners out of fear of losing his life. When the race entered western Oklahoma, a white farmer rode behind Gardner with a gun trained on his back, daring him to pass a white man. At that point Eddie was falling out of contest for the prize money, and he had to decide if he wanted to risk his life and resume challenging the lead runners. His courageous decision to do so became a source of pride for the African American communities he passed through. The black press picked up his story, and he became a nation-wide hero to black America.

Is there any specific piece of Gardner’s story that has really stuck with you throughout your years of researching? Or a favorite part of the book itself? 

Here’s the one that stands out for me. On the 24th day of the second bunion derby in 1929, Eddie was in third place after covering 1,040 miles since leaving New York City on March 31st. The next day, the derby would cross the Mississippi River into Missouri where Jim Crow segregation was the law of the land. He had been here before in 1928 and he knew what awaited him.  

Despite danger, he wanted to make a statement: He ran at a sub-three-hour marathon pace on the short, 22-mile course that passed through St. Louis on the way to the finish at Maplewood, Missouri.  And he had added something new to his race outfit. Eddie wore his trademark “Sheik” outfit with a white towel tied around his head, and a sleeveless white shirt, with his number 165 pinned on the shirtfront. A few inches below the number, he had sewn an American flag. It was about six inches wide and was put there for all to see. Poignantly, without words, Gardner announced his return to the Jim Crow South. Death could await him at any crossroad or from any passing car, but he kept going, unbowed by fear. Whites might kill him, beat him, or threaten him, but they could not change the fact that on this day he was running as the leader of the greatest footrace of his age and giving hope to millions of his fellow African Americans who saw him race or who read about his exploits in the black press. In the birth year of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eddie crossed the Mississippi River with an American flag on his chest, a man willing to die for his cause. 

How did you conduct your research in order to provide such a thorough account of Gardner’s experiences without being able to communicate directly with him? Are there any specific methods you use to conduct this type of research?  

Reconstructing the life of someone long dead is a challenge. It’s a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together; each piece of information adds something to the emerging picture. Census data and death certificates helped a lot. Another important source was Eddie’s federal personnel file. In the 1950’s he worked for the U.S. Navy, refitting ships at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard near Seattle. Gardner needed a security clearance to work there. To get one, he had to fill out a lengthy background questionnaire, which was verified by Federal investigators prior to his employment. That document fleshed out a lot of his past life. Another source was Gardner’s transcripts and yearbooks from Tuskegee Institute where he attended from 1914-1918. I spent a week at what is now Tuskegee University combing through its archives. These sources combined with hundreds of newspaper articles written about the derbies, and four personal narratives, helped me come up with a detailed picture of Mr. Gardner’s life. 

I started with the two bunion derbies, and both were relatively easy to follow. The 1928 edition started in Los Angeles on March 4, 1928, and finished in Madison Square Garden on May 26, 1928, after 84 days and 3,400 miles of daily ultra-marathon racing. Each day’s race or “stage run” as it was known in the vernacular of the derby stopped at a given city or town for the night. The 1929 race reversed course.  

After each stage run, a cadre of nationally syndicated reporters that traveled with Pyle filed stories about that day’s race. Combine these syndicated stories with local reporting and I could piece together a detailed account of both derbies. This involved many hours of research to determine what newspapers still survived from a given town, ordering the microfilm through inter-library loan, and then reading through rolls of microfilm and copying any pertinent articles I found. All told, I reviewed more than 75 different newspapers, four first-hand accounts of the races, and a scattering of secondary accounts of the events. In all the articles I read, only one local newspaper, Missouri’s Springfield Daily News, noted that whites had been “especially [unpleasant] to the Negro runners” in Missouri.  

Then I turned to the black press. From stories written in such newspapers as Oklahoma’s Black Dispatch, the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the California Eagle, and Seattle’s Northwest Enterprise, I quickly realized that there was an untold story about the bunion derbies that the white press ignored, namely, the harassment and death threats Gardner had to endure in Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. From there, I tried to flesh out the life stories of the individual runners by following the methods I have outlined in my previous responses.  

I noticed on your website that you participate in a variety of marathons with your family, often to raise money for the Benaroya Research Institute and their efforts in finding causes and cures for autoimmune diseases. Would you mind explaining “Team Mary” and your connections to the BRI? 

My wife, Mary, and I were both marathon runners and we spent many happy hours together training for races in the 1990’s. Our highlight was running the first marathon of the new century in Hamilton, New Zealand on January 1, 2000. Since then, she has faced several health challenges that has made running impossible for her. Mary has three autoimmune diseases— Relapsing Polychondritis, which attacks her cartilage, Dermatomyositis, which attacks her muscles, and Crohn’s Disease, which attacks her digestive tract. These diseases have made life a daily struggle for her. It’s been heart breaking to watch this brilliant athlete face such difficult challenges, but we’re working to give her and others like her hope.   

In 2012, we formed Team Mary to raise money for research conducted at the Benaroya Research Institute (BRI) to fight rare autoimmune diseases. BRI has been in Seattle for more than fifty years and has made major breakthroughs in redirecting faulty immune systems so they don’t attack healthy tissues, especially for rare autoimmune diseases. See https://charleskastner.com/team-mary/  

We wanted to start a grassroots effort where neighbors, friends, and those suffering from autoimmune diseases and their family members could come together to do something positive. From running in triathlons, to public speaking, to holding fund raising events, Team Mary has been an active fund raiser for BRI. Mary and I were Peace Corps volunteers and we believe strongly that individual actions can change the world for the better. This is our way to make a difference. If you want to join our team, here’s a way to do so.  

As a thank you for contributing $200 or more to BRI, I’ll send you a free autographed copy of Race across America and make you a member of Team Mary.  Follow the link to contribute to BRI, write in “Mary Kastner” in the “in honor of” line, and I’ll send the book off to you. https://www.benaroyaresearch.org/support-us/ways-to-give 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill designating the third Monday of January as a Federal holiday honoring the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. Although many of his supporters had been honoring his life annually since the assassination of King in 1969, it was almost 30 years before the holiday became nationally recognized. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we highlight two Syracuse University Press books that reflect the long, trying battle for racial inequality in the United States.

Leveling the Playing Field

Leveling the Playing Field by David Marc is the story of nine former Syracuse University football players, mistakenly coined as the ‘Syracuse 8’, who protested racial inequality on the SU Football team in 1969-70. The narrative and in-depth interviews provide a thorough account of the battles these nine young men experienced that led to their demands for equality. In boycotting the team practice, these players risked ruining their chance of a career in football, but as news of the protests grew, institutional changes slowly took hold that eventually paved the way for future African American athletes across the country.

Beyond Home Plate

Beyond Home Plate by David Long collects the many articles written by Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, and the first African American MLB player, Jackie Robinson. Following his retirement from the MLB, Robinson continued in his pursuit of social progress through his work as a writer. Contributing a regular column to the New York Post and New York Amsterdam News, Robinson provided rich social commentary while simultaneously exploring his own life and experiences. As a pioneer for African Americans in athletics, Robinson’s articles on life after baseball began a civil rights movement as he began to shed light on the racism he had experienced throughout his time in the MLB

AAUP #UniversityPressWeek

“COMMUNITY”

Author Sean Kirst discusses today’s theme

Eight years ago or so, when I began working with editors at the Syracuse University Press on “The Soul of Central New York,” the entire goal – and the success of the book – hinged on the notion of community.

At its heart, the book was a collection of columns I had written over what would turn into 27 years as a staff writer and columnist with The Syracuse Post-Standard. The idea was capturing – as a guy who first arrived here years ago from somewhere else – what I had sensed and hopefully shared over many years with readers about Syracuse and Central New York: It is a place of extraordinary physical beauty, heritage and shared experience that had – through decades of economic, environmental and cultural struggle – sometimes forgotten its own gentle but resounding claim to the extraordinary.

The idea of putting together such a a collection sounds simple. As I quickly learned, It was not. My early attempts contained too many columns, too many repetitive themes and too little of a focus. The first concept involved roughly 150 columns. In the end, in close partnership with editor Alison Maura Shay of the SU Press, she wisely convinced me to almost halve that number and create a narrative thread binding it together, with the first sentence connected to the last.

‘The Soul of Central New York’ offers accounts of some high-profile figures whose personal lives in some often intimate way had intersected with Syracuse or the region: Famed children’s author Eric Carle, then-Vice President Joseph Biden, anthropologist Jane Goodall, Onondaga Nation faithkeeper Oren Lyons, longtime Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim.

Yet they were simply part of the core notion of the book, which was illuminating how a network of seemingly everyday tales from a multitude of experiences – some involving the region’s defining and ongoing connection with the Onondagas – meshed together in a living definition of community.

Thus the fate of an elderly man who falls on a bitterly cold day on a downtown sidewalk, or the tale of a child raised amid struggle in a housing project whose chance encounter at a newsstand helps him ascend to a career as a bank executive, or the account of a woman born with cerebral palsy who formally turns out the lights of an institution that once overwhelmed her life …. these narratives became the spine, the foundation of the book.  

All told, it took five years to put together, and the process demanded that I jettison some of my own early preconceptions and focus on making it tighter, smaller and, hopefully, significantly more effective. The outcome was a reaction that I don’t think any of us expected: It became the fastest-selling book in the history of the Syracuse University Press, and a book intended to make at least a small and lasting statement on a sense of place, of joined identity.

For that, I am grateful to the editors and staff at the SU Press. Through their patience, and their belief in the larger theme, we attempted to create a quiet reminder of how struggle, pain and love, the core forces in any solitary life, are also the elements that forge true community – and provide the strength to last.

Sean Kirst, author of ‘The Soul of Central New York,’ was the recipient of journalism’s 2009 Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing; he is now a columnist with The Buffalo News.

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