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Author Spotlight: J. Richard Stevens

Book: Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence: The Evolution of a National IconJ. Richard Stevens

J. Richard Stevens is assistant professor in media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Stevens’ interests and research encompass the various relationships between culture formation and media through the technology infrastructures that influence and construct our digital and cultural worlds. Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence: The Evolution of a National Icon is his first book.

Please tell us briefly about your forthcoming title. What are you most excited about for your readers?

This book was a special project for me, representing about a decade of work. Marvel Comics are at an interesting crossroads in our culture. For decades, they represented a special place in media subculture, a space not overwhelmingly popular with the public at large. But with the purchase of Marvel by Disney and the continued success of the Marvel Studios films, the location and importance of those narratives and characters in our culture is quickly expanding. That expansion necessitates change in both the way stories are told and the ways readers and fans interact with them.

Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence This book uses textual analysis, cultural analysis, fan studies, and an engagement of industry history to delve into how the Captain America text was produced, why it resonated in different ways at different times and how readers and fans used the text at various points in the character’s history. I was really trying to show how the media formats framed the conventions of the character, and how the audience frequently battled the writers and editors over the portrayals. Because Captain America embodies patriotism (and there are probably as many ideas and opinions about American patriotism as there are Americans), Captain America frequently becomes the focal point for battles over cultural meaning. And yet, one cannot ignore the pressures of commercialism, the constraints of the medium, the politics from the culture at large … there were just so many things to consider, and I tried to bring as many of them to bear as I felt I could in a responsible manner. Readers of this book will find content from comic books, fan letters, press releases, public interviews, media studies literature and a host of other materials.

Are Captain America’s values distinctly different from the values we see most superheroes embodying?

One of the interesting things about Captain America’s values are that they shift from era to era. Because he embodies the nation for so many people, how he should be portrayed is a moving target, both because the national moods shifts from era to era and because the audience changes.

For example, Captain America began his career as part of a mission to encourage Americans to support entering World War II (and a full year before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor). But when that character returned in the 1960s and one of his original creators (Jack Kirby) began to produce portrayals consistent with his World War II adventures, the readers rebelled and Marvel eventually replaced Kirby with a more progressive creative team, and Captain America became a progressive hero in the spirit of the New Left movement. Later in the 1980s, fans objected to how extremely against violence the character had become. And, of course, the 2002 series that positioned Captain America as a criticizer of the military-industrial complex at a time when most of our popular culture refused to discuss such matters was a key moment in comics history, as was his participation in Marvel Comics’ Civil War event, in which the heroes debated the role of privacy in the post-9/11 national security state.

No matter what is going on in American politics, it seems Captain America becomes a magnet for political controversy and cultural criticism. So you might say he’s become the ever-evolving embodiment of the paradox of what it means to be American. And I tried to show some of the many dimensions of that in the book.

Do you feel a personal connectedness to Captain America or any of the phases he has gone through?

Well, as I explain in the introduction, I did read some Captain America comics in the 1980s, and struggled mightily to reconcile that character with the one I found in earlier issues of his title (particularly the issues of racial relations from the 1970s books). That struggle would later become important to this book’s premise, and I will probably always feel an affinity for that era of the Captain America comic book because it provided a space for people to consider social justice in a time when those topics were difficult to talk about in public.

Captain America seems most compelling when he criticizes the status quo and takes on the cultural authority. That form of discourse is not always present in some other kinds of stories, so I suppose it’s fair to say I identify with that struggle and appreciate the character for facilitating space for unpopular discussions.

Based on Captain America’s history of evolution, what do you see in the hero’s future?

Constant change. Particularly now that Disney owns Marvel and is reformulating all of the Marvel characters and stories, I think Captain America’s evolution will continue and continue to do so across many different media narratives. Of course, Disney/Marvel is now a multi-media empire, and Captain America is one of the commodities needed to sell movie tickets, merchandise, entertainment events and all the activities Disney sells to consumers. The comic books, movies, cartoons, collectibles … those items are not inherently part of that system, and so it will be interesting to see how this character evolves in that environment. I suspect parts of Captain America will always remain familiar, but I suspect he will also evolve to meet the needs of the commercial and narrative mission.

Do you think the comic genre is better able to communicate certain aspects of culture than other literary forms?

In the past, it certainly was. Because the audience was smaller and more tightly concentrated than other mass media, a lot of experimentation and criticism could appear in that space that would have been far riskier in television programming or other forms of public media.

Which books are you currently reading? Are any of them comics?

I read a lot of journals and texts for work (popular culture theory, technology culture, public policy, etc), and find myself lagging behind in my personal reading. I do read some comics, though more for work than pleasure (which I know might sound strange to some). I do keep up with a few titles like Image Comics’ The Walking Dead and Marvel’s Ms. Marvel as well as various Captain America and Avengers-related topics, but even those blend together my personal interest with my research interests. I also have a 5-year-old son, and keeping up with his media influences me somewhat in what I read about and study.

It is said that this title is the most “thorough treatment of Captain America” we have yet to see, what challenges (if any) did you face in your research?

The sheer magnitude of the reading was a challenge. Comic books stories can be short in length, but a deep reading of each one takes time, and getting through a few thousand issues took years. Acquiring some of the texts and keeping up with contemporary stories was also challenging. Some of the stories were rare and hard to come by, and I probably spent as much time in the search/acquisition process as I did reading.

Keeping my notes organized was also a challenge. In the end, I ended up creating a searchable database with coding tags so that I could search through my notes about particular comic issues quickly. Before that, I found myself getting easily confused about where particular scenes, statements or fan letters appeared. Again, dealing with so many texts at once brings so many challenges to the table.

Personally, what is special about the comic genre to you?

Comic books are one of the few truly distinct American cultural art forms. I think it’s fascinating to think about how the limitations of a cheaply produced medium created so many lasting conventions of storytelling (costumes, missions of vigilante justice, etc.) and to consider how those conventions influenced American mythology and the social identities of the citizenry to such a tremendous degree.

Comic books were once a medium that was largely ignored in media studies. But as the stories from that medium have been transferred into other mass media, the power and reach of those stories have been magnified. The process by which cultural messages are created, disseminated and what happens on the reception end when fans take control of the objects of their passion is incredibly interesting and important for understanding how Americans relate to their media culture.

Which section of this book did you enjoy working on most?

To be perfectly honest, I think the section I was dreading the most was the section I wound up enjoying the most: the 1990s narratives. I hadn’t read those, and my knee-jerk presumptions about what I would probably find there led me to believe that experience would be excruciating. But I found a lot of interesting material I hadn’t expected, and that process served to remind me that texts are often more interesting and complex upon closer inspection than we might initially think when considering them more superficially.

But I did find enjoyment in each chapter, though no two are alike, given the changes in the comic book industry, changing views in American politics, and just the changing of the guard in terms of who produced comics in different eras.

For more information or to purchase a copy of Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence: The Evolution of a National Icon, please visit the Syracuse University Press website.

What the New Year Brings

A new lineup of SU Press titles ranging from poetry, women’s studies, and sports, to pop culture, geography, biographies, and more. Our Spring 2015 catalog is filled with dozens of good reads to match your interests.

Captain America, Masculinity, and Violence: The Evolution of a National IconCaptain America, Masculinity, and Violence
J. Richard Stevens

Through Stevens’ provocative analysis of one of America’s most iconic superheroes, we begin to ponder the various political and cultural relationships between Captain America and his environment.This in depth exploration of Captain America’s narrative will fascinate both casual fans and scholars alike, as Stevens maps the terrain of American identity and this comic hero’s unyielding role in influencing it.

Land of Enchantment9780815610465
Liza Wieland

In Liza Wieland’s deeply moving novel, three interwoven stories show how art reveals the depth and complexity of human love, in all its betrayals and losses, beauty, and redemption. Colum McCann, author of the National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin, believes “Wieland is a vital voice in contemporary American fiction” and Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain, declared Land of Enchantment “a beautifully written, dizzyingly knowledgeable examination of the intersection between art and life. It is the best novel I’ve read in the past year.”

Helene Schweitzer: A Life of Her OwnHelene Schweitzer
Patti M. Marxsen
Marxsen explores the life and legacy of Helen Schweitzer in a way that places her at the center of the narrative, spotlighting her independent spirit and wide range of talents.Helene Schweitzer’s dramatic life reveals deeper questions of how memory is influenced by gender assumptions and how biography is shaped by place and history.

Click here to view full Spring 2015 catalog.

Author Spotlight: Sam Hazo

​This week, we spoke with poet Sam Hazo on his inspirations behind his new book And the Time Is

HazoBMiniHow did you come up with the concept for this book?

The concept of the book was chronological….i.e., choosing what I considered the poems I wished to be judged by written between 1958 and 2013.

The book is essentially a testimony to your poetic endeavors and your growth as a writer – how have these identities evolved over the years for you?

I often keep returning to the same themes, but my perspective has changed my attitudes toward them over the years.

Is there a poem that you’re especially proud of? If yes, do you mind sharing the story behind it?

I favor one poem called “And the Time Is,” which is also the title of the book.  In the poem the time is always the present. The rhythm of the poem and the barely discernible rhymes hold the poem together.  I’ve never been able to do that since in a poem.

Are there any poets that you continually go back to for inspirations?

There are poets I do go back to, not so much for inspiration as for the pleasure of reading their words, i.e., Richard Wilbur, Linda Pastan, Robert Frost, Randall Jarrell and a number of foreign poets.

and-the-timeWhat helps you thrive as a poet?

Focusing on something that takes my full attention is what I (or any poet) thrive on.

Where do you usually write and what conditions help you with your writing process? 

I write whenever, wherever.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve just finished a book called THE FEAST OF ICARUS, Lyrical Reflections on a Myth.

Poetry picks!

It is often said that poems are simply words dipped in feelings. From soul-soothing proses to translated gems of history, we’ve decided to hand-pick three of our favorite poetry books for your pleasure this month!

And the Time Is

and-the-timeWith works that have appeared in the Hudson Review, Prairie Schooner, and the New York Times, this collection of poetry follows Samuel Hazo through his adventures in love, family, and life. What we love about Hazo is that he’s honest, raw, and nothing but human. Charmingly eloquent and painfully relatable, his poems speak of wisdom and maturity – cumulated from his persistent endeavors in living and writing.

Poets Translate Poets

poetsPoets Translate Poets originates from the perception that translators are among the most distinguished American and British poets. The collection features seventy-seven poets in twenty-five languages, representing the best of more than five hundred translated works originally published in the Hudson Review. However, the book is more than just a collection of world poetry – it offers readers an exploration into the art of poetry translation.

Chronicles of Majnun Layla & Selected Poems

chronicles-majnum-laylaWinner of the King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies Translation of Arabic Literature Award 2013

The collection of texts brings together Qassim Haddad’s seminal work and a selection of his best poems. Reflective of Haddad’s rich Arab poetic heritage, the translation in this book introduces readers to a cultural mosaic that is profoundly and gracefully crafted through the lenses of literature.

Meet the Intern – Mavis

MavisTell us about yourself – hometown, major(s), nick name(s), fun fact(s), or anything you’d like to share!

Hello world, my name is Mavis. I grew up in Hong Kong, attended boarding school in Boston, and am now a junior at SU. I like words, so I’m currently double majoring in English and Textual Studies and Writing and Rhetoric. Something “fun” about me: I had six front teeth as a kid – my parents thought I was an alien.

Why did you apply for an internship with the Syracuse University Press?

I applied for the internship because real-life experiences in the publishing field have always meant a lot to me. Also, shadowing a marketing manager this past summer made me realize how multidimensional the field of marketing and “branding” is. So when an internship position like this opened up, I didn’t even hesitate to apply.

What do you do at work? Tell us about your weekly tasks or some of your ongoing projects.

Most of the time, I go to work not knowing what I’ll be having on my plate that day. There are days when I’m responsible for a book’s background research, so I dig up information about the author and everything that’s relevant to the book’s genre. There are also days when I’m responsible for updating the blog, so I contact specific authors for possible interviews and craft a variety of blog posts.

What have you learned so far that you honestly didn’t expect to?

Sending professional emails can be surprisingly nerve wracking at times. Since one of my tasks involves contacting different authors on behalf of the Press, I’m becoming increasingly aware of the importance of writing succinct and lean emails.

What’s your favorite part about the internship?

I think it’s really important to feel a little challenged in work environments in general, because it pushes you to build your confidence. That’s why I really like how I’m not treated as the “baby intern” here at the Press. I’m given tasks that involve thinking and flexibility but the office atmosphere also makes it easy for me to reach out for help.

How does this internship compare with/to your other internship(s) or work experience(s)?

I’ve had previous internship experiences with magazine and newspaper publications, so I’m not entirely new to the publishing field. But I would say this internship has taught me what marketing research truly entails – how and what it takes to gather enough information about a book, its author(s), and the genre it falls under. In some ways, it’s a lot of “behind the scenes” work.

What advice or insights do you have for prospective interns?

A marketing internship with the SU Press means you’ll get communicate with a diverse range of editors, authors and book publishers. You basically dive head first into the publishing field so there’s no time to be shy! If you’re willing to take up this challenge (and be humbled by it), then you’re suited for this job.

Meet the Intern – Jen

Me with my one true love in lifeTell us about yourself – hometown, major(s), nick name(s), fun fact(s), or anything you’d like to share!

Hi everyone! Friends just call me Jen. I’m a junior English and Textual Studies major with a minor in Political Science. I’m originally from Old Bridge, NJ. A fun fact about me is that I’m currently trying to learn how to play the guitar.

Why did you apply for an internship with the Syracuse University Press?

I applied for an internship with Syracuse University Press because I want to be able to work in publishing once I graduate. Due to the fact that I’m planning on graduating early, I do not have as much time to gain experience in publishing. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to be able to work at the Press.

What do you do at work? Tell us about your weekly tasks or some of your ongoing projects.

My work in the Acquisitions Departments involves but is not limited to filing away book manuscripts, writing rejections to aspiring authors’ proposals, and writing publication proposals. The most daunting task I’ve had by far would have to be the writing of publication proposals, which entails being able to concisely summarize a work within the span of a paragraph.

What have you learned so far that you honestly didn’t expect to?

I did not expect to learn the variety of publishing presses there are in the world, or how much work an author must have to go through in figuring out the best place to submit their book proposal. When I send out rejections to authors, I also tell them other publishers they could try submitting to where they may have better luck. The importance of this is where I sometimes feel a slight disconnect, because I don’t feel as much of a connection with an author via email. Often, I tend to remind myself that the author I am sending the rejection to may have just completed a project they have spent years of their life on. Feeling the weight of that when sending a rejection is not something I expected.

What’s your favorite part about the internship?

So far, I really enjoy the act of coming in to intern and reading what other writers have come to write and discover. I’ve found that we get a lot of really intriguing and interesting proposals, ones that I would not have expected would be sent to a university press. I find myself learning something knew everyday, and I am a fan of the acquisition of knowledge.

How does this internship compare with/to your other internship(s) or work experience(s)?

Interning for the Press, I’ve found that I feel like my work is more important and necessary. With my other internship experiences, I’ve often felt like I was doing a lot of busy work. Also, I’ve never had my own cubicle before, and I like it.

What advice or insights do you have for prospective interns?

If you are a fan of non-fiction or a fan of reading in general, then this is the best place for you. If you would like to intern in the Acquisitions Department and you are not one of the two things I just mentioned, then become one of those two things, and develop some writing skills too. Finally, apply early! Internships in general are hot commodities.

Author Spotlight: Joan Dean

JoanFitzPatrickDean

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.

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.

all-dressed-up

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).

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