“We’re not aware of other university press partnerships like these producing their own audiobooks, and the value in doing so is revealed not only by the final products, but by the experiences we create that connect students with industry professionals.”
Early narrated recordings like excerpts of stories, speeches and monologues from classic plays emerged popularly around the turn of the 20th century, but what we could most accurately call the first audiobooks came about as a matter of inclusion and accessibility. Congress established the “Books for the Blind” program in 1931 with the Pratt-Smoot Act, funding the printing of books in braille, then amended it a few years later to include narrated recordings of books via the Talking Books Program.
SU Press has been around nearly as long as audiobooks, almost eighty years, publishing over 1200 titles. And, as of 2020, two audiobooks. Access Audio is a storytelling initiative of the Special Collections Research Center at the Syracuse University Libraries. Our audiobook offerings of SU Press books have yielded, I think, beautiful listens. But during the course of these individual projects, we have also endeavored to make the collaborative processes themselves accessible and inclusive.
Reservoir Year, a year-long recounting of walks and personal growth along the Catskill region’s Ashokan Reservoir, is a terrific example of a well-curated collaboration. One look at the print version reveals a truly pretty book, with illustration and other artwork throughout by a host of artists from the Catskill region, home of the book’s author Nina Shengold. The layout is thoughtful, with animals mentioned in the text appearing on the printed page. We hoped to transfer the home-spun charm of tone to our audio production, and to create an audio aesthetic that would match what the author, a group of artists, and the team at SU Press had achieved.
As a production team we’re very familiar with the Catskills. I only love them, but my frequent collaborator and Access Audio production partner Brett Barry ’97 G16 actually lives there. He and wife Rebecca own Silver Hollow Audio in Chichester, NY. from which he produces compelling work, my own personal biases exposed. A naturalist to his core, he produces and hosts the Kaatscast podcast, a biweekly show celebrating the region. Said Barry, when questioned by me for this post: “I’m personally drawn to books about nature and place; so it was fortuitous when Reservoir Year came up –– a book about the place where I live, published by another place that’s so close to my heart.”
In addition to his proximity to the Ashokan, we capitalized on Brett’s experience as a natural sound producer to incorporate some sound from the area into the audiobook…those leaf-crunching steps and the roaring quiet of the woods. We also rounded out the natural sound by licensing some birdsong from the Cornell Ornithology Lab.
With each of the other collaborative partners (author, narrator, and composer,) we saw opportunities for student engagement. Intern David Ross worked with author Nina Shengold to create a pronunciation list to aid narrator Kathleen McNenny in her performance. Ian Coe identified places in the recording where he thought music, or natural sound, might augment the listening experience. He shared that information with the composer Steve Koester, along with identifying and suggesting key words from the text to help in the creative process. As Brett put it: “Audiobook production timelines and budgets don’t often allow for “extras” like music and sound effects, and student contributions to those elements –– identifying passages to underscore and working with our composer on selections –– were integral to this uniquely collaborative production.”
What’s innovative about this, otherwise? We’re not aware of other university press partnerships like these producing their own audiobooks, and the value in doing so is revealed not only by the final products, but by the experiences we create that connect students with industry professionals. Put better by Brett:
“Students can intern with any number of audiobook publishers, but how many of those internships put the students in direct contact with narrators, composers, and editors; and solicit creative input along the way? Access Audio’s partnership with InclusiveU is another unique attribute, with benefits all around. Access Audio productions are all about accessibility, participation, and unique opportunities for students. These priorities aren’t generally in sync with the goals of commercial publishers, and that sets AA’s productions apart in many ways, for the production team, for the students involved, and ultimately, for the listeners.”
Jim O’Connor is the producer of Sound Beat and Access Audio. Their production of the Syracuse University Press book Harry Haft: Survivor of Auschwitz, Challenger of Rocky Marciano, was recognized by Audiofile Magazine with the Earphones Award in January 2021.
#Keep UP! the 2021 University Press Week theme, celebrates how university presses have evolved over the past decade. #UPWeek
“The book is the first to consider all the available evidence in the case and to offer a well-substantiated explanation of what happened to Joe Crater and why.“
— Stephen J. Riegel
SUP: Stephen, can you tell readers what your book is about in a few sentences?
Riegel: My book takes a new look at a famous old, unsolved missing person case – that of Judge Joseph Force Crater, who stepped into a taxicab in the middle of Manhattan on August 6, 1930, and was never seen or heard from again. Despite a massive manhunt across the country and the world that stretched over three decades, the New York Police Department and other investigators were unable to support or favor any of the numerous explanations of Crater’s disappearance, nor even answer more basic questions such as whether he vanished of his own accord or involuntarily at the hands of others. Making extensive use for the first time of new sources, including the NYPD files and court records, and taking a closer look at the missing man’s colorful life, time, and place – Manhattan at the end of the Jazz Age – the book is the first to consider all the available evidence in the case and to offer a well-substantiated explanation of what happened to Joe Crater and why.
SUP: What drew you to this subject?
Riegel: The subject of this book appealed to me for a number of reasons. First, having a background in the study of American History, the historical aspect of the story, which touches on Franklin D. Roosevelt and national politics, attracted me. I also became interested in the very different New York City of the Roaring Twenties – Tammany Hall, Mayor Jimmy Walker, its nightclubs, culture and corruption, all of which Crater figured in – that my book tries to portray. Also, as a lawyer practicing in the city, I better understood his successful legal and judicial career and its possible role in his disappearance, and the practice of law and the courts in the 1920s figure prominently in the story. Finally, the unsolved aspect of his disappearance presented a challenge and puzzle that I wanted to try to piece together.
SUP: Were there any other books on Judge Joseph Crater used as research, or is this book the first of its kind?
Riegel: This is the first comprehensive book-length treatment of Crater’s disappearance, so almost all of my research was done in primary sources. Only one other non-fiction account of his case previously has been published; recent attempts to solve the case have been in historical novels.
SUP: Can you describe the research process and difficulty?
Riegel: I did not find the research process for this book particularly difficult. Much of the research was done in libraries, archives and collections here in New York City. I was granted access to the NYPD files through a Freedom of Information Law request, and spent many hours in the basement of NYPD Headquarters, reviewing and taking notes of the contents of the remaining police files, but the people there who helped me were very cooperative throughout. My research also entailed extensive time reviewing the contemporary newspaper and magazine articles about the judge’s disappearance on a daily basis, which in conjunction with the NYPD files, gave me a real time sense of how the search progressed in the initial months of the investigation.
SUP: Would you say any part of Judge Crater’s disappearance has set a precedent for how similar cases are dealt with today?
Riegel: I don’t think so. The Crater case was unique, very much of its time and place.
SUP: What would you say will be the most fascinating aspect of this book for readers?
Riegel: Some readers of the book may be drawn mainly to its who-done-it aspect – its marshalling of the evidence in the case developed over thirty years, its analysis of the evidence against the different theories of Crater’s disappearance, and its presentation of a convincing explanation of how Crater disappeared and why. Others may find most interesting the book’s depiction of a rapidly transforming New York City at the end of the Roaring Twenties and the start of the Great Depression.
SUP: Who do you think will most enjoy this book? Who is the intended audience?
Riegel: I hope this book will appeal to a few audiences – those interested in famous historical mysteries, cold case/true crime investigations, New York City and State’ history, and lawyers and others curious about legal practice and history.
Stephen J. Riegel is a practicing litigator and former federal prosecutor in New York City who appears in some of the same courts Crater did. He also has degrees in American history from Princeton University and Stanford University. He has published articles on legal history.
“This is a landmark collection of the leading Latina voices in the field. This is the kind of book I have longed to read in our field for more than a decade.”
Michelle Hall Kells
SUP: Tell us a little bit about Latina Leadership and how you came together to create this groundbreaking study.
Laura Gonzales: This book has been a long time in the making. The collection began as a project that Michelle Hall Kells discussed with Lorena Gutierrez and I as part of our work with the Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color (CNV) program sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English. That program and the community that stemmed from it continue to inspire and motivate my work in multiple ways. Through the process of co-editing the collection, my own orientation to understanding the complexity of Latinx experiences, mentorship, and leadership also continues to shift and grow.
Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: We advocate for a model of mentorship that allows for the intersectional experiences of Latinxs in graduate school. It was important for us to continually reiterate how each of us required a different kind of mentorship to reach graduation and that’s what faculty need to remember: there is no cookie-cutter method to advocating for and mentoring Latinxs.
Michelle Kells: In my chapter, I find inspiration for my understanding of mujerista activism and Latina Leadership in the landmark mobilizing efforts of the women of Local 890 union in Bayard, New Mexico in the historic Empire Zinc Mine Strike of 1950-1952. The embodied rhetoric of the more than 100 women (who self-identified as mexicanas) held the strike lines against racial, environmental, cultural, economic, and sexual violence for more than nine months. Most of the women’s names were ultimately erased over the past 70 years. My goal was to recover their names and the stories as heuristics of Latina leadership during the Cold War era in America—a climate we find ourselves re-living in many respects today.
SUP: What makes this study a model for emerging Latina leaders?
Michelle Hall Kells: The authentic, bold, and beautiful Latina voices reflected in the essays by each of the contributors to this volume, in my mind, distinguishes this book. This is a landmark collection of the leading Latina voices in the field. This is the kind of book I have longed to read in our field for more than a decade.
Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: What really stands out to us is how this book looks at various roles Latina leaders are in within the institution of higher education. We really appreciated being able to focus on our graduate experiences, but we found it important to consider some of the pedagogical implications for others in the book. This diversity in content really shows the power of this book.
Cristina Kirklighter: For too long, many of us have felt pressure to stifle our experiences both internally and externally. How many times have we heard that the personal does not belong in our research, writing, teaching or elsewhere. The consequences of this to Latinas is enormous for it stifles others’ understanding of us. As a former co-chair of the Latina caucus, I often heard from emerging Latina leaders that the caucus felt like home precisely because they felt free to share their personal experiences. I have heard many do not feel at home outside the caucus because they feel misunderstood. What better way to bridge these misunderstandings than with the personal for we want our emerging Latina leaders to foster multiple homes where they are accepted and respected. My hope is that emerging Latina leaders will take this book to their institutional colleagues and ask them to read it. Then, I hope they will ask their colleagues to engage with them in meaningful personal conversations about what has been written and shared. Emerging Latina leaders deserve to excel in multiple homes, and the personal is one way of making this happen.
SUP: How were the contributors selected and what are their unique contributions?
Laura Gonzales: Our contributors were selected through our connections with CNV, through our own mentorship networks, and through a CFP that was shared with the NCTE Latinx caucus. What is really useful, in my opinion, is that the chapters speak to experiences in both K-12 and University settings. These experiences are often separated, and yet our contributors illustrate the many connections we can find and the community we can build across institutional boundaries.
SUP: What qualities do you feel future leaders need to succeed in this increasingly difficult world and academia?
Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: Flexibility, the ability to adjust to circumstances you could never see coming and utilizing your support network inside and outside the academy. Graduate school taught us that we never know what we may encounter and that we will need people in our lives to support us as we move through that.
Michelle Hall Kells: Again, I must look to my own experiences in the field and this recent research of the women of the Empire Zinc Mine Strike. Their leadership inspired the iconic (only McCarthy –era blacklisted) film “The Salt of the Earth” which has been recovered and circulated globally since the late 1960s. Efficacious leadership must be grounded in solidarity, community, dignity, and standing squarely in our home ground—in our “querencia.” I had the distinct honor of working with four amazing new leaders and graduate students in 2018 on the Salt of the Earth Recovery Project: Elvira Carrizal-Dukes, Kelli Lycke Martin, Zakery Muñoz, and Steven Romero. For Further Information See:
Cristina Kirklighter: Courage and compassion come to mind for qualities of success. Let me paraphrase Maya Angelou when she said courage is the most important virtue for if you do not practice courage, none of your other virtues will be consistent. Although it is not an easy road to follow, you will be respected by many, and, most of all, you will respect yourself. In these trying times, compassion is an admirable and necessary quality. Compassion and knowledge are partners for the better we know others, the more compassionate we become. Fortunately, for most Latinas, family and friends have instilled this in us.
SUP: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
Laura Gonzales: I hope the book sparks conversation about the diversity embedded within the label “Latinx.” I hope we continue having conversations about how Latinidad as a concept in itself can uphold white supremacy (see for example, The Black Latinas Know Collective). I hope the stories shared in this collection spark future connections, conversation, and change.
Raquel Corona and Nancy Alvarez: Don’t be afraid to make your own path in graduate school and academia. You may very well be forging a path not yet created in an institution / system that doesn’t know how to acknowledge your existence within it. Finally, find YOUR PEOPLE. They may be Latinxs or not, but just find the people who will see you, hear you, and hold you as you traverse this journey through academia.
Michelle Hall Kells: The experience working with my colleagues on this volume and researching the Empire Zinc Mine strike over the past five years has been some of the most satisfying experiences of my professional and personal life. I am indebted to our courageous editorial team at Syracuse UP who did share our vision and finally brought this gorgeous collection of Latina stories, voices, reflections, and models of leadership to publication.
Cristina Kirklighter: The answer is simple—to better understand Latina emerging leaders.
Nancy Alvarez completed her PhD in English at St. John’s University and teaches first-year writing and developmental writing at Bronx Community College. Her research interests include writing-center studies, writing pedagogy, digital literacies, language rights, and issues of access and equity for Latinxs in higher education.
Sonia C. Arellano is assistant professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida, where she teaches courses on feminist rhetorics and visual/material rhetorics. Her research focuses on textile projects that address social justice issues, particularly at the intersections of migration and death. Her current book project examines the tactile rhetoric of the Migrant Quilt Project, which uses quilts to memorialize migrant lives lost while crossing into the United States. Arellano also engages in quilt making as a necessary part of her research. Her scholarship can be found in Peitho as well as in the edited collection Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise: Contested Modernities, Decolonial Visions (2019).
Stefani Baldivia is an archivist in the Meriam Library Special Collections and University Archives Department at California State University, Chico, where she performs reference, instruction, and outreach activities. She established the Chico State Diversity Changemakers Oral History Project to illuminate the history of Chico State’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Baldivia’s research interests include diversifying the archives, flattening barriers to information literacy, and preserving social justice efforts in Chico, California, and beyond.
Blanca Gabriela Caldas Chumbes es una transnational indigenous/Latina scholar, catedrática en estudios de segundas lenguas y educación elemental en la Universidad de Minnesota–Twin Cities. She obtained su doctorado en la Universidad de Tejas in Austin en la especialidad de bilingual/bicultural education and Mexican-American/Latinx studies. Sus investigaciones están enfocadas en la preparación lingüística y académica y activista de future bilingual teachers, minoritized language practices y pedagogía crítica Freireana y Boaleana.
Raquel Corona completed her PhD in English at St. John’s University and is a full-time lecturer at Queensborough Community College within the City University of New York system. Her research interests include Latinx literature, rhetoric, Black and Latinx feminisms, as well as the study of the Latina body in various media. Her dissertation is a rhetorical exploration of how transnationalism affects the dissemination and circulation of stories about the Latina body and sex.
Christine Garcia is an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, where she teaches in the First-Year Writing and Freshman Experience Programs as well as courses in Chicanx and Latinx rhetoric and literature. She earned her PhD in rhetoric and composition from the University of New Mexico and holds both a BA and an MA in English language and literature from Angelo State University.
Genevieve García de Müeller is assistant professor and director of the Writing across the Curriculum Program in the Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition Department at Syracuse University. Her research interests include examining intersections between race and writing program administration, critical pedagogy, the rhetoric of immigration policy, and the discursive practices of migrant civil rights activists. She has work in the WAC Journal titled “Inviting Students to Determine for Themselves What It Means to Write across the Disciplines” (cowritten with Brian Hendrickson, (2016). Her most recent project is a forthcoming book on the deliberative rhetoric of immigration policy.
Laura Gonzales is assistant professor of digital writing and cultural rhetorics at the University of Florida. She is the author of Sites of Translation: What Multilinguals Can Teach Us About Digital Writing and Rhetoric (2018), which was awarded the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative / University of Michigan Press Book Prize prior to publication in 2016 and the Advancement of Knowledge Award by the Conference on College Composition and Communication in 2020.
Lorena Gutierrez is assistant professor of teaching in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. She received her PhD in curriculum, instruction, and teacher education from Michigan State University. Her research highlights the ways Latinx migrant and seasonal farm-workers thrive in their educational pursuits in spite of the inequities they face in K–12 schools. In her dissertation, “‘Use My Name, They Need to Know Who I Am!’: Latina/o Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Youth at the Interstices of the Educational Pipeline” (2016), based on a three-year ethnographic study, she examines the schooling experiences of Latina/o migrant farmworker youth in K–12 schools and in a high-school equivalency program in the Midwest.
Michelle Hall Kells teaches courses in rhetoric and writing in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include public rhetoric (civil rights and environmental discourses), language diversity, sociolinguistics, and community writing studies. Kells’s scholarship centers largely on the public rhetoric of citizenship. Her most recent book is Vicente Ximenes, LBJ’s Great Society, and Mexican American Civil Rights Rhetoric (2018). Her previous book was Héctor P. García: Everyday Rhetoric and Mexican American Civil Rights (2006). She was the lead editor of the collected volumes Attending to the Margins: Writing, Researching, and Teaching on the Front Lines (with Valerie Balester, 1999) and Latino/a Discourses: On Language, Identity, and Literacy Education (with Valerie Balester and Victor Villanueva, 2004). Kells’s work has been featured in the journals JAC, Written Communication, Journal of Reflections, Journal of Community Literacy, Praxis, and Rhetoric & Public Affairs as well as in a number of edited books, including Cross-Language Relations in Composition (2010); Dialects, Englishes, Creoles, and Education (2008); TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (2018); and Who Belongs in America? Presidents, Rhetoric, and Immigration (2006). She is currently working on a new book about women labor activists, environmental racism, and the landmark Empire Zinc Mine strike in New Mexico in the 1950s.
Cristina Kirklighter is a recently retired professor from Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, and former editor of Reflections: A Journal of Public Rhetoric, Civic Writing, and Service Learning. She is the past cochair of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) / Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Latinx Caucus (2009–14) and co-coordinator of the NCTE Writing and Working for Change Project, with a specific focus on documenting the histories of the identity-based NCTE/CCCC caucuses. With Diana Cárdenas and Susan Wolff Murphy, she co-edited Teaching Writing with Latino/a Students: Lessons Learned at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (2007), the first book focusing on Hispanic-serving institutions within a discipline.
Kendall Leon is associate professor of rhetoric and composition, with a specialization in Chicanx/Latinx/@ rhetoric, in the Department of English at California State University, Chico. Her teaching and research interests include cultural and community rhetorics, professional writing, writing program administration, and research methodology.
Aja Y. Martinez is assistant professor of writing studies, rhetoric, and composition at the University of North Texas, where she researches and teaches rhetorics of race and ethnicity, including the rhetorics of race within both Western and non-EuroWestern contexts. Her monograph Counterstory: The Writing and Rhetoric of Critical Race Theory (2020) presents counterstory as a method for actualizing critical race theory in the research and pedagogy of rhetoric-and-composition studies.
Cristina D. Ramírez is associate professor of rhetoric and composition at the University of Arizona, where she directs the doctoral program. She specializes in archival rescue and recovery of work by Mexican and Mexican American female authors. With Jessica Enoch, she coauthored Mestiza Rhetorics: An Anthology of Mexicana Activism in the Spanish Language Press,
Ana Milena Ribero is a proud Latina, mother-scholar, and assistant professor of rhetoric and writing at Oregon State University. Her research and teaching focus mainly on the rhetorics of (im)migration, rhetorics of race, critical literacies, and women-of-color feminisms. Her book project explores “dreamer rhetorics”—the rhetorical productions of undocumented youth activism—during the Obama years. Her scholarship can be found in Rhetoric Review, Peitho, Performance Research, Present Tense, Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies, and The Routledge Handbook of Digital Writing and Rhetoric.
Mónica González Ybarra is assistant professor of bilingual education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign. Her research examines the literacies and knowledges of Latinx/Chicanx (im)migrant young people through the use of Chicana feminisms, critical literacies, postcolonial and decolonial frameworks, and critical theories of race and citizenship. Drawing on scholarship across the fields of education and ethnic studies, her work is concerned largely with challenging and disrupting normative, colonial notions of knowledge pro-duction by centering the voices, experiences, and ways of knowing of youth of color.
I realized that the significance of the blizzard was much greater than just a regional event and it was this story I wanted to tell.
SUP: In a nutshell how would you describe your upcoming book “Declaring Disaster”?
TK: This is the story of the Blizzard of ’77 and how it reshaped public policy, politics, and the identity of Buffalo New York. Although the ground blizzard made for challenging and life-threatening conditions, decades of public policies favoring private automobiles at the expense of public transportation; suburbs over cities, and the lack of coordinated emergency management made it a disaster.
SUP: What drew you to the subject?
TK: Like most of my work, there is a personal connection. I grew up in the Buffalo area and experienced the blizzard first-hand as a child. Most of the histories of this event focus on the drama-in-real-life elements. When I began work on the history of natural disasters and public policy, I realized that the significance of the blizzard was much greater than just a regional event and it was this story I wanted to tell.
SUP: Moved by the plight of the people of western New York, President Jimmy Carter issued the first disaster declaration on account of snow. What made this blizzard of ’77 so epic?
TK: The ferocity of the storm made it remarkable. Blizzard conditions lasted for five days and combined with severe cold and wind chills of as much as sixty below, compounded by snowdrifts which rose to thirty feet in some places, burying highways, cars, houses, etc. Transportation became nearly impossible, some utilities failed, and people were trapped in their homes, places of work, or in public buildings for days.
SUP: What lessons did the city of Buffalo learn from this disaster?
TK: Buffalo learned not to underestimate snow! It has been a watchword for years that mayors and other public officials show preparation before winter and respond with alacrity when a storm hits Buffalo. They created a local emergency management team that works with the state of New York and created a regional cooperative with the towns and villages in Erie County to share equipment and aid one another.
SUP: What areas of the book do you feel readers will find most fascinating?
TK: I think there is something for everyone! Readers will come to understand how the snowy environment of Buffalo shaped the city, find out the history of snow-fighting efforts in Buffalo through the 2014 storm that dropped as much as eight feet of snow in some areas of Buffalo, and take with them a cautionary tale of how private automobile ownership may have made us all a little less safe in wintertime!
SUP: There’s a chapter in the book called “Grab a Six Pack.” Can you tell readers what this chapter is about and its importance?
TK: Following the Blizzard of ’77, Buffalonians elected one of the more controversial mayors in city history, Jimmy Griffin, who took to heart the lesson of the previous mayor and made snow removal a priority. Unlike the previous mayor, who openly worried about large snowfalls, Griffin famously responded to a winter storm that fell on a weekend with the line that everything was fine, and residents should just “grab a six pack and watch a good ball game.” In fact, all mayors following the Blizzard of ’77 have shown good instincts in dealing with snow control on city streets.
SUP: How have the decisions made during the Blizzard of ’77 impacted how storms are handled today?
TK: Snowbelt cities have become smarter and employed more resources and greater technology to effectively respond to snow. Buffalo and most snowbelt cities are prepared for average or above-average storms and these lessons may need to be applied to those cities in the South which will experience snowstorms due to climate change.
SUP: Who do you feel will find this book invaluable?
TK: I think the general public will find much to think about from this book; I also imagine it might be useful for environmentalists, disaster policy experts, and for those interested in the history of the Buffalo.
Timothy W. Kneeland is professor and chair of history and political science at Nazareth College. He is the author of Pushbutton Psychiatry: A Cultural History of Electroshock in America and Playing Politics with Natural Disaster: Hurricane Agnes, the 1972 Election, and the Origins of FEMA.
His new book, Declaring Disaster: Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77 and the Creation of FEMA, can be preordered at press.syr.edu.
author photo courtesy of Nazareth College of Rochester
The archaeological record that Tubman left behind sheds light on her life and the ways in which she interacted with local and national communities.
Archaeological and historical research at the Harriet Tubman Home, in Auburn and Fleming, New York have uncovered significant details related to Harriet Tubman’s life in Freedom. Among the artifacts recovered from Harriet Tubman’s house were a group of metal buttons with star designs. These buttons were just a few of the tens of thousands of personal items that were part of the daily life of Harriet Tubman, her family, and those who she cared for over more than fifty years of her life in freedom.
This week news related to a renewed effort to move forward with the release of the Harriet Tubman twenty dollar bill once again brings conversations related to the multi-dimensional importance and symbolism of the inclusion of an image of Harriet, a woman and an African American, on U.S. currency. The Tubman $20 bill also has special meaning related to this book. There is a link between the design of the new twenty and the material record recovered at the Harriet Tubman Home. Symbolic representations of the star buttons recovered from archaeological deposits from soils just outside the north door of Tubman’s house were incorporated into the clothing worn by Tubman in the engraving of Tubman on the twenty dollar bill. The Bureau of Engraving requested images of dozens of artifacts from the site and selected these as they were tangible items recovered from Tubman’s house that could be depicted in the engraving and due to the star symbolism. The stars depicted have a well-known correlation to Tubman’s following the North Star to freedom, and the buttons were found in a context of the house where Tubman, her family, and those in her care were living in freedom.
The initial decision to put Tubman on the $20 took place when the archaeological project described in this book was well underway and findings from the site were shedding light on new dimensions of Harriet Tubman’s civic minded pursuit of equality and justice. With the support of congressional legislators, Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. and the AME Zion Church used this new archaeological and historical research on Tubman to work with the National Park Service in an effort that let to recognition of the property as Harriet Tubman National Historic Park, a designation that was achieved in 2017, an effort that is described in the final chapter of the book.
This study integrates a detailed archaeological study with the compilation of an array of primary and secondary source data on Tubman’s life. Tubman’s early life is well known for her efforts to liberate African Americans from slavery. Tubman’s heroic actions conducting African Americans to freedom on the Underground Railroad have been detailed in several books, including Kate Larson’s “Bound for the Promised Land”(2004). In 2020, Tubman’s self-emancipation and her dynamic role as a conductor was vividly portrayed by Cynthia Erivo’s Academy Award nominated performance in the film “Harriet”. However, this study shows that there is even more to Harriet’s story and her on-going contributions to the struggle for freedom, women’s rights, liberty, and social justice. This study remembers Tubman’s commitment to social activism through the life that she lived, in freedom, at her personal home and farm and on behalf of the elderly African Americans that she cared for at the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged that she created in Fleming and Auburn, New York.
In the time since Tubman’s death, in 1913, the properties once owned by Harriet Tubman have continued to be held as a spiritual placeholder of her dreams and ideals. The properties constitute a landscape rich in artifacts, buildings, and meaning that derive from her life and her efforts on behalf of others. This study celebrates the process of healing and restoration associated with the reunification of Tubman’s properties and their recognition in 2017 as a key element of the newly created Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. In the pursuit of understanding Tubman, and the site, the study encountered many aspects of Tubman’s life that had been lost. The process of rediscovery embraced the multivalent patina of newly uncovered evidence of her life, including elements preserved in the site and in an array of newly examined documents. Together, these data inform us and provide depth and texture illuminating Harriet Tubman’s life, the people with whom she engaged, and the cultural landscape of sites once warmed by Harriet Tubman’s humanity.
The archaeological record that Tubman left behind sheds light on her life and the ways in which she interacted with local and national communities. It also projects her strong, individually based, spirituality and her relationship with the AME Zion Church. The AME Zion Church backed Tubman’s struggle. First, by working with her to open the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged; and then, by keeping her dream, and her legacy, alive through the retention and preservation of her properties. However, within decades of the end of Tubman’s life the breadth and importance of her legacy was nearly forgotten by the broader American society. As the 20th century progressed, the Home was closed and the structures deteriorated; but, the AME Zion Church managed to hold the properties together as a sacred trust. Fortunately, through perseverance, and a reawakening to the importance of the many social movements with which Tubman was actively engaged, her properties were preserved and the material record ensconced within these properties have been studied: including buildings, yards, ruins, and even a remnant apple orchard that were all important parts of Tubman’s life. In this setting the past and present have become intertwined. Now, more than a century after her death, the property, which is still owned by the AME Zion Church through its Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. not-for-profit unit, has taken on new symbolic meaning as a place of pilgrimage and national recognition, as a National Historic Landmark (NHL), and most recently as a National Historic Park.
Archaeological studies began after I took my students to the property as part of a regional “freedom trail” and “social movements” field trip for Syracuse University students. As we walked across the property and into the small museum my group and I were greeted by a warm welcome from site manager, Rev. Paul Carter. While feeling embraced by the welcome, I was instantly struck by the gap between my expectations for the site, given my understanding of the significance of Harriet Tubman’s contribution to American and world history, and the less than expected scale and scope of presentation of the property. I realize now that what I was experiencing was the product of changes in the landscape: missing buildings, miss-information on structures and their use by Tubman, and a general loss of interpretive connections to information on Tubman’s life. Though the land had been retained by the AME Zion Church and the Harriet Tubman Home Inc, changes to the landscape during the decades intervening between Tubman’s life and the present had resulted in significant losses in interpretive meaning. These changes were directional in that they were related to intervening social conditions and structures of social inequality, that in spite of good intentions of the AME Zion Church, had resulted in limited resources and opportunities, and that over time, and processes of physical decay, key elements of Tubman’s legacy were muted or muffled and continuities that were inherent in the landscape were obscured. What I observed at the Tubman Home that day was in contrast to many historic sites that I have visited, like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, or the nearby home of Tubman supporters William and Francis Seward, where every vista, room, or action, from the past are amplified and illuminated.
As I toured the small museum my eyes and thoughts focused in on a picture of Harriet Tubman. In the image, Tubman is sitting among a group of African Americans in front of a building, identified as ‘John Brown Hall’. I had not seen the building in the modern landscape, so I asked Rev. Paul Carter where the building was located. He responded that it had been torn down and was lost in the woods at the back of the property. My thoughts flashed back and forth between a feeling of loss and hope, before focusing positively on hope. I asked him if we could go into the woods to look for it. He responded with a smile, saying “by all means.”
I gathered my students and we all headed into the woods to look for the ruins. Only about fifteen minutes later they began eating their lunches at the site as I went to get Reverend Carter who joined us on the newly rediscovered ruins. We discussed the importance of the site and I agreed, pending the support of the AME Zion Church, to excavate the ruins as soon as I finished another project. I remember thinking to myself as we returned home that day: ‘How could this site, a site associated with such an important woman, be so poorly understood?’; ‘How could key elements of the story of her life be missing from the landscape and all but forgotten?’; and ‘What other ruins lie hidden on the property?’
This study is the product of nearly two decades of work at the Harriet Tubman Home, a project that involved hundreds of Syracuse University students, high school students from the region, and many local volunteers from the Auburn area. We carried out excavations at John Brown Hall, then surveyed the entire property and began excavations in and around Tubman’s brick house, we studied her yard, barn, and numerous other buildings and features on the combined 32 acre property. The book describes the process of rediscovery and uses the material evidence to link together numerous aspects of her life, her spirituality and her continued activism related to women’s rights and the welfare of aging African Americans.
Tubman was a strong woman with deep spiritual beliefs and a willingness to open her home and extend her resources to others. Moreover, she was deeply respected, not only by the African American community in Auburn and across the nation, but also by a broader local and national community of persons engaged in social causes, activism, and civil liberties. The material and spatial record reveals Harriet Tubman’s efforts to provide for those in need, her support of women’s suffrage, and her efforts to create a special place where aging and homeless African Americans could find shelter and freedom from want.
This is not simply a report of archaeological contexts pertaining to Harriet Tubman, but a material demonstration of the qualities of the life she lived in service to others. The tangible artifacts recovered were used in daily life by Tubman, her friends, family, and people who were reliant on her. They remind us that the message is not just to keep on going; but, like Tubman, to keep moving forward with deliberate action and to pursue freedom and dignity on behalf of others. My hope is that in unearthing the archaeological record of her life the new perspectives gained will serve to inspire new generations to action—to solve the social problems of today.
Douglas Armstrong is Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor and Maxwell Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Anthropology Department, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is the author of Creole Transformation from Slavery to Freedom: Historical Archaeology of the East End Community, St. John, Virgin Islands. His upcoming book The Archaeology of Harriet Tubman’s Life in Freedom can be pre-ordered at press.syr.edu.
So, about a year ago, I was watching that Breaking Bad film on Netflix and Watchmen on HBO, and I was still thinking about the Deadwood movie from the previous spring. Inasmuch as all three of those “shows” amounted to endings and beginnings (and still more endings), the SUP book that I co-edited with David Bianculli on Television Finales was, as a result, still very much on my mind. We seemed so preoccupied with the past, inasmuch as we were returning to it again and again in those movies and on that series. Maybe we were culturally mining those media objects to re-experience the thrill of past moments—like Rey climbing the wreckage of the Death Star in The Rise of Skywalker or Danny Torrance walking back into the Overlook in Doctor Sleep on the big screen. But, in returning to those locations and revisiting some of those characters (and meeting some new ones along the way), we were reinventing that past as a statement about the present and creating new endings that spoke to who or what we had become. (Although “Nostalgia” is literally a drug on Watchmen,exorcising the past may even lead to godhood for Angela Abar at the end of the series, as she literally considers walking on water.) But, of course, that was then, and this is now.
Slumped against my couch and burnt out from another day of e-mails, I stare vacantly at yet another hour of Family Feud and wonder why more people surveyed thought that “lump” was a better rhyme for “bump” than “jump” or how three people could name “chicken alfredo” as a kind of pasta. (Who takes these surveys? Where do they find these people?) Steve Harvey seems particularly happy in these episodes, I think. The families clap and dance together as the music plays, and why shouldn’t they? For them, there is no such thing as COVID, no outbreak spikes and second-wave anxieties, no debates about wearing masks or handwashing protocols, no election recounts, no polarized news for a polarized nation. And they could win a new car if they make it to Friday. While the twenty-thousand-dollar prize for the “fast money” round is a nice payday, it isn’t life-changing money, I grumble from my couch cushion, but the winners scream as if they will be getting lottery payouts. I move for the remote a few times, but I just don’t have the energy to leave this land where someone thinks that “José” starts with an “H” and no one seems to care. I wonder if I am drooling. These are my television habits on a weeknight at home. This is my brain during the pandemic, and this is the past that I now turn to—not reinvented, but reclining.
If I think about what I’ve been watching as of late, it’s not pretty. Oh no. I have burned more hours than I can count watching Beat Bobby Flay or Chopped, watching people scramble to cook under pressure, watching judges savor some slightly underdone pork loin and show no fear if a chef sweats a tad on their bread pudding. A cough during the dessert round is no cause for alarm, and Bobby Flay is more than willing to hug a competitor after an intense thirty minutes of empanadas. On Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Guy Fieri cruises into town in his cherry-red Camaro with the top down, to that world where patrons sit shoulder to shoulder to eat a world-famous hamburger or sample an obscenely decadent bowl of lobster mac and cheese. Of course, Guy gets to plunge a fork into the beef stew in the kitchen and smirks mischievously while the juice from that steak runs down his cheek. It’s all okay in the near-recent past, in the nightly time machine that shows me sugar-plum visions of pre-COVID glee. The drama here comes by the quart or the pound and often with a side of barbecue sauce. Nostalgia has become my drug of choice, too. I am a watchman. And I am watching.
At times, I feel horribly guilty, especially since there’s so much quality TV out there, older things to binge and newer things to start. But, in the midst of it all, yet another episode of The Office is comfort food, some predictability that goes down like Oysters Rockefeller in the Chopped kitchen or a steaming bowl of chicken soup at one of Guy’s out-of-the-way triple-D joints. (Am I watching too many cooking shows, I wonder, as food metaphors find their way into my vocabulary with alarming frequency? And am I watching too much of The Office? Hard to say. As far as the second one goes, though, my daughter dressed up as Dwight Schrute this year for Halloween.) And why shouldn’t I indulge in yet another half-hour of Impractical Jokers, if only to sit through Sal shouting “Bingo” in a crowded ballroom with none of the numbers on his card? No matter how many times I see it, the serious players are never amused. And no masks come out when Q gets handcuffed to a mime or Joe wears a diaper to square off against a sumo wrestler. Although the bits are frequently cringe-worthy, no one dies of embarrassment; no one dies of anything.
While I wait for civilization to reboot, I continue to tell myself that this experience is unprecedented and that I’m in some kind of cultural hibernation, living on TV predictability in the midst of a world that refuses to be second-guessed. A few years back, I wrote a CSTonline piece about reruns and how they satisfied our psychological craving for order, a necessary “counter” to the “chaos, flux, and unpredictability” of life. Maybe there are times when we need formula and control and security, things that TV often offers too much of. Maybe that’s the point of the exercise (or lack of exercise)—the familiarity, the safety, the predictability. I know that Pam won’t be marrying Roy and Jim won’t be working in Stamford forever. Maybe The Masked Singer is about all the intrigue and mystery that I can handle right now, as so many things remain up in the air. During a recent panel discussion at work, I talked about the need for some mindlessness during the pandemic, some moments of shutdown, a chance for the laptop to cool down and the user to recharge. As Steve Harvey smiles at yet another ridiculous response, I know that he gets it. So, why fight it? Maybe the answer that I’m looking for is somewhere on the board behind those numbers or hidden in a survey question about goldfish or vampires.
Douglas L. Howard is academic chair of the English Department on the Ammerman Campus at Suffolk County Community College. He is the co-editor of Television Finales: From Howdy Doody to Girls published by the Syracuse University Press, co-editor of The Essential Sopranos Reader and editor of Dexter: Investigating Cutting Edge Television.
SUP: David, you’ve written extensively on Winslow Homer. What drew you to dedicate so much of your time exploring the life and work of this 19th century world-renowned American Artist?
DT: You are right in saying that a good deal of my published work concerns the artist Winslow Homer. This has been encouraged by the fact that the sites in which Homer sets his work: Boston, New York, The Adirondacks, Quebec, and London are places I know well, and in which I feel at home. This adds a further element of realism to what I see in his work.
SUP: This book happens to be about one of Winslow Homer’s most creative and productive times in his life, which many refer to as his “turning point.” What are the main aspects that you think influence this? What do you think made this time so influential for him?
DT: Yes, you are right on the mark when you say that the book is about one of Homer’s most creative and productive times. This was indeed a “turning point”, but it seems to me that the meanings typically given to that term in the Homer literature tend to be unhelpful. Some claim that homer’s subjects shifted wholesale to scenes of storms at seas and of fishermen coping with dangers, but scarcely any of these things have prominence or even simple appearances in his work. There was indeed a “turning” and it proved to be a major one. The change was not in Homer’s paintings so much as in his standing as an artist. The Cullercoats paintings and those that quickly followed established him as stronger, more powerful painter than his preceding paintings had suggested. After his final exhibition of Cullercoats paintings in New York and those that quickly followed, Homer was clearly a “major” American painter and then some. This was his “turning.”
SUP: Was there any specific work of art that stood out to you from Winslow Homer’s time in Cullercoats?
DT: Yes indeed. Top of the list is Beach Scene 1881. An amazing composition of four human figures, you don’t forget that dangling arm vividly set against a wrecked coble and then a misty background of other figures. In these respects, there is nothing else quite like it in Homer’s work. I wonder whether his No. 1 Cullercoats model, Maggie Jefferson, may have had a hand in organizing this work. She is the child minder in this scene.
SUP: It seems as if many different historians have their own take on Winslow Homer’s life. Are there any misconceptions about him that you would like readers to know?
DT: Many different historians have varied “takes” on Homer as a person, but all present him as a deeply serious artist much attached to his parents and other family members, and quite reserved even with his few friends. He was not a “hermit” as the press sometimes described him. He was certainly well respected as a person in Cullercoats.
SUP: This point in time is seen as a very influential time in Winslow Homer’s life. Mariana Van Rensselaer said in one of her reviews that his style shifted to having a “freedom from conventionality of thought” during this time. What aspects of this time do you think aided him in this?
DT: I am glad that you have cited Mariana Van Rensselaer’s essay on Homer, for though it considers him as still a relatively young man and developing artist, it remains a wonderfully insightful essay on both the artist and his works the years in and surrounding his time in Cullercoats. His new concept of the essence of the experiences of working women – an essence distinctly positive in every respect – is revelatory. He shows little of the hard laboring men–the fishermen–but makes it abundantly clear that these are not peasants nor are their wives. In this he broke from long standing traditions on the Continent and even elsewhere in England, to define and portray fisherfolk as of a lower social class.
SUP: Winslow Homer’s work during this time strayed away from focusing on the men of the community and placed an emphasis on nature and younger women in this area. What aspects of his life in Cullercoats do you assume made him more successful than other artists in the area who might have had a more holistic inspirational view of Cullercoats?
DT: Homer seems to have spent more time with the village women and older girls than did other artists in the community or beyond, and in this he is certain to have used his American mannerisms–social openness, good humor–generosity of spirit–and so forth. He transformed the manner in which he had painted American younger women a few years earlier.
SUP: Do you think your knowledge of art history has impacted your writing style? If so, how?
DT: I believe that my knowledge of art history, both from its literature and from my familiarity with various masterworks, has had relatively little impact on the writing style of evident in my books and articles about Homer.
SUP: Winslow Homer later decided to make renditions of his watercolor works into etched pieces. He took out certain aspects of pieces to make other parts stand out more, such as the handrail in etched version of Perils of The Sea. How do you think changing medium/technique impacted his work?
DT: I am sure that Homer turned to etching as a medium for revised versions of a few of his Cullercoats paintings for two reasons. First, his income. There was a fair chance that new and revised versions of certain of his Cullercoats paintings, now printed on paper, would add a welcome amount to his income. Second, a vogue for the medium of etching had arisen among American fine artists and it seemed likely that Homer saw a way to excel while remaining a fellow participant in the uses of the new medium.
“Great regional lists are essential because they do such heavy lifting – they expose the charm of a region, they help us look truthfully at the sometimes painful and sometimes joyful history of a region, and they’re truly unique to each university press.”-Peggy Solic
As the acquisitions editor for Syracuse University Press’ New York State series, I think our regional list is our most mission-driven – these are the books that tether us most closely to and hopefully reflect the community in which we live and work. Really, the only thing that ties one book to another is that they have to relate to the community that we’ve loosely defined as New York State. History! Geography! Art! Architecture! Food! Drink! Travel! Nature! Politics! Photography! Upstate! Central New York! Western New York! New York City! The Adirondacks! The Catskills! You name it, if it has a connection to New York State, I’m willing to consider it.
The first question I ask myself when I open a proposal for a manuscript in our New York State series is: Does it excite me? That is the great fun (and the great privilege) of acquiring regional titles! More importantly, however, it also has to serve the readers of New York State as well as the mission of the press to “preserve the history, literature, and culture of our region.” So, I also ask myself: Does it tell me something new or original or unknown or interesting about New York State? Does it feature individuals or voices we haven’t heard before? Does it provide us with new perspective on the region? For example, we recently opened a new series, Haudenosaunee and Indigenous Worlds, which I hope, while not geographically limited to New York State, will drive discussion on important regional issues. Syracuse University and Syracuse University Press now stand on the ancestral lands of the Onondaga Nation, firekeepers of the Haudenosaunee.
My acquisitions strategy in this area is, I’ll admit, somewhat self-serving – manuscripts have to tick certain boxes to fit our list, but I also want books and projects that will pull me further into the community and teach me something about a region that is fairly new to me. I moved to Syracuse a year and a half ago and having spent six months of that time mostly at home I’ve counted on our regional list to help transport me around the state! I’ve used Chuck D’Imperio’s many travel books to help plan road trips, been inspired to take up a meditative walking habit after reading Nina Shengold’s Reservoir Year: A Walker’s Book of Days, and bought some new snow shovels after reading Timothy Kneeland’s forthcoming Declaring Disaster: Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77 and the Creation of FEMA.
Great regional lists are essential because they do such heavy lifting – they expose the charm of a region, they help us look truthfully at the sometimes painful and sometimes joyful history of a region, and they’re truly unique to each university press. They reflect the best of what university presses exist to do – to publish authors that might be overlooked elsewhere but whose work is essential to understanding and appreciating a region.
#RaiseUP is the 2020 theme of the year. It highlights the role that the university press community plays in elevating authors, subjects, and whole disciplines that bring new perspectives, ideas, and voices to readers around the globe—in partnership with booksellers, librarians, and others. #UPWeek
Laurence Hauptman is a SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History who first attended and presented at the Iroquois Research Conference in 1974. Hauptman is the author of eight books published by Syracuse University Press including Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership: The Six Nations Since 1800 that focuses on the lives and contributions of numerous women and men who shaped Haudenosaunee history.
SUP:Professor Hauptman– You have written numerous articles as well as 8 books on the Haudenosaunee/ Iroquois published by Syracuse University Press. Yet, you yourself are not a member of the Six Nations. What drew you to your lifetime commitment to write their history and what why did you approach the subject in the way you did?
LH: Fifty years ago, after reading Anthony F. C. Wallace’s The Death and Rebirth of theSeneca while in graduate school, I made it my point to familiarize myself with the literature on the Haudenosaunee, I noticed that most of the scholarship was written by anthropologists and that there was a gap in the historical literature after the death of Handsome Lake in 1815. Encouraged by a friends, anthropologist Jack Campisi, and historian William T. Hagan, I was determined to fill in that gap by writing 19th and 20th century Haudenosaunee history.
My career as a historian also grew out of a boyhood interest in the American Civil War. I was a junior in high school during the centennial of the Civil War in 1961. From this research, I learned an important lesson, namely that military historians visit the National Archives, but also go to visit and walk the ground of Civil War sites to gain a firsthand understanding of the topography of the battlefield. Combining archival research with on-site visits and interviews in Native communities grew out of this thinking. In the process of doing fieldwork, I was to meet some of the most amazing and heroic Haudenosaunee people from Hogansburg to Green Bay and learn valuable lessons, especially from Gordy McLester, my dear friend and co-author/ co-editor on five books,. who died from Covid-19 in May..
My graduate-school training at New York University led me first to American diplomatic history and then to coursework in anthropology. After reading the wonderful writings of historian Akira Iriye, I understood how important it is to look at competing sides in international relations and what he meant by a “culture and power” approach, namely how nations see their interests through the prism of their own cultures. Hence, I never saw doing Native American history as racial minority history with all the assumptions that that conveys, but rather in a global framework since they are transnational peoples with treaties. By studying international relations, I became more aware of the need for fieldwork to understand how people think, and that to do Iroquois history, you could not merely view things from what is in the archives in Washington. Albany, or Ottawa.
In early 1968, my mentor Bayrd Still, a fine teacher-scholar of urban America and the American West, gave me advice: “We historians here do not know about Indians.” To him, the only scholars interested in what was considered an esoteric subject at the time were anthropologists. Praising his friend, the well-known anthropologist E. Adamson Hoebel, he pointed across campus to the anthropology department. When I took my first anthropology course with the eminent anthropologist June Nash, she described her own work with the Maya in Guatemala and indicated to all five of us in her graduate seminar that contact with living people was acceptable and even encouraged by the discipline of anthropology. I had not heard that point made in any of my history classes before. A light bulb appeared in my head — the exciting thought of schmoozing with live human beings! [My father was a great “schmoozer” who could make conversation with anyone, especially about baseball; he apparently gave me this ”gift.”]
My first venture into “Indian history” was my masters-level essay on the (Dawes) General Allotment Act and post-Civil War reform, completed in 1968. In 1971, in one of the ironies of my life, I was hired at SUNY New Paltz, just 5 miles from where these reformers had met at Lake Mohonk to discuss the merits of the Dawes General Allotment Act from the early 1880s until 1929.
SUP: Which of the numerous women and men you treated in Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership: The Six Nations since 1800 made the biggest impression on you and changed your thinking?
LH:Ernest Benedict (Mohawk). I had the privilege of knowing Chief Benedict for a quarter of a century thanks to his niece, my friend Kay Olan. He represented the very best in the Haudenosaunee world, a true intellectual and one totally committed to the ideals set forth in the Great Law of Peace. Sometimes historians are too cynical and miss the point that sheer idealism can be a motivating factor in human behavior. Chief Benedict cared deeply about his people and fought from the age of fifteen for Haudenosaunee border crossing rights set under the Jay Treaty of 1794. He viewed Native Peoples in an international context whose existence was being threatened by the ever-increasing pressures of “development” worldwide, leading him to found the influential Akwesasne Notes on his kitchen table in the late 1960s.
SUP: If you were able to magically go back in time and sit down with an Haudenosaunee leader from one of your books, which one would it be and why?
LH:Chief Daniel Bread (Oneida). I wrote about Chief Bread in a chapter in Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership published by Syracuse University Press and a in a full scale biography co-written by my dear friend, the late Gordy McLester, published by the University of Oklahoma University Press. I was fascinated by Bread’s skills as a politician. He managed to hold onto power from the 1820s to the 1870s. His skill led the Oneidas to plant permanent roots in Wisconsin. He carefully brought the influential Jackson Kemper, first Frontier Bishop of the Episcopal Church and later Bishop of Wisconsin, into the Oneida orbit, using Haudenosaunee metaphors reminiscent of the Condolence Council; Kemper responded by becoming the Oneidas’ protector in Wisconsin. Bread even debated Indian removal and the fate of his Oneidas with President Andrew Jackson at the White House in 1831.
SUP: Your most recent book published with the Syracuse University Press was An Oneida Indian inForeign Waters The Life of Chief Chapman Scanandoah, 1870-1953 (2017). Tell us about what makes Chief Chapman Scanandoah so important for you to write his biography?
LH: Chief Chapman Scanandoah. Chief Chapman Scanandoah was truly a remarkable individual. He was a well-trained mechanic, a decorated Navy veteran, a prize-winning agronomist, a historian, linguist, and philosopher, an early leader of the Oneida land claims movement, and a chief of the Oneidas. However, his fame today among his Oneida people rests with his career as an inventor. His whole life, he challenged stereotypes. On March 1, 1926, a reporter wrote about Scanandoah’s scientific accomplishments:“Chief Chapman Schanandoah [Scanandoah], sachem, Oneida Tribe of Iroquois and a resident of the Onondaga reservation at Nedrow, has won recognition from the Great White Father as an inventor in the realm of science which always has seemed the white man’s realm… He holds the confidence and the rapport of the dusky men and women in the midst of where he lives. They are glad he has won this honor in the world outside their valley and has proved the Indian of today knows tools, machines, and molecules.” His life, 1870 to 1953, illustrates the Haudenosaunees’ remarkable ability to adapt to change, a major reason why all of the Six Nations in New York still maintain today a government-to-government relationship with the United States.
Scanandoah successfully managed to succeed in nearly everything he did. He was an outsider at the primarily African American Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia where he was educated in the late 1880s and early 1890s; one of the very few Native Americans in the United States Navy from 1897 to 1912 who traveled throughout the world; an Oneida with no land or political rights on the Onondaga Reservation where he resided for much of his life; a litigant in the white man’s court attempting to prevent the loss of the last remaining Oneida lands in the Empire State; a Native American inventor earning patents in the age of Thomas Edison; and one of the founders of the Indian Village at the New York State Fair.
SUP: If you were to write another book about the Haudenosaunee people in 2020, what would you focus on?
LH: I would write about the important roles attorneys play and have played in Haudenosaunee existence. Over the past half century, much of my historical research and consulting work has led me to examine historic litigation by numerous attorneys, thirty- three in all, hired to protect tribal lands and sovereignty. Although some were incompetent or unscrupulous, others I encountered in my research—e.g. James Clark Strong and George Palmer Decker – or personally worked for—e.g. George Shattuck, Arlinda Locklear (Lumbee), Jeanne Whiteing (Blackfeet)—were well versed in Haudenosaunee and American history. In order to develop strategies and represent their clients well, they like historians had to master the documents. I have found that too often historians equate the origins of every strategy affecting Native Americans in the courts entirely with chiefs, tribal chairman, and tribal councils. They all were/are very important, but many of the legal theories used in litigation were hatched by their attorneys.
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs’ Subcommittee on Indian Affairs’ hearing on the Seneca Nation Settlement Bill, September 13, 1990. Shown left to right are three who testified on the Seneca Nation’s behalf: Congressman Amory Houghton, Jr., the sponsor of the legislation; Dr. Laurence M. Hauptman, who served as the historical expert witness on the leases; and Dennis Lay, President of the Seneca Nation of Indians.
Today in honor of International Translation Day the Syracuse University Press would like to introduce you to ‘The Rivals and Other Stories’ translator Rachel Mines, a Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellow and recently retired teacher in the English Department at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada.
SUP: ‘The Rivals and Other Stories’ has been called “a hidden treasure of modern Yiddish literature” what can you tell us about the author Jonah Rosenfeld?
RM: Jonah Rosenfeld was a prolific and popular writer in his time, but because he wrote exclusively in Yiddish and was hardly ever translated, he has virtually vanished from the American literary canon. Rosenfeld deserves to be put back on the map because so many of his stories are relevant today – and not only for Jewish readers.
Rosenfeld was born in 1881 into a poor family in Chartorysk, Volhynia, in the Russian Empire. His first years were tragic. When he was 13 years old, his parents died and his brothers sent him to Odessa to learn a trade. He was apprenticed to a lathe operator. According to his autobiography, he was abused and his teenage years were miserable.
Perhaps seeking an outlet for his feelings, Rosenfeld began writing in his early 20s. He published his first story in 1904 and his first collection of short stories appeared five years later. In 1921, Rosenfeld emigrated to New York City, where he became a major literary contributor to the leading Yiddish newspaper, the Forverts. He was known as a psychological writer, an author who dove deep into his characters’ psyches to explore their subconscious feelings and urges.
SUP: This work has been called an original contribution to the art of Yiddish short fiction in English translation.What drew you to the field of translating Yiddish works?
RM: I was raised by Yiddish-speaking parents, but I wasn’t much interested in the language or literature until about 15 years ago, when I met my mother’s cousin, who had survived the Holocaust and was living in Latvia. I got inspired to return to Yiddish so I could speak with Bella in her own language. Eventually I decided I wanted to take my studies further. As a literature teacher, I came to realize that Yiddish literature in translation could be taught in the classroom – even to students like my own, who weren’t necessarily Jewish. So translating seemed like the next logical step.
I also wanted to contribute to scholarship in general. Yiddish literature (and other texts in Yiddish) are not accessible to the great majority of scholars and researchers. Therefore, we can’t even start to address topics such as the place of Jonah Rosenfeld – to take just one example – in the American literary canon. Many fields of Yiddish writing are still waiting to be explored, but the works need to be translated first.
SUP: The Yiddish Book Center has uncovered over a million books originally written in Yiddish. Can you tell our readers what drew you to Jonah Rosenfeld’s short fiction?
RM: Some years ago, I was looking online for short stories I could read to practice my Yiddish. I found two of Jonah Rosenfeld’s stories on the Mendele website (https://sites.google.com/site/mendeledervaylik/library). I was so impressed that I decided to translate them, just for fun and to practice my Yiddish. Later on, I found that the English translations had already been published in Howe and Greenberg’s A Treasury of Yiddish Stories, but by then I was hooked on both Rosenfeld and Yiddish translation.
So what exactly impressed me about Rosenfeld’s stories? I’d have to say, first and foremost, it’s his psychological insights. He’s not entirely alone in that: other authors of his time were psychologically astute and wrote compelling character studies. But Rosenfeld went a bit beyond, in that his stories are like Greek tragedies. His protagonists fail in their quests for love, belonging, and security, not because of external forces, but because of internal, self-defeating habits of thought that they may not be consciously aware of. Rosenfeld isn’t the only author to use this psychological approach in fiction, but he does so consistently and, to my mind, very believably.
SUP: How are Jonah Rosenfeld’s stories different from the idealized portraits of shtetl life written by Rosenfeld’s peers at the time?
RM: First, I’d like to say that not all of Rosenfeld’s peers were writing idealized portraits of shtetl life, although some were – perhaps as a nostalgic response to emigration to the US and other countries. Naturally people missed the communities and traditions they’d left behind and wrote sentimental stories, plays, and songs about them. Also, there is a tendency among those of us who never experienced pre-Holocaust Jewish culture to sentimentalize our ancestors’ way of life – “Fiddler on the Roof” is an obvious example. However, as more and more Yiddish literature is being translated and published nowadays, we can see that many authors, like Rosenfeld, present a more nuanced and challenging perspective on prewar Jewish life.
Having said that, I do think most of Rosenfeld’s stories are different from many of those his contemporaries wrote.
First, Rosenfeld’s stories typically focus on an individual who does not have the support of family, friends, community, or traditions and is often at odds – even in open conflict – with them. His characters are typically those who are socially marginalized, such as women, children, older people, immigrants, and others who are alienated and impoverished: financially, socially, and spiritually. They are solitary individuals who struggle, almost always unsuccessfully, to build bridges between themselves and the hostile, rapidly changing world around them.
In our time of social and physical isolation, fragmenting communities, and rapid social change, Rosenfeld’s stories have a particular resonance.
SUP: Jonah Rosenfeld was a major literary figure of his time. Why do you feel his stories about loneliness, social anxiety, and longing for meaningful relationships are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them in the 1920’s?
RM: What’s not relevant about loneliness, social anxiety and the longing for satisfying relationships – not to mention male-female relationships, generational conflict, immigration, culture clash, child and spousal abuse, abortion, suicide, and prejudice? These are obviously deeply meaningful human issues that, 100 years after Rosenfeld’s stories were written, we grapple with today. We are struggling with the concept of impending, frightening change even more than ever.
Rosenfeld’s psychological insights are also relevant today. The author was an intuitive psychologist, and many of his stories stand up well to current theories of human thought and behavior. For example, the protagonist of “The Rivals” is a classic malignant narcissist. It’s interesting to note that the story was first published in 1909, several years before Otto Rank’s and Sigmund Freud’s theories of narcissism came out. So despite his characters living in a social, historical, and political milieu that’s different from ours in many regards, their actions and reactions are deeply human and understandable to the modern reader.
SUP: You selected 19 stories for this book. What make these stories important?
RM: We’ve already talked about Rosenfeld’s themes of social alienation and his psychological insights. To take a somewhat different perspective on the importance of his work, I want to focus on readers.
I’ve taught both business and academic writing, and I know one of the most important things for a writer to consider is the reader. Even before I started putting together the collection, I wondered who its readers would be. Because I’ve been teaching undergraduate literature courses for many years, I decided I wanted the stories to be read by students, and not necessarily just Jewish students. So I chose stories that I thought would work well in the classroom: stories that would be of interest to students and instructors and that would be teachable in terms of their themes, characters, symbols, imagery, and so on.
Eventually, after gathering my courage a bit, I taught a number of the stories in the collection to my students at Langara College. None, or almost none, are Jewish. Many are immigrants or international students from South and Central America, India, China, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. A number of students are themselves struggling with the issues that Rosenfeld’s stories address.
Students LOVED the stories! They commented on Rosenfeld’s understanding of women, marveled that these 100-year-old stories were so relevant to their lives, wanted to know more about Yiddish and Jewish culture, and wondered where they could find similar stories. Some students confided to me that Rosenfeld’s stories had helped them understand their own family dynamics better. Occasionally I found it difficult to cover the points I wanted to make in class because the students were so eager to discuss the stories that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise!
SUP: What makes this book a must-read for fans of Yiddish literature and Jewish culture?
RM: Let me sum up: First, Jonah Rosenfeld’s stories address many concerns that are deeply relevant to us today. Second, his psychological insight into his characters make the stories quirky, interesting, and relatable. Third, for those teachers among us, the stories are fun to teach, meaningful to students, and lend themselves to assignments that are hard to plagiarize.
SUP: Of course, in this collection we’re not reading Jonah Rosenfeld’s original words, which were Yiddish, but your translation of them. What was the most challenging thing about translating these stories?
RM: All translators struggle with various elements of language: vocabulary, register (formal versus informal), idioms, word order, and so on. When translating Rosenfeld, I was also dealing with ideas relating to Jewish culture and religion. “Shabbes,” for instance, obviously means Saturday, but the connotations run much deeper in a Jewish religious or cultural context. So how to translate the word? That’s just one small example. Another problem I ran into repeatedly has do with simple matters of daily life that were very different 100 years ago than today. For example, in one story, a character drives his wife to the doctor’s office “in his own car.” Most people didn’t have their own cars at that time, so “own” implies a certain degree of wealth and social status. But times have changed, and now the phrase looks a bit strange.
And then there’s that paragraph in “Francisco” in which the main character does a quick repair job on a samovar. Not being intimately familiar with samovars (let alone broken ones), I had to figure out what was going on in that passage, which required hours of research – thank you, Google! – before I could even begin to translate it.
SUP: If you could turn back time and sit down for a cup of coffee with Jonah Rosenfeld, what’s the first question you would ask him?
RM: Mr. Rosenfeld, how do you fix a samovar?
No seriously … I think it’d be, “What were your literary influences?” What fiction did Rosenfeld read? As an author who wrote about the subconscious, was he familiar with Freud? To what degree did his own life and experiences influence his dark view of human nature?
I should add here that, at least according to what I’ve read, Rosenfeld’s contemporaries did not see him as a dark, gloomy person. They described him as melancholy at times (who isn’t?), but also as humorous, friendly, and good-natured.
SUP: Which is your favorite story in the book and why?
RM: I like all the stories, but one that stands out for me is “Here’s the Story.” Here the author takes a different approach. The main character is a stand-in for Rosenfeld himself – a writer of Yiddish stories on a reading tour in some non-specified eastern European shtetl. There he’s introduced to a “shegetz,” a gentile who is fluent in Yiddish, loves Yiddish literature, and becomes Rosenfeld’s rival in a love interest. In this rare departure, a comedy (though not without its darker elements), the author explores Jewish-Christian relationships, class relationships within the shtetl community, and attitudes towards Yiddish language and literature. It’s a peek into shtetl life – a prewar Jewish society many of us never imagined.
SUP: Your dedication to the preservation of Jewish history is evident with the publication of this book. You’ve also created the website https://shtetlshkud.com/ dedicated to a once-vibrant and thriving Jewish community in Lithuania . Can you tell us more about this site?
RM: Feel free to click on the link and take a quick tour! But here’s some background. My father, a Holocaust survivor, was born and raised in Skuodas, Lithuania. He rarely talked about his youth or family there. Over 25 years after his death, my brother and I first visited Skuodas, after which I’ve been back several times and have made – and continue to make – friends and connections among the citizens. Many of have them shared their stories of the prewar Jewish community. Assembling all of the information I could possibly find, I attempted, on this website, to “recreate” the prewar Jewish community as a memorial and also as a place for other Skuodas descendants to find out about their ancestral town and families.
With all the talk in the media about domestic terrorism, now seems to be the right time for an interview of Kerry Noble, the author of ‘Tabernacle of Hate Seduction into Right-Wing Extremism, Second Edition’ an unprecedented first-person account of how a small spiritual community moved from mainstream religious beliefs to increasingly extreme positions, eventually transforming into a domestic terrorist organization.
SUP: Kerry tell us a little bit about your background and what made you write ‘Tabernacle of Hate’
Kerry Noble: My wife, Kay, and I moved to a small, rural Christian community in 1977. At that time, it was a peaceful, non-racist, non-violent group, where some Christian families wanted to raise their families in the country, away from the chaos of the big cities, work together, live on the same property together and fellowship together. Everything was great for the first year until we started meeting the wrong people at the wrong time. Although we were an apocalyptic church, preparing for the last days for Christ’s return, we weren’t setting any dates for whatever scenario might occur.
Then in 1978, we came upon a man talking about groups preparing, like us, storing food, clothing and supplies to house people when the chaos occurred. He asked how would we protect ourselves from all the looters coming from the big cities? This really had not occurred to us. He said we needed to protect ourselves with guns. This made sense, so over the next 18 months we spent $52,000 on guns, ammo, and military gear. We began to train with the weapons and eventually our group was large enough that we started forming paramilitary squads and we learned to be Survivalists. We eventually set up a training school and built a 4-block mock town to train in, called Silhouette City. We became known as the #1 civilian SWAT team in America.
In late 1979 we were introduced to a theology known as Christian Identity. They taught that the Jews were a counterfeit race, descended from Eve having sex with the devil in the Garden of Eden, and that the white race was the true Israel of the Bible and that the non-white races were inferior races, created before Adam. This was pretty foreign to us but by the spring of 1980 we had adapted it into our own theology. Now we were racists.
In 1981 we adapted the name CSA – the Covenant, Sword & Arm of the Lord – the now-public name for our paramilitary unit, rather than using our church name (Zarephath-Horeb Community Church) during the publicity we received over the next 4 years. Unfortunately, our group became so radicalized we began doing illegal activities off our property – we plotted the original bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1983 and the assassination of a federal judge, federal prosecuting attorney, and an FBI agent in that same year. The plans were unsuccessful in their planning, fortunately. By then we had automatic weapons, silencers, C-4 explosives, a LAW rocket, and hand grenades. In the summer of 1984, I went to Kansas City to murder gays at a park and to blow up an adult video store. Those were unsuccessful also. But the next day I took a bomb into a gay church with the intention of blowing it up during the Sunday service. Because of the actions of the gay community at that church, I decided not to set the bomb and walked out. The gay community unknowingly saved my life and began my own transition away from hate.
In the fall of 1984 members of the Order, another extremist group that had robbed armored vehicles, counterfeited money and had assassinated Jewish talk-show host, Alan Berg, began to get arrested. Some of those members were former members of CSA who eventually turned state’s evidence against us, testifying against us in 1985.
Because of this and our own illegal activities, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, with 300 federal, state and local officers, raised our group on April 19,1985 and we had a 4-day armed standoff, until the leader of our group agreed to surrender. I had been the negotiator between our group and the FBI – I had also been the PR guy for our group and the main Bible study teacher. By the end of May 1985 all the other leaders of the group, including myself, were arrested. I pled down to a conspiracy charge, received a 5-year sentence, and served 26 months in jail and prison. I finished my time in 1990.
I wrote “Tabernacle of Hate” originally as therapy and healing for myself, plus to get the record straight about what happened during those days. Several books had been written that included us, most of which had wrong information. I also wanted people to understand the theology and extremist mindset behind right-wing, hate mentality, with all its conspiracy theories, and to help others understand how the leaders of this movement manipulated followers with fear and hate, behind the cloak of patriotism and Christianity.
SUP: The Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA) was an extremist paramilitary group in the 1970s and 80’s. Where are they now, and what can religious organizations today learn from their experience?
Kerry Noble: CSA disbanded in 1986 after the siege and almost all the men were arrested. The women and children scattered, mostly returning to the original areas they had come from. As the men were released, they joined their families. Almost all the families turned their backs on right-wing movement and its’ racism. A few still hold the previous views.
Religious organizations today need to understand that scripture says that judgement begins in the house of God – with the church. Judgement is not what Jesus came to do. Most churches preach judgment and “sin” of others, while ignoring the sins of their own congregation or of other Christian organizations. It’s the same old “us vs. them” mentality of covering up one’s own failures while pointing the fingers to others they disagree with.
SUP: As the group’s spiritual leader you helped negotiate for a peaceful surrender in an intense stand-off with federal agents, this negotiation is considered by federal agencies to be one of their greatest successes when faced with what we today would call domestic terrorism. What do you remember most about this situation and what contributed to your success?
Kerry Noble: I remember it all as if it were yesterday. By the second day I thought we were going to die in a shootout with the government. But by the grace of God, the leader of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Teamhad been told to negotiate as well, which he had never done before. He and I hit it off immediately and I felt like I could trust him. Ten years later we met again and eventually became friends. It’s something I am very proud of and thankful for. After the leader of our group surrendered, the ATF Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent 4 days searching the property for evidence. They took care of our animals and pretty much cleaned up after themselves by the time they left. I was very impressed. What impressed me most was that the federal government, whom I had learned to distrust, kept their word, whereas the right-wing leaders, including our own, had consistently lied and had revealed their true motives – fame, some wealth, and a lot of polygamy.
SUP: ‘Tabernacle of Hate’ includes two pamphlets: “Witchcraft and the Illuminati” and “Prepare War” that you wrote for the CSA that are otherwise unavailable. Can you tell us about them and why you included them in the book?
Kerry Noble: I wrote 5 or 6 booklets but these two were the most popular, along with our training manual. Originally they were propaganda books, espousing our doctrine of Christian Identity and the source behind the troubles in America and the world, and our scripture basis for making war during the Tribulation period of the last days, since we did not believe in the Rapture before the Coming of Christ, where Christians would be taken to heaven before the world was judged.
I wanted them in the 2nd edition to help people understand the depth of deception that surrounds and penetrates those who are involved in right-wing extremism, from evangelical church to the KKK and to the Lone Wolf ideology of war. It all has a common thread of fear and hate and division, which, unfortunately, still exists today and is tearing this country apart.
SUP: The book has been described as the only first-hand account available to scholars from the leader of a right-wing cult that describes how a cult develops from a mainstream community, and how people can emerge from cult beliefs. What are the most important takeaways from this book?
Kerry Noble: Wow, there are so many. I am honored that this book stands above all others written about the extremist movement and mentality and am very thankful for how it has been received, and for Syracuse University Press’ courage to republish it. Some of the takeaways are:
Anyone can be deceived to the point of becoming the antithesis of the original individual. One does not have to be crazy or have come from a bad environment to end up an extremist. One of the main purposes of my book was to help people see and understand how one can go from point A to point Z almost logically.
The rhetoric and mentality of “us vs them” is not exclusive to right-wingers but to left-wing extremists also. The mentality of separation and division never solves problems – it is only the consensus of “WE” (Without Exclusion) that can solve the difficult world we live in.
There is always Hope. We were so blessed with being able to have come out of CSA as well as we did. Almost all of us have gone on with life. Becoming friends with the FBI leader was a huge irony, one of many. Had it not been for him and the grace of God, I’d have never seen my children grown up and I might never have heard the word “Papa” from my grandchildren. I am a blessed man.
My later book is called, “Tabernacle of Hope: Bridging Your Darkened Past Toward a Brighter Future.” It’s about the lessons I learn in my journey and that hope is there. It is my prayer that America bridges its now-darkened present toward what can be a much brighter future for us all. Thank you.
For more information on ‘Tabernacle of Hate’ click on the book below.
We couldn’t celebrate International Literacy Day without interviewing author Ruth Colvin, a woman who has dedicated her life to literacy, founded Literacy Volunteers of America, and written the fascinating memoir “Off the Beaten Path” about her experiences providing literacy training around the globe.
SUP: What inspired you to spend a lifetime promoting literacy around the world, what was it that drew you to this career?
Ruth Colvin: I can’t believe a life without reading, so in 1960 when I saw in our local paper the 1960 US Census figures stating that there were 11,055 functional illiterates in MY city of Syracuse, NY, I wondered who they were, why couldn’t they read, and what was being done about it. My research showed that nothing was being done. So, I had a coffee at my home, inviting members of the Board of Education, Presidents of non-profits, all men except one woman. They were as shocked as I was, but no one offered to do anything except the one woman from Church Women United, representing the women of 90 churches. She asked me to speak to her group, and they voted unanimously to start a literacy project but only if I would take charge. That was the start of Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA). But it was when I asked Syracuse University’s professional reading experts to help me that I learned the basics of teaching literacy, never dreaming that it was a national problem and that LVA would grow around the entire country.
SUP: Did you realize at the time how far around the world your passion would take you?
Ruth Colvin: I never dreamed that it was a world problem and that I would be invited to give literacy training in 26 developing countries.
SUP: You’ve met people from all walks of life—a holy man in India, a banned leader and a revolutionary in the apartheid system of South Africa, lepers in India and Madagascar, and survivors of Pol Pot’s Cambodia to mention a few. Of all the people you’ve met along the way, who had the greatest impact on you and why?
Ruth Colvin: Each developing country was a learning experience for me, but it was the people I met who touched my life – the poorest people living in hutments, in poverty, having had no education, who were surviving and always helping each other, and the leaders who were amazing, most working hard to solve the problems of their country.
SUP: Author David Baldacci has said “Ruth Colvin exemplifies the power of one individual changing the world for the better,” and former first lady Barbara Bush has described you as “a living testament to the literacy cause.” Of all the things that you have done, what would you say makes you the proudest?
Ruth Colvin: I think I’m most proud of those that helped me along the way, for it has been lifelong learning for me. And for those that listened and learned, and it became their passion as well as mine, for after I left, they had to carry on. I’m so proud of the students, the tutors, the board members and staff of affiliates around the country, and for them to be creative, sharing their successes with ProLiteracy to share around the world.
SUP: If you could throw a dinner party and invite one person you haven’t already met from anywhere in the world to sit and discuss literacy, who would it be?
Ruth Colvin: Looking back, I think it would be someone who I had taught to read and write, who because of that had a most successful life, helping others.
SUP: Your passion for literacy has earned you nine honorary doctorates, the highest award for volunteerism in the United States, the President’s Volunteer Action Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, your passion inspires the world. Who inspired you along the way?
Ruth Colvin: People have heard of my successes, but few have heard of my rejections, for I was living in a “man’s world,” where women weren’t allowed or expected to create anything new, to lead in any way, no matter how much it was needed. It was Bob, my husband, the love of my life, who saw and understood my passion, and supported me all the way, keeping my passion and inspiration alive.
SUP: In your personal opinion, what impact do you think the current pandemic will have on literacy?
Ruth Colvin: The current pandemic has an impact on everyone and everything, but because I always have a positive attitude, I look to see how Literacy Volunteers of America (now ProLiteracy) can be helpful. It’s impossible for most one-on-one meetings to continue, but we must look to the future and encourage tutors and learners not lose contact, so we’re suggesting they keep in contact by phone, by sharing the same books and sharing lesson plans by mail, so some lessons can continue. Many of the immigrants who have very limited English as a second language, don’t understand the pandemic necessities. It’s individual tutors who have been working with them that they trust. Those tutors then, by Skype, by Zoom, by iPhone, by phone, can explain, in the simplest language, why masks sanitation and social distancing are so important.
SUP: “Off the Beaten Path: Stories of People Around the World” takes readers along your journey around the world promoting literacy. What do you think readers will enjoy the most about your book and your adventures in teaching?
Ruth Colvin: Because travel is so limited now, I think readers will enjoy sharing my travels to places where it’s impossible for them to be. Again I say, it’s lifelong learning, and readers can learn about geography, about how people live around the world, those in poverty and those in leadership and wealth, and how we can help each other.