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.
The 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues has been a highly anticipated celebration, with plans for many MLB teams to honor the historic players throughout the 2020 baseball season. Although these plans are rescheduled until 2021, there has been no shortage of memorials from a wide variety of fans–including a few former presidents.
Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and columnist Joe Posnanski joined efforts to create the “Tipping Your Cap” campaign. Beginning in mid-June, the ‘TipYourCap2020’ Twitter account has gathered over 2,000 followers in about a month. Beginning with fans posting videos and photos, the campaign quickly caught the attention of former players and presidents, as well as the Hollywood community.
We joined the campaign on Twitter with a photo of our editor tipping her cap to the great Negro Leagues players and we’ve highlighted two SU Press books that honor these activists and their efforts. These books follow the Negro Leagues from their birth, highlighting many accomplishments, until their eventual collapse providing a history rarely discussed in such detail.
In Black Baseball Entrepreneurs 1860-1901, Lomax reflects on black baseball’s beginning as exercise or a pastime. He follows the incredible transition into a lucrative opportunity for black entrepreneurs as black baseball became an organization and commercialized amusement. The black baseball community began earning respect and paving the way for future athletes and activists with these originating efforts.
In the second and final book in the mini-series, Black Baseball Entrepreneurs 1902-1931: Operating by Any Means Necessary, Lomax continues with the development of black baseball as an organization and the way it was promoted. Focusing on how race influenced the institutional development of black baseball, Lomax discusses the decision made by Black baseball managers to distance themselves from white clubs and managers. This book is an informative and interesting take on the promotion of the Negro Leagues and how that influenced the success of this organization.
My kids and I worked out in our backyard before the implementation of Manila’s “Enhanced Community Quarantine.” Since the lockdown, our Sunday morning tradition of kettle bells, calisthenics, and striking has morphed into an every-other-day agenda item on our Groundhog Day schedule.My 13-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son fussed and fought their way through push-ups, lunges, burpees, rolls-to-jumps, bear crawls, crab walks, prisoner squats, planks, tabletops, flutter kicks, and good old-fashioned sit-ups — boot camp-like routines designed to encourage behavioral compliance through physical exhaustion. And, like young marines, Tessa and Lev proved hard to manage but easy to inspire. Every other day for the last 12 weeks, we’ve hardly missed a day out on “the grinder.”
Halfway through one session, Tessa ripped open the Velcro strap on one of her boxing gloves with her teeth and asked, “Do you want me to join the military?”
My kids and I tend to have our deepest conversations during the lull between sets. Panting with their fingers intertwined behind their heads, Tessa and Lev have brought up everything from evolutionary biology to gender inequality. – Questions sure to win them a breather by sparking the sort of nurturing and formative conversations for which I became a parent in the first place.
Back when Tessa was Lev’s age, she dropped this doozy between rounds on the heavy bag in our garden in Kenya: “Did you want black kids?”
SUP: You’ve published books on Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther, and other historic figures. What drew you to civil rights activist Franklin Kameny and how important did you feel it was to tell the world his story?
Michael Long: I first came across Kameny when researching connections between the modern civil rights movement and the early LGBTQ rights movement. That research led me to the collection of his papers at the Library of Congress, where I found a treasure trove of his unpublished letters.
I’ve read thousands and thousands of letters in my life—Robinson’s, Marshall’s, Bayard Rustin’s—and I dare say I’ve enjoyed none more than Kameny’s.
I was captivated not just because of their rich historical quality, but especially because of their style. His letters are strident and loud. Clear and logical. Demanding and urgent. Full of capitalized words and exclamation points. Like his brash personality, they’re brutally honest and transparent. Kameny bled all over the page.
Given my long-term interest in the letters of historical figures, you can understand why I was hooked.
I was also attracted to the project because at that time there was no other single book devoted to Kameny. Historians had largely ignored him, even though he was one of the most influential leaders of the early LGBTQ movement. So telling his story was important for correcting his ongoing erasure from much of history.
SUP: How does your book and the 150 letters included give voice to his drive for equality?
Michael Long: The letters track Kameny’s transition from a relatively closeted gay man to an activist picketing the White House and marching through New York City.
Kameny was fired from his federal job as an astronomer during the height of the Lavender Scare, when the federal government deemed LGBTQ individuals as significant threats to national security. Typically, gay men and lesbians fired during at this point retreated into the private sector without publicly protesting their dismissals. But Kameny was far from typical.
Not long after he begged for the return of his job—and I mean begged—he began demanding equality for all “homosexuals” in the federal government and throughout the public square. It’s really a breathtaking transition. The letters show how the government unintentionally radicalized him and pushed him to become a hard-driving pioneer in the early homophile movement.
Perhaps what’s best about Gay Is Good is that it offers Kameny’s unfiltered voice. The letters reveal his feelings in all their intensity—his despondency after losing his job, his fury at the government’s treatment of “homosexuals,” his arrogance when dealing with anyone who wants to treat LGBTQ individuals as second-class citizens, his relentless passion for gay rights everywhere, and his pride about making the government treat LGBTQ individuals with respect, dignity, and equality.
SUP: Why do you feel Franklin Kameny isn’t as well-known as Harvey Milk when it comes to LGBTQ history?
Michael Long: Kameny had a much greater impact on the national LGBTQ movement than Milk did, especially in shaping federal policy, declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, and organizing marches for gay rights at the White House and other public institutions long before the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. But Kameny could be abrasive, and he possessed none of Milk’s political charm and willingness to compromise. He alienated a lot of people.
Milk was also seemed more adept at building a constituency of younger people in the growing LGBTQ movement, the ones who would become its future leaders. Compared to Milk, Kameny appeared staid and conventional. Plus, after Milk was assassinated in 1978, his life took on a near-mythological quality.
SUP: What unique contribution does Gay is Good make to LGBTQ history?
Michael Long: Gay Is Good gives Kameny his rightful place in LGBTQ history, and it makes a compelling case that his name deserves to be uttered in the same breath as Milk’s. Indeed, our book clearly shows that it’s utterly impossible to tell the story of the early LGBTQ rights movement without placing Kameny at its center.
By the way, one of the interesting things about the early LGBTQ rights movement in the United States is that it’s so diffuse. Unlike the black civil rights movement, the LGBTQ rights movement never had a Martin Luther King, Jr. figure—a single leader who represented the general movement. But this does not mean that the LGBTQ rights movement lacked individuals whose ambition was to become its national leader. In fact, Gay Is Good shows that Kameny struggled mightily to become the single leader. He failed at that, but he certainly gave it his all.
SUP: Are there a few specific letters or writings that really stood out to you when working on the book?
Michael Long: One of my favorite excerpts comes from a letter he wrote to his mother in 1972:
“Some thirty years ago, I told you that if society and I differ on anything, I will give society a second chance to convince me. If it fails, then I am right and society is wrong, and if society gets in my way, it will be society which will change, not I. That was so alien to your life that you responded with disdain. It has been a guiding principle in my life. Society was wrong. I am making society change.“
Another favorite writing comes from his petition to the Supreme Court. Given the year he wrote this—1961—it’s quite the radical sentence:
“Petitioner asserts, flatly, unequivocally, and absolutely uncompromisingly, that homosexuality, whether by mere inclination or by overt act, is not only not immoral, but that, for those choosing voluntarily to engage in homosexual acts, such acts are moral in a real and positive sense, and are good, right, and desirable, socially and personally.“
Still another comes from a 1965 letter he wrote to the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), who had expressed reservations about picketing for “homosexual rights”:
“[W]e were informed that DOB would picket only when the action was backed by the larger community.
First, this is arrant nonsense! When one has reached the stage where picketing is backed by the larger community, such picketing is no longer necessary. The entire force and thrust of picketing is a protest on issues not yet supported or backed by the larger community, in order to bring issues to the fore, and to help elicit that support.
Second, this is in keeping with a mentality which has pervaded this movement from its beginning—homosexuals must never do anything for themselves; they must never come out into the open. They must work through and behind others. They must never present their own case—let others do so for them. We have outgrown this “closet queen” type of approach, and it is well that we have.“
SUP: Are there any misconceptions about Franklin Kameny that you’d like readers to know about?
Michael Long: I’m less concerned about misconceptions than I am about the lack of basic knowledge about Kameny’s life and legacy. I implore the readers here to dig in and learn about the person I consider to be the most important pioneer of the early LGBTQ rights movement.
SUP: If a movie was made about Franklin Kameny, what actor do you feel would best portray Kameny’s powerful voice?
Michael Long: Billy Eichner would be an excellent choice!
SUP: Your work, Arab Americans in Film, compares Arab American portrayals in both the movie making hubs of Hollywood and Egypt. Why these two culture centers? And what is gained by surveying these film landscapes side by side?
WM: Indeed, these are important movie-making hubs. For decades, Hollywood filmmakers have produced works that model good citizenship and normalize what it means to be American in ways that alienate Arab and Muslim Americans along with indigenous Americans, Latino/a Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, and African Americans, among other minorities. When it comes to subverting Hollywood in the Arab world, the most important media culture to examine is that of Egypt, home to the largest, most popular, and most prolific Arabic film industry. Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and boasts a critical history in developing anticolonial and postcolonial narratives of struggle for Arabic and Islamic identities.
Both industries have played major roles in mediating the collective imagination of the dominant forces in the two respective cultures. Comparing them reveals clues about East-West polarization in the cultural imaginations of “Self” and “Other” that exist in both US and Arab nationalist rhetoric. Despite major differences between the two cinematic industries in power, production, and circulation, I argue, the filmmakers in these filmic sites have subjected their imagery of Arab Americans to binaristic portrayals through glorification of Americanness and vilification of Arabness in Hollywood and vice versa in Egyptian cinema, leaving no imagination of Arab Americans as complex communities defined by a multitude of identities and experiences.
SUP:Today’s media environment is a crowded one. From traditional forms like broadcast television and music, to new social media platforms and streaming services, audiences don’t have to look far for cultural productions. Why did you choose film as the means for your comparative analysis? What does film uniquely offer as a site of inquiry?
WM: It is true that our age is saturated with content, especially with the quality improvement of television series and emergence of social media as well as subscription-based platforms. Film remains an important medium with multi-layered importance in popular culture, especially in countries like the United States and Egypt, as it serves a venue for both entertainment and education.
Films are intriguing because they mold visual imagery into codes that reflect and shape both a nation’s collective memory and national identity in an entertaining way. They tend to be accessible to audiences regardless of their language competency, educational status, or cultural background. They often serve as educational tools in a world increasingly centered around, if not mobilized by, mediated images and messages. They also have the power to function as tools for visibility, podiums for authenticity, and mirrors of reality.
And when adding the enriching effects of genres, it becomes obvious that the medium of film is a vehicle of thoughts and emotions that is often packaged as mere entertainment, but that carries the power to connect with audiences in personal terms, voice social commentary, mobilize public sentiments, and patrol the boundaries of national and cultural realms of belonging.
And the process of inclusion and exclusion that goes into all aspects of film making presents itself as a rich site for analysis of constraints and monopolies of power. Therefore, I should emphasize the instrumentality of film imagery especially in relation to this book’s critical site of inquiry, i.e., identity and representation.
SUP:How have your experiences influenced and inspired the task of writing this book?
WM: One of the key contributions of the book is to illustrate how Arab Americans’ struggle for belonging and citizenship is not exclusively a product of US Orientalist and racialized histories. I rather imagine this struggle as one against existing polarizations in the cultural imaginations in both US and Arab state nationalist narratives. This argument is inspired by my personal experience as an Arab American of Yemeni background constantly wrestling with American, Arab, Muslim, and Yemeni narratives of belonging and citizenship.
In my travels, I have encountered conflicting public attitudes and government policies preconfigured to define me and confine my identity within a specific national, ethnic, or even religious frame. During trips to Malaysia, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Yemen over the past few years, people would often question me about US foreign policy towards Arabs and Muslims. Uniting such questions, in most cases, was not so much interest in my scholarship but rather a desire to read my responses through the prism of allegiance. My interlocutors sought to package me as either an American or a Yemeni—identities implicitly presumed to be incompatible.
In the meantime, my return story to the US in the aftermath of every overseas trip has involved an additional layer of security, whether before boarding in Tokyo, London, Dubai, Doha, and Amman, or when landing at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The “SSSS” designation on my boarding passes, which stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection, speaks of an institutional anxiety around my ethnic background and conflates it with a potential act of terrorism.
Since I consider myself as a film buff, I have watched hundreds of films that perpetuate the sense of alienation that I have experienced in travels and while growing up in both Arabic and American cultures. This sense of alienation strips Arab Americans like me of our capability of occupying our own third space, one that does not have to be completely rooted in either Arabic or American cultures, and one that does not present Arab Americans as either aliens to our American culture or traitors to our Arabic heritage. And that’s why the book adds emerging Arab Americans films, limiting as they may be, as an important site for projecting a sense of Arab American authenticity that is about how Arab American individuals define themselves rather than how others define them.
SUP:The American dream is one subject that Egyptian cinema constantly returns to in its portrayals of the Arab American experience. In certain segments of US society there is an increasing disillusionment surrounding the idea of the American dream. Do you see a similar cynicism toward the American dream in more recent Egyptian films?
WM: Egyptian filmmakers have always attached a sense of disillusionment to the American dream and presented it as unrealizable and unrewarding, urging their audience to seek out their own dreams in Egypt. As early as the film Amricany min Ṭanṭa (An American from Tanta, 1954) and as late as Talq Senaʿi (Induced Labor, 2018), Egyptian films have done so as part of a nationalist critique of the public fascination with the American culture. And as I argue in the book, this sentiment is driven less by a hatred of the US than by a sense of insecurity, loss, and anxiety regarding Egypt’s relative appeal as a place to live in and build a future. This is especially the case since many Egyptians would express a desire to live in the US, where hard work, social mobility, and justice are relatively cherished. Some Egyptian corporations have even capitalized on this fascination with the American dream via consumerist trends that primarily market US commodities, pop culture products, and shopping malls.
That’s why Egyptian films not only articulate disillusionment in the American dream but also imagine and advance an alternative Egyptian dream, one predicated on deterring Egyptians from leaving their homeland. This alternative dream will be made in Egypt, one in which migrating in search of social mobility, individual success, and even personal ambition is considered a selfish measure divorced from a commitment to one’s own Egyptian community. It is also worth noting that this simultaneous critique of and construction of alternatives to the American dream not only is limited to the films’ portrayals of Egyptian immigrants but also is deeply critical of the Egyptian elite’s promotion of consumerism and neoliberal economics as a global fulfillment of the American dream in Egypt.
As for American-based experiences, the American dream has always been a socio-political construct meant to uphold the American nationalist project, often entrenched in white privilege, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color. The surveyed Arab American films in the book both celebrate and critique the limitations of the American dream. The films present Arab immigrant characters seeking to fulfill their own aspirations in the US but not without providing insightful critiques of the American dream notion as a celebratory site of inclusion in the American society. The lead Arab immigrant characters in films like American East (2007), Amreeka (2009), and The Citizen (2012) have various strives to fulfill material desires (e.g., houses, jobs, cars, etc.) and seek belonging to the United States, but they are forced to navigate both a racialized system and a post-9/11 reality that constantly challenge their American cultural citizenship. The characters enjoy happy endings with their dreams fulfilled or reconciled but the films are filled with situations and images that question the very idea of dreaming in a country that itself questions the presence of Arab immigrants.
The fact that many Arab American filmmakers and actors have struggled for decades to make their voices heard in Hollywood, an industry reluctant to embrace diverse Arab and Muslim perspectives, is a testimony to many of the critiques that the films themselves communicate.
SUP: In a post 9/11 world, there is an issue of typecasting Arab American talent. But, film making is a multilayered operation. From funding producers, to script writers, and even on marketing teams, what area of film making do you see as most in need of Arab American self-representation?
WM: 9/11, the growth of Arab and Arab American independent film festivals, particularly in the US, has provided Arab American filmmakers with a valuable alternative to casting and narrating their communities, with some limited success in distribution. And the prospect of providing support for Arab Americans seems promising with the competitive rise of such content-streaming services as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Yet, Hollywood presents an institutionalized challenge for truly diverse narratives and experiences. Most Arab and Arab American actors, for example, have struggled against a casting practice that feeds on their vulnerability. Their roles are usually subsidiary and deeply entrenched in a racial hierarchy—despite evidence suggesting consumer demand for more diversity in lead roles.
It is certainly hard to prioritize any aspect of film making because production, writing, acting, filming, and marketing are all parts of a crucial process in film making. But I see the most urgent and past due change within Hollywood is to mainstream images of Arab Americans’ experiences beyond stereotypical lenses of national security and foreign policy. While some Arab American actors like Emmy Award winners Tony Shalhoub and Rami Malek have achieved prominence in Hollywood and transcended being cast in stereotypical ethnic roles, I am not convinced that success for such actors should only be limited to the desire of the privilege of being non-racialized in the industry.
I am for once hopeful that Hollywood’s production companies will experience a shift from their institutionalized lack of appetite to entertain non-mainstream perspectives, particularly ones that feature critical voices and ethnic community narratives. But this will not be possible without truly embracing the notion of multiculturalism. Until then, Hollywood’s positive portrayals of Arab Americans are merely sympathetic and function no more than tokens for inclusion in films that primarily entertain white perspectives.
Fans of Irish crime fiction are no strangers to anticipation. From the classic police procedural to the emerging domestic noir, this genre and its nail-biting stories have exploded across the global literary sphere. And that popularity is in no small part due to the curiosity and excitement that readers feel as they consume this popular fiction. We at Syracuse University Press are feeling the same way about the publication of Guilt Rules All, edited by Elizabeth Mannion and Brian Cliff. Guilt Rules All is an essay collection that explores the roots and also the fluidity of this developing genre. Both scholars and enthusiasts of Irish crime fiction have come together to discuss topics spanning from globalization, to women and violence, and even to Irish historical topics like the Troubles. We asked Cliff and Mannion to tell us a little more about how the project was started, why the collaborative format, and where their love for Irish crime fiction began.
Guilt Rules All hopes to find an audience in both the academic sphere of Irish Studies and with the general readership of Irish crime fiction. How was it trying to balance this diverse readership spanning from scholars to aficionados?
For the most part, it was exciting and a bit liberating. We’ve worked hard to make sure the collection offers insights to Irish Studies scholars new to crime fiction criticism, while doing just as much to welcome experienced crime fiction readers and scholars who may be newer to Irish materials.
Of the five sections of Guilt Rules All, the final discusses the very recently emerged subgenre of domestic noir. This subgenre, and the entirety of Irish crime fiction, is deeply influenced by female writers. How is the discussion of women authors and their work addressed in this collection?
A central goal as we developed this collection was to make the contents reflect the full scope of subgenres and the ways women are writing across all of them, from police procedurals to psychological thrillers. So many women are producing some of the richest, most exciting Irish fiction of any genre, and accounts of Irish crime fiction need to address that in detail. Not enough critical work has yet been done on writers beyond Tana French and Benjamin Black, but any dive into Irish crime writing will reveal that writers like Julie Parsons and Arlene Hunt were there from the earliest stages of the genre’s recent growth.
What unique perspectives do nonacademic writers bring to the discussion of Irish crime fiction, that Guilt Rules All would suffer without?
Mannion: Gerard Brennan has a PhD from Queen’s Belfast, so he has one foot in that academic world, but his other is firmly set in the creative realm. Like Declan Burke, who has perhaps done more than anyone to spread the word about Irish crime fiction’s strengths, Brennan is a seasoned crime writer. Both Declan and Gerard were important to this collection because they were able to discuss their subjects – Steve Cavanagh for Gerard, and Alex Barclay for Declan – from the perspective of practicing novelists. Joe Long’s perspective is that of a hard-core fan. He’s one of the undersung heroes of Irish crime writing in America, a real advocate for these writers. Together, these three contributors reflect some of the different perspectives from which people have done so much to support the genre’s growth in recent decades.
In editing Guilt Rules All, what new or different conclusions did you come to about the Irish crime fiction genre?
Both of us have worked extensively on the genre, Beth with her 2016 edited collection The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel and Brian with his 2018 monograph Irish Crime Fiction. The experience of editing and contributing to Guilt Rules All was another reminder of just how diverse and energetic the genre is, and an exciting chance to see what insights our colleagues have been able to glean from their array of authors. The main conclusion we’ve reached is that Irish crime fiction – in general, and in the particulars given here – is marked by a defining fluidity and a generosity in fusing subgenres. These traits show how both crime fiction and Irish literature are more capacious than they may sometimes seem. It’s our hope that, by tracing these traits, these essays will contribute to a foundation on which to build further accounts of the genre’s role in Irish culture. It’s also become crystal clear to us that there are some amazing scholars out there who want to track those directions.
What was the impetus for Guilt Rules All? Why this book, and why a collaborative project?
We had worked well together on The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel, to which Brian contributed a chapter on John Connolly’s work, and we had a number of discussions about what – beyond our own previous publications – could be done to broaden the discussion’s scope, and to reflect the range of authors who’ve made a place for themselves in that discussion. We also saw that the field was expanding faster than most readers can keep up. It was important to us that an attempt be made to keep pace and—before too much more time passed—capture the impact of some writers who were there before the field gained international attention.
Love of Irish crime fiction shines through every chapter of Guilt Rules All. As this passion propels the collection, can you recall your introduction to the genre? What was the first book or series that lit the spark?
Mannion: My sparks were Declan Hughes and Jane Casey. I was familiar with Declan’s plays, and when I heard he wrote crime fiction, I jumped in. I think Brian is the person who introduced me to Jane’s Maeve Kerrigan series. I was hooked with the first book (The Burning).
Cliff: My reading of crime fiction in general was set off decades ago with the Irish poet Paul Muldoon’s “Immram,” which fuses to delirious effect the Southern California of Chandler and Macdonald with medieval Irish vision quests. My specific love for Irish crime fiction, though, began with John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, Tana French’s Faithful Place, and Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series.
In your opinion, why is Irish crime fiction such a booming genre in today’s global literary field?
As we explore in our introduction, the genre’s growth really kicks in at a point where many of the parameters of Irish fiction in general could seem at times to have been pretty thoroughly delineated, but Irish crime fiction – like other forms of popular fiction in Ireland – has offered a wealth of new angles, perspectives, and approaches, to which scholars are increasingly attending. At the same time, for genre readers outside of Ireland, Irish crime fiction offers characters and contexts that are accessible to a wide range of readers in and beyond the Irish diaspora, while still maintaining a strong sense of specificity, a combination that seems to give readers an easy path into a complex world.
A Conversation with Rick Burton & Scott Pitoniak authors of “Forever Orange: The Story of Syracuse University”
SU Press: March 24th marks the sesquicentennial of Syracuse University. What in SU’s 150-year history do you think readers will find most fascinating and why?
Scott: Since its inception in 1870, SU was ahead of the curve, opening its doors to females, students of color and international students long before other institutions became inclusive. When I think of SU, I don’t think just of Jim Brown or Dick Clark or Bob Costas, but also of pioneering alumni such as Ruth Colvin, who founded literacy volunteers, and Belva Lockwood, the first woman to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and run a full campaign for president. I think of Dr. Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the first artificial heart, and literary giants such as Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson and George Saunders. I think of Hollywood and Broadway heavyweights, like Vanessa Williams, Aaron Sorkin and Detective Columbo himself – Peter Falk. And I think of SU’s strong ties to NASA, especially Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle pilot and commander. The list of extraordinary SU people in all walks of life goes on and on – so much so that Rick and I found it impossible to include everyone who deserved to be included, given the space and time constraints.
SU Press: How about faculty that left the greatest impact?
Rick: We showcased/featured approximately 20 in our “It’s Academic” chapter, but could have written about 200 – if not more.
SU Press: How has the university changed the most in its 150 years?
Rick: I’m not sure that it has. It’s bigger and more famous – a globally recognized ‘brand’ – but it still sits on its hill overlooking the Onondaga Valley and the city of Syracuse. It still attracts amazing students and faculty and it still generates world-class and world altering results. Scott and I may share a bias, a love for Syracuse, but there is no denying that the flag so many of us treasure means a great deal to a lot of us.
Scott: I agree with Rick. To paraphrase that great philosopher and wordsmith, Yogi Berra, “it’s changed, but it hasn’t.” It’s stayed true to its original mission statement espoused by founding father, Bishop Jesse Truesdale Peck. Undoubtedly inspired by the women’s suffragist movement at nearby Seneca Falls and the abolition of slavery brought about by the end of the Civil War just five years earlier, Peck called for admissions to be open to all persons, regardless of gender, skin color or religion. In his inaugural address, he said, “brains and heart shall have a fair chance.”
SU Press: What was the most rewarding part of writing this fascinating book?
Rick: I would say working with Scott and discovering the fine details on so many nuanced stories. We’ve all heard bits and pieces about someone famous or a notable event, but have rarely been able to find them in one setting with rich narrative and stunning photography.
Scott: I second Rick’s sentiments. It was wonderful working with him and getting to know him better as a person. As a former student and current journalist, I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about my alma mater. How wrong I was! This turned into a labor of love because I’m a history buff and because I’ll always be grateful for the lasting impact Syracuse has had on me. SU truly was a place where I blossomed as a person; a place that launched this five-decade-long story-telling career of mine. To be able to do a deep-dive, and tell the story of this place that’s profoundly influenced my life, Rick’s life and the lives of millions of others was amazing.
SU Press: How did you cover 150 years of history in one book?
Rick: To quote the Beatles, we turned left at Greenland. The more appropriate answer is that we only scratched the surface. SU is historically significant in so many ways and we approached our task of wanting to make the treasured moments, the alums, faculty and events come to life. But entire books could be written about any one of the subjects we touched upon. Let’s say it this way … we tried, with a historian’s eye (think of us as a giant Cyclops) … to make the history of the last 150 years come to life through the words and the actions of the people who created that history.
SU Press: What are your personal favorite parts of the book, images, stories?
Rick: Springsteen’s Born to Run album cover; the New York Yankees logo; F. Story Musgrave fixing the Hubble Telescope; Dr. King on the Mall in Washington D.C.; the six-overtime box score from a historic basketball game Syracuse easily could’ve lost; a story about the Jabberwocky; photos of M Street, etc. The list for each of us would be endless because each story we wrote helped comprise the mosaic we were intending. And each photo or graphic colored those stones so that someone could see Orange in the spectrum of hues presented.
Scott: I think the stories that resonated most for me were the essays about 44 alumni of note in the middle of the book. F. Story Musgrave’s story, in particular, struck a chord. He is one of the most significant astronauts of all-time, a true genius who earned five graduate degrees and also became a surgeon. What makes his story all the more remarkable is that he dropped out of high school to join the Armed Forces. At the end of his service, he applied to Syracuse. Because he didn’t have a high school diploma, several members of the admissions committee wanted to reject him. But one committee member advocated on Musgrave’s behalf, saw great potential in him, so Musgrave was accepted. His story speaks to the bigger story of how Syracuse has often taken chances on “marginal” students like Musgrave with remarkable results.
I also loved researching and writing about famous visitors, everyone from Presidents of the United States to Babe Ruth. One of my favorite stories is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “auditioned” his I Have a Dream and I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speeches on the SU campus. Those speeches, along with Lyndon Johnson’s “Gulf of Tonkin” address during the dedication of Newhouse I, are reminders that history often happened here.
SU Press: Why should readers be interested in Forever Orange?
Rick: If they have a connection to Syracuse University, Forever Orange gives them a treasure trove of short stories, long features and images that will allow them to appreciate the breadth and diversity of our university. SU has really been an amazing place for the last 150 years and the very entities still survive in their original form from 1870. I think it’s safe to say that the mission envisioned at the beginning is one that still resonates today.Scott: Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious! That’s why they should read the book. 😉 In all seriousness, that funny-sounding, non-sensical, 14-syllable word popularized in the film Mary Poppins has Orange origins. While researching Forever Orange, I discovered the Oxford English Dictionary traces the word’s birth to a column written by SU student Helen Herman in the student newspaper in 1931. The word means “extremely good and wonderful.” We have hundreds of these “Wow! I didn’t know that!” revelations in this book, which we obviously hope readers will find extremely good and wonderful.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked our acquisitions editor Peggy Solic to share a few of her favorite SU Press women’s studies titles. Her selections show the essential role women have played in societies around the world, inspiring females to continue working towards equality between genders.
While I haven’t yet watched Scandal, this volume has inspired me to add it to my must-watch list! It brings together scholars who take a critical look at the complex interplay of race, gender, sexuality, and representation on the show, and audience reaction both to the show in general and to specific episodes.
This is a fascinating look at Irish American women active in both labor and Irish nationalist movements, as well as the women’s suffrage movement. Between 1880 and 1920, these women had a transnational perspective – advocating for labor reform and regulation, critiquing industrial capitalism, and pursuing cross-class alliances in suffrage organizations, as well as advocating for Irish nationalism.
Thisbeautifulbook follows Nina Shengold’s year-long challenge to walk along the Ashokan Reservoir in Kingston, NY every single day (not nearly every day, but every single day). Leaving her phone at home enables Nina to keenly observe both the natural world (encountering bald eagles, bears, and deer) and other human beings who walk alongside her. Nina’s determination to engage with the natural world around her has inspired me to spend more time outside, take up a running habit, and pay closer attention to the world around me.
This is a brilliant book that follows a diverse group of women in Istanbul and looks at what exercise means in their lives – how their relationship to it influences their self-conceptions, how that relationship to exercise is influenced by cultural messaging, but also how it empowers them to resist it, and how their engagement with exercise is interconnected with their identities as women, mothers, daughters, friends, and Istanbulites. I can’t wait to see it in print!
This is an important study that looks at the lives of twelve men and women who worked as interpreters for the US army in Iraq. These men and women had to negotiate lives in both Iraq and the US, on and off base, and were often caught in situations made complex by the US military, immigration policies, and life as refugees, as well as gendered expectations and obligations, love of family, and economic needs.
The Asian Review of Bookscalled Gaia, Queen of Ants “so impressive is the novel that one need not be familiar with other Uzbek works or culture, or even other Central Asian writing, to recognize its high quality. Any patience the novel may demand from the reader is an effort well-rewarded.”
Tabletreviewed Moishe Rozenbaumas’ autobiography, The Odyssey of an Apple Thief, calling it “a remarkably compelling read.” This review praises Rozenbaumas’ ability to objectively reflect on many decades of his life, stating “Rozenbaumas is eager to reflect on his life, good and bad, rather than gloss over the difficult and unflattering moments.”
In honor of Black History Month, we interviewed author Charles Kastner who has written multiple books on the 1928 and 1929 ‘Bunion Derbies’. His most recent book on these transcontinental races, Race across America, focuses on the struggles of one of the few black racers participating in the derbies. Eddie ‘the Sheik’ Gardner ran through states that did everything except welcome him, yet persevered and inspired Black Americans throughout this journey.
Do you remember when you first learned about the ‘Bunion Derbies’? Did you learn about Eddie Gardner then as well, or did that come to light throughout your years of research?
My introduction to the Bunion Derbies began while my father-in-law lay dying in a hospital bed in Seattle—a sad start to a topic that would occupy my time for the next twenty-two years. He told me about a footrace he remembered from his childhood that started in Port Townsend and finished in Port Angeles, Washington, a race distance of about fifty miles. At first, his statement seemed hard to believe: I had no idea that people were competing at the ultra-marathon distances so long ago.
Several months after his death, I traveled from my home in Seattle to Port Angeles and began scrolling through rolls of microfiche at the city local library to see if I could uncover any information about the race. This was before the days of digitized newspapers. Finally, in the roll marked “June 1929,” I found articles in the Port Angeles Evening News about what was billed as the “Great Port Townsend to Port Angeles Bunion Derby.” My first reaction was “What is a Bunion Derby?” and my second was “Why would a bunch of ‘average Joes’—lumberjacks, farmers, postmen, and laborers—attempt such a thing?” Of the twenty-two men who started, only eleven finished the event, as they had little training and little understanding of what they had gotten themselves into. Most crossed the finish line with blisters the size of half dollars, shoes oozing blood, and legs so sore and cramped that one finisher had to crawl across the finish line–all this for small cash prizes that ranged from $100 for first to $10 for tenth. One article noted that local officials had dreamed up the event after the famous sports agent Charles C. Pyle held his first-of-its-kind trans-America footrace, or “Bunion Derby” as it was nicknamed by the press, in the spring of 1928. The article also mentioned that a Seattle runner, Eddie “the Sheik” Gardner, had competed in the event. That information piqued my interest.
After I returned home, I went to the main branch of the Seattle Public Library, pulled rolls of microfilm from the newspaper file and began scanning through the sports pages of the Seattle Post- Intelligencer and the Seattle Times. I quickly found article after article about the event starting in late February 1928. I then realized that Seattle’s entry, Eddie Gardner, was black. I wondered about the challenges a black runner would face running in an integrated footrace, especially when the 1928 race took the derby through Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, where either by custom or law, blacks and whites were not supposed to compete against each other in sporting events. I also learned that Gardner earned his nickname “the Sheik” from his trademark outfit he wore when he competed in local footraces. Wearing a white towel tied around his head, with a white sleeveless shirt and white shorts, he reminded his Seattle fans of Rudolph Valentino, a 1920’s heartthrob who starred in the silent films “The Sheik” in 1921 and “The Son of the Sheik” in 1926. For the rest of his life, local sports writers referred to him as Eddie “the Sheik” Gardner.
How did you decide to specifically highlight Gardner out of the five African American runners who participated in this race?
Eddie Gardner was the only black runner who could challenge his white competitors for the $25,000 first place prize money in the 1928 derby. The other African American bunioneers were out of contention for any prize money–the top ten finishers with the lowest cumulative times won cash that ranged from $25,000 for first to $1,000 for tenth–and hoped only to complete the 3,400-mile course. Eddie Gardner’s elite status made him the focus of the taunts and death threats that white fans felt free to hurl at him as the bunioneers passed through Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Gardner had a brutal passage through these three Jim Crow states. In Texas, he held back from challenging the lead runners out of fear of losing his life. When the race entered western Oklahoma, a white farmer rode behind Gardner with a gun trained on his back, daring him to pass a white man. At that point Eddie was falling out of contest for the prize money, and he had to decide if he wanted to risk his life and resume challenging the lead runners. His courageous decision to do so became a source of pride for the African American communities he passed through. The black press picked up his story, and he became a nation-wide hero to black America.
Is there any specific piece of Gardner’s story that has really stuck with you throughout your years of researching? Or a favorite part of the book itself?
Here’s the one that stands out for me. On the 24th day of the second bunion derby in 1929, Eddie was in third place after covering 1,040 miles since leaving New York City on March 31st. The next day, the derby would cross the Mississippi River into Missouri where Jim Crow segregation was the law of the land. He had been here before in 1928 and he knew what awaited him.
Despite danger, he wanted to make a statement: He ran at a sub-three-hour marathon pace on the short, 22-mile course that passed through St. Louis on the way to the finish at Maplewood, Missouri. And he had added something new to his race outfit. Eddie wore his trademark “Sheik” outfit with a white towel tied around his head, and a sleeveless white shirt, with his number 165 pinned on the shirtfront. A few inches below the number, he had sewn an American flag. It was about six inches wide and was put there for all to see. Poignantly, without words, Gardner announced his return to the Jim Crow South. Death could await him at any crossroad or from any passing car, but he kept going, unbowed by fear. Whites might kill him, beat him, or threaten him, but they could not change the fact that on this day he was running as the leader of the greatest footrace of his age and giving hope to millions of his fellow African Americans who saw him race or who read about his exploits in the black press. In the birth year of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eddie crossed the Mississippi River with an American flag on his chest, a man willing to die for his cause.
How did you conduct your research in order to provide such a thorough account of Gardner’s experiences without being able to communicate directly with him? Are there any specific methods you use to conduct this type of research?
Reconstructing the life of someone long dead is a challenge. It’s a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together; each piece of information adds something to the emerging picture. Census data and death certificates helped a lot. Another important source was Eddie’s federal personnel file. In the 1950’s he worked for the U.S. Navy, refitting ships at the Bremerton Naval Shipyard near Seattle. Gardner needed a security clearance to work there. To get one, he had to fill out a lengthy background questionnaire, which was verified by Federal investigators prior to his employment. That document fleshed out a lot of his past life. Another source was Gardner’s transcripts and yearbooks from Tuskegee Institute where he attended from 1914-1918. I spent a week at what is now Tuskegee University combing through its archives. These sources combined with hundreds of newspaper articles written about the derbies, and four personal narratives, helped me come up with a detailed picture of Mr. Gardner’s life.
I started with the two bunion derbies, and both were relatively easy to follow. The 1928 edition started in Los Angeles on March 4, 1928, and finished in Madison Square Garden on May 26, 1928, after 84 days and 3,400 miles of daily ultra-marathon racing. Each day’s race or “stage run” as it was known in the vernacular of the derby stopped at a given city or town for the night. The 1929 race reversed course.
After each stage run, a cadre of nationally syndicated reporters that traveled with Pyle filed stories about that day’s race. Combine these syndicated stories with local reporting and I could piece together a detailed account of both derbies. This involved many hours of research to determine what newspapers still survived from a given town, ordering the microfilm through inter-library loan, and then reading through rolls of microfilm and copying any pertinent articles I found. All told, I reviewed more than 75 different newspapers, four first-hand accounts of the races, and a scattering of secondary accounts of the events. In all the articles I read, only one local newspaper, Missouri’s Springfield Daily News, noted that whites had been “especially [unpleasant] to the Negro runners” in Missouri.
Then I turned to the black press. From stories written in such newspapers as Oklahoma’s Black Dispatch, the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the California Eagle, and Seattle’s Northwest Enterprise, I quickly realized that there was an untold story about the bunion derbies that the white press ignored, namely, the harassment and death threats Gardner had to endure in Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. From there, I tried to flesh out the life stories of the individual runners by following the methods I have outlined in my previous responses.
I noticed on your website that you participate in a variety of marathons with your family, often to raise money for the Benaroya Research Institute and their efforts in finding causes and cures for autoimmune diseases. Would you mind explaining “Team Mary” and your connections to the BRI?
My wife, Mary, and I were both marathon runners and we spent many happy hours together training for races in the 1990’s. Our highlight was running the first marathon of the new century in Hamilton, New Zealand on January 1, 2000. Since then, she has faced several health challenges that has made running impossible for her. Mary has three autoimmune diseases— Relapsing Polychondritis, which attacks her cartilage, Dermatomyositis, which attacks her muscles, and Crohn’s Disease, which attacks her digestive tract. These diseases have made life a daily struggle for her. It’s been heart breaking to watch this brilliant athlete face such difficult challenges, but we’re working to give her and others like her hope.
In 2012, we formed Team Mary to raise money for research conducted at the Benaroya Research Institute (BRI) to fight rare autoimmune diseases. BRI has been in Seattle for more than fifty years and has made major breakthroughs in redirecting faulty immune systems so they don’t attack healthy tissues, especially for rare autoimmune diseases. See https://charleskastner.com/team-mary/
We wanted to start a grassroots effort where neighbors, friends, and those suffering from autoimmune diseases and their family members could come together to do something positive. From running in triathlons, to public speaking, to holding fund raising events, Team Mary has been an active fund raiser for BRI. Mary and I were Peace Corps volunteers and we believe strongly that individual actions can change the world for the better. This is our way to make a difference. If you want to join our team, here’s a way to do so.
As a thank you for contributing $200 or more to BRI, I’ll send you a free autographed copy of Race across America and make you a member of Team Mary. Follow the link to contribute to BRI, write in “Mary Kastner” in the “in honor of” line, and I’ll send the book off to you. https://www.benaroyaresearch.org/support-us/ways-to-give