Author Archive

An Interview with David Tatham author of Winslow Homer and His Cullercoats Paintings

Available this Winter

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.

Beach Scene, Cullercoats, 1881. Watercolor over graphite on cream wove paper, 11 7/16 x 19 1/2 in. Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1924. 1955.1490. Image courtesy Clark Art Institute. clarkart.edu.

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?

Perils of the Sea, 1881. Watercolor over graphite on cream wove paper, 14 5/8 x 20 15/16 in. Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1927. 1955.774. Image courtesy Clark Art Institute. clarkart.edu.

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.

David Tatham photo by Nicole Waite


UNIVERSITY PRESS WEEK BLOG TOUR

#RaiseUP: Local Voices

Peggy Solic

“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


This month scholars will participate in the 75th Annual Iroquois Research Conference. In celebration of this conference, Syracuse University Press is featuring an interview with Laurence M. Hauptman.

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 the Seneca 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 in Foreign 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.”[1] 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. 



INTERNATIONAL TRANSLATION DAY featured interview with Rachel Mines, translator of ‘The Rivals and Other Stories’

Cover for The Rivals and Other Stories by Jonah Rosenfeld, translated by Rachel Mines

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.


Religion and Politics an interview with ‘Tabernacle of Hate’ author Kerry Noble

Tabernacle of Hate Cover

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’

Author Kerry Noble

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 Team had 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Tabernacle of Hate Cover


International Literacy Day Featured Interview with “Off the Beaten Path” author Ruth Colvin

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.


Tipping our cap to the great players of the Negro Leagues

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. 

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In Black Baseball Entrepreneurs 1860-1901Lomax 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.  

book cover

In the second and final book in the mini-series, Black Baseball Entrepreneurs 1902-1931: Operating by Any Means NecessaryLomax 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. 


Despite the Yoke

Dewaine Farria, author the forthcoming novel Revolutions of All Colors, writes about race, patriotism, and public service for The War on the Rocks. His essay is excerpted below.

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?”





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Long: Billy Eichner would be an excellent choice!

 


Waleed Mahdi on Arab Americans in film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editor Q&A: Guilt Rules All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Author Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


International Women’s Day

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

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

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

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

by Tara M. McCarthy

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

Reservoir Year: A Walker’s Book of Days 

by Nina Shengold

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

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

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

by Madeline Otis Campbell

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


Mid-Winter News and Reviews

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

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

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

Author Talks and Interviews

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

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


Author Spotlight: Charles Kastner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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

Leveling the Playing Field

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

Beyond Home Plate

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


AAUP #UniversityPressWeek

“COMMUNITY”

Author Sean Kirst discusses today’s theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AAUP #UniversityPressWeek

“Speaking Up and Speaking Out”

Author Kelly Belanger discusses today’s theme

I’m in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this week for a conference on Community Writing, a relatively modest-sized gathering of about 350 professors and local community members who see speaking out and speaking up on social issues as part of their personal and professional callings.

I find my colleagues’ commitments and passion inspiring, yet I don’t usually think of myself as an activist. I identify first as a writing teacher and a writer. I have spoken out on inequalities for women in sports by using my academic research skills and persisting in my quest to piece together a little-known history. I discovered how and why courageous individuals decided to speak out in the 1970s movement for gender equality in athletics. This movement took off in the 1970s when Congress, through Title IX, made sex discrimination illegal in federally funded schools.

Like some of the women I wrote about at Michigan State University, Temple, Brown, Texas my personality type is best described as introverted. Like Rollin Haffer at Temple, Marianne Mankowski at MSU, or Peggy Layne at Vanderbilt, I don’t typically seek public attention, and I prize harmonious relationships with friends, colleagues, and family. I value studying a problem from many angles, often waiting for others to speak and take the lead before offering my perspective.

But writing Invisible Seasons Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports reminded me that social change movements require a symphony of voices, perspectives, and divergent rhetorical styles. Speaking up and speaking out is a responsibility. It’s a necessity. It has consequences and demands courage. When each of us, with our different styles and strategies, steps up to play our part, changes for the good of us all can begin.

Kelly Belanger, author of Invisible Seasons: Title IX and the Fight for Equity in College Sports is a professor of English and director of the university writing program at Valparaiso University.


2019 Veterans Writing Award Winner!

We are thrilled to announce the winner of the 2019 Veterans Writing Award is Dewaine Farria for his novel Revolutions of All Colors. Farria’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, CRAFT, Drunken Boat, Outpost Magazine, and on the Afropunk website. He is a frequent contributor to The Mantle. He holds an MA in International and Area Studies from the University of Oklahoma and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. As a U.S. Marine, Dewaine served in Jordan and Ukraine. Besides his stint in the military, Dewaine has spent most of his professional life working for the United Nations, with assignments in the Russian North Caucasus, Kenya, Somalia, and Occupied Palestine. He presently lives in the Philippines with his wife, daughter, two sons, two cats, and a dog.

Farria answered a few questions for us about his writing and what inspires him.

SUP: Has your military service influenced your writing? In what ways?

DF: The Marine Corps taught me how much of life revolves around consistency and habits. The discipline I developed in the Marine Corps helped shape my, “every morning, butt in the chair” approach to writing. Certainly, my time in the military also heavily influenced my thoughts on patriotism, masculinity, and violence—themes that frequently pop up in my work.

SUP: You’ve published both non-fiction and fiction in various print and online platforms. Do you see each as engaging with the reader in different ways?

DF: Good writing—whether it be poetry, fiction, or non-fiction—conveys truth. I consider myself a pretty forgiving reader. For a good story I’ll tolerate self-indulgent language, grammatical liberties, and slips in point of view. What I can’t abide is dishonesty; nothing disengages me from a piece of writing more quickly than the creeping desire to call “bullshit.” Convincing the reader to trust your narrator is the challenge and this is true regardless of genre or point of view—including for pieces with heavily journalistic elements (like this essay that I wrote for the New York Times last year).

SUP: What was the inspiration for this novel?

DF: My father inspired the novel. I built the book out of a short story called “Walking Point,” which contains a character loosely based on my dad. An early version of the story won second place in Line of Advance’s Colonel Darren L. Warren Writing Contest and can be found here.

SUP: Are you currently working on any writing projects?

DF: I’m about halfway done with a collection of short stories. Earlier this year, CRAFT published, “The Knife Intifada,” the first story from the collection. After I finish up these eight short stories, I plan to begin work on a collection of linked essays.


Celebrate Short Story Month this May!

Short stories are the perfect way to discover an author’s work, great for when you don’t have the time or mojo to commit to a 400 page novel, and a brainy impulse purchase on your phone or e-reader. This month we encourage you to pick up a new story collection or share one with a friend, and we have a few suggestions to get you started.

The Rebels

“The stories here show a great breadth, empathy for and insight into his subjects. His ability to move elegantly through different styles is not just a welcome addition to the Irish short story tradition but also a vital one.” —Books Ireland

Richard Power (1928-1970), an accomplished novelist, short story writer, and playwright, explores the life of of an Irish mother and adolescent girl in The Rebels. This collection of short stories captures the daily lives of urban and rural dwellers in Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. He tackles themes of coming of age, the tensions between modern and traditional life, and romantic love in his beautiful and vivid tales. This memorable collection, arranged by James MacKillop, gives new life to Richard Power’s voice and the fans of the Irish short story tradition.

The Cocktail Hour

“I like a little mystery and for people to walk away from a story thinking of various possibilities. In terms of this collection as a whole, I would love readers to feel like they’ve been somewhere else for a few hours; somewhere that has been a little though-provoking; a place of meditation.” —Sophia Hillan, Author

The Cocktail Hour includes moving tales on the themes of sibling love and how it develops over time. These short stories retell the journey’s of various individuals in different periods of their lives. It includes one young boy’s contemplation of the wars in Ireland and Germany and it’s effect on his imaginative mind. One woman’s playful New York adventure and how it becomes a confrontation with external reality. And lastly, a dramatic monologue from one of Jane Austen’s bitter relatives that is directed at Austen herself.

Vilna My Vilna

“Jewish Vilna is forever gone, but this translation of Vilna My Vilna does much to keep its pale memory alive. Helen Mintz renders Karpinowitz’s slangy, colloquial Yiddish into a lively and idiomatic English and graces both Karpinowitz’s stories, and even Jewish Vilna itself, with a second life.
–Colorado Review


In this collection, Karpinowitz portrays, with compassion and intimacy, the dreams and struggles of the poor and disenfranchised Jews of his native city before the Holocaust. His stories provide an affectionate and vivid portrait of poor working women and men, like fishwives, cobblers, and barbers, and people who made their living outside the law, like thieves and prostitutes. This collection also includes two stories that function as intimate memoirs of Karpinowitz’s childhood growing up in his father’s Vilna Yiddish theater.

Impossibly Small Spaces

“I am interested in the vulnerable moments people can encounter. My characters often find themselves facing ordinary or extraordinary obstacles. Some will be graceful in these challenges and others will blunder, hurt others and themselves in the process. Fiction must feel emotionally authentic even as the situations and characters are pulled from my imagination. I believe we expand our understanding of human behavior through stories.”
Lisa C. Taylor, Author  

In Lisa Taylor’s second collection of short stories, a woman locks a man in an airplane bathroom, two brothers rewrite their past, and strangers in an airport are thrown together through tragedy. Taylor explores the ideas of confinement and expansion with both humor and angst, as characters of all ages and backgrounds are continually forced to redefine who they are, and how they think.

Who Will Die Last?

“All the stories are about people whose past struggles to fit their present-a rich and universal subject. Because the setting is Israel, these struggles can escalate into matters of life and death. Sometimes, as the title hauntingly indicates, Ehrlich’s characters triumph by simply dying last.”
Iowa Review

Both Hilarious and sad at the same time, Ehrlich’s collection of short stories, takes his characters on a tantalizing journey through their souls. His understated writing style transforms even the most heartbreaking plots into an uplifting and funny tale. Israel’s special unique history, landscapes, and conflicts add to the drama and passion of the collection. The themes discussed relate to gay life in Israel, loneliness, and the importance of community in time of sorrow and tragedy. Rather than a single translator, this collection was translated by various translators, bring out the diversity of voices in the stories.

Monarch of the Square

“Zafzaf offers visions of Moroccan culture and its traditions in an easygoing style that is well-nigh incomparable.”—World Literature Today

Monarch of the Square is Mohammed Zafzaf’s first collection of work that has been translated into English. This anthology is a tribute to his influence on an entire generation of Moroccan storytellers.
Zafzaf’s stories portray all aspects of Moroccan life and shows the struggle to survive in such a challenging place that is constantly changing. His writing explores the various myths, beliefs, and traditions that operate within his culture, while questioning it all in an easy-going, conversational manner.

These six books and the rest of our short story collection is available for purchase online at our website.


Put Poetry First this Month with Books from Sheep Meadow Press!

April is the month when the world celebrates the importance of poetry in our lives. To join the celebration we’re highlighting five books of poetry from our press and our distribution partner, Sheep Meadow Press. We hope these selections will spark your interest, and encourage you to read a poem, share a poem, or write your own poem.

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In the Alley of the Friend

In the Alley of the Friend is a translation of the Persian book Dar Kuy-e Dust which is about the fourteenth century poet Hafez, who is often recognized as the most original Persian poet of all time. Scholars have studied his work for centuries, exploring his life and his deeply moving poetry of love, spirituality, and protest. Ghanoonparvar’s translation of scholar Shahrokh Meskoob’s analysis of Hafez’s work provides profound insight into the poets thoughts and spirit.

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The Noise of the Rain

Sarah Plimpton’s The Noise of the Rain illustrates her collected poems with simplistic black on white and white on black drawings. Both an artist and poet, some have referred to her creations as being as quiet as the moments just before sleep, almost like preludes to dreams. Word choice and the way she arranges her poetry exudes a certain simple intensity. You can find her books in the The Museum of Fine Arts, The New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Winters Come, Summers Gone

Winters Come, Summers Gone is a collection of selected poems by the notable Howard Moss.
This book combines work from his first three published volumes with fourteen new poems. Moss was an American poet, critic, and the poetry editor of The New Yorker for nearly forty years. He wrote eleven books of poetry and even won the National Book award in 1972. Much of his poetry centers around the theme of love in its various forms.

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Perhaps Bag

Perhaps Bag is a collection of poems by acclaimed British poet Carol Rumens. Starting with her first set of poems in 1968 to her most recent and unpublished pieces from 2017, Rumens “retains her feminine voice but extends her sympathies beyond feminism” (Anne Stevenson). She has written fourteen books of poetry and currently serves as a Professor of Creative Writing at Bangor University, in Wales.

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Snow Part

Perhaps one of the most distinguishable poets of all time, Paul Celan, described Schneepart as his “strongest and boldest” book. It’s a response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and is a collection of poetry haunted by images of violence and resistance in a dark European century. Snow Part is the first published English translation of Schneepart. Its seventy poems were published in 1971, a year after Celan’s death. Translator Ian Fairley includes twenty posthumous poems that are closely related to the themes found in Schneepart.

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To learn more or purchase any of the books listed on this page, visit our website!



Discover The Grandest Madison Square Garden

Learn about Suzanne Hinman’s latest book in our interview where we discuss art, architecture, and scandal in 1890’s New York City.

The Grandest Madison Square Garden tells the story behind the 1890 construction of Madison Square Garden and the eighteen–foot nude sculpture of Diana, the Roman Virgin Goddess of the Hunt, that crowned it. Author Suzanne Hinman delves into the fascinating private lives of the era’s most prominent architect and sculptor, revealing the nature of their intimate relationship. She shows how both men created a new era of art which meshed European styles with American vitality. The Grandest Madison Square Garden tells the tale of architecture, art, and spectacle amid the elegant yet scandal-ridden culture of Gotham’s decadent era.

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Suzanne Hinman holds a PhD in American art history and has been a curator, gallerist, museum director, and professor. She served as the director of galleries at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was the associate director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth. We interviewed Hinman about her experience writing The Grandest Madison Square Garden to better understand the ins and outs of this time in history.

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What inspired you to write about the lives and achievements of architect Stanford White and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens?

It is so difficult to recall exactly, as I began more than 12 years ago, largely inspired, I would have to say, by the beauty of their creations, separately, and then even more so together. I had always loved the Italian-inspired architecture of McKim, Mead, and White, whether in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. or anywhere else I could find it. I was also intrigued by the life of Stanford White, the most exuberant, amazing, creative of the three partners. When I first moved to New Hampshire, I visited the town of Cornish and discovered the incredibly beautiful work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, set at Aspet, his home that sparked the beginning of the Cornish Art Colony and is now a National Historic Site. And when I discovered that these two men not just knew each other but were dearest friends who often collaborated together, it was even better.

I probably first discovered the Diana sculpture that topped the tower of Madison Square Garden while visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where in a half-size version she welcomes visitors to the grand courtyard of the American Wing. It took a few years before I was able to see the actual surviving 1893 version Diana, reigning over the Great Stair Balcony at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and that was an amazing moment.

Which part of researching for the Grandest Madison Square Garden was the most personally interesting to you?

I truly loved it all. Of course, visiting archives that held the letters and notes actually written by my two key players, architect Stanford White and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was definitely an incredible experience–touching (in gloves) the pieces of paper, holding them in my hands, studying the signatures, the extra bits written in the margins, and all the wonderful information they revealed. Among the most important collections were the Avery Architectural and Fine Art Library at Columbia and the New York Historical Society for the papers of Stanford White and the McKim, Mead & White firm. For Augustus Saint-Gaudens, it was the Saint-Gaudens Papers at Rauner Special Collections, Baker Library, at Dartmouth College.

The second major source of research information was the newspapers of the day, and that was quite exciting also, finding contemporary accounts written the very day, filled with so much information, much of which had not been seen or noted for more than a hundred years. I loved the detective work, stumbling on amazing new bits as I searched newspapers archives now so accessible online. The discoveries I made, including a long-forgotten scandal regarding Saint-Gaudens and his nude models and a new theory regarding the crime-of-the-century murder of White at the Garden were quite exciting!

Do you think your background in art history has influenced your writing style? If so, how?

I think it was an interwoven process, that my writing style derives from wanting to tell a good story and that led me to the field of art history. I fell in love with art and art history while still a teenager, when I wanted to know the stories behind the artists and their work. My background as an art historian has allowed me to know the sources and dive deeply into the research, but still, my goal remains telling a good story, not simply for an academic audience but for a general audience with an interest in art, architecture, history, life in the Gilded Age, and so forth. I should add that the book also examines significant elements of LGBTQ history, as well as the history of sports in America, so much of which occurred at Madison Square Garden.

What was the most difficult aspect of your twelve-year research and writing process?

There was no difficult aspect to the research and writing process. I absolutely loved it: from the excitement of discovery to putting the bits and pieces together into a good story that I could see unfolding inside my head. There was nothing I would rather do than sit at my computer in my messy little home office, spinning my straw into gold.

The difficult part came towards the end, finding just the right publisher who would realize the market for the book, that it was not written just for academics but for the general public and that there was a real audience for the subject. Luckily Syracuse University Press was that publisher, and the book fit neatly within their existing series on the history of New York state.

Why read The Grandest Madison Square Garden? (in 50 words or less)

To start with a couple of kind reviews, “it’s a splendid story,” as “vivid and enthralling as a novel,” revealing the fascinating private lives of the era’s most prominent architect and sculptor while telling the remarkable and sometimes scandal–ridden story behind the design and construction of the fabulous 1890 Madison Square Garden and the nude sculpture that crowned it.

New York, NY (1890)

Read more about The Grandest Madison Square Garden and purchase the text on the Syracuse University Press website today!


International Women’s Day

Celebrate International Women’s Day by checking out some of the Syracuse University Press’s many female-focused titles. We hope this selection of books written by women, about women, and about women studies will illuminate the impact females have had on society and the world.

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Sylvia Porter

Sylvia Porter: America’s Original Personal Finance Columnist discusses the life of one of the most admired women of the twentieth century. A pioneer for both male and female journalists, Porter established a new genre of newspaper writing while also carving a space for women in the male-dominated fields of finance and journalism. Tracy Lucht traces Porter’s professional legacy, identifying the strategies she used to pave the way for not only herself, but female writers everywhere.

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Athena’s Daughters

Athena’s Daughters: Televisions New Women Warriors examines the complex relationship between feminism and violence in popular television shows that feature women warriors. This book is made up of individual essays based in feminist theoretical debate about alternative feminist storytelling in the media. Editors Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy provide a cutting-edge forum to recognize women’s increasing role in popular culture as action heroes.

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Running for All the Right Reasons

Running for All the Right Reasons: A Saudi-born Woman’s Pursuit of Democracy is the story of Ferial Masry, the first Saudi American to run for political office in U.S. history. As a recent immigrant and naturalized citizen, Masry surpassed all the odds by winning the write-in vote for the California State Assembly seat. This book recounts Masry’s childhood in Mecca and her decision to emigrate to the United States, as well as her career as an educator and her bold entry into the political sphere. Her journey is truly remarkable.

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Arab Women’s Lives Retold

Arab Women’s Lives Retold: Exploring Identity Through Writing is a collection of essays that challenges the stereotypes of Middle Eastern women by analyzing the autobiographical writing of various Arab novelists, poets, and artists. This book explores the ways female Arab writers have spoken about their roles and identities in different social settings. As a whole these writings provide a clearer picture on the impact of identity and global politics on Arab women’s rights.

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Editor’s Favorites

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Respectability & Reform

I’m extremely proud to have worked with Tara McCarthy on Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism (1880–1920). McCarthy makes use of meticulous archival research to recount the ways Irish American women contributed to the women’s suffrage movement and Irish nationalist movement in America. With lively prose, compelling images, and exciting newspaper accounts, McCarthy gives us a provocative, informative, and important book about the vital role women play in social and political reform. It’s a model that is especially important to honor, learn from, and be encouraged by today.
Deborah Mannion, Acquisitions Editor

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Mihrî Hatun

Mihrî Hatun was an early Ottoman poet, far ahead of her time in the subversiveness and boldness of her work. She challenged traditional notions of gender in the Ottoman court when knowledge production was thought to belong solely to educated, elite men. I loved working on Didem Havlioglu’s elegant study of Mihrî—here, we get to read the poetry, understand this remarkable woman’s life, and recognize the foundational role she continues to play in the intellectual history of the Middle East.
Suzanne Guiod, Acquisitions Editor


Top 5 Valentine’s Day Reads

Cuddle Up With A Good Book This Valentine’s Day ♥

Check out our top five reads for Valentines Day! Whether you are reading on your own, gifting one to your partner, or discussing it with your girlfriends on Galentine’s Day, these books will not leave you disappointed.

Love Water

1. Love Is Like Water

This collection of thirteen short stories centers around protagonist Nadia, who was born and raised in Egypt, educated in England, and immigrated to the United States. Her background mirrors the life experience of author Samia Serageldin, whose stories shed light on one woman’s exploration of identity through a backdrop of Egyptian history and everyday interaction with friends and family.
Serageldin shifts the narrative from Nadia’s grand-mother’s garden house in Cairo to the suburbs of North Carolina, revealing powerful portraits of cultural dislocation, faith, and multi-generational conflicts.

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Folk Legends

2. Popular Turkish Love Lyrics and Folk Legends

This is the first illustrated anthology of Turkish folk poetry and legends published in the United States. Author Talat Hamlan brings together three of the most beloved Anatolian tales and legends with selected poems from four great folk poets—Yunus Emre, Pir Sultan Abdal, Köroğlu, and Karacaoğlan.
Divided into seven sections, each features four visual experiences which portray extraordinary images of nature, human figures, and emotions. They capture not only the splendor of nature in Anatolia but also the quintessential spirit of the legends and love lyrics that originated there.

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Party Crashing

3. The Art of Party-Crashing in Medieval Iraq

He’s fond of anyone who throws a party;

he’s always at a party in his dreams,

for party-crashing’s blazoned on his heart . . .

a prisoner to the path of fine cuisine.

With this statement. author al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, a Muslim preacher and scholar, introduces The Art of Party-Crashing. This collection of irreverent and playful anecdotes celebrates eating, drinking, and the importance of having fun. Included are ribald jokes, flirtations, and wry observations of misbehaving Muslims to better familiarize readers with the ins and outs of everyday life in medieval Iraq. Translated from Arabic to English, The Art of Party-Crashing introduces the delights of medieval Arabic humor to a new audience.

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improbable

5. Improbable Women: Five Who Explored the Middle East

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the time of Ottoman rule, travel to the Middle East was almost impossible for Westerners. That did not stop five daring women from abandoning their conventional lives and venturing into the heart of this inhospitable region.
Improbable Women follows the pilgrimages of five middle to upper-class British women as they travel to Palmyra to pay tribute to the warrior queen, Zenobia. Divided into six sections, one devoted to Zenobia and one on each of the five women, Improbable Women provides a fascinating glimpse into the experiences of these intelligent, open-minded, and free-spirited explorers.

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Ladies of the Lake

4. Ladies of the Lake: Women Booted in Water

This collection of twenty-three interviews and 120 accompanying photographs provides a glimpse into the lives of the women who are drawn to the magical power of water and life in Lake Placid, New York. These ladies include eighty-two-year-old Helen Murray, who converted her camp to a popular club after World War II; the eccentric yet practical artist Margo Fish, who hand-built the enchanting Tapawingo compound out of twig and stone; and scratch-golfer and financial-expert Sue Riggins, who lost her one true love but held onto her camp on the water. This book is for anyone who visits or appreciates the Adirondack area, spends time on the water, and enjoys learning about the serendipitous lives of women everywhere.

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