I realized that the significance of the blizzard was much greater than just a regional event and it was this story I wanted to tell.
SUP: In a nutshell how would you describe your upcoming book “Declaring Disaster”?
TK: This is the story of the Blizzard of ’77 and how it reshaped public policy, politics, and the identity of Buffalo New York. Although the ground blizzard made for challenging and life-threatening conditions, decades of public policies favoring private automobiles at the expense of public transportation; suburbs over cities, and the lack of coordinated emergency management made it a disaster.
SUP: What drew you to the subject?
TK: Like most of my work, there is a personal connection. I grew up in the Buffalo area and experienced the blizzard first-hand as a child. Most of the histories of this event focus on the drama-in-real-life elements. When I began work on the history of natural disasters and public policy, I realized that the significance of the blizzard was much greater than just a regional event and it was this story I wanted to tell.
SUP: Moved by the plight of the people of western New York, President Jimmy Carter issued the first disaster declaration on account of snow. What made this blizzard of ’77 so epic?
TK: The ferocity of the storm made it remarkable. Blizzard conditions lasted for five days and combined with severe cold and wind chills of as much as sixty below, compounded by snowdrifts which rose to thirty feet in some places, burying highways, cars, houses, etc. Transportation became nearly impossible, some utilities failed, and people were trapped in their homes, places of work, or in public buildings for days.
SUP: What lessons did the city of Buffalo learn from this disaster?
TK: Buffalo learned not to underestimate snow! It has been a watchword for years that mayors and other public officials show preparation before winter and respond with alacrity when a storm hits Buffalo. They created a local emergency management team that works with the state of New York and created a regional cooperative with the towns and villages in Erie County to share equipment and aid one another.
SUP: What areas of the book do you feel readers will find most fascinating?
TK: I think there is something for everyone! Readers will come to understand how the snowy environment of Buffalo shaped the city, find out the history of snow-fighting efforts in Buffalo through the 2014 storm that dropped as much as eight feet of snow in some areas of Buffalo, and take with them a cautionary tale of how private automobile ownership may have made us all a little less safe in wintertime!
SUP: There’s a chapter in the book called “Grab a Six Pack.” Can you tell readers what this chapter is about and its importance?
TK: Following the Blizzard of ’77, Buffalonians elected one of the more controversial mayors in city history, Jimmy Griffin, who took to heart the lesson of the previous mayor and made snow removal a priority. Unlike the previous mayor, who openly worried about large snowfalls, Griffin famously responded to a winter storm that fell on a weekend with the line that everything was fine, and residents should just “grab a six pack and watch a good ball game.” In fact, all mayors following the Blizzard of ’77 have shown good instincts in dealing with snow control on city streets.
SUP: How have the decisions made during the Blizzard of ’77 impacted how storms are handled today?
TK: Snowbelt cities have become smarter and employed more resources and greater technology to effectively respond to snow. Buffalo and most snowbelt cities are prepared for average or above-average storms and these lessons may need to be applied to those cities in the South which will experience snowstorms due to climate change.
SUP: Who do you feel will find this book invaluable?
TK: I think the general public will find much to think about from this book; I also imagine it might be useful for environmentalists, disaster policy experts, and for those interested in the history of the Buffalo.
Timothy W. Kneeland is professor and chair of history and political science at Nazareth College. He is the author of Pushbutton Psychiatry: A Cultural History of Electroshock in America and Playing Politics with Natural Disaster: Hurricane Agnes, the 1972 Election, and the Origins of FEMA.
His new book, Declaring Disaster: Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77 and the Creation of FEMA, can be preordered at press.syr.edu.
author photo courtesy of Nazareth College of Rochester
SUP: David, you’ve written extensively on Winslow Homer. What drew you to dedicate so much of your time exploring the life and work of this 19th century world-renowned American Artist?
DT: You are right in saying that a good deal of my published work concerns the artist Winslow Homer. This has been encouraged by the fact that the sites in which Homer sets his work: Boston, New York, The Adirondacks, Quebec, and London are places I know well, and in which I feel at home. This adds a further element of realism to what I see in his work.
SUP: This book happens to be about one of Winslow Homer’s most creative and productive times in his life, which many refer to as his “turning point.” What are the main aspects that you think influence this? What do you think made this time so influential for him?
DT: Yes, you are right on the mark when you say that the book is about one of Homer’s most creative and productive times. This was indeed a “turning point”, but it seems to me that the meanings typically given to that term in the Homer literature tend to be unhelpful. Some claim that homer’s subjects shifted wholesale to scenes of storms at seas and of fishermen coping with dangers, but scarcely any of these things have prominence or even simple appearances in his work. There was indeed a “turning” and it proved to be a major one. The change was not in Homer’s paintings so much as in his standing as an artist. The Cullercoats paintings and those that quickly followed established him as stronger, more powerful painter than his preceding paintings had suggested. After his final exhibition of Cullercoats paintings in New York and those that quickly followed, Homer was clearly a “major” American painter and then some. This was his “turning.”
SUP: Was there any specific work of art that stood out to you from Winslow Homer’s time in Cullercoats?
DT: Yes indeed. Top of the list is Beach Scene 1881. An amazing composition of four human figures, you don’t forget that dangling arm vividly set against a wrecked coble and then a misty background of other figures. In these respects, there is nothing else quite like it in Homer’s work. I wonder whether his No. 1 Cullercoats model, Maggie Jefferson, may have had a hand in organizing this work. She is the child minder in this scene.
SUP: It seems as if many different historians have their own take on Winslow Homer’s life. Are there any misconceptions about him that you would like readers to know?
DT: Many different historians have varied “takes” on Homer as a person, but all present him as a deeply serious artist much attached to his parents and other family members, and quite reserved even with his few friends. He was not a “hermit” as the press sometimes described him. He was certainly well respected as a person in Cullercoats.
SUP: This point in time is seen as a very influential time in Winslow Homer’s life. Mariana Van Rensselaer said in one of her reviews that his style shifted to having a “freedom from conventionality of thought” during this time. What aspects of this time do you think aided him in this?
DT: I am glad that you have cited Mariana Van Rensselaer’s essay on Homer, for though it considers him as still a relatively young man and developing artist, it remains a wonderfully insightful essay on both the artist and his works the years in and surrounding his time in Cullercoats. His new concept of the essence of the experiences of working women – an essence distinctly positive in every respect – is revelatory. He shows little of the hard laboring men–the fishermen–but makes it abundantly clear that these are not peasants nor are their wives. In this he broke from long standing traditions on the Continent and even elsewhere in England, to define and portray fisherfolk as of a lower social class.
SUP: Winslow Homer’s work during this time strayed away from focusing on the men of the community and placed an emphasis on nature and younger women in this area. What aspects of his life in Cullercoats do you assume made him more successful than other artists in the area who might have had a more holistic inspirational view of Cullercoats?
DT: Homer seems to have spent more time with the village women and older girls than did other artists in the community or beyond, and in this he is certain to have used his American mannerisms–social openness, good humor–generosity of spirit–and so forth. He transformed the manner in which he had painted American younger women a few years earlier.
SUP: Do you think your knowledge of art history has impacted your writing style? If so, how?
DT: I believe that my knowledge of art history, both from its literature and from my familiarity with various masterworks, has had relatively little impact on the writing style of evident in my books and articles about Homer.
SUP: Winslow Homer later decided to make renditions of his watercolor works into etched pieces. He took out certain aspects of pieces to make other parts stand out more, such as the handrail in etched version of Perils of The Sea. How do you think changing medium/technique impacted his work?
DT: I am sure that Homer turned to etching as a medium for revised versions of a few of his Cullercoats paintings for two reasons. First, his income. There was a fair chance that new and revised versions of certain of his Cullercoats paintings, now printed on paper, would add a welcome amount to his income. Second, a vogue for the medium of etching had arisen among American fine artists and it seemed likely that Homer saw a way to excel while remaining a fellow participant in the uses of the new medium.
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.” 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’
Today in honor of International Translation Day the Syracuse University Press would like to introduce you to ‘The Rivals and Other Stories’ translator Rachel Mines, a Yiddish Book Center Translation Fellow and recently retired teacher in the English Department at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada.
SUP: ‘The Rivals and Other Stories’ has been called “a hidden treasure of modern Yiddish literature” what can you tell us about the author Jonah Rosenfeld?
RM: Jonah Rosenfeld was a prolific and popular writer in his time, but because he wrote exclusively in Yiddish and was hardly ever translated, he has virtually vanished from the American literary canon. Rosenfeld deserves to be put back on the map because so many of his stories are relevant today – and not only for Jewish readers.
Rosenfeld was born in 1881 into a poor family in Chartorysk, Volhynia, in the Russian Empire. His first years were tragic. When he was 13 years old, his parents died and his brothers sent him to Odessa to learn a trade. He was apprenticed to a lathe operator. According to his autobiography, he was abused and his teenage years were miserable.
Perhaps seeking an outlet for his feelings, Rosenfeld began writing in his early 20s. He published his first story in 1904 and his first collection of short stories appeared five years later. In 1921, Rosenfeld emigrated to New York City, where he became a major literary contributor to the leading Yiddish newspaper, the Forverts. He was known as a psychological writer, an author who dove deep into his characters’ psyches to explore their subconscious feelings and urges.
SUP: This work has been called an original contribution to the art of Yiddish short fiction in English translation.What drew you to the field of translating Yiddish works?
RM: I was raised by Yiddish-speaking parents, but I wasn’t much interested in the language or literature until about 15 years ago, when I met my mother’s cousin, who had survived the Holocaust and was living in Latvia. I got inspired to return to Yiddish so I could speak with Bella in her own language. Eventually I decided I wanted to take my studies further. As a literature teacher, I came to realize that Yiddish literature in translation could be taught in the classroom – even to students like my own, who weren’t necessarily Jewish. So translating seemed like the next logical step.
I also wanted to contribute to scholarship in general. Yiddish literature (and other texts in Yiddish) are not accessible to the great majority of scholars and researchers. Therefore, we can’t even start to address topics such as the place of Jonah Rosenfeld – to take just one example – in the American literary canon. Many fields of Yiddish writing are still waiting to be explored, but the works need to be translated first.
SUP: The Yiddish Book Center has uncovered over a million books originally written in Yiddish. Can you tell our readers what drew you to Jonah Rosenfeld’s short fiction?
RM: Some years ago, I was looking online for short stories I could read to practice my Yiddish. I found two of Jonah Rosenfeld’s stories on the Mendele website (https://sites.google.com/site/mendeledervaylik/library). I was so impressed that I decided to translate them, just for fun and to practice my Yiddish. Later on, I found that the English translations had already been published in Howe and Greenberg’s A Treasury of Yiddish Stories, but by then I was hooked on both Rosenfeld and Yiddish translation.
So what exactly impressed me about Rosenfeld’s stories? I’d have to say, first and foremost, it’s his psychological insights. He’s not entirely alone in that: other authors of his time were psychologically astute and wrote compelling character studies. But Rosenfeld went a bit beyond, in that his stories are like Greek tragedies. His protagonists fail in their quests for love, belonging, and security, not because of external forces, but because of internal, self-defeating habits of thought that they may not be consciously aware of. Rosenfeld isn’t the only author to use this psychological approach in fiction, but he does so consistently and, to my mind, very believably.
SUP: How are Jonah Rosenfeld’s stories different from the idealized portraits of shtetl life written by Rosenfeld’s peers at the time?
RM: First, I’d like to say that not all of Rosenfeld’s peers were writing idealized portraits of shtetl life, although some were – perhaps as a nostalgic response to emigration to the US and other countries. Naturally people missed the communities and traditions they’d left behind and wrote sentimental stories, plays, and songs about them. Also, there is a tendency among those of us who never experienced pre-Holocaust Jewish culture to sentimentalize our ancestors’ way of life – “Fiddler on the Roof” is an obvious example. However, as more and more Yiddish literature is being translated and published nowadays, we can see that many authors, like Rosenfeld, present a more nuanced and challenging perspective on prewar Jewish life.
Having said that, I do think most of Rosenfeld’s stories are different from many of those his contemporaries wrote.
First, Rosenfeld’s stories typically focus on an individual who does not have the support of family, friends, community, or traditions and is often at odds – even in open conflict – with them. His characters are typically those who are socially marginalized, such as women, children, older people, immigrants, and others who are alienated and impoverished: financially, socially, and spiritually. They are solitary individuals who struggle, almost always unsuccessfully, to build bridges between themselves and the hostile, rapidly changing world around them.
In our time of social and physical isolation, fragmenting communities, and rapid social change, Rosenfeld’s stories have a particular resonance.
SUP: Jonah Rosenfeld was a major literary figure of his time. Why do you feel his stories about loneliness, social anxiety, and longing for meaningful relationships are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them in the 1920’s?
RM: What’s not relevant about loneliness, social anxiety and the longing for satisfying relationships – not to mention male-female relationships, generational conflict, immigration, culture clash, child and spousal abuse, abortion, suicide, and prejudice? These are obviously deeply meaningful human issues that, 100 years after Rosenfeld’s stories were written, we grapple with today. We are struggling with the concept of impending, frightening change even more than ever.
Rosenfeld’s psychological insights are also relevant today. The author was an intuitive psychologist, and many of his stories stand up well to current theories of human thought and behavior. For example, the protagonist of “The Rivals” is a classic malignant narcissist. It’s interesting to note that the story was first published in 1909, several years before Otto Rank’s and Sigmund Freud’s theories of narcissism came out. So despite his characters living in a social, historical, and political milieu that’s different from ours in many regards, their actions and reactions are deeply human and understandable to the modern reader.
SUP: You selected 19 stories for this book. What make these stories important?
RM: We’ve already talked about Rosenfeld’s themes of social alienation and his psychological insights. To take a somewhat different perspective on the importance of his work, I want to focus on readers.
I’ve taught both business and academic writing, and I know one of the most important things for a writer to consider is the reader. Even before I started putting together the collection, I wondered who its readers would be. Because I’ve been teaching undergraduate literature courses for many years, I decided I wanted the stories to be read by students, and not necessarily just Jewish students. So I chose stories that I thought would work well in the classroom: stories that would be of interest to students and instructors and that would be teachable in terms of their themes, characters, symbols, imagery, and so on.
Eventually, after gathering my courage a bit, I taught a number of the stories in the collection to my students at Langara College. None, or almost none, are Jewish. Many are immigrants or international students from South and Central America, India, China, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. A number of students are themselves struggling with the issues that Rosenfeld’s stories address.
Students LOVED the stories! They commented on Rosenfeld’s understanding of women, marveled that these 100-year-old stories were so relevant to their lives, wanted to know more about Yiddish and Jewish culture, and wondered where they could find similar stories. Some students confided to me that Rosenfeld’s stories had helped them understand their own family dynamics better. Occasionally I found it difficult to cover the points I wanted to make in class because the students were so eager to discuss the stories that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise!
SUP: What makes this book a must-read for fans of Yiddish literature and Jewish culture?
RM: Let me sum up: First, Jonah Rosenfeld’s stories address many concerns that are deeply relevant to us today. Second, his psychological insight into his characters make the stories quirky, interesting, and relatable. Third, for those teachers among us, the stories are fun to teach, meaningful to students, and lend themselves to assignments that are hard to plagiarize.
SUP: Of course, in this collection we’re not reading Jonah Rosenfeld’s original words, which were Yiddish, but your translation of them. What was the most challenging thing about translating these stories?
RM: All translators struggle with various elements of language: vocabulary, register (formal versus informal), idioms, word order, and so on. When translating Rosenfeld, I was also dealing with ideas relating to Jewish culture and religion. “Shabbes,” for instance, obviously means Saturday, but the connotations run much deeper in a Jewish religious or cultural context. So how to translate the word? That’s just one small example. Another problem I ran into repeatedly has do with simple matters of daily life that were very different 100 years ago than today. For example, in one story, a character drives his wife to the doctor’s office “in his own car.” Most people didn’t have their own cars at that time, so “own” implies a certain degree of wealth and social status. But times have changed, and now the phrase looks a bit strange.
And then there’s that paragraph in “Francisco” in which the main character does a quick repair job on a samovar. Not being intimately familiar with samovars (let alone broken ones), I had to figure out what was going on in that passage, which required hours of research – thank you, Google! – before I could even begin to translate it.
SUP: If you could turn back time and sit down for a cup of coffee with Jonah Rosenfeld, what’s the first question you would ask him?
RM: Mr. Rosenfeld, how do you fix a samovar?
No seriously … I think it’d be, “What were your literary influences?” What fiction did Rosenfeld read? As an author who wrote about the subconscious, was he familiar with Freud? To what degree did his own life and experiences influence his dark view of human nature?
I should add here that, at least according to what I’ve read, Rosenfeld’s contemporaries did not see him as a dark, gloomy person. They described him as melancholy at times (who isn’t?), but also as humorous, friendly, and good-natured.
SUP: Which is your favorite story in the book and why?
RM: I like all the stories, but one that stands out for me is “Here’s the Story.” Here the author takes a different approach. The main character is a stand-in for Rosenfeld himself – a writer of Yiddish stories on a reading tour in some non-specified eastern European shtetl. There he’s introduced to a “shegetz,” a gentile who is fluent in Yiddish, loves Yiddish literature, and becomes Rosenfeld’s rival in a love interest. In this rare departure, a comedy (though not without its darker elements), the author explores Jewish-Christian relationships, class relationships within the shtetl community, and attitudes towards Yiddish language and literature. It’s a peek into shtetl life – a prewar Jewish society many of us never imagined.
SUP: Your dedication to the preservation of Jewish history is evident with the publication of this book. You’ve also created the website https://shtetlshkud.com/ dedicated to a once-vibrant and thriving Jewish community in Lithuania . Can you tell us more about this site?
RM: Feel free to click on the link and take a quick tour! But here’s some background. My father, a Holocaust survivor, was born and raised in Skuodas, Lithuania. He rarely talked about his youth or family there. Over 25 years after his death, my brother and I first visited Skuodas, after which I’ve been back several times and have made – and continue to make – friends and connections among the citizens. Many of have them shared their stories of the prewar Jewish community. Assembling all of the information I could possibly find, I attempted, on this website, to “recreate” the prewar Jewish community as a memorial and also as a place for other Skuodas descendants to find out about their ancestral town and families.
With all the talk in the media about domestic terrorism, now seems to be the right time for an interview of Kerry Noble, the author of ‘Tabernacle of Hate Seduction into Right-Wing Extremism, Second Edition’ an unprecedented first-person account of how a small spiritual community moved from mainstream religious beliefs to increasingly extreme positions, eventually transforming into a domestic terrorist organization.
SUP: Kerry tell us a little bit about your background and what made you write ‘Tabernacle of Hate’
Kerry Noble: My wife, Kay, and I moved to a small, rural Christian community in 1977. At that time, it was a peaceful, non-racist, non-violent group, where some Christian families wanted to raise their families in the country, away from the chaos of the big cities, work together, live on the same property together and fellowship together. Everything was great for the first year until we started meeting the wrong people at the wrong time. Although we were an apocalyptic church, preparing for the last days for Christ’s return, we weren’t setting any dates for whatever scenario might occur.
Then in 1978, we came upon a man talking about groups preparing, like us, storing food, clothing and supplies to house people when the chaos occurred. He asked how would we protect ourselves from all the looters coming from the big cities? This really had not occurred to us. He said we needed to protect ourselves with guns. This made sense, so over the next 18 months we spent $52,000 on guns, ammo, and military gear. We began to train with the weapons and eventually our group was large enough that we started forming paramilitary squads and we learned to be Survivalists. We eventually set up a training school and built a 4-block mock town to train in, called Silhouette City. We became known as the #1 civilian SWAT team in America.
In late 1979 we were introduced to a theology known as Christian Identity. They taught that the Jews were a counterfeit race, descended from Eve having sex with the devil in the Garden of Eden, and that the white race was the true Israel of the Bible and that the non-white races were inferior races, created before Adam. This was pretty foreign to us but by the spring of 1980 we had adapted it into our own theology. Now we were racists.
In 1981 we adapted the name CSA – the Covenant, Sword & Arm of the Lord – the now-public name for our paramilitary unit, rather than using our church name (Zarephath-Horeb Community Church) during the publicity we received over the next 4 years. Unfortunately, our group became so radicalized we began doing illegal activities off our property – we plotted the original bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1983 and the assassination of a federal judge, federal prosecuting attorney, and an FBI agent in that same year. The plans were unsuccessful in their planning, fortunately. By then we had automatic weapons, silencers, C-4 explosives, a LAW rocket, and hand grenades. In the summer of 1984, I went to Kansas City to murder gays at a park and to blow up an adult video store. Those were unsuccessful also. But the next day I took a bomb into a gay church with the intention of blowing it up during the Sunday service. Because of the actions of the gay community at that church, I decided not to set the bomb and walked out. The gay community unknowingly saved my life and began my own transition away from hate.
In the fall of 1984 members of the Order, another extremist group that had robbed armored vehicles, counterfeited money and had assassinated Jewish talk-show host, Alan Berg, began to get arrested. Some of those members were former members of CSA who eventually turned state’s evidence against us, testifying against us in 1985.
Because of this and our own illegal activities, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, with 300 federal, state and local officers, raised our group on April 19,1985 and we had a 4-day armed standoff, until the leader of our group agreed to surrender. I had been the negotiator between our group and the FBI – I had also been the PR guy for our group and the main Bible study teacher. By the end of May 1985 all the other leaders of the group, including myself, were arrested. I pled down to a conspiracy charge, received a 5-year sentence, and served 26 months in jail and prison. I finished my time in 1990.
I wrote “Tabernacle of Hate” originally as therapy and healing for myself, plus to get the record straight about what happened during those days. Several books had been written that included us, most of which had wrong information. I also wanted people to understand the theology and extremist mindset behind right-wing, hate mentality, with all its conspiracy theories, and to help others understand how the leaders of this movement manipulated followers with fear and hate, behind the cloak of patriotism and Christianity.
SUP: The Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA) was an extremist paramilitary group in the 1970s and 80’s. Where are they now, and what can religious organizations today learn from their experience?
Kerry Noble: CSA disbanded in 1986 after the siege and almost all the men were arrested. The women and children scattered, mostly returning to the original areas they had come from. As the men were released, they joined their families. Almost all the families turned their backs on right-wing movement and its’ racism. A few still hold the previous views.
Religious organizations today need to understand that scripture says that judgement begins in the house of God – with the church. Judgement is not what Jesus came to do. Most churches preach judgment and “sin” of others, while ignoring the sins of their own congregation or of other Christian organizations. It’s the same old “us vs. them” mentality of covering up one’s own failures while pointing the fingers to others they disagree with.
SUP: As the group’s spiritual leader you helped negotiate for a peaceful surrender in an intense stand-off with federal agents, this negotiation is considered by federal agencies to be one of their greatest successes when faced with what we today would call domestic terrorism. What do you remember most about this situation and what contributed to your success?
Kerry Noble: I remember it all as if it were yesterday. By the second day I thought we were going to die in a shootout with the government. But by the grace of God, the leader of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue 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:
- Anyone can be deceived to the point of becoming the antithesis of the original individual. One does not have to be crazy or have come from a bad environment to end up an extremist. One of the main purposes of my book was to help people see and understand how one can go from point A to point Z almost logically.
- The rhetoric and mentality of “us vs them” is not exclusive to right-wingers but to left-wing extremists also. The mentality of separation and division never solves problems – it is only the consensus of “WE” (Without Exclusion) that can solve the difficult world we live in.
- There is always Hope. We were so blessed with being able to have come out of CSA as well as we did. Almost all of us have gone on with life. Becoming friends with the FBI leader was a huge irony, one of many. Had it not been for him and the grace of God, I’d have never seen my children grown up and I might never have heard the word “Papa” from my grandchildren. I am a blessed man.
My later book is called, “Tabernacle of Hope: Bridging Your Darkened Past Toward a Brighter Future.” It’s about the lessons I learn in my journey and that hope is there. It is my prayer that America bridges its now-darkened present toward what can be a much brighter future for us all. Thank you.
For more information on ‘Tabernacle of Hate’ click on the book below.
We couldn’t celebrate International Literacy Day without interviewing author Ruth Colvin, a woman who has dedicated her life to literacy, founded Literacy Volunteers of America, and written the fascinating memoir “Off the Beaten Path” about her experiences providing literacy training around the globe.
SUP: What inspired you to spend a lifetime promoting literacy around the world, what was it that drew you to this career?
Ruth Colvin: I can’t believe a life without reading, so in 1960 when I saw in our local paper the 1960 US Census figures stating that there were 11,055 functional illiterates in MY city of Syracuse, NY, I wondered who they were, why couldn’t they read, and what was being done about it. My research showed that nothing was being done. So, I had a coffee at my home, inviting members of the Board of Education, Presidents of non-profits, all men except one woman. They were as shocked as I was, but no one offered to do anything except the one woman from Church Women United, representing the women of 90 churches. She asked me to speak to her group, and they voted unanimously to start a literacy project but only if I would take charge. That was the start of Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA). But it was when I asked Syracuse University’s professional reading experts to help me that I learned the basics of teaching literacy, never dreaming that it was a national problem and that LVA would grow around the entire country.
SUP: Did you realize at the time how far around the world your passion would take you?
Ruth Colvin: I never dreamed that it was a world problem and that I would be invited to give literacy training in 26 developing countries.
SUP: You’ve met people from all walks of life—a holy man in India, a banned leader and a revolutionary in the apartheid system of South Africa, lepers in India and Madagascar, and survivors of Pol Pot’s Cambodia to mention a few. Of all the people you’ve met along the way, who had the greatest impact on you and why?
Ruth Colvin: Each developing country was a learning experience for me, but it was the people I met who touched my life – the poorest people living in hutments, in poverty, having had no education, who were surviving and always helping each other, and the leaders who were amazing, most working hard to solve the problems of their country.
SUP: Author David Baldacci has said “Ruth Colvin exemplifies the power of one individual changing the world for the better,” and former first lady Barbara Bush has described you as “a living testament to the literacy cause.” Of all the things that you have done, what would you say makes you the proudest?
Ruth Colvin: I think I’m most proud of those that helped me along the way, for it has been lifelong learning for me. And for those that listened and learned, and it became their passion as well as mine, for after I left, they had to carry on. I’m so proud of the students, the tutors, the board members and staff of affiliates around the country, and for them to be creative, sharing their successes with ProLiteracy to share around the world.
SUP: If you could throw a dinner party and invite one person you haven’t already met from anywhere in the world to sit and discuss literacy, who would it be?
Ruth Colvin: Looking back, I think it would be someone who I had taught to read and write, who because of that had a most successful life, helping others.
SUP: Your passion for literacy has earned you nine honorary doctorates, the highest award for volunteerism in the United States, the President’s Volunteer Action Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, your passion inspires the world. Who inspired you along the way?
Ruth Colvin: People have heard of my successes, but few have heard of my rejections, for I was living in a “man’s world,” where women weren’t allowed or expected to create anything new, to lead in any way, no matter how much it was needed. It was Bob, my husband, the love of my life, who saw and understood my passion, and supported me all the way, keeping my passion and inspiration alive.
SUP: In your personal opinion, what impact do you think the current pandemic will have on literacy?
Ruth Colvin: The current pandemic has an impact on everyone and everything, but because I always have a positive attitude, I look to see how Literacy Volunteers of America (now ProLiteracy) can be helpful. It’s impossible for most one-on-one meetings to continue, but we must look to the future and encourage tutors and learners not lose contact, so we’re suggesting they keep in contact by phone, by sharing the same books and sharing lesson plans by mail, so some lessons can continue. Many of the immigrants who have very limited English as a second language, don’t understand the pandemic necessities. It’s individual tutors who have been working with them that they trust. Those tutors then, by Skype, by Zoom, by iPhone, by phone, can explain, in the simplest language, why masks sanitation and social distancing are so important.
SUP: “Off the Beaten Path: Stories of People Around the World” takes readers along your journey around the world promoting literacy. What do you think readers will enjoy the most about your book and your adventures in teaching?
Ruth Colvin: Because travel is so limited now, I think readers will enjoy sharing my travels to places where it’s impossible for them to be. Again I say, it’s lifelong learning, and readers can learn about geography, about how people live around the world, those in poverty and those in leadership and wealth, and how we can help each other.
Fans of Irish crime fiction are no strangers to anticipation. From the classic police procedural to the emerging domestic noir, this genre and its nail-biting stories have exploded across the global literary sphere. And that popularity is in no small part due to the curiosity and excitement that readers feel as they consume this popular fiction. We at Syracuse University Press are feeling the same way about the publication of Guilt Rules All, edited by Elizabeth Mannion and Brian Cliff. Guilt Rules All is an essay collection that explores the roots and also the fluidity of this developing genre. Both scholars and enthusiasts of Irish crime fiction have come together to discuss topics spanning from globalization, to women and violence, and even to Irish historical topics like the Troubles. We asked Cliff and Mannion to tell us a little more about how the project was started, why the collaborative format, and where their love for Irish crime fiction began.
Guilt Rules All hopes to find an audience in both the academic sphere of Irish Studies and with the general readership of Irish crime fiction. How was it trying to balance this diverse readership spanning from scholars to aficionados?
For the most part, it was exciting and a bit liberating. We’ve worked hard to make sure the collection offers insights to Irish Studies scholars new to crime fiction criticism, while doing just as much to welcome experienced crime fiction readers and scholars who may be newer to Irish materials.
Of the five sections of Guilt Rules All, the final discusses the very recently emerged subgenre of domestic noir. This subgenre, and the entirety of Irish crime fiction, is deeply influenced by female writers. How is the discussion of women authors and their work addressed in this collection?
A central goal as we developed this collection was to make the contents reflect the full scope of subgenres and the ways women are writing across all of them, from police procedurals to psychological thrillers. So many women are producing some of the richest, most exciting Irish fiction of any genre, and accounts of Irish crime fiction need to address that in detail. Not enough critical work has yet been done on writers beyond Tana French and Benjamin Black, but any dive into Irish crime writing will reveal that writers like Julie Parsons and Arlene Hunt were there from the earliest stages of the genre’s recent growth.
What unique perspectives do nonacademic writers bring to the discussion of Irish crime fiction, that Guilt Rules All would suffer without?
Mannion: Gerard Brennan has a PhD from Queen’s Belfast, so he has one foot in that academic world, but his other is firmly set in the creative realm. Like Declan Burke, who has perhaps done more than anyone to spread the word about Irish crime fiction’s strengths, Brennan is a seasoned crime writer. Both Declan and Gerard were important to this collection because they were able to discuss their subjects – Steve Cavanagh for Gerard, and Alex Barclay for Declan – from the perspective of practicing novelists. Joe Long’s perspective is that of a hard-core fan. He’s one of the undersung heroes of Irish crime writing in America, a real advocate for these writers. Together, these three contributors reflect some of the different perspectives from which people have done so much to support the genre’s growth in recent decades.
In editing Guilt Rules All, what new or different conclusions did you come to about the Irish crime fiction genre?
Both of us have worked extensively on the genre, Beth with her 2016 edited collection The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel and Brian with his 2018 monograph Irish Crime Fiction. The experience of editing and contributing to Guilt Rules All was another reminder of just how diverse and energetic the genre is, and an exciting chance to see what insights our colleagues have been able to glean from their array of authors. The main conclusion we’ve reached is that Irish crime fiction – in general, and in the particulars given here – is marked by a defining fluidity and a generosity in fusing subgenres. These traits show how both crime fiction and Irish literature are more capacious than they may sometimes seem. It’s our hope that, by tracing these traits, these essays will contribute to a foundation on which to build further accounts of the genre’s role in Irish culture. It’s also become crystal clear to us that there are some amazing scholars out there who want to track those directions.
What was the impetus for Guilt Rules All? Why this book, and why a collaborative project?
We had worked well together on The Contemporary Irish Detective Novel, to which Brian contributed a chapter on John Connolly’s work, and we had a number of discussions about what – beyond our own previous publications – could be done to broaden the discussion’s scope, and to reflect the range of authors who’ve made a place for themselves in that discussion. We also saw that the field was expanding faster than most readers can keep up. It was important to us that an attempt be made to keep pace and—before too much more time passed—capture the impact of some writers who were there before the field gained international attention.
Love of Irish crime fiction shines through every chapter of Guilt Rules All. As this passion propels the collection, can you recall your introduction to the genre? What was the first book or series that lit the spark?
Mannion: My sparks were Declan Hughes and Jane Casey. I was familiar with Declan’s plays, and when I heard he wrote crime fiction, I jumped in. I think Brian is the person who introduced me to Jane’s Maeve Kerrigan series. I was hooked with the first book (The Burning).
Cliff: My reading of crime fiction in general was set off decades ago with the Irish poet Paul Muldoon’s “Immram,” which fuses to delirious effect the Southern California of Chandler and Macdonald with medieval Irish vision quests. My specific love for Irish crime fiction, though, began with John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, Tana French’s Faithful Place, and Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series.
In your opinion, why is Irish crime fiction such a booming genre in today’s global literary field?
As we explore in our introduction, the genre’s growth really kicks in at a point where many of the parameters of Irish fiction in general could seem at times to have been pretty thoroughly delineated, but Irish crime fiction – like other forms of popular fiction in Ireland – has offered a wealth of new angles, perspectives, and approaches, to which scholars are increasingly attending. At the same time, for genre readers outside of Ireland, Irish crime fiction offers characters and contexts that are accessible to a wide range of readers in and beyond the Irish diaspora, while still maintaining a strong sense of specificity, a combination that seems to give readers an easy path into a complex world.
A Conversation with Rick Burton & Scott Pitoniak authors of “Forever Orange: The Story of Syracuse University”
SU Press: March 24th marks the sesquicentennial of Syracuse University. What in SU’s 150-year history do you think readers will find most fascinating and why?
Scott: Since its inception in 1870, SU was ahead of the curve, opening its doors to females, students of color and international students long before other institutions became inclusive. When I think of SU, I don’t think just of Jim Brown or Dick Clark or Bob Costas, but also of pioneering alumni such as Ruth Colvin, who founded literacy volunteers, and Belva Lockwood, the first woman to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and run a full campaign for president. I think of Dr. Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the first artificial heart, and literary giants such as Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson and George Saunders. I think of Hollywood and Broadway heavyweights, like Vanessa Williams, Aaron Sorkin and Detective Columbo himself – Peter Falk. And I think of SU’s strong ties to NASA, especially Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle pilot and commander. The list of extraordinary SU people in all walks of life goes on and on – so much so that Rick and I found it impossible to include everyone who deserved to be included, given the space and time constraints.
SU Press: How about faculty that left the greatest impact?
Rick: We showcased/featured approximately 20 in our “It’s Academic” chapter, but could have written about 200 – if not more.
SU Press: How has the university changed the most in its 150 years?
Rick: I’m not sure that it has. It’s bigger and more famous – a globally recognized ‘brand’ – but it still sits on its hill overlooking the Onondaga Valley and the city of Syracuse. It still attracts amazing students and faculty and it still generates world-class and world altering results. Scott and I may share a bias, a love for Syracuse, but there is no denying that the flag so many of us treasure means a great deal to a lot of us.
Scott: I agree with Rick. To paraphrase that great philosopher and wordsmith, Yogi Berra, “it’s changed, but it hasn’t.” It’s stayed true to its original mission statement espoused by founding father, Bishop Jesse Truesdale Peck. Undoubtedly inspired by the women’s suffragist movement at nearby Seneca Falls and the abolition of slavery brought about by the end of the Civil War just five years earlier, Peck called for admissions to be open to all persons, regardless of gender, skin color or religion. In his inaugural address, he said, “brains and heart shall have a fair chance.”
SU Press: What was the most rewarding part of writing this fascinating book?
Rick: I would say working with Scott and discovering the fine details on so many nuanced stories. We’ve all heard bits and pieces about someone famous or a notable event, but have rarely been able to find them in one setting with rich narrative and stunning photography.
Scott: I second Rick’s sentiments. It was wonderful working with him and getting to know him better as a person. As a former student and current journalist, I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about my alma mater. How wrong I was! This turned into a labor of love because I’m a history buff and because I’ll always be grateful for the lasting impact Syracuse has had on me. SU truly was a place where I blossomed as a person; a place that launched this five-decade-long story-telling career of mine. To be able to do a deep-dive, and tell the story of this place that’s profoundly influenced my life, Rick’s life and the lives of millions of others was amazing.
SU Press: How did you cover 150 years of history in one book?
Rick: To quote the Beatles, we turned left at Greenland. The more appropriate answer is that we only scratched the surface. SU is historically significant in so many ways and we approached our task of wanting to make the treasured moments, the alums, faculty and events come to life. But entire books could be written about any one of the subjects we touched upon. Let’s say it this way … we tried, with a historian’s eye (think of us as a giant Cyclops) … to make the history of the last 150 years come to life through the words and the actions of the people who created that history.
SU Press: What are your personal favorite parts of the book, images, stories?
Rick: Springsteen’s Born to Run album cover; the New York Yankees logo; F. Story Musgrave fixing the Hubble Telescope; Dr. King on the Mall in Washington D.C.; the six-overtime box score from a historic basketball game Syracuse easily could’ve lost; a story about the Jabberwocky; photos of M Street, etc. The list for each of us would be endless because each story we wrote helped comprise the mosaic we were intending. And each photo or graphic colored those stones so that someone could see Orange in the spectrum of hues presented.
Scott: I think the stories that resonated most for me were the essays about 44 alumni of note in the middle of the book. F. Story Musgrave’s story, in particular, struck a chord. He is one of the most significant astronauts of all-time, a true genius who earned five graduate degrees and also became a surgeon. What makes his story all the more remarkable is that he dropped out of high school to join the Armed Forces. At the end of his service, he applied to Syracuse. Because he didn’t have a high school diploma, several members of the admissions committee wanted to reject him. But one committee member advocated on Musgrave’s behalf, saw great potential in him, so Musgrave was accepted. His story speaks to the bigger story of how Syracuse has often taken chances on “marginal” students like Musgrave with remarkable results.
I also loved researching and writing about famous visitors, everyone from Presidents of the United States to Babe Ruth. One of my favorite stories is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “auditioned” his I Have a Dream and I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speeches on the SU campus. Those speeches, along with Lyndon Johnson’s “Gulf of Tonkin” address during the dedication of Newhouse I, are reminders that history often happened here.
SU Press: Why should readers be interested in Forever Orange?
Rick: If they have a connection to Syracuse University, Forever Orange gives them a treasure trove of short stories, long features and images that will allow them to appreciate the breadth and diversity of our university. SU has really been an amazing place for the last 150 years and the very entities still survive in their original form from 1870. I think it’s safe to say that the mission envisioned at the beginning is one that still resonates today.Scott: Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious! That’s why they should read the book. 😉 In all seriousness, that funny-sounding, non-sensical, 14-syllable word popularized in the film Mary Poppins has Orange origins. While researching Forever Orange, I discovered the Oxford English Dictionary traces the word’s birth to a column written by SU student Helen Herman in the student newspaper in 1931. The word means “extremely good and wonderful.” We have hundreds of these “Wow! I didn’t know that!” revelations in this book, which we obviously hope readers will find extremely good and wonderful.
In 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
Below, you’ll find an interview with author Tara McCarthy about her novel Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920. The book focuses on a handful of women and the contributions they made as leaders, organizers, and activists in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. McCarthy is an associate professor of history at Central Michigan University, with research interests in the areas of immigration, American women, and social reform movements.
1. What inspired you to write Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920?
The project began as my dissertation at the University of Rochester. Not much research had been done on Irish American women at that point, and I wanted to focus on politically active women, which had not been done yet. I was looking for a project that could keep my interest for a long time, and I wanted to feel invested in it.
2. You mention that the Irish American nationalism embraced by these women opened doors for further activism in the community and political sphere. Why do you think this sense of nationalism was such an important catalyst, and how did their actions affect the trajectory of women’s activism in America?
I think nationalism unified people. People disagreed within the nationalist movement, of course, but so many women were also nationalists. It was something that people could agree on (at least to a degree) and both men and women were drawn to it, but it also gave women the opportunity to become leaders, organizers, public speakers, and demonstrators often for the first time.
3. Can you tell us how you narrowed down which women to discuss and which movements to focus on (Irish nationalist, labor, suffrage) when writing Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920?
I started with women who left behind letters, diaries, autobiographies, etc. There aren’t that many unfortunately, but I also read widely in the Irish American press. This helped me identify which women and organizations to focus on. I looked very generally at what kinds of groups women were joining and leading before I decided to focus on these three movements, but there was much overlap between the three in terms of people and time period so I eventually chose to organize around those three.
4. It is mentioned that many accounts of Irish American women in America focus on their roles in the home rather than in the public sphere. What do you make of this and what compelled you to do the opposite in your research?
Irish immigrant women went overwhelmingly into domestic service—they served as maids in middle-class homes. This is an important aspect of Irish American history, and this was their job. When I began this project, I wanted to focus on politics, but I did not realize that suffrage would become such a large part of the final manuscript.
5. Can you share one of the most memorable facts or anecdotes you uncovered upon doing your research on these women?
I didn’t really expect to find so many women, and it is hard to stop doing research. I wish I could find out more about them. Are there particularly exciting finds? Yes. I was pretty excited to realize that Delia Parnell was a suffragist and that New York suffragists were working for Irish votes, but I am particularly pleased with the women that I can add to the historical record—women who have not been featured in other research.
6. Knowing the state of the women’s movement today, why do you feel it is important to shed light on the stories of these Irish American women and their involvement in political activism and the public sphere?
All of my research projects focus on women and social reform in some way. I find that students are very interested in learning about women’s history. They haven’t been as exposed to it as some other topics in history. So I do hope that the topic will resonate with readers, and I also hope that the current surge in organizing (and political activism) among women will also lead to more visibility for the roles that women have played in American culture and society, past and present.
7. What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? The most rewarding?
I think the answer is the same for both. Doing research on women is both challenging and rewarding. Sources can be hard to come by, and I knew going into this project that I had very few women to start with who were already somewhat “known” in historical works and had left sources. I love the research. I like to dig and find something new, but at the same time, there are serious limitations to what can be found on many of these women. Their life stories still have a lot of holes, so that is disappointing.
8. What do you hope readers take away from your book, Respectability and Reform: Irish American Women’s Activism, 1880-1920?
I hope they enjoy seeing the complexity or roles in American and the Irish American community at the time. Women could be active in a number of ways. Women wanted to be active. Immigrants and the daughters of immigrants played an important role, not just in the development of the Irish nationalist movement in American, but also the labor and suffrage movements as well.
Today, Ruth Colvin, a pioneer in literacy and a Syracuse resident, celebrates her centennial birthday.
After reading about the 1960 census from an article in the Post-Standard newspaper, Colvin learned that over 11,000 people in her town of Syracuse were functionally illiterate—and she set out to solve this issue. She spoke with local social service agents, community leaders, and church groups to better understand the problem of illiteracy and to recruit help. Colvin worked with literacy experts and specialists to create materials and programs that would be used to train volunteers and tutor adults. A year later, she started Literacy Volunteers of America in her basement.
She has published numerous training manuals and teaching materials, such as Tutor, I Speak English, and English as a Second Language, that are still used today by literacy tutors. In addition, Colvin has not only personally taught thousands of people to read, but also resided as the first president of LVA and a lifetime member of the board of directors.
In 2002, Laubach Literacy International and Literacy Volunteers of America merged to create ProLiteracy. Syracuse is still home to ProLiteracy, where they aim to “promote adult literacy through content development, programs, and advocacy.”
Widely recognized for her efforts, the Syracuse University alumna (’59) received the President’s Volunteer Action Award from President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and then Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2006. She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
From South Africa and Madagascar to India and Cambodia, Colvin and her husband have traveled to 62 countries and provided literacy training in 26 developing nations. Colvin documented the global adventures she embarked on, the cultures she discovered, and the individuals she connected with, eventually publishing her journey in Off the Beaten Path: Stories of People Around the World (2011) through the Syracuse University Press.
This week, we spoke with poet Sam Hazo on his inspirations behind his new book And the Time Is –
The concept of the book was chronological….i.e., choosing what I considered the poems I wished to be judged by written between 1958 and 2013.
The book is essentially a testimony to your poetic endeavors and your growth as a writer – how have these identities evolved over the years for you?
I often keep returning to the same themes, but my perspective has changed my attitudes toward them over the years.
Is there a poem that you’re especially proud of? If yes, do you mind sharing the story behind it?
I favor one poem called “And the Time Is,” which is also the title of the book. In the poem the time is always the present. The rhythm of the poem and the barely discernible rhymes hold the poem together. I’ve never been able to do that since in a poem.
Are there any poets that you continually go back to for inspirations?
There are poets I do go back to, not so much for inspiration as for the pleasure of reading their words, i.e., Richard Wilbur, Linda Pastan, Robert Frost, Randall Jarrell and a number of foreign poets.
Focusing on something that takes my full attention is what I (or any poet) thrive on.
Where do you usually write and what conditions help you with your writing process?
I write whenever, wherever.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished a book called THE FEAST OF ICARUS, Lyrical Reflections on a Myth.
Joan FitzPatrick Dean is Curators Professor of English at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is the author of Riot and Great Anger: Stage Censorship in Twentieth-Century Ireland.
How and where did you get the inspiration for All Dressed Up?
My mother-in-law was a city-dweller. She lived all of her life in Newark, New Jersey. In her forties, after the death of her husband, she took up square dancing, an activity closely associated with rural America. On July 4, 1976, she appeared on national television in an elaborate square dancing costume on the deck of an aircraft carrier as part of the festivities that celebrated the bicentennial of the founding of America. Along with millions of others, I watched. I was even able to catch a glimpse of her. She was delighted to perform and her family and friends were thrilled to see her, but the possible irony of an often-chauvinistic urban-dweller appearing as a country girl wasn’t lost on me. When people get all dressed up they can do surprising things.
Like most people, I experienced pageantry from a young age. Like many, I first became aware of pageantry when I participated in it. I participated in First Communion processions, parades, and Christmas pageants. I have home movies of these events where I can see myself in my First Communion dress, my Brownie beanie and uniform, and my Tin Soldier costume. I distinctly recall watching my blond, blue-eyed younger sister as the child selected to place a floral crown on a larger-than-life-sized statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 1, 1957 before the assembled parishionners of St. Mary’s Church. That remains my earliest and most vivid memory of envy.
In the broadest sense of the term, pageantry involves a display of an identity or affiliation. Pageantry is typically a public, open-air event, often free or at modest price, in which large numbers of participants hope to attract even larger numbers of viewers. Participants wear special, usually symbolic, clothing on select dates that are connected with holidays, annual observances, or anniversaries.
In my research there was another impetus to explore pageantry when I was working through the financial records for the Theatre of Ireland, which ended up in the P. S. O’Hegarty Collection at the University of Kansas. I knew how few people were attending some of these performances and began to ask myself if there wasn’t another way in which ordinary Irish people experienced “theatre.” Was there something like a Cirque du Soliel, a very popular, accessible theatrical genre, early in the twentieth century? And the answer was yes: pageantry.
For readers who might not be familiar with the Irish culture, what can you tell them about the Irish aesthetic standards?
Early in the twentieth century Irish historical pageantry shares with other visual idioms an impulse to draw on an older, sometimes ancient or pre-historic, but most important non-British, aesthetic.
It’s important to appreciate that the vogue of historical pageantry was not confined to Ireland. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York had a pageant, so did St. Louis for its centennial and hundreds of other towns and cities. In the early decades of the twentieth century, not least because of the expansion of the franchise, pageants hope to educate and inspire patriotism in the US and in Britain as well as in Ireland.
If you could tell us something surprisingly interesting about Irish pageantry and its history, what would it be?
The number of visual artists who, especially early in the twentieth century, were deeply involved pageant making and promotion: Austin Molloy, John P. Campbell, Micheál macLíammóir, Jack Morrow, and to a lesser extent people like Paul Henry, Harry Kernoff, Art O’Murnaghan, William Conor, Mabel Annesley, and a score of others. Ireland has produced more than its fair share of writers, but the visual artists are certainly less widely recognized.
In All Dressed Up, the notion of popularity is heavily embedded in your research? How does that concept of popularity compare with our contemporary understanding of it?
The cliché tells us that everyone loves a parade. As a kid I certainly did, particularly drum and bugle corps, although they carry a very different resonance in Ireland than they did in a small town in upstate New York. The operative aesthetic that cuts across time and place can be summarized in one word: epic. Think about the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. In 2008, China celebrated four great inventions: paper, movable type, gunpowder, and the compass. Four years later, Danny Boyle (who directed Slumdog Millionaire) developed an extravaganza of British history, Isles of Wonder, in London for the Games; both aspired to stage a nation’s past and remain memorable for their epic scale. Several of the pageants I discuss drew enormous audiences, audiences that dwarf those drawn by many of the plays central to the canon of Irish drama; some were revived and even toured.
Tell us about the images you’ve chosen to use for the book – why did they stand out for you and what do they entail?
These images stood out because I could obtain permission to use them. Many of the images are exquisite, some are hilarious. I have a hundred more. Any chance we could discuss this on the phone? I have free long distance and can call at your convenience. I can’t type fast enough to do this question justice.
Can you tell us about the process of weaving in mythical elements and cultural references into a history book?
I’m not a historian, but All Dressed Up aspires to be theatre history. I hope the book also suggests how the Irish came to create and to understand their history in the twentieth century. Early in the twentieth century, the recourse was to mythical figures like Cuchulainn and Fionn. By the 1940s, the time frame of the Irish historical pageants had become a moving wall pressing toward the present: while in 1927 the pageants reached back to an ancient past and proscribed everything after 1800, those in the 1940s began in 1867 and moved right up to the present. By the 1990s, the story of Cuchulainn in the Tain as staged by Macnas is the story of Irish people killing other Irish people that resonates with the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Plus, the relationship between myth and history moves in both directions in pageants: In the 1920s, myth could be historicized as when Fionn mac Cumhaill was described as “an undoubtedly historical personage,” but throughout the century, historical events, such as the Easter Rising, were mythologized in pageants.
How did your own Irish heritage contribute to the writing of this book?
Not at all or perhaps barely. I’m fourth generation and grew up in a place without a strong Irish tradition. There is a geographical connection is to SUP through western NY, where I grew up, and coincidentally between Syracuse and Penn Yan both in the Finger Lakes where my ancestors, the Finnegans and FitzPatricks, settled. I’m very conscious that mine is an Irish-American rather than an Irish heritage. My father never denied that an Irishman, Patrick Boyle, was his great-grandfather, but he only identified as German-American rather than Irish-American. My mother, a FitzPatrick from home (as they say), strongly identified as Irish-American. They both picked and chose; we all do. So did these pageants: they were always selective in constructing their sense of the Irish past.
I did see one of the pageants I discuss in detail in 1992 while on a Fulbright in Galway: the Macnas Tain. I went back the next night with my kids; it was the first “dramatic performance” that I took my daughters to see. I have wanted to write about it ever since. It just took me twenty-two years and 248 pages to really get to it.
What was the most enjoyable part about writing this book?
The research, especially discovering of connections with the visual arts—Irish Arts and Crafts in particular. I had a Fulbright lectureship Nancy, France in 1982-83 and have been fascinated by Art Nouveau, especially l’école de Nancy, ever since. I confess I didn’t see this connection when I started the project but slowly and very clearly it emerged in the programs, posters, photographs, and costume designs buried in the archives in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, Lawrence, Kansas, and Evanston, Illinois. The other pleasure was in seeing the parallels and analogues that surface in different visual cultures and theatrical idioms in France, Ireland, the US, etc. at about the same time. These pageants offered people the opportunity to perform their identities, the role as citizens. Often it’s the newest citizens who are most eager. I saw two St. Patrick’s Day parades in Galway, first in 1993 and then in 2012. The difference between the two was that in the second, a number of immigrant groups—the Poles, the Slovenians, the Brazilians, and so on—were there in number to display their affiliation with Ireland. It’s that festive, celebratory spirit that infused most of the pageants I discuss.
Beyond that, I thoroughly enjoyed working with archivists and librarians, who were unfailingly generous. I can’t overstated how helpful many of these archivists were in bringing an overlooked item to my attention or just by engaging with the material I was looking at.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Copyright permissions. The final one came from Katy O’Kennedy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina whom I located only because she has a presence (as “Chief Stink Buster” see http://www.linkedin.com/in/silveredgegear) on the web for Silver Edge Gear, the technology she developed that uses silver to prevent odors in athletic gear. In 1945 her father, Niel O’Kennedy, drew a cartoon about the Military Tattoo for the humor magazine Dublin Opinion that appears in the book. I’m delighted I found her and that she so generously gave me permission to include the image.
What are you working on now?
I have co-edited, with Jose Lanters, a collection of essays on non-realistic Irish theatre called Beyond Realism that will be available early in 2015. I have an essay on the performance pieces of Pat Kinevane coming out soon. One longer-range project returns to the Theatre of Ireland, the renegade company that competed with the Abbey between 1906 and 1913, and in particular at Maire nic Shiubhlaigh (Mary Walker).
Book: Reading Joss Whedon
Rhonda Wilcox is a professor of English at Gordon State College in Georgia. Besides Reading Joss Whedon, the author has also worked on titles such as Why Buffy Matters and Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is also known for being the Co-Founder/Editor of Slayage: The Journal of Whedon Studies Association.
Tell us a little bit about your forthcoming title, Reading Joss Whedon.
For this book, we (coeditors Tanya R. Cochran, Cynthea Masson, David Lavery and I) were fortunate enough to get over two dozen of the scholars who have done the most perceptive and eloquent work on Whedon in recent years. We have about 400 pages of insightful discussion of all the major works. There are essays about the television series, the comics, the films, the internet. In addition to the in-depth essays, there are general introduction essays to Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, so that readers who are mainly familiar with one can follow discussions of the others. The essays cover a great range of topics, from tight focus on a particular episode to thematic discussions across the whole oeuvre (gender, religion, identity, and so forth). The chapters are written with great respect for the work of Whedon and his collaborators—and expressed in a lucid, thoughtful style. Furthermore, the essays are full of references to other good essays on Whedon (and other subjects) too, so that I think it’s fair to say that this book opens up the world of Whedon.
You’ve been called the world’s foremost authority on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what does your current title offer that hasn’t been studied before in the Joss Whedon universe.
I recently saw an internet article that listed the fifteen Whedon episodes that needed more attention. Well, one of those episodes (“Conversations with Dead People,” from Buffy) has a whole chapter on it in our book. The book has work on Whedon’s film of the Shakespeare play Much Ado about Nothing; on his very different film Marvel’s The Avengers (which he wrote and directed); on The Cabin in the Woods; on the Buffy Season 8 comics; on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog—as well as material on all the old stand-bys, but from new angles. Have you ever thought about Buffy’s apocalypses from the perspective of serious Disaster Studies research? Have you thought about the mythology of Echo and Narcissus in relation to Dollhouse? How about Whedon’s directing echoing Douglas Sirk in Angel? I could go on and on about these essays. I will also mention that the final chapter is actually a history of the academic work that has been done on Whedon and his collaborators—so it can be a springboard to finding other strong scholarship on Whedon.
Can you tell us a bit about your background with Joss Whedon, when did you first become interested in his work and how have you pursued it over the years.
I had already been publishing television scholarship for a number of years—starting with a little essay called “TV and the Curriculum,” which was actually my way of publishing something on Remington Steele and Moonlighting. I had published on many significant Science Fiction-Fantasy series (Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Star Trek, among others). I started watching Buffy when it first aired, and the longer I watched it, the more impressed I was. David Lavery and I published the first U.S. collection of scholarly essays on Buffy in 2002 (Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). There were so many more good essays than we could fit in the book that David suggested we start an online scholarly journal, a peer-reviewed journal—which we did in 2001, before the book was even out. (It is still running today, now under the title Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association, with an international editorial board of scholars.) In 2002 I was invited to be keynote speaker at the Blood, Text, and Fears conference at the University of East Anglia in England—the first academic conference on Whedon, and one of the best experiences of my life. In 2004 David Lavery and I convened the first Slayage conference—again, an academic conference, not a convention (although those have joys of their own). It was the first Whedon conference in the U.S. These Slayage conferences have met biennially since, in the U.S. and Canada. (The next one is to be at California State University – Sacramento, June 19-22, 2014. It is too late to submit a proposal to present, but not too late to register to attend.) In 2005 I published Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I am proud to say was a finalist for the Stoker award and won the WSA’s award for the best book that year (the “Mr. Pointy” award). In 2008, with Tanya R. Cochran, I published a collection of essays on Firefly and Serenity; that was also the year that Tanya, David, and I legally formed the non-profit Whedon Studies Association—an organization that had existed de facto for many years. For the last five years I’ve been working with co-editors Tanya, David, and another outstanding Whedon scholar (and very hard-working person), Cynthea Masson, and two dozen plus wonderful (and patient) contributors, to bring out this collection of essays, Reading Joss Whedon. I make forays into publishing on other good TV as well (I edited a collection of essays on Veronica Mars with Sue Turnbull, for example, and later this year an essay of mine will be coming out in a collection on Fringe), but I do not foresee an end to writing on Joss Whedon and Co.
For those who don’t know much about Joss Whedon or his works, what would you tell a reader picking up Reading Joss Whedon?
Earlier this year, there was a report on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show about Russians who were bravely, publicly protesting against their government’s policies. When asked why, a Russian woman quoted a line from the “Epiphany” episode of Whedon and David Greenwalt’s Angel series. How much more meaningful can you get than that? Whedon helps us think through the big issues—but he doesn’t batter you with them. He gives us characters who develop over time in believable ways, and as they live, they inhabit those issues, those ideas. Furthermore, they do it in some of the wittiest, most memorable language around. Viewers get the pleasure of symbolic depth expanding the meaning beyond the specific plots, too. And the longer you watch, the more striking and meaningful the visuals become—not to mention the music, more and more of which he is writing himself. (In Whedon’s version of Much Ado about Nothing, we get Shakespeare’s lyrics set to Whedon’s melody.) Those of us who’ve written this book think that Joss Whedon is one of the creators whose work is going to last. In Reading Joss Whedon, we hope to show you why.
We love that this is an extensive reader, covering all of Joss Whedon’s work; do you have a specific essay or section that you are particularly excited for?
That is an absolutely unfair question. How can I pick? The answer would depend on my mood, I suppose. There’s a whole section, a batch of essays, on Buffy, shorter sections on the other series—and more. I genuinely am impressed by each essay in the book. I’ve already mentioned some of them (directly or indirectly) above. Perhaps I might note that the “Overarching Topics” section contains some really significant work drawing together new insights and earlier research. (It could be a little book on its own.) There’s an essay that explores the way Joss Whedon displays his mastery of TV as a long-form art through “Character, Narrative, and Time”; there’s a philosophical one on the way narrative embodies and divines ethics; there’s one that discusses the vexed question of Whedon and the soul; and I must say, I was astonished at how much was packed into a relatively short essay on the debated issue of Whedon’s feminism (it’s called “Hot Chicks with Superpowers”). And what the hey, I will add that it was a great happiness to me that I got to write about Much Ado about Nothing.
Why do you think that Joss Whedon’s work is important enough to have a scholarly anthology of essays published?
The world at large is finally catching up to the idea that TV can be art. Joss Whedon is one of a handful of really exemplary TV auteurs, a person who thoroughly uses his medium—and he somehow managed to do it on network television, not HBO. He has the gift of true collaboration, drawing to him wonderful collaborators (other writers such as Jane Espenson, musicians such as Christophe Beck, art designers such as Carey Meyer, editors such as Lisa Lassek, directors of photography such as Michael Gershman, and many more.) Furthermore, his work (as writer, director, producer, musician) is expanding, with the internet Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the comics such as Buffy Seasons 8-9, and films ranging from the mighty Marvel’s The Avengers to the black-and-white intimacy of his screwball noir version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. Like most creators who are worth paying attention to, Whedon helps us deal with the difficult issues of life through the joy and solace of art.
Dave Dyer is an independent investor and freelance writer. He is also the author of Steel’s, “a fascinating and thoroughly engaging story of Buffalo-based Steel’s department store told by a master storyteller” as described by Field Horne. Dyer’s Spring 2013 title was published by the Syracuse University Press in March.
Could you provide the audience with a brief description of Steel’s?
“My grandmother’s brother, Clayton Pickard, vanished in 1923 and I set out to find what happened to him. Through a long string of lucky breaks and coincidences, I learned about him even though he had changed his name. I also learned that he worked for the L. R. Steel Company, and I was again lucky enough to acquire about 20 lbs. of original documents from that company. The box contained newsletters from the early 1920s with thousands of photographs and other documents. It was like finding an unopened time capsule.
The documents gave an inside view of a chain store business run by a very creative and visionary entrepreneur named Leonard Rambler Steel. The business consisted of 75 retail stores, but the real money maker was his scheme to sell stock in the business. He promoted stock sales by making a silent film about his business…probably one of the first infomercials. The film helped him sell stock to 60,000 people, and they all lost their money when the company went bankrupt in 1923. Steel had other big ideas, like developing Niagara Falls into a permanent World’s Fair that would be dedicated to the glory of electricity and international commerce, but he never got around to implementing that one.
There were fraud indictments for some of the executives in 1923, but Leonard Rambler Steel died suddenly, at only 44, while he was on a train to seek a loan from Henry Ford to resurrect his company. Clayton Pickard was not charged, but I expect his disappearance was related to the scandal. Eventually, all the indictments were dropped and the story was no longer as newsworthy since the charismatic founder was dead. There is no other account of this story in print and it might have been lost forever if I had not been lucky enough to find that box of documents.”
What went through your mind when you began to discover the stock market scandal?
“I started reading the documents to find out about my grandmother’s brother, but I soon found Leonard Rambler Steel to be more interesting. At first, I assumed that there must be a book or some historical article on this amazing story, but I could find none. I visited Buffalo a couple of times and found newspaper articles from the 1920s, but nothing recent.
The documents revealed an unusual company; women in management and some employees in their eighties. When I started reading about the movie, I was hooked. The movie was released in 1922 and it was 3 hours long. It was shown for free all over North America to generate leads for his stock selling scheme. He made 50 copies of the 10-reel film, and each one had a different ending; each ended with views of his store in the locality where it was shown. He anticipated the value of localization in advertising and this amazing insight was what convinced me that the story needed to be researched and documented.”
When did you decide to research your great uncle, Clayton Pickard?
“My grandmother had always wondered about her vanished brother and I thought it would be easy to resolve the mystery since so many old records are now digitized and searchable. I did not anticipate that he would change his name!
Also, my grandmother always told me that I was a lot like Clayton. When you grow up hearing something like that, you remember it. Finally, when I was digitizing some old family photos, my wife commented that I really do look a bit like him.”
“Yes, I would love to know what happened to all 50 copies of the film. When the company went bankrupt, they were scattered all over the country in small town movie houses. Some were probably not returned because there was no company to return them to. Is there a much deteriorated copy still in some attic?
The last showing was in the Erie County prosecutor’s office looking for evidence of fraud, but they have not been able to locate it now. I offered to spend a couple of days just opening boxes in their long-term storage area, but they were prudent enough not to take me up on that.”
As an independent investor, how did writing Steel’s influence you in relation to your work?
“I have been fascinated with the stock market for over 30 years and I specialize in analyzing small growth companies with unique technology for some niche market. I love to find a creative company with an idea that actually works. I was the ideal person to appreciate the documents that I found.”
What do you hope the audience takes from your story?
“Sometimes failure is more interesting than success, especially when the person who failed had the talent needed to succeed. And, to quote Leonard Rambler Steel,
“The line between success and failure is so finely drawn that often all that is required is one step forward to land on the winning side.” L. R. Steel, December 24, 1920′”
What can we expect next from you?
“First, I would love to see Steel’s made into a movie or TV show. The characters are so vivid and a film based in Buffalo when it was a boom town in the 1920s just might work. If anyone knows an agent who could make this happen, I’m available. Also, if the publication of the book happens to turn up a copy of the lost silent film (hey, I’ve been lucky on everything else) that would be a nice ending.
Although Steel’s is my first book, I have several hundred other shorter publications, mostly magazine articles, newspaper editorials, and lots of stock market newsletters and commentary. I am about half way through a second book called, I Knew a Guy Who Worked Once. It is a guide for people who want to reach escape velocity from corporate life by using aggressive investing techniques. It is based on some investment courses that I taught and I hope it will be one of the few humorous investment books.
I have two other projects in the planning stage. One is a history book about the influence of weather on history. There has been lots of recent discussion about mankind’s potential effect on the weather, but less about the effect of weather on human events. I am interested in things like the sudden hurricane that saved Washington, DC, from being burned by the British in August, 1814 or the tornado that helped General “Mad” Anthony Wayne win the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Also, my wife and I are planning a book about how to turn underutilized urban land into public parks. We have done this once and created a 22-acre urban nature preserve. We are now in the process of repeating this with a smaller parcel that will be used as a dog park. We hope to document the lessons we have learned.”
For more information on Dave Dyer’s Steel’s, visit the Syracuse University Press website. It is available for sale now!
Book: Allegiance and Betrayal: Stories
Peter Makuck is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at East Carolina University. He is the author of Long Lens: New and Selected Poems and two collections of short stories, Breaking and Entering and Costly Habits. His poems, stories, and essays have appeared in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Poetry, Sewanee Review, the Nation, and Gettysburg Review.
Tell us about Allegiance and Betrayal.
“Like writing itself, putting together a collection of stories is yet another process of discovery. You become aware of unifying themes in your work, as well as certain obsessions. I discovered that fiction not included in my two previous collections, plus more recent stories, have in common family matters and friendships, as well as themes of allegiance and betrayal. Some of these stories also have coastal settings in common.”
What made you choose to write your book in a post-World War II setting? Has this time period always interested you?
“I came of age in post-World War II America. I was about five when the war ended. I can remember my grandfather spreading the news, yelling, neighbors cheering, singing, drinking, and dancing in the street in front of our house when victory was declared.”
Do you think your theme of family is strengthened by the World War II setting?
“Well, it’s almost a cliché but nonetheless true that post-war America in the 1950s is a setting dominated by two-parent families, stay-at-home mothers, and safe neighborhoods where kids played ball in the streets, rode bikes, and climbed trees together. For me, it was also a time of parochial education reinforced by the family’s traditional Roman Catholicism.”
Do you have a personal connection to any of the stories in Allegiance and Betrayal?
“Most my stories are triggered by what I’ve experienced, witnessed, or know. Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish film director, says that everything not autobiography is plagiarism. But I doubt he means literal autobiography. An incident in your life might just be a starting point. You develop, add characters, expand, and lie (Picasso said that art is the lie that make you see the truth). If you have promising raw material in front of you, why bother to invent? The odds are that you will have a more compelling connection with what you have actually seen or experienced, an enthusiasm that might well be contagious to a reader. A friend once told me he knew where one of my stories came from and proceeded to describe the event. I told him he was right, but wasn’t my version a lot more interesting than what actually happened? On the other hand, my mother was hurt by my first published story where I hadn’t invented enough to disguise real events and people. In graduate school, hungry to get into print, I expanded on an incident in the extended family. I had already published a poem about my grandfather’s death that my parents and the rest of the family were quite happy about. But I had no intention of showing them the story. An old high school friend, however, noticed my name on the cover of a journal just shelved in the Yale bookstore, bought two copies, and dropped one at my father’s gas station. Big mistake. A learning experience, as they say. The story made a splash and got me letters of interest from a few agents, but I never reprinted it and I promised myself never to let something like that happen again.”
“Very recently I did some research about tarot cards and fortune telling—something I needed for a scene in a story still not quite finished. But normally, I write about what I know. In this new collection, there are several stories about deep-sea fishing and scuba diving. I’ve done that a lot. No research necessary. At an AWP conference some years ago, I was talking to two poets about scuba diving. A few weeks later I got a phone call from one of them who wanted to write a poem about the subject and asked me a lot of questions, especially about what you heard while underwater. The residual prankster in me was tempted to lie, say something about the plucking of harp strings and that once I heard Paul McCartney and the Wings singing “Band on the Run,” likely coming from a boat anchored nearby. But I didn’t. All to say, you risk losing an authoritative voice if you flub the details. The old workshop wisdom: Write about what you know.”
You have written significantly more poetry than stories. Do you ever wish you wrote more stories, or do you prefer poetry?
“That’s a good question. I’m really addicted to both even though I’ve written more poetry, perhaps because I edited a poetry journal for thirty years or so. I also write essays and a lot of reviews. The plus is that if you are working in a number of genres, you don’t get blocked. If you get stuck on a poem or a story, say, put it on the back burner, and turn to a review. When working on something else, I find the problem with the poem or story will often solve itself. I also like to write stories because it gives my sense of humor a chance to exercise. I like to laugh, but I don’t have the talent to write funny poems. The short story allows me to have characters interact in humorous ways.”
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
“I came to reading and writing late. I was an action junkie in high school, an average student at best, and faked my way through. I thought nothing could be more boring than quietly hunkering down to read a book. And I didn’t. In college freshman English, one of our first assignments was to read a short story by William Faulkner, “Barn Burning,” then write an essay. I loved Faulkner’s vocabulary and use of language. I said to myself, “Man, what have I been missing!” A week later, our teacher told the class he was going to read two of the best essays, examples of quality writing he expected from everyone. To my great surprise, one of the essays was mine. I’d never been praised for anything in high school, nor did I deserve to be. Now I had a new identity. My teacher urged me to join the staff of the literary magazine, and I did. I suppose you could draw a fairly straight line from that short story in freshman comp to my doctoral dissertation on Faulkner. All along the way I was writing poetry, reviews, and fiction as well.”
Has your writing career affected your style of teaching English at East Carolina University in any way? If so, how?
“I never had the benefit of a creative writing course. Few colleges and universities offered them when I was a student. So my writing career certainly had an influence on the way I taught fiction and poetry writing courses. I would talk about what I had slowly learned the hard way, through trial and error, talk about clichés, revision, narrative structure, round and flat characters, sound, rhythm, imagery, scene, dialogue etc. On the other hand, when teaching a course on Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway, Welty, O’Connor, or a course on Modern or Contemporary poetry, I’d revert to my academic training as a literary critic but still try to make the lectures lively as possible in order to interest students in these great writers.”
Peter Makuck’s Allegiance and Betrayal was published this April. For more information or to purchase a copy (at our 30% SPRING SALE discount), visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Roger Allen is the winner of the 2012 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for his translation of A Muslim Suicide by Bensalem Himmich, published by SU Press. Allen retired from his position as the Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. He is the author and translator of numerous books and articles on modern Arabic fiction, novels, and stories. Roger Allen is also a contributing editor of Banipal and a trustee of the Banipal Trust for Arab Literature.
Congratulations on winning the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. Can you tell us about your general translation philosophy and how you prepare for the work of translation?
“In the case of the novels of Salim Himmich, I am not only well acquainted with the author and his works, but have previous translated two of his other novels. In fact, the author told me that he was already writing this new novel while I was in the process of finishing the translation of his previous one (published as THE POLYMATH). In the case of each novel, the preparatory phase has involved firstly reading the novel in its entirety, and, in the case of these historical novels, conducting research on the period in question (in this case, the history of Spain in the 13th century and the many dynasties scattered across the northern part of the African continent). What is most important in assessing “translation strategy” is the level of language used by the author and the most appropriate level of English style to use in the translation process–that being something that involves a number of phases before the eventual product is ready. I might suggest, in fact, that nothing has ever been translated that could not be adjusted or revised in some way after its publication.”
What did you find was the most challenging when translating A Muslim Suicide into English?
“In this case, the most difficult part of the process was the transfer of the hero’s mystical visions and thought into English, not to mention his extensive “classes” for his students in which he responds to questions about philosophy and the bases of faith. This became yet more complicated when, in Bougie, a city in North Africa, the hero comes into contact with one of Sufism’s greatest poets, Al-Shushtari, who is to become a devotee of the hero and composes and performs many odes in the hero’s honor. Sufi discourse is maximally allegorical and multi-layered, and the translation of the poetry in particular was extremely difficult.”
Do you think you successfully met those challenges? If so, what is one of your favorite moments in the translation?
“I think my favorite part comes in Book Three, where he meets al-Shushtari, the Sufi poet; chapter 4 is particularly difficult–with its quotations of the poet’s mystical verses, but I think I captured the essence of it.”
Were there phrases or concepts that simply could not be translated, either because of the language, the cultural nuance, or the style? How did you deal with that kind of material?
“In translation there will always be segments of the original text that resist translation. That is where the interpretive skills of the translator are maximally employed, and a good knowledge of both literary traditions–the source and the target–are essential if the translation process is to succeed. This is particularly so in the case of this novel. My solution to such issues in most cases was to resort to the preparation of a lengthy and elaborate glossary, so that, if they so wished, readers could enjoy (?) the experience of being mystified, or else find some kind of response to their curiosity by consulting the back of the book.”
I’ve heard people often speak of Arabic as an exceptionally poetic language. Did you find yourself thinking about the poetry of Himmich’s prose as you translated?
“I think that every language can be “poetic” if the codes of the language used raise such feelings in the mind of the reader; I don’t think that Arabic is particularly so. What I will say is that the morphological structures of Arabic are certainly conducive to rhyming, which is a part of the process of becoming :poetic.” Himmich is a master of style and of the imitation of other writers’ and eras’ styles, and I have certainly made an effort to replicate that feature of his writing genius.”
This is third time translating one of Himmich’s novels. To what extent do you think there is a consistent voice (for English-language readers) between the works? How do you stay faithful to both your own writing style and Himmich’s?
“And…as I’ll note below, there’s a fourth novel of his in translation still seeking a publisher. The novels that I have translated thus far have all been “historical” in the sense that they are about particularly prominent Muslim figures from the pre-modern era (although the latest one breaks with that pattern). Since I know him personally so well and he leaves the translation process entirely in my hands, I don’t feel that there are any residual problems of style.”
“Well, I’m glad you asked !!! I have so many projects at different stages with Syracuse UP–this Himmich that has now come out, the al-Koni aphorisms, the Zifzaf short-story collection, and the translation of Kilito’s essays (as second translator)– that I don’t think I have sent you my translation of his highly controversial novel, which I have translated as MY TORTURESS. It is about the awful process of “extraordinary rendition.” A Moroccan Muslim is arrested on suspicion of being related to a terrorist and spends six years in an unidentified prison-camp (obviously run under the aegis of the Americans). Frankly, I don’t know if people are scared of such an emotive topic, but I have been having a great deal of difficulty placing this translation. If you want to see it (in spite of the number of things I already have with you), I’ll be glad to send it up. In addition to all that, I already have from Himmich his very latest novel–not yet published. It’s going to be called A BUSINESSWOMAN. I have decided not to start translating it until I have placed MY TORTURESS somewhere…”
What are some great English translations of Arabic literature that we might pick up in the meantime?
“If you’re really interested in translations of modern Arabic literature, I’d warmly suggest subscribing to the London-based journal, BANIPAL (they have an excellent website)–the one through which the Ghobash Prize is offered. They are continually publishing extracts from longer works that might be of interest to your series. The problem that I have in identifying particular authors and works is a happy one: there’s so much being written and translated now that I have a very difficult time keeping up with it all, not least because I have officially retired!
As part of truth in advertising about BANIPAL, I have been on the prize’s jury and am a member of the boards of both the trust that runs it and of the journal itself. You might be interested in the fact that they (mostly in the person of Margaret O’Bank) now run an Arab Cultural Center in London where I gave a “master-class” on translation at the time of the Prize ceremony in February; the Center is the home to an increasingly large library of Arabic literature in translation. [www.arabbritishcentre.org.uk/.”
Given your expertise in Arabic literature, do you have any advice for first-time readers of Arabic?
“I think the best advice I can give incipient readers of works of literature translated from Arabic is to approach the process with an open mind–a mind open to difference(s), and to relish the opportunity of engaging with those differences. As I have written in more than one of my essays on translation (such as my Presidential Address to the Middle East Studies Association –now published as “A Translator’s Tale,’ Presidential Address, MESA Conference [San Diego] 2010, Review of Middle East Studies Vol. 45 no. 1 (Summer 2011): 3-18), you do not read translated works of literature in order to encounter the familiar.
Obviously, any kind of familiarity with the Arabic literary tradition will be helpful as an introduction to the literary tradition in Arabic. My INTRODUCTION TO ARABIC LITERATURE [Cambridge UP, 2000] is intended to offer such access (and it’s in paperback!).”
Kim Jensen is an associate professor of English at the Community College of Baltimore County. She puts her profession to practice as the author of The Woman I Left Behind, and the collection of poems, Bread Alone. Her writing and poetry have been featured in a spread of anthologies and journals, including The Baltimore Review, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Rain Taxi Review, Al Jadid, and Imagine Peace. Jensen’s newest book The Only Thing That Matters, to be published next month, is another powerful collection of poems derived from the ideas and vocabulary of radical poet and novelist Fanny Howe and transformed into astonishing new formulations.
What is on your nightstand now?
“That’s a loaded question, considering that my iPad/Kindle is sitting on my nightstand, full of all kinds of books! In any case, the nightstand is piled high with paper texts too. Right now: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; The Gift by the great Persian Mystic poet, Hafiz; The Glance by Rumi, another of the most wonderful Sufi poets; a powerful novel about the Colombian civil war called The Armies by Evelio Rosero; Blood Dazzler by spoken word poet Patricia Smith. Also various books by: Mahmoud Darwish, Louise Erdrich, Anton Chekhov, Alice Munro, Wolfgang Iser, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Two more: The Gun and the Olive Branch by David Hirst and The Palestinians by Rosemary Sayigh—a must read for anyone interested in the Palestinian struggle.”
What was your favorite book as a child?
“This question digs at a mystery that has plagued me for years. Once upon a time, my family had a collection of fairytales with the most wonderful illustrations that I can still picture to this day. I used to stare at those colorful illustrations for hours. The book has since disappeared and I have often wondered what it was and who published it. I long to revisit that book with adult eyes to understand what was so mesmerizing. This is the meaning of childhood—a place full of nameless shadows that you can never quite retrieve.”
Who are your top five authors?
“I am against creating such a limited pantheon, even for fun. These kinds of short lists leave out too many names of poets, playwrights, novelists, fiction writers, philosophers, and theorists who have had a massive impact at various places and times. It’s not fair or even a healthy way of understanding the way literature and poetry move in and out of our lives, arriving, staying, receding, sometimes returning, sometimes not. Great as they are, why should Balzac or Tolstoy or Flaubert be on the list (for me), but not Richard Wright or Mahmoud Darwish? Why should Darwish be on the list, but not Simone Weil? Why should Shakespeare be on the list, but not Achebe, Rumi, Marx, Sophocles, Nietzsche, or Oscar Wilde? And where would Toni Morrison’s Beloved go? Or The Great Gatsby? Or Hemingway? Alice Munro and Louise Erdrich? Or Marquez? And that’s just to name the famous ones, not to mention the unsung poets of the trenches, bars, and streets. Or authors who have written single-hit masterpieces, but who never get to make it into these kinds of “best-of” compilations. Impossible. Is there a place for Emily Dickinson? August Wilson? Raymond Carver? June Jordan? This could go on and on.
So as not to disappoint, I will say this: if I had to put one author at the very tippy top of my own teetering pyramid, it would be Chekhov. His short stories are perfection. Untouchable. The sublime meeting of insight, technique, and compassion make Chekhov unmatched—for me.”
What book have you faked reading?
“I don’t claim to have read books that I haven’t read; however, I may nod with a kind of mock confidence when their names come up in conversation. I’ve never finished Orientalism by Edward Said, but I refer to its ideas without having read more than a few chapters.”
What book are you an evangelist for?
“Before Jennifer Egan won her big Pulitzer Prize last year for A Visit From the Good Squad and rendered all of my evangelizing obsolete, I used to get on the Egan pulpit. I am personally responsible for any number of converts. Four years ago, a friend of mine bought Look at Me for my daughter. I borrowed it and gobbled it up, astonished at Egan’s huge talent.”
Have you ever bought a book for its cover? Which one?
“I have not. For someone who loves reading as much as I do, I find bookstores overwhelming and even depressing at times, especially the big, corporate stores. There is a wonderful radical bookstore in Baltimore called Red Emma’s in which I have the opposite experience—very enlivening. Yet, I still don’t buy a book for its cover, even there. When I step into a book store, it’s usually to buy something I already have on my mind. If it is an impulse purchase, it will be something that I have read a review of, or a classic text that I should finally read, so I can stop just nodding knowingly and get into the conversation!”
What book changed your life?
“The five experimental novels by Fanny Howe that are now compiled one book now called Radical Love (Night Boat Books, 2005) had a huge impact on my life. These are experimental and poetic novels for adventurous readers who are also spiritual seekers. My new collection of poetry (The Only Thing that Matters) is based on my study of her poetry. Readers can read a recent interview that I conducted with Fanny Howe for Bomb Magazine.”
What is your favorite line from a book?
“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.”
What book do you most want to read again for the first time?
“That anonymous book of fairytales with the exquisite drawings that was lost to time and entered the realm of personal myth. I wish I could start all over with that one!”
Kim Jensen’s The Only Thing That Matters makes a great addition to your National Poetry Month reading list. To learn more about this title or pre-order now visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Questions from the popular Shelf Awareness Book Brahmin series.
Book: “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture
Sinéad Moynihan is a lecturer in twentieth-century literature at the University of Exeter. In addition to several book chapters and articles, she is the author of Passing into the Present: Contemporary American Fiction of Racial and Gender Passing. After awarded an Early Career Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust in 2007, Moynihan started writing her newest Syracuse University Press title, to be published this April, “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture.
Tell us about “Other People’s Diasporas.”
“Other People’s Diasporas” is concerned with Irish and Irish-American cultural production in the context of unprecedented in-migration to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger. How did Irish writers, filmmakers, dramatists and stand-up comics confront Ireland’s changed demographics in their work? I argue that they did so by mediating these contemporary concerns about Ireland through narratives that (re)imagined Irish diasporic experience in the United States. For example, Joseph O’Connor wrote a novel about emigration to New York during the Great Famine at precisely the moment when immigration into Ireland was at its peak. How are we to interpret this gesture? The book is divided into five chapters, two on contemporary Irish writers (Joseph O’Connor and Roddy Doyle), one on Irish and Irish-American drama (Donal O’Kelly and Ronan Noone), one on stand-up comedy (Des Bishop) and one on Irish and Irish-American cinema (The Nephew and In America).”
Could you briefly describe the economic growth under the “Celtic Tiger?”
“From about the mid-1990s on, Ireland entered a period of unprecedented economic growth. The Irish economy expanded at a rate of about 9.4% between 1995 and 2000 and this growth continued, though not at the same rate, until 2008. The first recorded use of the expression “Celtic Tiger” was by Kevin Gardiner of Morgan Stanley in London, who drew a comparison between Ireland’s growth and the Asian “tiger” economies. This expansion had enormous consequences for Ireland: for the first time, it effectively boasted full employment, many emigrants of the 1980s and early 1990s returned to Ireland to live, property prices soared and, the issue in which I’m interested, suddenly immigration began to exceed emigration by a wide margin. The years of the “boom” or the “economic miracle” lasted until about 2008, when Ireland, like many other countries worldwide, was hit by a severe recession.”
What kind of obstacles did the new immigrants in Ireland face?
“It’s very difficult to generalise about this, since there were so many “categories” of immigrant to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years and, of course, each individual person has a wide range of experiences. There were many immigrants from EU countries. For example, the Polish – who tended to be white, Catholic and had good English, or were very willing to learn it – perhaps found Ireland more welcoming than other immigrants did, simply because, to Irish natives, they seemed less “different” or “other.” On the other hand, asylum-seekers had a very difficult time because they weren’t permitted to work while their application for asylum was being considered and they were often housed in small towns in the midlands or the west of Ireland (because this was cheaper than housing them in urban areas) . Those communities had often had few or no encounters with ethnic minorities prior to their arrival.”
“It was beneficial in any number of ways. Most practically, and in purely economic terms, many immigrants took jobs that Irish natives, more affluent than previously, were now unwilling to take. They were therefore responsible for the provision of many services, without which the economy would not have run as smoothly or as successfully. This is in line with what has happened in other economically successful countries around the world which began to attract migrants because of the availability of work. The downside to this, of course, is that as soon as there is a downturn in the economy, as has happened in Ireland, Irish natives are more likely to see immigrants as “taking” jobs that would otherwise be available for them. I try to grapple with some of these issues in the epilogue to my book.”
What did writing this book entail?
“The groundwork of this project was laid as early as 2005, when I presented a paper on Jim Sheridan’s In America at a Transatlantic Studies conference in Nottingham, where I was undertaking my Ph.D. on an unrelated subject. I read the film in the context of the referendum on Irish Citizenship of June 2004. When that referendum took place, I had only been living in England for nine months. I was so incensed by the implications of it that I went back to Ireland to vote against it, not that this did any good, since 79% of the population voted in favour of it. By the time I finished my Ph.D. and applied for postdoctoral funding, which I was awarded, I was absolutely sure that I wanted my next project to about the implications of this referendum and how questions of race and immigration were being negotiated in contemporary Irish culture. I had two years in which to complete the project, which I did. It was a straightforward book to write, partly because I was so impassioned by the subject matter and partly because I had very good access to Irish media and popular culture, through frequent visits back to Ireland and through friends and relatives who did a lot of information-gathering on my behalf.”
Can you explain the title “Other People’s Diasporas”? How did you come up with it?
“The term “Other People’s Diasporas” is taken from a quotation by sociologist Steve Garner. In the early days of researching this book, I read his book, Racism in the Irish Experience (2004), where he poses the question: “Yet what happens when other people’s diasporas converge on the homeland of a diasporic people?” What I really liked was that embedded in the term “other people’s diasporas” was the implication of a connection between both historical emigration and contemporary immigration to Ireland. I was interested in precisely this connection. In other words, how have Irish writing, cinema, stand-up comedy and so on responded to the influx of immigrants to Ireland during the Celtic Tiger years? They have done so by mediating their concerns through narratives of emigration to the U.S.”
For more information on Moynihan’s engaging exploration “Other People’s Diasporas,” visit the Syracuse University Press website. It’s available for pre-order now!
Book: The Second Coming of Paisley: Militant Fundamentalism and Ulster Politics
Richard Lawrence Jordan received his PhD in modern British history from Louisiana State University. He was awarded the 2009 Adele Dalsimer Prize for Outstanding Dissertation from the American Conference of Irish Studies and the Distinguished Dissertation Award from Louisiana State University. Jordan’s new book, The Second Coming of Paisley, provides a detailed examination of the relationship between the Reverend Ian Paisley and leaders of the militant wing of evangelical fundamentalism in the United States.
Describe the types of research you conducted for The Second Coming of Paisley?
“The research for this book was undertaken for my dissertation while at Louisiana State University, was fairly straight forward and involved the libraries and archives of Northern Ireland (Queen’s University, Belfast Central Library, Linenhall Library, Union Theological College etc.) and those in the United States. These included those of numerous universities, but most notably the Carl McIntire Collection (Special Collection, Princeton Theological Seminary), and the Mack Library and Fundamentalism File at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.”
What sort of conflict did Paisley experience over the years?
“Paisley has created a substantial amount of controversy during his career, which began shortly after embarking on his ministry in 1946. As a youthful, Calvinist and evangelical crusader in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Paisley was initially accepted by the growing fundamentalist community in Ulster. But after exposure to the militant theology of the Reverend Carl McIntire of Collingswood, New Jersey in 1951 and after contact with McIntire’s cohorts within the International Council of Christian Churches, Paisley followed their brand of separatist and antagonistic militant fundamentalism. During the 1950s and into the 1960s, Paisley attacked the liberalism and modernism that many Irish Presbyterian clerics and seminarians professed, and which was accepted by many other Irish Protestants. He also crusaded against the political and theological designs of the Irish Catholic Church and the attempts by moderates within the Ulster Unionist party to reconcile with Northern Ireland’s catholic community. During this period, Paisley formed an intimate relationship with segregationists, such as the Bob Jones family of South Carolina. After being jailed in the summer of 1966 for protests in front of the Presbyterian General Assembly in Belfast, Paisley was anointed as God’s prophet and martyr in Ireland. Paisley began annual tours of the American south just as the American civil rights movement and federal policy proved effective in changing the Jim Crow laws of the American south. When the Northern Ireland civil rights movement began in the mid-1960s and demanded equal voting and economic rights for Catholics, Paisley adopted tactics that North American militants used to oppose civil rights for African Americans in the American South and became the most vocal and physical opponent to civil rights marches in Northern Ireland.”
What was Ireland’s political situation throughout Paisley’s lifetime?
“Paisley was born in 1926 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. So he never ‘arrived’ in Ireland as an immigrant, but as a young preacher on the streets of Belfast after the Second World War. The political situation in Ireland at that time was a post-war Europe overshadowed by the United States and the Cold War. Northern Ireland was firmly under control of the Ulster Unionist Party (a party that the protestant landed elite and business community dominated), but southern Ireland was in the process of converting from the Irish Free State (a Dominion of the British Crown) into the Republic of Ireland. In response, the British government made a stronger commitment to the union between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. Although the catholic community in Northern Ireland was generally complacent, there was signs of growing restlessness with Unionist rule from both Catholics and the protestant working class, a new sense of assertiveness from the Irish Catholic Church and the Irish Republican Army, and in the realm of religion, the expanding ecumenical movement.”
“The religious aspect interested me more, but naturally politics has its appeal. The conflict within Protestantism and between fundamentalists and liberal/modernists is fascinating, but so is the interaction between religiosity and the political and economic situation in Ireland from the First World War through the 1960s and up until the outbreak of the Ulster ‘Troubles.’ How all these factors reacted to the infusion of Northern American militant fundamentalism and to the call for civil rights creates a great story.”
Do you have a personal connection to the topics in this book?
“There is an indirect connection between the Northern Ireland troubles and my personal life, which drew my interest long before I entered the world of academics. From the age twenty until returning to school in the late 1990s, I was in the music business, running an independent record label that specialized in Alternative and Americana. This lifestyle required many trips to the British Isles during the 1980s, and with an interest in history, I was naturally attracted to the situation in Northern Ireland.”
Are you considering writing anything else in the future?
“I am constantly doing research and writing. Currently my time has been taken up with a second manuscript on Paisley and North American militant fundamentalists and their opposition to both the American and the Northern Ireland civil rights movements. Moreover, the second book considers the interaction between both sets of militants and both groups of civil rights activists.”
The Second Coming of Paisley: Militant Fundamentalism and Ulster Politics will be published in the next few weeks. To purchase or learn more about Richard Lawrence Jordan’s new title, visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Book: Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers
Valgene Dunham is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the College of Science at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. Dunham is the author and coauthor of numerous books and journal articles. His new Spring 2013 title Allegany to Appomattox comes out this month and is described by Author Rod Whitlock as “.. a meaningful and memorable contribution to the historical genre of Civil War letters literature.”
Allegany to Appomattox:
“On September 7, 1864, William Whitlock, age thirty-five, left his wife and four children in Allegany, New York, to join the union army in battle. More than 100 years later his unpublished letters to his wife were found in the attic of a family home. These letters serve as the foundation for Allegany to Appomattox, giving readers a vivid glimpse into the environment and political atmosphere that surrounded the Civil War from the perspective of a northern farmer and lumberman. Topics introduced by the letters are expanded to included similar experiences by soldiers in the Confederate armies.
Whitlock’s observations and experiences tell of the exhausting marches, limited rations, and grueling combat. In plainspoken language, the letters also reveal a desperate homesickness, consistently expressing concern for the family’s health and financial situation, and requesting news from home. Detailed descriptions of the war’s progress and specific battles provide a context for Whitlock’s letters, orienting readers to both the broad narrative of the Civil War and the intimate chronicle of one soldier’s impressions.”
What led to publishing:
“After my mother died, Viola Whitlock Dunham, members of the family were going through letters and pictures that my mother had saved. My sister, Vaughn Dunham Estep, asked me if I had seen our great, great grandfather’s letters to his wife during the Civil War. After seeing and reading the 40 letters, I talked with my cousin, Mark Whitney, Allegany, New York, who had found the letters. I then corresponded with and visited Bill Potter of the American History Guild, raised in Allegany as well, who had transcribed the original letters. This group of relatives and friends encouraged me to write a book based on the letters and to tell of the legacies that William Whitlock left for his descendants.
Although interested in military history, especially World War II after an earlier visit to most of the major battle fields in France and Belgium, my ancestor’s letters stimulated not only an interest in the Civil War but also in my family’s history. Therefore, Allegany to Appomattox is quite family oriented and presents William Whitlock as a family man, just like other farmers/lumbermen from both the Union and the Confederacy, who disappeared in the smoke and fire of the War of Rebellion.”
Types of research:
“As expected by an author who had never published outside the sciences, research for Allegany to Appomattox quickly gave me an appreciation for the wide range of sources available to the historian. In addition, the value of the internet to present day authors put me in awe of the historians of the past who had to visit libraries over a wide area of the country, often at their own expense. During the organization of topics to be included, genealogical research was added to the growing diversity of sources.”
Which letters to use:
“The book was originally intended to present a picture of William Whitlock and his family as to their relationships, faith, and concerns during and related to the Civil War. I wanted to tell the story based on the language used in the letters and a “travelogue” approach to what William saw in his travel to the front and in the battles in which he fought. A picture is presented of conditions the family had to face without husband and father. The book also presents a picture of the Confederate families in similar situations. Letters were chosen to express these interests and to present them in chronological order. Letters that were used extensively were included in the book and if not, were not included in the appendices.”
“Although people of the Union and Confederacy had different causes, individuals who made their living by working with their hands in agriculture and lumbering had similar desires; including love for family, love for God and a concern for their family’s health, financial well-being and education. Large numbers of individuals of both sides did not agree with the approach to secession and war. Although the literature is now 150 years old, simple quotes from soldiers such as “My chaplain isn’t worth a darn” can be investigated by searching for the chaplain’s name and his personal history to find out his motivations, resulting in a possible explanation for a poor job performance.”
Different from other books:
“This book was the first I have written outside of publications involving plant biochemistry and DNA replication.”
Lessons to be gained:
“Every family must have a “collector.” A person who is interested enough in family history to collect and maintain family letters and pictures.
Decisions made by individuals in time of crisis are difficult and result from numerous insights and experiences. To understand these decisions requires research that must include an analysis of love for family, for country and the influence of their faith.”
For more information on Dunham’s Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers, or to pre-order, visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Craig Loomis is associate professor of English and Chair of the English Department at the American University of Kuwait. He is also author of A Softer Violence: Tales of Orient and his short fiction has been featured in the Iowa Review, Colorado Review, Quarterly West, Louisville Review, and Prague Revue. Dr. Loomis’ most recent book, The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait, comes out this March and is a unique unveiling of Kuwaiti society through a collection of stories.
Tell us about your upcoming book, The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait?
“For the last eight years I have been living and working in Kuwait, at the American University of Kuwait, and during this time I have been fortunate enough to have published many of the short stories that you will find in The Salmiya Collection in a national magazine here in Kuwait entitled Bazaar. Bazaar is a monthly publication that offers readers a myriad of articles about Kuwait, its culture, society and people. I see The Salmiya Collection as a bundle of mini-stories–call them snapshots–of, as the title implies, the ebb and flow of life in the State of Kuwait. Of course many characters and situations are involved in my Salmiya life-tide, and to that end, I have attempted to give readers bits and pieces of humanity at work in the gulf region.”
What aspect of the Kuwait culture inspired you the most during the writing process of your book?
“You have to remember that Kuwait is a relatively young nation, gaining its independence from Britain in 1961; and like so many of the countries in this region, Kuwait, too,–in its own Kuwaiti way—is struggling to define itself, and to decide how that definition measures up to other cultures on the planet. Again, not unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Kuwait, too, finds itself doing a cultural juggling act, as it seeks to find a healthy social and cultural balance between that which is Kuwaiti and that which is not, and then determining what is acceptable and what is not. This is a process I witness daily, and sometimes it is blatant and coarse, while at other times it is subtle and compassionate. Kuwaitis are a proud people, which can be both a boon and a bane. In my stories, I have attempted to capture this aspect of Kuwait, a work in progress.”
What was the process like in deciding on the order of each story? Is there a connection between them?
“No particular order. Or, I take that back, in the beginning I toyed with arranging the stories in a special order or sequence, but then, I gave up. I am sure readers might unravel some sort of hidden, secret structure, and if they do I hope that let me know what it is.”
“Although people can celebrate their individual countries, cultures, and heritages, the human condition does not change. Of course it goes without saying that, in many ways, an Arab can be culturally different from, say, a North American, but at the emotional and psychological core, we are, I think, made of the same stuff. We sometimes forget this because these days our world has a tendency to stress the differences, and more times than not, those differences are perceived as less than positive. The Salmiya Collection embraces this different-but-same notion.”
Who are your top five favorite authors? Did any of them inspire you to become a writer?
“It is almost impossible to answer this question. Over the years, a good many writers have influenced me. For example, to some degree, I have been mesmerized by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, and his obsession with terse, concise sentences, as well as what has become known as his “ice-berg theory” on writing; and of course I need to include Mark Twain, and his mastery of characterization. Finally, I certainly have to tip my hat to writers such as James Joyce and John Banville who were/are fearless when it comes to taking chances with language, style and structure.”
Any recommendations to readers for books to read that you have enjoyed?
“I recommend any book written by John Banville.”
Interested in learning about Kuwait, its culture, and society? Pre-order Dr. Loomis’ The Salmiya Collection, in print or ebook edition, now at the Syracuse University Press website.
The translator of The Emperor Tea Garden, Robert Finn, is not only known for his books and translations, but for his previous title as the US ambassador to Afghanistan. From March 2002 to August 2003, he served as the first ambassador in over twenty years. He currently is a nonresident fellow at the Liechtenstein Institute, a principal investigator for the Century Foundation Task Force on Pakistan, and a visiting scholar at Columbia University. Finn is the author of The Early Turkish Novel and translator of Nazli Eray’s Orpheus and Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House (shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize). His newest Turkish translation by Nazli Eray will be published by Syracuse University Press this spring.
Could you tell us about The Emperor Tea Garden?
“The Emperor Tea Garden is a delightful fantasy novel about love. It takes place in several different locations in this world and the dream world, in the minds of lovers and in the shadows of the soul. Characters transcend time, space, gender and place as the narrator lives in and through several different realities. From the women men see in their minds in a tavern on the Black Sea to the lovers lips hovering in the night in the Emperor Tea Garden itself, the author takes the reader on an exploratory trip through the world of the mind and he heart. Funny, surprising and very down to earth, Nazli Eray’s novel catches the reader at every turn. Autobiographical in parts, surreal in others, The Emperor Tea Garden is a magical tour de force that carries us with it into ways of thinking and being beyond the imagination. The reader will be touched and fascinated.”
What made you want to translate this book?
“The novel has always been one of my favorites of Nazli’s works, and one of her own favorites. We both thought it would be an approachable novel for the English-speaking reader and a wonderful introduction into a world that is quite different than conventional portrayals of Turkey, or reality, for that matter.”
Could you describe the process of translating this book?
“The process of translating is different with every book and every character. In the case of Nazli Eray, I find that her prose, because it is so fresh and enjoyable, lends itself easily to translation into English. I simply work page to page, not doing too much at a time, to make sure I keep the freshness of her prose in the English text. Then I do revisions and re-readings to fine tune the translation. I usually have one or two questions about details for Nazli, who knows English quite well.”
How did you preserve the meaning and keep the voice of the writer while translating the book?
“It is not difficult to keep Nazli’s meaning and voice faithful to the original, because her Turkish is very clear and open. Sometimes I hesitate over a particular word or phrase that has layers of meaning, but usually I can find the right phrase to convey her intent easily. Since the book is narrated by one person, most of the text is in that voice, but of course there are many other characters, living and dead, who have their own personalities and sociology. I try to give each character his or her appropriate voice. Since English has separate words for many nuances that can be inherent in one word or a few words in Turkish, I utilize that richness of vocabulary to distinguish individual characters.”
“I do plan to continue translating. Right now, I am almost finished another novel by Orhan Pamuk and I have begun a third novel by Eray. In addition, I have a draft translation of another novel which I am editing.”
As a diplomat with a background in Turkish Studies and International Relations, what made you decide on pursuing literary translations?
“I have been translating from Turkish for decades, ever since I was a student. As a diplomat, I found that I could find time to work on translations while being very busy as a diplomat. Turkish literature is rich and interesting, but little known, especially to English readers. I want readers to be able to experience this important literature which had much to teach us about human nature and the mixing of cultures.”
Congratulations on your translation of Silent House, which was just shortlisted for the Man Booker Award! Does this recognition influence any future projects that you might take on?
“Of course I was very pleased to see Silent House be shortlisted for the Man Asian prize. I first translated part of it when it first came out back in the 1980s, before Pamuk was ever translated into English. Now I am nearly through with the draft of Cevdet Bey and Sons, Pamuk’s first novel. I intend to keep translating from Turkish in the future, including perhaps Tanpinar’s seminal work, the History of Nineteenth Century Turkish Literature.”
To learn more about Robert Finn’s translation of The Emperor Tea Garden, visit the Syracuse University Press website.
Book: Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball
Michael G. Long is an accomplished author and editor with several published books on politics, religion, and civil rights. He’s the editor of Marshalling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall and, his most recent title, Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball. Long’s Jackie Robinson anthology comes out next month and is part of the Syracuse University Press Sports and Entertainment series.
What led to the focus and research behind Robinson’s involvement in the Republican party?
“I became interested in this when I began to research Robinson’s longtime correspondence with Richard Nixon. These two fascinating personalities first met during the 1952 Republican National Convention. Nixon took the occasion to recount a 1939 football game between the University of Oregon and UCLA and to ask about a particular play starring Robinson as halfback. After this meeting, the two began to correspond and Robinson grew impressed with what he took to be Nixon’s progressive stance on the issue of first-class citizenship for African Americans. Robinson was especially pleased with Nixon for speaking out against racism during a 1957 trip to Africa and for helping to engineer successful passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Robinson even campaigned for Nixon in 1960. It was not odd for Robinson to support the Republican Party. In his mind, it was the party of Abraham Lincoln; the real problem was the racism perpetrated by Southern Democrats.”
Where did your fascination with Robinson; as a player, writer, and voice begin?
“Believe it or not, my fascination with Robinson began while I was researching the peculiar relationship between Billy Graham and Richard Nixon. I was looking at Nixon’s papers at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel when a most helpful archivist, Paul Wormser, asked me whether I had seen the Jackie Robinson file. The file was beyond my immediate research topic, but I could not resist the chance to look at letters between Nixon and Robinson. When I read those captivating letters and encountered Robinson’s fierce battle for equal rights in political society, I was hooked. It was a breathtaking experience for me.”
How and when did you go about collecting Robinson’s columns and letters?
“Robinson’s papers are deposited at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It’s a great collection, and I encourage our readers to check them out at some point. It’s great fun to hold an authentic Jackie Robinson letter. His letters are also in archives across the country as well as in private hands. Robinson’s columns can be found in the archives of the New York Post and the New York Amsterdam News. Both of these collections can be found on microfilm.”
Were there any particular challenges in acquiring his writings that stand out?
“The primary challenge is selecting writings that give expression to the breadth and depth of Robinson’s character and actions. Given my own interest, it’s easy for me to focus too much on Robinson’s politics and his prophetic actions in the public square. But in conversations with Rachel Robinson I became determined to select writings that showed the tenderhearted side of Robinson—the part that his family and friends encountered on a regular basis.”
On the negative reactions by Robinson’s fans, do you think the fans were upset because he was no longer the image of an African American ball player who took the racist comments with stride, or because they became uncomfortable with the knowledge that Robinson was truly upset with the harsh injustice that he had faced?
“Robinson believed that some baseball fans wished he had forever remained the young man who turned the other cheek in the first three years of his career with the Dodgers. For those fans, Jackie stated, that was an appropriate posture for a black man. So when Robinson straightened his back and started disputing calls and unfair practices in baseball, these fans grew disenchanted and angry. Still others grew even angrier when Robinson dared to speak his mind about politics and race in the public square. But let’s be clear: there was no stopping Jackie Robinson from doing what he wanted to do. And what he wanted to do most of all was to secure equal justice for African Americans and indeed for all.”
“The story of Robinson shattering the color barrier in Major League Baseball is tough to top, and it’s the story that most of us know. Interestingly, though, Robinson believed that he became much more aggressive in the years following his baseball career. His columns, I believe, offer evidence that Robinson ramped up his protest of racial injustice in his post-baseball career. Until the day he died Robinson was fiercely committed to advancing civil rights and helping civil rights leaders establish a society that offered first class citizenship to everyone.”
Given Robinson’s reluctance to have his work changed, how comfortable were you editing his work without Robinson beside you?
“I was most comfortable in thinking how good it would be to pull these columns out of the dusty closet and use them in a way that adds to the public’s understanding of Jackie Robinson. He was far more complex than the Jackie Robinson of 1947—the young man who quietly soldiers his way through racist jeers—and the columns indicate exactly that. They show Robinson playing Santa to underprivileged children, taking Nixon to task in the 1968 presidential race, showering love on his wife Rachel, and so much more. Robinson was not beside me when I edited his work, but I certainly came away with feeling that I knew him much more fully than I ever had.”
For more information on Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball, edited by Michael G. Long, visit the Syracuse University Press website. It’s available for pre-order now!