Author Spotlight

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

We couldn’t celebrate International Literacy Day without interviewing author Ruth Colvin, a woman who has dedicated her life to literacy, founded Literacy Volunteers of America, and written the fascinating memoir “Off the Beaten Path” about her experiences providing literacy training around the globe.

SUP: What inspired you to spend a lifetime promoting literacy around the world, what was it that drew you to this career?

Ruth Colvin: I can’t believe a life without reading, so in 1960 when I saw in our local paper the 1960 US Census figures stating that there were 11,055 functional illiterates in MY city of Syracuse, NY, I wondered who they were, why couldn’t they read, and what was being done about it. My research showed that nothing was being done.  So, I had a coffee at my home, inviting members of the Board of Education, Presidents of non-profits, all men except one woman. They were as shocked as I was, but no one offered to do anything except the one woman from Church Women United, representing the women of 90 churches. She asked me to speak to her group, and they voted unanimously to start a literacy project but only if I would take charge. That was the start of Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA). But it was when I asked Syracuse University’s professional reading experts to help me that I learned the basics of teaching literacy, never dreaming that it was a national problem and that LVA would grow around the entire country.

SUP: Did you realize at the time how far around the world your passion would take you?

Ruth Colvin: I never dreamed that it was a world problem and that I would be invited to give literacy training in 26 developing countries.

SUP: You’ve met people from all walks of life—a holy man in India, a banned leader and a revolutionary in the apartheid system of South Africa, lepers in India and Madagascar,  and survivors of Pol Pot’s Cambodia to mention a few. Of all the people you’ve met along the way, who had the greatest impact on you and why?

Ruth Colvin: Each developing country was a learning experience for me, but it was the people I met who touched my life – the poorest people living in hutments, in poverty, having had no education, who were surviving and always helping each other, and the leaders who were amazing, most working hard to solve the problems of their country.

SUP: Author David Baldacci has said “Ruth Colvin exemplifies the power of one individual changing the world for the better,” and former first lady Barbara Bush has described you as “a living testament to the literacy cause.” Of all the things that you have done, what would you say makes you the proudest?

Ruth Colvin: I think I’m most proud of those that helped me along the way, for it has been lifelong learning for me. And for those that listened and learned, and it became their passion as well as mine, for after I left, they had to carry on.  I’m so proud of the students, the tutors, the board members and staff of affiliates around the country, and for them to be creative, sharing their successes with ProLiteracy to share around the world.

SUP: If you could throw a dinner party and invite one person you haven’t already met from anywhere in the world to sit and discuss literacy, who would it be?

Ruth Colvin: Looking back, I think it would be someone who I had taught to read and write, who because of that had a most successful life, helping others.

SUP: Your passion for literacy has earned you nine honorary doctorates, the highest award for volunteerism in the United States, the President’s Volunteer Action Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, your passion inspires the world. Who inspired you along the way?

Ruth Colvin: People have heard of my successes, but few have heard of my rejections, for I was living in a “man’s world,” where women weren’t allowed or expected to create anything new, to lead in any way, no matter how much it was needed. It was Bob, my husband, the love of my life, who saw and understood my passion, and supported me all the way, keeping my passion and inspiration alive.

SUP: In your personal opinion, what impact do you think the current pandemic will have on literacy?

Ruth Colvin: The current pandemic has an impact on everyone and everything, but because I always have a positive attitude, I look to see how Literacy Volunteers of America (now ProLiteracy) can be helpful. It’s impossible for most one-on-one meetings to continue, but we must look to the future and encourage tutors and learners not lose contact, so we’re suggesting they keep in contact by phone, by sharing the same books and sharing lesson plans by mail, so some lessons can continue.  Many of the immigrants who have very limited English as a second language, don’t understand the pandemic necessities. It’s individual tutors who have been working with them that they trust. Those tutors then, by Skype, by Zoom, by iPhone, by phone, can explain, in the simplest language, why masks sanitation and social distancing are so important.

SUP: “Off the Beaten Path: Stories of People Around the World” takes readers along your journey around the world promoting literacy. What do you think readers will enjoy the most about your book and your adventures in teaching?

Ruth Colvin: Because travel is so limited now, I think readers will enjoy sharing my travels to places where it’s impossible for them to be. Again I say, it’s lifelong learning, and readers can learn about geography, about how people live around the world, those in poverty and those in leadership and wealth, and how we can help each other.


Editor Q&A: Guilt Rules All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Author Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Author Spotlight: Charles Kastner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Brief Look into Irish American Women and Politics

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.

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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?McCarthy blogpost.png

 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.

 


Happy 100th Birthday to Ruth Colvin

Ceremony for 2006 Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. East Room.

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.

off240From 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.


Author Spotlight: Sam Hazo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I write whenever, wherever.

What are you working on right now?

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


Author Spotlight: Joan Dean

JoanFitzPatrickDean

Joan FitzPatrick Dean is Curators Professor of English at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is the author of Riot and Great Anger: Stage Censorship in Twentieth-Century Ireland.

How and where did you get the inspiration for All Dressed Up?

My mother-in-law was a city-dweller. She lived all of her life in Newark, New Jersey. In her forties, after the death of her husband, she took up square dancing, an activity closely associated with rural America. On July 4, 1976, she appeared on national television in an elaborate square dancing costume on the deck of an aircraft carrier as part of the festivities that celebrated the bicentennial of the founding of America. Along with millions of others, I watched. I was even able to catch a glimpse of her. She was delighted to perform and her family and friends were thrilled to see her, but the possible irony of an often-chauvinistic urban-dweller appearing as a country girl wasn’t lost on me. When people get all dressed up they can do surprising things.

Like most people, I experienced pageantry from a young age.   Like many, I first became aware of pageantry when I participated in it. I participated in First Communion processions, parades, and Christmas pageants. I have home movies of these events where I can see myself in my First Communion dress, my Brownie beanie and uniform, and my Tin Soldier costume. I distinctly recall watching my blond, blue-eyed younger sister as the child selected to place a floral crown on a larger-than-life-sized statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 1, 1957 before the assembled parishionners of St. Mary’s Church.   That remains my earliest and most vivid memory of envy.

In the broadest sense of the term, pageantry involves a display of an identity or affiliation. Pageantry is typically a public, open-air event, often free or at modest price, in which large numbers of participants hope to attract even larger numbers of viewers. Participants wear special, usually symbolic, clothing on select dates that are connected with holidays, annual observances, or anniversaries.

In my research there was another impetus to explore pageantry when I was working through the financial records for the Theatre of Ireland, which ended up in the P. S. O’Hegarty Collection at the University of Kansas. I knew how few people were attending some of these performances and began to ask myself if there wasn’t another way in which ordinary Irish people experienced “theatre.” Was there something like a Cirque du Soliel, a very popular, accessible theatrical genre, early in the twentieth century? And the answer was yes: pageantry.

all-dressed-up

For readers who might not be familiar with the Irish culture, what can you tell them about the Irish aesthetic standards?

Early in the twentieth century Irish historical pageantry shares with other visual idioms an impulse to draw on an older, sometimes ancient or pre-historic, but most important non-British, aesthetic.

It’s important to appreciate that the vogue of historical pageantry was not confined to Ireland. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York had a pageant, so did St. Louis for its centennial and hundreds of other towns and cities. In the early decades of the twentieth century, not least because of the expansion of the franchise, pageants hope to educate and inspire patriotism in the US and in Britain as well as in Ireland.

If you could tell us something surprisingly interesting about Irish pageantry and its history, what would it be?

The number of visual artists who, especially early in the twentieth century, were deeply involved pageant making and promotion: Austin Molloy, John P. Campbell, Micheál macLíammóir, Jack Morrow, and to a lesser extent people like Paul Henry, Harry Kernoff, Art O’Murnaghan, William Conor, Mabel Annesley, and a score of others. Ireland has produced more than its fair share of writers, but the visual artists are certainly less widely recognized.

In All Dressed Up, the notion of popularity is heavily embedded in your research? How does that concept of popularity compare with our contemporary understanding of it?

The cliché tells us that everyone loves a parade. As a kid I certainly did, particularly drum and bugle corps, although they carry a very different resonance in Ireland than they did in a small town in upstate New York. The operative aesthetic that cuts across time and place can be summarized in one word: epic. Think about the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. In 2008, China celebrated four great inventions: paper, movable type, gunpowder, and the compass. Four years later, Danny Boyle (who directed Slumdog Millionaire) developed an extravaganza of British history, Isles of Wonder, in London for the Games; both aspired to stage a nation’s past and remain memorable for their epic scale. Several of the pageants I discuss drew enormous audiences, audiences that dwarf those drawn by many of the plays central to the canon of Irish drama; some were revived and even toured.

Tell us about the images you’ve chosen to use for the book – why did they stand out for you and what do they entail?

These images stood out because I could obtain permission to use them. Many of the images are exquisite, some are hilarious. I have a hundred more. Any chance we could discuss this on the phone? I have free long distance and can call at your convenience. I can’t type fast enough to do this question justice.

Can you tell us about the process of weaving in mythical elements and cultural references into a history book?

I’m not a historian, but All Dressed Up aspires to be theatre history. I hope the book also suggests how the Irish came to create and to understand their history in the twentieth century. Early in the twentieth century, the recourse was to mythical figures like Cuchulainn and Fionn. By the 1940s, the time frame of the Irish historical pageants had become a moving wall pressing toward the present: while in 1927 the pageants reached back to an ancient past and proscribed everything after 1800, those in the 1940s began in 1867 and moved right up to the present. By the 1990s, the story of Cuchulainn in the Tain as staged by Macnas is the story of Irish people killing other Irish people that resonates with the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Plus, the relationship between myth and history moves in both directions in pageants: In the 1920s, myth could be historicized as when Fionn mac Cumhaill was described as “an undoubtedly historical personage,” but throughout the century, historical events, such as the Easter Rising, were mythologized in pageants.

How did your own Irish heritage contribute to the writing of this book?

Not at all or perhaps barely. I’m fourth generation and grew up in a place without a strong Irish tradition. There is a geographical connection is to SUP through western NY, where I grew up, and coincidentally between Syracuse and Penn Yan both in the Finger Lakes where my ancestors, the Finnegans and FitzPatricks, settled. I’m very conscious that mine is an Irish-American rather than an Irish heritage. My father never denied that an Irishman, Patrick Boyle, was his great-grandfather, but he only identified as German-American rather than Irish-American. My mother, a FitzPatrick from home (as they say), strongly identified as Irish-American. They both picked and chose; we all do. So did these pageants: they were always selective in constructing their sense of the Irish past.

I did see one of the pageants I discuss in detail in 1992 while on a Fulbright in Galway: the Macnas Tain. I went back the next night with my kids; it was the first “dramatic performance” that I took my daughters to see. I have wanted to write about it ever since. It just took me twenty-two years and 248 pages to really get to it.

What was the most enjoyable part about writing this book?

The research, especially discovering of connections with the visual arts—Irish Arts and Crafts in particular. I had a Fulbright lectureship Nancy, France in 1982-83 and have been fascinated by Art Nouveau, especially l’école de Nancy, ever since. I confess I didn’t see this connection when I started the project but slowly and very clearly it emerged in the programs, posters, photographs, and costume designs buried in the archives in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, Lawrence, Kansas, and Evanston, Illinois. The other pleasure was in seeing the parallels and analogues that surface in different visual cultures and theatrical idioms in France, Ireland, the US, etc. at about the same time. These pageants offered people the opportunity to perform their identities, the role as citizens. Often it’s the newest citizens who are most eager. I saw two St. Patrick’s Day parades in Galway, first in 1993 and then in 2012. The difference between the two was that in the second, a number of immigrant groups—the Poles, the Slovenians, the Brazilians, and so on—were there in number to display their affiliation with Ireland. It’s that festive, celebratory spirit that infused most of the pageants I discuss.

Beyond that, I thoroughly enjoyed working with archivists and librarians, who were unfailingly generous. I can’t overstated how helpful many of these archivists were in bringing an overlooked item to my attention or just by engaging with the material I was looking at.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?

Copyright permissions. The final one came from Katy O’Kennedy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina whom I located only because she has a presence (as “Chief Stink Buster” see http://www.linkedin.com/in/silveredgegear) on the web for Silver Edge Gear, the technology she developed that uses silver to prevent odors in athletic gear. In 1945 her father, Niel O’Kennedy, drew a cartoon about the Military Tattoo for the humor magazine Dublin Opinion that appears in the book. I’m delighted I found her and that she so generously gave me permission to include the image.

What are you working on now?

I have co-edited, with Jose Lanters, a collection of essays on non-realistic Irish theatre called Beyond Realism that will be available early in 2015. I have an essay on the performance pieces of Pat Kinevane coming out soon. One longer-range project returns to the Theatre of Ireland, the renegade company that competed with the Abbey between 1906 and 1913, and in particular at Maire nic Shiubhlaigh (Mary Walker).


Author Spotlight: Rhonda Wilcox

ImageBook: 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.


Author Spotlight: Dave Dyer

Book: Steel’s: A Forgotten Stock Market Scandal from the 1920s

Dave DyerDave 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 HorneDyer’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.”

steelsAre there any unresolved questions you have regarding your findings?

“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!


Author Spotlight: Peter Makuck

Book: Allegiance and Betrayal: Stories

CapturePeter 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.”

allegianceWhat kind of research did you have to conduct in order to write this book?

“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.


Author Spotlight: Roger Allen, 2012 Banipal Prize Winner

award-muslim-suicideRoger 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.”

Armuslim-suicidee there any upcoming translation projects you’re planning for the near future?  

“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!).”


Author Spotlight: Kim Jensen

Kim JensenBook: The Only Thing That Matters

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!”only thing that matters

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. 


Author Spotlight: Sinéad Moynihan

Book: “Other People’s Diasporas”: Negotiating Race in Contemporary Irish and Irish-American Culture

Sinead website picSinéad 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.”

other-peoples-diasporasHow was the arrival of immigrants in the rising economy beneficial for the Irish natives?  How was it detrimental?

“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!


Author Spotlight: Richard Lawrence Jordan

Book: The Second Coming of Paisley: Militant Fundamentalism and Ulster Politics

Richard Jordan 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.”

second-240Was it the political or religious aspect of this book that interested you more?

“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.


Author Spotlight: Valgene Dunham

Book: Allegany to Appomattox: The Life and Letters of Private William Whitlock of the 188th New York Volunteers

Val Dunham (2)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.”

allegany to appomattoxMost interesting findings:

“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.


Author Spotlight: Craig Loomis

BCraig Loomisook: The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait

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.”

The Salmiya CollectionWhat do you hope readers will gain from these stories?

“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.


Author Spotlight: Robert Finn

FinnBook: The Emperor Tea Garden by Nazli Eray

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.”

Emperor Tea GardenWith The Emperor Tea Garden being your third published translation, will you continue translating Turkish novels?

“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.


Author Spotlight: Michael G. Long

Book: Beyond Home Plate: Jackie Robinson on Life after Baseball

Michael LongMichael 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.”

Beyond Home Plate Why do you think that Robinson’s writings are often overlooked when his career is discussed? 

“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!


Author Spotlight: K. Animashaun Ducre

Book: A Place We Call Home: Gender, Race, and Justice in Syracuse

K. Animashaun Ducre is a dedicatekishi3_color_fullsize (2)d advocate for environmental justice with four years of Greenpeace experience working as a toxics campaigner.  She received her PhD in environmental justice at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  Currently, she is an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies at Syracuse University.  Her new SU Press book, A Place We Call Home: Gender, Race, and Justice in Syracuse was published this month and is a wonderful addition to the Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict Resolution series.

Tell us about your new book, A Place We Call Home.

“My book is part memoir/part research on Black women who lived in depressed urban environments and how they cope.”

Have you always had an interest for environmental justice?  What led you to the field?

“I have always had an interest in social justice. As a child growing up in Washington DC and Maryland, my family and I were heavily involved in helping the homeless. Later, when I went to college, I worked on race relations during the height of the Rodney King beating and the acquittal of the officers involved. After graduation, my interest broadened to include both environmental rights and civil rights when I began to work for Greenpeace, an international environmental organization.  My work with Greenpeace led to my scholarship and advocacy on environmental justice.”

What was the biggest challenge you encountered while writing this book?

“The biggest challenge in writing this book, aside from carving out time from my teaching and other faculty duties, was finding the courage to present my own voice. Most academic research relies upon a degree of objectivity and a presumption of distance between the researcher and the subject. However, the reader knows by the first few sentences of my book that my life and experience are a significant part of the narrative. Adopting a Black feminist perspective in my research and writing gave me the confidence to present my work in this manner.  Writers like bell hooks and the late Audre Lorde were influential in my decision to present my work in this manner.”

What types of research did you conduct before writing this case study?  How many years of research?

“I am versed in both quantitative and qualitative research. My dissertation, written in 2005 is based solely on spatial statistics. When I came to Syracuse, I relied upon the resources available in the Department of African American studies to hone my qualitative skills. We are the only department at Syracuse University to house our very own library (the Martin Luther King, Jr.) and specialist librarian, as well as operate our own visual and cultural arts center (the Community Folk Art Center).  The Community Folk Art Center hosted the photography exhibition that arose from this research in 2007.”A Place We Call Home

What did you find most eye-opening about your research?

“I was surprised by how well the participants in the project were familiar with maps. In my experience, understanding maps presents a challenge.”

Describe your favorite experience while writing A Place We Call Home?

“I look forward to the presentation of the participants’ photos each during the project. Some of the photos are featured in the book. It was interesting to see each image and to listen to how each woman presented the photo. Often, the image was not enough to understand the concept – you had to hear each woman discuss the elements of the photo that appealed to her.”

What is the most beneficial aspect of your occupation?

“I like teaching.  I like challenging my students to think critically about society. I also like research – asking questions and seeking answers. I have worked on different dimensions of environmental justice – from calculating the amount of air pollution with statistics, to browsing through old plantation records at an archive, to analyzing photographs by the women in this Photovoice project.”

What can we expect from you next?

“Speaking of old plantation records, I have accumulating information about a sugar plantation in Southern Louisiana that later was bought by a chemical manufacturer. I want to highlight this connection between plantation-to-plant and this particular site’s effect on the Black community that surrounds it. I think there are some interesting parallels between the oppression of slavery and the oppression of a polluting industry.  I’m also working on edited volume that looks at environmental injustice and schooling – my chapter focuses on case studies where hazardous industry are located near elementary schools and we can do to prohibit this.”

For more information on K. Animashaun Ducre’s new book, A Place We Call Home, visit the Syracuse University Press website or attend her book talk on Thursday, February 7th at the Community Folk Art Center in Syracuse, NY.  See the Events page for more details on this upcoming event.


Author Spotlight: Cynthia Littleton

Book: TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet

Cynthia Littleton is deputy editor at Variety and coauthor of Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN.  Her new, fall 2012 title TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet is in the SU Press Television and Popular Culture series and has received wonderful reviews. Friday, November 16th Littleton discussed her new book on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  Watch here.

TV on Strike comes out at the end of the year and is now available for pre-order at the Syracuse University Press website.

Briefly tell us about TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet.

“The book looks at the upheaval in the television business during the past decade through the prism of the 100-day strike by the Writers Guild of America in late 2007-early 2008. The strike was a fight about many of the issues that are roiling Hollywood – digital distribution, changing viewer behavior, competition from lower-cost entertainment alternatives and shrinking margins in traditional profit centers. I realized about a month after the strike ended that the story of the conflict, and the colorful characters who drove it, provided the perfect framework to examine what would otherwise be an unwieldy subject, namely the transformation of the television business.”

As a deputy editor at Variety and an author, has the digital transition you discuss in your book affected your life in any way? How?

Uh – yes. My day job has changed immensely with the mandate to stay on top of news 24/7 on the Web. Now reporters wind up writing every breaking news story at least two or three times. You write the bare-bones version to post immediately on the web. Then you flesh that out a little bit more – maybe two or three more write-throughs depending on the magnitude of the story. And then you turn around and write a version for the print edition the next day. You wind up doing what journalist call a “second day lead” even on the first print edition of the story. You can’t just put in print the same story you posted online the day before if you want to give readers an incentive to read the paper. It’s monstrously complicated, and on the business side, there has been much trial and error in determining the best way to ensure that journalistic content is properly monetized. It’s tough!”

What did you find most shocking about the labor dispute of 2007?

“The lack of communication and outreach from both labor and management in the run-up to the contract negotiations. I believe the Hollywood studios were remiss in not proactively addressing some compensation issues that they knew would be flashpoints for writers. This was a time when the industry needed executive leadership, but for various reasons, it didn’t happen.”

What was your main source of information for research?

“My own first-hand reporting on the strike – I spent a lot of time walking in picket lines outside studio gates between Nov. 2007-Feb. 2008 – and my own reporting on the changing nature of the television business. I also relied heavily on the good work of my colleagues at Variety and other media outlets. After the fact, I did a lot of lengthy interviews with key players who took time to reflect on the strike experience. Some of them were very candid, even about their own shortcomings, and I’m very grateful to them.”

What was the most challenging obstacle you encountered while writing TV on Strike?

“There were a few people connected to the Writers Guild that I hoped to interview at length to get their perspective on the strike, but they declined to participate even after multiple appeals bordering on begging. One person in particular I nearly tackled at an industry awards show, but I couldn’t convince him.”

What book(s) are you reading now?

“Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories and novels. Really enjoy those intricate mysteries. Over the summer I read Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” and thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Is there a famous individual you’ve looked up to as a role model throughout your life?

“I have always admired Linda Ellerbee, in her various news anchor incarnations. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be some combination of Jack Kerouac, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and Patti Smith. More recently, as a member of the Unitarian faith, I have come to idolize Abigail Adams.”

What can we expect from you next?

“Finishing “TV on Strike” was a long and hard process. I’m looking forward to a long period of having my nights free to reacquaint myself with my husband. But I admit I have been nursing an idea for novel…”

“Every day Cynthia shows us how smart and well informed she is with her reporting. What we didn’t know is just how compelling a storyteller she is! If you are in the entertainment industry or aspire to be this book is a MUST READ page turner. The players come to life and the events of the Writer’s strike provide the prism for Cynthia’s explanation of how the entire entertainment eco-system really works. In the lightning fast constantly changing entertainment universe this book helps us to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ it is all happening. Bravo Cynthia!” —Warren Littlefield, TV producer, past President NBC Entertainment


Author Spotlight: William D. Rezak

Book: The Arab and the Brit: The Last of the Welcome Immigrants

William D. Rezak was president of Alfred State College from 1993 until his retirement in 2003. He was also formerly the dean of the School of Technology at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. Before his tenure in higher education, Rezak was a mechanical engineer and spent eighteen years in the design and construction of power plants. He has now channeled his attention to writing and his new title, The Arab and the Brit: The Last of the Welcome Immigrants, comes out this December.

Tell us about your upcoming book.

“For years when asked my nationality I responded that my father was Palestinian, my mother was British and that I am American.  My father came to the US as a small child.  My mother’s parents were destitute children in Victorian England and were sent to Canada separately alone into indentured servitude at the ages of 10 and 16.  They met and married and moved to upstate New York.  The stories of the adventures of my ancestors as they found their way to the New World are fascinating.  With immigration such a controversial subject today, my family’s story may not be unique, but it is uniquely American.”

What was your favorite chapter to write?

“Writing about my paternal grandfather’s life in Palestine and the chain of events that led to his and my grandmother’s decision to flee from Ottoman rule to the US has always captivated me.  My maternal grandparents’ challenges in servitude in Canada were no less harrowing.  My maternal grandfather, after who I am named, came to the New World all alone at age 10 to live with strangers.  His is a compelling experience, as well.”

Did you encounter any struggles along your writing process? If so, what were they?

“Writing about my family’s journey to America was the proverbial labor of love.  As the reader will learn, it required extensive research about the Middle East, Victorian England, Canada and Syracuse.”

Is there a lesson that can be learned from your novel of trial and triumph?

“American policy (or lack thereof) today seems to lose sight of the fact that this country was built upon the labor and entrepreneurial spirit of foreigners who have always flocked to our shores of opportunity.  Today we have become paranoid about the intent and attitudes of those who wish to be part of the American success story.  People from all over the world wish to come to America to work hard and build wealth for their families.  Without their contributions we would not have food on our tables or be able to construct our homes and buildings or care for our infrastructure.  America needs to remember how immigrants have built our country as it gropes for answers to today’s immigration challenges.”

How would you describe your writing style?

“I am a minimalist writer.  I enjoy presenting a compelling story succinctly and cogently with little flowery language.  I want the reader to be captivated without being burdened.  I want to learn things in my own reading without a lot of superfluous information.  This informs my writing.”

Name one of your role models? How have they influenced your life?

“Winston Churchill is one of my heroes.  He suffered great successes in his life of leadership after experiencing great failures.  And yet, he kept striving for his goals and for positive outcomes.  He was a source of inspiration to me during the roller coaster years of my college presidency.”

Are you planning to write another novel in the future?

“The Arab and the Brit ends in 1951 when I was a child.  I intend to write about my own life, about my years as a college president and about the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

For more information on Rezak’s “classic page turner,” as described by Alfred University’s Edward Coll,visit the Syracuse University Press website.


Author Spotlight: Richard P. Unsworth

Book: A Portrait of Pacifists: Le Chambon, The Holocaust, and the Lives of André and Magda Trocmé

Richard P. Unsworth is a senior fellow at the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute at Smith College. He has taught religion at Smith College and Dartmouth College, and served as headmaster and president of Northfield Mount Hermon School. His years of involvement with the Collège Cévenol in France led to a friendship with André and Magda Trocmé. His recent book on the lives of the Trocmés, A Portrait of Pacifists, was published in April 2012 and has received excellent reviews.

Tell us about A Portrait of Pacifists: Le Chambon, the Holocaust, and the Lives of André and Magda Trocmé.

“This stand-alone biography tells the story of a French couple who lived a life of non-violence in the war-saturated twentieth century.  André was a Reformed Church pastor and Magda a well-educated Italian Protestant whose career was in social work. Their childhood saw the Great War in France, the collapse of the German monarchy, the death of the abdicated Russian Tzar and his family, and Italy’s fragile and final monarchy.  They were still young when Benito Mussolini came to power and Adolph Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. When the Trocmés came to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in 1934, they began a saga of non-violent resistance that persisted throughout the years of World War II. Their subsequent career in Versailles and Geneva was marked by their witness to non-violence in the Cold War years, and their determination to teach the practice of peace in North Africa, Japan, Vietnam and the United States.”

When did you first become aware of the story of André and Magda Trocmé and what inspired you to write this book?      

I became aware of the Trocmé story in 1954, when I was asked to join an organization called American Friends of the Collège Cévenol. The members gathered funds for scholarships and invited young Americans to participate in summer programs at the Collège Cévenol, a French lycée-level school the Trocmés and their colleagues founded in 1938 in Le Chambon. We were bound to become friends with the Trocmés as well, since they made visits to our group whenever they could.

In 1961, I became more involved with them when I was appointed as the American Representative of the Collège and was more involved in this unique international project. My visits in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and theirs in New England brought us together in this common enterprise. They were often in our home and I in theirs. Our conversations left me with a haunting necessity to write their biography whenever I might be able to undertake the research and writing.

Another source of inspiration was my contact with Philip Hallie, a professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Wesleyan University. As an ethicist, he gave his every effort to understand evil, especially the evil that was inevitable in war. After all, he himself had killed others in World War II while an artillery gunner who shot into German troops, and he knew evil lay therein. One day he came on a short article about Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, an article that sent him home weeping that evening. Hallie somehow found that I had a relationship with Le Chambon, and knew some of its unique character. That article and several conversations with me and others like me, prompted him to go to Le Chambon and talk with everyone he could about the way their village was different than most others. His book, Lest Innocent Blood be Shed: the story of the village of Le Chambon and how goodness happened there. (Harper and Row, 1979) is still in print.

A further inspiration was a conversation with Magda Trocmé one afternoon in New York’s Riverside Drive. André had died a few months earlier. As we walked, she pointed out the International House, where foreign students could live while studying in New York, and where she and André met. She went on to tell me some of what that relationship had meant throughout her life. I knew, after that conversation, that I would certainly have to write this biography.  The inspiration was still there after Magda died in 1996, and I sought the support of the two remaining Trocmé children, Nelly and Jacques, in my intention to write this book.”

How would you characterize your own relationship with the Trocmés?

“My relationship with these two was a warm one from the day I set foot in Versailles and their home, called the Mill of Peace, or Maison de la Reconciliation. I had taken a “red eye” flight to the Paris airport, so Magda greeted me warmly and practically, saying “you’re an American, so you need bacon and eggs for breakfast.” Once sure that I was adequately fed, André started his plan for the day: to show me the educational difference between typical French schools and the Collège Cévenol.

André put me in his long black pre-war Citroen and drove me into Paris, at illegal speeds, to see three schools, one a public day school, another a typical Catholic school and the third a residential public school.  We then met with a Parisian leader in the Worker Priest movement, an exciting movement that no longer had Papal consent, largely because the worker-priests had close ties with the Communist Party. You can appreciate André’s support however, since he understood their ministry to the community of laborers. He wanted me to know at least one of these radical clergy.

Perhaps that gives the reader a sense of our personal relationship.”

Tell us about the process of writing this book. 

“The process was complex, but then so was the material. A biography is more complex than some other books. The writer wants to be true to the persons, the way they were shaped by others close to them, their critical experiences and aspirations. For me, the key to the process was laying out the potential chapters in a fashion that would give a reader an appetite for knowing the persons and then being sure not to spoil their appetite by buckets of facts.

In the case of the Trocmés, it is not hard to keep an appetite. They were characters who had many sides, and room in their minds and hearts for nearly every sort of person they encountered.

At the end of the war, for example, about 120 German soldiers had been captured and kept by French police as prisoners of war in an old chateau just outside Le Chambon. With the permission of the German Commandant, André went to that semi-prison every Sunday afternoon and conducted a service of worship. He wasn’t there to treat the prisoners with revenge or contempt, but as persons whose human souls and dignity were important. He took with him a basket of as much fruit and bread as he could carry, and preached pretty much the same sermon he had preached that morning in his church.

In short, the process of writing began with key persons being painted with a truthful brush.”

What was your main source of information for research?

“Writing this book involved five sources: personal interviews with Trocmé friends and family members in France, Switzerland and the United States; collecting a raft of books that touch the Trocmé story in any significant way; putting together a lengthy collection of Trocmé-related photographs that introduced me more vividly to the personalities involved; collecting documents that represented the mass of material they recorded and saved during their life; and getting permissions for the use of photos and direct quotations.

Personal interviews were fun. Those that took place in the Paris area were gratifying, as were those I interviewed in Geneva and Le Chambon and its surroundings. But there were others interviews scattered around France. Thanks still go to Jacques Trocmé, who drove me through about 20% of southern France in search of the most important interviewees. Collecting the books I needed (and a few that wasted my time) was easy enough, given the libraries I searched and the many librarians who found ways to find what I couldn’t find by myself.

Documents? Since virtually all the Trocmé papers had been placed in the Peace Collection of the Library at Swarthmore College, the archivist, Wendy Chmielewski, was perennially helpful.  I owed most to Nelly Trocmé Hewett, who copied and sent innumerable documents still in the family collection.

Then there were those permissions. Ah, permissions! The editors didn’t tell me about permissions until I started asking for them in several parts of the United States and Europe. Then my immediate editor told me this might be the longest part of the process. She was wrong. The longest part was eliminating parts of the writing that I had thought were worth including, until my wife and/or my editor pointed out the wordy and clumsy parts here and there.  They shrank the book from about 450 pages to 328 pages.”

André and Magda Trocmé were ardent supporters of a nonviolent lifestyle. Do you believe that this pacifist ideal is still relevant and attainable in our modern climate?

“Yes, pacifism is relevant and attainable. But let’s not assume that it is simply a nonviolent stance in the presence of an army of humans gone crazy with their guns. Rather, pacifism is a commitment to weave the fabric of peace day-by-day and item-by-item.

Two key figures in this book, Edouard Theis and André Trocmé, made that clear to me in person. Both these men refused the use of violence; but more to the point, they sought every option that might create peace. I recall to this day a conversation with Theis in which he insisted that pacifism is that kind of daily discipline.

One of the stories in this book recalls the day that Theis and Trocmé were told they could be released from the detention camp at St Paul d’Eyjeaux. They had only to sign a document that required them to swear obedience to the Vichy government and pledge their personal support to Marshal Pétain. They refused. “If we make that pledge and then break it, we make ourselves liars and that is a violation of the ninth commandment. We are forbidden to bear false witness.”  For them, pacifism was relevant and attainable but might have cost them their lives. Next morning, the prison commandant told them to take their gear and leave. He wanted nothing to do with their complicated moral convictions.

For most of us, pacifism is attainable, but we don’t bother to keep that pacifist discipline day-by-day and item-by-item.”

Did you learn anything about yourself through the process of writing this book?  How has this book helped to shape your own identity? 

“I have written lectures, essays, articles and books, but not until I wrote this biography did I really learn the arts of patience and endless inquiry when in search of the persons whose story this is. I learned that empathy, objectivity and accuracy are the imperatives of a biography.

And I learned something else: I am the last one to describe my own identity. Someone else will have to do that. I can only hope they get it right.”

What do you hope the reader gains from this book?

“From the outset, I have said that this book was written for the “general reader.” However, there are only “general readers,” people who see distinct purposes in what they find in the book. I have been made alert to several readers having gained more than an interesting piece of history, but something that asks a response in their present lives.

One reviewer said the book “brings us a little closer to a world without genocide, and that’s the true measure of this book.” Another says “The importance of this book is that it places the Trocmés accurately in context…. Andre and Magda Trocmé are well served by this book, but so are the people of the Plateau.” Yet another says, “A Portrait of Pacifists is as relevant today as when André and Magda lived it. Their finding and living the Truth is pertinent to where we find the World today.” An aged woman, who continues her public protests against war, wrote me a note saying, “reading this book will keep us all aware of the importance of working for peace in Afghanistan, Iraq and so many places in the Middle East.” And several reviewers noted for obvious reasons that this book is of special interest to Jews.

If even a few readers gain responses like these, I will be more than gratified.”

Unsworth’s detailed biography, A Portrait of Pacifists: Le Chambon, The Holocaust, and the Lives of André and Magda Trocmé, can be found at the Syracuse University Press website.


Author Spotlight: Robert Bogdan

Book: Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen and Other Photographic Rhetoric

Currently a Distinguished Professor of Emeritus of Social Science and Education at Syracuse University, Robert Bogdan is back with a new book revisiting his work on historical disability photographs. Well-known for his work in disability studies, he has won numerous awards for his writing, and received an honorary doctorate degree from Stockholm University. Bogdan is the author of Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit, Beauty and the Beast: Human-Animal Relations as Revealed in Real Photo Postcards, 1905–1935, Adirondack Vernacular: The Photography of Henry M. Beach, and Real Photo Postcard Guide: The People’s Photography. His latest book will be out this October.

Tell us about your upcoming book, Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen and Other Photographic Rhetoric?

“Picturing Disability looks at the various ways people with disabilities have been depicted in photographs. Each chapter looks at a different set of depictions produced for different reasons by different people. There are chapters on “freak show” souvenirs, begging solicitations, charity drives, art photography, clinical renderings, product advertising, institutional propaganda and muckraking, and photos found in family albums. There are over 250 illustrations that are integrated into the text.”

What made you want to revisit the topic of disability again, after having written about it in your book Freak Show?

“Since writing Freak Show I have pursed an interest in the history of photography and have collected historical images of people with disabilities. I have also visited many collections of antique photographs. In the back of my mind I was working on Picturing Disability for a long time. Disability Studies has always been an interest and I thought that Freak Show was only a start in looking at depictions of disability.”

Was the research involved in compiling this book similar or different to your previous research for your other books?

“It was similar in the sense that I hunted down multiple sources of old photographs and reviewed thousands of them in my research. Since I had been collecting images of people with disabilities for over twenty-five years and there were not many archives that had such images I relied more on my own collection than in previous work.”

What aspect of working on a book project do you enjoy the most? Do you follow the same process with every book or does each book project unfold in a different way?

“I love finding and examining images that open up new insights into what I am researching. In my last two books I follow more of less the same process. I study thousands of images and start sorting them according to categories that emerge by looking at how the images are the same and different. Then I begin refining the categories and writing about them. The categories get modified, merged, refined and elaborated upon.”

Why did you choose to put more of an emphasis and focus on who was behind the camera than the specific individuals in the photos?

“All photographs are taken under different circumstances and for different purposes by people with a variety of points of view. People interested depictions of people with disability seldom take that into account the picture takers. Most are interested in making judgments about whether the pictures are complimentary or slanderous, or are concerned with how the depictions fit into contemporary theory. I chose my approach because I thought it was missing and made sense to me.”

What do you enjoy most about studying photography and its impacts on culture?

“Thinking through the connection between the different ways photographers operated and how the pictures they took are related.”

What do you hope this book will accomplish or help with in current and future disability studies?

“I hope it will generate interest in disability studies and expand how people in this field approach the study of disability representation.”

The fall 2012 title, Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen and Other Photographic Rhetoric, by Robert Bogdan with Martin Elks and James Knoll is available for pre-sale now.  Visit the Syracuse University Press website for more information.

“The stunning archive of images that Bogdan and his co-authors have amassed is a major contribution to the growing body of analysis of disability representation in photography. This book brings incisive, expert historical perspective to more familiar terrain and at the same time opens up important new avenues of exploration.”—Susan Schweik, University of California at Berkeley

Photo: Charles Tripp, ” The Armless Wonder,” 1885. Photograph by Eisenmann. Cabinet card, Bogdan Collection.