Goodnight, Beloved Comrade

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This week, the University of Wisconsin Press publishes Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver, edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh.  

Denton Welch

Denton Welch

Denton Welch (1915–48) died at the age of thirty-three after a brief but brilliant career as a writer and painter. He published four novels published between 1943 and 1950: Maiden Voyage, In Youth Is Pleasure, Brave and Cruel, and A Voice through Cloud, as well as a large body of short fiction and poetry.The revealing, poignant, impressionistic voice that buoys his novels was much praised by critics and literati in England and has since inspired creative artists from William S. Burroughs to John Waters. His achievements were all the more remarkable because he suffered from debilitating spinal and pelvic injuries incurred in a bicycle accident at age eighteen.

Though German bombs were ravaging Britain, Welch wrote in his published work about the idyllic landscapes and local people he observed in Kent. There, in 1943, he met and fell in love with Eric Oliver, a handsome, intelligent, but rather insecure “landboy”—an agricultural worker with the wartime Land Army. Oliver would become a companion, comrade, lover, and caretaker during the last six years of Welch’s life. All fifty-one letters that Welch wrote to Oliver are collected and annotated here for the first time.

Daniel Murtaugh, editor of Goodnight, Beloved Comrade, shares in the following post how he’s experienced a companionship that mirrors that of Welch and Oliver.

I made my first trip to Austin, Texas, during the summer of 1996 to locate and transcribe the correspondence of Denton Welch, partially funded by a small research stipend and a University of Kansas Endowment loan. The Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Te

The Harry Ransom Center

The Harry Ransom Center

xas held Welch’s original holographic letters purchased in the 1960s from Eric Oliver, Welch’s companion. My book originated from the work I did during this visit.

As it happened, Ned, one of my closest friends from Lawrence, Kansas, had moved to Austin a couple of years prior and was working for a rare book and manuscript restoration business. Though I knew I would be spending most of my daytime hours in research, I made plans to get together with my friend during the evenings.

Martha Campbell in front of her bed and breakfast

Martha Campbell in front of her bed and breakfast

Ned picked me up at the Austin airport and took me to the bed and breakfast run by Martha Campbell in the Hyde Park area of Austin. Martha had lost her husband and had converted her home into a lovely and relaxing oasis for visiting scholars at the University of Texas. My digs were a series of light-filled rooms where I immediately felt at home.

Martha is a well-read and feisty Texas woman, much like her idols Governor Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, and we had many lively political and literary discussions during my time in her home.

Some of my most memorable moments at Ms. Campbell’s were those sitting on her porcgeckoh, after dark, reading or mentally rehearsing my findings from the Denton Welch Collection at the Ransom Center. I was quite used to the deafening droning of cicadas as evening fell, but not to geckos. I was amazed and delighted to see several of these tiny lizards clinging adhesively to the porch walls, then darting after any mosquitos or other insects coming into the danger zone. I half expected one of these creatures to leap onto my shoulders in hot pursuit of its nocturnal quarry, but it never happened.

Congress Street bats

Congress Street bats

While I am still within a darting tongue’s distance of the subject of insect control, I might mention that one evening—just at dusk—Ned and I went to the Congress Street bridge in downtown Austin, under which thousands of bats make their homes. As we sat on the bank of the Colorado River, we heard a deafening squeaking and whirring, preceding waves of bats winging and pirouetting their way down the river channel in search of mosquitos. It should come as no surprise that this natural phenomenon has become one of the “must-sees” for visitors to the city.

Barton Springs

Barton Springs

Ned and I spent a lot of time together, bicycling to Barton Springs (for relief from the intense south Texas heat), along the numerous bike paths on the banks of the Colorado, and finally climbing the cliffs above Lake Travis for an exhilarating view of the Texas hill country. On my last Saturday in Austin, we took a hike among some rocky outcroppings near the river. When I stopped for a rest, I  naively sat down cross-legged on the ground; it didn’t take long for me to realize that fire ants (which one is unlikely to encounter north of the Red River) were advancing in platoons up my legs, apparently intending to bivoufire antac somewhere inside my shorts. Before I could mount a counterattack, I learned to my chagrin—and to Ned’s amusement—the reason they were given the name “fire” ants.

Lake Travis

Lake Travis

In all the time we spent together in Austin, I hadn’t realized how like Ned was in appearance and nature to the writer whose letters I was reading and copying at the Ransom Center. Both wore round, wire-rim glasses, both had a mass of curly hair, and both were intensely attuned to the minutiae of the world around them. Many years later, I recognize that Denton Welch’s sometimes frustrating relationship with Eric Oliver—particularly related to their difficulties in the mutual expression of intimacy—in many ways mirrored my continuing friendship and love for Ned, which had begun in Lawrence several years prior to my trip. Among the things that Denton and Eric enjoyed most were their hikes and bicycling trips around the English countryside, the same types of things Ned and I cherished most during my visit to Austin and in my previous experiences with him.

Also, like Denton for Eric, I long ago realized that Ned is one of my soulmates, but also like the writer and his companion, our connection can never be fully and mutually shared; there are barriers. However, no one will ever share in the same way my sense of wonderment in and bewilderment by our world (including geckos, bats, and fire ants) better than Ned.

Daniel J. Murtaugh

Daniel J. Murtaugh

Daniel J. Murtaugh teaches literature and history at Park University and at Johnson County Community College. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Good Night, Beloved Comrade is published in the UWP books series Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographiesedited by David Bergman, Joan Larkin, and Raphael Kadushin.

New publications, February 2017

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We are pleased to announce two new books to be published in February.

February 7, 2017
GOOD NIGHT, BELOVED COMRADE
The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver
Edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh

Denton Welch (1915–48) died at the age of thirty-three after a brief but brilliant career as a writer and painter. The revealing, poignant, impressionistic voice that buoys his novels was much praised by critics and literati in England and has since inspired creative artists from William S. Burroughs to John Waters. His achievements were all the more remarkable because he suffered from debilitating spinal and pelvic injuries incurred in a bicycle accident at age eighteen.

Though German bombs were ravaging Britain, Welch wrote in his published work about the idyllic landscapes and local people he observed in Kent. There, in 1943, he met and fell in love with Eric Oliver, a handsome, intelligent, but rather insecure “landboy”—an agricultural worker with the wartime Land Army. Oliver would become a companion, comrade, lover, and caretaker during the last six years of Welch’s life. All fifty-one letters that Welch wrote to Oliver are collected and annotated here for the first time. They offer a historical record of life amidst the hardship, deprivation, and fear of World War II and are a timeless testament of one young man’s tender and intimate emotions, his immense courage in adversity, and his continual struggle for love and creative existence.

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies
David Bergman, Joan Larkin, and Raphael Kadushin, Series Editors

 

February 21
OF BEGGARS AND BUDDHASBowie-Of-Beggars-and-Buddhas-c
The Politics of Humor in the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand
Katherine A. Bowie

An exploration of the subversive politics of humor in the most important story in Theravada Buddhism

The 547 Buddhist jatakas, or verse parables, recount the Buddha’s lives in previous incarnations. In his penultimate and most famous incarnation, he appears as the Prince Vessantara, perfecting the virtue of generosity by giving away all his possessions, his wife, and his children to the beggar Jujaka. Taking an anthropological approach to this two-thousand-year-old morality tale, Katherine A. Bowie highlights significant local variations in its interpretations and public performances across three regions of Thailand over 150 years.

The Vessantara Jataka has served both monastic and royal interests, encouraging parents to give their sons to religious orders and intimating that kings are future Buddhas. But, as Bowie shows, characterizations of the beggar Jujaka in various regions and eras have also brought ribald humor and sly antiroyalist themes to the story. Historically, these subversive performances appealed to popular audiences even as they worried the conservative Bangkok court. The monarchy sporadically sought to suppress the comedic recitations. As Thailand has changed from a feudal to a capitalist society, this famous story about giving away possessions is paradoxically being employed to promote tourism and wealth.

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, Thongchai Winichakul, I. G. Baird, Katherine Bowie, and Anne Ruth Hansen, Series Editors

 

 

 

Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era

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Law professor Michael O’Hear has just published his new book with us this week: Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era. We spoke with him about his findings on this timely subject.

A lot has been written in the popular and academic press about mass incarceration, as the number of Americans in prison has increased tremendously since the 1970s. What does your book add?

Most writing on mass incarceration deals with the subject as a generalized national phenomenon. However, the vast majority of American prisoners—about seven in eight—are held in state institutions after being sentenced in state courts under state laws. Really, it is state-level policies and practices that have driven the unprecedented imprisonment boom that we have seen in the U.S. over the past four decades. This helps to explain why mass incarceration has hit some states a lot harder than others. Yet, there are very few studies that explore the experience of particular states in depth. We will not have the full story of mass incarceration in America until state experiences are better understood.

My book covers the historical development of sentencing policy in Wisconsin over a period of more than forty years. Only a handful of other states have been studied in a comparable fashion. I hope to enrich the literature by putting another state that has had a distinctive experience under the microscope. Of course, I think my book will also hold a special appeal for Wisconsinites who are interested in better understanding and possibly reforming penal practices in their own state.

How hard did mass incarceration hit Wisconsin?

In some respects, the Wisconsin experience has been representative of the overall national experience. As with most other states, Wisconsin’s prison population rose sharply in the last quarter of the twentieth century and remains today near its all-time high. At present, the prison population amounts to about 377 out of every 100,000 state residents. This figure is not far off the national average of 402 state prisoners out of every 100,000 U.S. residents.

However, Wisconsin’s numbers do stand out in at least two ways. First, the state’s prison population grew remarkably quickly, even by national standards. In the early 1970’s, Wisconsin’s imprisonment rate was only about half the national average. In essence, Wisconsin went from being a low-imprisonment state forty years ago to a middle-of-the-pack state today. Second, mass incarceration hit Wisconsin’s African American community in an especially dramatic and disheartening way. By some measures, Wisconsin may have the nation’s very highest rate of black male incarceration. In some neighborhoods in Milwaukee, in particular, imprisonment has become a routine and expected part of the life experience of young men of color.

What caused Wisconsin’s prison population to grow so quickly?behind bars

Let me first address two common errors about mass incarceration. I’ve heard these stories often from commentators both locally and nationally, but the Wisconsin experience does a good job of highlighting the problems with these accounts. First, many people think that mass incarceration was caused by the “war on drugs.” It is true that the imprisonment boom, at both the state and national level, coincided with a toughening of drug laws and a sharp increase in drug arrests. However, the vast majority of arrests have been for low-level offenses, like simple possession of marijuana, and the offenders have tended to cycle in and out of the criminal-justice system relatively quickly. Thus, in Wisconsin, the portion of the prison population serving time for drug offenses topped out at about 15 percent, and has since dropped to below 10 percent. The national numbers are a little higher, but the fact remains that mass incarceration would still exist even if every drug offender were released from prison tomorrow.

Second, it is often said that mass incarceration resulted from the adoption of mandatory minimums and other laws that took away the discretion of sentencing judges. It is true that Wisconsin, like many other states, adopted a host of new statutory minimums in the 1980s and 1990s. However, upon closer inspection, the minimums are revealed for what they really were—largely symbolic enactments that vented public frustration over crime without actually doing much to pump up the prison population. Minimums were relatively short, or narrowly targeted, or included safety valves that permitted judges to avoid them. In some states, like California, discretion was much more dramatically curtailed. However, the Wisconsin story demonstrates that mass incarceration happened without aggressive changes in sentencing law.

In Wisconsin, the prison population initially exploded because crime exploded, and because judges and prosecutors lacked confidence in the ability of the Department of Corrections to manage the rising tide of offenders effectively in the community. But then, even when crime stabilized in the 1990s, the prison population continued to grow, as indicated in the figure below. Sentences were becoming more severe, reflecting the entrenchment of tough-on-crime attitudes among criminal-justice officials. (In Wisconsin, as in most states, judges and district attorneys are elected, which makes it perilous for these key local officials to appear overly lenient.) For a few years, generous parole practices partly counterbalanced tougher sentences, but parole grew politicized in the mid-1990s and was effectively phased out. The formal elimination of parole through “truth in sentencing” helped to ensure that Wisconsin’s prison population would remain near its all-time high on a sustained basis.

Figure: Wisconsin Prisoners and Arrests for Violent Crime

Figure: Wisconsin Prisoners and Arrests for Violent Crime

Why should we care about the state or national imprisonment rate?

Commentators have been calling for large-scale decarceration in the United States for years. The numbers-crunchers tell us that that this could likely be accomplished with little or no adverse impact on public safety. The historical experiences of Wisconsin and Minnesota offer a telling comparison. The two states had similar crime and imprisonment rates in the early 1970s. Since then, Wisconsin’s imprisonment rate has grown far more quickly than Minnesota’s, but the crime rates have remained closely in sync.

In recent years, the opponents of mass incarceration have particularly emphasized the fiscal burdens of imprisonment. It is true that corrections expenses are stressing state budgets in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Local taxpayers are now paying more for corrections than they are for the University of Wisconsin, which hardly seems an ideal way to prioritize public expenditures. Still, I am skeptical that appeals to fiscal restraint alone will inspire much decarceration. Fear of crime remains widespread, and people resist thinking about crime policy in terms of dollars and cents; the stakes just seem too high.barbed wire

Reformers need to make the case that new sentencing policies would not only save money, but actually make us safer. Accumulating bodies of evidence show that imprisonment can make some offenders more likely to reoffend, while some types of community-based rehabilitative programming can significantly reduce risks of recidivism. However, I argue in my book that real reform likely requires more than just a good public education campaign.

Ultimately, as a society, we must move beyond the reflexive vilification of offenders and recognize their shared humanity. They are not just criminals, but also parents, children, spouses, neighbors, friends, and employees, and many desperately want to do something positive with their lives. Moreover, most come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have faced extraordinary adversity growing up, which ought to inspire at least a little compassion. If we care about the well-being of prisoners, and the well-being of those on the outside who are connected to them, then we should care very deeply about the excessive use of imprisonment that is reflected in the mass-incarceration numbers. This is not to say that we should empty out the prisons tomorrow. Saint Augustine taught us to hate the sin, but love the sinner. If we were really to take that teaching to heart, we would find ways to protect public safety and hold offenders accountable, but without doing so much unnecessary damage to so many human lives along the way.

Michael OMichael O'Hear‘Hear is a professor of law at Marquette University. He is an editor of the journal Federal Sentencing Reporter and has published many articles on sentencing law, criminal procedure, and public opinion about the criminal justice system.

 

Michael O’Hear

Autobiographical Confession in Pop Culture

Megan Brown is the author of American Autobiography after 9/11, published this week. She reflects in this post on contemporary examples of the performative aspect of confession and how we have come to expect that as an audience. Brown is an associate professor of English at Drake University, and her new book is published in the University of Wisconsin Press series, Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography

I need to confess something here: I am an avid fan of the kinds of pop culture that many in my field readily disparage. Yes, I’ll crank up the car radio volume if “Bad Blood” comes on, and yes, I like to cackle about episodes of the various Bachelor franchises with my friends, and yes, I’ll probably keep doing these things even as Taylor Swift songs and reality television shows become more predictable and repetitive over the years. Indeed, the predictability and the repetition are the very things that I find not only appealing, but also fascinating. Some viewers and listeners might find the familiar tropes—insisting on being at the week’s rose ceremony for the “right reasons” or dissing unfaithful men in uptempo C major—comforting in an uncertain world, but I find them strange. They are shorthand, performative gestures toward confession that blur the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction by manipulating and satisfying audience expectations. As Michel Foucault reminds us, audience is central to the workings of confession—as he writes in The History of Sexuality, “one does not confess without the presence (or virtual presence) of a partner who is not simply the interlocutor but the authority who requires the confession.” The confessor is expected and compelled to follow tropes of confessional narrative, and listeners will respond—often with credulity—according to the confessor’s level of fidelity to that narrative.

Let me explain further by turning first to Taylor Swift’s 1989, featuring the singles “Style,” “Shake It Off,” “Blank Space,” and the aforementioned “Bad Blood.” As these songs and their videos became popular, writers in music magazines and on social media alike focused on one factor above all: the lyrics. Billboard dished on 1989’s references to Swift’s ex, Harry Styles of One Direction fame. The Washington Post offered an extended analysis of “Bad Blood,” using quotations and screenshots of fans’ Facebook posts and tweets to suggest that the song was intended as a takedown of Swift’s fellow pop diva, Katy Perry. Questions swirled as listeners tried to map the singles’ lyrics onto the singer’s life. This phenomenon is by no means limited to Swift—consider, for instance, the summer 2016 arguments about the “real” identity of Beyonce’s “Becky with the Good Hair.” Why, though, would anyone assume that song lyrics are autobiographical? Why would we assume that “Becky” is a real, identifiable person, and that Beyonce’s Lemonade is her account of struggles in her marriage to Jay Z? Can’t a popular performer sing from the point of view of a fictional persona, or write songs about fictional characters? In interviews, Swift coyly drops hints about life events that inspired her songs, but—more importantly, in my view—listeners assume autobiographical narrative in her lyrics because she performs “what confession sounds like” in contemporary memoir. Her songs come from a first-person perspective, and they signal authentic vulnerability by presenting a flawed narrator (the girl who “goes on too many dates but can’t make them stay,” as “Shake It Off” proclaims) with less-than-pretty emotions.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Think, too, about the confessional imperative—the idea that Swift “keeps it real” is central to her appeal. Firmly ensconced in celebrity culture, she is always expected to write about her love life, to keep the conversation and speculation going, even if the songs become formulaic. While her audience is not “requiring” the confessions in the way envisioned by Foucault, her continued relevance may well depend on meeting listener/viewer expectations for autobiographical narrative. Her songs, and the items about her in gossip columns, feed each other in a symbiotic relationship that may assure her career longevity. (Or, at least, assure her ongoing notoriety—it’s interesting that her controversial 2016 dispute with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West is again about “autobiographical” lyrics, this time in West’s “Famous.”)

If we turn to the example of reality TV, we can see how the performed confessional—again, the outward signs of authentic vulnerability—becomes crucial to contestants’ longevity or popularity on a show. Summer 2016 brought the twelfth installment of The Bachelorette, and the most recent Bachelor in early 2016 was the twentieth season of that series. In both of these iterations of

ABC.com

ABC.com

the reality franchise, the contestants receiving the most screen time spent much of that time confessing their feelings and telling stories about their pasts. Maybe these contestants were coached by show producers or by viewings of past seasons, but they seemed to know how to perform; one front-runner, Robby Hayes, was the first to tell the titular Bachelorette, JoJo Fletcher, that he loved her, and he led up to his confession of love by telling a dramatic part of his life story: “I came here [to be on The Bachelorette] because of huge changes I made in my life. Last year, on April 17, my best friend from growing up died. . . . It made me realize that if I’m not happy in the job I’m in, I’m not happy in the city I’m in, and if I’m constantly questioning the relationship I’m in, tomorrow might not be here.” This revelation, while potentially heartfelt, also worked as a strategy for Robby—JoJo later tells the cameras that Robby’s confessed feelings and experiences influenced her to keep him on the show and helped her trust him even when tabloids claimed he might have broken up with his previous girlfriend just so that he could appear on TV. The eventual winner of the season, Jordan Rodgers, similarly deployed autobiographical detail to win JoJo’s trust in the wake of controversial tabloid revelations. JoJo, and her viewing audience choosing to watch and commenting online, expected confessions and rewarded adherence to the well-worn tropes of autobiographical, confessional narrative.

Given the pop music and reality TV references in this post, a reader might be tempted to dismiss the observations here as trivial or irrelevant, but the performance of autobiographical conventions also affects, and can even shape, our politics. Just after summer 2016’s Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton enjoyed a “bounce” in her polling numbers, not just in terms of responses to her policy ideas, but also in terms of potential voters’ opinions on aspects of her character, such as being “in touch with the problems of normal Americans” and being “a president you could be proud of.” One reason for the post-Convention bounce? Former president Bill Clinton’s speech, which—as sources ranging from the New York Times to the Conservative Review commented—focused almost exclusively on “humanizing” the candidate via autobiographical stories about the Clintons’ relationship and family life. (This humanizing strategy was highly gendered, creating a portrait of self-proclaimed policy wonk Hillary Clinton as an emotional, even sexual, entity—a topic for another post.) Like Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Kanye West, and The Bachelorette’s many contestants over the years, Bill Clinton knew and used the power of the performative conventions of autobiographical narrative.

Reading African American Autobiography

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Eric Lamore, editor of Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism, spoke with us about why it’s necessary to study overlooked texts to gain deep insight into African American life narratives. His book is published today in the Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography series. 

What influence do you think that President Obama has had upon readers and writers of African American autobiography?

In putting together this collection of eleven essays on African American autobiography, I was particularly interested in Robert B. Stepto’s claim that scholars of African American literature need to rethink this canon because the President of the United

1995 edition

1995 edition

States for the last eight years is himself an African American writer. In his book, A Home Elsewhere: Reading African American Classics in the Age of Obama, Stepto compares relevant parts from Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, with foundational literary texts, some of which are autobiographies. I titled my introduction “African American Autobiography in the Age of Obama” to emphasize this connection.

2004 edition

2004 edition

This election season, I went back and reread Obama’s Dreams, and I was struck by the President’s comments on reading. He wrote in the preface to the 2004 edition of his memoir that he wanted to revise parts of his book, because he would have told his life story differently had he written it later in his life. But, he commented that his 1995 memoir would be read differently as republished in a post-911 world, so he was quite aware of the relationship between text, reader, and context. Part of Obama’s contribution to the study of African American life narratives in the twenty-first century is this important point about the need to reread older life narratives, because cultural and political landscapes continue to change in the United States and around the world. One could reread pertinent African American life narratives from the past, for example, in the context of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

I think Obama’s Dreams also laid an important textual foundation for African American life narrators in the twenty-first century. Though Dreams was first published in 1995, Obama’s explorations of the biracial self, and his search for people and places (including outside the United States) that impacted his constructions of self, are found in much of twenty-first-century African American life writing. The last four essays in Reading African American Autobiography explore these themes. There are striking parallels between Obama’s Dreams and twenty-first-century African American life writing that scholars need to explore further.

How might future scholarship build on the essays in this volume?

The contributors and I collectively make the case that reading these life narratives in the twenty-first century requires scholars to consider a wide array of texts and a host of critical approaches. We also directly address ways that innovative critical frameworks, such as ecocriticism or queer theory, allow scholars to reread seminal life stories from our past in new ways.

Some of the contributors reclaim overlooked texts and lives, including a criminal confession camera manpublished on a broadside in the late eighteenth century, an abridged edition of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography published for children and adolescent readers in nineteenth-century New York, an uplift narrative published after the Civil War that contains important photographs, and autobiographical graphic narratives published in the late twentieth century. The slave narratives published in the antebellum period still remain very important, of course, but my book makes the case that scholars need to spend more time analyzing other overlooked texts and lives. More work needs to be done to recover neglected aspects of African American lives and to dig into texts that have not received adequate critical attention.

FoxyWe also call for studying a wider range of genres. Scholars today can look at the presentation of self in blogs, YouTube posts, graphic narratives, films, and photography, to name just a few genres. The intersection of genealogy and genetics, too, has produced all kinds of new information on African American lives that we need to consider. The printed page is still important, but these other channels make it clear that African American life narrators are telling their stories and exploring the self in ways beyond the writing of a memoir. All these varied explorations have expanded the canon of African American life narrative in dramatic ways. There is no doubt that the field must and will become more interdisciplinary.

In the book, we also look at celebrity life writing in the twenty-first-century. Almost all examples of this in the African American life narrative canon are collaborative projects. It would be fruitful to study that process, especially if there is documentation (transcribed interviews, recordings, and the like) mapping how the celebrity and the collaborating writer worked together.

In the chapter that you contributed to this collection about Olaudah Equiano, you draw on the history of books and publishing to shed light on the complex textual histories of the African American autobiographical tradition. 

Yes, I’ve been influenced by scholarship on early black Atlantic literature and book history. I’veEquiano collage written here about Abigail Mott’s 1829 abridged edition of Equiano’s autobiography. Usually, Equiano is understood as one of the main individuals of African descent involved in the political movement against the slave trade in 1780s Great Britain. The point of my chapter is that there is a whole different story on Equiano if you look closely at the several different editions of his autobiography that were published in the United States, both during his lifetime and following his death. Mott’s 1829 edition, published thirty-two years after Equiano’s death, was aimed at students in the New York African Free School. It is the first edition of Equiano’s autobiography I know of that was edited specifically for young African American readers in the United States.

Mott’s abridged edition is a perfect example of what I referred to earlier as an overlooked text. By looking at more than one edition, we can discover that Equiano’s autobiography was edited and read in the United States differently from editions published in Great Britain. These differences tell us a great deal about how editors and book publishers packaged Equiano’s life in specific ways for their readers. Mott’s edition shows us one of the points where Equiano’s autobiography entered the African American canon (though he clearly viewed himself as an Afro-British subject). Studying abridged, unauthorized, and posthumous editions of early black Atlantic life writing reveals a great deal about the changing histories and contexts of works that shaped the beginnings of the African American life writing tradition.

Lamore-Eric-2016-cEric D. Lamore is an associate professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. He is the editor of Teaching Olaudah Equiano’s Narrative: Pedagogical Strategies and New Perspectives and coeditor of New Essays on Phillis Wheatley.

New books, December & January

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We are pleased to announce these new and soon-to-be-published books.

Published December 6
Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts: Seeking Justice after Genocide
Bert Ingelaere
“This masterful study provides a balanced, nuanced assessment of Rwanda’s local courts, showing how diverse social dynamics influenced both the operations of gacaca and its outcomes in different local communities. Essential reading for anyone interested in transitional justice and conflict resolution, in Rwanda and beyond.”—Catharine Newbury, Smith College
Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

To be published January 10Lamore-Reading-African-American-Autobiography-2016-c
Reading African American Autobiography: Twenty-First-Century Contexts and Criticism
Edited by Eric D. Lamore
“These provocative essays reveal the exciting state of African American autobiographical studies. The critical approaches explored here—from new-media studies and eco-criticism to reading the interplay between visual and verbal autobiographical acts—not only frame and interpret the life narratives proliferating within today’s digital and popular cultures, they enliven classic literary texts for a contemporary age.”—Angela Ards, author of Words of Witness
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

5526-165wTo be published January 10
American Autobiography after 9/11

Megan Brown
“Demonstrates how several American life-writing subgenres have reflected and responded to national and personal anxieties after 9/11. This accessible and well-argued book is an essential resource for understanding contemporary memoir.”—G. Thomas Couser, Hofstra University
Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography   William L. Andrews, Series Editor

 

To be published January 175415-165w
Understanding and Teaching the Cold War
Edited by Matthew Masur
“A superb collection of authoritative, imaginative, and even provocative essays on teaching the history of the Cold War, effectively merging historiography, methodology, and innovative use of primary documents.”—Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century
The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History

John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin, Series Editors

5493-165wTo be published January 17
Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era: 
How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway
Michael O’Hear
“Serious students of modern sentencing reforms—as well as everyone eager to understand the roots of, and potential responses to, modern mass incarceration—must have this book on their reading list. O’Hear thoroughly canvasses the dynamic story of Wisconsin’s uniquely important sentencing reform history.”—Douglas Berman, author of the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog

 

 

Books to get snowed in with

Snowed InDennis’s picks  Because there’s nothing like carb-loading, thoughts of Florida, and engrossing reading to fend off frosty weather …
The Norske Nook Book of Pies by Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker
Space: A Memoir by Jesse Lee Kercheval
Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories by Jennifer Morales
Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania by Charles Monroe-Kane

Raphael’s picks  Definitely armchair travel when you’re housebound …
Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse  Edited by Brian Bouldrey
Honorable Bandit: A Walk across Corsica by Brian Bouldrey
Cleopatra’s Wedding Present: Travels through Syria  by Robert Tewdwr Moss
The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia  by Alden Jones

Toni’s picks  A mystery series to curl up with …
Death Stalks Door County, Death at Gills Rock, and Death in Cold Water by Patricia Skalka
Murder in LascauxThe Body in Bodega Bay, and Death on a Starry Night by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden

Gwen’s picks   Tasty wild foods, and stories from Norwegian-American and Polish-American immigrants …
Troutsmith: An Angler’s Tales and Travels by Kevin Searock
Wild Rice Goose and Other Other Dishes of the Upper Midwest by John G. Motoviloff
Wisconsin My Home by Thurine Oleson
My Sister’s Mother: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin’s Siberia by Donna Solecka Urbikas

SM’s picks  More armchair travel, with bikes and boats …
Across America by Bicycle: Alice and Bobbi’s Summer on Wheels by Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery
Sailing to the Far Horizon: The Restless Journey and Tragic Sinking of a Tall Ship by Pamela Sisman Bitterman

Sheila L’s picks  Thinking of next summer’s gardening …
Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native Plants to Attract Birds by Mariette Nowak
Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum by Theodore S. Cochrane, Kandis Elliot, and Claudia S. Lipke

Christmas Chemistry for 47 Years

bucky-bigEarlier this month, chemistry professor Bassam Shakhashiri and his crew staged their 47th presentation of “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery, in the Lab of Shakhashiri.” The popular family-friendly show of colorful and surprising chemical demonstrations, accompanied by live music and a visit from Santa, delivers a message that has long been Shakhashiri’s slogan: Science Is Fun!Girl_Scout_ThankYou-sm

Educating children, students, and the general public about science, and about chemistry in particular, is Shakhashiri’s passion. A past president of the American Chemical Society and founder of both the Institute for Chemical Education and the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also the lead author of five world-renowned books on chemical demonstrations published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

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Shakhashiri_ChemDem_finalUWP published Volume 1 of CHEMICAL DEMONSTRATIONS: A HANDBOOK FOR TEACHERS OF CHEMISTRY in 1983.  That first volume offered 282 chemical demonstrations arranged in 11 chapters, setting the pattern for the following four volumes focused on different kinds of chemical phenomena. Each demonstration includes seven sections: a brief summary, a materials list, a step-by-step account of procedures to be used, an explanation of the hazards involved, information on how to store or dispose of the chemicals used, a discussion of the phenomena displayed and principles illustrated by the demonstration, and a list of references.

By 2011, the fifth volume was published. Although flames do not normally leap out of Volume 5 when opened, as they do in Shakhashiri’s holiday show, Volume 5 is distinctive from the other books in the series because it is printed in full color, to better convey the volume’s focus on the chemistry of color and light.

Nobel la80th-logoureate in chemistry Roald Hoffmann has pronounced the series, “The most comprehensive set of chemical demonstrations handbooks ever created.” Taken together, the five volumes constitute the bestselling publication in the University of Wisconsin Press’s eighty-year history.5480-165w

The success of the Chemical Demonstrations books led UW Press to work, as well, with UW-Madison physics professor Clint Sprott to create the book PHYSICS DEMONSTRATIONS: A SOURCEBOOK FOR TEACHERS OF PHYSICS and accompanying online videos. A review in Physics Today urged that Sprott’s Physics Demonstrations “should be placed in the libraries of all college physics departments and would be useful for many high school physics programs.”

Professor Sprott and other campus physicists have also presented public shows since 1984. The 2017 Wonders of Physics shows will be presented February 11, 12, 18, & 19 in conjunction with the annual Physics Fair.

The Wonders of Physics Show

The Wonders of Physics Show

 

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Pilgrims’ Pronouns: Reflections on “We”


5533-165wIn November, we published Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse, edited by Brian Bouldrey. Here Bouldrey 
reflects on the varied uses of the collective “We,” tying them to the impulse for pilgrimage.

we handA couple of times a year, I get together with several friends who all once lived in the same neighborhood in San Francisco. We were sitting around at a recent reunion, and one friend mentioned that our old neighborhood (still hers), full of expensive wooden Victorian homes, has a firetruck that patrols at all times, always out of the barn. “We sure do love our firefighters, don’t we?” she asked us. I told her that since I hadn’t lived in San Francisco for fifteen years, I must forfeit the right to use The Municipal We.

I’ve been thinking about the pronoun “we” a lot lately. Where do you usually see it?  Often in declarations, and in manifestos, the difference being that declarations declare, calling out something that is already there, plain as the nose on your face—our Declaration of Independence stands on the sentence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” There’s that “we” again, the Patriot We, the Nationalist We, the Pep Rally We. We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?

WE the PeopleThe manifesto differs, for a manifesto makes something manifest that never existed before: the statements of all those artists, the futurists and surrealists, the modernists who wanted to “make it new,” and all the crazy ones, from the Unabomber’s caution about industrial society to Charlie Sheen’s 11-point manifesto for winning. Manifestos are more I than We, and a noisy, hilarious We at times, like a misfiring car alarm on a Saturday morning, waking up the neighborhood even if the neighborhood is not ready to be awakened.

I have bad memories of being knocked down by grade-school bullies who linked arms and ran me down while chanting “we don’t stop for traffic.” And I’m a bit terrified of the “We don’t like your kind coming around here,” which has become a troublingly common We of late. I will chant the Creed We of “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty.”

we_areI am surprised at how choked up I can get when I declare an Alma Mater We, as in We will sing thy praise forever. Northwestern University, my alma mater, has two fight songs, “Go U Northwestern,” which we sing when we get a touchdown, and one called “Push On,” which is what we sing when we don’t get a first down. “Push on, Northwestern, we’ll always stand by you,” we promise, like a legion of battered spouses whose partners have substance abuse problems.

We-MeThere is the Royal We of queens and popes and threatening law firms.  The Nuptial We of married couples is, as Joan Didion described it, the classic betrayal. When my mother tells my father, “We need to redecorate the guest room,” she doesn’t mean we, she means you, and when my father asks my mother, “Are we out of beer?,” he doesn’t mean we, he means I. Sometimes, there was never a We involved in the first place.

And there is the Memorial We.  The Memorial We is a We that connects the present and the absent. I feel the Memorial We most strongly around Arlington or the Vietnam Memorial or the AIDS quilt, where most of the We are far away, but the multitude of names surrounds us, where pronouns become proper nouns, thousands of names. I felt the Memorial We when I placed my hand into the worn stone of the central pillar of the Portico de la Gloria in Santiago’s cathedral, thinking of the millions of hands that have also been there over hundreds of years. The Memorial We seems the closest kin to the paradoxical “Pilgrim We.”

We-Button-911x1024My name appears as editor on a book recently published by the University of Wisconsin Press, with twenty contributors far more vital than I, each writing about what I would call secular pilgrimage. Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse includes attempts by travel writers to make a sort of “we” between the “I” of themselves and the he or she of some secular saint, some great original generosity of spirit. They tell of their trips to all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “little house” homesteads, Robert Scott’s Antarctic huts, the villages of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, and the grave of William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet.

It’s not coincidental, I think, that most of the secular and sacred saints we venerate now went charging against the grain of the Municipal We. They are the mad ones who make the manifestos. The Little Rock 9 were threatened for daring to integrate Arkansas schools, but now the high school that hated them is a museum in their honor and a place to which civil rights advocates make pilgrimages every year.

I have, as a Catholic, thought quite a bit about the saints of my religion. I imagine that in those early days of the Church there must have been in every village an especially marvelous person, a person who helped the We of us, maybe led the community, maybe would fix your ox-cart and wouldn’t accept payment, gave extra tomatoes from her garden, told a good story. Then that person would die and leave a huge, gaping hole in the fabric of the village, and the people would miss her so keenly that they just knew that person was close to God.we-566326_640

Perhaps we don’t want more.  Perhaps we just want to give thanks.  That is the essence of the Pilgrim We, I suppose.

I dream of a place where the “I” and the “we” are at peace with one another, where the spiritual and the religious, the left and the right, the We and the They, can all hang together in a great inclusive old-school democracy. This might have been the dream of a secular nation that our founding fathers tried to create.

Bouldrey-Brian-2016-cBrian Bouldrey has written eight books, including Honorable Bandit: A Walk across Corsica, and edited six anthologies, including Inspired Journeys and Traveling Souls. He teaches creative writing at Northwestern University and gave the 2016 keynote address to the American pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

AIDS Readings

December 1 was World AIDS Day. This year, the world marked the 35th anniversary of the first published reports of what would come to be known as HIV/AIDS. This disease has wrought enormous suffering and caused more than 35 million deaths. The nine books that follow are testimony to that devastation.

David Caron
The deluge of metaphors triggered in 1981 in France by the first public reports of what would turn out to be the AIDS epidemic spread with far greater speed and efficiency than the virus itself.
“Literary and cultural analysis come together here as Caron casts brilliant light on the disastrously inadequate public response to the AIDS pandemic in France. . . . He shows how literature supplied the communitarian voice that would otherwise have been lacking.”—Ross Chambers, author of Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author
David Gere
“Anyone interested in dance or in gay culture or in art and politics should, as I did, find this a fascinating book, impossible to put down.”—Sally Banes, editor of Reinventing Dance in the 1960s
Edited by Edmund White
In Cooperation with the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS
“A poignant reminder of the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic on the arts.”—Library Journal
“A searing, and often bitingly funny collection of personal essays by almost two dozen writers—John Berendt, Brad Gooch, Allan Gurganus, and Sarah Schulman among them—Loss within Loss remembers over twenty creative artists lost to AIDS.”— The Advocate
Severino J. Albuquerque
Co-winner of the 2004 Roberto Reis BRASA Book Award
 “Albuquerque’s work . . . provides an archaeology of theatrical representations of homosexuality in Brazil, an alternative history of Brazilian theater from the margins, a critical analysis of canonical and non-canonical plays infused with the insights of feminist and queer theory, as well as a history of the representation of AIDS in Brazilian culture.”—Fernando Arenas, University of Minnesota
Michael Schiavi
The biography of gay-rights giant Vito Russo, the man who wrote The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, commonly regarded as the foundational text of gay and lesbian film studies. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and cofounder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Russo lived at the center of the most important gay cultural turning points in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
 Clifford Chase
An AIDS memoir on the power and limitations of family love.
“As Chase examines his life in language that is simple yet powerful, he is never less than brutally honest—especially with himself.”—Newsweek
Jennifer Anne Moses
Moses left behind a comfortable life in the upper echelons of East Coast Jewish society to move with her husband and children to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Searching for connection to her surroundings, she decided to volunteer at an AIDS hospice. But as she encountered a culture populated by French Catholics and Evangelical Christians, African Americans and Cajuns, altruistic nurses and nuns, ex-cons, street-walkers, impoverished AIDS patients, and healers of all stripes, she found she had embarked on an unexpected journey of profound self-discovery.
G. Thomas Couser    Foreword by Nancy Mairs
A provocative look at writing by and about people with illness or disability—in particular HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, deafness, and paralysis—who challenge the stigmas attached to their conditions by telling their lives in their own ways and on their own terms.
Lesléa Newman
“Although pain plays a part in this volume, many of the tales celebrate with warmth and good humor the courageous maintenance of the Jewish tradition in radical relationships. . . . Contemporary characters confront both timely issues, like AIDS, and eternal ones, such as a lovers’ quarrel or a mother-daughter misunderstanding.”—Publishers Weekly