Finding Empathy Through Troubling Stories

Aaron Denham, author of Spirit Children: Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana, comments on the importance of reading about distressing subjects. His book is published today in the University of Wisconsin Press series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture

As I began writing about infanticide and the “spirit child” phenomenon in Northern Ghana, I became interested in how narratives of vulnerability and difficult human experiences can evoke powerful emotional and imaginative reactions in listeners and readers. Spirit children are, most often, disabled or ill children believed to be spirits sent to destroy the family. In their fear, and with limited treatment options, families occasionally hasten their child’s death.

When speaking about my research to friends and the public, my descriptions of families’ difficult decisions would often induce silence or provoke awkward replies. After one presentation depicting a family’s struggles to care for a spirit child, a well-intentioned literature professor suggested I bring an MRI machine to the remote savanna to scan the children to determine if they are indeed spirits. In other venues, some people vehemently denied the fact that infanticide was even occurring. The most powerful responses, however, come from parents with young children. I soon learned to temper my descriptions after a friend became distressed when I casually explained the grim reality one family faced. She vividly imagined her infant confronting similar circumstances.

Some authors and anthropologists have written about the value of attending to their own emotions and the anxieties that arise while conducting research. George Devereux stressed that ethnographers should scrutinize their reactions and blind spots, because our emotional worlds shape the ways we experience and interpret other people. This self-attunement is useful for readers too. How might our internal world shape our understanding of what we read?

When confronted with difficult material, our emotions and anxieties can enhance or limit comprehension. When I’ve discussed infanticide, I have found that people quickly gravitate to familiar but experience-distant sociobiological paradigms. These are often encapsulated in the question: “Considering their circumstances, doesn’t infanticide make good environmental sense?” Although at times reasonable, biofundamentalist accounts can foreclose deeper moral engagements with human experience. People defer to purely objective explanations to distance anxiety and move disturbing knowledge to more familiar and manageable terms. Devereux described this process as interpretive undercomprehension. This dilemma results in anxiously clinging to a point of view simply because the reader can “tolerate that particular interpretation, while considering all other (psychologically intolerable) interpretations unscholarly and erratic.” Jacques Lacan described a similar process that he termed the “passion for ignorance,” or the desire not to know, and to want nothing more to do with knowledge that is too intense.

Authors leverage readers’ internal worlds in many ways. In my writing, I wanted to bridge diverse cultural experiences to confront the perceived strangeness of infanticide. I wanted to encourage moments of mutual recognition, if not always an empathetic attunement. The challenge has been in finding a balance between presenting the visceral realities of people’s lives and developing emotionally tolerable narratives that facilitate a deeper level of understanding.

Readers can also contemplate their own reactions to emotional subjects. Stories that confront cultural difference and distressing practices can evoke anxiety or revulsion. In these cases, we can maintain our passion for ignorance, or we can take the opportunity to contemplate the reason for these sentiments and reflect on the complexity of our shared humanity. Challenging stories can help build empathy and inspire us to action. Moreover, as we open ourselves to difficult material, we do more than learn more about the lives of others. If we pay attention to what a text evokes within, we can ultimately come away learning more about ourselves.

Aaron R. Denham is the director of the Master of Development Studies and Global Health program and a senior lecturer in anthropology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He formerly was a mental health provider for children and families, a fellow of the American Psychoanalytic Association, and a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders.

A model for 21st-century prophetic activism

Doris Dirks and Patricia Relf  are the authors of a new book,  To Offer Compassion: A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, published today by the University of Wisconsin Press. In this guest post, they reflect on the social justice activism of the little-known Clergy Consultation Service, a religious organization of the 1960s and early 1970s dedicated to providing women with safe abortions.

On May 22, 1967, at a time when abortion was illegal in the United States, an article on the front page of the New York Times announced that twenty-one New York City clergy would counsel and refer women to licensed doctors for safe abortions. The group called itself the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).

Doris Dirks, Minister Howard Moody, and Patricia Relf

Not many people know the story of the CCS. Some of the loudest speakers in the debate about abortion access since Roe v. Wade have been conservative religious voices, leading the general public to believe that all people of faith, especially the clergy, were opposed to abortion.

Just since 2010, states have adopted 334* abortion restrictions , constituting 30% of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since Roe v. Wade. On March 6, 2017, the White House proposed preserving federal payments to Planned Parenthood only if it discontinues providing abortions. Congressional Republicans have said that they will move quickly to strip all federal funds from Planned Parenthood.

As the fiftieth anniversary of the CCS approaches in May, we think about the network of some 3,000 clergy who referred as many as 450,000 women for safe abortions between 1967 and 1973. Will that kind of service will be needed again? The clergy we interviewed for our book came of age during the 1950s and 1960s and were at the forefront of the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s rights movements.

When we first started researching the CCS in 2002, we wondered where the voices of progressive clergy were in the social justice movements of the twenty-first century. Now we are starting to hear those voices being raised once more. In recent weeks, clergy and religious organizations have spoken out on transgender civil rights. More than 1,800 religious leaders signed on to an amicus brief on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a trans student who has fought for the right to use a high school restroom that aligns with his gender identity. A broad network of thirty-seven Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations announced a campaign to mobilize congregants to lobby Congress and the president on behalf of immigrants, refugees, and undocumented people.

The pastor of Ebenezer Lutheran Church and congregants at the Chicago Pride Parade.

We are experiencing divisive and turbulent times. The CCS provides a historical example of how clergy acted in the past to help women get safe abortions. It provides an example for social justice activism today.

*research published in 2016 by the Guttmacher Institute.

Doris A. Dirks is a senior academic planner with the University of Wisconsin System Administration.

Patricia A. Relf is a freelance writer.

New books in May 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in May.

May 9, 2017
WHISPERS OF CRUEL WRONGS
The Correspondence of Louisa Jacobs and Her Circle, 1879-1911
Edited by Mary Maillard

Louisa Jacobs was the daughter of Harriet Jacobs, author of the famous autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. That work included a heartbreaking account of Harriet parting with six-year-old Louisa, taken away to the North by her white father. Now, rediscovered letters reveal the lives of Louisa and her circle and shed light on Harriet’s old age.

“A rich and fascinating portrait of Philadelphia’s and Washington D.C.’s black elite after the Civil War. Even as the letters depict the increasingly troubled political status and economic fortunes of the correspondents, they offer rare glimpses into private homes and inner emotions.”—Carla L. Peterson,author of Black Gotham

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

May 16, 2017
TO OFFER COMPASSION
A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion
Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf

“Conservative Christianity has become synonymous with opposition to abortion, but before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it in the U.S., clergy organized to protect pregnant women and direct them to safe abortions. Dirks and Relf explore this extraordinary and little-known history through detailed first-person interviews and extensive research with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who, between 1967 and 1973, created a pregnancy counseling service and national underground network to provide women with options for adoption, parenting assistance, and pregnancy termination. . . . Critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

May 23, 2017
SPIRIT CHILDREN
Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana
Aaron R. Denham

“A brilliant, sensitive, and moving book about the heartbreaking phenomenon of infanticide. This is a book to be taken seriously by hospital personnel, public health policymakers, NGO workers, and anyone interested in the fate of the world’s most vulnerable young children.”—Alma Gottlieb, coauthor of A World of Babies

“A skillful ethnography of the spirit child phenomenon in northern Ghana—children who fail to thrive, are feared to harm their families, and therefore should be ‘sent back.’ This insightful, theoretically rich analysis offers a nuanced ecological, economic, and cultural explanation of maternal attachment.”—John M. Janzen, author of The Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture
Thomas Spear, Neil Kodesh, Tejumola Olaniyan, Michael G. Schatzberg, and James H. Sweet, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
THE LAND REMEMBERS

The Story of a Farm and Its People  9th Edition
Ben Logan
With an introduction by Curt Meine

“Ben Logan is strikingly successful in recalling his own boyhood world, a lonely ridge farm in southwestern Wisconsin. . . . He reviews his growing-up years in the 1920s and ’30s less with nostalgia than with a naturalist’s eye for detail, wary of the distortions of memory and sentiment.”—Christian Science Monitor

“A book to be cherished and remembered.”—Publishers Weekly

 

 

May 30, 2017
PINERY BOYS
Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era
Edited by Franz Rickaby with Gretchen Dykstra and James P. Leary

As the heyday of the lumber camps faded, a young scholar named Franz Rickaby set out to find songs from shanty boys, river drivers, and sawmill hands in the Upper Midwest. Pinery Boys now incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Rickaby’s 1926 book. It includes annotations throughout by folklore scholar James P. Leary and an engaging biography by Rickaby’s granddaughter Gretchen Dykstra. Central to this edition are the fifty-one songs that Rickaby originally published, plus fourteen additional songs selected to represent the

Franz Rickaby

varied collecting Rickaby did beyond the lumber camps.

“[Rickaby] was the first to put the singing lumberjack into an adequate record and was of pioneering stuff. … His book renders the big woods, not with bizarre hokum and studied claptrap … but with the fidelity of an unimpeachable witness.”—Carl Sandburg

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest Series
Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
The second book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series
DEATH AT GILLS ROCK
Patricia Skalka

“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Three World War II heroes about to be honored by the Coast Guard are all found dead, apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while playing cards at a cabin. . . . The second installment of this first-rate series (Death Stalks Door County, 2014) provides plenty of challenges for both the detective and the reader.”Kirkus Reviews

“Skalka captures the . . . small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger.”Booklist

A Living Addendum to a Force of Nature

Arthur Melville Pearson plans to visit 50 nature preserves in 2017.  He is the author of Force of Nature: George Fell, Founder of the Natural Areas Movement, published last week by the University of Wisconsin Press. Here he presents one of a series of blog posts, to be continued on his own website, paying tribute to the conservation efforts of George Fell and the extraordinary natural areas we can still enjoy because of those efforts.

Among the joys of writing the biography of George Fell has been the opportunity to see some of my favorite nature preserves with entirely new eyes. Prior to writing the book, I had no clue—as I hiked and birded and paddled throughout Illinois and beyond—that so many wild and wonderful places would not exist save for a man who went out of his way to deflect any credit for their preservation.

Take the Cache River wetlands, for instance. Many times have I enjoyed a quiet kayak trip through its slow-moving, black water sloughs, navigating among massive cypress trees that make me feel as if I had been magically transported from the southern tip of Illinois to the bayous of Louisiana. At the time, I had no idea that it was George (after working on his biography for so many years, I think it’s appropriate for us to be on a first name basis now) who acquired the first 65 acres of Heron Pond, which today anchors the state’s largest Illinois Nature Preserve, which in turn anchors a 60,000-acre protected corridor along a 50-mile stretch of the Cache River.

Cache River

At the opposite end of the state, at Illinois Beach State Park, lies the largest expanse of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline within the borders of Illinois. Its diverse complex of lakeshore, foredune, sand prairie, sand savanna, fen, panne, sedge meadow, marsh, and pond habitat makes it one of my favorite birding spots. In fact, it is the one of the best in all the Midwest for viewing the semi-annual migration of raptors. It was news to me that it was George who kept the southern end of the state park from being developed as a golf course, marina, and swimming pool by dedicating it as the very first Nature Preserve in Illinois.

As far back as the 1920s, there had been calls to protect the lush woodlands and picturesque limestone outcroppings in an area along the Rock River, named for an iconic geologic feature: Castle Rock. I was fascinated to learn that it was George who singlehandedly negotiated the acquisition of the first one thousand acres to establish Castle Rock State Park. Today, the park has grown to nearly twice that size and—this was news to me, too—it harbors the largest dedicated Nature Preserve in northern Illinois, aptly named for George B. Fell.

Castle Rock State Park

Currently, thanks to George’s tireless efforts to pass the landmark Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, there are 400 dedicated Nature Preserves in Illinois. Thanks to George, who was the driving force in transforming the Ecologists’ Union into The Nature Conservancy, there are countless TNC preserves scattered throughout the country and across the world. Obviously, I could touch upon only a fraction of these preserves in the book.

However, to celebrate the release of my book Force of Nature, I have pledged to visit 50 Nature Preserves in 2017 and blog about each one at http://arthurmelvillepearson.com/. At this pace, it will take me eight years to visit all of the dedicated Nature Preserves in Illinois, and more years still to visit as many TNC sites as I can. For those who enjoy the book, my blog will serve as a living addendum, celebrating the wild places protected by a true force of nature, George Fell.

Arthur Melville Pearson is the director of the Chicago Program at the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, which helps protect and restore natural lands in the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. His writing has appeared frequently in the magazines Chicago Wilderness and Outdoor Illinois and in the blogs A Midewin Almanac and City Creatures.

 

Journal of Human Resources contributes to public policy debates

With this post, we launch an occasional series highlighting the University of Wisconsin Press journals program. UWP began publishing journals in the 1960s.

The Journal of Human Resourcescover_jhr is among the most important journals in the field of microeconomics, with research relevant not only to scholars but to current debates in public policy. Findings and analysis published in JHR are often covered by major news organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC’s Today Show, CNBC, and National Public Radio. The journal’s scope includes the economics of labor, development, health, education, discrimination, and retirement.

Founded in 1965 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, JHR continues to be housed within the Institute for Research on Poverty. JHR has had many accomplished editors over the years, including Sandra Black, who was appointed to President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in July 2015. The current editor, David Figlio, is the director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

A past JHR contributor of particular interest to the University of Wisconsin–Madison is the current UW Chancellor, Rebecca Blank. Her work on poverty and public assistance programs appeared in four articles in JHR before she became Deputy and Acting Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration.

Intriguing examples of research presented in JHR can be seen in two upcoming articles. The first, “It’s Just a Game: The Super Bowl and Low Birth Weight” by Duncan, Mansour, and Rees, interprets data from 1969 to 2004 for mothers whose home team played in the Super Bowl. Read the Washington Post’s coverage here. “The 9/11 Dust Cloud and Pregnancy Outcomes” by Currie and Schwandt also examines birth outcomes, in this case in relation to the events of 9/11. Their findings were recently cited by National Geographic.

Other topics recently covered in JHR included the effect of birth order on the development of a child, the unintended consequences of China’s One-Child policy, the influence of school nutrition programs on childhood obesity, the effects of age on hiring practices, and the effect of the minimum wage on employment practices.

Learn more about The Journal of Human Resources.

View a free online sample issue.

 

The Other Side of the Scarf

Alden Jones, author of The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia, comments on honesty in encounters with other cultures and viewpoints. The recipient of multiple honors for travel writing, essays, and memoir, her book is new in paperback and published today.

One of the central questions of my memoir is whether it is possible to divorce ourselves from our own cultural norms when we encounter something shocking, exotic, or simply foreign. Recently, a professor of French history approached me with concerns that his university students were resistant to, almost angry about, the idea of Muslim women wearing hijab. A strong feminist sentiment among his students rejected the head scarf as a symbol of misogyny; my professor friend was concerned that this led to feelings of hostility about Islam. How, he wondered, could he get non-Muslim young men and women in New England to consider the hijab from the point of view of the person wearing it—to put aside the cultural norms they take for granted?

It seems easy now, as a seasoned teacher, to turn to theory and philosophy to combat this kind of resistance among young people, or any people. But the truth is, we human beings react to difference, and we react to the foreign, because of the visceral feelings they inspire. We have good feelings about those ideas that make us feel powerful or validated. We reject those symbols that make us feel threatened. This is the human condition. We are a fragile, emotional species.

 When I first started writing The Blind Masseuse, I wanted to believe that I had it all figured out, that I was a humanist, a “traveler,” rather than an ethnocentric tourist. But writing this book taught me that if I were being honest, the opposite was often true: I had a lot left to learn when it came to how to cross cultures the “right” way, and sometimes it was impossible to avoid assuming the role of the tourist. It didn’t take long to realize that if I wanted to write a book that encouraged a humanistic approach to travel, I would have to be honest about my own struggles when confronted with difference. I wrote The Blind Masseuse to explore my own gut reactions over the years—and to see how experience, reason, intellect, and even humor might combat those gut reactions. If we are not honest about our emotional truths as individuals, we will never eradicate xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and nationalism.

In our suddenly ultra-hostile political environment, and a U.S. government that through policy has embraced an “Us vs. Them” dynamic, seeing the world through the humanist perspective is more important than ever. In the end, my professor friend’s students may reject the idea of the head scarf as anti-feminist. First, they need to provide some rational basis upon which to land at this conclusion. Beyond the scarf is an intricate set of social and religious rules that require thought and context. The important thing is that they have considered—truly imagined themselves on—the other side of the scarf.

Alden Jones

 Alden Jones has lived, worked, and traveled in more than forty countries, including as a WorldTeach volunteer in Costa Rica, a program director in Cuba, and a professor on Semester at Sea. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Time Out New York, Post Road, The Barcelona Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, and The Best American Travel Writing. She teaches writing at Emerson College in Boston.

Two Tigers Who Were Badgers

Steven D. Schmitt, author of A History of Badger Baseball: The Rise and Fall of America’s Pastime at the University of Wisconsin, tells us why we should remember Harvey Keunn and Red Wilson as Wisconsin baseball heroes. His book is published today by University of Wisconsin Press. 

Harvey Kuenn as Brewers manager

Some people remember Harvey Kuenn because they are Milwaukee Brewers fans. Harvey took over as Brewers manager in 1982 and led an underachieving team to a pennant with the philosophy, “Play ball and have fun.” The televised image of Kuenn smiling, tobacco chew in cheek, brings back memories for baseball fans.

Robert (Red) Wilson is not as well known. He led the Wisconsin Badgers to their only College World Series berth in 1950 and then played professionally for the Chicago White Sox. In 1954, a trade brought Wilson to Detroit where Harvey Kuenn was playing shortstop.

Wilson and Kuenn were teammates with the Detroit Tigers club until Kuenn was sent to Cleveland in the infamous Rocky Colavito trade on April 17, 1960. Shortly thereafter, Wilson joined Kuenn in Cleveland where “the Redhead” finished a ten-year major league career. Both Wilson and Kuenn hailed from Milwaukee, the former graduating from Washington High School and the latter from Lutheran High School.

Dedication of Guy Lowman Field

In A History of Badger Baseball: The Rise and Fall of America’s Pastime at the University of Wisconsin, readers learn how Kuenn came to UW on a basketball scholarship but rewrote the baseball record book in numerous batting categories, striking out just once in the entire 1952 season. Kuenn and Co. dedicated brand-new Guy Lowman Field with an 11-0 victory over arch-rival Michigan and made the NCAA District playoffs, only to lose to the Western Michigan Broncos. Kuenn became the first Badger to receive a large bonus to sign with a big-league club—$55,000—and won the 1953 American League Rookie of the Year award as a preamble to a 15-year career.

Red Wilson did not make that kind of money, but he played in the majors for a decade. In 1958, he caught Detroit pitcher Jim Bunning’s no-hitter and stole 10 bases without being caught once. He helped the Badgers in preseason practice during his major league days and never forgot his Badger roots. He was a marvelous football player as well: a three-time UW Most Valuable Player and the Big Ten’s MVP in 1949, moving from center to end and winning the prestigious honor in his senior season.

Kuenn passed away from cancer at age 57 in 1988 while working with the Brewers in Arizona. After a long and successful banking career, Wilson remained in Madison and passed away on August 8, 2014, at age 85.  His son, Jim, played baseball for Wisconsin from 1986 to 1989.

To some, Kuenn and Wilson may be just faces on old baseball cards or names in a baseball encyclopedia. But among Badger fans, they should forever be remembered as champions.

Steven D. Schmitt is a former news and sports reporter for several Wisconsin newspapers and radio stations. He writes the blog Home Run Historical Research and is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, the Old-Time Ballplayers Association of Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association.

Why Queer History Matters at this Historical Moment

Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman defend the importance of learning queer history to navigate the present. A newly updated second edition of their book, Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, is published this week by the University of Wisconsin Press in The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History.  The first edition won the Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBT Anthology. 

Given travel restrictions on Muslims, a promised wall to the south, and, as one protest sign put it, “better cabinets at IKEA,” why does queer history matter at this contentious political moment?

We are not so naïve as to believe that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but we are convinced that those who don’t learn about the past may not be wary enough about what could be coming. Which is precisely why we think that learning and teaching queer history is so essential now. We set out to revise our book, Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History after just three years in print because of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage, increasing trans visibility, and backlash to both in the form of “Religious Freedom” laws and “Bathroom Bills.” And, now we face even more uncertainty about the fate of same-sex marriage and the movement to win basic right for trans people, given the future of the Supreme Court.

So how can history help? It can give us perspective, it can give us confidence that change is not only possible but inevitable, it can give us courage. Our goal is to provide the resources for teachers at the high school, community college, and university level who want to integrate queer history into social studies or U.S. survey courses. Our goal is to help educate new generations of students to understand that same-sex desire did not always mark one as a different kind of person, that people did not always have to hide their same-sex love and relationships, that changing gender and changing sex are not just recent possibilities, and that our history is not just a steady march from the bad old days to the better recent ones. Perhaps most important at this time, history shows us that alliances across the lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, nationality, ability—across all kinds of lines of difference—have the potential to make a difference. Queer people have been deeply involved in many social and political movements and continue to make history in our time.

If younger generations don’t know about the past, will they feel hopeless? Will they feel complacent? History tells us that neither is a good option. Resistance does matter, it does change the course of history, as we learn from the difference that the homophile, gay liberation, lesbian feminist, anti-AIDS, and queer movements have made. And complacency is dangerous, as we learn from the post-World War II Lavender Scare and the New Right’s anti-gay backlash in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Queer history does matter. The state of California—site of “Calexit,” a progressive movement advocating secession from the United States—recognized that queer history matters by legislating the inclusion of the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the K-12 curriculum. In the face of new challenges, we have even more work to do. We should all take courage, and caution, from the past.

Leila J. Rupp is the author of many books, including A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America and Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women. She is a professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Susan K. Freeman is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at Western Michigan University. She is the author of Sex Goes to School: Girls and Sex Education before the 1960s.

 

New publications, April 2017

We are pleased to announce four new books to be published in April.

April 11, 2017
A HISTORY OF BADGER BASEBALL
The Rise and Fall of America’s Pastime at the University of Wisconsin
Steven D. Schmitt

“A remarkable and outstanding achievement. Here is Badger baseball season by season, the highlights, the heroes, and the drama from more than one hundred years of baseball. ”
—Bud Selig, former Commissioner of Baseball, from the foreword

“A celebration of the history, tradition, and legacy of the now extinct Wisconsin Badgers baseball program that will ensure its spirit lives on for decades to come.”
—William Povletich, author of Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak

April 18, 2017
MONEY, MURDER, AND DOMINICK DUNNE
A Life in Several Acts
Robert Hofler

“Sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, this biography of Dominick Dunne is truly a life and times story, filled to bursting with notorious crimes and glam parties, high-society doyens and spats, Hollywood celebrities minor and major, and, beneath it all, the tragedies and mysteries that made this singular man tick.”
—Patrick McGilligan, author of Young Orson

“The life of Dominick Dunne as recounted by Robert Hofler is as entertaining as it is tragic. Hofler digs in to reveal each telling detail and scandalous anecdote, which no one would appreciate more than Dunne himself. It’s a knowing read about fame, the upper class, sexuality, and the struggle for immortality.”
—Sharon Waxman, author of Rebels on the Backlot

April 18, 2017
FORCE OF NATURE
George Fell, Founder of the Natural Areas Movement
Arthur Melville Pearson

“The inspiring story of the innovative conservation institutions and legislation instigated by George Fell and his wife, Barbara, highlighted by the Nature Conservancy, arguably the largest environmental organization in the world.”
—Stephen Laubach, author of Living a Land Ethic

“George Fell sparred with fellow naturalists and politicians to bring into being organizations that are models for today’s worldwide conservation efforts. Pearson documents this extraordinary life with a wide range of sources, including interviews over two decades with both Fell’s partners and his doubters.”
—James Ballowe, author of A Man of Salt and Tree

April 25, 2017
THE BLACK PENGUIN
Andrew Evans

“The exterior and interior landscapes are meticulously described, moving and often totally unexpected. Compulsive reading.”
—Tim Cahill,author of A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg,

“A traveler of boundless curiosity and compassion, Evans spins a globe-trotting tale of daring and discovery. His expedition proves that our inner and outward journeys can take us everywhere we need to go, from happiness at home to elation at the ends of the Earth.”
—George W. Stone, editor in chief, National Geographic Traveler

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

 

A Fable for Our Time

You, Beast by poet Nick Lantz is a new collection published this month by the University of Wisconsin Press. Winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and published in the Wisconsin Poetry Series, You Beast includes poems ranging from found text to villanelles and from short plays to fables. In this guest blog post, Lantz offers us a fable for our time.

Let me begin with a fable:

The old rabbit was a learned animal who prided himself on being very fair, and the other animals looked to him for guidance. One day, a mouse came to see him.
“I was almost eaten by a wolf,” said the mouse. “I am very small and no one will listen to me, but if you tell the other animals that the wolf is dangerous, they will band together and drive that monster from the forest.”
“Oh, but I can’t take sides,” said the rabbit. “The wolf is also a citizen of the forest, and to be fair I must treat all citizens with respect, and it is disrespectful to call the wolf a monster. Do you see?” The disappointed mouse nodded and went on his way, and that night, the wolf ate him. The next morning, a badger came to see the rabbit.

“The Frogs Who Desired a King” Illustrated by Milo Winter

“I saw that vile wolf eat the mouse,” said the badger. “You must tell the other animals that he is a villain.”
“It won’t do,” said the rabbit, “to go around calling people names. I can’t take sides. It is only fair that I remain impartial.” The badger was angry but went away, and that night, the wolf ate him.
The next day, the rabbit was walking through the forest when the wolf jumped from the brambles and fell upon him. As the wolf caught him by the neck, the rabbit cried out: “What are you doing? I was fair. I never took sides against you!”
“What do I care?” said the wolf. “I am hungry.” Then the wolf swallowed the rabbit, whose fairness earned him nothing.

When I was writing You, Beast, I kept returning to fables, particularly those involving animals. A good fable has tremendous compactness and rhetorical force. In that sense, it’s like a well-crafted syllogism, or a poem. Many fables are political in nature, but by stripping away the sociocultural particulars of a situation, their lessons become harder to refute.

This is actually the second draft of my post for the UW Press blog. In my original draft, I drew a connection between one of the poems in You, Beast and some aspects of the current political landscape. If that sounds a bit vague, here’s why: the Press told me that because of their affiliation with a public, state university, they could not publish something on the Press’ blog that overtly endorsed or (in my case) condemned a particular political party or politician. So, obviously, the Press is the rabbit in my fable, but I don’t mean to let myself off the hook by claiming I’m the truth-telling mouse, just trying to be heard. The fact is, I’m the rabbit too. I’m a professor at another public, state university, and in that capacity, I strive to be a teacher for all of my students, regardless of their political affiliations. But as a poet, I often wonder about the costs of that vision of fairness, about truths I don’t give voice to in its name. The Press’s decision not to publish my original post bothered me because I make similar decisions in my own speech and conduct on a daily basis. And I’m worried that my restraint won’t mean a thing to the wolves who want to gobble us up.

Nick Lantz is the author of The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know, and How to Dance as the Roof Caves In. He is the editor of the Texas Review, co-curator of thecloudyhouse.com, and an assistant professor of English at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He has been a Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an Emerging Writer Fellow at Gettysburg College.