Author Archives: uwpress.wisc.edu

A Sense of Place

Our guest bloggers are Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, authors of the Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler Mysteries. The fourth book in the series, The Dead of Achill Island, was published this week.

Plains of Achill Island and Mountain

Photo by Betsy Draine

In planning a mystery, we begin by asking: where? Our first novel, Murder in Lascaux, was set in southwestern France. The setting generated the plot, which focused on prehistoric cave art. A sense of place has been important in each installment in the series: northern California in The Body in Bodega Bay, the French Riviera in Death on a Starry Night, and the West of Ireland in The Dead of Achill Island.

We first visited Achill on the advice of Betsy’s cousin, an Irish nun. The West of Ireland, she told us, is where the old ways are best preserved. The largest of Ireland’s islands, Achill (rhymes with “cackle”) lies offshore above Galway on the Atlantic coast, as far west as an Irishman can go. Today the island is linked to the mainland by a causeway and a bridge. Even so, Achill feels remote. Denuded of trees, the landscape presents flat vistas of bogs and grasslands, steep mountains, and treacherous cliffs. Its megalithic tombs attest that the island has been inhabited for millennia, while church graveyards with broken headstones recall the dead of recent centuries. A soft rain falls more often than not. What better setting for a mystery?

Cottage rubble with mountain backdrop

Photo by Betsy Draine

At the base of Slievemore Mountain lies a string of ruined cottages known as the Deserted Village. These homes were abandoned in the 1840s at the time of the Great Famine. Inhabitants fled to the island’s shore, where they survived by fishing. They left behind an Irish ghost town. As we wandered through the lonely village, we imagined discovering a body in one of the ruined cottages, and that became the opening scene of this novel.

The title refers not only to a fictional murder but also to the victims of two historical tragedies on Achill that gave rise to legend. It is said that In the 17th century a prophet named Brian Rua O’Cearbhain foretold that carriages on iron wheels would come to the island, belching smoke and fire—and on their first and last journeys, the carriages would carry the dead. The prophecy was fulfilled when the first steam train came in 1894, returning the bodies of thirty islanders who had drowned en route to seasonal jobs in Scotland. The last run of the train before the line shut down in 1937 carried the bodies of twenty-three local boys who had died in a fire while working away from home. The haunting legend attached to these tragedies colors the atmosphere of the novel.

A well-rendered sense of place can immerse a reader in another world. In The Dead of Achill Island, we hope the reader is transported to the West of Ireland alongside Nora and Toby.

Draine and Hinden author photoBetsy Draine and Michael Hinden are are coauthors of the Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler Mysteries. They also coauthored the memoir A Castle in the Backyard: The Dream of a House in France and translated The Walnut Cookbook by Jean-Luc Toussaint. They are professors emeriti of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

When Fiction is Based on a True Story

Our guest blogger today is Patricia Skalka, author of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series. The fifth book in the series, Death Rides the Bay, was published this month.

Of the five books in the Dave Cubiak Door County mysteries, Death by the Bay is the most personal.

In the first four volumes, both the characters and the plots were born in my imagination. The concept for Death by the Bay evolved from a true story that my mother told me when I was ten or twelve. She grew up on a small family farm in central Wisconsin in a community of Polish immigrants. Few spoke English and most had large families. One neighboring couple stood out because they had only one child, a daughter with a disability. One day, an itinerant doctor, or someone posing as such, told the couple that he could help their child. The specifics became blurred over time, but in one version, he talked of a special school where children like their daughter could learn to live independently. I remember my mother saying that he offered to provide free medical care, treatments that would alleviate her condition and even “cure” her.

The stranger was educated, persuasive. The desperate couple believed him. Thinking they were acting in the best interests of their precious only child, they allowed him to leave with her. They never saw her again.

I was horrified. I could not believe that such evil existed in the world. But there was more. Months later, the same predator or one of similar ilk came to my grandparents’ farm. His target was my mother’s younger sister, Rose, who’d been afflicted with polio and as a result was unable to speak or walk properly. Aware of what had happened to the neighboring family, my grandmother picked up a broom and chased the man out the door.

Before I became a novelist, I was a nonfiction writer. My stories about human drama, women’s issues, and medical advancements appeared in many print and online publications. The story I always wanted to write was the story of the couple whose daughter was stolen under false pretenses. But there was no paper trail, no way to research or document the events.

So, I did the only thing I could: I fictionalized the story. This tragic tale I heard decades ago became the seed for Death by the Bay. Though I shifted the locale, altered the circumstances, and developed a contemporary plot line, the basis of the story remains unchanged. Death by the Bay is a tale of the powerful preying on the weak, a tale of the educated taking advantage of the unknowing. It is a story that, unfortunately, continues to repeat itself in various ways throughout the world today.

Patricia Skalka Author

Photo by B.E. Pinkham

Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door CountyDeath at Gills RockDeath in Cold Water, and Death Rides the Ferry, winner of a Midwest Book Award. She is president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin.

Visit Patricia’s website to view her upcoming events and more: http://www.patriciaskalka.com/

29th Annual Midwest Book Award Winners for UW Press titles

We are thrilled to announce two Midwest Book Award winners from the University of Wisconsin Press! These awards from the Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA) recognize quality in independent publishing in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).

Death Rides the Ferry cover imageDeath Rides the Ferry by Patricia Skalka won the Fiction–Mystery/Thriller category. The fourth book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series finds Sheriff Dave Cubiak enjoying a rare day off as tourists and a documentary film crew hover around the newly-revived Viola da Gamba Music Festival, back after a forty-year hiatus. A passenger is found dead on a ferry, and longtime residents recall the disastrous festival decades earlier, when a woman died and a valuable sixteenth-century instrument—the fabled yellow viol—vanished. Sheriff Cubiak is sent on a trail of murder, kidnapping, and false identity. With the lives of those he holds most dear in peril, the sheriff pursues a ruthless killer into the stormy northern reaches of Lake Michigan.

Eleven Miles to Oshkosh cover imageEleven Miles to Oshkosh by Jim Guhl won the category for Fiction-Young Adult. The story centers on the coming-of-age of Del “Minnow” Finwick, whose small world in Wisconsin has blown apart. His father, a deputy sheriff, has been murdered by the unknown “Highway 41 Killer.” His mom has unraveled. And a goon named Larry Buskin has been pummeling Minnow behind Neenah High. When the sheriff seems in no hurry to solve the murder, Minnow must seek justice by partnering with unlikely allies and discovering his own courage.

 

Congratulations again to the authors and all involved! To celebrate, we are giving away a a copy of both award-winning books to one (1) lucky entrant:

An Interview with Poet Rae Armantrout

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we present three interviews with living poets, originally published in Contemporary Literature journal. The interviews are freely available to access until May 1.

Our final poet is Rae Armantrout, a central figure of the Language poetry movement of the 1970s and 1980s who was nevertheless somewhat separate from that collectivity, crafting her own flavor of poetry that over time has remained “distinctive and distinctively fresh, particularly in its allegiance to a honed version of lyric that brings to mind the poetry of Emily Dickinson or George Oppen, and in its attention to the degradations—and the surprises—of American speech that permeate our consciousness and infiltrate even our dreams,” according to interviewer Lynn Keller. The conversation presented here touches on everything from physics to religion to ghosts to feminism. Armantrout discusses her cancer diagnosis and how it has impacted the practice and content of her writing, leading her to write poems more quickly and to dwell on mortality (though she says, “I’ve always had an attraction to the dark stuff anyway. I used to say I was channeling Kali. (Not so funny now.)”). When Keller asks Armantrout about the religious imagery in her recent work, she replies that though she’s not religious, she sees a parallel between religious practice and the act of creating a poem or other artwork:

Who are we talking to when we write? I don’t really think, in my case, that I’m talking to a specific audience; I think I’m talking to myself, but when I’m talking to myself, who am I talking to? It feels very much like when I was a child and I prayed, so it’s not that I actually believe there is an entity called God who hears what I say, but there is this desire to somehow perfect utterance. But make it perfect for whom, you know? I think in a way we are making something for the gods that we don’t believe in.

Read the full interview here, and then go read Armantrout’s poems!


And check out our other poetry month offerings:

An interview with Marge Piercy

An interview with Myung Mi Kim

An Interview with Poet Myung Mi Kim

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we’re presenting three interviews with living poets, originally published in Contemporary Literature journal. The interviews are freely available to access until May 1.

Our second poet is Myung Mi Kim, in conversation with Lynn Keller. Kim, a Korean-American, refers to herself as “as a poet arrived at an uncanny familiarity with another language—or more precisely, as a poet transcribing the interstices of the abbreviated, the oddly conjoined, the amalgamated—recognizing that language occurs under continual construction.” As Keller puts it, in Kim’s hands, language

is subject to fracture and disruption, excision and rearrangement. It functions not as a means of gaining an illusory stability but rather as a register of the often jarring instability of human experience in time, and of the stumblings, the incoherencies, the polyphonic complexity of the immigrant’s experience in and between several cultures.

The wide-ranging discussion presented here touches on the poet’s process, childbirth and family, documentary poetry, poetic forms that privilege visual impact, the pastoral, geological time, the slipperiness of nostalgia, the generative power of silence, migration, and loss and mourning. Kim and Keller’s conversation bounces among so many different topics in part because Kim’s vision of poetry is so expansive and all-encompassing. As she describes it, “Poetry invites a practice of language/perception that embraces mutability, undecidability, the motion underneath and around what’s codified in conventions of language, grammar, syntax, semantics, and so forth. Poetry produces new ways of participating in perception, thinking, historical being and becoming.”

Read the full interview here, and then go read Kim’s poems!


And if you missed yesterday’s post, check out an interview with poet Marge Piercy.

An Interview with Poet Marge Piercy

As National Poetry Month draws to a close, we will be presenting three interviews with living poets, originally published in Contemporary Literature journal. The interviews are freely available to access until May 1.

Our first offering features poet, novelist, and memoirist Marge Piercy. Interviewer Bonnie Lyons describes Piercy’s poetry in this way:

Valuing usefulness highly, Piercy writes poems that are accessible to ordinary readers without sacrificing rich imagery and subtle sound effects. Her poetry embodies her belief in the importance of attention in her precise word choice and acute perception. Tikkun olam, Hebrew for “healing the world,” is central to her poetry, which works to awaken her readers’ passionate recognition of all that could and should be changed through human effort.

To date, Marge Piercy has written nineteen volumes of poetry, seventeen novels, and a memoir. When asked how she navigates multiple genres, she characterizes herself as “a poet who also writes novels.” She describes the benefits of her chosen genre:

You can write poetry when you are dying. The Plains Indians would try to have a final utterance. You can write poetry in a prison cell—you can scrawl it on the walls. You can memorize your poems. You can carry them around with you. A novel is a far more artificial construction, and it takes huge amounts of time to write one. If you were fighting as a guerrilla, you couldn’t write a novel, but you could write poetry. A novel is far less portable.

Lyons and Piercy discuss the writer’s long history of social and political activism. Piercy articulates how she has created a balance between activism and writing—two fields of activity that are often felt to be in conflict with one another. Piercy explains,

When I was a full-time organizer, I basically gave up sleeping to write. In my life since then, because I have been able to reach people through my writing, I feel much less of a conflict. In fact, it’s all of a piece with me. I don’t divide things up that way. I don’t make a value judgment that one type of poetry is more important than another—neither my poems about Judaism, or poems about love, or poems about the war in Iraq or the environment.

The interview also touches on the usefulness of poetry, the importance of reading in order to write, poetry as an act of attention similar to a religious practice, making a living as a writer, Piercy’s reputation as an “anti-academic” poet and how poetry can thrive outside of academe, and writing about sex, aging, and the body.

Read the full interview here, and then go read Piercy’s poems!

University of Wisconsin Press Welcomes New Editor in Chief

photo of Nathan MacBrienThe University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to announce that Nathan MacBrien will join our staff as the editor in chief, effective June 3, 2019.

MacBrien, most recently a special projects editor at Northwestern University Press, will oversee the University of Wisconsin Press book acquisitions department, including managing the list of publications. An accomplished editor, he held various acquisitions roles at the University of Pittsburgh Press and Stanford University Press. For eight years he served as the publications director for the Division of International and Area Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where he established and directed the Global, Area, and International Archive (GAIA), a peer-reviewed imprint publishing new titles in the social sciences and area studies.

With more than twenty years of experience, MacBrien has valuable expertise in the publishing process. While at Northwestern University Press, he managed the editing and production of thirty-five new books each year.

“I am delighted that Nathan will be joining the University of Wisconsin Press,” says director Dennis Lloyd. “In his career he has earned the respect of his colleagues and authors in a range of fields, and his keen ability to shape both a manuscript and a list are skills that will benefit us greatly as we implement the long-planned refocus of our acquisitions output.”

Says MacBrien, “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the talented staff at the press. This is an exciting and challenging time for university presses, and I look forward to the work of shaping the press’s list, both to reflect the changing tides in publishing and to ensure that we continue to publish the best books for our communities of readers in Wisconsin and worldwide.”

About the University of Wisconsin Press
The University of Wisconsin Press, one of the research and service centers housed within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.

Announcing the 2019 Wisconsin Poetry Prize Winners

The University of Wisconsin Press is thrilled to announce the winners of our annual poetry prizes! The three winning collections, along with two other honorable mention collections, will be published over the next year as part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series, edited by Ron Wallace and Sean Bishop.

 

Molly Spencer author photo

Molly Spencer.

Molly Spencer is the recipient of the Brittingham Prize for the collection If the house. Spencer is a poetry editor at The Rumpus and teaches at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop. Judge Carl Phillips says, “The eponymous house of If the house is at once literal and figurative. There’s the impulse toward an idea of domesticity that begins here with finding a house within which to shape a life, or try to. . . . Memory, too, is a house here—and in these poems, to make of memory a home becomes an act just as brave and honest—and all the lovelier for both—as the poems themselves.”

 

Sarah Kortemeier author photo

Sarah Kortemeier. Photo by: Jennifer McStotts

Sarah Kortemeier has been awarded the Felix Pollak Prize for the collection Ganbatte. Kortemeier is the library director at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and holds an MFA in Poetry and MA in Library and Information Science from the University of Arizona. According to Phillips, “The poems of Ganbatte use language to give us what photography can’t, always, a sense of the interior, of the sensibility of place and of what has happened there—story and history, Hansel and Gretel and the Holocaust and Hiroshima.”

 

Bruce Snider author photo

Bruce Snider. Photo by: Todd Follett

Bruce Snider is the winner of the Four Lakes Prize for his forthcoming collection, Fruit. One of his previous collections, The Year We Studied Women, was the winner of the 2003 Felix Pollak Prize. Snider is an associate professor at the University of San Francisco and earned his MFA in poetry and playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. His poetry and nonfiction have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, VQR, Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Gettysburg Review, Pleiades, Southern Review and Best American Poetry 2012.

 

John Brehm author photo

John Brehm. Photo by: Tracy Pitts

John Brehm’s collection No Day at the Beach will be published as part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series. Brehm teaches at the Oregon Literary Arts and Mountain Writers Series in Portland, Oregon and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of Sea of Faith, which won the 2004 Brittingham Prize, and Help is on the Way, which won the 2012 Four Lakes Prize. Andrea Hollander says of John Brehm’s forthcoming collection, “Evident throughout these irresistible, often self-deprecating poems (‘It’s no day at the beach / being me’) are Brehm’s persuasive wonderings, his engaging explorations, his vital need to know. Open the book anywhere and you won’t want to put it down.”

 

Ambalila Hemsell. Photo by: Lizzie Tilles

Ambalila Hemsell’s poetry collection, Queen in Blue, will also be published in the coming year. Hemsell is a writer, educator, and musician who holds an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. Laura Kasischke praises Hemsell’s Queen in Blue, saying, “She has created a poetry that pulls back the curtain. . . . not knowing this curtain blocked a view of something that, once glimpsed, will change us. She gives us that glimpse. She changes us. A reader could ask no more of any collection of poems.”

 

Submissions for the 2020 awards cycle will be open from July 15 to September 15 of this year. The judge for the upcoming awards will be Natasha Tretheway, whose collection Native Guard won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She was named the nineteenth Poet Laureate of the United States in 2012, a position she held through 2014.

Winners of the 2018 poetry prizes—D. M. Aderibigbe, Michelle Brittan Rosado, and Betsy Sholl—will read their work at the upcoming AWP Conference and Bookfair on Thursday, March 28 at 4PM at Produce Row Café, 204 SE Oak St., Portland, Oregon.

 

About the University of Wisconsin Press
The University of Wisconsin Press, one of the research and service centers housed within the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.

For more information on the Wisconsin Poetry Prizes, please visit https://uwpress.wisc.edu/series/wi-poetry.html

Everyday Economic Survival in Myanmar

Political science professor Ardeth Thawnghmung has just published her new book with us: Everyday Economic Survival in Myanmar, about strategies adopted by ordinary citizens in Burma/Myanmar—most of whom survive on the equivalent of two to five dollars a day—to cope with the economic stresses of everyday life.

What inspired you to write the book?

The book was inspired by my own experiences growing up in Burma under the military regime in the 1970s and 1980s. My family and I employed various survival tactics to supplement my parents’ combined earnings, which barely covered the cost of food and basic necessities. These strategies—multiple poorly paid jobs, painstaking financial management, pooling resources, and engaging in acts of reciprocity and mutual obligation—are still being utilized by many people, even in the freer political and economic environment created by the more reformist governments elected in 2010 and 2015.

A lot has been written about everyday life in poor countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa. How does your book differ from others in this field?

I employ a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates political, economic, social and psychological aspects of coping strategies, analyzing their impacts on collective welfare, the environment, the national economy, and political development. I also examine comparable political and economic situations in Asia, Africa and Latin America to develop systematic categories of informal activities that produce autonomous and self-governing spaces and lead to positive—as well as negative—policy changes for society, or even undermine state capacity and democratization efforts.

How did you collect data, and what were the biggest challenges you faced while conducting research in Myanmar?

This project is based on in-depth interviews and surveys of 372 individuals from all walks of life throughout Myanmar between 2008 and 2015 as well as my own observations and experiences. Many of the challenges I faced are typical for research carried out under authoritarian regimes, including a lack of available data, restricted political environments and concerns about the safety of those who associated with me.

Did any of your findings surprise you?

I was surprised by how prevalent and long-lasting these strategies were, and how creative people became to meet economic challenges in evolving political situations.

Myanmar has recently provoked international outrage over military brutality which triggered the exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh. How does your study of everyday politics in mainly Buddhist areas of the country offer insight into their plight?

The Rohingyas situation is an extreme case where people go about trying to create a sense of normalcy out of difficult situations. However, very little attention has been paid to the majority of Myanmar citizens, whose attitudes toward the Rohingya have been overwhelmingly hostile. While these attitudes are influenced by specific historical and political context that shape and constrain popular behavior, and by the growing anti-Islamic sentiments that we see across the world, they are also a product of responses to decades-old authoritarianism. Some of these individual and collective coping practices help foster self-help and can even challenge the legitimacy and longevity of military rule, but general survival tactics among ordinary people rarely align with the practices that are key to successful transitions to democracy.

Do you think your findings offer advice and insights for the current National League for Democracy government led by Aung San Suu Kyi?

Some survival strategies have negative long-term consequences, not only on individuals and their communities, but also on the environment, public welfare, state capacity, and democratic processes. Both the Thein Sein and NLD governments have attempted to deal with their effects by formulating new regulations and enhancing enforcement mechanisms while rarely addressing the root causes. For instance, successful attempts to act on negative activities from petty corruption, counterfeit products and illegal gambling to illegal mining, and logging and issues such as child labor require not only enhancing state capacity through proper incentives and training for civil servants, but also providing alternative opportunities for those utilizing such methods. These are crucial challenges that need to be addressed by any transitional democratic government with limited resources, particularly the NLD government which is facing elections in 2020.

 

Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung author photoArdeth Maung Thawnghmung is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is the author of several books, including Behind the Teak Curtain: Authoritarianism, Agricultural Policies, and Political Legitimacy in Rural Burma.

Library of Congress acquires and makes available the Omar Ibn Said Collection

The Library of Congress recently acquired and made publicly available online the Omar Ibn Said Collection, which includes 42 original documents in both English and Arabic. Omar Ibn Said was a wealthy, Muslim man in West Africa who was abducted in the early 1800s and sold into slavery in South Carolina. The centerpiece of the collection—a fifteen page autobiography of his life in Africa and the circumstances of his enslavement in America—is the only known surviving American slave narrative written in Arabic.

The University of Wisconsin Press is proud to have published a English translation and facsimile edition of Omar Ibn Said’s autobiography in 2011 titled A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn SaidThe book includes an introduction by translator Ala Alryyes and several contextualizing essays. Alryyes’ translation is presented in facing pages against Omar Ibn Said’s original writing.

In celebration of the Omar Ibn Said Collection’s online debut, the University of Wisconsin Press is giving away a copy of A Muslim American Slave to one (1) lucky entrant: