Author Archives: uwpress

THE AMBIGUOUS CLARITY OF THE OXYMORON

 

Today’s guest blogger is author Lyudmila Parts. Her new book In Search of True Russia: The Provinces in Contemporary Nationalist Discourse is published this week.

The oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. It brings together (near) opposites, say, “open secret” or “new tradition,” and reveals the complexity of the thing through the layering of its meaning. It creates a paradox, and, paradoxically, makes complex things easier to understand. In working on the subject of the Russian provinces I had to address a great deal of opposites: center and periphery, Self and Other, past and future, spiritual and material. What makes this particular cultural myth so fascinating is not only how it operates by reversing the hierarchies inherent in these binaries, but also how it often collapses them into that clearly ambiguous entity, the oxymoron.

Rather than canceling each other out the opposites thus brought together create a thesis-antithesis-synthesis trajectory: by themselves the concepts of the center and periphery might mean little in today’s world, but a statement such as “the capital of the provinces” blends some of the old meanings into a new model.

As long as we imagine the map of our world in terms of the center and its opposite we live in the world defined and limited by binary thought. Elimination of the symbolic borderlines creates a new synthesized entity and moves us toward a fresh world vision. When the liberal media project Snob designates its target audience “Russian Europeans,” or the “global Russians” they create an oxymoron based on the readers’ deep-seated understanding of Russia and Europe as opposites. Were this oxymoron to cease to be perceived as such, were such thing as a global Russian to exist, it would put to rest old nationalists’ grievances and signal a more harmonious vision of the world. My book is about the kind of cultural and ideological situation that allows such paradoxical statements, the oxymorons, to become straightforward descriptions.

In the post-Soviet situation, these key concepts – Russia, the West, the center, and the periphery – enter into new configurations, both literally and rhetorically. Just like Russia and the West, the capital and the provinces always stand in opposition and can only be defined against each other: if one is the locus of meaning and goodness, the other is its reverse, the place of void or corruption. Can a place or a nation become a kind of third entity, taking only the positive connotations from the old binaries? If it ever happens that “the capital of the provinces” or “global Russians” do not sound controversial and oxymoronic, it would mean that Russian cultural imagination overcomes its reliance on opposites and binaries together with the conflicts inherent to them. The new nationalist thought might be willing to consider new versions of the Self and a new map of the world. How the new conceptual models are perceived, as oxymoronic or as straightforward, would determine Russia’s vision of itself and its relationship to the world.

Lyudmila Parts is an associate professor of Russian and Slavic studies at McGill University in Montreal. She is the author of The Chekhovian Intertext: Dialogue with a Classic and the editor of The Russian Twentieth-Century Short Story: A Critical Companion

 

 

LGBTQ+ Books to Read and Feel Proud

Pride month might only last 30 days, but you can read these books by LGBTQ+ authors all year long!

States of Desire Revisited: Travels in Gay America
Edmund White

The Village Voice calls Edmund White “the finest stylist working in candidly gay prose”

States of Desire Revisited looks back from the twenty-first century at a pivotal moment in the late 1970s: Gay Liberation was a new and flourishing movement of creative culture, political activism, and sexual freedom, just before the 1980s devastation of AIDS. Edmund White traveled America, recording impressions of gay individuals and communities that remain perceptive and captivating today. He noted politicos in D.C. working the system, in-fighting radicals in New York and San Francisco, butch guys in Houston and self-loathing but courteous gentlemen in Memphis, the “Fifties in Deep Freeze” in Kansas City, progressive thinkers with conservative style in Minneapolis and Portland, wealth and beauty in Los Angeles, and, in Santa Fe, a desert retreat for older gays and lesbians since the 1920s.

In the Province of the Gods
Kenny Fries

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies

A beguiling adventure in Japan

Kenny Fries embarks on a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, a society historically hostile to difference. As he visits gardens, experiences Noh and butoh, and meets artists and scholars, he also discovers disabled gods, one-eyed samurai, blind chanting priests, and A-bomb survivors. When he is diagnosed as HIV positive, all his assumptions about Japan, the body, and mortality are shaken, and he must find a way to reenter life on new terms.

Self-Made Woman: A Memoir
Denise Chanterelle DuBois

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies

For decades I kept Denise in the closet. Then I kept Dennis in the closet.

Denise Chanterelle DuBois’s transformation into a woman wasn’t easy. Born as a boy into a working-class Polish American Milwaukee family, she faced daunting hurdles: a domineering father, a gritty 1960s neighborhood with no understanding of gender nonconformity, trouble in school, and a childhood so haunted by deprivation that neckbone soup was a staple. Terrified of revealing her inner self, DuBois lurched through alcoholism, drug dealing and addiction, car crashes, dangerous sex, and prison time. Dennis barreled from Wisconsin to California, Oregon, Canada, Costa Rica, New York, Bangkok, and Hawaii on a joyless ride.

Defying all expectations, DuBois didn’t crash and burn. Embracing her identity as a woman, she remade herself. Writing with resolute honesty and humor, she confronts both her past and her present to tell an American story of self-discovery.

The Pox Lover: An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris
Anne-christine d’Adesky

A testament with a message for every generation: grab at life and love, connect with others, fight for justice, keep despair at bay, and remember.

The Pox Lover is a personal history of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites. In an account that is by turns searing, hectic, and funny, Anne-christine d’Adesky remembers “the poxed generation” of AIDS—their lives, their battles, and their determination to find love and make art in the heartbreaking years before lifesaving protease drugs arrived.

What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood
Rigoberto González

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

A bittersweet chronicle of the bond between Latino brothers

Burdened by poverty, illiteracy, and vulnerability as Mexican immigrants to California’s Coachella Valley, three generations of González men turn to vices or withdraw into depression. As brothers Rigoberto and Alex grow to manhood, they are haunted by the traumas of their mother’s early death, their lonely youth, their father’s desertion, and their grandfather’s invective. Rigoberto’s success in escaping—first to college and then by becoming a writer—is blighted by his struggles with alcohol and abusive relationships, while Alex contends with difficult family relations, his own rocky marriage, and fatherhood.

Descending into a dark emotional space that compromises their mental and physical health, the brothers eventually find hope in aiding each other. This is an honest and revealing window into the complexities of Latino masculinity, the private lives of men, and the ways they build strength under the weight of grief, loss, and despair.

Read an excerpt in The Los Angeles Times

Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History: Second Edition
Edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman

Best Special Interest Books, selected by the American Association of School Librarians
Best Special Interest Books, selected by the Public Library Reviewers
Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBT Anthology
A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History
John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin, Series Editors

Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir
Maureen Seaton

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

Maureen Seaton traces the emergence of her identity in quick, droll, often surprising sketches. She finds herself alternately in the company of winos, swingers, and drag kings; in love with Jesus H. Christ and a butch named Mars; in charge of two children (her own!); writing stories that shrink painfully to poems; and unable to reckon how she landed in any of these predicaments. In her passage from near-nun to suburban mom to woke woman, she shakes herself out of a sloshed stupor and delights in the spree.

The Other Paris

 

Post-Colonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light, a new book by today’s guest blogger Laila Amine, is published this week in the series Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture

When I meet new people and they hear my French accent, the conversation often veers to Paris, its beauty, its rich culture, or to the dream of one day visiting the City of Light. Their fantasy of Paris (and France more broadly) and my experiences as a child of North African immigrants in government subsidized housing could not be more different. In the cultural imaginary of Paris, there is little room for the working class multi-racial outskirts, unless the subject is Islamic culture and the subjection of women and queer subjects.

The Paris imagined in Maghrebi, African American and French immigrant cultures was both invisible in the scholarship and hypervisible as the “Badlands of the Republic” in French mainstream media. Like the city of the Francophile tourists, this other Paris is largely an imagined territory, albeit associated with crime, unbridled patriarchy, and violence.

Un-shackling the sensational and the Paris outskirts, this book chronicles everyday life in the impoverished sectors of the French capital in various contexts and cultural traditions. We find versions of Postcolonial Paris in post-World War II Maghrebi and African American expatriate fiction, 1980s beur fiction and cinema, and contemporary French immigrant cultures. Together, works by Driss Chraïbi, Mehdi Charef, William Gardner Smith, Faïza Guène, J.R., and Princess Hijab register the shifting politics and grammars of race in a nation where it does not appear on the census and where the public overwhelmingly condemns it as an Anglo-Saxon importation.

Spanning 1955 to 2015, authors of African descent have pondered the French tyranny of universalism and interrogated the myth of Paris as a space of liberation for the African diaspora. Some of the most well-known Francophiles, such as James Baldwin, also wrote about a French capital marred by colonial exclusion. By desegregating the cultural study of Paris to include its impoverished outskirts, the book reveals that writers and filmmakers have deployed Franco-African intimate encounters to articulate the political exclusion of racialized subjects. In the colonial and contemporary eras, their narratives of intimacy can help us better understand the ways in which gender and sexual difference work(ed) to construct, maintain, or challenge racial boundaries.

Postcolonial Paris would not have been possible without the numerous scholars of Postcolonial French Studies, Paris Noir, and Black Europe who paved the way, including Sylvie Durmelat, Anne Donadey, Nacira Guénif-Souillamas, Trica Keaton, Alec Hargreaves, Jarrod Hayes, Michel Laronde, Neil MacMaster, Adlai Murdoch, Mireille Rosello, Paul Silverstein, Tyler Stovall, and Benjamin Stora.

Laila Amine is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was born and grew up in France.

New Books & New Paperbacks, June 2018

We are pleased to announce the following books, which are being published this month.

June 7, 2018
Now in Paperback
The Paternity Test: A Novel
Michael Lowenthal

“Credit Lowenthal with taking what could have been a safe, sweet story and turning it into something knotted and barbed. . . . [He] is aiming for something truer to life.”Washington Post

“What matters here is love. Sure, it’s a complicated, messy, and somewhat dysfunctional love, but it reads and feels like the real thing.”Lambda Literary Review

“Readers—both gay and straight—will come away from Lowenthal’s novel with a deeper understanding not only of the ethical issues surrounding surrogacy, but also of the ever-evolving gay community.”Publishers Weekly

June 7, 2018
Now in Paperback
Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir
Maureen Seaton

Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographies

“Stories of marriages, divorces, alcoholism, motherhood, and coming out that are like little newsflashes, little bursts of light, little puffs of smoke.”Chicago Free Press

“Compellingly narrates her passage through a host of roles—pious adolescent, Stepford wife, recovering alcoholic, sexual adventurer, and bi mom—on the way to discovering her identity as sober lesbian poet.”Pleiades

“Stands beside important memoirs by lesbian poets including Eileen Myles’ Cool for You and S/He by Minnie Bruce Pratt.”Lambda Literary Review

“I was swept away with the feisty zeitgeist. . . . Reading Sex Talks to Girls jolted me to a fuller state of awareness.”The Rumpus

June 12, 2018
Postcolonial Paris: Fictions of Intimacy in the City of Light
Laila Amine

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture

“Effectively demonstrates how racialized stereotyping and ethnocultural marginalization of citizens of North African descent have long betrayed the French idyll of equality and integration. Perceptive and groundbreaking.”—Adlai Murdoch, author of Creolizing the Metropole

“A powerful, highly relevant, and innovative study of the cultural and political role of France’s largest ethnic and religious minority.”—Jarrod Hayes, author of Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb

June 19, 2018
Tito and His Comrades
Jože Pirjevec, Foreword by Emily Greble

“An enlightening, enthralling biography of Yugoslavia’s leader Tito.”Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“Skillfully navigating the complex terrain of history and memory that Tito evokes, this biography is both respectful to his complicated legacy and sensitive to the emotionally charged questions of history that have fueled discord in the region. . . . Pirjevec does not take sides, nor does he ask his readers to do so.”—Emily Greble, from the foreword

“Tito’s life is an extraordinary story, a series of theatrical coups and ruptures on a stage with many of the great figures of the last century. [Pirjevec] shows all the paradoxes and ambiguities of this fervent revolutionary who nonetheless enjoyed luxury, entertaining Hollywood stars or the Queen of England with equal splendor.”Le Monde

June 26, 2018
In Search of the True Russia: The Provinces in Contemporary Nationalist Discourse
Lyudmila Parts

Russia’s provinces have long held a prominent place in the nation’s cultural imagination. Lyudmila Parts looks at the contested place of the provinces in twenty-first-century Russian literature and popular culture, addressing notions of nationalism, authenticity, Orientalism, Occidentalism, and postimperial identity.

“A fascinating study of how the internal Other of the provinces has been replacing the external Other of the West in post-Soviet cultural discourse. Useful for anyone interested in contemporary Russian culture.”—Anne Lounsbery, New York University

June 26, 2018
An Anti-Bolshevik Alternative: The White Movement and the Civil War in the Russian North

Liudmila Novikova, Translated by Seth Bernstein 

“”Novikova’s treatment of the Russian Civil War is both original and compelling. It will be an agenda-setting book in the literature on the period. Wonderfully written and well argued, it should appeal to those with interests in Russian history and twentieth-century history more broadly.”—Peter I. Holquist, author of Making War, Forging Revolution

“The White movement in North Russia had a character of its own, reflecting the particulars and peculiarities of the region, as this excellent new study reveals.”Revolutionary Russia

June 26, 2018
Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank’s Model Hydropower Project in Laos
Edited by Bruce Shoemaker and William Robichaud; foreword by Yos Santasombat; afterword by Philip Hirsch

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies

“Extremely insightful and succinct, this volume shows how badly the Nam Theun 2 dam project has failed across the areas of indigenous rights and development, sustaining fisheries and river life, livelihoods of the displaced, protecting wildlife, and forestry and the commons. An important book.”—Michael Goldman, author of Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization

“Offers a new understanding of Laos in a difficult period of nation building and development [and] a vital lesson to policy planners, scholars, and INGOs encountering the illusory success of a globalizing economy.”—Yos Santasombat, from the foreword

How Nazis co-opted German folklore studies

Our guest blogger is James R. Dow, whose new UWP book is published today: Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia.

Traditional costumes, Folk Art Museum, Innsbruck. Photo by Reinhard Bodner.

“Oh, what a wonderful career you must have had, a specialist in German folklore! All those fairy tales and legends, beautiful folk songs, charming costumes , and those delightful buildings we’ve seen in open-air museums.”

Well, it’s more complicated than that. German folklorists and linguists included world-famous scholars, beginning with the Brothers Grimm and continuing well into the twentieth century. As the Nazis rose to power, however, these disciplines were distorted into racist pseudoscience. Under the direction of Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Inheritance), folklore became a tool for constructing a unified German realm and a manufactured lineage from ancient and “pure” Germanic and Nordic blood.

German folklorists and linguists were certainly not alone in selling out to the National Socialist regime, but they were called on to provide the ideological base for Heinrich Himmler’s SS-Ahnenerbe (SS-Ancestral Inheritance). A total of fourteen men and two women, mostly highly educated, became part of cultural commissions sent on a mission to two German-speaking areas: the province of South Tyrol in Italy and Gottschee in Slovenia.

Himmler assigned them to research “the space, spirit, deed, and inheritance of the Nordic races of the Indo-Germanic realm.” The commissions adhered to a belief in a stream of blood, but it proved to be nothing more than a popularized concept of “race,” with everything based on the self-deluding construction of a unified Germanic realm. This was pseudoscience masquerading as hereditary science.

The commissions found pre-Christian tales, ancient Germanic customs, worship sites, architecture, songs sung in parallel fifths, and the last remnants of a Gothic language still very much alive in the mountains, valleys, and villages of the Southern Alps.

Cow decorated with a floral swastika. Photo courtesy of Josef Rainer.

Why is this important? Himmler’s project was arguably the largest field investigation of traditional folklore in history, and the depth of the research carried out on that “Gothic” language, Cymbrian, is unparalleled. But the research was done as part of multiple projects of the SS-Ahnenerbe, which also included conducting medical “research” on prisoners in the concentration camps at Dachau and Natzweiler. When Wolfram Sievers, the business director of the Ahnenerbe, stood trial in Nürnberg in 1946, one piece of evidence brought against him was his collection of Jewish skulls, most likely from Natzweiler. You can view part of his trial on YouTube.

This was state-sponsored research, and some of the researchers were from the same universities where German excellence in scholarship had been unquestioned. The entire undertaking in Italy and Slovenia became nothing less than an affront to honest and responsible scholarship, state-mandated or otherwise. Public sector folklore studies and linguistic documentation today can learn much from this unprecedented and unparalleled occurrence in the annals of the humanities and social science scholarship.

James R. Dow is a professor emeritus of German at Iowa State University. He is the author of German Folklore: A Handbook and The Study of European Ethnology in Austria. He is the editor of numerous books, including The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythologyand Legend and The Nazification of an Academic Discipline.

 

Talking about civilian complicity with the Pinochet regime’s violence

Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet by Michael J. Lazzara is published this week in the series Critical Human Rights. We spoke with Lazzara about issues raised by his book.

Q. Why is it so important to talk about civilian complicity now, more than forty years after the September 11, 1973, coup that put General Augusto Pinochet in power?

A. In the midst of the Cold War, the Pinochet regime (1973-1990) came to power as a violent reaction against democratically elected President Salvador Allende’s “Peaceful Road to Socialism.” Pinochet’s seventeen-year dictatorship resulted in the murder, disappearance, and exile of thousands of Chilean citizens who longed to build a more just and equitable society, as well as the torture of tens of thousands more. Throughout the 1990s, the early years of Chile’s transition to democracy, people almost exclusively attributed the Pinochet regime’s human rights violations to the military, the most egregious perpetrators. Yet we know that dictatorships are always supported behind the scenes by a cast of complicit civilians who play roles—major or minor—in perpetuating the violence and who, through complex processes of rationalization, manage to turn a knowing blind eye to the torture and murder of their fellow citizens.

The stark reality is that many of those who supported the Pinochet regime “behind the scenes” in the 1970s and 1980s remain active in politics, business, and other sectors today. Victims, their families, artists, academics, journalists, lawyers, and concerned citizens have struggled for decades to fight for memory and create a culture of respect for human rights. To a great extent, they have succeeded. But we can’t easily forget that memory and human rights constantly find themselves under attack from political and economic forces that still perpetuate certain violent attitudes fostered under dictatorship.

Q. Is the public discourse of these civilian accomplices relevant for thinking about the “post-truth” era in which we’re living?

A. Definitely! My book is not only about civilian complicity in Chile but also about how civilian accomplices remember and justify their past actions and commitments. I use the phrase “fictions of mastery” to talk about the vital lies (or partial truths) that such accomplices spin, both publically and privately, in order to live with themselves or to convince others that they were acting in the “best interest” of the country or out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Clearly, our contemporary scene is full of individuals who spin stories to advance particular agendas or maintain their hold on political and economic power. My book deconstructs and “outs” such self-serving fictions—and actors—while also advocating for a need for accountability (moral, ethical, and even judicial, when applicable).

Q. Your work provocatively suggests a relationship between complicity and complacency. How are these two concepts linked?

A. The question is important because it forces us to ask: Who is complicit? My book answers this question boldly, even somewhat controversially. It asserts that the spectrum of complicity is vast—that it includes not only those who participated directly in the dictatorship’s crimes but also those who knew what was going on but stood by and did nothing. Even more assertively, I argue that the vast spectrum of complicity in Chile may very well include certain people who years ago fought for revolutionary change and social justice and who now, decades later, wholeheartedly embrace the neoliberal model that the General and his civilian economists espoused. I call these revolutionaries-turned-neoliberals “complacent subjects” and wonder if their political stance, interested in protecting their own status and wealth, might be construed as a form of complicity with the dictatorship’s legacy.

Q. The Chilean dictatorship ended nearly three decades ago. Many analysts praise the country’s transition to democracy as highly “successful.” Why is it important that we continue thinking today about the legacies of the Pinochet regime?

A. Many people, especially economists outside of Chile, have called Chile an “economic miracle” because its economy did relatively well when compared to other countries in the region. This may indeed be true by some measures. But we cannot forget that Chile’s economic strength has its origins in a dark history of torture, disappearances, and murders. We also can’t forget that, despite its economic growth, Chile remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. Moreover, socioeconomic inequality has sparked massive protests and deep disenchantment with political elites from across the ideological spectrum.

The past does not go away. Anyone who goes to Chile today can see and feel signs of the dictatorship’s legacy everywhere. It’s palpable! The political and economic class that sympathized with the dictatorship is now back in power, and the dictatorship’s constitution, penned in 1980, remains in effect. There are still families who have not located their disappeared loved ones. And despite the valiant efforts of those who have struggled to create a culture of human rights and justice, every so often people in positions of power appear in the media denying past human rights violations or explaining them away. Schools avoid talking about the recent past, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Lots of families remain politically divided. For all of these reasons, it is just as important now as it was in the 1980s and 1990s that we continue the fight for accountability, truth, and justice.

When I began researching Civil Obedience, eight years ago, almost no one was talking about civilian complicity with the South American dictatorships. The topic was complete public taboo. Over the past five or so years, important works of journalism have started to address the subject, and it is now commonplace to hear people in Chile use the term “civilian-military dictatorship” (dictadura cívico-militar). I hope that my book will help fuel an honest debate about the uncomfortable ways in which Chile’s brutally violent past still maintains a hold on the present.

Michael J. Lazzara is a professor of Latin American literature and cultural studies at the University of California, Davis. His several books include Chile in Transition: The Poetics and Politics of Memory and Luz Arce and Pinochet’s Chile: Testimony in the Aftermath of State Violence.

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors 

 

UW Press & UW Libraries collaborate on Folksongs of Another America

Today’s guest blogger is James Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America. An award-winning multimedia publication, it is now available in a paperback from UWP, with accompanying audio and video online, as explained below. Leary will also be speaking about this project, and related folk music projects, at the annual Great Libraries of UW–Madison event on May 17.

The original publication of Folksongs of Another America (FSOAA) ambitiously combined a hardbound book, five compact disks, and a DVD in an elegant yet bulky single package weighing nearly four pounds. The years of research, writing, sound and film restoration, and overall production that underlay its existence were matched by hard-won grants to bring retail costs within an average buyer’s reach.

The response was exhilarating: stellar reviews from far and wide, awards that included a Grammy nomination, events in Minnesota and Wisconsin featuring new performances of old songs culled from FSOAA, and a sold-out press run before a year elapsed. But with neither copies in the warehouse nor likelihood of new grants for reprinting, we faced the sad prospect of FSOAA’s disappearance just as interest was building.

A new paperback edition of the book with companion website is our best solution. Trimmer in heft and price than its predecessor, the paperback book swaps the accompanying costly disks for free online access to the music and video. Sound files for all five original CDs—plus the film/DVD Alan Lomax Goes North, coproduced with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress—are now accessible online in the Folksongs of Another America Collection through a partnership of the University of Wisconsin Press and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries.

Hats off to Dennis Lloyd, director of University of Wisconsin Press, and Ed Van Gemert, director of the UW–Madison Library System, for partnering to create the two companion pieces. The songs and tunes in Folksongs of Another America had been hidden for too long to let them vanish once again. May their persistence spur new understandings and performances, along with ongoing recognition and appreciation of the many peoples, tongues, and sounds that—whether past or present, from mainstream or from margin, deservedly acknowledged or unjustly ignored—have always made America great.

But wait, there’s more! FSOAA necessarily focused on a relatively small yet representative set of songs, tunes, and recitations from the hundreds collected by fieldworkers Sidney Robertson, Alan Lomax, and Helene Stratman-Thomas from 1937 to 1946. I worked with many experts to sonically restore the selected tracks and to transcribe and translated lyrics. From my research, I provided new contextual, biographical, and comparative background. But the rich fund of other recordings by Robertson, Lomax, and Stratman-Thomas have raw sound and spare documentation. They await future researchers who will discover, ponder, and pursue them.

So I’m delighted that this new FSOAA website complements several three other sites that further reveal the complexity and diversity of

Helene Stratman-Thomas

the Upper Midwest’s folk musical traditions. The first is the Wisconsin Folksong Collection, produced by the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Mills Music Library and Digital Collections Center, which presents field recordings made by Robertson and Stratman-Thomas.

Alan Lomax

The second related site is the Library of Congress’s Alan Lomax Collection of Michigan and Wisconsin Recordings from 1938, , offering his sound recordings “in their raw form, as full disc sides without speed correction or other digital processing.”

The third site is a digital repository called Local Centers/Global Sounds. It offers post–World War II home and field recordings featuring diverse Upper Midwestern folk/vernacular musicians. It also includes digitized tracks of 78 rpm recordings that were performed by or that influenced regional musicians. This repository is a collaborative project of the Mills Music Library, the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, and the Digital Collections Center, all at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We encourage readers and listeners to roam these sites. In the realm of 78s, many will be familiar with widely available classic recordings made in the 1920s by performers in the “Race” and “Hillbilly” series of American record labels. Yet we cannot fully grasp the richness of American roots music without also experiencing such stellar Upper Midwestern Germanic, Nordic, and Slavic “Foreign” series performers as the Swedish comic vaudevillian Olle i Skratthult, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Gunleik Smedal, the Finnish accordion virtuoso Viola Turpeinen, the singing Polish mountaineer Karol Stoch, the trumpet-playing Bohemian bandleader Romy Gosz, or the German concertinist Hans “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt.

James P. Leary is professor emeritus of folklore and Scandinavian studies, and cofounder of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His many books and documentary productions include Wisconsin FolkloreSo Ole Says to LenaPolkabillyAccordions in the CutoverDownhome Dairyland (with Richard March), and Pinery Boys (with Franz Rickaby and Gretchen Dykstra).

The Seeds of a Story

Our guest blogger today is Patricia Skalka, author of the Dave Cubiak County Mystery Series. The fourth book in the series, Death Rides the Ferry, comes out today.

Ideas are like plants. Some seem to come out of nowhere and burst into full bloom. Others hibernate for months or even years before they cautiously reach up toward the light of day. And like plants, ideas can be grafted, one to the other. Which is what happened in Death Rides the Ferry.

The “aha, full-bloom” idea was suggested by my eldest daughter Julia on a bright summer day several years ago. We were in Door County riding the ferry across the Porte des Morts strait between Washington Island and the Door peninsula. By then, I’d written the first two books in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series and was working on the third. “How about a death on the ferry?” Julia said, citing the obvious. Until that moment the thought had never occurred to me. Of course! I thought, as the ferry plowed through the water. What a great idea!

There was one problem: I had nothing with which to nurture this terrific suggestion. Who dies? How many victims? Why are she/he/they traveling to the island? Who’s the killer? What’s the motive?

For days, I struggled to fill out the storyline. After rejecting one plot after another, I was ready to shelve the fledging project. That’s when the magic happened and an idea that had been lurking beneath the surface for decades emerged from the fog of memory.

Twenty years ago—at least—a friend who was also a professional musician told me about the viola da gamba, a stringed instrument popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The term meant nothing to me, but I was intrigued. The more she talked about the kinds of viols played in early music, the more interested I became. At the time, however, I was a nonfiction writer working on assignments for the Reader’s Digest and other national magazines. There were no opportunities to write a story featuring something as esoteric as the viola da gamba, so I filed away the information, hoping that someday I could use it. In effect, I’d sent the idea into hibernation.

Fast forward several decades to the recent past when I was mulling over Julia’s suggestion about a death on the ferry. To create a story from that nugget I needed an event that would draw people to Washington Island. A music festival would do it. But why not a festival with something different or unusual as the focus? Like magic, the memory of that long-ago conversation with my musical friend awakened.

Immediately, I knew that the island event in my book would be a viola da gamba festival. As soon as I made the decision, the pieces started to fall into place. I linked the current festival to a previous event, one held forty years earlier that ended in catastrophe and left important questions unanswered. The tragic events of the past would be mirrored in the present; the victims (more than one, I decided) and the killer would be tied to both. My protagonist Dave Cubiak would solve not just the current mystery but he would discover the solution to the puzzle that had haunted the festival organizers for years.

In short order, Death Rides the Ferry grew from two seeds or ideas that I grafted together. The newly formed hybrid story had to be tended and nurtured and allowed to grow. And while there was plenty of work left to do, I was off to a solid start on book four.

Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door CountyDeath at Gills Rock, and Death in Cold Water, winner of the Edna Ferber Fiction Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. She is president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin. A former staff writer at Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States. Her nonfiction books have been published by Random House, St. Martin’s, and Rodale.

Author website: www.patriciaskalka.com

 

Tips for Reading in Your Midwestern Hometown         

Today’s blog post is inspired by Courtney Kersten’s appearance at The Local Store in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where she read from her recently published debut memoir Daughter in Retrograde.

Avoid flippancy as you pack your bag in California. Yes, you really will need wool socks. No, despite any Midwestern fantasy of that one spring where it hit 82º, it won’t happen again. Yes, do bring pantyhose if you’re really going to wear that skirt. Bring your reading glasses. Bring that chamomile tincture. Don’t leave the door without deodorant.

Embrace the urge to ask the flight attendant on your flight from San Jose to Minneapolis for another Biscoff cookie. She’ll hand you three and tell you to stash them quickly. You do. You take her generosity as an omen of good luck. You realize you forgot your book.

When you arrive in your old home, embrace the brown leather jacket your father found in his closet that might be a forgotten leftover from his ex-wife. You look at the tag. You smell the armpits. You dig in the pockets and find a creased receipt. It’s dated from February 2001, a Gordy’s grocery store purchase of one rotisserie chicken. You’re not sure what this means. You decide to wear the coat. You may even take it home with you.

While strolling around your hometown before your reading, avoid the westside Dairy Queen where you once locked yourself in the bathroom as a child and screamed until you heard your mother’s voice on the other side. If you were to return, it would feel metaphorical. Avoid the park where you and your mother once threw bread to the ducks. This wouldn’t feel metaphorical, but it would smear your mascara. Avoid the mall where you and your mother spent hours shimmying in and out of jeans. Avoid the streets around the hospital and the entirety of downtown Chippewa Falls. These places would derail you entirely.

Avoid eating all three Biscoff cookies still stashed in your bag before reading. You’ll fantasize about their sweet snap. You’ll desire their powder on your fingers. You anticipate that it would be reassuring—they were your omen of good luck, weren’t they? You eat all of them five minutes before you’re supposed to read.

Now, embrace the water fountain. Embrace drinking slow. Embrace the book your Aunt Delores offers to let you read from. Embrace the heat shuddering through the vents, causing you to sweat—maybe this is your Midwestern fantasy come true. Maybe you didn’t need those wool socks after all . . .  Embrace the familiar sight of slush near the door reminding you that, yes, you really did need them. Embrace the nostalgia that blossoms within you upon seeing this dirty snow. Embrace turning to the podium and opening your book.

Avoid the quavering that wants to creep in your voice. Avoid that old tick of rocking back and forth in your shoes. Avoid channeling your nervousness into your hands that want to grip the sides of the podium—this may seem bizarre. You don’t want to seem bizarre, but calm and confident—though every sensation pulsing through your body assures you that, indeed, you are not. Avoid fixating on this.

Embrace the silence of an audience listening. Embrace your friends and family who clap for you. Embrace their hugs and congratulatory words whispered into your ear. Embrace the knowledge that the only reason you are here, in your hometown, reading a book you wrote, is because of their role in your life. Embrace this gratitude. Allow it to sit with you like a kitten curling up next to you, snug and purring. Allow this to glide you home and lull you to sleep. Embrace this tranquility.

Courtney Kersten is an essayist and scholar. A native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, she teaches creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her essays can be found in River TeethHotel AmerikaDIAGRAM, The Sonora ReviewBlack Warrior Review, and The Master’s Review.

 

New Books & New Paperbacks, May 2018

We’re pleased to announce the following books to be published this month.

May 8, 2018
Death Rides the Ferry
Patricia Skalka

“An intricate, intriguing plot in which Door County Sheriff Dave Cubiak can stop a ruthless killer only by finding the link between a spate of murders and a forty-year-old mystery.”—Michael Stanley, author of the Detective Kubu series

“Skalka is equally skilled at evoking the beloved Door County landscape and revealing the complexities of the human heart, as Sheriff Cubiak’s latest case evokes personal demons. This thought-provoking mystery, set in a beautiful but treacherous environment, is sure to please.”—Kathleen Ernst, author of The Light Keeper’s Legacy

 

May 15, 2018
Civil Obedience: Complicity and Complacency in Chile since Pinochet
Michael J. Lazzara

Critical Human Rights

“Original, engaging, and direly needed. Lazzara, one of the leading scholars writing on human rights, memory, and trauma in Chile and Argentina, looks at the many ethical positions civilians have latched onto to save face in the decades since the Pinochet dictatorship.”—Greg Dawes, author of Verses Against the Darkness

“Provocative, conceptually powerful, and fluidly expressed, Lazzara’s book forces a reckoning with the active, ample ways Chileans violently transformed politics, the economy, and the social fabric to lasting effect and amid ongoing denial. The arguments and implications extend well beyond Chile to our own politics and societies.”—Katherine Hite, author of Politics and the Art of Commemoration

 

May 29, 2018
Heinrich Himmler’s Cultural Commissions: Programmed Plunder in Italy and Yugoslavia
James R. Dow

“Unshrouds folklore’s manipulation by Nazi leaders, and thank goodness for that, even if it is uncomfortable to confront. Dow has unearthed, and deftly explained, an incredible storehouse of material from Himmler’s cultural commissions, probably the largest organized field collecting project in history. The lessons he astutely draws are critical for understanding the Nazi era and are relevant to today’s cultural politics. A great achievement.”—Simon J. Bronner, author of Explaining Traditions

“Dow analyzes the motives of the protagonists of Himmler’s Cultural Commissions, and his treatment of the ideological preconditions for the field investigations is compelling. A major contribution to our understanding of Nazism.”—Konrad Köstlin, University of Vienna

 

May 31, 2018
Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946

Now in Paperback
James P. Leary

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest

• Grammy Nominee
• Winner, Association for Recorded Sound Collections Award for Best Historical Research in Folk or World Music

“A stunning work of curation and scholarship. . . . Whether you’re a music-maker or just a listener, reader, and thinker, there’s a surprise on every track and every page.”Huffington Post

“A treasure. . . . Leary’s deep knowledge of the subject matter is demonstrated by thought-provoking facts placing the dance tunes, ballads, lyrics songs, hymns, political anthems, and more in historical context.”Library Journal

“A landmark. . . . Attains the highest standards of folklore studies.”Journal of Folklore Research