Author Archives: uwpress

Why write a novel instead of a memoir?

Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of A Thin Bright Line, explains why a novel is the best way to honor the true story of her aunt and namesake, providing a glimpse of the woman behind her accomplishments. 

The line between fiction and memoir has been blurred in recent years, putting many memoirists on the defense about the role of imagination in their books. How much of a story should be supported by documentation? How much creativity is fair game in memoir storytelling? Is it okay to shift timeframes or make up dialogue, and still call a book “nonfiction”?

I could have called my new novel, A Thin Bright Line, a memoir. The story, based on ten years in the life of my aunt and namesake, Lucybelle Bledsoe, is steeped in fact and eight years of research.

Almost exactly 50 years ago, on September 29, 1966, Lucybelle Bledsoe, my dad’s sister and my namesake, died in an apartment fire. I was 9 years old.

As I grew up, I could only glean a few intriguing tidbits about my namesake. I knew that, like so many other women of her generation, she used the cover of WWII to shoot off the Arkansas farm and run off to New York. I knew she wanted to go to law school, and when my grandfather forbid it, she studied for and passed the bar exam anyway, without the benefit of law school. My mother told me that she was extremely independent, that even in the 50s and 60s, Lucybelle didn’t allow men to hold doors open for her.

One day, about 8 years ago, a friend suggested I Google my aunt. I didn’t expect to find anything. After all, Lucybelle was just a farm girl who died in 1966.

Lucybelle Bledsoe

Lucybelle Bledsoe

What I discovered astonished me. Lucybelle Bledsoe was a key player in a top secret, though recently declassified, Cold War project involving studying the properties of ice. The fear at the time was that the Russians would attack via the Arctic, and the government wanted to be ready. She became fluent in Russian as part of her work and had top security clearance.

Lucybelle Bledsoe was also a queer woman who carried on, despite the McCarthy Era fears about hiring gay people in highly classified positions. The work she and the Army Corps of Engineer scientists did from 1956 to 1966 included pulling the first ever complete ice cores from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. These cores are still being studied today and are considered the beginning of climate change research.

So why not write this story as a biography? Or a memoir of my time with my aunt?

It’s a very good question. I could have used the biography form to write about the convergence of the Cold War, the history of climate change research, and LGBT history. And certainly my novel embraces all these topics.

But what gripped me most about Lucybelle’s story was her courage, the way she made her way to Greenwich Village at the tender age of 20 in 1944, how she found women lovers, and how she managed a queer life in spite of the times, in spite of McCarthy, and while holding a highly classified government job. I am most interested in her heart, who she loved, how she found her strength and bravery.

14716171_10209163985610764_6157701390193291084_nSo I interviewed everyone who knew her. I found the name of her partner, the woman who mourned her death. I sent for her death certificate and even interviewed some firemen and neighbors who’d been on the scene of the fire that killed her. I interviewed her coworkers and childhood friends. I traveled to Arkansas, Chicago, New York, and New Hampshire and haunted all the places she’d lived.

A Thin Bright Line is based on a wealth of fact. But I imagined how she felt in between the facts. I imagined the words she spoke in her most intimate moments. I do believe that imagination, in concert with research, can reach a deeper truth.  

Bledsoe-Lucy-2016-cLucy Jane Bledsoe is an award-winning science writer and novelist for adults and children. Her many books include The Ice Cave: A Woman’s Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic, The Big Bang Symphony: A Novel of Antarctica, This Wild Silence, and Working Parts. A native of Portland, Oregon, she lives in Berkeley, California.

 

Livia Appel, the University of Wisconsin Press’s first editor

80th-logoLivia Appel was appointed the first managing editor (essentially, the first director) of the University of Wisconsin Press in 1937. University Press Committee records from the time indicate that she was hired because she thoroughly understood academic publishing operations and could be employed for much less pay than a man.

Livia Appel. Photo by Arthur M. Vinje, collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, #43412

Livia Appel. Photo by Arthur M. Vinje, collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, #43412

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1893, Appel became a school teacher and then a research and editorial assistant at the Minnesota Historical Society. Her work as an assistant was apparently impressive enough that she was credited as coauthor of a MHS book: Minnesota in the War with Germany by Franklin F. Holbrook and Livia Appel.

Very little about Appel’s work at UWP has been researched, but her tenure included the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II. We know that the first book published at the Press was Reactions of Hydrogen with Organic Compounds over Copper-Chromium Oxide and Nickel Catalysts by Homer Adkins. Appel also authored a small book herself—Bibliographical Citation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities: A Handbook of Style for Authors, Editors, and Students, published by UWP in 1940.

A few of the more notable books published between Appel’s arrival in 1937 and departure in 1948 include:

  • The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner Edited by Everett E. Edwards (1938)
    A Regional Approach to the Conservation of Natural Resources
    by V. C. Finch and J. R. Whitaker (1938)
    The Leguminous Plants of Wisconsin by Norman C. Fassett (1939)
    The Wars of the Iroquois: A Study in Intertribal Trade Relations by George T. Hunt (1940)
    The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781 by Merrill Jensen (1940)
    Lincoln and the Radicals by T. Harry Williams (1941)
    De Rerum Natura: The Latin Text of Lucretius Edited by William Ellery Leonard and Stanley Barney Smith (1942)
    Japan: A Physical, Cultural, and Regional Geography by Glenn T. Trewartha (1945)
    The Wisconsin Prisoner: Studies in Crimogenesis by John L. Gillin (1946)
    Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth by Norman O. Brown (1947)

What we do know about Appel as an editor and as a person comes mainly from her later work elsewhere. In 1948, she was hired by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin as editor for their publications. Distinguished historian Francis Paul Prucha, whose work Appel edited for SHSW, wrote a lengthy tribute to her in the summer 1996 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History on the occasion of the society’s sesquicentennial.

In Prucha’s article titled, “Livia Appel and the Art of Copywriting: A Personal Memoir,” he noted, “In her years at the [University of Wisconsin] Press, she gained a reputation as a perfectionist.” Prucha describes in detail how Appel worked painstakingly and authoritatively with him to transform his dissertation into a successful book. “My encounter with Livia Appel at the beginning of my career as a historian was a never to be forgotten experience. . . . It is remarkable how far I have been carried by the principles of good writing and the practical skills she taught me.” He mentions that he discovered after his book was published that Appel was not only the editor, but the book designer, for SHSW’s publications.

Prucha also briefly describes meeting Appel: ” I met Livia Appel personally only once, at the end of June 1956, when I was able to spend a short time in Wisconsin. My memory of that meeting after so many years is now dim. I do not remember just what my expectations had been in regard to Appel’s personality and appearance—after all, our long correspondence had been very professional and all business. What I found was a woman less precise in dress and demeanor, more  informal and friendly, than I would have imagined. The one clear picture that I have retained is that she perpetually had a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. But I also remember that she made me feel that we were kindred souls in discussing at length the problems we had solved together in revising my dissertation.”

In 1956, Prucha reports, Appel moved to New York City, where she apparently did freelance editing until 1962. She died in New York in January 1973.

The Politics of the Stalinist Past in Today’s Russia

Russian author Alexander Vatlin gives insight into his book Agents of Terror: Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police, published this week by the University of Wisconsin Press. With Seth Bernstein providing the translation, Vatlin expands upon Stalin’s legacy today and the issues that still divide the Russian people.

I am delighted that my study of Stalin’s terror at the local level has been translated into English. In this blog, I’d like to frame the book in the context in which I wrote it— present-day Russia. When I wrote the original Russian-language book [published in 2004], the primary point of dispute among Russians stemmed from their opinions about Stalin’s regime. Indeed, this divide remains today. Academic historians have written hundreds or thousands of books with well-researched arguments about Stalinism. Some have even published documents from formerly secret archives, revealing the inner workings of the party-state. Yet among many ordinary people, these works have had little impact. As a colleague commented, a Russian’s view about Stalinism are a question of faith, not knowledge.

Stalin’s era remains the period in Russian history that attracts the most attention from researchers. It is an epoch that allows, even encourages, contradictory interpretations. Take the example of Stalinist forced collectivization: one historian might condemn the campaign as a crime against the peasantry, another lauds it as one of the regime’s great achievements. It suffices to cite a recent survey of Russians on the place of Stalin in history. Over the last several years, approximately 40 percent have claimed that Stalin would be the right leader for Russia today. Among people older than sixty, this figure is nearly 70 percent.

There are three main questions that divide the Russian public’s interpretations of Stalinism:

  1. Did the violence of Stalinism reflect the broader trends of European history in the twentieth century (what historian Eric Hobsbawm called the “age of extremes”)? Or was it a path peculiar to Russia (borrowing from the German concept of the sonderweg in their country’s history), a product of the country’s underdevelopment?
  2. Was Stalin’s regime—despite all its brutality—the only way that Russia could have survived the crises of the twentieth century? In other words, could the country have industrialized so rapidly without the Gulag?
  3. The final question, especially relevant for today: did Stalinism represent a dark age—a historical regression that forced the country to restart its development anew after the dictator’s death? Or was it the opposite—did Stalin drag the USSR into modernity, and now we can forget about the troubles of the past?

In current debates, few (other than the most politicized radicals in the Russian Communist Party) continue to defend the massive state violence of 1937-38, better known as the Great Terror. However, there is still reason to be concerned about the terror’s place in society. It is not that the public celebrates the elimination of so-called enemies of the people, but that Stalinist repression has been effectively forgotten. Scholarship on 1937-38 has almost no popular resonance today. This fact is most striking, because the history of the Great Terror was enormously important during Gorbachev’s perestroika of the late 1980s. Then, new revelations about Stalinist repression drove a moral reckoning in the country and were partially responsible for political reforms. In 1989, 39 percent of those surveyed in said that Stalinist repression was one of the most significant episodes for the USSR/Russia in the twentieth century. By the time my book was published in 2004, that number fell to just 10 percent. When I tried to present my book at a library in Kuntsevo municipal district in Moscow—where the events of my work took place—I was turned away. Administrators from the library said, “We can’t raise our children on that kind of history.”

Russians, the young above all, have turned away from the dark pages of their country’s past. This lack of historical perspective is dangerous—a formula for collective amnesia and apathy. Only a quarter of the locations are known where mass shootings occurred during the Great Terror. The only people currently looking for the mass graves are volunteers who receive no support from the state. The relatives of the repressed in many cases still do not know where their parents and grandparents are buried.

In short, readers of the English-language translation of my book should be aware that Russian historical understandings differ significantly from those in the West. Russians like to quote the poet Fedor Tyutchev’s famous lines:

Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,
No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness,
She stands alone, unique,
In Russia, one can only believe.

Every country has traditions that govern acceptable attitudes toward domestic and international tensions. This behavior formed over hundreds of years, and the resulting national traits are not always laudable. Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore them.

There are several aspects of Stalinist rule that are important for a non-Russian reader to understand. Stalin constructed his dictatorship by working within the Russian tradition of autocratic rule. He also exploited the passivity of ordinary people, who had grown weary of struggling after decades of revolutionary upheaval. The threat of external aggression contributed to Stalin’s ability to form an authoritarian regime. A huge number of ordinary Russians were isolated in the small world of their villages, and many peasants cared little about what was happening in Moscow. These Russians had limited experience with representative democracy. Even today, people’s deference to central leaders is not based on a social contract, but upon fear of the powerful and anxieties about instability.

For all these reasons, both the victims and the executors of the Great Terror could not understand its causes nor comprehend its scale. Perpetrators’ lack of understanding allowed them to deny their responsibility—a phenomenon readers can see among the officers of the Kuntsevo NKVD in my book Agents of Terror. NKVD workers often claimed that they had only fulfilled quotas, that they had completed the number of arrests that leaders had demanded. If agents had questioned the purpose of the terror, let alone objected to it, they could have soon found themselves on the other side of the interrogation table.

This argument was a convenient way for NKVD officers to absolve themselves of guilt. All the main figures in Agents of Terror made similar claims when they were called to account at the end of 1938. As a scholar who works primarily on German history, I could not help but think of a phrase that millions of Germans recited during Hitler’s reign: Der Führer denkt für uns. The Führer thinks for us.

I do not want to suggest that today’s Russians should come to a final understanding about the meaning of Stalin’s regime in the country’s history. It will take perhaps another two or three generations to reach a popular consensus about the era. More important is that individuals work through the past—a process that cannot occur without moral assessments. Asking a personal question—how would I have acted in the place of a victim or an executioner, in the place of a hero or a traitor?—does not permit one to hide behind the straw men of the great villains in history. Strange as it sounds, the history of the Great Terror can have a positive impact on contemporary Russia. It should force every one of us to reflect, so that a tragedy like 1937-38 will not occur again.

 

Alexander Vatlin is a professor of history at Moscow State University. The author of many works in Russian, he is the editor of Piggy Foxy and the Sword of Revolution: Bolshevik Self Portraits.

 

 

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Seth Bernstein is an assistant professor of history at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

 

 

 

Mystery writer interviews the FBI

Patricia Skalka, author of Death in Cold Water, the third installment of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries, speaks about her experience writing a mystery novel, interviewing the FBI, and why Cubiak is so relatable. 

Death in Cold Water is the third book of your Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. When you started writing, did you envision that you’d do a series? Not at all. In fact, the prospect of writing a series seemed quite overwhelming and far beyond the scope of anything I could imagine. I started Death Stalks Door County, the first book, with the intention that it would be a stand-alone mystery. One and done, as they say. But as the book developed, additional story lines materialized. And by the time I had completed a solid draft, I felt so close to my characters that I didn’t want to walk away from them. I saw them as real people whose lives extended into the future. By then it seemed only natural to use the first book as a stepping stone into a series.

Without revealing any secrets, what can you tell us about Death in Cold WaterThere are two story lines in the book. The first involves the disappearance of a prominent Door County philanthropist who has strong ties to the Green Bay Packers. His presumed kidnapping leads to FBI agents joining the story. The second plot revolves around human bones that wash up on a beach north of Baileys Harbor. My lead character, Sheriff Dave Cubiak, uncovers the story behind them.

Is there a common motif in your books? In each of the three books I’ve written and in the fourth that’s in progress, the crime that occurs in present time is linked to past events. By this, I mean stories that span several decades and involve the kind of old secrets and misdeeds that become lost in the mist of memory and slowly ferment beneath the surface of daily life. I like to present my protagonist with complex puzzles that involve several potential and often conflicting motives and a panoply of suspects. In solving crimes, he must shift through layers of often conflicting clues and circumstances and delve deep into people’s lives before he arrives at the truth.

One of two range lights at Baileys Harbor active from 1869 to 1969. The lanterns were originally fueled by lard or whale oil, later by kerosene and acetylene gas until converted to electricity.

One of two range lights at Baileys Harbor active from 1869 to 1969. The lanterns were originally fueled by lard or whale oil, later by kerosene and acetylene gas until converted to electricity.

Is Dave Cubiak, your protagonist, based on a real person? Dave Cubiak is a figment of my imagination drawn from bits and pieces of many of the people whose paths have crossed mine over the years. His aspirations might be drawn from one individual; his story of loss from another; his physical appearance based on yet someone else. Mostly he was an idea that slowly assumed a personality and physical presence as the concept for the first book evolved. To solve the mystery and carry the reader along as clues were discovered, I needed the fresh eyes and objectivity that only an outsider could bring. When readers met Cubiak in my first mystery, Death Stalks Door County, he was a former Chicago homicide detective turned park ranger. He’s a reluctant protagonist who slowly grows into his role of hero.

I created Cubiak as the kind of sheriff I would want to arrive on the scene if I were ever the victim of a crime or in need of help. At a recent event, one reader said he thinks of Cubiak as “a man who does the right thing.”  I think that really sums up Dave Cubiak.

Where do you find your inspiration for the books you write? Mysteries generally evolve from one of three elements: setting, characters, or plot. Death in Cold Water grew directly from the plot. I knew that I wanted to write a story about a kidnapping. The next step was deciding on the victim, the motive behind the crime, and the culprits, and then weaving the three together in a coherent story.

Death at Gills Rock, the second volume in the series, emerged from the characters and my desire to write a book involving veterans from World War II. I’d read newspaper articles and seen many reports on the vanishing population of veterans and knew I had to do something soon. One day, I was talking to one of my Door County neighbors about the idea and she mentioned that the Coast Guard contingent from Sturgeon Bay had served in the Aleutian Islands during the war. That was all I needed to get started.

A Door County sunrise.

A Door County sunrise.

The idea for Death Stalks Door County, the first book, grew directly from the setting. After spending a perfect afternoon on the beach, I found myself in the same spot on an inky black night. The contrast between day and night made me think of the disparity between light and dark, and good and evil, which led to imagining a story in which sinister forces were at work beneath a veneer of perfection. From this, I came up with the plot line and characters for my first mystery.

How much, if any, research do you do for your mysteries? Whenever I come up against something about which I know little or nothing, I do research. I don’t let a lack of knowledge about a subject stand in my way of writing about it. But I don’t fabricate facts either. Writing only what you know is fine if you’re already someone with boundless knowledge! I believe in writing about that which I am willing to learn, and I always encourage aspiring writers not to be inhibited by a lack of knowledge about a given subject as long as they are willing to do the research.

Death in Cold Water involves the FBI, and prior to writing the book all I knew about the agency was what I picked up from news articles and TV shows. I had much to learn about the FBI’s involvement in kidnapping cases and started by gathering as much information as I could from the bureau’s website and from various books and magazine articles. Once I had a sense of the story, I went through the plot and tried to imagine where and how the FBI would figure in. With this general overview pretty well laid out, I was ready to talk with real-life agents.

What was it like interviewing the FBI? Overall, I’d say it was rather intimidating. Where to start? The bureau has offices in more than fifty major cities across the county, and since my story was set in Wisconsin, I assumed I should approach the Milwaukee office first. I sent an email to the Public Information Office there, explaining who I was and what I was doing and was told that all media inquiries have to go through Washington. That gave me pause. But after a few days of procrastinating, I sent essentially the same email to the PIO at headquarters. This time, I was asked to submit the type of questions I wanted answered.

That gave me further pause. I had dozens of specific questions, but I finally came up with five or six general queries and submitted the list. Within days, I had an appointment with two agents in the Chicago office.

The author reflected in the window of her cottage.

The author reflected in the window of her cottage.

Here were the guidelines: I could ask anything I wanted but wasn’t allowed to bring in any electronic devices. This meant no cell phones, recorders, or cameras. I entered the grounds through a small gate house where I was assigned a locker for my cell phone, which I’d forgotten to leave in the car. Once I was cleared, I walked the fifty or so feet to the main building carrying only my purse, a notepad, and a pen.

I met with two agents for more than two hours, taking notes by hand all the time we talked. They were extremely helpful, and both really liked the ending I wrote!  I wasn’t allowed to mention either of the agents by name in the acknowledgements.

The books in your series move through time. Why is that? Cubiak is in a very bad place when we first meet him. He is burdened with grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter and overwhelmed with guilt because they died in an accident he feels he could have prevented. He is morose and withdrawn. Following in the footsteps of his alcoholic father, he also uses vodka to numb his feelings. He is a man apart and not very likable. I didn’t want to leave him there, and the only realistic way I could see to help him find some peace was to move him—and the stories—through time.

I envision the series covering a period of twenty years or so. Cubiak as well as the other central characters will grow older, as we do. Life circumstances will keep changing and they’ll face new issues and concerns. I thought this would be both an interesting and challenging way to structure the books.

Is there an overall arc to the series? Each book follows its own story arc but the series has an overarching story line which put simply is Cubiak’s personal journey of redemption. As I said earlier, he begins the series as a man tormented by grief and guilt, and in each book he learns a little more about how to live with the loss he has endured. His pain evolves over time but it will never really go away, and he has to grapple with the challenge of reconciling that which he cannot change. My goal is to help Cubiak reach a point where he can fully embrace both loss and life, no small challenge for anyone.

How do readers relate to Cubiak’s journey? I have been surprised and touched by how my readers relate to Cubiak. Women seem to want to take care of him; men say they like him because he’s “real.” People affected by loss are especially sympathetic to his plight. Many have told me that they appreciate the depth and ongoing nature of Cubiak’s struggle. They feel that my books speak to the truth of grief which is too often treated superficially. One reader experienced in helping others cope with post-traumatic stress said he thought Cubiak’s story was a story of hope for people dealing with traumatic loss.

Dave Cubiak, who started out rather unlikable, has developed something of a fan club. Readers ask about him; they express concern for his emotional well-being; they send emails asking when the next Dave Cubiak story will be out. For an author, there can be no greater compliment.

Watch Patricia Skalka in an interview by Chicago Public Television:

Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door County and Death at Gills Rock, the first two volumes in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series. A former writer for Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin.

 

New books for October 2016

We are pleased to announce five new books arriving in October.

Publication date: October 11
DEATH IN COLD WATER
Patricia Skalka

The third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series

“Patricia Skalka has pulled off the near impossible—a tale of grisly murder filled with moments of breathtaking beauty. Sheriff Dave Cubiak is the kind of decent protagonist too seldom seen in modern mystery novels, a hero well worth rooting for. And the icing on the cake is the stunning backdrop of Door County, Wisconsin. Another fine novel in a series that is sure to satisfy even the most demanding reader.”—William Kent Krueger, author of Windigo Island

“Skalka has created magic with this excellent police procedural. She confronts Sheriff Dave Cubiak with a kidnapping, snakes, and even a bag of nearly drowned kittens, deftly brought together in crisp, evocative prose. A great read!”—Libby Fischer Hellman, author of Jump Cut

Publication date: October 11
AGENTS OF TERROR
Ordinary Men and Extraordinary Violence in Stalin’s Secret Police
Alexander Vatlin
Edited, translated, and with an introduction by Seth Bernstein

“Although the literature on the Great Terror has improved markedly over the past twenty-five years, only a handful of case studies consider how the purges took place at the grassroots level. Thankfully, Alexander Vatlin’s pathbreaking work has now become available to English-speakingВатлин1 audiences. One can only hope that Agents of Terror will inspire more research on the purge’s perpetrators and victims as well as on the broader sociology of this brutal period.”—David Brandenberger, author of Propaganda State in Crisis

“Groundbreaking. In the first detailed description of Stalin’s mass terror, Vatlin unfolds the day-to-day working of the Soviet political police who carried out orders to select, arrest, interrogate, and often murder their fellow citizens. An absorbing, heartrending account.”—David Shearer, author of Policing Stalin’s Socialism

Publication date: October 18
A THIN BRIGHT LINE
Lucy Jane Bledsoe

“Merges fact and fiction to create a historically accurate picture of the struggles faced by LGBT people in the 1950s and ’60s; the closeting that was required for professional advancement; and the ways the Cold War pitted pure science against research to benefit the defense industry. A stirring and deeply felt story.”Kirkus Reviews

“This is gripping historical fiction about queer life at the height of the Cold War and the civil Bledsoe-Lucy-2016-crights movement, and its grounding in fact really makes it sing. Like the scientists whose papers she edits, Lucybelle Bledsoe is passionate about the truth. Whether it’s the climate history of the planet as illuminated by cores of polar ice or the pursuit of an authentic emotional life in the miasma of McCarthyism, she operates with piercing honesty.”—Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home

Publication date: October 27
THE PHANTOM OF THOMAS HARDY
Floyd Skloot

“Only the inventive Floyd Skloot could come up with—and gorgeously pull off—an experiment like The Phantom of Thomas Hardy. With the intensity of a fevered dream, he seeks his own self-integration after brain trauma while digging around, assembling, and imagining the history of the elusive Hardy. Blending memoir, reportage, literary analysis, and historical fiction (who does that?) Skloot dazzles with the depth of his research, and enchants with his signature vivid, precise, and thoroughly delicious prose.”—Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of Concussion

“This strikingly original book crosses the boundaries of genre in daring ways, as we observe a fictional self in pursuit of a phantom, another self, the soul of a great author. This is a work of memoir, fantasy, literary biography, spiritual questing—and more. As ever, Skloot draws on deep reserves of intellectual and emotional energy. A remarkable achievement.”—Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

Callary-Place-Names-of-Wisconsin-cPublication date: October 31
PLACE NAMES OF WISCONSIN
Edward Callary

“Up-to-date and fully documented, this alphabetical guide to more than two thousand names of Wisconsin’s counties, towns, cities, and villages will be the definitive resource on Wisconsin place names for years to come. Readers—whether locals, travelers, or scholars—will enjoy learning about the unique history of the state as reflected in its place names.”—Luanne von Schneidemesser, senior editor, Dictionary of American Regional English

“The introduction is laced with apt examples of naming patterns and sources. It explains pseudo-Indian names and corrects many fanciful but false popular accounts of name origins. And, Callary includes a helpful pronunciation guide for anyone confronted with Mazomanie, Menomonie, and Muscoda for the first time.”—James P. Leary, editor of Wisconsin Folklore

BOB SMITH: ON RELIGION, NATURE, LIFE WITH ALS, AND HIS NEW BOOK ‘TREEHAB’

Treehab book coverToday is the publication day of TREEHAB: TALES FROM MY NATURAL WILD LIFE by comedian and writer Bob Smith. Christopher Bram interviewed Bob Smith for the Lambda Literary Review, and we excerpt a portion of that interview here. Go to the Lambda site to read the full interview

BOB SMITH: ON RELIGION, LIFE WITH ALS, HIS LOVE OF NATURE, AND HIS NEW BOOK TREEHAB

by Christopher Bram   September 20, 2016  Lambda Literary Review

In the wider world of pop culture, Bob Smith is known as a stand-up comic. He was the first openly gay stand-up to appear on the Tonight Show. This was followed by many other appearances, including a special on HBO. He toured the country for several years in the groundbreaking comedy trio Funny Gay Males, performing with his buddies Jaffe Cohen and Danny McWilliams. His smart, wry, low-key comedy monologues, which you can see on YouTube, are unique in tone and full of memorable lines. Years before I met him, I often quoted (with attribution) such Smith bits as: “My high school had a Head Start program for homosexuals. It was called Drama Club.”

But in the smaller world of book readers, Smith is known as a writer. And he’s a wonderful writer. This should be no surprise. Good writing is full of the same attention to detail, originality, and surprise that powers the best stand-up comedy.

Smith’s newest book, Treehab: Tales from My Natural Wild Life, is another collection of essays but with a wider, richer range than his first books. It’s a glorious achievement, one that has already earned high praise from Kirkus, Stephen McCauley and Armistead Maupin. This is The Portable Bob Smith. There’s a lot of Smith to carry, but the book carries it with ease. We hear about his love of nature, of rocks and minerals, and Alaska. He tells stories of his career as a stand-up, as well as what it’s like to be the sperm-donor dad of two children. He talks about his dog Bozzie and his four best friends, the men he calls his “Nature Boys,” which includes his life partner Michael Zam. And he discusses his experience with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neuro-degenerative disease that affects the motor neurons. It can work quickly or slowly. Stephen Hawking has lived with it for years. Luckily for Bob its progress has been slow. He was diagnosed with ALS twelve years ago and has been able to keep working. The first thing he lost was his ability to speak. In the early stages he assured his stand-up audiences that his slurred speech didn’t mean he was drunk, only that he had a neurological disorder. When Bob could no longer perform, he concentrated on his writing.

I recently spoke with Bob about his new book. He’s temporarily lost the use of his hands and can no longer type. He now spells out words with his feet, pointing at letters on a Lucite board. But Bob expresses himself better with his feet than most people do with a fully functioning set of fingers. Also present was Bob’s best friend, Eddie Sarfaty, a brilliant stand-up comic and fine writer in his own right, author of Mental: Funny in the Head. Eddie is now working on his own novel.

Eddie knows Bob well enough that he can often finish his answers once Bob begins them, but not always. We sometimes put words into Bob’s mouth in what follows, but he always agreed with what we attributed to him.

Do you have a favorite essay [in the book]?

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

“Nature Boys.”

Eddie: Because boys and nature are his two favorite things.

It’s a wonderful portrait of your best friends, four gay men who are bound together by their love of wildlife and the great outdoors. You are full of love, Bob. You love so many things: birds, books, friends, your partner Michael, your two children, Maddie and Xander, Alaska, of course, and Henry David Thoreau. But you also have the healthy gift of anger. Who are some of the people and things that make you furious?

The Koch Brothers. Donald Trump. Climate change deniers. People who don’t believe in evolution. The Koch Brothers. (Again!) Soy milk. The NRA. Unfunny comedians.

Do you want to name a few unfunny comics?

(He smiles and shakes his head.)

Who are your heroes?

Thoreau. Mary Leakey. Verner Wilson [a Yupik storyteller and environmental activist from Alaska]. Lily Tomlin. W. C. Fields. Maude Lechner [the daughter of friends, who shaved her head to raise money for ALS when she was eleven].

Who are your favorite writers? You’re the man who turned me on to P. G. Wodehouse, for which I am eternally grateful. Who else do you love?

Evelyn Waugh. Dawn Powell. Charles Dickens. Stephen McCauley. Armistead Maupin. Jane Austen. Ronald Firbank. Tolkien.

That’s right. You’ve been a huge fan of Lord of the Rings from an early age.

(Bob nods eagerly.)

You have not been able to talk for five years now, but you can still type. Did this make writing harder for you?

No. Good writing is always difficult.

Did your words become more concentrated when you couldn’t say them aloud but had to save them for the written page?

Yes. I think my writing became better.

I think so too.

Eddie: I agree.

This is a stupid question, but how badly do you miss the laughter of a stand-up comedy audience? Is there an equivalent for a book writer?

(Bob sadly shakes his head.)

Eddie: But you get letters from your readers. Often for books years after you wrote them.

But it’s too bad I can’t do stand-up anymore. Because ALS is hilarious.

******************

Go to the Lambda site to read the full interview.

 

Margaret H’Doubler and Dance Publishing at UW Press

 

80th-logoDance as an academic field of study has deep roots at the University of Wisconsin, where Margaret H’Doubler 3298(1889–1982) founded the first university courses in dance in 1917. She established the first university degree program in dance anywhere in the world in 1926. As dance educator and historian Janice Ross shows in her book Moving Lessons: Margaret H’Doubler and the Beginning of Dance in American Education (UWP, 2000), H’Doubler was both emblematic of her time and an innovator who made deep imprints in American culture. An authentic “New Woman,” H’Doubler emerged from a sheltered female Victorian world to change the way Americans thought, not just about female physicality but also about higher education for women.

Margaret H’Doubler, c. 1965.

Margaret H’Doubler, c. 1965.

In her efforts to create a curriculum, the “Wisconsin Dance Idea” was born:

We’ll begin on the floor, relieve the body of the pull of gravity and explore movement in a basic way. We’ll rediscover the body’s structural limitations and possibilities, we’ll attend to movement sensation. We’ll create movement out of our knowledge of body structure, no imitation. We’ll study movement as movement first. We may never arrive at dance, but we’ll make an honest beginning.”

0420-165wEventually, H’Doubler would write a pioneering book, Dance: A Creative Art Experience. UWP published it in 1957 and issued a second edition in 2001 with an essay by Mary Alice Brennan of the UW-Madison Dance Department. Dance Magazine noted that “as a dance pioneer, Margaret H’Doubler combines both vision and down-to-earth practicality. It is she who established dance as a part of the college curriculum [and] organized the first campus performing group.”

5505-165wUWP continues to publish books on dance, including publishing the series Studies in Dance History in collaboration with the Society of Dance History Scholars.

You can browse the full list of UWP dance books, covering American and global dance traditions, criticism, and issues, on our dance subject page.

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Read more posts about the University of Wisconsin Press’s eighty years of publishing here or subscribe to receive all our blog posts!

 

 

 

Lithium Jesus: Charles Monroe-Kane’s memoir of mania

Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania is published today. It is perhaps not surprising that Charles Monroe-Kane, who has heard voices in his head since childhood, should find a career as an award-winning public radio producer and host. Here he talks with us about his life. He’s also chosen links to radio pieces that expand on this story.
Why did you write this memoir? I’d struggled all my life with mental illness—extreme mania, hearing voices—and it got misunderstood in many different ways. It got me in a lot of trouble, actually. And surprisingly, about five years ago, in my 40s, it got really bad. The voices were changing, and I was actually scared. I went to a therapist to talk about it and my therapist was like, “I can help you, but you need to slow down! Write this stuff down!” So I did.
And really, on a deeper level, I wrote the book because I was trying to figure out who the hell I am. Why did I take lithium, and why did I quit taking it and then start taking it again? And what were these voices, anyway? Was it mania? Brain chemistry awry? Angels? A gift? Was I just crazy? I never really thought this book could get published. I just wanted to tell the truth to myself so I could figure it all out.
 
Can you tell us about your book title, Lithium Jesus? Well, the lithium part is about the drugs. As for Jesus, I grew up in a rough-and-tumble steel mill town, and I was a very manic kid who was pretty out of control and hearing voices, which, of course, I didn’t tell anyone about. One day at an Evangelical/Pentecostal summer camp, I heard people speaking in tongues for the first time. It sounded, structurally, very similar to the voices in my head. That didn’t scare me; I actually found it comforting. I ended up becoming a born-again evangelical Christian because I felt a kindred spirit with those people. And once I got the guts, I also spoke out loud the voices that I’d been hearing for years. That led some people to think I was anointed by God, and when you’re 14, 15, 16 years old, and grownups see you that way, that’s one hell of an ego boost. It was also a good feeling to think that God was speaking through me. I thought the voices in my head were angels. It was beautiful at the time!
Later you made a huge leap from being a clean-cut Christian to a lifestyle that included lots of mind-bending drugs. Why? I think the reason was twofold. One, when I left the church and God, I was pretty lost. You can imagine, your whole life is wrapped up in Jesus, and when that’s gone but you still have these voices leftover . . . that was very difficult for me.
Second, I wanted to rebel. In high school I didn’t drink, smoke, or have sex. But I wanted to do those things! Of course, my introduction wasn’t beer: it was psychedelics. And that’s not surprising, really. I went from having charismatic experiences in church to taking psychedelics because it was familiar. I liked it. I wasn’t afraid of it. And I did a lot of it. Before it turned into abuse, it was a way for me to be both transcendent and an atheist. I still sincerely believe drugs are a way to do that. I just don’t think you should do lots and lots of them without a guide or some help.
This is your story, but you’re not always a hero in it. I think many people make themselves the goat of their own story because they’re embarrassed about their own past. It’s one or the other, right? We either exaggerate to belittle ourselves or to make ourselves great. If we were all a bit more honest, we’d find out we’re all both sinners and saints.
With this book, I said to myself, “I’m not going to judge the church. I’m not going to judge the people I did drugs with. I’m not going to judge anybody, including myself.” Because who wants to read that? Look, salvation is the journey, not the destination. So let’s quit denying how we got to the place we are at and just chill the fuck out. And keep on down the path, you know?
You’re a public radio producer. Did that influence the way you tell your life story in this book? Yeah, when I was staring at the blank screen, trying to “just write,” I didn’t even know where to start. But I knew I had about seventeen core stories I wanted to tell, stories that I’d told many times before. So I decided to treat the whole thing as a radio producer would.
Here in Madison, I usually go drinking on Thursday nights with my buddies at our local bar. I decided to start bringing my recorder to the bar, and I’d record myself telling these stories. Then I would go home and transcribe and edit them, and I’d put them in chronological order and add some connective tissue to make them work. A few more intimate pieces I recorded alone. So the whole thing’s very oral, because that’s what I know how to do. But I would advise other people to try this. You think you can’t write a book, but I bet you can talk! Then see what you get.
 [Listen to a radio interview with Charles Monroe-Kane about hearing voices, and talking to God, on the To the Best of Our Knowledge radio program.]
 Charles Monroe-Kane has won a Peabody Award for his work as a senior producer and interviewer for the program To the Best of Our Knowledge, broadcast on 220 public radio stations. He has reported for National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

September 11: Seven books to ponder

September 11: Seven books to ponder

Since the attacks on September 11, 2001, American society and culture has been changed in countless ways.  These seven books, some published relatively soon after the attacks, others now appearing with the perspective of fifteen years, reflect the scope of the aftermath.

4937Once Upon an Island: Photographs of Manhattan, 1969–1970
Richard Quinney
As the decade of the 1960s drew to a close, Richard Quinney walked the streets of Manhattan with camera in hand, documenting the life of the city. After the events of September 11, 2001, the photographic images acquired a meaning and significance beyond anything he could have imagined. Once Upon an Island contains 175 photographs of Manhattan, including color photographs of the construction of the World Trade Center and black-and-white images that capture the experience of living on the island at the end of the 1960s. Like all photographs, these offer a stark reminder of the impermanence of all things; and yet at the same time, as artifacts they create an enduring record of a different time and place.
Published 2011

 

eBOOK_COV_6x9_final.inddCultural Theory after 9/11: Terror, Religion, Media
Special Issue of SubStance, Issue 115, 37:1 (2008)   Edited by Robert Doran
How can one interpret the events of September 11, 2001 from the perspective of cultural theory—that is, from the perspective of anthropological and social forces that motivate human beings and give meaning to their thoughts, actions, and feelings? Though contributors to this volume work within various disciplines, their approach is necessarily holistic—because of the very nature of the event, which resonates on many levels and in diverse spheres of human activity.
Published 2008

 

American Autobiography after 9/11
Megan Brown
In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, American memoirists have wrestled with a wide range of anxieties in their books. They cope with financial crises, encounter difference, or confront norms of identity. Megan Brown contends that such best sellers as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell teach readers how to navigate a confusing, changing world. This lively and theoretically grounded book analyzes twenty-first-century memoirs from Three Cups of Tea to Fun Home, emphasizing the ways in which they reinforce and circulate ideologies, becoming guides or models for living. Brown expands her inquiry beyond books to the autobiographical narratives in reality television and political speeches. She offers a persuasive explanation for the memoir boom: the genre as a response to an era of uncertainty and struggle.
Forthcoming January 2017

 

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Power without Constraint: The Post-9/11 Presidency and National Security
Chris Edelson
In a thorough comparison of the Bush and Obama administrations’ national security policies, Chris Edelson demonstrates that President Obama and his officials have used softer rhetoric and toned-down legal arguments, but in key areas—military action, surveillance, and state secrets—they have simply found new ways to assert power without meaningful constitutional or statutory constraints. Edelson contends that this legacy of the two immediately post-9/11 presidencies raises crucial questions for future presidents, Congress, the courts, and American citizens.
Published 2016

 

5067-165wEmergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror
Chris Edelson  Foreword by Louis Fisher
Drawing on excerpts from the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court opinions, Department of Justice memos, and other primary documents, Chris Edelson weighs the various arguments that presidents have used to justify the expansive use of executive power in times of crisis. Emergency Presidential Power uses the historical record to evaluate and analyze presidential actions before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The choices of the twenty-first century, Edelson concludes, have pushed the boundaries of emergency presidential power in ways that may provide dangerous precedents for current and future commanders-in-chief.
Published 2013

 

Gregory-American-Surveillance-c

American Surveillance: Intelligence, Privacy, and the Fourth Amendment
Anthony Gregory
Anthony Gregory highlights the complexity of the relationship between the gathering of intelligence for national security and countervailing efforts to safeguard individual privacy. The Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures offers no panacea, he finds, in combating assaults on privacy—whether by the NSA, the FBI, local police, or more mundane administrative agencies. Given the growth of technology, together with the ambiguities and practical problems of enforcing the Fourth Amendment, advocates for privacy protections need to work on multiple policy fronts.
Published 2016

 

 

 

2619Business Confronts Terrorism: Risks and Responses
Dean C. Alexander
In the aftermath of September 11, the daily barrage of predictions of incipient terrorist attacks against business targets—nuclear power and chemical plants, shopping malls, financial institutions, tourist attractions—has accelerated the need to understand the impact of terrorism on business.

“Terrorism is a daily threat to our core existence and has permanently changed the way we conduct our business and live our lives. Dean Alexander has addressed these unsettling issues in a riveting and thoughtful manner enabling the business leader a heightened perspective in guiding his company’s future in light of the uncertainty in which we live. Alexander’s book is a must-read for corporate America as we all enter into a new, unknown, and fragile business environment where terrorism can have such an incredible effect on a company’s performance.”—Tom Smith, President TASER International        Published 2004

 

 

Discovering a lost lesbian novel from 1926

Discovering a lost lesbian novel from 1926

Chelsea Ray speaks about bringing an unpublished 1926 French novel by Natalie Clifford Barney to light. Ray’s English translation, Women Lovers, or the Third Woman, was recently published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

How did you first learn about Natalie Clifford BarneyI knew I wanted to write my dissertation on a woman writing in French, and I was steeped in French feminist theory, drawn to writers such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. I also adored the novels of Colette, but I thought it would be challenging to say something new about such a well-studied author! That’s when I stumbled upon Michèle Causse’s biography of Berthe Cleyrergue, who worked for Natalie Clifford Barney for many years. It opened up a whole new world to me: Paris in the early twentieth century and Barney’s salon, where her guest list reads like a veritable inventory of literary Paris. Gertrude Stein, Colette, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, Paul Valéry, and Radclyffe Hall were just a few of the famous writers who frequented Barney’s salon. As a feminist scholar, I was delighted to find that she privileged women’s writing in many ways, founding the “Academy of Women” in 1927 as a response to the conservative, all-male Académie française.

Natalie Barney

Natalie Clifford Barney

Natalie Barney’s literary salon, her wit, her appetite for love and life: all of this captivated me. She was nearly mythic in literary Paris, an image she cultivated. Unfortunately, her larger-than-life personality overshadowed her writing. When I started reading her literary works, I could see that she was a very strong writer. But she hasn’t been studied much. Her works don’t quite fit into American literature, since she was an American writing in French. And, she wasn’t really a “French” writer, either, though she engaged with other French literature. Her second book of aphorisms, Pensées d’une amazone (1920), was written as a response to Blaise Pascal’s Pensées. It contains many compelling passages on love, spirituality, and Barney’s philosophy of life. I worked on translating some of her aphorisms for a translation studies group, Babel, that I helped found at UCLA with the late Dr. Michael Heim, my mentor. That’s when I started developing my passion for translation. It allows me to merge my desire for creative writing with my love of foreign languages.

Liane de Pougy

Liane de Pougy

Why did you choose to translate Women Lovers, or the Third WomanDuring my year of research in Barney’s archives at the Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet in Paris, I had the rookie ambition of setting my eyes on everything there. But I had a tip for this particular work. I was lucky enough to be working alongside Suzanne Rodriguez, who was writing a biography on Barney at the time. It has since been published as Wild Heart: A Life.

Rodriguez told me that I might want to take a look at the unpublished manuscript of Amants féminins ou la troisième. So I read it right away. I couldn’t believe that this novel, written in 1926, was so unabashedly unapologetic about sexuality and showcased such a different side of Barney, distinct from the myth that surrounds her. The dramatic love triangle between N. (based on Natalie), M. (based on the Italian baroness Mimi Franchetti), and L. (based on the famous French courtesan Liane de Pougy) was astounding in its complexity, and the descriptions of their erotic entanglements were well ahead of their time. The gender bending in the erotic scenes between N. and M. helped me to better understand how these women, in their real lives, were intentionally playing with the boundaries of gender identity.

Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes

I believed this novel could appeal to both general readers and specialists of the period. The final dialogues on the nature of love between N. and the “Newly Miserable Woman” (based on Djuna Barnes) will be of great interest to scholars of Barnes as well.

 

The lyrical beauty of the passages drew me in, as well, and convinced me that this novel deserved to see the light of day. It took me fifteen years off and on to complete the translation and notes, so I am looking forward to finally hearing from readers.

So, this novel hadn’t been published in French? Dr. Melanie Hawthorne, who wrote the introduction to the translation, connected me with Yvan Quintin of ErosOnyx publishers in France. He was very interested in the text, and he and I co-edited the manuscript. The French edition appeared in 2013 as Amants féminins ou la Troisième.

Natalie Clifford Barney, taken in 1925 at the time she wrote the novel.

Natalie Clifford Barney, taken in 1925 at the time she wrote the novel.

What would you say to readers who have never heard of Barney or read her works? This novel is a gem from 1926. You will get to know these marvelous characters and their passion for life—and each other. It is a quirky modernist novel, moving between the first and third-person perspective. It is a testament to Barney and the women in her circle, who inspired each other to create such masterful renditions of their lives and their loves.

 

 

 

Chelsea RaRay-Chelsea-2016-165ty is an associate professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Maine at Augusta. She has been honored as a Chevalier des palmes académiques by France’s Ministry of Education.

 

 

 

Early Reviews for Women Lovers, or the Third Woman:

“Leaps energetically to life. . . . [This] autobiographical, sprightly 1926 novel of a Belle Époque lesbian love triangle [is] appearing in English for the first time.”
Shelf-Awareness

“A first-ever translation that shines new light on Natalie Barney, the invincible ‘Amazon,’ sexual rebel, and arch-seducer of women who in the 1920s aspired to make Paris ‘the Sapphic Centre of the Western World.’ Chelsea Ray shows us another side to her: vulnerable, jealous, and volatile in love.”
—Diana Souhami, author of Natalie and Romaine

Women Lovers has shown me a Natalie that I never knew, a fragile Natalie. This novel is an amazing revelation.”
—Jean Chalon, author of Portrait of a Seductress

“Barney’s experimentation in Women Lovers with offbeat structural choices and narrative strategies, and its stylistic allegiances to decadent traditions, indicate how much of literary modernism’s rich texture has been ironed out in the writing and rewriting of that literary history.”
—Tirza T. Latimer, editor of Women Together/Women Apart