Category Archives: Books

Submission period now open for George L. Mosse First Book Prize

The University of Wisconsin Press and the George L. Mosse Program in History are pleased to announce that the submission period is now open for this year’s Mosse First Book Prize.

The prize was established in 2020 to honor Mosse’s commitment to scholarship and to mentoring new generations of historians. Winning books are published as part of the George L. Mosse Series in the History of European Culture, Sexuality, and Ideas, and the winning author receives a $5,000 prize, payable in two installments. An honorable mention winner may also be selected to receive a $1,000 prize and publication.

“George L. Mosse was a prolific and innovative scholar who significantly enriched our understanding of multiple aspects of European history: cultural symbolism and intellectual history, fascism and gender, Jewish and LGBTQ+ history. He was also a legendary mentor to aspiring scholars,” says series advisor David Sorkin. “This prize perpetuates George’s dual legacy of scholarship and mentorship by rewarding the next generation of historians with the opportunity to publish an outstanding monograph with the University of Wisconsin Press.”

The prize is open to original, previously unpublished monographs of historical scholarship in English (whether written in English or translated), and aims to support and engage early-career scholars writing on topics related to the history of European culture, sexuality, or ideas.

“We are excited to continue the Mosse prize for the second year,” says UW Press editor in chief Nathan MacBrien. “This is an opportunity for UW Press to acknowledge the innovative work of an early career scholar and for the selected author to publish a book that will reach a broad audience of scholars and students.”

Proposals will be accepted between March 22 and June 15, 2022; all submissions will be reviewed by the Press and series advisors. A short list of finalists will be chosen in July 2022, and those manuscripts will be read by a jury of expert readers, who will select the winning project. The winner will be announced after successful peer review of the manuscript.

Entrants should begin by sending a proposal to UW Press editor in chief Nathan MacBrien, at macbrien@wisc.edu. The subject line should contain “Mosse First Book Prize” as well as the author’s last name and a keyword. Please do not send the complete manuscript until requested to do so. Proposals should follow the guidelines detailed at https://uwpress.wisc.edu/proposal.html and should include the following elements:

  • the scope and rationale for the book and its main contributions, 
  • how the work fits with the Mosse Series, 
  • the audience and market for the book, 
  • the manuscript’s word count, 
  • an annotated table of contents, 
  • two sample chapters (ideally an introductory chapter and one interior chapter), and 
  • a curriculum vitae. 

Please note whether the book is under consideration elsewhere at the time of prize submission; work submitted for consideration must not be under contract elsewhere and should be complete at the time of submission.

About the University of Wisconsin Press

The University of Wisconsin Press is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles and over 8,000 peer-reviewed articles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.

About the George L. Mosse Series in the History of European Culture, Sexuality, and Ideas

The Mosse series promotes the vibrant international collaboration and community that historian George L. Mosse created during his lifetime by publishing major innovative works by outstanding scholars in European cultural and intellectual history.

About George L. Mosse

A legendary scholar, teacher, and mentor, Mosse (1918–1999) joined the Department of History at UW–Madison in 1955. He was an early leader in the study of modern European culture, fascism, and the history of sexuality and masculinity. In 1965 Mosse was honored for his exceptional teaching by being named UW’s first John C. Bascom Professor. He remained famous among students and colleagues for his popular and engaging lectures, which were often standing-room only. A Jewish refugee from prewar Germany, Mosse was appointed a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1969 and spent the final decades of his career traveling frequently between Madison and Jerusalem.

ANNOUNCING CHANGES TO THE WISCONSIN POETRY SERIES: NEW EDITORSHIP, NEW TRANSLATION PRIZE

The University of Wisconsin Press and the Creative Writing Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison today announced that Ron Wallace, founding editor of the Wisconsin Poetry Series, has stepped down as editor of the series. Jesse Lee Kercheval has joined Sean Bishop as series coeditor, effective early 2022.

Founder and former director of UW’s Program in Creative Writing, Ron Wallace is Felix Pollak Professor Emeritus of Poetry and Halls-Bascom Professor of English at UW–Madison. In 1985, Professor Wallace proposed the idea of a poetry prize to then UW Press director Allen Fitchen, and the Brittingham Prize was established. Creation of the Felix Pollak and Four Lakes Prizes followed. Sean Bishop began working on the series a number of years ago; in recognition of his efforts and contributions, he was named coeditor in 2019. The series receives nearly 1,000 submissions annually. 

Series founder Ron Wallace, who retires from his editorship after thirty-seven years, is the author of several scholarly books and a book of short stories as well as nine full-length books of poetry and eight chapbooks of poetry and fiction. His most recent poetry collections are The Uses of AdversityLong for This World: New & Selected Poems, For a Limited Time Only, and For Dear Life, and he is the author of a major anthology, Vital Signs: Contemporary Poetry from the University Presses. Hailed for his wit, good humor, and observational powers, Professor Wallace has been the recipient of such awards as the Banta Book Prize, the Posner Book-Length Poetry Award, and the Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Achievement Award. His numerous accolades include three UW distinguished teaching awards and the George Garrett Award from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. 

Sean Bishop says, “Ron Wallace has been the heart of the Wisconsin Poetry Series for almost forty years, expanding the series from just one slim volume per year to six annual titles. Ron prided himself on reading at least a portion of every book submitted to our annual competition—roughly twenty-five thousand manuscripts in the lifetime of the series—and his personal notes to applicants were legendary for their insight and generosity. Incoming editor Jesse Lee Kercheval and I are excited to carry Ron’s legacy forward for many years to come, and we hope we can live up to his stunning precedent.”

Incoming series coeditor Jesse Lee Kercheval, Zona Gale Emeritus Professor of English at UW–Madison, is the author of six collections of poetry as well as a translator. Her latest poetry collections are America that island off the coast of France (Tupelo Press, 2019), winner of the Dorset Prize; and La crisis es el cuerpo, translated by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg (Editorial Bajo la luna, Argentina, 2021). Her collection I Want to Tell You is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press. As a translator, she specializes in Uruguayan and South American poetry; her translations include Love Poems by Idea Vilariño (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), which was long-listed for the PEN Translation AwardShe is also the editor of several anthologies, including América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets (University of New Mexico Press, 2016). She has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts in both fiction and translation.

Along with the editorial changes, the University of Wisconsin Press also announced the establishment of a new prize for a collection of poetry in translation. The winning collection will be published in the series, alongside the winners of the Brittingham, Felix Pollak, and Four Lakes Prizes and three finalist collections. Manuscripts submitted for the translation prize will be judged during the same period as those submitted for the other prizes, and the winner will receive a $1,500 prize in addition to publication in the series.

“Over the years, I’ve watched with great admiration as Ron Wallace built the Wisconsin Poetry Series,” says Jesse Lee Kercheval. “As he steps down, I am honored to become coeditor of the series with Sean Bishop and, as a translator and poet, truly excited for the launch of the new translation prize.”

“It is with mixed emotions that I face this transition in the leadership of the Wisconsin Poetry Series. Joy over having the opportunity to work with Ron for several years, and sadness that those days are coming to an end. I have learned so much from him as an editor, watching the way he celebrates strong work and encourages authors to improve to find their greatest potential,” says UW Press director Dennis Lloyd. “At the same time, I’m very enthusiastic about working with Sean and Jesse Lee in the years to come, especially as we launch the new poetry in translation prize. With this announcement, we’ve managed to complete a long-planned goal of increasing the annual output of the series from three titles to seven.”

The winners of this year’s competition were announced earlier this month. Submissions for the next competition, including the first translation prize, will be accepted between July 15 and September 15, 2022. 

About the University of Wisconsin Press

The University of Wisconsin Press is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles and over 8,000 peer-reviewed articles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world. 

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

ANNOUNCING THE RESULTS OF THE WISCONSIN POETRY PRIZE COMPETITION

Out of more than 900 entrants, Jameka Williams has been selected as the winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and Emily Bludworth de Barrios has been named the winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. Each will receive $1,500, and their collections will be published this fall by the University of Wisconsin Press. In addition, Betsy Sholl has been named winner of the Four Lakes Poetry Prize, and her collection also will be published this fall. Next spring, the University of Wisconsin Press will publish finalist collections by Joshua Burton, Dante di Stefano, and Celeste Lipkes.

Brian Teare, editor of Albion Books, served as this year’s contest judge. He is the author of six poetry collections, including Doomstead Days (2019), which was longlisted for the National Book Award and named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven (2015); and Companion Grasses (2013).

Jameka Williams holds an MFA in poetry from Northwestern University. Her poetry has been published in Prelude MagazineGigantic SequinsMuzzle MagazineYemassee JournalTupelo QuarterlyJet Fuel Review, and Oyez Review, among others. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has performed her poetry at AWP in 2016 and POETRY Magazine’s Open Door Reading Series in 2021. She is a Best New Poets 2020 finalist, published annually by the University of Virginia, and is featured in New American Press’s New Poetry of the Midwest 2019. She resides in Chicago, Illinois. 

About the Brittingham-winning volume, Brian Teare says, “Split between the love of watching and the fear created by it, American Sex Tape guides us through celebrity’s media empire, where ‘men / are cameras’ and the objectified self reproduces the dominant culture one selfie at a time. ‘I think a lot about empires,’ Jameka Williams writes, ‘& how I am supposed / to finish erecting this one,’ before she demolishes misogynist, racist logic with weaponized line breaks and wrecking-ball wit. And then does something stranger, braver: she looks into the camera. Because this is a book about taking back power, it’s also about the thin line between pleasure and collusion. ‘I love to see it,’ she admits, ‘I love to live inside that camera’s eye orgasm.’ Complex and messy and necessary in all the ways sex is, American Sex Tape is brilliant Black feminist truth.”

Emily Bludworth de Barrios, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize, is a poet whose books and chapbooks include Women, Money, Children, Ghosts (Sixth Finch, 2016), Splendor (H_NGM_N, 2015), and Extraordinary Power (Factory Hollow Press, 2014). Her poems have recently appeared in publications such as the Poetry ReviewHarvard Review, and the Cincinnati Review. She was raised in Houston, Cairo, and Caracas, and now lives in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, with her husband and three children. 

“Marrying novelistic breadth and autobiographical intimacy, Shopping or The End of Time invents a new poetic genre: the sociolyric,” says Brian Teare. “Impersonal and personal at once, these poems shift from collective to individual experience with dizzying rapidity. Their deft lines jump-cut across social experiences connected inequitably by a consumer culture thriving on violence against women and the Earth’s accelerating destruction. And yet buying power is ‘such an intricate trick that we felt that we were finally entering ourselves,’ Emily Bludworth de Barrios writes, ‘our human inheritance.’ Refusing to remain fooled about the ways our psyches are manipulated by capitalism and complicit with its destructive power, her speakers insist on documenting the pleasures and collateral damage of such inheritance, each ‘jagged poem’ fashioned ‘to put the remnants in.’ This is an innovative collection with impressive critical and emotional range.”

Betsy Sholl’s As if a Song Could Save You, winner of the Four Lakes Poetry Prize, will also be published this fall. Sholl is the author of nine previous poetry collections, including House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems (winner of the 2019 Four Lakes Prize), Otherwise Unseeable (winner of the 2014 Four Lakes Prize), Rough CradleLate PsalmDon’t Explain (winner of the 1997 Felix Pollak Prize), and The Red Line. A former poet laureate of Maine, Sholl teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

“Attuned as she is to harmony—musical, spiritual, earthly—Sholl weaves seemingly miscellaneous notes into vibrant wholes. She references Dante more than once and it’s apt, for she is very much a pilgrim, someone who conveys the feeling of being in it—the tangle that is a moment, a street scene, a biblical incident. It could be anything—and is—and that is a key to her achievement, her openness to the ways of being, the here and now, the terribly lost and barely found.  Great compassion marks these poems, that inestimable talent for tracing the ways of kinship, how one occasion graces another,” says Baron Wormser.

Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, Texas, and received his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. He is a 2019 Tin House Winter Workshop Scholar, 2019 Juniper Summer Writing Institute scholarship winner, and 2019 Center for African American Poetry and Poetics fellowship finalist. He received the Honorable Mention for the 2018 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and was a 2020 Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing finalist. His work can be found in Mississippi ReviewGulf CoastThe RumpusConduit, and TriQuarterly, and is forthcoming in Black Warrior ReviewGrist, and Indiana Review. He has a chapbook forthcoming in the fall of 2022. Mary Karr says, “No poet I’ve worked with in forty years’ teaching has wowed me more with his talent & smarts & heart than young Joshua Burton. His first collection, Grace Engine, is destined to be this year’s star debut.”

Brian Teare adds, “Grace Engine documents the ravages of internalized antiblackness in restless lines whose ‘Language is like a month ending / with a fire.’ To aid in reclaiming himself from Black social and literal death, Joshua Burton assembles an archive of Black men whose minds were troubled by antiblackness and Black folks whose lives were ended by it. In confronting textual and visual evidence of white supremacy, in placing family history alongside it, his speakers confront the decision of whether to stay in a world inseparable from racist violence. Ultimately coming to understand ‘how much my indecision is decision,’ he enters into a tentative, complex relation with Black aliveness. Burton might write ‘in the language of breakdown,’ but his speakers ‘choose to fill my hands with stay here.’ The way to bless once meant to mark with blood, this book is both balm and wound.”

Dante Di Stefano is the author of three previous poetry collections: Love Is a Stone Endlessly in FlightIll Angels, and Lullaby with Incendiary Device, which was published in a three-in-one volume titled Generations, also featuring work by William Heyen and H. L. Hix.  

Along with María Isabel Álvarez, he coedited the anthology Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America.  The poetry editor for the DIALOGIST, Di Stefano holds a PhD in English Literature from Binghamton University. He teaches high school English in Upstate New York and lives in Endwell, New York, with his wife, Christina; their daughter, Luciana; their son, Dante; and their dog, Sunny. Di Stefano’s book-length poem, Midwhistle, is a sprawling digressive love note to an unborn son, a map of the anxieties and ecstasies of poetic influence, and an exploration of selfhood and memory in an era of pandemic, social upheaval, and political uncertainty, written in stepped septasyllabic cinquains, a form he invented. 

H. L. Hix says, “Midwhistle proves Dante Di Stefano ‘a child / of cello, air, & mint spears.’  In this refulgent homage, Di Stefano honors ‘what loves / have been thrummed forth & nurtured / into shining’ by poet William Heyen’s august work and person. Surely any reader will leave this book, as I did, more alert and alive, more ‘in love / with the gray undersides of / mulberry leaves & the way / the grass ekes toward twilight.’”

Celeste Lipkes is a writer and psychiatrist residing in Asheville, North Carolina. Prior to medical school, she received an MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia. Radium Girl is her first book. 

Lisa Spaar says, “In the breathtaking ‘escape room’ of Celeste Lipkes’s Radium Girl, our ardent guide dons, by turns, the snow-flaked robe of patient, the white coat of physician, the lustrous cape of magician.  The word ‘magic’ is rooted in the PIE ‘magh’—‘to be able, to have power’—and in this radiant debut,  body and mystery exchange their secrets about what can and cannot be controlled—in illness, in love, and in the salvific art of poetry itself.”

Submissions for the next competition will be accepted between July 15 and September 15, 2022. 

About the University of Wisconsin Press

The University of Wisconsin Press is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles and over 8,000 peer-reviewed articles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world. 

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

Announcing the Results of the Wisconsin Poetry Prize Competition

Out of over 950 entrants, Daniel Khalastchi has been selected as the winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and Joshua Nguyen has been named the winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. Each will receive $1,000, and their collections will be published this fall by the University of Wisconsin Press. Judith Vollmer has been awarded the Four Lakes Poetry Prize; her collection will be published next spring along with finalist collections by Emily Rose Cole and Laura Villareal.

Carmen Giménez Smith, editor of The Nation’s poetry section and codirector of CantoMundo, served as this year’s contest judge. Her collections include National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Milk and Filth (2010) and Be Recorder (2020), which was shortlisted for both the National Book Award and the PEN Open Book Award.

Photo by Barry Phipps. Picture of Daniel Khalastchi with long curly hair and beard, wearing dark-rimmed glasses and navy jacket, sitting in a Herman Miller chair and looking seriously at the camera.

Daniel Khalastchi is the author of Manoleria and Tradition. A former fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Daniel earned his MFA from the University of Iowa, where he currently directs the Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including The Rumpus, Poetry Northwest, and The Iowa Review. Giménez Smith praises the Brittingham-winning volume, “When the world is turned upside down, when vaccines are 5G and democracy is fascism and insurrection is freedom of speech, satire is often the most acute mirror to interpret an age. Vivid, bleak, and startling, American Parables is an allegorical masterpiece of mordant irony I plan to carry with me in this uncertain post-JAN6 era.”

Photo by Elisa J. Fuhrken of Joshua Nguyen with dark spiked up hair wearing two-tone black and clear framed glasses, wearing a gray shirt with a tan corduroy jacket, standing in a green woodsy area, looking into the camera and laughing.

Joshua Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American writer from Houston. He received his MFA from the University of Mississippi, where he is currently pursuing his PhD. His work has been published in The Texas Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Gulf Coast, among others. Come Clean, winner of the Felix Pollak prize, is his first full-length collection. Giménez Smith says, “I am so deeply moved by the subdued lyric force of this collection, if only subdued could capture the elegant control Nguyen exerts on his line. Sensuously constructed, in Come Clean he looks at the vast landscape of history through the desire for Marie Kondo’s order and a cure for imposter’s syndrome, in a book that’s as current as it is timeless.”

Judith Vollmer pictured with gray hair streaked elegantly with white, wearing a pair of cat-eyed black glasses and a white shirt, looking at the camera and smiling.

Judith Vollmer is the author of five previous collections, including The Apollonia Poems, which won the Four Lakes Prize four years ago. Her winning collection, The Sound Boat, features new and selected poems from her earlier volumes. Her writing has appeared in Poetry International, The Women’s Review of Books, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. She is a professor emerita of English at the University of Pittsburgh–Greensburg and teaches in the MFA Program at Carlow University. According to Lawrence Joseph, “From the deeply moral and radical qualities of her first book to spectacular new poems, Vollmer has created a body of work singular in American poetry. With the sense, intellect, sound, tone, rhythm and music only the most real and truest poetry provides, The Sound Boat embodies, on every level, the regions of the human soul.”

Black and white photograph of Emily Rose Cole with long hair parted deeply wearing a black v-neck t-shirt and a delicate silver chain necklace, smiling and seated, looking to the right and into the camera.

Emily Rose Cole will also have her collection, Thunderhead, published as part of the series. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is a PhD candidate in poetry with an emphasis in disability studies at the University of Cincinnati. Her poems have appeared in American Life in Poetry, Poet Lore, and the Los Angeles Review, among others. Judy Jordan praises Thunderhead, saying, “Fiercely imaginative, these heart-wrenching, lyric narrative poems are haunted by the body as a depository for trauma, the body with cancer, the body with MS, the body cut open and sacrificed, teaching us that grief comes from love while transforming us with exquisite and beautiful language that is simply breathtaking.”

Photo of Laura Villareal with dark long hair parted to the side, wearing large tortoise shell rimmed glasses on the bridge of her nose, wearing a pale yellow shirt and light blue overalls. She is smiling at the camera and standing next to an orange fruit tree with green leaves.

Girl’s Guide to Leaving is the forthcoming collection by Laura Villareal, a Stadler Fellow and a National Book Critics Circle Emerging Critic. She earned her MFA from Rutgers University-Newark and her writing has appeared in AGNI, Black Warrior Review, Waxwing, and elsewhere. Giménez Smith says, “A folklore troubadour, Villareal ably unfolds a path through memory. Running wild and running home, this guide isn’t just for leaving but rather for making space in sites where one can ‘witness local miracles’ or to tell a heroine’s story without remorse. This is a rangy and ambitious book I can’t wait to see in print.”

Submissions for the next competition will be accepted between July 15 and September 15, 2021.

About the University of Wisconsin Press
The University of Wisconsin Press is a not-for-profit publisher of books and journals. With nearly 1,500 titles and over 8,000 peer-reviewed articles in print, its mission embodies the Wisconsin Idea by publishing work of distinction that serves the people of Wisconsin and the world.

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

UW Press book receives NEH Open Book Award

Cover image shows a portrait of Sofia wearing a brown fur hat, green jacket, yellow collared shirt, and maroon tiee.

We are pleased to share that Citizen Countess: Sofia Panina and the Fate of Revolutionary Russia by Adele Lindenmeyr is the recipient of a National Endowment of the Humanities Open Book Award, a special initiative for scholarly presses to make recent monographs freely available online.

“I am very grateful to both the University of Wisconsin Press and the NEH. This grant ensures that my story of one of the 20th century’s most remarkable women will reach a wider readership,” says Lindenmeyr.

Books on a wide range of topics, written with previous support from one of many NEH fellowship programs, will be made available through this award. Per the organization, “During a time when so many of us are doing research remotely, the value of digital editions like these that can be freely accessed from anywhere in the world is more apparent than ever. All awardees will receive $5,500 per book to support digitization, marketing, and a stipend for the author.”

Our warmest congratulations to Adele, and all involved!

Butternuts and Maple Sugar Candy

In the Midwest, unmistakably crisp mornings and golden leaves herald the arrival of a new season. Today we share a charming excerpt about the autumnal butternut harvest from Farm Girl by Beuna Coburn Carlson.

Butternut trees grew in several areas in the woodlot and pasture on our farm. We watched the nuts develop during summer and waited for them to ripen in fall. While they were still green, they were soft enough to cut with a knife; when ripe, a hammer or a special nutcracker was necessary to crack the hard shell and extract the meat. Dad used his jackknife to slice through a green nut to show us the complex structure of the nut, and allowed us to taste the bitter, unripe nutmeat. How different they would be after the nuts had ripened and dried, their rich, creamy, buttery taste a perfect flavor in maple sugar candy!

Our farm in west central Wisconsin was at the western and northern limits of the range of the butternut tree. Sometimes called white walnut, it produces nuts that are extremely hard shelled, much like black walnuts. Butternut trees grow to sixty feet in height, rarely higher. The wood was prized for carving and, before metal items were readily available, for maple sap spiles. Dad was skillful also in making wonderful wooden whistles for the kids in spring before the new growth in the tree hardened.

We knew which of the trees produced the most and the best nuts. One special tree on a sunny knoll in the pasture bore a great crop. Whereas butternuts generally are oval in shape, the nuts from this tree were nearly round, more like walnuts. It was easy to fill a bucket with these gems! Another tree, growing in the woodlot near the edge of the pasture, produced long, oval nuts, huge and choice. It was important to gather them as quickly as possible before the butternut poachers found them. The tree was near the road, with only a two-strand barbed-wire fence between the woodlot and road. People from as far away as St. Paul and Minneapolis combed the countryside and took butternuts wherever they found them.

Black and white photo of a farm with trees in the background showing four children: Neva sitting on the left with short curled hair and a gingham dress, nest to her Beuna sits with short parted hair and a checkered dress with a bow on the neckline, Burr is seated wearing a shirt and trousers, and Add is seated on the right wearing overalls.
Coburn kids. L to R: Neva, Beuna, Burr, Add.

Gathering the nuts on a sunny day in fall after the butternut shells had hardened and the outer husks had dried involved the whole family. Little kids could pick up nuts from the ground where they had fallen while Mother and Dad harvested the ones still on the tree. They carried buckets filled with nuts to the granary and spread them on the floor to finish drying.

On cold, dark winter days when no outdoor work was possible, Dad often got a pail of butternuts, now dried and ready to use, from the granary. He took them to a warm spot in the cellar near the furnace, sat down with a hammer in hand, placed a butternut upright on a special piece of wood, and cracked it. If he hit it just right, it would split into two pieces and the nutmeat would come out easily. That was a rarity. Most often it required several blows of the hammer to shatter the shell and expose the meat. When Dad had cracked a goodly amount, he brought them upstairs to the kitchen, where anyone willing to do so attacked them with a nutpick.

Very rarely, a perfectly cracked nut would yield a perfect nutmeat—two halves shaped like fat pantaloons. Finding a “pair of pants” among the butternuts was comparable to finding a four-leaf clover in the grass and gave the finder special bragging rights.

Helping pick out the pieces of meat from the shells with a nutpick entitled one to snack on them too, but wise children waited until Mother made a batch of maple sugar candy. She made it by boiling a saucepan of maple syrup, beating in cream, adding a handful of butternut meats, and pouring the thick, smooth mass into a buttered pan. When Mother decided it was cool enough, she cut it into squares and we tasted the wonderful candy. I believe we could taste in every bite the sap from the trees gathered on a frosty spring morning, the steaming syrup from the big, black kettle, the sunny afternoon of gathering the nuts, and the triumph of getting pieces of nuts from the rough shells. We knew where it came from and what effort it took to produce it. It was our candy and we loved it.

Beuna Coburn Carlson is a writer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

From Farm Girl by Beuna Carlson Coburn. © 2020 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.

30th Annual Midwest Book Award win for Dairylandia

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

Book cover showing Mona Lisa in Wisconsin Rose Bowl shirt painted on side of barn with cows in front.

Dairylandia: Dispatches from a State of Mind by Steve Hannah won the travel category. This book recounts Hannah’s love for his adopted state through his long-lived column, “State of Mind.” He profiles the lives of the seemingly ordinary yet quite (and quietly) extraordinary folks he met and befriended as he traveled the main streets and back roads of Wisconsin. From Norwegian farmers to a CIA-trained Laotian fighter to a woman who kept her favorite dead bird in the freezer, Hannah was charmed and fascinated by the kind and authentic folks he met. These captivating vignettes are by turns humorous, touching, and inspiring.

Congratulations again to the author and all involved! 

What Changes Us

This month marks the publication of The Change: My Great American, Postindustrial, Midlife Crisis Tour by Lori Soderlind. In this week’s guest post, Lori reflects on journeys, crisis, and connection.

My mission for the road trip that became my book The Change was to visit the most depressing, god-forsaken, ruined little places I could find on a loop through this country and try to get to know them. It couldn’t get hard enough for me: guns, drug addiction, unemployment, mean dogs, religious zealotry, isolation, family tragedy, untreated mental illness, fouled drinking water, industrial waste, unresolved race wars, labor wars, civil war, merciless tornados, abandonment, crop failure, deindustrialization: bring it.

Cover showing a grey building with a blue sign and yellow letters next to a red building with a sign reading Croatia Club with a blue sky full of clouds

All of it.

I wanted to look it in the face and take it in.

Everywhere on the map, there it was: cities large and small and innumerable towns that had lost the energy they’d grown up from, and that now presented an inventory of pain in a country that had changed and did not understand why, and was suffering for these changes. I lived in New York City, where the view of the other 320 million people in this country can be very narrow, sadly. But I have traveled through the country with curiosity all my life and I loved exploring it, and I had become aware in the past decade of a real gloom out where I’d always wandered carelessly, and I wanted to know what had changed. Much of the visible evidence of the change was its ruins. All the old factories that cities grew up around, gutted; all the downtowns that had given places their identities now swallowed by sprawl or just plain abandoned. I wondered why all that could have happened and how it felt to see that pain, if you lived there, every day.

Much of the change had to do with a huge shift out of the American industrial age, and the loss of manufacturing. One example: Gloversville, New York, had been a great, bustling place back when it made gloves for the world; now, go there and you’ll find all the social ills you can name without encountering a single scrap of leather or a sewing machine. Change has come to American places through countless other evolutions: the rise of the interstate highway system, the decline of family farms, the advent of malls, the new cyber economy. What the changed places had in common was the grief they felt for what they’d lost. Once, each place existed for some reason that was an established reality, just like, once, newspapers were an established reality or train travel was an established reality or my cousin’s first marriage was an established reality. Change had come and so much established reality had been upended and people and places were grieving what was lost, as if it were all meant to last.   

The Change has been released, now, in the midst of the global Covid-19 pandemic that has us aghast at how helpless we humans are, truly. We like reality to be a manageable and predictable thing, but we are reminded always—and now profoundly—that the living world is not so easily tamed. We of the country long regarded as exceptional, who felt all through the past century so breezily powerful: we hit full stop and faced daily the feeling of powerlessness. Nine weeks of quarantine as I write this, and we are, many of us, on our knees in a new posture that feels permanent, though this too will change. My city—New York City—has been hit worst of all, and is suffering. Our fear is much deeper than a fear of getting sick, of death by virus. We fear the collapse of systems we are utterly dependent on. We fear, in the midst of this unparalleled helplessness, that nothing of what we once knew and counted on will ever be the same. We see how vulnerable these structures we have built may truly be, and we are grieving before our house is even gone—because we are shocked to believe that all we have built really could fall down around us. That is how shaken we are, in New York City, in May of the year of Covid-19.

As I write this, a storm has taken the power out and I am alone in the dark in my house; lately, any respite from this sense of plunging into darkness is brief. We are shaken, but only as shaken as others in our country have been for a long, long time now. We are as shaken as a small steel-making town south of Pittsburgh where none of the kids pass standardized tests, and all of the storefronts are empty. We are as shaken as a broken mining town, or a rural desert. We know the country is divided, but to really know the sides is to measure their pain: Some have not worked in years, some lost their homes long ago, and then, too, some are simply Black in America. Others, meanwhile, have felt oddly invulnerable, and believed their fortune to be the norm. From where I sit today, it seems we are all, at once, saying foxhole prayers and hoping simply to survive.  

It could be really good for us. It’s good to know this fear deeply, and to understand that our longing to survive is what, at core, connects us. It is basic, and human. If we can know that connection to each other, and see all of ourselves as beings trying to survive, we will have changed.

Not all of us, but enough of us will change. We’ll know what it is to watch the promises we’d built our lives on collapse, or to fear that they will and to hate this fear. We will know that really, such promises don’t exist. We have only ourselves, which is to say, each other. The same. The one thing we should learn to count on.

Photo of Lori Soderlind

Lori Soderlind is an award-winning essayist and journalist, and author of the memoir Chasing Montana: A Love Story.

Be Careful What You Write About

This week, we celebrate the publication of Half! Author Sharon Harrigan shares how life can imitate art.

One of the joys of publishing a novel—unlike my first book, a memoir—is that I can tell anyone who sees herself in one of my characters: It’s not you! I made the whole thing up. What a relief to hide under the cover of fiction. But the truth is, like many novelists, I drew inspiration from my life to write Half. The intimacy between the identical twin sisters is based on the close bond I had with my brother, a year and a half older than me. And the girls’ larger-than-life, part hero/part monster father has a passing resemblance to my own.

Orange book cover with twin faces partially shown.

Here’s the surprising thing: recently my life seems to draw inspiration from my book, not the other way around. I can’t tell whether this turn of events is delightfully magical or just plain creepy. Maybe both.

In my novel, two siblings are so close they speak in one voice, until they can’t. They discover a secret that breaks their collective voice in half.

At the end of 2019, the advance readers’ copies had just gone out. My brother was visiting for Christmas, and we were walking my dog to the playground when he said, “I have something to tell you.” His voice hushed, even though no one but my cockapoo was anywhere near enough to overhear us. My brother is a professor, used to giving lectures and speeches, and usually words flow easily from him. But on that night, they came slowly. One. At. A. Time. He told me about a terrible event he hadn’t shared with anyone. I could hear, in his hesitation, how much it hurt.

I felt his pain. People use that phrase all the time, but they don’t usually mean a physical sensation. I do. Stress gives some people headaches; in others, it causes tight shoulders or a churning stomach. For me, stress stabs me in the throat. I developed a flu that resulted in a damaged nerve, paralyzing one of my two vocal cords. I posted the diagnosis on Facebook. “So funny,” my friends said. “You wrote a book about a voice breaking in half and then it happened to you!”

“I know,” I responded. “Be careful what you write about.”

Half ends in 2030, when climate change has resulted in a world that didn’t seem possible in the Before Times. It snows endlessly for months, the sky a white out.

In real life 2020, we muse wistfully about the pre-pandemic universe, a place we know will never exist in quite the same way again. It might as well be blizzarding for months, because we act as if we’re snowed in, barely ever leaving our houses.

In my fictional near future, “a fault line from Portland to Seattle caused the biggest earthquake in recent history. Sea levels rose and coastal houses, once worth millions, couldn’t be sold for scraps.” Will something like this happen in ten years? No one knows what the future will hold.

At least I don’t know. But my book—in its own magical or creepy or artfully mysterious way—just might.

author in black shirt with green background

Sharon Harrigan teaches at WriterHouse, a nonprofit literary center in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is the author of Playing with Dynamite: A Memoir. Her work has appeared in the New York Times (Modern Love), NarrativeVirginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere.

PLOT LINES AND ADAPTATIONS: MARKETING BOOK CLUB (APRIL)

For National Poetry Month, we read Gloss by Rebecca Hazelton, part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series. Our book club consists of Alexis Paperman, publicity assistant and grad student studying library information science; Morgan Reardon, marketing assistant studying English literature and American Indian studies; and Julia Knecht, exhibits and data manager.

Hand holding a book with a pink cover, background is sandy beach and waves crashing behind.

Morgan’s favorite poem was “Recast, Again,” in the first section of the book, “Adaptations.” The poem beautifully captured the feeling of a child’s helplessness and how we can be observers in our own lives. She interpreted this poem to be describing the speaker’s childhood of witnessing a failing parental relationship and how the speaker wants to shield their own child from its effects. The imagery really brought the reader in, as though they too were lying on the ground watching the rest of the world float by: “I spent most of my childhood watching / the clouds / revolve while I stayed still.” The way the poem is structured, in short stanzas spread across the page, evokes the drifting of the clouds. This poem also explores how our memories can shift and trick us into believing in things that never happened, but the point is that it doesn’t matter. The speaker is looking toward the future, toward the person listening to these words.

Julia especially enjoyed the poems “Group Text” and “Why I Don’t Believe.” “Group Text” is a nuanced portrayal of modern friendship in a digital age, detailing a group text exchange between friends that bounces seamlessly between philosophical queries and poop emojis. It explores how a digital medium influences our social exchanges, such as how the speaker is “just three dots, shimmering.” She is a witness, always on the cusp of contribution. “Why I Don’t Believe” takes a painful look at the fading relationship between mother and young son, best summarized by the line “I am in an unequal relationship / with a toddler.” The poem is a startling portrayal of motherhood that strays from the straightforward narrative of limitless motherly love to consider socialized conflict that arises as children age.

Alexis wanted to say the whole collection was her favorite, however, when pressed, she decided on “Recast” and “Largest Hands.” The idea of “Recast” is not exactly new. It is the description which Rebecca Hazelton utilizes that illuminates roles of women: “the glaring lights of a delivery room after she’s moved the story along.” Indeed, there are times when that line has resonated with Alexis—that what she is doing is simply moving the story or plot of someone else’s life forward. She thinks that many of the moments presented in Hazelton’s collection will resonate with women. Strong imagery is one of the things that appeals to Alexis in poems. Hazelton’s poem “Largest Hands” is filled with such imagery as it describes the functioning of the dollhouse. Underneath the first layer of “Largest Hands” is again the questioning of what forces in life create a fragile ideal that leaves the soul wanting. It is hard to properly do justice to the poem in a simple excerpt; however, here is the line that drew Alexis in: “Where are the children? They were too expensive.” It is the fourth line in, and, without the context of the poem as a whole, may not mean much. Still, Alexis hopes you take the time to read both poems as well as the rest of Rebecca Hazelton’s collection.

Overall, we thought this book was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. The way Hazelton plays with structure really adds to the depth of her poems. She weaves the concept of people portraying themselves in different ways to themselves and others throughout each piece. She comments on this using the metaphor of Hollywood, describing people as actors who perform on and off set. Along with discussing the sense of self, these poems also examine sexuality, relationships, and power. The cover image, lipstick smudged off of a pair of slightly agape lips, feeds into the idea that we cultivate an image for ourselves in the public eye, but that the way we cover and disguise our inner selves cannot be easily taken off. These poems fit well together, and though some of them stood out for us personally, it felt like they were a part of a cohesive collection. A reader with any level of experience reading poetry will be able to connect with Hazelton’s words.