Tag Archives: American studies

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.

UW Press & John Muir: A long walk together

80th-logo

The National Park Service is 100 this year, and the University of Wisconsin Press is 80. John Muir has had a significant influence on both!

A son of Wisconsin pioneers, University of Wisconsin student, inventor, naturalist, and prolific writer—John Muir is one of the most fascinating figures in American history and the nation’s most celebrated advocate for land preservation and national parks. Muir’s writings convinced the U.S. government to create the first national parks at Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and Mt. Rainier. An NPS biographical note states, “Muir’s great contribution to wilderness preservation was to successfully promote the idea that wilderness had spiritual as well as economic value. This revolutionary idea was possible only because Muir was able to publish everything he wrote in the . . . principal monthly magazines read by the American middle class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

The Story of My Boyhood

UW Press editions of Muir’s “The Story of My Boyhood and Youth”

The University of Wisconsin Press has been publishing books by and about John Muir for at least 50 Muirsc1years. In 1965, we reissued Muir’s autobiography, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. (It was first published before he died in 1914.) Muir recounts in vivid detail his early life: his first eleven years in Scotland; the years 1849–1860 in the central Wisconsin wilderness; and two-and-a-half inventive years in Madison as a student at the recently established University of Wisconsin.

We have also published four different biographies of John Muir.  Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir by Linnie Marsh Wolfe won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for biography. UWP obtained rights to it, issuing an edition in 1978 and an expanded edition in 2003. Based in large part on personal interviews with people who knew Muir, it follows Muir his life from Scotland through his teens in rural Marquette Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John MuirCounty, Wisconsin, to his history-making pilgrimage to California.

The Pathless Way: John Muir and American Wildernessby scholar Michael P. Cohen, tracks the change in Muir’s aims from personal enlightenment to public advocacy, as he promoted the ecological education of the Pathless WayAmerican public, governmental protection of natural resources, the establishment of the National Parks, and the encouragement of tourism.

The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy by Stephen Fox is both a biography—the first to make unrestricted use of all of Muir’s manuscripts and personal papers—and a history of a century of environmental activism. Fox traces the conservation movement from Muir’s successful campaign to establish Yosemite National Park in 1890 to the 1980s concerns of nuclear waste and acid rain.

The American Conservation Movement

The Young John Muir

The Young John Muir: An Environmental Biography by Steven J. Holmes, published in 1999, offered a dramatically new interpretation of Muir’s formative years. Holmes uses rich archival material to show how the natural world confronted the young Muir with practical, emotional, and religious conflicts. Only with the help of his family, his religion, and the extraordinary power of nature itself could Muir in his late twenties find a welcoming vision of nature as home—a vision that would shape his lifelong environmental experience, most immediately in his transformative travels through the South and to the Yosemite Valley.

In the 1970s through the 1990s, UWP was very active in publishing both new collections and reissues of Muir’s writings about his wilderness travels. Some of these are now out of print, but his impassioned work of promotion, Our National Parks, remains a steady seller. Originally published in 1901, its goals were to entice people to visit the newly established parks and to Our National Parksencourage public support for conservation. The book treats Yellowstone, Sequoia, General Grant, and other national parks of the Western U.S., but especially Yosemite.

Articles that Muir wrote for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin in 1874 and 1875 comprise John Muir Summering in the Sierra, edited by Robert E. Engberg. In the course of the articles,  Muir grows from a student of the wilderness to its professor and protector.Yosemite, Alaska

John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, first published by Knopf in 1938, was reissued by UWP in 1979. John Muir: To Yosemite and Beyond, collected writings from the period 1863 to 1875, was published in 1980. Muir’s book The Yosemite was reissued in 1987, and Letters from Alaska appeared in 1993. All are now out of print with UWP.
Walking With Muir across Yosemite

In 1998, UWP published Tom and Geraldine Vale’s retracing of Muir’s steps, Walking with Muir across Yosemite, based upon Muir’s journals from his first summer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From the foothills through Yosemite Valley and up to the Tuolumne Meadows, the Vales follow the present roads and trails that crossed Muir’s route, imagining his reaction to the landscape while reflecting on the natural world in both his time and our own.

We look forward to publishing a selection of Muir’s writing in A Driftless Area Reader edited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley, forthcoming sometime in 2017.

Subscribe to our blog (at right) to read more UWP history throughout the coming year.

Read past 80th anniversary blog posts here.

 

 

 

 

 

Publishing Politics

80th-logoAs another presidential election approaches, here’s a political reading list drawn from throughout the University of Wisconsin Press’s eighty years of publishing. This includes some truly landmark books, many demonstrating the important role of Wisconsin in American politics and the role of UWP in documenting that history.

 

The Presidents We Imagine: 4516Two Centuries of White House Fictions on the Page, on the Stage, Onscreen, and Online
Jeff Smith

Examines the presidency’s ever-changing place in the American imagination, from the plays and polemics of the eighteenth century—when the new office was born in what Alexander Hamilton called “the regions of fiction”—to the digital products of the twenty-first century. A colorful, indispensable guide to the many surprising ways Americans have been “representing” presidents even as those presidents have represented them.

COVER MAKER 5.5X8.25.inddThe American Jeremiad
Anniversary Edition
Sacvan Bercovitch

In this anniversary edition, the late Sacvan Bercovitch revisits his classic study of the role of the American political sermon, or jeremiad, from a contemporary perspective, assessing developments in the the culture at large. The American Jeremiad demonstrates how fully our national identity has been forged from conflicted narratives of self-examination and redemption.

 

A Black Gambler’s World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics: Mouser-Black-Gamblers-cWilliam Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839–1917
Bruce L. Mouser
Foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

William Thomas Scott (1839–1917) was an Illinois entrepreneur and political activist who in 1904 briefly became the first African American nominated by a national party for president of the United States before his scandalous past forced him to step aside. Scott helped build the National Negro Liberty Party to forward economic, political, and legal rights for his race. But the underworld hustling that had brought him business success proved his undoing as a national political figure. He was the NNLP’s initial presidential nominee, only to be quickly replaced by a better-educated and more socially acceptable candidate, George Edwin Taylor.

For Labor, Race, and Liberty: For LaborGeorge Edwin Taylor, His Historic Run for the White House, and the Making of Independent Black Politics
Bruce L. Mouser

More than one hundred years before Barack Obama, George Edwin Taylor made presidential history. Born in the antebellum South to a slave and a freed woman, raised and educated in Wisconsin, Taylor became the first African American ticketed as a political party’s nominee for president of the United States, running against Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. At a time when many African Americans felt allegiance to the Republican Party for its support of abolition, Taylor’s sympathy with the labor cause drew him first to the national Democratic Party and then to an African American party, the newly formed National Negro Liberty Party, which named him its presidential candidate.

Drift and Mastery: An Attempt to Diagnose the Current Unres5482-165wt
Centennial Edition

Walter Lippmann
Introduction and notes by William E. Leuchtenburg
Foreword by Ganesh Sitaraman

In 1914, a brilliant young political journalist published a book arguing that the United States had entered a period of “drift”—a lack of control over rapidly changing forces in society. He highlighted the tensions between expansion and consolidation, traditionalism and progressivism, and emotion and rationality. Mastery over drift is attainable, Walter Lippmann argued, through diligent attention to facts and making active choices. Lippman’s Drift and Mastery became one of the most important and influential documents of the Progressive Movement. This centennial edition remains invaluable as a window to the political thought of early twentieth-century America and as a lucid exploration of timeless themes in American government and politics.

La Follette’s Autobiography: A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences1400-165w
Robert M. La Follette
Foreword by Matthew Rothschild

Robert M. La Follette (1855–1925) was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, governor of Wisconsin, U.S. senator, and the U.S. Progressive Party’s presidential candidate in 1924, winning one-sixth of the total national vote. His Autobiography is both a memoir and a history of the Progressive cause in the United States, charting La Follette’s formative years in politics, his attempts to abolish entrenched state and corporate influences, and his embattled efforts to advance Progressive policies. This centennial edition includes a foreword by Matthew Rothschild, former editor of The Progressive—the magazine that La Follette himself founded.

Joe McCarthy and the Press0751
Edwin R. Bayley

“No one who cares about liberty will read Mr. Bayley’s masterful study without a shudder about the journalistic cop-outs that contributed to making the nightmare called McCarthyism. This book reminds us that it could happen here, but perhaps will make it harder to happen next time.”—Daniel Schorr

“Thorough, incisive and fascinating, this is the best account we have of the strange relationship between Joe McCarthy and the American press.”—Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

0811When Government Was Good: Memories of a Life in Politics
Henry S. Reuss
With a Foreword by John Kenneth Galbraith

U. S. House Representative Henry S. Reuss (D-Wisconsin, 1955–83) believed there was indeed a time when government worked—the “Golden Age” of 1948–68. The economy was functioning, the long overdue civil rights movement had begun to blossom, and the government had integrity. In his memoir, When Government Was Good, he blasts the political forces that he believed led to the disintegration of that Golden Age: economic and racial inequality and excessive militarism.

With Honor: 4444Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics
Dale Van Atta
Foreword by President Gerald R. Ford

In 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, centrist Congressman Melvin Laird (R-WI) agreed to serve as Richard Nixon’s secretary of defense. It was not, Laird knew, a move likely to endear him to the American public—but as he later said, “Nixon couldn’t find anybody else who wanted the damn job.” This biography illuminates Laird’s behind-the-scenes sparring with Henry Kissinger over policy, his decisions to ignore Nixon’s wilder directives, his formative impact on arms control and health care, his key role in the selection of Ford for vice president, his frustration with the country’s abandonment of Vietnamization, and, in later years, his unheeded warning to Donald Rumsfeld that “it’s a helluva lot easier to get into a war than to get out of one.”

The Man from Clear Lake: 4766Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson
Bill Christofferson

The life of Gaylord Nelson, a small-town Wisconsin boy who learned his values and political principles at an early age, is woven through the political history of the twentieth century. His story intersects at times with Fighting Bob La Follette, Joe McCarthy, and Bill Proxmire in Wisconsin, and with George McGovern, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Russell Long, Walter Mondale, John F. Kennedy, and others on the national scene. His founding of Earth Day in 1970 permanently changed national and global politics; more than one billion people worldwide now participate in annual Earth Day activities.

4349Raising Hell for Justice: The Washington Battles of a Heartland Progressive
David R. Obey

David R. Obey (D-Wausau) served in the U.S. House of Representatives longer than anyone in Wisconsin history, culminating in the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. After forty years in Congress, Obey looks back on his journey in politics beginning with his early years in the Wisconsin Legislature, when Wisconsin moved through eras of shifting balance between Republicans and Democrats. On a national level Obey traces, as few others have done, the dramatic changes in the workings of the U.S. Congress since his first election to the House in 1969. He discusses his own central role in the evolution of Congress, ethics reforms, and crucial chapters in our democracy.

5067-165wEmergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror
Chris Edelson
Foreword by Louis Fisher

Defining the scope and limits of emergency presidential power might seem easy—just turn to Article II of the Constitution. But as Chris Edelson shows, the reality is complicated. In times of crisis, presidents have frequently staked out claims to broad national security power. Drawing on excerpts from the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court opinions, Department of Justice memos, and other primary documents, Edelson weighs the various arguments that presidents have used to justify the expansive use of executive power.

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Power without Constraint: The Post-9/11 Presidency and National Security
Chris Edelson

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama criticized the George W. Bush administration for its unrestrained actions in matters of national security. 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.

Wisconsin Votes: 4449An Electoral History
Robert Booth Fowler

This history of voting in Wisconsin from statehood in 1848 to 2008 both tracks voting in key elections across the years and investigates electoral trends and patterns over the course of Wisconsin’s history. Fowler explores the ways that ethnic and religious groups in the state have voted historically, discusses the great struggle for women’s suffrage, and reminds us of many Wisconsin third parties—Socialists, Progressives, the Prohibition Party, and others. Here, too, are the famous politicians in Wisconsin history, including the La Follette family, William Proxmire, and Tommy Thompson.

Bascom planted seeds of the “Wisconsin Idea” in the 1870s

A guest post by J. David Hoeveler. His new book, John Bascom and the Origins of the Wisconsin Idea, has just been published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Bascom Hall, c. 1870

Bascom Hall, c. 1870

Hoeveler-John-Bascom-and-the-Origins-of-the-Wisconsin-Idea-cThe majestic building that sits atop the University of Wisconsin in Madison bears the name Bascom Hall. Thousands of people pass by the building every day, and some may wonder who “Bascom” was. “The guiding spirit of my time,” was what what famed Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette called John Bascom. La Follette felt that Bascom was the real inspiration for what we now call the Wisconsin Idea.

John Bascom served the University of Wisconsin as its president from 1874 to 1887. He came from upstate New York, born in Genoa in 1827, and graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts. He then attended two theological seminaries. Bascom taught at his alma mater for two decades before coming to Madison. He was a prolific scholar and wrote books and essays on theology, philosophy, sociology, and economics. But he did more than that as UW president. He committed himself to social reforms and, in fact, became as outspoken on these matters as any major figure in American higher education at the time.

Bascom’s political philosophy grew out of his liberal Christianity and his understanding of evolution. The latter concept gave Bascom his notion of society as a complex organism, all of whose parts must work in integration with the whole and in cooperation with each other. So believing, Bascom set a higher priority for the collective good, the public interest.

An iconic "W" banner hangs between the columns of Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Nov. 10, 2007. ©UW-Madison University Communications 608/262-0067 Photo by: Bryce Richter Date: 11/07 File#: D200 digital camera frame 6778

Today’s Bascom Hall

Three causes especially gained Bascom’s commitment. First, he advocated for temperance and even voted for the Prohibition party. That cause may suggest to some a moralistic, puritanical strain in Bascom, but it had its progressive side. Some labor leaders and almost all women’s rights leaders of the day supported the campaign against alcohol.

UW women's basketball team, 1897

UW women’s basketball team, 1897

Second, Bascom spoke out strongly for co-education and women’s rights. At the time, respected medical literature often warned against the toll of mental labor on the female body. Bascom ridiculed such notions. He spoke not only for co-education but insisted that the UW abandon the separate curriculums that then existed for men and women students. Bascom defended some policies that leading feminists themselves did not always support. He advocated for woman’s suffrage. He would allow divorce. He even criticized the styles of dress imposed on women—the corsets and bustles popular in the Gilded Age. They conspired, he said, against females’ full and active participation in American public life.

And third, Bascom championed the rights of labor. Here especially he feared the deprivation of a class of people, the workers, and their alienation from the large social organism. Bascom defended the right of labor to organize unions and he justified the right to strike. He also denounced the excessive power of money in America. Who else, among American university leaders of this era, would dare condemn by name the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers? Bascom, though, strongly opposed socialism. He admired business enterprise, and he thrilled to the marvels of technological creativity so visible in the United States. These activities, too, he believed, create the expanded social interconnections that grow and advance human society.

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Robert La Follette and Charles Van Hise

Robert La Follette graduated from the UW in 1879. So did his classmate and friend Charles Van Hise. La Follette became Wisconsin governor in 1901, and Van Hise was inaugurated UW president in 1904. The first graduates of the UW to hold these positions, both La Follette and Van Hise had been students of Bascom. And both drew inspiration from Bascom’s urgent advocacy for the good uses of the state and the ideal of public service. Together, they put the Wisconsin Idea into place.

Fola La Follette, daughter of Robert and Belle Case La Follette, later wrote: “Two students of the class of 1879, Bob La Follette and Charles Van Hise, profoundly influenced in youth by a great teacher, were now, as mature men, collaborating to sustain former President Bascom’s ideal of the relation of a state university to the State.”

So, as discussion about the Wisconsin Idea again rises among us, we might gain in historical perspective and in contemporary understanding if we remember John Bascom, the intellectual source of this “idea.” John Bascom: philosopher, humanist, and a man of religious faith.


Hoeveler-David-2016-c

J. David Hoeveler

J. David Hoeveler holds a Distinguished Professorship in History at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He is the author of seven books, including Creating the American Mind, The Evolutionists, and Watch on the Right.

folklore, memory, and racial conflict in Boston

head_shot_buccitelli

Anthony Buccitelli

Anthony Bak Buccitelli is a folklorist and assistant professor of American studies and communications at the Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. He is the author of City of Neighborhoods: Memory, Folklore, and Ethnic Place in Boston. We spoke with Buccitelli about growing up in the Boston area, the study of folklore, and his research in Boston’s neighborhoods.


As publishers in the academic field of folklore studies, we know that “folklore” means different things to different people. What is your approach in this book?  

Oh, yes, that’s so. Sometimes the general public uses the term to talk about things that are wrong: “oh, that’s just a bit of folklore!” Or some people think folklore applies only to ancient cultures, or only to fairy tales. There’s a lot of room for misinterpretation there. But what most folklorists these days study are the traditions of creative expression that make up quite a bit, perhaps most, of our lived cultural experience.Buccitelli-City-of-Neighborhoods-c

This can mean those recognizable traditions, such serving turkey on Thanksgiving or a bride’s white dress at a wedding, but it can also mean a lot of other things that don’t necessarily jump out at you as “traditional.” Cracking jokes with your friends at a bar; playing games on the playground as a kid; telling stories about family history, memories, or experiences; ways of making food; neighborhood festivals or fairs; songs you sing at a birthday party or around a campfire; even the way you write a text message to a friend; all of these things can become traditions and so can be studied as folklore. So when I talk about folklore in the book, I am really talking about these traditional, but sometimes seemingly trivial, forms of culture that actually define a great deal of our contemporary cultural lives.

I am especially interested in the culture of urban neighborhoods, so my choices of what folklore to study and how to approach it were influenced by the specific Boston neighborhoods where I did my fieldwork: South Boston, East Boston, and North Quincy. I looked at their parades and festivals, stories folks told about life in the neighborhood, and their use of visual symbols in neighborhood spaces.

You also write about memory and ethnic place. How do these connect with the study of folklore? The experience that led me down the road to writing this book was going to the L Street Brownies Annual Plunge. The Brownies are possibly the oldest “polar bear” swimming club in the U.S. and are based in South Boston. I was doing a small field project with them, and their theme that year for the Plunge was “Southie Pride.” I noticed that people were wearing clothing or objects associated with being Irish or Irish American, and Southie does have a history and public identity as an “Irish neighborhood.” But, local residents I had interviewed had just been telling me how they saw Southie as an ethnically diverse neighborhood, and that it had been diverse for a long time. This got me thinking about why South Boston, and many other places, are associated strongly with particular forms of identity, especially ethnicity or race, despite underlying diversity.

The Annual Plunge, 2006

The Annual Plunge, 2006

So my research evolved into understanding two things. First, how do ethnic identity and place identity converge in people’s lived experience? In other words, how closely is my feeling of being “Italian” or “Irish” or “Greek” connected to my sense of being “South Bostonian” or, in my own case, a “Hinghamite”? Other scholars have argued that American ethnics today are very mobile and no longer intimately connected (or restricted) to enclaves of specific urban neighborhoods. But at the same time, there still seems to be a strong cultural sense of connection between ethnicity and place. The force of this connection, I found, can remain even after the actual demographics of a neighborhood have changed significantly. So, understanding the process of “social memory” in each neighborhood became a crucial part of the picture. I was exploring not just what the actual history of the neighborhood was, but also how that history is remembered and represented by people and communities.

Second, I wanted to understand how people use folklore to negotiate these kinds of situations, and to form or alter these kinds of memories. I kept coming back to the idea that, despite the many, varied, or conflicting ways people represented the history and ethnicity of their neighborhood, there was often a single representation that served as a base for variation. For example, even when residents of South Boston told me that their neighborhood wasn’t actually as Irish as outsiders thought, they were still starting from a basic idea of Southie as an Irish enclave, an idea widely represented in neighborhood folkloric practices. It’s this dominant sense of connection that I call the “sense of ethnic place.”

Santarpio's Pizza, East Boston

Santarpio’s Pizza, East Boston

So is “ethnic place” kind of a shared “archetype” or a universal idea that people have about the connection between ethnicity and places? No. It’s not universal at all. In fact, I contend, that it’s very specific to a single place and time period. And, the dominant “sense of ethnic place” in a given area is never completely dominant, and it’s certainly not permanent. In fact, as I demonstrate in my book, it’s always changing. And, I found, there are multiple senses of place at work at the same time in the same neighborhoods! Places can become full of meaning for us, both because we connect specific memories to places and because we attach cultural significance to places. This cultural significance can be expressed through formal commemoration of historical or heritage sites, but also in informal understandings shared by a specific community of people.

You grew up in Hingham, in the Boston area. How did that influence your research? I spent a lot of time in my younger years hanging around different parts of Boston. I could say that I intended to “write what you know,” but I think it was actually the reverse. I wanted to study and write about Boston to understand it better. I already knew people in some of the places I was studying, so that was somewhat helpful in doing fieldwork. My own sense of identity as an Italian American from Hingham surely shaped some of the interactions I had in my fieldwork. How exactly? Well, I’m not sure!

Since you were not from any of the neighborhoods you were studying, and there are so many diverse neighborhoods in Boston, how did you choose the areas you wanted to focus on for this book?  Boston has such a vital, longstanding, and very rich history of neighborhood cultures that I could have chosen almost any neighborhoods to write about. I chose these three for practical reasons, but also because they represented different configurations and histories in connection with ethnic identity. South Boston, as I mentioned, has a very public association with Irish American identity, but also longstanding Polish, Lithuanian, and Italian communities, and a unique history with other communities including African and Asian Americans. Demographically, the ethnic composition of the neighborhood has been changing gradually over the past few decades.

In contrast, East Boston has an association with Italian American identity going back to the first half of the twentieth century, and some small but longstanding communities of other ethnic groups. But, since the 1980s, the neighborhood has seen much more dramatic changes, particularly with the emergence of very large communities of different Latino/a ethnicities, mainly Salvadorian, Puerto Rican, and Mexican.

Chinese Herbal Center, North Quincy

Chinese Herbal Center, North Quincy

Finally, again in contrast to the other two, North Quincy never had a strong association with a particular ethnic group. It was a mix of mainly European ethnicities. But more recently, it has become one of the largest Chinese American communities in the state.

My choice of locations with three very different demographic ethnic histories wasn’t to build a model for direct comparison, but rather to try to get a sense of the diverse ways in which connections between ethnicity and place can take shape.

In a number of places in the book, you write about contemporary conflicts between people or groups that are tied to historic ethnic or racial conflicts in the Boston. Is there a culture of racism or ethnic hostility in these neighborhoods?                 

Ladder 19, South Boston

Ladder 19, South Boston

Boston does have a history of racism, as well as ethnic and racial tensions that have sometimes emerged as open conflict or violence. There’s no doubt about that. But I don’t think that this is in any way limited to a particular neighborhood or group of people, although it sometimes has been portrayed that way. Glossing over the larger historical dynamics that have shaped these conflicts misrepresents the history of the city and hinders our ability to address these issues.

I don’t shy away from talking about interethnic or interracial conflicts in the book, sometimes in pretty stark terms. But these are not the only defining features of local cultures in Boston. Nor are they the only element around which memories take shape in Boston. Memories of racism or ethnic tensions exist as a part of the landscape of memory, but among many other parts.

There is certainly still a great deal of work to be done in Boston to bridge the barriers that exist between ethnic and racial communities. But what I also think the book shows is that no culture is static. A city is always changing. People in the Boston area care a lot about their neighborhoods, spending a lot of time thinking about them and working to make them better places. I hope that my book can, in some small way, contribute to these discussions as they take shape.

 

Public & school librarians choose best UW Press books

Each year, a committee of librarians representing American public libraries and K-12 school libraries select university press books most suited to their audiences.  The result is a bibliography, University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, an annual collection development tool published with the help and support of two divisions of the American Library Association: the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and, from public libraries, the Collection Development and Evaluation Section of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA/CODES). Each book chosen receives one or two sets of ratings, from a school library reviewer, a public library reviewer, or both. Books rated by the school librarians are also recommended for grade levels.

The following University of Wisconsin Press books (published in 2015) were chosen for the annual list!

 “The Best of the Best” titles
Bechard-Norske-Nook-Pies-cThe Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes, Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker

Each year, panelists from the joint selection committee of librarians present a small selection of their favorite recommendations at the American Library Association annual conference at a “Best of the Best from the University Presses” session, to be held this year at the ALA conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 26, 2016, 1:00 p.m.

Outstanding-rated titles from the University Press Books Committee

  • Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood, Mark S. Fleisher
  • The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes, Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker

The above titles received ratings of “Outstanding” by members of the 2013 University Press Books Committee, recommended as essential additions to most public and/or school library collections.

000-099 General Knowledge

Baughman Cover Design071.3   Baughman, James L., Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, and James P. Danky (Editors)
Protest on the Page: Essays on Print and the Culture of Dissent since 1865

Explores the intertwined histories of print and protest in the United States from Reconstruction to the 2000s. Ten essays look at how protesters of all political and religious persuasions, as well as aesthetic and ethical temperaments, have used the printed page to wage battles over free speech; test racial, class, sexual, and even culinary boundaries; and to alter the moral landscape in American life.
LC 2014030784, ISBN 9780299302849 (p.), ISBN 9780299302832 (e.)
School Libraries: General Audience/High School                    Public Libraries: General Audience

300-319 Sociology, Anthropology, Cultures

Grady-Improvised-Adolescence-c305.893   Grady, Sandra  Improvised Adolescence: Somali Bantu Teenage Refugees in America

A glimpse into the lives of African refugee teens, as they negotiate the differences between African and American ideas about the transition from childhood to adulthood. Of interest to social services workers and educators as well as scholars of folklore, anthropology, African studies, and child development.
LC 2014030780, ISBN 9780299303242 (p.), ISBN 9780299303235 (e.)
School Libraries: Special Interest/High School, Professional Use          Public Libraries: Special Interest

Fleisher-LivingBlack-c305.896   Fleisher, Mark S.  Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood

Breaks the stereotype of poor African American neighborhoods as dysfunctional ghettos of helpless and hopeless people. Despite real and enduring poverty, the community described here—the historic North End of Champaign, Illinois—has a vibrant social life and strong ties among generations.
LC 2015008381, ISBN 9780299305345 (p.), ISBN 9780299305338 (e.)
School Libraries: Outstanding/Professional Use        Public Libraries: General Interest
*Outstanding* rating: “This quality ethnography reads like a series of engaging stories. The study reflects both excellent research and a clear sense of the provisions that ensure quality in qualitative research. A clear voice supporting diversity and our awareness thereof.”—Janie Pickett (AASL)

320-329 Political Science

Bartley-EclipseoftheAssassins-c327.730   Bartley, Russell H. and Sylvia Erickson Bartley  Eclipse of the Assassins: The CIA, Imperial Politics, and the Slaying of Mexican Journalist Manuel Buendía

Investigates the sensational 1984 murder of Mexico’s most influential newspaper columnist, Manuel Buendía, and how that crime reveals the lethal hand of the U.S. government in Mexico and Central America during the final decades of the twentieth century. This is a stellar, courageous work of investigative journalism and historical scholarship—grippingly told, meticulously documented, and doggedly pursued over thirty years.
LC 2015008379, ISBN 9780299306403 (c.), ISBN 9780299306434 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use          Public Libraries: General Interest

 

640-649 Home Economics

Bechard-Norske-Nook-Pies-c641.860   Bechard, Jerry and Cindee Borton-Parker  The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes

The Norske Nook’s mile-high meringue and dairyland deliciousness attracts foodies, celebrities, and tourists from around the world to sample its glorious pies. This beautifully photographed cookbook features more than seventy pies, including thirty-six blue ribbon-winners at the annual National Pie Championship.
LC 2014037003, ISBN 9780299304300 (c.)
School Libraries: Outstanding/ Middle School, High School, Professional Use   Public Libraries: General Interest    *Outstanding* rating:  “If you aren’t able to make a personal visit to one of the Norske Nook’s ‘pie shrines’ this title will certainly help any home baker re-create some of their amazing recipes. Of course there are old favorites like apple and cherry pie, but you can also find mouth-watering recipes for a Snickers caramel pie, a raspberry white chocolate pie, or a Northwoods root beer float pie. The basics like pie crusts and toppings are covered in their own chapters, and non-pie chapters are devoted to tortes, muffins, cookies and Scandinavian specialties. Even non-bakers will enjoy drooling over the beautiful photographs. The directions are clear and easy-to-follow, which should make this title very appealing to middle and high school aspiring pie bakers.”—Judi Repman (AASL)

700-759 Fine Arts

Langer-RomaineBrooks-c759.13   Langer, Cassandra    Romaine Brooks: A Life

The artistic achievements of Romaine Brooks (1874-1970), both as a major expatriate American painter and as a formative innovator in the decorative arts, have long been overshadowed by her fifty-year relationship with writer Natalie Barney and a reputation as a fiercely independent, aloof heiress who associated with fascists in the 1930s. Langer provides a richer, deeper portrait of Brooks’s aesthetics and experimentation as an artist.
LC 2015008825, ISBN 9780299298609 (c.), ISBN 9780299298630 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / High School           Public Libraries:  General Interest

 

780-799 Music, Performing Arts, Recreation, Sports

Diebel-Crossing-the-Driftless-c797.122   Diebel, Lynne   (Illustrated by Robert Diebel)  Crossing the Driftless: A Canoe Trip through a Midwestern Landscape

Crossing the Driftless is both a traveler’s tale of a 359-mile canoe trip and an exploration of the dramatic environment of the Upper Midwest’s Driftless region, following the streams of geologic and human history.
LC 2014030800, ISBN 9780299302948 (p.), ISBN 9780299302931 (e.)
School Libraries: Regional Specialized Interest / High School          Public Libraries: Regional General

 

800-819 American Literature

Merlis-JD-A-Novel-c813.54  Merlis, Mark  JD: A Novel

Thirty years after Jonathan Ascher’s death, Martha finally opens her husband’s journals and discovers his secret affairs with men as well as his all-absorbing passion for their deceased son, Mickey. Mark Merlis shows readers a vivid picture of a family who cannot find a way to speak their love for one another.
LC 2014030801, ISBN 9780299303501 (c.), ISBN 9780299303532 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use          Public Libraries: General Interest

 

DeVita-A-Winsome-Murder-c813.6  DeVita, James  A Winsome Murder

A serial killer brings bloody murder to the pastoral Wisconsin town of Winsome Bay, requiring the expertise of detective James Mangan, a hard-bitten Chicago cop with an unexpected knowledge of Shakespeare.
LC 2014042916, ISBN 9780299304409 (c.), ISBN 9780299304430 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School            Public Libraries: General Interest

 

 

Meet Me Halfway813.6  Morales, Jennifer   Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories

When an African American teen suffers a serious accident in the home of his white neighbor, his community must find ways to bridge divisions between black and white, gay and straight, old and young.
LC 2014030802, ISBN 9780299303648 (p.), ISBN 9780299303631 (e.)
School Libraries: Regional General Interest / Professional Use      Public Libraries: Regional General Interest

 

830-899 Literature of Other Languages 

Blessington-Euripides-Trojan-Women-c882.01  Euripides  (Verse translations by Francis Blessington, with introductions and notes)  Trojan Women, Helen, Hecuba: Three Plays about Women and the Trojan War

“These lively, accurate translations will allow readers and theater audiences to appreciate the power of Euripidean tragedy. Blessington’s language is spare and his translation fairly literal, allowing direct—sometimes punchy—delivery while retaining poetic expressions from the Greek.”—Francis Dunn, author of Tragedy’s End: Closure and Innovation in Euripidean Drama
LC 2015010084, ISBN 9780299305246 (p.), ISBN 9780299305239 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School, Professional Use     Public Libraries: General Interest

 

950-969 Asian, Middle Eastern, and African History

Lee-Dreams-of-the-Hmong-c959.004   Lee, Mai Na M.  Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850-1960

Authoritative and original, Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom is among the first works of its kind, exploring the influence that French colonialism and Hmong leadership had on the Hmong people’s political and social aspirations.
LC 2014035663, ISBN 9780299298845 (p.), ISBN 9780299298838 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use                       Public Libraries:  Specialized Interest

Amony-I-am-Amony-c967.610  Amony, Evelyn  (Edited with an introduction by Erin Baines)  I Am Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming My Life from the Lord’s Resistance Army

A harrowing account by one of the 60,000 children abducted by the violent African rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Amony tells of her life as a forced wife to LRA leader Joseph Kony, her eleven years in the LRA, her part in a peace delegation after her capture by the Ugandan military, and her current work as a human rights advocate.
LC 2015008824, ISBN 9780299304942 (p.), ISBN 9780299304935 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School, Professional Use     Public Libraries: General Interest

 

 

The Search for My Spirit Sister

A guest post by Sara Rath. Her new book Seven Years of Grace: The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague is published by the Vermont Historical Society. (It is distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press.)

Rath-7-years-of-Grace-cWhen you write someone’s biography, it’s like assembling a puzzle. But if that person lived in the mid-nineteenth century, you can’t simply dump all the pieces out on the table and begin connecting them. Instead, you sort out the few odd pieces that you have. Then you search for the rest.

But . . . what if someone has slightly altered the few available pieces, smoothed the corners to fit his own moral doctrine?  And what if there are empty spaces, missing parts you can’t find?  The story of Achsa Sprague posed these dilemmas from the start.


Lily Dale is a Spiritualist community in upstate New York, and that’s where I first saw Achsa mentioned in a book that had been loaned to me. A footnote revealed “The Achsa W. Sprague Papers held by the Vermont Historical Society are, as far as I can ascertain, the only extant personal papers of a nineteenth century Spiritualist medium.” I was intrigued.

I purchased my own copy of the book and tore out the page with Achsa’s portrait—it’s also on the cover of Seven Years of Grace—and pinned it above my desk. There was something about her eyes, that steady, almost defiant gaze that challenged me to dare to look away.

Her enigmatic stare was appealing, and I felt similarities between us. Achsa was from Vermont. I had earned my MFA in Writing at Vermont College in Montpelier, and taught in the Goddard College MFA program at Plainfield. Achsa wrote poetry and I’d already published four books of poems. She was a missionary; that had been my childhood dream. I was intrigued by Spiritualism (I’d been enrolled in the Lily Dale workshop “The Personal Development of Mediumship,”) and we were both feminists, day-dreamers, progressives. She’d kept a daily journal, and I’d kept one since 1962. I was also a biographer and sensed there was an untold story hiding behind Achsa’s gaze.

I wanted to plunge into research right away, but I was in the midst of writing other books. My enthusiasm for Achsa would have to be sustained for a year or two, I thought. In July of 2000, I returned to Vermont, ready for work. I had already studied a published version of Achsa’s diaries. The originals had been purchased in the late 1930s at a Rutland bookstore by Leonard Twinem who, in 1941, offered an edited version for publication in The Proceedings of the Vermont Historical Society under his pseudonym, Leonard Twynham. Achsa’s entries began on June 1, 1849, “Once more I am unable to walk or do anything else; have not been a step without crutches since Sunday and see no prospect of being any better; see nothing before me but a life of miserable helplessness.” On her birthday, November 17, she wrote of her disillusionment:  “Twenty-two years ago today, a new life sprung into existence; the earth received a new inhabitant; a spirit clothed in the garments of mortality. . . . And this is my destiny, mine. My own sad history.”

Twinem’s cunning edits drove me crazy. After “my own sad history,” he followed with an ellipsis (indicating sentences deleted) and then, “Mr. Woods people want me to teach school there this winter, but don’t think I shall.”  Achsa’s rebirth was suddenly revealed in 1853 when “After a long, almost a three years silence again I unfold these pages, once more to trace upon their surface the thoughts of a long-tried heart.”  A miraculous transformation had occurred (had Twinem omitted that part?): Angel guardians had cured Achsa and obtained her promise to spread the word of Spiritualism and the fact that we do not die.

I found Achsa’s grave at the Plymouth Notch cemetery. The words “I Still Live” carved on her blue marble tombstone were nearly hidden by weather stains and spreading lichens. I realized that, by writing her biography, I could help Achsa still live.


 

I hired a fellow Vermont College MFA grad, Caroline Mercurio, to join me in viewing the extensive collection of Achsa Sprague materials in the Vermont Historical Society archives. There were so many letters sent to Achsa, all written with quill pens and difficult to decipher. Caroline photocopied each letter and sent packets to me throughout the next year. I received each thick envelope with the excitement of a child at Christmas, requiring months of quiet to painstakingly read and transcribe each. An important breakthrough occurred when Caroline noted that letters on blue stationery from a John Crawford stood out from the rest. When I placed all the Crawford letters in chronological order, an unforeseen dimension was evident: until that moment, no one had known of the intense romantic relationship that Achsa developed with this wealthy, erudite man whom she called her “Evil Genius.” Achsa’s correspondence with him was frequently quoted in his passionate replies, so the provocative exchange between the two was unmistakable: another clue in her untold story.

There were other challenges in the archival files: scraps of paper with no attributions, rough drafts of letters, even a note in mirror writing. From the abridged diaries, newspaper columns, letters, and disparate notes, I began to trace Achsa’s travels and emotions. A posthumous collection of her poetry, The Poet and Other Poems published in 1864, also contained a play with a character called “Miss Raymond.” Unmistakably Achsa, she was an improvisatrice with similar physical attributes and mystical powers.

Not unlike others, modest in her guise,

A soul of goodness beaming from her eyes.

Yet nothing marked to tell the power within,

That, when aroused, so many hearts must win.

She’d mingle in the crowd, and scarce be seen,

With thoughtful face, and modest, graceful mien;

But when her harp is once within her hands,

And rapt, inspired, before the world she stands,

A glow spreads over all her face and brow

Before which others cannot fail to bow. . .

After I returned from Vermont that summer, I was occupied with radio interviews all across the country for another of my books. In my journal, I wrote “The days pass too swiftly and I can’t work fast enough.”  I was still seeking the original Sprague diaries, writing letters and making calls to investigate their location. I spent a week at our rustic lakeside cabin with my husband, and in the silence I thought more about Achsa. “Now I can proceed with Achsa at my own pace with my own creative perspective—trusting, when it feels right, that it is right—and who is alive to contradict me, or question my possible communication with her spirit?”

Achsa and other Spiritualists were fond of quoting poet Alexander Pope, who popularized an optimistic philosophy:

. . . All nature is but art unknown to thee,
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

This became my mantra for the many iterations of Achsa’s manuscript that I produced thereafter: if it felt right, if my intuition captured the essence of her story based my research, then the perspective could be perceived as accurate. (If not, perhaps she’d have me struck by lightning!)


 

In February, 2001, I began a rough draft of the book.  We drove east again that summer.  At Lily Dale, I searched the cluttered library of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches and found a collection of obscure Spiritualist newspapers for which Achsa had written her “By the Wayside” column, opinionated articles, children’s stories and poems. In The Banner of Light I found a first-person account of a friend’s presence at Achsa’s deathbed. On the last day of our visit, I climbed up into the creepy attic to search among bat and mouse droppings for the missing diaries, with no success.

I placed a marble at Achsa’s grave because it reflected my face and the sky. Eliza Ward, who’d been in the original Sprague home prior to its razing, drew for me a floorplan indicating the location of rooms and even the privy. She also gave me a tiny tintype of Achsa as a girl. I visited folks at the Woodstock Historical Society to explore a fascinating record of  Spiritualist activity during Achsa’s time, and we went up to the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, where Achsa had lectured in 1856.

Without access to Achas’s lost complete diaries, my plan was to interweave the abridged diary with excerpts from letters and articles and my own narrative to tell her story. I had decisions to make about voice, tone, and organization.

A huge breakthrough occurred with my discovery of Spirit History, a website intended to “compile and preserve Nineteenth-Century American Spiritualism’s Fading Records.” This remarkable resource was created by John Buescher, who was then involved with the Voice of America. Although we’ve never met, John became a mentor whose contributions to Achsa’s story were vital, furnishing a depth and breadth that would have been impossible without his scholarship.


 

I had, by then, also become obsessed with Leonard Twinem, a/k/a L. Leonard Twynham.  I was convinced there must be some way to track a museum or a relative who might hold Achsa’s actual diaries, plus additional materials Twinem had crowed about. He’d claimed in the 1941 Proceedings that he was “contemplating the publication of a volume which will include her prose and verse and a long biographical sketch,” as he also possessed “a vast quantity of manuscript material, verses and essays, which await publication. Among her unpublished manuscripts is an autobiographical poem of 162 pages, which she composed in six days, when in such a nervous state that the spinning wheel, latches, and roosters were all muffled for her peace of mind; and also a poetic play of 75 pages dealing with the Biblical story from Eden to Calvary.”

Eccentric and parsimonious to a fault, Twinem told the Vermont Historical Society, “for the work to date I charged only the secretarial costs for transcription; and gave lots of my own time and energy aside from the large amount I originally invested in the box of Sprague items I have in  hand. So I feel my generosity is exhausted. Hence I give nothing away.”

Twinem’s brother Francis donated the box of Sprague correspondence to VHS in 1976, a decade after Leonard’s death, but there had been no other “literary remains” of Achsa Sprague in his possession, and he had no knowledge of them. Paul Carnahan, director of the VHS Library, said that the disappearance of the Sprague diaries and associated papers was one of the great mysteries of Vermont history. They, too, had searched everywhere, and no one in the state had a clue as to their whereabouts.

The diary search began to consume time that I should have spent writing. For example, when visiting a nurse practitioner for an annual appointment, I even mentioned my exasperation to her!  “Nothing happens by accident,” she assured me, and that night she told her friend of my diary quest. She passed along the resulting clairvoyant insights, which I dutifully passed along to Paul:

“I see a red brick building. The building is two stories. It has four steps up to the front door.  The building has 241 associated with it.  That might be a building number or a zip code or something. There may be more numbers but that’s all I get. You go through the door and it’s in the back corner of the room.  It’s a storeroom or something and it isn’t used anymore.  They’re gonna have to dig.  It’s more than just one and they are little books.”

Paul and Caroline then searched the cobwebbed basement of a nearly abandoned building, a warehouse where a bookshelf tipped over, spilling old copies of the 1941 Proceedings booklets. So Achsa’s diaries were there, just not the originals we wanted. Paul had been especially intrigued since 241 was the telephone exchange in the town where the red brick warehouse was located.

Vexed and frustrated, I contacted every archived collection of women’s diaries at colleges and universities in the United States. I wrote to auction houses, antiquarian booksellers in New England, historical societies. Nothing showed up.

Twinem was also a Presbyterian minister, deposed from the ministry in 1938 and restored in 1945 (what happened there?  The Episcopal diocese of New York had no idea but suggested that perhaps he “dumped the Sprague papers before being restored to the Ministry,” and perhaps “his interest in Spiritualism was why he was deposed in the first place.”)

In my exhaustive search, I acquired copies of Twinem correspondence. In a 1937 letter to the American Antiquarian society he commented about a prospective Sprague biography, “the task of assembling the material—sorting and selecting—from a jumble of letters and manuscripts, in preparation of a volume, is enormous.”

I Googled-searched Twinem, then Twynem, and obtained only a bit of useless data from the resulting letters I wrote. I requested a copy of Leonard’s will from the Probate Court of Sharon, Connecticut. A copy of his wife’s will. Nothing. I looked up Twinem’s wife Mary on Ancestry.com and wrote to a woman who’d said Mary lived with their family prior to her death. In fact, her mother had held Mary Twinem in her arms when she died, but only a few scrapbooks of Leonard’s had been in her possession. The Twinems had no descendants and nothing in the scrapbooks related to Achsa.

I finally had to admit I’d struck out.


Working with what I had, I compiled significant timelines: one for Achsa, another for John H. Crawford, and a third for Achsa’s sister, Celia Sprague, who had moved to Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, in 1853 and eventually married John Steen, a farmer from Oakfield. I hired a genealogist to help with Celia. We found the Avoca cemetery near Oakfield, and Celia’s grave next to that of her husband. Her tombstone had only her first name and this quote from Les Miserables:

“Kiss me on the forehead when I am dead  and I shall feel it.”

Prior to this, Celia’s date of death and location of her passing were unknown.

In 2003 I was awarded the Weston A. Cate Fellowship by the Vermont Historical Society, which helped with costs associated with my research.

On a rainy day in August, 2004, I spoke to a standing-room-only crowd in the Plymouth Notch schoolhouse, where Achsa had taught. With tears in my eyes, I read her poem, Lines Written in a Schoolroom:

“The school-room is deserted now,  

The happy children gone,  

and silence rests upon the spot 

So strangely, sadly lone…” 

The rain let up when we held a short ceremony at her grave, then it started raining again.


It has been twenty years since I first learned about Achsa Sprague. Since then, I’ve published four other books. Between each project, I returned to Achsa. First, I revised a scholarly, footnoted, third-person manuscript from 2004 that now rests in the Vermont Historical Society Archives and contains everything remotely relevant, down to the last painful detail. Next, I tried for a more engaging third-person version. Then I let Achsa tell her story.  First-person was fiction, but it was liberating to let her have her say! Finally I settled on allowing Celia to speak, since many letters from her had been kept in Achsa’s files. Celia’s point-of-view was historical fiction, but I lived in Wisconsin, knew its history and I could “imagine” details of Celia’s life.  In turn, she would be able to depict Achsa with personal details as no one but a sister could. Celia could also help me create missing pieces of the puzzle. She had once told Achsa, “I can now say with the poet “whatever is, is right” so henceforth you may expect me to submit to whatever comes & then do as I best can.”

 

Then the long-sought original Achsa Sprague diaries appeared on eBay in May, 2013.  Where had they been?

The seller said the diaries had been purchased at an auction in New York. “They seemed to be very interesting diaries but once we found out who the author was, then we did think they were special.”

Special? Paul Carnahan declared the diaries invaluable! The two of us offered separate bids each day to acquire them if we possibly could. Alas, the final offers grew far beyond our combined reach. Someone out-bid us for a total of $4,997.00 on May 16, 2013. Attempts to contact the purchaser since then have been for naught.

Seven Years of Grace is based as closely as possible on truths I have been able to acquire, and where there were missing pieces of the puzzle, I endeavored to capture the essence of what most likely transpired.  (“Whatever is, is right.”)

This was scribbled while I sat near Achsa’s grave one afternoon:

“You ask for a poem this is what I give you for its stead you are my voice and being, lightness itself shall guide you out of shadows and give you direction. . . we are sisters we share stories this is my secret and yours, our sorrows are similar and our loves as well. . .”


 

Rath_IMG_0158_COLOR

Sara Rath

Sara Rath’s books published by the University of Wisconsin Press include three novels— Star Lake Saloon & Housekeeping Cottages, Night Sisters, The Waters of Star Lake—and a biography: H. H. Bennett, Photographer: His American Landscape.

Her novel Night Sisters includes scenes at the historic Wocanaga Spiritualist Camp in Wisconsin. See a video interview with Sara about Night Sisters and Wocanaga.

 

New Books in April 2016

We are proud to announce these five books debuting in April.

Clewell-Almost-Nothing-To-Be-Scared-Of-cApril 1
Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of

David Clewell

Winner of the Four Lakes Prize in Poetry
 Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of

“David Clewell has a lot to say, peppering his essayistic poems with lopsided wit and keen observations on the spectacle of American culture. His social commentary deserves a gang of listeners for the truth of his insights and the sheer fun of the delivery. By the way, did you know that the Inverted Atomic Drop was a wrestling move?”—Billy Collins

 

Draine-Hinden-Death-on-a-Starry-Night-c

April 5
Death on a Starry Night
Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden

Death on a Starry Night is a romp through French art, fine wine, romance, and murder. This is the third novel in the Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler mystery series, as these artful sleuths investigate the mysterious death of Vincent van Gogh.  “Thoroughly engaging. Draine and Hinden’s eccentric and amiable characters (one of whom happens to be a murderer) gather together to share delicious meals, amble through medieval villages, and argue about van Gogh’s art, life, and mysterious death in this charming whodunit.”—M. L. Longworth, author of The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne

 

Virgil and Joyce

April 12
Virgil and Joyce
Nationalism and Imperialism in the Aeneid and Ulysses
Randall J. Pogorzelski

Virgil and Joyce illuminates how James Joyce’s Ulysses was influenced not just by Homer’s Odyssey but by Virgil’s Aeneid, as both authors confronted issues of nationalism, colonialism, and political violence, whether in imperial Rome or revolutionary Ireland.  “Joyce emerges here as a literary reader who rethinks Virgil’s Aeneid as a post-imperial epic, a poem about colonialism and national identity.”—Phiroze Vasunia, author of The Classics and Colonial India

 

Gluck-The-Invisible-Jewish-Budapest-c


April 19
The Invisible Jewish Budapest
Metropolitan Culture at the Fin de Siècle
Mary Gluck

The Invisible Jewish Budapest is a groundbreaking, brilliant urban history of a Central European metropolis in the decades before World War I.  “A magnificently consequential book. Gluck examines the vibrant modernist culture created largely by secular Jews in Budapest, in counterpoint to a backward-looking, nationalistic Hungarian establishment and a conservative Jewish religious elite.”—Scott Spector, author of Violent Sensations

 

Buccitelli-City-of-Neighborhoods-cApril 26
City of Neighborhoods
Memory, Folklore, and Ethnic Place in Boston
Anthony Bak Buccitelli

City of Neighborhoods  “This fascinating deep-dive into historically ethnic neighborhoods reveals that old stereotypes have been supplanted by vibrant, multiethnic neighborhoods that now use ethnicity as a means for inclusion. A riveting, insider look into what really happens in Boston’s diverse neighborhoods.”—Timothy Tangherlini, UCLA

 

 

Urbikas-MySister'sMother-c

April 27
My Sister’s Mother
A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin’s Siberia
Donna Solecka Urbikas

My Sister’s Mother is an American baby boomer’s account of the ordeals of her Polish mother and half sister as slave laborers in Siberia who escaped and survived. “This stunning, heartfelt memoir looks unflinchingly at the scars borne by one Polish immigrant family as their daughter tries to become a normal American girl in Chicago. A gripping study of family dynamics, this is also a must-read for World War II history buffs.”—Leonard Kniffel, author of A Polish Son in the Motherland