Tag Archives: fiction

Starvation Shore

Today’s guest blogger is Laura Waterman, author of Starvation Shore, a compelling tale based on a true story of polar explorers fighting for their lives.

 

My novel, Starvation Shore, is based on the Greely Arctic Expedition of 1881–1884. Also known as the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, this three-year saga of a little known American Arctic expedition can be equated with the Franklin Expedition for daring and horrific disaster.

This is the story of 25 men who find that surviving in the Arctic requires cooperation to the point of selflessness. But as darkness, vicious wind, and gelid cold confines them to what feels like a prison sentence, what gets laid bare are the fatal flaws and staggering misjudgments.

I began work on this novel in 2008. Researching and writing it has been an epic journey itself. I was drawn to this story because of the hardships that bring us face to face with our true selves. I was curious to join with these men, to see how I would react in a setting that made such physical demands, that required moral, ethical, and spiritual courage.

A group photo of the explorers

This expedition grew out of a desire to counter the enormous loss of men and ships in the Arctic over the last three centuries. In 1881 the United States was part of the International Polar Year that established stations around the icecap. Lt. Greely’s men were there to take meteorological observations and so learn about the Arctic.  They were expected to set a new Farthest North, long held by the British. The U.S. Army was in charge. The equivalent today would be a manned trip to Mars.

Sgt. David Brainard

I used the men’s diaries, particularly Sgt. David Brainard’s, the portion he wrote at Cape Sabine after the men had left the fort they had built at Discovery Harbor, farther north and only 500 miles from the North Pole. The promised resupply by ship had failed because of pack ice. The men had spent a second winter, and as the third winter drew near, Lt. Greely ordered the men into the open boats, a controversial move. They had had supplies enough to make it through a third winter, if they had stayed.

Pvt. Charles B. Henry

That this was an unhappy expedition from the start fascinated me. What was going to happen? Dr. Pavy and Lt. Greely were a mismatch of temperaments. Lt. Kislingbury wished he’d never come.  His senseless acts of insubordination caused Lt. Greely to break him. Sgt. Brainard was sure they had a murderer along, namely Pvt. Charles Henry. Lt. Lockwood, brave, strong, a gifted leader of men—he set the Farthest North record—was prone to depression.

On the other hand, Pvt. Shorty Frederick was there when you needed him. Their young astronomer, Ned Israel, took infectious delight in the mystery of an Arctic night. Photographer George Rice’s glass plates showed a frigid black and white beauty not seen before. Eskimo Jens Edwards died in his boat catching seals for them.

The six survivors on their way home in 1884

When the rescue party arrived in 1884, two thirds of the men were dead. What George Rice had feared, and Sgt. Brainard had tried to prevent, had happened: cannibalism.

I grew up reading about adventure; most children do:  Doctor Doolittle, Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons. When I read Annapurna, Maurice Herzog’s account of the first 8000-meter peak to be climbed, I wondered, had I been along, could I have made it to the top? I began climbing on my homeground. The White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Presidential Range in winter, and learned about winds that can knock you down, visibility so compromised you’re relying on all your senses and your internal compass, and frightening subzero cold. I drew on this experience for writing Starvation Shore. I learned, as Greely’s men did, that we are often capable of more than we had thought possible.

 

 Laura Waterman is an author, environmentalist, and outdoor enthusiast. Her books include The Green Guide to Low-Impact Hiking and CampingA Fine Kind of Madness: Mountain Adventures Tall and True, and Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage.

Contemporary Literature Journal Seeks Articles and Interviews

Call for Papers and Interviews

Contemporary LiteratureContemporary Literature seeks scholarly essays on post-World War II literature written in English which offer scope, supply a new dimension to conventional approaches, or transform customary ways of reading writers. Additionally, CL welcomes interviews that focus on an author’s writing, pursue and elaborate a line of questioning and response, and provide insight into central aspects of the writer’s significance. Past interviews have featured writers such as Dorothy AllisonRae Armantrout, Edwidge Danticat, Rachael KushnerBen LernerViet Thanh Nguyen, Afaa Michael Weaver, and Charles Yu.

See the journal’s submission guidelines for more information. Questions may be directed to the editorial office at CL@english.wisc.edu.

About CL: Contemporary Literature publishes scholarly essays on contemporary writing in English, interviews with established and emerging authors, and reviews of recent critical books in the field. The journal welcomes articles on multiple genres, including poetry, the novel, drama, creative nonfiction, new media and digital literature, and graphic narrative. CL published the first articles on Thomas Pynchon and Susan Howe and the first interviews with Margaret Drabble and Don DeLillo; it also helped to introduce Kazuo Ishiguro, Eavan Boland, and J. M. Coetzee to American readers. As a forum for discussing issues animating the range of contemporary literary studies, CL features the full diversity of critical practices. The editors seek articles that frame their analysis of texts within larger literary historical, theoretical, or cultural debates.

To learn more, subscribe to the journal, browse the latest table of contents, or sign up for new issue email alerts.

Series Surprises – When the Characters Take Charge

Today we have a piece written by Patricia Skalka, author of the Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. The third book in this series, Death in Cold Water has recently been released in paperback.

In real life, people and relationships continually shift and change.  They do the same in fiction. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises I encounter in writing the Dave Cubiak Door County mysteries comes from seeing how the characters evolve from one book to the next. Death in Cold Water, the third book in the ongoing saga, finds protagonist Dave Cubiak firmly ensconced as the heroic sheriff even as he continues to struggle with the issues of grief and loss that propelled his move to Door County. But he is no longer the same character he was in Death Stalks Door County, the book that kicks off the series. Over time, and the course of three volumes, he transitions from a forlorn, drunk recluse into a man who slowly learns to trust both himself and others and one who learns to love again.

In describing the heroic detective figure, Raymond Chandler once famously said “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero.” Chandler’s description does not fit the flawed and tragic protagonist we first meet.  He is mean (punishing himself for the deaths of his wife and daughter); he is tarnished (having drunk himself out of his job as a Chicago cop); and he is afraid (fearful of life, of making more mistakes); he is not a hero (initially he stubbornly refuses to help solve the mysterious murders plaguing the county). After his moral compass swings back into place, all changes. Cubiak’s plight endures him to readers who empathize with his failings and see themselves reflected in his struggles.

Although I create the stories and control the words that fall upon the page, more often than not I feel like a bystander, one who records events as they occur and documents the shifts in relationships between my fictional characters. I always imagined that Dave Cubiak and the erudite physician Evelyn Bathard would be friends, but I never planned for Bathard to become a father figure to the sheriff. Yet that is exactly what happens. The process begins in the second book and intensifies in Death in Cold Water.

Meanwhile, Mike Rowe makes his entrance in book two as a minor character. His role is expedient. Cubiak needs access to a fast boat, so I introduce a hot-shot young deputy who owns the high-powered Speedy Sister.  I cast Rowe as a minor figure but then the muse takes over and in Death in Cold Water, the deputy plays a pivotal role. Even more interesting, at the same time, almost magically, Cubiak emerges as something of a father figure to the younger man.

Did I mention love? In book two, both international photographer Cate Wagner and local vet Natalie Klein appear as romantic interests. In Death in Cold Water, one of the two wins Cubiak’s heart. But I’m not telling which. The answer is one of the series surprises.

 

Patricia Skalka is the author of Death Stalks Door CountyDeath at Gills Rock, and Death Rides the Ferry, the fourth book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series. She is president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin. A former staff writer at Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States.

A River Runs Through It

 

Today’s guest blogger is Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of the new book Lava Falls, a collection of twelve stories.

A deep canyon divides this continent, our country. I’m not talking about the political divide, but rather an actual geographical feature. The Grand Canyon, however, can also be seen as a massive metaphor.

The National Parks are as American as baseball and apple pie, and Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps the most iconic of them all. It’s no surprise this gash is at the center of so many American conflicts.

The current administration in Washington is enthusiastically embracing lobbyists aiming to roll back the environmental protections on our nation’s 640 million acres of public land, including that surrounding the Grand Canyon. Uranium miners are particularly eager to get their hands on new ground and have already succeeded in grabbing parts of Bears Ears and Escalante National Monuments. Environmentalists and Native Americans, such as the Havasupai who live in the region, are fighting back.

But environmental threats are not the only trauma rocking Grand Canyon National Park. The Colorado River corridor has been at the heart of a sexual harassment disaster ripping through the National Park Service, with a years long history of female guides and rangers being physically attacked, propositioned for sex, and retaliated against after reporting incidents. The isolated environment of the Colorado River corridor, where small groups of travelers are dependent upon one another for literal survival, makes an unfortunately perfect habitat for predation. National Park Service managers knew for years about the sexual harassment in the Grand Canyon and failed to take action. The scandal resulted in the resignation of park superintendent Dave Uberuaga, and also reportedly left the river corridor unpatrolled for at least two summers.

It is in the context of these stories of abuse—of the land itself and of the women who love it—that I wrote my novella, “Lava Falls.” As a way of reclaiming the majestic red walls of the Grand Canyon, and the sparkling emerald river running through it, I sent a group of six women on a rafting trip, each with her own story for why she’s making the journey.

As the trip progresses, the women discover secrets in the canyon and encounter the sources of the contemporary conflicts gushing through it, all while trying to survive the desert and monster rapids, including the famous Lava Falls rapid.

I wrote “Lava Falls” because I’m interested in the layers of earth’s history revealed by the Grand Canyon, the way they mirror the layers of human history. People have been living along and inside the Colorado River and Grand Canyon for thousands of years. There still exists a rickety bridge across a gap in the canyon wall built centuries ago by the Anasazi people. Compare this to the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams bracketing the canyon today, not so rickety, and yet sure to eventually crumble and wash away.

Our country is deeply divided, by our political views and by a gorgeous canyon. I hope that one day soon the national parks, especially the stunning landscape of the Grand Canyon, will return to its role as the crown jewel of America, a source of spiritual renewal and nourishing water, a reminder of our short and precious history on this planet.

 

 

Lucy Jane Bledsoe is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels A Thin Bright Line and The Big Bang Symphony and the adventure essay collection The Ice Cave. She has traveled the length of the Grand Canyon, skied through Yellowstone National Park, kayaked and hiked in Alaska, and voyaged several times to Antarctica. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Blind Entry, Bittersweet Exit

Today’s guest blogger is Lee Zacharias, author of the book Across the Great Lake, a haunting novel of nautical adventure, love, ghosts, and tragedy.

I’ve never written from an outline. My first novel, Lessons, began as a short story about a sixth grader whose mother signs her up for the school band.  But as the story grew so did my sixth grader. The adult Jane Hurdle becomes a classical clarinetist, and to research the novel I audited a year of music theory and attended a summer’s worth of orchestra rehearsals at the Eastern Music Festival, where each day I lunched with the musicians, immersing myself so completely in their world that when I finished I was shocked to realize I can’t play a note.

My new novel, Across the Great Lake, grew out of research for an essay about Frankfort, Michigan, which still bills itself as the home port of the Ann Arbor railroad car ferries, though the ferries stopped running long ago. As a girl I had visited Frankfort once. Coming as I did from the industrial Calumet Region at the bottom of Lake Michigan, I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever been.

Though at twelve I thought my life would be perfect if I could only live there, more than forty years would pass before I visited again, a short detour on my way from my mother’s house in Hammond to Traverse City, where my husband’s cousins were holding a reunion. There was the beach, just as I remembered, the house where we had stayed, the restaurant where my family had eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The only thing missing was deep, evocative call of the foghorn. I bought a copy of Ninety Years, the history of the Ann Arbor railroad car ferries, and was plunged into a world of tricky currents, fierce storms, and ice, so much ice. Soon I was reading everything I could find about the lake, the ferries, the history of the area. I finished my essay but couldn’t let the material go.

The first sentence of the novel, “We went to the ice,” came to me without a clear sense of who was speaking or when. In the first chapter I learned it was a five-year-old girl whose father was thecaptain of a railroad car ferry and that he was taking her with him because her mother was dying, but I didn’t know her name, which I found as I sat on the porch at Wildacres Retreat in North Carolina tossing names back and forth with a friend until we both said, “That’s it!”

I chose this adventurous little girl, Fern, because everything aboard would be new to her. The narrator couldn’t be one of the crew because I didn’t know what his story would be, and I panicked when I realized I had no idea how sailors talked among themselves. “Just have them tell Ole and Lena jokes,” a former student from Wisconsin suggested, and as soon as Axel began a joke I’d found online, his voice—their voices—seemed as natural as if I’d been listening to them my whole life. I settled on 1936 because it was one of the coldest winters on record. No radar. Things came together. I finished the book. But the world I’d lived in for the last three years wasn’t mine, and I felt its loss nearly as acutely as Fern feels the loss of her childhood home. To write a novel is to create a country for yourself that you will one day leave with the homesick backward glance of an exile.

 

Lee Zacharias is the author of four previous books, including The Only Sounds We Make and Lessons, a Book of the Month Club selection. Her work has appeared in the Best American Essays series. Born in Chicago and raised in Hammond, Indiana, she is professor emerita of English at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Read more about Lee Zacharias at www.leezacharias.com.

 

 

The Decline—and Rise?—of LGBTQ+ Bookstores

Michael Lowenthal’s acclaimed novel, The Paternity Test, is now available in paperback. Lowenthal is our guest blogger today, the publication date of the paperback edition.

I came of age as a gay writer when LGBTQ+ bookstores were at their peak, with close to 100 in operation across the United States. Now only six such stores remain.

Publishing a novel with a gay protagonist feels entirely different in 2018 than it did when I published my first book, The Same Embrace, twenty years ago. On one hand, so-called mainstream culture has grown much more welcoming to a diversity of LGBTQ+ artists and stories; on the other hand, a once-thriving infrastructure that specifically supported LGBTQ+ literature has been largely erased.

I came of age as a writer—as a gay writer—in an era when the OutWrite conference for LGBTQ+ writers attracted 1,500 participants annually; when most cities in America supported a weekly LGBTQ+ newspaper that published robust coverage of gay arts; when “the Gay Book Boom” was a hotly discussed topic; and when LGBTQ+ bookstores were at their peak, with close to 100 in operation across the United States. Now only six such stores remain.

For her recent master’s thesis “LGBTQ Bookstores: Past, Present, and Future,” Emerson College student Stephanie Nisbet interviewed me about my experiences. On the occasion of the paperback publication of The Paternity Test, I’d like to share some of our discussion:

Stephanie Nisbet: What was the first LGBTQ+ bookstore you visited, and what do you remember about the experience?

Michael Lowenthal: Glad Day, in Boston, which at that time was located on the second floor of a building just across from the main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. To get to the store you walked up a narrow stairway, and on the way up I had to squeeze past a man who was on his way down, and that moment of contact set the tone for the whole experience: thrilling, terrifying, full of sexual frisson but also a sort of bookish bonding.

At the time, I was a college student in a small town in New Hampshire, probably 19 years old, recently out of the closet, and I had never been to a gay bar or community center or pride parade. The only public gay gatherings I had been to were my college gay-student group meetings. So I was fantastically nervous (had anyone seen me walk into the building? I felt like I was glowing in neon) and at the same time giddy with excitement.

Once I was in the store, I could barely look anyone in the eye; I mostly kept my gaze glued to the books. But when I did look up, I saw that everyone else was glancing around in a way that seemed both furtive and, shall we say, quite friendly. The store was really small, with not much space between shelves, so there was a lot of nudging past people and close breathing. The back of the store had more porny stuff, magazines and videos, and I was too scared to go back there. Two queeny young bookstore employees were joking at the register, talking too loudly, almost as if they were making fun of the hush-hush atmosphere, and I wanted to get to know them. Or to be them. I think I bought an Edmund White book, The Beautiful Room Is Empty.

When I left I was exhausted from the tension. I couldn’t wait to go back!

SN: Is there any one LGBTQ+ bookstore you feel particularly connected to?

ML: Definitely Glad Day, since Boston was the city I visited most often when I lived in rural New England, and since I moved here in 1994 and have lived here ever since. In fact, when I was moving to Boston, the first place I went was to Glad Day, to look at the big bulletin board in the hallway outside the store, which was where gay guys tacked up “seeking roommate” notices. Answering those ads was the only way I even considered finding a living situation. (Remember, this was before Craigslist, before apps.) So that’s how I found my first place in the city.

When I became a writer, Glad Day was the first bookstore where I ever gave a reading. I became friends with John Mitzel, the longtime manager (who later opened his own gay bookstore, Calamus Books), who was a witty, brilliant (if troubled) old-school raconteur. Because I was a book reviewer, I got sent lots of books by publishers, and I would often bring stacks of them into the store to sell. Wanting to support a young writer, John would pay me way more than they were worth, in cash, and then take me next door to his regular bar, where he would drink me under the table (while discussing politics, literature, and sex, not necessarily in that order), even though he had two martinis for every one that I drank. So, Mitzel, and Glad Day, gave me a big chunk of my gay education.

Image Credit: AP

While I felt particularly connected with Glad Day, I will note that I have also been to gay bookstores in New York, DC, Baltimore, Rehoboth Beach, Norfolk, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Toronto, Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid, Taipei . . . and probably many more that I’m forgetting. In many of these stores, I gave readings. But in others I was just a visitor. It used to be that when I was traveling to a new city, the first obvious stop would be the gay bookstore, to meet locals who could tell me all the right places to go and things to do. The bookstore was a community center, travel agency, pickup spot, and so many other things, all rolled into one.

SN: As of 2016, Boston no longer has an LGBTQ+ bookstore. Do you believe there is still a place for another Calamus, for example, in the city?

ML: I do think there’s room for an LGBTQ store in Boston, but the concept would need to be adjusted and updated, I imagine. I think LGBTQ people are hungering for community right now, because there are so few places/occasions for us to gather. Most of the bars have closed, and with some of the key civil rights battles won (for now), there are very few public marches or demonstrations, aside from our once-a-year pride parade, which is now mostly reserved for banks, politicians, and churches. Most people don’t read a weekly LGBTQ newspaper, the way we used to. So there’s an empty spot where we used to share a common ground. Folks feel isolated, or connected only to their own small circle of friends. If there’s an upside to the Trump era, I think it’s that it’s reminded people of the power, solace, and joy of gathering together with likeminded strangers and neighbors in relatively public places. I think people are looking for spaces and ways to harness the kind of spirit that we see at the Women’s Marches and trans-rights marches and anti-Muslim-ban marches and anti-gun-violence marches and Black Lives Matter demonstrations. I think a new LGBTQ bookstore that not only sold books but also offered, say, a coffee shop and an evening events venue for story slams, would attract a lot of people and energy.

Michael Lowenthal is the author of three previous novels: Charity Girl, Avoidance, and The Same Embrace. He is a core faculty member in Lesley University’s MFA program in creative writing and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

 

 

 

 

 

Popular Wisconsin author Jerry Apps envisions a dangerous future in his new novel

A new novel from Jerry Apps is published this week: COLD AS THUNDER.

Since the Eagle Party took power in the United States, all schools and public utilities have been privatized, churches and libraries closed, and independent news media shut down. Drones buzz overhead in constant surveillance of the populace, and the open internet has been replaced by the network of the New Society Corporation. Environmental degradation and unchecked climate change have brought raging wildfires to the Western states and disastrous flooding to Eastern coastal regions.

In the Midwest, a massive storm sends Lake Michigan surging over the Door County peninsula, and thousands of refugees flee inland. In the midst of this apocalypse, the Oldsters, a resourceful band of Wisconsin sixty-somethings, lay secret plans to fight the ruling regime’s propaganda and remind people how to think for themselves.

Q. Cold as Thunder is an intriguing title. How did you come up with it?
A. When I was a kid growing up on a farm in central Wisconsin, when times got tough, prices were down, the rains didn’t come, or a cow had been sick, my dad would say, “These times are cold as thunder.” I’ve never forgotten that, and the picture I paint in this book, especially in the early chapters, would clearly fit my father’s comment that these were times “cold as thunder.”

Q. Dystopian fiction is a new direction for you. What are some of the themes in the book?
A major theme is what consequences could be expected if climate change is ignored, and little or nothing is done to slow it down and plan for it. Another theme: what would a society look like if all agencies, services, and institutions such as education, roads, and healthcare for seniors were privatized, all forms of communication were governmentally controlled, and surveillance of all human activity was widespread? The book is set in a fictional future sixteen years after the Eagle Party gains the presidency of the country and majorities in both houses of Congress.

Q. Who are some of the characters you’ve created in this book?
A. There is a former university professor who was forced from her job. She now heads up a group of seniors called “the Oldsters” who secretly work to educate others. There is a teenager deciding whether to go to Canada to train as an undercover agent. A former CIA agent, now a “fixer” for the National Office of Social Responsibility, shows up to infiltrate the local Oldsters group. And there is Bill the Bartender, who works at the Last Chapter Saloon. It was a library before all libraries were closed.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps is the award-winning author of more than thirty-five books on rural history and country life, including his series of Ames County novels. He is profiled in two documentaries aired nationally on public television and is a professor emeritus of education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

He will speak this evening at a launch event at the Middleton Public Library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Seeds of a Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author website: www.patriciaskalka.com

 

AIDS Readings

December 1 is World AIDS Day. HIV/AIDS has wrought enormous suffering worldwide and caused more than 35 million deaths. The nine books that follow are testimony to that devastation.

Anne-christine d’Adesky
A personal history of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites. Anne-christine d’Adesky remembers “the poxed generation” of AIDS—their lives, their battles, and their determination to find love and make art in the heartbreaking years before lifesaving protease drugs arrived.
“Never far from the mad joy of writing, loving, and being alive, even as it investigates our horribly mundane capacity for horror, this book is a masterpiece.” —Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave
Kenny Fries
Kenny Fries embarks on a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, a society historically hostile to difference. When he is diagnosed as HIV positive, all his assumptions about Japan, the body, and mortality are shaken, and he must find a way to reenter life on new terms.
“Fries writes out of the pure hot emergency of a mortal being trying to keep himself alive. So much is at stake here—health, affection, culture, trauma, language—but its greatest surprise is what thrives in the midst of suffering. A beautiful book.”—Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door
David Caron
The deluge of metaphors triggered in 1981 in France by the first public reports of what would turn out to be the AIDS epidemic spread with far greater speed and efficiency than the virus itself.
“Literary and cultural analysis come together here as Caron casts brilliant light on the disastrously inadequate public response to the AIDS pandemic in France. . . . He shows how literature supplied the communitarian voice that would otherwise have been lacking.”—Ross Chambers, author of Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author
David Gere
“Anyone interested in dance or in gay culture or in art and politics should, as I did, find this a fascinating book, impossible to put down.”—Sally Banes, editor of Reinventing Dance in the 1960s
Edited by Edmund White
In Cooperation with the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS
“A poignant reminder of the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic on the arts.”—Library Journal
“A searing, and often bitingly funny collection of personal essays by almost two dozen writers—John Berendt, Brad Gooch, Allan Gurganus, and Sarah Schulman among them—Loss within Loss remembers over twenty creative artists lost to AIDS.”— The Advocate
Severino J. Albuquerque
Co-winner of the 2004 Roberto Reis BRASA Book Award
 “Albuquerque’s work . . . provides an archaeology of theatrical representations of homosexuality in Brazil, an alternative history of Brazilian theater from the margins, a critical analysis of canonical and non-canonical plays infused with the insights of feminist and queer theory, as well as a history of the representation of AIDS in Brazilian culture.”—Fernando Arenas, University of Minnesota
Michael Schiavi
The biography of gay-rights giant Vito Russo, the man who wrote The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, commonly regarded as the foundational text of gay and lesbian film studies. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and cofounder of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), Russo lived at the center of the most important gay cultural turning points in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
G. Thomas Couser    Foreword by Nancy Mairs
A provocative look at writing by and about people with illness or disability—in particular HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, deafness, and paralysis—who challenge the stigmas attached to their conditions by telling their lives in their own ways and on their own terms.
Lesléa Newman
“Although pain plays a part in this volume, many of the tales celebrate with warmth and good humor the courageous maintenance of the Jewish tradition in radical relationships. . . . Contemporary characters confront both timely issues, like AIDS, and eternal ones, such as a lovers’ quarrel or a mother-daughter misunderstanding.”—Publishers Weekly

Vietnam, Laos, and the American War: A Reading List

 

Understanding and Teaching the Vietnam War 
Edited by John Day Tully, Matthew Masur, and Brad Austin

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

Honorable Mention, Franklin Buchanan Prize for Curricular Materials, Association for Asian Studies and the Committee for Teaching About Asia

“Delivers useful material for anyone teaching the Vietnam war, and for Vietnam veterans and others interest in how the war is being taught in high schools and colleges.”—Vietnam Veterans of America

 

Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life under an Air WarSecond Edition
Edited by Fred Branfman with essays and drawings by Laotian villagers
Foreword by Alfred W. McCoy

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul, and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

During the Vietnam War the United States government waged a massive, secret air war in neighboring Laos. Fred Branfman, an educational advisor living in Laos at the time, interviewed over 1,000 Laotian survivors. Shocked by what he heard and saw, he urged them to record their experiences in essays, poems, and pictures. Voices from the Plain of Jars was the result of that effort.

“A classic. . . . No American should be able to read [this book] without weeping at his country’s arrogance.”
—Anthony Lewis, New York Times

 

Vietnam Anthology: American War Literature
Edited by Nancy Anisfield

This anthology includes some of the most memorable personal narratives, short stories, novel excerpts, drama, and poetry to come out of the Vietnam War. Study questions at the end of each section, plus a time line, glossary, and bibliography make this an indispensable coursebook.

Novel excerpts include: Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers, David Halberstam’s One Very Hot Day, and Jeff Danziger’s Lieutenant Kitt. Short stories include Asa Baber’s “The Ambush,” Tobias Wolff’s “Wingfield,” and Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Drama excerpts include David Rabe’s Streamers and Lanford Wilson’s The 5th of July. Poets include: Denise Levertov, Jan Barry, E. D. Ehrhart, Basil T. Paquet, Stephen Sossaman, Bryan Alec Floyd, Bruce Weigl, and Trang Thi Nga.

Originally published by the Popular Press and distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press.

 

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

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, and Thongchai Winichakul, Series Editors

“The messianism of the Hmong rebellions, the fractiousness of the Hmong clans, and the opportunism of Hmong relations with other forces mystified colonial powers and have puzzled historians. . . . But Lee, herself a member of the Hmong diaspora, makes sense of these behaviors as she deciphers the community’s myths, symbols, lineage ties, sexual politics, and rituals, with the combined skills of a historian and an anthropologist.”—Foreign Affairs

 

Viêt Nam: Borderless Histories
Edited by Nhung Tuyet Tran and Anthony Reid

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul, and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

“Vitally important not only for Vietnamese studies, but also for broader efforts in Southeast Asian studies to recover the pluralities and fluidities of the past. This volume makes a convincing case for the emergence of a real generational and analytical shift in the field.”–Mark Philip Bradley, Northwestern University

 

With Honor: Melvin 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.” The first book ever to focus on Laird’s legacy, this biography reveals his central and often unrecognized role in managing the crisis of national identity sparked by the Vietnam War—and the challenges, ethical and political, that confronted him along the way. Drawing on exclusive interviews with Laird, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, and numerous others, author Dale Van Atta offers a sympathetic portrait of a man striving for open government in an atmosphere fraught with secrecy.

 

The Government of Mistrust: Illegibility and Bureaucratic Power in Socialist Vietnam
Ken MacLean

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul, and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

“An ambitious text, both for its creative use of mixed methodologies and its temporal thematic and range. . . . The richly descriptive text will be of value for graduate students and other scholars who are interested in the dynamic power relations that infuse the innovation and accumulation of state bureaucratic processes, as well as for Vietnam specialists interested in the history of Vietnamese governance, agricultural collectivization and economic policy since independence.”—Pacific Times

 

Hmong in America: Journey from a Secret War
Tim Pfaff

Hmong in America tells the dramatic story of one of America’s newest groups of immigrants, the Hmong, told through the voices of the people who lived this contemporary history. Their journey begins in the scenic, rugged highlands of Laos, travels through the Vietnam War, pauses in the over-crowded refugee camps of Thailand, and ends with the challenges of resettlement and a new life in America.   Distributed for the Chippewa Valley Museum

 

The Mekong Delta: Ecology, Economy, and Revolution, 1860–1960
Pierre Brocheux

By draining the swamps and encouraging a particular pattern of Vietnamese settlement, the French cultivated a volatile society, bound together by lines of credit and poised at the brink of social revolution. From the cutting of the first canals in the 1880s to the eruption of the Viet Cong’s insurgency in the 1950s, this book illuminates the subtle interactions between ecology and social change in a tropical delta.

“A major contribution to Vietnamese studies and to the socio-economic history of Southeast Asia.”—Hy V. Luong, Pacific Affairs

 

 

Into New Territory: American Historians and the Concept of US Imperialism
James G. Morgan

As the Vietnam War created a critical flashpoint, bringing the idea of American imperialism into the US mainstream, radical students of the New Left turned toward Marxist critiques, admiring revolutionaries like Che Guevara. Simultaneously, a small school of revisionist scholars, led by historian William Appleman Williams at the University of Wisconsin, put forward a progressive, nuanced critique of American empire grounded in psychology, economics, and broader historical context. It is this more sophisticated strand of thinking, Morgan argues, which demonstrated that empire can be an effective analytical framework for studying US foreign policy, thus convincing American scholars to engage with the subject seriously for the first time.

 

 

Search and Clear: Critical Responses to Selected Literature and Films of the Vietnam War
Edited by William J. Searle

Demonstrates that the seeds of war were implicit in American culture, distinguishes between literature spawned by Vietnam and that of other conflicts, reviews the literary merits of works both well and little known, and explores the assumptions behind and the persistence of stereotypes associated with the consequences of the Vietnam War. It examines the role of women in fiction, the importance of gender in Vietnam representation, and the mythic patterns in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. Essayists sharply scrutinize American values, conduct, and conscience as they are revealed in the craft of Tim O’Brien, Philip Caputo, Michael Herr, Stephen Wright, David Rabe, Bruce Weigl, and others.

Originally published by the Popular Press, now distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press.