Tag Archives: #LGBT

Why Queer History Matters at this Historical Moment

Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman defend the importance of learning queer history to navigate the present. A newly updated second edition of their book, Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, is published this week by the University of Wisconsin Press in The Harvey Goldberg Series for Understanding and Teaching History.  The first edition won the Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBT Anthology. 

Given travel restrictions on Muslims, a promised wall to the south, and, as one protest sign put it, “better cabinets at IKEA,” why does queer history matter at this contentious political moment?

We are not so naïve as to believe that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but we are convinced that those who don’t learn about the past may not be wary enough about what could be coming. Which is precisely why we think that learning and teaching queer history is so essential now. We set out to revise our book, Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History after just three years in print because of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage, increasing trans visibility, and backlash to both in the form of “Religious Freedom” laws and “Bathroom Bills.” And, now we face even more uncertainty about the fate of same-sex marriage and the movement to win basic right for trans people, given the future of the Supreme Court.

So how can history help? It can give us perspective, it can give us confidence that change is not only possible but inevitable, it can give us courage. Our goal is to provide the resources for teachers at the high school, community college, and university level who want to integrate queer history into social studies or U.S. survey courses. Our goal is to help educate new generations of students to understand that same-sex desire did not always mark one as a different kind of person, that people did not always have to hide their same-sex love and relationships, that changing gender and changing sex are not just recent possibilities, and that our history is not just a steady march from the bad old days to the better recent ones. Perhaps most important at this time, history shows us that alliances across the lines of race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, nationality, ability—across all kinds of lines of difference—have the potential to make a difference. Queer people have been deeply involved in many social and political movements and continue to make history in our time.

If younger generations don’t know about the past, will they feel hopeless? Will they feel complacent? History tells us that neither is a good option. Resistance does matter, it does change the course of history, as we learn from the difference that the homophile, gay liberation, lesbian feminist, anti-AIDS, and queer movements have made. And complacency is dangerous, as we learn from the post-World War II Lavender Scare and the New Right’s anti-gay backlash in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Queer history does matter. The state of California—site of “Calexit,” a progressive movement advocating secession from the United States—recognized that queer history matters by legislating the inclusion of the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the K-12 curriculum. In the face of new challenges, we have even more work to do. We should all take courage, and caution, from the past.

Leila J. Rupp is the author of many books, including A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America and Sapphistries: A Global History of Love Between Women. She is a professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Susan K. Freeman is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at Western Michigan University. She is the author of Sex Goes to School: Girls and Sex Education before the 1960s.

 

New publications, April 2017

We are pleased to announce four new books to be published in April.

April 11, 2017
A HISTORY OF BADGER BASEBALL
The Rise and Fall of America’s Pastime at the University of Wisconsin
Steven D. Schmitt

“A remarkable and outstanding achievement. Here is Badger baseball season by season, the highlights, the heroes, and the drama from more than one hundred years of baseball. ”
—Bud Selig, former Commissioner of Baseball, from the foreword

“A celebration of the history, tradition, and legacy of the now extinct Wisconsin Badgers baseball program that will ensure its spirit lives on for decades to come.”
—William Povletich, author of Milwaukee Braves: Heroes and Heartbreak

April 18, 2017
MONEY, MURDER, AND DOMINICK DUNNE
A Life in Several Acts
Robert Hofler

“Sweeping in scope and intimate in tone, this biography of Dominick Dunne is truly a life and times story, filled to bursting with notorious crimes and glam parties, high-society doyens and spats, Hollywood celebrities minor and major, and, beneath it all, the tragedies and mysteries that made this singular man tick.”
—Patrick McGilligan, author of Young Orson

“The life of Dominick Dunne as recounted by Robert Hofler is as entertaining as it is tragic. Hofler digs in to reveal each telling detail and scandalous anecdote, which no one would appreciate more than Dunne himself. It’s a knowing read about fame, the upper class, sexuality, and the struggle for immortality.”
—Sharon Waxman, author of Rebels on the Backlot

April 18, 2017
FORCE OF NATURE
George Fell, Founder of the Natural Areas Movement
Arthur Melville Pearson

“The inspiring story of the innovative conservation institutions and legislation instigated by George Fell and his wife, Barbara, highlighted by the Nature Conservancy, arguably the largest environmental organization in the world.”
—Stephen Laubach, author of Living a Land Ethic

“George Fell sparred with fellow naturalists and politicians to bring into being organizations that are models for today’s worldwide conservation efforts. Pearson documents this extraordinary life with a wide range of sources, including interviews over two decades with both Fell’s partners and his doubters.”
—James Ballowe, author of A Man of Salt and Tree

April 25, 2017
THE BLACK PENGUIN
Andrew Evans

“The exterior and interior landscapes are meticulously described, moving and often totally unexpected. Compulsive reading.”
—Tim Cahill,author of A Wolverine Is Eating My Leg,

“A traveler of boundless curiosity and compassion, Evans spins a globe-trotting tale of daring and discovery. His expedition proves that our inner and outward journeys can take us everywhere we need to go, from happiness at home to elation at the ends of the Earth.”
—George W. Stone, editor in chief, National Geographic Traveler

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

 

New publications, March 2017

We are pleased to announce five new books to be published in March.

March 7, 2017
PARTIALLY EXCITED STATES
Charles Hood

“Simultaneously dazzling, playful, witty, goofy, hilarious, and profound, Partially Excited States carries us through our past into the present and even into our future somewhere in outer space. This is a mature book that manages to be idiosyncratic in its thinking but universal in its concerns.”
—Susan Mitchell

“These poems give us reality entire, ablaze with fires at once heavenly and infernal. This is a poet whose ecstasy and despair present two sides of the same blade, sharpened on a grim and gorgeous world.”
—Katharine Coles

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

March 7, 2017
YOU, BEAST
Nick Lantz

“Lantz gives us what we could least have anticipated, then makes it seem the most natural thing in the world.”
—John Burnside

“Poem by poem, book by book, Nick Lantz is becoming one of our time’s best poets. He knows the blades and shrieks and pleasures and sweet sick twists in our human hearts, and this bestiary forces us to look, hard and long, in our own mirrors. ‘Polar Bear Attacks Woman … Horrifying Vid (Click to Watch)’ is a poem for this moment in the way Auden and Yeats and Rich and Dickey and Komunyakaa gave us poems for their moments.”
—Albert Goldbarth

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

March 7, 2017
THE APOLLONIA POEMS
Judith Vollmer

Winner of the Four Lakes Prize in Poetry

“This book is a trip, or many trips. Here is the creative mind at work and play—its geological layers uncovered, lifetimes and cultures revisited, offered to us in Judith Vollmer’s characteristic voice: curious, tender, and flinty, with its own grave and ethereal music.”
—Alicia Ostriker

“Judith Vollmer’s dwelling-in-traveling poems follow the ‘salt-sweet restless soul’ into labyrinths of mirrors, walls, shrouds, veils, membranes, through portals sussurant with transatlantic chants, through a palimpsest of echoes caught in the undersong of women suffering over the quickness of life.”
—Mihaela Moscaliuc

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Ronald Wallace, Series Editor

March 14, 2017
THE BLIND MASSEUSE
A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia
Alden Jones

New in Paperback

  • Finalist, Travel Book or Guide Award, North American Travel Journalists Association
    Gold Medal for Travel Essays, Independent Publisher Book Awards
    Gold Medal, Travel Essays, ForeWord’s IndieFab Book of the Year
    Winner, Memoir/Biography, Bisexual Book Award
    Longlist of eight, PEN/Diamonstein Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
    Finalist, Nonfiction, Housatonic Book Award

“It’s smart and thoughtful, but also Jones is cackle-for-days hilarious and the book is a page-turner from second one, when she’s out walking in the dark in her village and bumps into a cow. Please, everyone, read this book!”
Huffington Post

“Wise, witty, and well traveled, Alden Jones has given us a beautifully written book that honors the wandering spirit in all of us. Take this journey with her and return newly alive to the pleasure of moving through the world.”
—Ana Menéndez, author of Adios, Happy Homeland!

March 14, 2017
UNDERSTANDING AND TEACHING U.S. GAY, LESBIAN, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER HISTORY

Edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman

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

“An excellent and sturdy resource that offers high school and college teachers an entry point into LGBT history. . . . Contributors deftly tie LGBT content to the broader goals of teaching history, not simply making visible the lives of everyday queer people but prompting critical engagement.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Groundbreaking and readable. . . . Essential for college and university libraries supporting teacher training degree programs and curricula in American history, LGBT studies, and the social sciences. Essential, undergraduates and above; general readers.”
Choice

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

 

 

Goodnight, Beloved Comrade

Murtaugh-Good-Night-Beloved-Comrade-c

This week, the University of Wisconsin Press publishes Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver, edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh.  

Denton Welch

Denton Welch

Denton Welch (1915–48) died at the age of thirty-three after a brief but brilliant career as a writer and painter. He published four novels published between 1943 and 1950: Maiden Voyage, In Youth Is Pleasure, Brave and Cruel, and A Voice through Cloud, as well as a large body of short fiction and poetry.The revealing, poignant, impressionistic voice that buoys his novels was much praised by critics and literati in England and has since inspired creative artists from William S. Burroughs to John Waters. His achievements were all the more remarkable because he suffered from debilitating spinal and pelvic injuries incurred in a bicycle accident at age eighteen.

Though German bombs were ravaging Britain, Welch wrote in his published work about the idyllic landscapes and local people he observed in Kent. There, in 1943, he met and fell in love with Eric Oliver, a handsome, intelligent, but rather insecure “landboy”—an agricultural worker with the wartime Land Army. Oliver would become a companion, comrade, lover, and caretaker during the last six years of Welch’s life. All fifty-one letters that Welch wrote to Oliver are collected and annotated here for the first time.

Daniel Murtaugh, editor of Goodnight, Beloved Comrade, shares in the following post how he’s experienced a companionship that mirrors that of Welch and Oliver.

I made my first trip to Austin, Texas, during the summer of 1996 to locate and transcribe the correspondence of Denton Welch, partially funded by a small research stipend and a University of Kansas Endowment loan. The Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Te

The Harry Ransom Center

The Harry Ransom Center

xas held Welch’s original holographic letters purchased in the 1960s from Eric Oliver, Welch’s companion. My book originated from the work I did during this visit.

As it happened, Ned, one of my closest friends from Lawrence, Kansas, had moved to Austin a couple of years prior and was working for a rare book and manuscript restoration business. Though I knew I would be spending most of my daytime hours in research, I made plans to get together with my friend during the evenings.

Martha Campbell in front of her bed and breakfast

Martha Campbell in front of her bed and breakfast

Ned picked me up at the Austin airport and took me to the bed and breakfast run by Martha Campbell in the Hyde Park area of Austin. Martha had lost her husband and had converted her home into a lovely and relaxing oasis for visiting scholars at the University of Texas. My digs were a series of light-filled rooms where I immediately felt at home.

Martha is a well-read and feisty Texas woman, much like her idols Governor Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, and we had many lively political and literary discussions during my time in her home.

Some of my most memorable moments at Ms. Campbell’s were those sitting on her porcgeckoh, after dark, reading or mentally rehearsing my findings from the Denton Welch Collection at the Ransom Center. I was quite used to the deafening droning of cicadas as evening fell, but not to geckos. I was amazed and delighted to see several of these tiny lizards clinging adhesively to the porch walls, then darting after any mosquitos or other insects coming into the danger zone. I half expected one of these creatures to leap onto my shoulders in hot pursuit of its nocturnal quarry, but it never happened.

Congress Street bats

Congress Street bats

While I am still within a darting tongue’s distance of the subject of insect control, I might mention that one evening—just at dusk—Ned and I went to the Congress Street bridge in downtown Austin, under which thousands of bats make their homes. As we sat on the bank of the Colorado River, we heard a deafening squeaking and whirring, preceding waves of bats winging and pirouetting their way down the river channel in search of mosquitos. It should come as no surprise that this natural phenomenon has become one of the “must-sees” for visitors to the city.

Barton Springs

Barton Springs

Ned and I spent a lot of time together, bicycling to Barton Springs (for relief from the intense south Texas heat), along the numerous bike paths on the banks of the Colorado, and finally climbing the cliffs above Lake Travis for an exhilarating view of the Texas hill country. On my last Saturday in Austin, we took a hike among some rocky outcroppings near the river. When I stopped for a rest, I  naively sat down cross-legged on the ground; it didn’t take long for me to realize that fire ants (which one is unlikely to encounter north of the Red River) were advancing in platoons up my legs, apparently intending to bivoufire antac somewhere inside my shorts. Before I could mount a counterattack, I learned to my chagrin—and to Ned’s amusement—the reason they were given the name “fire” ants.

Lake Travis

Lake Travis

In all the time we spent together in Austin, I hadn’t realized how like Ned was in appearance and nature to the writer whose letters I was reading and copying at the Ransom Center. Both wore round, wire-rim glasses, both had a mass of curly hair, and both were intensely attuned to the minutiae of the world around them. Many years later, I recognize that Denton Welch’s sometimes frustrating relationship with Eric Oliver—particularly related to their difficulties in the mutual expression of intimacy—in many ways mirrored my continuing friendship and love for Ned, which had begun in Lawrence several years prior to my trip. Among the things that Denton and Eric enjoyed most were their hikes and bicycling trips around the English countryside, the same types of things Ned and I cherished most during my visit to Austin and in my previous experiences with him.

Also, like Denton for Eric, I long ago realized that Ned is one of my soulmates, but also like the writer and his companion, our connection can never be fully and mutually shared; there are barriers. However, no one will ever share in the same way my sense of wonderment in and bewilderment by our world (including geckos, bats, and fire ants) better than Ned.

Daniel J. Murtaugh

Daniel J. Murtaugh

Daniel J. Murtaugh teaches literature and history at Park University and at Johnson County Community College. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Good Night, Beloved Comrade is published in the UWP books series Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiographiesedited by David Bergman, Joan Larkin, and Raphael Kadushin.

New publications, February 2017

Murtaugh-Good-Night-Beloved-Comrade-c

We are pleased to announce two new books to be published in February.

February 7, 2017
GOOD NIGHT, BELOVED COMRADE
The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver
Edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh

Denton Welch (1915–48) died at the age of thirty-three after a brief but brilliant career as a writer and painter. The revealing, poignant, impressionistic voice that buoys his novels was much praised by critics and literati in England and has since inspired creative artists from William S. Burroughs to John Waters. His achievements were all the more remarkable because he suffered from debilitating spinal and pelvic injuries incurred in a bicycle accident at age eighteen.

Though German bombs were ravaging Britain, Welch wrote in his published work about the idyllic landscapes and local people he observed in Kent. There, in 1943, he met and fell in love with Eric Oliver, a handsome, intelligent, but rather insecure “landboy”—an agricultural worker with the wartime Land Army. Oliver would become a companion, comrade, lover, and caretaker during the last six years of Welch’s life. All fifty-one letters that Welch wrote to Oliver are collected and annotated here for the first time. They offer a historical record of life amidst the hardship, deprivation, and fear of World War II and are a timeless testament of one young man’s tender and intimate emotions, his immense courage in adversity, and his continual struggle for love and creative existence.

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

 

February 21
OF BEGGARS AND BUDDHASBowie-Of-Beggars-and-Buddhas-c
The Politics of Humor in the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand
Katherine A. Bowie

An exploration of the subversive politics of humor in the most important story in Theravada Buddhism

The 547 Buddhist jatakas, or verse parables, recount the Buddha’s lives in previous incarnations. In his penultimate and most famous incarnation, he appears as the Prince Vessantara, perfecting the virtue of generosity by giving away all his possessions, his wife, and his children to the beggar Jujaka. Taking an anthropological approach to this two-thousand-year-old morality tale, Katherine A. Bowie highlights significant local variations in its interpretations and public performances across three regions of Thailand over 150 years.

The Vessantara Jataka has served both monastic and royal interests, encouraging parents to give their sons to religious orders and intimating that kings are future Buddhas. But, as Bowie shows, characterizations of the beggar Jujaka in various regions and eras have also brought ribald humor and sly antiroyalist themes to the story. Historically, these subversive performances appealed to popular audiences even as they worried the conservative Bangkok court. The monarchy sporadically sought to suppress the comedic recitations. As Thailand has changed from a feudal to a capitalist society, this famous story about giving away possessions is paradoxically being employed to promote tourism and wealth.

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, Thongchai Winichakul, I. G. Baird, Katherine Bowie, and Anne Ruth Hansen, Series Editors

 

 

 

AIDS Readings

December 1 was World AIDS Day. This year, the world marked the 35th anniversary of the first published reports of what would come to be known as HIV/AIDS. This disease has wrought enormous suffering and caused more than 35 million deaths. The nine books that follow are testimony to that devastation.

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.
 Clifford Chase
An AIDS memoir on the power and limitations of family love.
“As Chase examines his life in language that is simple yet powerful, he is never less than brutally honest—especially with himself.”—Newsweek
Jennifer Anne Moses
Moses left behind a comfortable life in the upper echelons of East Coast Jewish society to move with her husband and children to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Searching for connection to her surroundings, she decided to volunteer at an AIDS hospice. But as she encountered a culture populated by French Catholics and Evangelical Christians, African Americans and Cajuns, altruistic nurses and nuns, ex-cons, street-walkers, impoverished AIDS patients, and healers of all stripes, she found she had embarked on an unexpected journey of profound self-discovery.
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

Readings on Syria and Cuba

2633Cleopatra’s Wedding Present: Travels through Syria
Robert Tewdwr Moss
Introduction by Lucretia Stewart

Robert Tewdwr Moss was a journalist of astonishing versatility who was murdered in London in 1996, the day after he finished this book. He left this lyrical gem as his legacy. Moss’s memoir of his travels through Syria resonates on many levels: as a profoundly telling vivisection of Middle Eastern society, a chilling history of ethnic crimes, a picaresque adventure story, a purely entertaining travelogue, a poignant romance—and now, a record of Syria in the late twentieth century, before the devastation of civil war.

 

5216-165wWinner, Luciano Tomassini International Relations Book Award, Latin American Studies Association
Cubans in Angola: South-South Cooperation and Transfer of Knowledge, 1976–1991
Christine Hatzky

“Hatzky convincingly argues that Cuba and Angola were not mere pawns in a proxy war between the Cold War superpowers, but that both countries worked as independent actors with their own specific interests in a relationship of equal partnership. . . . Well written and excellently translated.”American Historical Review

Angola, a former Portuguese colony in southern central Africa, gained independence in 1975 and almost immediately plunged into more than two decades of conflict and crisis. Fidel Castro sent Cuban military troops to Angola in support of the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA), leading to its ascension to power despite facing threats both international and domestic. What is less known, and what Cubans in Angola brings to light, is the significant role Cubans played in the transformation of civil society in Angola during these years. Offering not just military support but also political, medical, administrative, and technical expertise as well as educational assistance, the Cuban presence in Angola is a unique example of transatlantic cooperation between two formerly colonized nations in the global South.

 

3495Transgression and Conformity: Cuban Writers and Artists after the Revolution
Linda S. Howe

“A brilliant synthesis of Cuba’s cultural production since the Revolution. Linda Howe offers the ultimate guide to understanding the cultural policies of the island. . . . Fascinating and comprehensive.”
—Cristina García, editor of Cubanísimo

Defining the political and aesthetic tensions that have shaped Cuban culture for over forty years, Linda Howe explores the historical and political constraints imposed upon Cuban artists and intellectuals during and after the Revolution. Focusing on the work of Afro-Cuban writers Nancy Morejón and Miguel Barnet, Howe exposes the complex relationship between Afro-Cuban intellectuals and government authorities as well as the racial issues present in Cuban culture.

 

 

Why write a novel instead of a memoir?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucybelle Bledsoe

Lucybelle Bledsoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New books for October 2016

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

Publication date: October 11
DEATH IN COLD WATER
Patricia Skalka

The third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Christopher Bram   September 20, 2016  Lambda Literary Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Smith

Bob Smith

“Nature Boys.”

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

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

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

Do you want to name a few unfunny comics?

(He smiles and shakes his head.)

Who are your heroes?

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

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

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

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

(Bob nods eagerly.)

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

No. Good writing is always difficult.

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

Yes. I think my writing became better.

I think so too.

Eddie: I agree.

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

(Bob sadly shakes his head.)

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

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

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

Go to the Lambda site to read the full interview.