Tag Archives: travel

Tanizaki’s Yaichi: A Japanese disabled character as hero, outcast, and metaphor

Today, the University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to publish Kenny Fries’s account of a journey of profound self-discovery as a disabled foreigner in Japan, IN THE PROVINCE OF THE GODS. Here he comments on some of the “outtakes” from early drafts of the book.

Fifteen years ago, I first traveled to Japan to look at its historical and cultural relationship to otherness, to difference. More specifically, I wanted to learn about how the Japanese viewed and represented disability. During my first stay in Japan, much of this eluded me for reasons I write about in In the Province of Gods,

Three years later on my second trip, I found what I was looking for. But, as my book’s focus shifted, this research became more background than foreground. Though some of what I found in Japan about representation of disability remains in the book, much of it is now only in what I call the “outtakes.”

I did include in my book observations about the disability representation in Japanese writer Tanizaki Junichiro’s novel Portrait of Shunkin.  Most notably, I write about the way that Tanizaki’s story of Shunkin, a blind samisen singer, illuminates my meeting two of the surviving Hiroshima Maidens, the twenty-five hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) who traveled from Japan to the United States for medical treatment in 1955.

But another of Tanizaki’s blind characters is not represented in my own book. In A Blind Man’s Tale, Tanizaki tells the familiar story of the siege of Osaka Castle and historical figures Nobunaga and his successor Hideyoshi. He recounts this history through the voice of Yaichi, who like Shunkin is a blind samisen singer. Yaichi is also a masseur. (Samisen singer and masseur are traditional occupations for the blind in Japan.) Yaichi is in the service of Lady Oichi, sister of Nobunaga. She is married to Lord Nagamasa, an ally of Nobunaga until they have a falling out.

Many familiar tropes of blindness attend the tale of Yaichi, especially that of a blind man’s unrequited love. Because of his blindness, he goes unnoticed by the men but is taken into the confidence of a beautiful woman above his station. There is also the unfortunate metaphor of “blind devotion.” But what is singular about this tale comes at the story’s climactic moment.

During a siege of the castle, Yaichi entertains Lady Oichi along with a visitor, the warrior priest Choroken. As a master samisen player himself, Yaichi notices that Choroken’s playing includes embellishments of a tune with “queer phrases, twice-repeated.”   Yaichi informs us,

Now, there is a secret code that all of us blind samisen players know very well. Since each string of the samisen has sixteen stops, the three strings together have forty-eight: when you teach a beginner how to play the instrument you help him memorize these stops by marking them with the forty-eight characters of the alphabet.  Everyone who studies the samisen learns this system; but we blind musicians, since we can’t see the characters, have to learn it by heart, we associate each note with its proper letter quite automatically, as soon as we hear it.  So when blind musicians want to communicate secretly they can do it by playing on the samisen, using this system as a code.

Tanizaki Junichiro

Yaichi realizes Choroken’s “queer phrases” are communicating that the servant needs to save his mistress, and he perceives the plan Choroken is secretly transmitting. Yaichi’s blindness is a crucial asset in this covert exchange.

Tellingly, in the popular Kabuki theater version of the story, this original element is left out, leaving the story to emphasize the comparison between the “blind” love of Yaichi with that of those who court the widowed Lady Oichi and her beautiful daughter “whose voice sounded just the same” as her mother.  Lady Oichi affections are won over by Hideyoshi, even though he killed her family.  In the end of the Kabuki version, Yaichi is left on stage, remembering his Lady, who appears in the distance playing her koto.  She disappears, leaving Yaichi decidedly alone and crying.

In Tanizaki’s story we are shown how disability can, in certain contexts, be advantageous, as well as how the nondisabled use disability for their own purposes. But, as in much of Japanese culture, the story simultaneously conveys opposing ideas.  In A Blind Man’s Tale, we are given the blind man as hero, outcast, and metaphor.

Kenny Fries is the author of Body, Remember: A Memoir and The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin’s Theory,  and editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out. He teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College and is the recipient of a prestigious Creative Capital grant. He lives in Berlin.

Author’s website: https://www.kennyfries.com/

Finding Frenzy among the Pinery Boys

 Today the University of Wisconsin Press releases Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era, published in the series Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest. This is a new book that incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Franz Rickaby’s landmark 1926 collection of lumberjack songs. Included in Pinery Boys is a biography of Rickaby by his granddaughter, Gretchen Dykstra. In this guest post, she comments on her quest to find the grandfather she never knew, tracing his steps through the Upper Midwest.  

Although I’m a New Yorker now, I’ve always liked the Midwest. When I was seven I spent the summer swinging from barn beams into haystacks at my grandmother’s dairy farm in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. My father was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He, my mother, one sister, and I all graduated from UW–Madison, and my step-grandfather, Clarence Dykstra, was its chancellor. But it took me sixty years to write about the Midwest—and then it was thanks to Bill Zinsser, my late, great writing teacher.

When Bill went blind, he stopped writing and teaching formally, but he met individually with some writers in his rambling Manhattan apartment. I was one of the lucky ones. I went about once a month. If I came at noon I’d bring him a sandwich; if I came at 2:00 I’d bring him cookies. That was the deal. He’d sit at the dining room table, sunglasses and baseball cap on, and listen intently as I read my latest pages. Occasionally, he’d stop me and, in his inimitable, funny, but always supportive way, would offer an editorial suggestion.

“Gretchen, if you are a bus driver going from New York to Miami, you can’t head to Chicago without telling your riders why.” Then I’d know I had an organizational problem.

It was Bill who urged me to go looking for the grandfather I never knew—Franz Rickaby, who had died when he was only thirty-five. My grandmother had called him Frenzy. As a young English professor at the University of North Dakota, Franz wandered the Upper Midwest from 1919-1923. With a fiddle on his back, he sought the songs of the shanty boys from the camps of the quickly disappearing white pine forests.

His resulting songbook was published by Harvard University Press several months after he died in 1926. The book became a minor classic in the world of American folklore and folksong. Edited by George Lyman Kittredge, praised by Carl Sandburg, and celebrated by Alan Lomax, Rickaby’s book was unique for the lyrics, the tunes, and the vivid portrait he painted of the lumberjacks and their lives.

I took Bill’s advice and hit the road. I traced Rickaby’s footsteps—as many as I could—and, in doing so, I met my grandfather. And I came to know a slice of American history from the lumber industry to the forest fires, from cutover land to the last remaining majestic white pines. I dove into the files of archives and historical societies from Galesburg, Illinois, to Ladysmith, Wisconsin, to Virginia, Minnesota, and points in between. When I called eminent folklorist Jim Leary, who knew Rickaby’s work well, a new edition of my grandfather’s work took shape. Pinery Boys was born.

It has four parts: Rickaby’s original text with all the lyrics, music, and his lively notes; an introduction by Leary, placing Rickaby in historical context; additional never-before-published songs that Rickaby collected, with notes by Leary; and the story of my own quest and discovery of who Rickaby was, what he might have seen, and what motivated him.

One man, one life, a glorious time, a changing landscape, and three voices.

 

Franz Rickaby (1889–1925) was born in Arkansas, educated at Knox College and Harvard University, and taught at the University of North Dakota.

Gretchen Dykstra is a writer living in New York City. She was the founding president of the National 9/11 Memorial Foundation, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, and president of the Times Square Alliance.

 

 

The Other Side of the Scarf

Alden Jones, author of The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia, comments on honesty in encounters with other cultures and viewpoints. The recipient of multiple honors for travel writing, essays, and memoir, her book is new in paperback and published today.

One of the central questions of my memoir is whether it is possible to divorce ourselves from our own cultural norms when we encounter something shocking, exotic, or simply foreign. Recently, a professor of French history approached me with concerns that his university students were resistant to, almost angry about, the idea of Muslim women wearing hijab. A strong feminist sentiment among his students rejected the head scarf as a symbol of misogyny; my professor friend was concerned that this led to feelings of hostility about Islam. How, he wondered, could he get non-Muslim young men and women in New England to consider the hijab from the point of view of the person wearing it—to put aside the cultural norms they take for granted?

It seems easy now, as a seasoned teacher, to turn to theory and philosophy to combat this kind of resistance among young people, or any people. But the truth is, we human beings react to difference, and we react to the foreign, because of the visceral feelings they inspire. We have good feelings about those ideas that make us feel powerful or validated. We reject those symbols that make us feel threatened. This is the human condition. We are a fragile, emotional species.

 When I first started writing The Blind Masseuse, I wanted to believe that I had it all figured out, that I was a humanist, a “traveler,” rather than an ethnocentric tourist. But writing this book taught me that if I were being honest, the opposite was often true: I had a lot left to learn when it came to how to cross cultures the “right” way, and sometimes it was impossible to avoid assuming the role of the tourist. It didn’t take long to realize that if I wanted to write a book that encouraged a humanistic approach to travel, I would have to be honest about my own struggles when confronted with difference. I wrote The Blind Masseuse to explore my own gut reactions over the years—and to see how experience, reason, intellect, and even humor might combat those gut reactions. If we are not honest about our emotional truths as individuals, we will never eradicate xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and nationalism.

In our suddenly ultra-hostile political environment, and a U.S. government that through policy has embraced an “Us vs. Them” dynamic, seeing the world through the humanist perspective is more important than ever. In the end, my professor friend’s students may reject the idea of the head scarf as anti-feminist. First, they need to provide some rational basis upon which to land at this conclusion. Beyond the scarf is an intricate set of social and religious rules that require thought and context. The important thing is that they have considered—truly imagined themselves on—the other side of the scarf.

Alden Jones

 Alden Jones has lived, worked, and traveled in more than forty countries, including as a WorldTeach volunteer in Costa Rica, a program director in Cuba, and a professor on Semester at Sea. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Time Out New York, Post Road, The Barcelona Review, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, and The Best American Travel Writing. She teaches writing at Emerson College in Boston.

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

 

Mother City, muse of poets

Judith Vollmer, author of The Apollonia Poems, reflects on writing poems while concentrating on place—city in particular—as a lens to perceive and listen to spaces and the people inside them. Vollmer’s new book is published this week in the University of Wisconsin Press Poetry Series and is the winner of the 2016 Four Lakes Prize.

To what erotics of knowledge does the ecstasy of reading such a cosmos belong?

                                                                —Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

The plate glass window facing the street shimmered opalescent blue earlier this morning. Now the glass shifts and resumes the scratched-pearl gray our Pittsburgh sky customarily displays, steady, our mid-Atlantic temperate-zone nerve system holding its own in all seasons. I come here to read, mostly, and write in my notebooks at a quiet table with a hot Americano en route to its second refill. The café is standard issue: black and white tile, no-frills countertop and tables, bright bulbs in every wall lamp: sit, here, uninterrupted with a good book.

Glass with laser pattern

Tiny cousin to Rome, whose centro storico is nearly identical in size and population to ours, my city accumulates and shows off layers equally breathtaking and ruined; writing over and etching onto stories and designs with every emerging generation. Apollonia, literal and apocryphal ancestor and muse, is both woman and city, saint and destroyer, arrived from the ancient worlds of the Mediterranean and of Eastern Europe; she is a singer of women’s songs and lost stories, and lives on in my Pittsburgh. She is my harsh teacher and eternal mother—if my city is, in fact, female, and I sense she is. Through this lens and container of culture, I can see outward and listen in on voices familial, neighbored, or new and accented with a language I don’t know. When I walk to and back home from this table, I too am incised with the complexities of our small radius: both Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs praised Pittsburgh’s ideal scale as that of a “human city.” I see, daily, our harshly cut and carved class/race zones, smack up against freshly made green pockets; hipster-chef entrepreneur-immigrants happy with our rents and plentiful local farms; the homesteads of Rachel Carson and of August Wilson; and the in-plain-sight beauty of three rivers and the crooked street-mazes rimming them.

Ancient Apollonia

Daily I’m aware of this place whose indigenous peoples hunted, fished, and settled here more than 5,000 years ago; time’s arc stretched far to the blood-labor workers who built the steel empire in the nineteenth century and whose children were bankrupted when steel left. I sit and listen for another way into the next poem and wander Apollonia’s visions of Palmyra, Sozopol, Chaco, and Rzeszow, of countless other containers not so different from this one.

 

Judith Vollmer is the author of the award-winning poetry collections Level Green, The Door Open to the Fire, Black Butterfly, Reactor, and The Water Books. She teaches in the MFA Program in Poetry & Poetry in Translation at Drew University and has been an artist in residence at Yaddo and a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome.

The Mostly Nearly Entirely Excited States of American English

Charles Hood, author of Partially Excited States, explains the double meaning behind his title and explores a variety of curious phrases in the English language. His book is published today by the University of Wisconsin Press in the Wisconsin Poetry Series, and is the winner of the 2016 Felix Pollak Poetry Prize. 

Somebody at Yale once asked John Ashbery about his relationship to the English language. One wishes to be polite, but come on now—really? All of your work to all of language? It would be impossible for any of us to answer that, but most especially somebody whose artistic register spans every octave from Abstract Expressionism to parking tickets.

Ashbery said oh no, there must be some confusion. He didn’t work in the English language but in American English, and that included the English language within it. (And saying that, he slipped off to freshen his drink.)

It seems to me American English is like an enormous tiger shark, a monster fish whose gullet contains toasters, clocks, two-by-fours, other sharks, pieces of surfboard, half of a suit of armor. One thing about American English: nobody can accuse us of being all hat and no ranch. Macabre pictures gave Huck Finn the fantods; Mr. Twain also preserved for us galoot, palaver, and forty-rod (rotgut whisky). New words arrive daily: clickbait provides a pleasing spondee in the mouth, but I like older, folksier terms, like whisky jack for gray jay.

Sec. Jardine and Mr. & Mrs. Tom Mix, May 21, 1925. National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)

“Hey guys, wait up,” can be a girl pleading with girls as easily as it is gents razzing gents. Dude is equally inclusive: it used to mean a poor surfer, a term extrapolated from dude ranch, whose label came from the Scots for posh clothing, duds. Whatever happened to pen pals? Gumshoes used to get a hinky feeling about a john’s alibi. I’ll sit through hours of late-night noir just to watch people smoke and to listen to them call each other pal, buddy, and doll. Just once I want to start a poem by warning, “Watch it, buster.”

Do you call it a crayfish or a crawdad? Same creek-bottom bug-lobster, but names change by region. The poet Jonathan Williams loved documenting the language of Appalachia. Right before I retire (once it’s too late to get fired), I’ll quote him often, saying of one colleague in particular, “There’s more mouth on that woman than ass on a goose.”

Know Your USA

In my new book, I play with this heritage. The cover photo was taken on a cross-country road trip and the title Partially Excited States I borrowed from material science. Articles in that discipline worry about the “applicability of Kohn–Sham density functional theory.” A sham theory? I’m loving it. But states can mean states of being (when you’re nearly interested, yet not quite) and of course I also mean the fifty U.S. states, all of which I’ve visited at least once. Somebody in a hurry is a highballer; in logging, a high climber is the person who tops a spar tree and hangs the butt rigging. American logging also gives us skidders and peaveys (tools), calks (boots), and slash as a noun—not the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, but piles of leftover branches.

Two people divided by a common language: my California English differs from that of my wife’s family in rural Pennsylvania—“davenport royalty” as I call them in the book—the people who warned me that “to prepare peaches for canning, / first you must scold them.” In hunting, a Texas heart shot means to shoot an animal from behind, through the anus, thus keeping the pelt intact for taxidermy. (Irish karate? To kick a lad after he’s already down.) Some day I want to publish my still-in-progress poem that celebrates aviation slang: to bingo—to abort, be diverted. At the bar, “Let’s bingo.” Judy: target in sight, locked on, got it.

My students mistakenly believe that present times are especially slangy, as if our great-grandparents didn’t get rat-assed, blotto, plowed, or cabbaged. They also expect me to be snobby about “bad” English. No way, brave dudes and dudettes. Best reason to want to live to be 100? Just to find out what our hep cat language plans to do next.

Charles Hood is a writer of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, a photographer, and an artist. His many books include Mouth; South x South; Río de Dios: 13 Histories of the Los Angeles River; The Half-Life of Salt: Voices of the Enola Gay; and Red Sky, Red Water: Powell on the Colorado. A longtime animal spotter, he has seen more than six hundred mammal species and more than five thousand species of wild birds. In his global travels, he has trekked to the South Pole, been lost in a Tibetan whiteout, and recovered from bubonic plague.

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.

Pilgrims’ Pronouns: Reflections on “We”


5533-165wIn November, we published Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse, edited by Brian Bouldrey. Here Bouldrey 
reflects on the varied uses of the collective “We,” tying them to the impulse for pilgrimage.

we handA couple of times a year, I get together with several friends who all once lived in the same neighborhood in San Francisco. We were sitting around at a recent reunion, and one friend mentioned that our old neighborhood (still hers), full of expensive wooden Victorian homes, has a firetruck that patrols at all times, always out of the barn. “We sure do love our firefighters, don’t we?” she asked us. I told her that since I hadn’t lived in San Francisco for fifteen years, I must forfeit the right to use The Municipal We.

I’ve been thinking about the pronoun “we” a lot lately. Where do you usually see it?  Often in declarations, and in manifestos, the difference being that declarations declare, calling out something that is already there, plain as the nose on your face—our Declaration of Independence stands on the sentence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” There’s that “we” again, the Patriot We, the Nationalist We, the Pep Rally We. We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?

WE the PeopleThe manifesto differs, for a manifesto makes something manifest that never existed before: the statements of all those artists, the futurists and surrealists, the modernists who wanted to “make it new,” and all the crazy ones, from the Unabomber’s caution about industrial society to Charlie Sheen’s 11-point manifesto for winning. Manifestos are more I than We, and a noisy, hilarious We at times, like a misfiring car alarm on a Saturday morning, waking up the neighborhood even if the neighborhood is not ready to be awakened.

I have bad memories of being knocked down by grade-school bullies who linked arms and ran me down while chanting “we don’t stop for traffic.” And I’m a bit terrified of the “We don’t like your kind coming around here,” which has become a troublingly common We of late. I will chant the Creed We of “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty.”

we_areI am surprised at how choked up I can get when I declare an Alma Mater We, as in We will sing thy praise forever. Northwestern University, my alma mater, has two fight songs, “Go U Northwestern,” which we sing when we get a touchdown, and one called “Push On,” which is what we sing when we don’t get a first down. “Push on, Northwestern, we’ll always stand by you,” we promise, like a legion of battered spouses whose partners have substance abuse problems.

We-MeThere is the Royal We of queens and popes and threatening law firms.  The Nuptial We of married couples is, as Joan Didion described it, the classic betrayal. When my mother tells my father, “We need to redecorate the guest room,” she doesn’t mean we, she means you, and when my father asks my mother, “Are we out of beer?,” he doesn’t mean we, he means I. Sometimes, there was never a We involved in the first place.

And there is the Memorial We.  The Memorial We is a We that connects the present and the absent. I feel the Memorial We most strongly around Arlington or the Vietnam Memorial or the AIDS quilt, where most of the We are far away, but the multitude of names surrounds us, where pronouns become proper nouns, thousands of names. I felt the Memorial We when I placed my hand into the worn stone of the central pillar of the Portico de la Gloria in Santiago’s cathedral, thinking of the millions of hands that have also been there over hundreds of years. The Memorial We seems the closest kin to the paradoxical “Pilgrim We.”

We-Button-911x1024My name appears as editor on a book recently published by the University of Wisconsin Press, with twenty contributors far more vital than I, each writing about what I would call secular pilgrimage. Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse includes attempts by travel writers to make a sort of “we” between the “I” of themselves and the he or she of some secular saint, some great original generosity of spirit. They tell of their trips to all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “little house” homesteads, Robert Scott’s Antarctic huts, the villages of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, and the grave of William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet.

It’s not coincidental, I think, that most of the secular and sacred saints we venerate now went charging against the grain of the Municipal We. They are the mad ones who make the manifestos. The Little Rock 9 were threatened for daring to integrate Arkansas schools, but now the high school that hated them is a museum in their honor and a place to which civil rights advocates make pilgrimages every year.

I have, as a Catholic, thought quite a bit about the saints of my religion. I imagine that in those early days of the Church there must have been in every village an especially marvelous person, a person who helped the We of us, maybe led the community, maybe would fix your ox-cart and wouldn’t accept payment, gave extra tomatoes from her garden, told a good story. Then that person would die and leave a huge, gaping hole in the fabric of the village, and the people would miss her so keenly that they just knew that person was close to God.we-566326_640

Perhaps we don’t want more.  Perhaps we just want to give thanks.  That is the essence of the Pilgrim We, I suppose.

I dream of a place where the “I” and the “we” are at peace with one another, where the spiritual and the religious, the left and the right, the We and the They, can all hang together in a great inclusive old-school democracy. This might have been the dream of a secular nation that our founding fathers tried to create.

Bouldrey-Brian-2016-cBrian Bouldrey has written eight books, including Honorable Bandit: A Walk across Corsica, and edited six anthologies, including Inspired Journeys and Traveling Souls. He teaches creative writing at Northwestern University and gave the 2016 keynote address to the American pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

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.