Tag Archives: women

In 1904, a young Danish woman met a Sami wolf hunter on a train

Today we are pleased to announce the publication of Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer by Barbara Sjoholm. It recounts the fascinating life of Demant Hatt, a young Danish artist and ethnographer who went to live among the Sami people of Lapland starting in 1907. Sjoholm also investigates the boundaries and influences between ethnographers and sources, the nature of authorship and visual representation, and the state of anthropology, racial biology, and politics in Scandinavia during the first half of the twentieth century.

It was more than idle curiosity to begin with, but not much more.

Up in the far north of Norway, on a lamp-lit day in December 2001, the Norwegian writer Laila Stien told me the story of Emilie Demant Hatt and Johan Turi. Or, at least, the little that was known then of their story: In the early twentieth century, a Danish woman artist had visited Lapland and encountered a Sami wolf-hunter, by chance, on a train. Later she inspired and helped this man write a book—Muitalus sámiid birra (An Account of the Sami)––now considered the first classic work of Sami literature.

Johan Turi

I immediately had questions, but for a long time, few answers. Who was this woman, Emilie Demant Hatt? How did she end up in Lapland, or Sápmi, as the region is now called? What kind of artist was she? And what was her relationship with Johan Turi?

I read her engaging travel narrative in Danish from 1913, and Turi’s equally marvelous book in its 1931 English translation, Turi’s Book of Lapland. And I included what I knew about the pair in my own travel narrative, The Palace of the Snow Queen: Winter Travels in Lapland. Each time I went to Scandinavia I made time to do more investigation.

I visited the museum in Skive, Denmark, that owned some of Demant Hatt’s artworks, and the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which held a collection of fifty of her Expressionist canvases of Sápmi, all painted when she was in her sixties and seventies. The Nordic Museum archives possessed many of her papers, including intimate letters from Turi, and her field journals from the ethnographic trips she made to Scandinavia in 1907-1916. In Copenhagen, I visited the Ethnographic Collection at the National Museum and pored through eight boxes of letters, sketchbooks, and photo albums. But not until 2008, after the Danish State Archives had put records of their holdings online, did I realize how much more there was: several dozen boxes of material by and about Demant Hatt were available. I’d suspected the woman was something of a packrat, and now I knew that for certain.

By the time I realized the extent of Demant Hatt’s archives, it was too late for me to feel properly frightened or inadequate. I was enthralled. Each challenge—deciphering her handwriting in letters and journals, learning all I could about Sami history, and culture, meeting scholars in many fields, walking the same streets Demant Hatt had walked––led me further. I translated her book With the Lapps in the High Mountains and wrote an introduction. Then, because I was deeply fascinated with another of her relationships, an adolescent romance with the composer Carl Nielsen, I wrote a novel, Fossil Island, and a sequel, The Former World. Eventually I felt I knew enough to begin a full-length biography, a project that would lead me deeper into the same questions I began with years ago but which grew increasingly complex.

Who was this woman, Emilie Demant Hatt? How did she end up in Sápmi? Who was Johan Turi, as a writer and artist? How did Demant Hatt represent him and promote him as an indigenous author? Was their work together ethnographic collaboration or something else? How was Demant Hatt affected by the racial biology movement, much of it directed against the Sami, in Scandinavia? How did her year in the United States with her husband Gudmund Hatt, in 1914-15, and their contacts with Franz Boas and other Americanists shape her ethnographic thinking? Why is her pioneering fieldwork among Sami women and children, and her folktale-collecting, so little acknowledged? What was the impact of Sápmi on her visual art and how were her Expressionist paintings and graphic work received in Scandinavia?

Every life has its mysteries, and one of the roles of the biographer is to dig them out through the careful reading of letters and the charting of personal connections with other historical figures. But even more important in writing a person’s life, especially a life that is both significant and neglected, is a biographical approach that looks at the context of the subject. Demant Hatt, born in 1873 in a rural village in Denmark, traveled widely in her lifetime, not only to Northern Scandinavia but to Greenland and the Caribbean. She was a self-identified New Woman, one of a generation of women artists allowed to study at the Royal Academy of Art. She took advantage of changing times to travel alone far off the beaten path and to marry a much younger man. She lived through two World Wars, including the occupation of Denmark by Germany. Her historical time period, particularly as it relates to changes in Sápmi, is a crucial aspect of her life. She came to know Sami nomadic herders during a time of transition, and she bears important witness to the injustices the Sami suffered from their neighbors and respective states and to their efforts to claim agency over their lives.

Demant Hatt didn’t live outside her era and some of her attitudes may strike us now as patronizing. She was both insider and outsider in Sápmi. Her friendship with Johan Turi was both loving and conflicted. Yet it’s also possible to understand how unwaveringly admiring and actively supportive she was of the Sami. In lively, insightful narratives, in fieldwork notes, in folktale collection, and in her paintings, she’s left an important record of a nomadic people and a northern world that continues to educate and enchant.

Barbara Sjoholm

Barbara Sjoholm is the editor and translator of Demant Hatt’s narrative With the Lapps in the High Mountains. Her many books include novels about Demant Hatt’s youthful romance with Danish composer Carl Nielsen: Fossil Island and The Former World.

 

Q&A with a Self-Made Woman

Today, the University of Wisconsin Press publishes SELF-MADE WOMAN, the story of one individual’s intense struggle to accept her true self. In this post, Denise DuBois (who grew up as Dennis Dubis in 1960s Milwaukee) answers some questions about her book and gender today.

1. Was there one defining moment that inspired you to write Self-Made Woman?

It was one defining place that inspired me to write my story. The island of Kauai. I had rented a little private studio on the north shore, just off this epic beach in a place called Haena, which means “wilderness” in Hawaiian. There’s something magical about Kauai. I really suspect that there’s more oxygen in the air out there in the middle of the Pacific, no kidding, and more oxygen for the brain means increased alertness and creativity. I wrote the entire 650- page manuscript, every word, on Kauai from 2010 to 2014. I felt like Mozart composing a symphony at my keyboard, which I likened to a piano. I went into the”zone” every afternoon. That was so wonderful!

2. What was an experience you absolutely knew had to be in this book?

It’s just as hard for me to answer this question as it was for me to write about it in the book. Being honest with myself. Not being afraid to put it all out there on the page for the reader. There were things that happened to me in life that just had to be told, much of it self-inflicted. It was painful for me to recount those experiences and put that into writing. Many times during the writing of my book, I broke down in front of my screen, just devastated to be living this all over again. It was like I was there all over again. Very hard to write, but I always rallied. Kauai had a way of refreshing me.

3. How did you approach writing your memoir? Were there parts that were harder to write than others?

My approach was straightforward. It was all in my head, all 650 pages. Each day I worked off a yellow legal pad that I had next to my desktop. It was full of handwritten notes from the previous day of writing and ideas that popped into my head when I went running and  swimming every morning. I got up at 4:30 am everyday.  I wrote from noon to 6 pm, in bed by 9 pm, without fail. There were excruciatingly painful moments of writing, and other parts that were a refreshing relief to write, but in either case I knew early on in the writing process that I was onto something really good, even with the difficult stories. My story had to be told.

My approach was straight forward. It was all in my head. All 650 pages. Click To Tweet

4. Do you think the struggles you overcame were necessary to make you who you are today?

We all have struggles to overcome in life. Mine were no different than anyone else’s. But, I did come close to death many times and was at the door. Being that close to death does, in my humble opinion, have something to do with who I am today. I am a survivor, and I am thankful that I still have my mind intact and wonderful physical health so that I’ve been able to convey my life story. In that sense, it made me who I am today.

5. What kept you going through it all? Was there a specific dream or thought that you held on to?

In the deepest, darkest moments of my life, most specifically when my crystal meth addictions bubbled up like a witch’s brew from hell, when all seemed lost and hopeless, when my moments of complete and utter loneliness surrounded me, I just always thought,  I can pull out of this somehow and not lose faith in myself. Many times I felt so lost that it seemed I could never survive, but I did. For those who find themselves in that horrible place, just know that you can survive, too.

6. “The American Dream” has undoubtedly changed over the years. Would you say your story is your personal American Dream? Does everyone have a different conception of the American Dream, or is there a common thread that unites us?

“Patience, young grasshopper,” said the Master in Kung Fu. I suspect that has always been my own personal American Dream. If you wait for something long enough it will come to you, if you want it badly enough (and I wanted this book very badly for many years), it will come to you. Humanity is the common theme that unites us all. We don’t need countries for that. 100,000 years ago Humanity walked out of the African Savannah and colonized the world for better or worse. I still have faith in Humanity that it’s for the better. I will never lose that faith.

I still have faith in Humanity that it’s for the better. I will never lose that faith. Click To Tweet

7. How do you feel people today view gender nonconformity? Is it getting easier to re-identify oneself or are there more issues many of us aren’t even aware of?

Gender nonconformity has become very fluid and is changing right before our eyes, nationwide. Oregon is now the first state to allow a third gender option on driver’s licenses. People who identify as gender nonbinary—neither male nor female—can list their sex as “X” instead of “F” or “M.” This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community as some people gravitated towards this option and other states are expected to follow very soon. Many universities across the country already have this in place on their application forms too. Such a change from when I transitioned in 2003!

8. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with how to identify?

Be true to yourself, accept yourself, learn to love yourself first, so that you can learn to love others! Talk to your friends about this, talk to your family, but only if they are accepting of you. Do not isolate yourself as I did. Do not feel ashamed as I did. Do not do crystal as I did, do not drink as I did, do not take other drugs as I did. Escape from all that and save yourself a boatload of misery. I did drugs and alcohol to numb my true self, to run away from my true self, and to forget about my true self. Just remember, in the end you can never run away from who you truly are, from your true self.

Denise Chanterelle DuBois is an actress, environmentalist, and businesswoman. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Author’s website: https://selfmadewomanbook.com/

Book trailer for Self-Made Woman.

A model for 21st-century prophetic activism

Doris Dirks and Patricia Relf  are the authors of a new book,  To Offer Compassion: A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, published today by the University of Wisconsin Press. In this guest post, they reflect on the social justice activism of the little-known Clergy Consultation Service, a religious organization of the 1960s and early 1970s dedicated to providing women with safe abortions.

On May 22, 1967, at a time when abortion was illegal in the United States, an article on the front page of the New York Times announced that twenty-one New York City clergy would counsel and refer women to licensed doctors for safe abortions. The group called itself the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).

Doris Dirks, Minister Howard Moody, and Patricia Relf

Not many people know the story of the CCS. Some of the loudest speakers in the debate about abortion access since Roe v. Wade have been conservative religious voices, leading the general public to believe that all people of faith, especially the clergy, were opposed to abortion.

Just since 2010, states have adopted 334* abortion restrictions , constituting 30% of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since Roe v. Wade. On March 6, 2017, the White House proposed preserving federal payments to Planned Parenthood only if it discontinues providing abortions. Congressional Republicans have said that they will move quickly to strip all federal funds from Planned Parenthood.

As the fiftieth anniversary of the CCS approaches in May, we think about the network of some 3,000 clergy who referred as many as 450,000 women for safe abortions between 1967 and 1973. Will that kind of service will be needed again? The clergy we interviewed for our book came of age during the 1950s and 1960s and were at the forefront of the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s rights movements.

When we first started researching the CCS in 2002, we wondered where the voices of progressive clergy were in the social justice movements of the twenty-first century. Now we are starting to hear those voices being raised once more. In recent weeks, clergy and religious organizations have spoken out on transgender civil rights. More than 1,800 religious leaders signed on to an amicus brief on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a trans student who has fought for the right to use a high school restroom that aligns with his gender identity. A broad network of thirty-seven Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations announced a campaign to mobilize congregants to lobby Congress and the president on behalf of immigrants, refugees, and undocumented people.

The pastor of Ebenezer Lutheran Church and congregants at the Chicago Pride Parade.

We are experiencing divisive and turbulent times. The CCS provides a historical example of how clergy acted in the past to help women get safe abortions. It provides an example for social justice activism today.

*research published in 2016 by the Guttmacher Institute.

Doris A. Dirks is a senior academic planner with the University of Wisconsin System Administration.

Patricia A. Relf is a freelance writer.

New books in May 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in May.

May 9, 2017
WHISPERS OF CRUEL WRONGS
The Correspondence of Louisa Jacobs and Her Circle, 1879-1911
Edited by Mary Maillard

Louisa Jacobs was the daughter of Harriet Jacobs, author of the famous autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. That work included a heartbreaking account of Harriet parting with six-year-old Louisa, taken away to the North by her white father. Now, rediscovered letters reveal the lives of Louisa and her circle and shed light on Harriet’s old age.

“A rich and fascinating portrait of Philadelphia’s and Washington D.C.’s black elite after the Civil War. Even as the letters depict the increasingly troubled political status and economic fortunes of the correspondents, they offer rare glimpses into private homes and inner emotions.”—Carla L. Peterson,author of Black Gotham

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

May 16, 2017
TO OFFER COMPASSION
A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion
Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf

“Conservative Christianity has become synonymous with opposition to abortion, but before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it in the U.S., clergy organized to protect pregnant women and direct them to safe abortions. Dirks and Relf explore this extraordinary and little-known history through detailed first-person interviews and extensive research with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who, between 1967 and 1973, created a pregnancy counseling service and national underground network to provide women with options for adoption, parenting assistance, and pregnancy termination. . . . Critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

May 23, 2017
SPIRIT CHILDREN
Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana
Aaron R. Denham

“A brilliant, sensitive, and moving book about the heartbreaking phenomenon of infanticide. This is a book to be taken seriously by hospital personnel, public health policymakers, NGO workers, and anyone interested in the fate of the world’s most vulnerable young children.”—Alma Gottlieb, coauthor of A World of Babies

“A skillful ethnography of the spirit child phenomenon in northern Ghana—children who fail to thrive, are feared to harm their families, and therefore should be ‘sent back.’ This insightful, theoretically rich analysis offers a nuanced ecological, economic, and cultural explanation of maternal attachment.”—John M. Janzen, author of The Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture
Thomas Spear, Neil Kodesh, Tejumola Olaniyan, Michael G. Schatzberg, and James H. Sweet, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
THE LAND REMEMBERS

The Story of a Farm and Its People  9th Edition
Ben Logan
With an introduction by Curt Meine

“Ben Logan is strikingly successful in recalling his own boyhood world, a lonely ridge farm in southwestern Wisconsin. . . . He reviews his growing-up years in the 1920s and ’30s less with nostalgia than with a naturalist’s eye for detail, wary of the distortions of memory and sentiment.”—Christian Science Monitor

“A book to be cherished and remembered.”—Publishers Weekly

 

 

May 30, 2017
PINERY BOYS
Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era
Edited by Franz Rickaby with Gretchen Dykstra and James P. Leary

As the heyday of the lumber camps faded, a young scholar named Franz Rickaby set out to find songs from shanty boys, river drivers, and sawmill hands in the Upper Midwest. Pinery Boys now incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Rickaby’s 1926 book. It includes annotations throughout by folklore scholar James P. Leary and an engaging biography by Rickaby’s granddaughter Gretchen Dykstra. Central to this edition are the fifty-one songs that Rickaby originally published, plus fourteen additional songs selected to represent the

Franz Rickaby

varied collecting Rickaby did beyond the lumber camps.

“[Rickaby] was the first to put the singing lumberjack into an adequate record and was of pioneering stuff. … His book renders the big woods, not with bizarre hokum and studied claptrap … but with the fidelity of an unimpeachable witness.”—Carl Sandburg

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest Series
Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
The second book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series
DEATH AT GILLS ROCK
Patricia Skalka

“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Three World War II heroes about to be honored by the Coast Guard are all found dead, apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while playing cards at a cabin. . . . The second installment of this first-rate series (Death Stalks Door County, 2014) provides plenty of challenges for both the detective and the reader.”Kirkus Reviews

“Skalka captures the . . . small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger.”Booklist

Journal of Human Resources contributes to public policy debates

With this post, we launch an occasional series highlighting the University of Wisconsin Press journals program. UWP began publishing journals in the 1960s.

The Journal of Human Resourcescover_jhr is among the most important journals in the field of microeconomics, with research relevant not only to scholars but to current debates in public policy. Findings and analysis published in JHR are often covered by major news organizations, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC’s Today Show, CNBC, and National Public Radio. The journal’s scope includes the economics of labor, development, health, education, discrimination, and retirement.

Founded in 1965 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, JHR continues to be housed within the Institute for Research on Poverty. JHR has had many accomplished editors over the years, including Sandra Black, who was appointed to President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in July 2015. The current editor, David Figlio, is the director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

A past JHR contributor of particular interest to the University of Wisconsin–Madison is the current UW Chancellor, Rebecca Blank. Her work on poverty and public assistance programs appeared in four articles in JHR before she became Deputy and Acting Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration.

Intriguing examples of research presented in JHR can be seen in two upcoming articles. The first, “It’s Just a Game: The Super Bowl and Low Birth Weight” by Duncan, Mansour, and Rees, interprets data from 1969 to 2004 for mothers whose home team played in the Super Bowl. Read the Washington Post’s coverage here. “The 9/11 Dust Cloud and Pregnancy Outcomes” by Currie and Schwandt also examines birth outcomes, in this case in relation to the events of 9/11. Their findings were recently cited by National Geographic.

Other topics recently covered in JHR included the effect of birth order on the development of a child, the unintended consequences of China’s One-Child policy, the influence of school nutrition programs on childhood obesity, the effects of age on hiring practices, and the effect of the minimum wage on employment practices.

Learn more about The Journal of Human Resources.

View a free online sample issue.

 

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, 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

 

 

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.

 

Livia Appel, the University of Wisconsin Press’s first editor

80th-logoLivia Appel was appointed the first managing editor (essentially, the first director) of the University of Wisconsin Press in 1937. University Press Committee records from the time indicate that she was hired because she thoroughly understood academic publishing operations and could be employed for much less pay than a man.

Livia Appel. Photo by Arthur M. Vinje, collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, #43412

Livia Appel. Photo by Arthur M. Vinje, collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society, #43412

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1893, Appel became a school teacher and then a research and editorial assistant at the Minnesota Historical Society. Her work as an assistant was apparently impressive enough that she was credited as coauthor of a MHS book: Minnesota in the War with Germany by Franklin F. Holbrook and Livia Appel.

Very little about Appel’s work at UWP has been researched, but her tenure included the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II. We know that the first book published at the Press was Reactions of Hydrogen with Organic Compounds over Copper-Chromium Oxide and Nickel Catalysts by Homer Adkins. Appel also authored a small book herself—Bibliographical Citation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities: A Handbook of Style for Authors, Editors, and Students, published by UWP in 1940.

A few of the more notable books published between Appel’s arrival in 1937 and departure in 1948 include:

  • The Early Writings of Frederick Jackson Turner Edited by Everett E. Edwards (1938)
    A Regional Approach to the Conservation of Natural Resources
    by V. C. Finch and J. R. Whitaker (1938)
    The Leguminous Plants of Wisconsin by Norman C. Fassett (1939)
    The Wars of the Iroquois: A Study in Intertribal Trade Relations by George T. Hunt (1940)
    The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781 by Merrill Jensen (1940)
    Lincoln and the Radicals by T. Harry Williams (1941)
    De Rerum Natura: The Latin Text of Lucretius Edited by William Ellery Leonard and Stanley Barney Smith (1942)
    Japan: A Physical, Cultural, and Regional Geography by Glenn T. Trewartha (1945)
    The Wisconsin Prisoner: Studies in Crimogenesis by John L. Gillin (1946)
    Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth by Norman O. Brown (1947)

What we do know about Appel as an editor and as a person comes mainly from her later work elsewhere. In 1948, she was hired by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin as editor for their publications. Distinguished historian Francis Paul Prucha, whose work Appel edited for SHSW, wrote a lengthy tribute to her in the summer 1996 issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History on the occasion of the society’s sesquicentennial.

In Prucha’s article titled, “Livia Appel and the Art of Copywriting: A Personal Memoir,” he noted, “In her years at the [University of Wisconsin] Press, she gained a reputation as a perfectionist.” Prucha describes in detail how Appel worked painstakingly and authoritatively with him to transform his dissertation into a successful book. “My encounter with Livia Appel at the beginning of my career as a historian was a never to be forgotten experience. . . . It is remarkable how far I have been carried by the principles of good writing and the practical skills she taught me.” He mentions that he discovered after his book was published that Appel was not only the editor, but the book designer, for SHSW’s publications.

Prucha also briefly describes meeting Appel: ” I met Livia Appel personally only once, at the end of June 1956, when I was able to spend a short time in Wisconsin. My memory of that meeting after so many years is now dim. I do not remember just what my expectations had been in regard to Appel’s personality and appearance—after all, our long correspondence had been very professional and all business. What I found was a woman less precise in dress and demeanor, more  informal and friendly, than I would have imagined. The one clear picture that I have retained is that she perpetually had a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. But I also remember that she made me feel that we were kindred souls in discussing at length the problems we had solved together in revising my dissertation.”

In 1956, Prucha reports, Appel moved to New York City, where she apparently did freelance editing until 1962. She died in New York in January 1973.

Discovering a lost lesbian novel from 1926

Discovering a lost lesbian novel from 1926

Chelsea Ray speaks about bringing an unpublished 1926 French novel by Natalie Clifford Barney to light. Ray’s English translation, Women Lovers, or the Third Woman, was recently published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

How did you first learn about Natalie Clifford BarneyI knew I wanted to write my dissertation on a woman writing in French, and I was steeped in French feminist theory, drawn to writers such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. I also adored the novels of Colette, but I thought it would be challenging to say something new about such a well-studied author! That’s when I stumbled upon Michèle Causse’s biography of Berthe Cleyrergue, who worked for Natalie Clifford Barney for many years. It opened up a whole new world to me: Paris in the early twentieth century and Barney’s salon, where her guest list reads like a veritable inventory of literary Paris. Gertrude Stein, Colette, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, Paul Valéry, and Radclyffe Hall were just a few of the famous writers who frequented Barney’s salon. As a feminist scholar, I was delighted to find that she privileged women’s writing in many ways, founding the “Academy of Women” in 1927 as a response to the conservative, all-male Académie française.

Natalie Barney

Natalie Clifford Barney

Natalie Barney’s literary salon, her wit, her appetite for love and life: all of this captivated me. She was nearly mythic in literary Paris, an image she cultivated. Unfortunately, her larger-than-life personality overshadowed her writing. When I started reading her literary works, I could see that she was a very strong writer. But she hasn’t been studied much. Her works don’t quite fit into American literature, since she was an American writing in French. And, she wasn’t really a “French” writer, either, though she engaged with other French literature. Her second book of aphorisms, Pensées d’une amazone (1920), was written as a response to Blaise Pascal’s Pensées. It contains many compelling passages on love, spirituality, and Barney’s philosophy of life. I worked on translating some of her aphorisms for a translation studies group, Babel, that I helped found at UCLA with the late Dr. Michael Heim, my mentor. That’s when I started developing my passion for translation. It allows me to merge my desire for creative writing with my love of foreign languages.

Liane de Pougy

Liane de Pougy

Why did you choose to translate Women Lovers, or the Third WomanDuring my year of research in Barney’s archives at the Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet in Paris, I had the rookie ambition of setting my eyes on everything there. But I had a tip for this particular work. I was lucky enough to be working alongside Suzanne Rodriguez, who was writing a biography on Barney at the time. It has since been published as Wild Heart: A Life.

Rodriguez told me that I might want to take a look at the unpublished manuscript of Amants féminins ou la troisième. So I read it right away. I couldn’t believe that this novel, written in 1926, was so unabashedly unapologetic about sexuality and showcased such a different side of Barney, distinct from the myth that surrounds her. The dramatic love triangle between N. (based on Natalie), M. (based on the Italian baroness Mimi Franchetti), and L. (based on the famous French courtesan Liane de Pougy) was astounding in its complexity, and the descriptions of their erotic entanglements were well ahead of their time. The gender bending in the erotic scenes between N. and M. helped me to better understand how these women, in their real lives, were intentionally playing with the boundaries of gender identity.

Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes

I believed this novel could appeal to both general readers and specialists of the period. The final dialogues on the nature of love between N. and the “Newly Miserable Woman” (based on Djuna Barnes) will be of great interest to scholars of Barnes as well.

 

The lyrical beauty of the passages drew me in, as well, and convinced me that this novel deserved to see the light of day. It took me fifteen years off and on to complete the translation and notes, so I am looking forward to finally hearing from readers.

So, this novel hadn’t been published in French? Dr. Melanie Hawthorne, who wrote the introduction to the translation, connected me with Yvan Quintin of ErosOnyx publishers in France. He was very interested in the text, and he and I co-edited the manuscript. The French edition appeared in 2013 as Amants féminins ou la Troisième.

Natalie Clifford Barney, taken in 1925 at the time she wrote the novel.

Natalie Clifford Barney, taken in 1925 at the time she wrote the novel.

What would you say to readers who have never heard of Barney or read her works? This novel is a gem from 1926. You will get to know these marvelous characters and their passion for life—and each other. It is a quirky modernist novel, moving between the first and third-person perspective. It is a testament to Barney and the women in her circle, who inspired each other to create such masterful renditions of their lives and their loves.

 

 

 

Chelsea RaRay-Chelsea-2016-165ty is an associate professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Maine at Augusta. She has been honored as a Chevalier des palmes académiques by France’s Ministry of Education.

 

 

 

Early Reviews for Women Lovers, or the Third Woman:

“Leaps energetically to life. . . . [This] autobiographical, sprightly 1926 novel of a Belle Époque lesbian love triangle [is] appearing in English for the first time.”
Shelf-Awareness

“A first-ever translation that shines new light on Natalie Barney, the invincible ‘Amazon,’ sexual rebel, and arch-seducer of women who in the 1920s aspired to make Paris ‘the Sapphic Centre of the Western World.’ Chelsea Ray shows us another side to her: vulnerable, jealous, and volatile in love.”
—Diana Souhami, author of Natalie and Romaine

Women Lovers has shown me a Natalie that I never knew, a fragile Natalie. This novel is an amazing revelation.”
—Jean Chalon, author of Portrait of a Seductress

“Barney’s experimentation in Women Lovers with offbeat structural choices and narrative strategies, and its stylistic allegiances to decadent traditions, indicate how much of literary modernism’s rich texture has been ironed out in the writing and rewriting of that literary history.”
—Tirza T. Latimer, editor of Women Together/Women Apart