Sunday, January 22, 2017

Joe Starita's "A Warrior of the People"

For the last twelve years, Joe Starita has held an endowed professorship at the University of Nebraska’s College of Journalism. He was the New York Bureau Chief for Knight-Ridder newspapers and a veteran investigative reporter for the Miami Herald. His stories have won more than three dozen awards, one of which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for local reporting. His books include The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge, which won the MPIBA Award and received a second Pulitzer nomination, and “I am a Man.”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice.

Starita applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Warrior of the People: How Susan La Flesche Overcame Racial and Gender Inequality to Become America's First Indian Doctor, and reported the following:
From page 99:
During Susan’s two years at Hampton, there was a young oak tree not far from Winona Lodge. In 1861, not long after the Civil War began, a Union officer at Hampton’s Fort Monroe made a startling announcement: Should any slaves make it to Union lines, he said, they would be safe, they would not be returned. They would be free. Soon, hundreds of slaves began pouring into the fort, seeking their freedom. A camp to house them was built outside the fort. Then came a push to offer some kind of schooling, although it was against Virginia’s 1831 law to educate slaves.

Nevertheless, Mary Smith Peake, the mulatto daughter of a free black mother and a French father, was invited to begin teaching the recently arrived former slaves. So on September 17, 1861, she conducted her first class of about twenty students under the shade of the young oak tree. One day a few years later, in 1863, members of the area’s black community once again gathered beneath the tree. They had all come to hear something they couldn’t quite believe: the first reading on southern soil of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Some wept openly at the words. Over time, the tree became known as the Emancipation Oak.

It still stands today – near the entrance to the Hampton University campus.
So what happens when you’ve lived on your lands for millennia and a more powerful outside force comes along and blows up your culture? Forbids your language, religion, dances, customs and clothing. Who do you become?

What happens when you’re hunted down, captured and beaten, stolen from the only homeland you’ve ever known, shipped away in chains to another world? A place where it’s illegal to learn to read and write. To vote, own property, move about as you please. Who are you when someone else chooses your identity?

What happens when you’re an 8-year-old girl and you sit through the night with an elderly woman, watching helplessly as she dies an agonizing death, vowing you will do something one day to prevent it. But you’re an Indian woman in the Victorian Era and an entrenched white male establishment lobbies forcefully against women attending college. The stress, they claim, will destroy a woman’s reproductive organs, render them infertile, threatening the existence of mankind.

Page 99 helps provide a powerful anchor for Chapter 4: “Can Black Children and Red Children Become White Citizens?” It’s a pivotal chapter that frames a key theme of the book: The fragile nature of cultural identity. Who gets to determine how we see ourselves? The chapter details Hampton University’s early attempts to use education as a post-Civil War tool to help integrate the sons and daughters of slaves and chiefs into the American mainstream.

Later chapters reveal in detail how Susan La Flesche, the youngest daughter of an Omaha Indian chief, used her Hampton experience as a springboard to eventually fulfill the vow she’d made as an 8-year-old. In the end, her genius was to delicately thread a bicultural needle, to absorb the best of American education without ever losing her Native soul. So she ignored the white male establishment. Instead, she found a way to get into the only medical college in the world that accepted women. And on March 14, 1889, she graduated No. 1 in her class, becoming the first Indian doctor in U.S. history – 31 years before women could vote and 35 years before Indians could become citizens in the lands they had lived on forever.
Visit Joe Starita's website.

Writers Read: Joe Starita.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sheila Kohler's "Once We Were Sisters"

Sheila Kohler was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of over one dozen works of fiction including the novels Dreaming for Freud, Becoming Jane Eyre, and Cracks, which was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and made into a film starring Eva Green.

Kohler applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new memoir, Once We Were Sisters, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Once We Were Sisters is about my mother. "She drifts around our various dwelling places, smoking her filtered cigarettes, leaving the stain of her lipstick on their burned out ends and on the crystal glasses from which she drains her whiskey greedily to the last drop, tipping back her head." She is, with my sister, of course, one of the most important people in my story. I come back to her again and again all the way through the book, with all her secrets, her silences, her power over those around her, and her fascination. Though she has been dead now for many years, I see her so vividly moving around in my mind and my heart. I describe how she sleeps, how she speaks, how she drinks. She is probably the most vividly portrayed character in the whole book, the one who dominates our story, though this is my sister’s story, the story of her death. Here Mother is half-naked pulling on her corsets with their whalebones, the lace, and suspenders. She sweats and groans.

I think Ford Madox Ford's statement is correct. On every page of the book the voice, the imagery, the tone, is the same. This is a world created through the use of visual elements which are those which I see in my mind, in my memory so clearly: the vast garden of our childhood, with its jacarandas, fishponds and pools; the wide bed where our mother allowed us to climb up in the mornings, above all the bright African sunlight. All of this is filtered through my regret, my guilt, at the loss of my older sister in such dramatic and violent circumstances. My mother, too, watches this happen apparently helpless to stop the violence, the death of this beautiful, and brilliant woman at thirty nine years old, her older girl, the mother of six children, my only sister.
Visit Sheila Kohler's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dreaming for Freud.

My Book, The Movie: Dreaming for Freud.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Carolyn Bronstein and Whitney Strub's "Porno Chic and the Sex Wars"

Whitney Strub, an associate professor in the history department at Rutgers University-Newark, co-directs the Queer Newark Oral History Project.

Strub applied the Page 99 test to the new collection Porno Chic and the Sex Wars: American Sexual Representation in the 1970s, which he co-edited with Carolyn Bronstein, and reported the following:
Porno Chic and the Sex Wars expands our historical memory of sexual expression in the 1970s beyond the familiar canon of Deep Throat, Hustler, and Boys in the Sand. The essays examine everything from the magazines Female Impersonator News and Viva (Bob Guccione’s ill-fated “Penthouse for women”), to the films of gay icon Peter Berlin and a hardcore adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The collected essays argue that pornography resided at the heart of mainstream American culture, playing a central role in the decade’s social debates over gender and sexuality.

Page 99 perfectly exemplifies what Carolyn and I were trying to do in this book. First, it comes from an essay by a scholar we both admire tremendously, Jennifer C. Nash, whose first book, The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography, is a brilliant reinterpretation of racialized erotics in porn; indeed, part of the appeal of editing a book like this is the opportunity to reach out to people you’ve read and respected, and we were thrilled to amass something of an academic dream team here. Further, we wanted to expand the frameworks through which we think about porn historically, and Nash does that really effectively in her piece, “Desiring Desiree.” In it, she examines Desiree West, the first black female porn star, and asks both what she meant to her fans, and also what her work meant to her; one important contribution Nash makes is tracking West down and talking with her. You’d think that would be an obvious method, but it’s surprisingly absent from scholarly work on pornography (though look to The Rialto Report for phenomenal oral histories with industry participants from this era), which makes West’s voice all the more important.

So, what does Nash learn? Well, for one thing, the way historians think about porn films as discrete units doesn’t correspond to West’s own memory; for her, many of these films were one day’s labor, done forty years ago. She remembers people, but not necessarily titles.

Nash’s work pushes against flat interpretations that would subsume all sexualized representation of black women under a reductive lens of racist degradation (though as a feminist scholar, she is always attuned to both sexism and racism—both of which can operative in a text without wholly determining its meaning). On Page 99, she makes an interesting point about the interracial friendships between black and white women in heterosexual hardcore films of the 1970s, as antecedents to such macho interracial buddy action films as 48 Hrs. or Rush Hour. West’s scenes with white women often sever their camaraderie from the “insistence on interracial friendship predicated on shared phallic power” of the action movies. Yet, as she shows using an example from an untitled scene in the DVD collection Double D Soul Sister, subversion isn’t equal to liberation: while a sexual dalliance with a white man found floating naked in a pool brings together black and white bodies, generally these scenes offer possibilities for black erotic subjectivity even as their primary function is to “enable and facilitate white women’s sexual pleasure.”

It’s this kind of nuanced analysis, which is neither broadly “antiporn” nor blithely uncritical of the racial and gender hierarchies always at play in cultural representation, that we hope marks Porno Chic and the Sex Wars.
Visit Whit Strub’s blog, and read more about Porno Chic and the Sex Wars at the University of Massachusetts Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kimberley Reynolds's "Left Out"

Kimberley Reynolds is Professor of Children’s Literature at Newcastle University and a historian of children’s books. She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her 2016 book Left Out: The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Publishing for Children in Britain 1910-1949, and reported the following:
Left Out begins the work of correcting the established histories of publishing for children in the first half of the twentieth century. The consensus has for long been that this was a fallow time of cheaply produced annuals and bumper books, but Left Out points to both the many fine writers and illustrators who were producing classic works, and, more central to the study, the vigorous group of people creating or importing politically and aesthetically radical books for young people. Page 99 looks at perhaps the best-known of the imported works; the fantastically inventive picturebooks that were imported from the Soviet Union. It traces how books created by Soviet writers were brought to the UK and permanently affected British children’s publishing. Page 99 considers the case of Noel Carrington (brother of the artist, Dora Carrington), who in 1943, while Director of the publishing firm Transatlantic Arts, published some of the picturebooks created by Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev for Soviet children. Shortly after doing so Carrington began to work with Allen Lane, and launched the influential series of Puffin Picture Books. The series clearly owes much to the Soviet children’s books.

One of Left Out’s key concerns is with how British interest in what was happening in Soviet Russia carried over into radical publishing for children. Page 99 encapsulates this concern by discussing the work of Samuil Marshak. It explains that,
His interest in children’s literature began during a visit to a British progressive school in 1913 when he was a student in London; by 1920 he and some colleagues had established the first fine arts complex for Soviet children including a library, a theatre, and some studios….
One of Marshak’s and Lebedev’s picturebooks published by Noel Carrington (and retranslated and published by Tate publishing in 2013) is The Ice-Cream Man. Page 99 explains that the story contains obvious traces of its Soviet origins, but also works as a fairy tale in the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.
The Ice-Cream Man tells what happens to an ostentatiously dressed and over-fed business man who stuffs himself on ice cream. Watched by a group of children who have each eaten only one ice cream, he gulps down all the wares of one seller after another. As each one runs out of ice cream he runs to tell his friends about the insatiable customer and soon the ice cream sellers’ chant has changed from ‘Lovely ices! Lowest prices! To ‘Lovely ices! Highest prices!’ His inability to be satisfied is his undoing; the businessman is gradually transformed into a snowman whose frozen hands can no longer hold his ‘well-lined morocco pocket-book’ (n.p.). It falls to the ground, signalling a change in his audience. Uninterested in his money, they are delighted by his frozen state which makes it possible to play with snow in the summer. Clearly it is possible to read this as a critique of capitalism and an attack specifically on businessmen who make excessive profits…. However, Lebedev’s bold, geometric images help make this a cautionary tale about the price of greed of any kind.
Learn more about Left Out at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ayelet Waldman's "A Really Good Day"

Ayelet Waldman is the author of A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life, the novels Love and Treasure, Red Hook Road, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, and Daughter's Keeper, as well as of the essay collection Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace and the Mommy-Track Mystery series.

Waldman applied the “Page 99 Test” to A Really Good Day and reported the following:
I was doubtful when I tried Ford Madox Ford’s Page 99 Test on A Really Good Day. The book is a hybrid—part journal, part history, part memoir. Each of the thirty chapters covers a day in a month-long experiment microdosing with LSD as a treatment for depression, and each is different. On some days I write about my family history of mental illness, on others I write about the history of drug prohibition. Some days are descriptions of family crises, others are funny screeds. How could any one page adequately exemplify this varied whole? And yet, as is invariably the case when I flip to page 99 of a book, there it was. A near perfect synecdoche.

Page 99 of A Really Good Day is part of a larger chapter dispelling myths about drugs. When I began this experiment, though I’d worked in drug policy reform and taught a seminar on the legal and social implications of the war on drugs at UC Berkeley’s law school, I believed, like so many, that drugs like methamphetamine, which I discuss on page 99, were uniquely deadly. I was stunned to discover that methamphetamine is virtually identical to Adderall, a drug prescribed to one of my own children to treat his ADHD.

I see A Really Good Day as part of a larger conversation about mental illness and its effect on marriage and family, and about the medications we use to treat mental illness, both legally and illegally.
Learn more about the author and her work at Ayelet Waldman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Love and Treasure.

The Page 69 Test: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Brad Ricca's "Mrs. Sherlock Holmes"

Brad Ricca is the author of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes and Super Boys, winner of the Ohioana Book Award for Nonfiction and the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Mrs. Sherlock Holmes and reported the following:
“The girl died in the hospital. It had all been too much for her. As her father wept over her, she looked like an angel lit by white light.”

Just a note: this line is not a spoiler for the book, or to the central mystery of it, but it is definitely indicative of the whole. The line is actually a description of a 1913 Lois Weber film called Traffic in Souls that was about the so-called ‘white slavery epidemic’ whereby young women were kidnapped or coerced into lives of prostitution. The movie was scandalous, but also immensely popular, playing in an unprecedented twenty theaters at once in New York City alone.

From my perspective, the quote proves the Test true because though the scene is incredibly sad and emotional, it is also fictional and melodramatic. This is one of the very central questions I hope the book sparks in people. Missing girls are unfortunately a real phenomenon – but what role does the media continue to play in our encountering of the problem? Is this sort of storytelling sexist, obnoxious, or simply untrue? At the same time, the emotions evoked by the film are absolutely real (people wept in the theater), so is a fictional scene like this one actually helping to inspire change in a way? These are questions that I hope people think about.
Visit Brad Ricca's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Kevin Dann's "Expect Great Things"

Historian, naturalist, and troubadour, Kevin Dann is the author of ten books, including Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge; Across the Great Border Fault: The Naturalist Myth in America; and Lewis Creek Lost and Found. He has taught at Rutgers University, University of Vermont, and the State University of New York. In the spring of 2009, he walked from Montreal to Manhattan to commemorate the 400th anniversaries of Hudson’s and Champlain’s voyages, and, having crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, decided to stay there.

Dann applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Expect Great Things opens: “Thoreau’s move to Walden Pond on the eve of his twenty-eighth birthday would be a destiny event that would ripple through the rest of his life, and down through Time into the hearts of Americans and people from all over the planet.” That statement comes in the context of my attempt to look at Thoreau’s life through the lens of 7-year rhythms – a rhythm that was just then being recognized and intensively studied by natural scientists.

Thoreau’s life was “all about rhythm.” He both practiced a yoga of rhythm in his daily extended walks and meditations, and studied the variegated rhythms of the plants and animals of Concord. He was a pioneer – and peerless – phenologist. (Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life) If the 19th century was the century of mastering history, in the sense of the rapid refinement of the natural historical sciences from paleontology to evolutionary biology, it demanded a correlate grasp of the “beats” of Time. Thoreau’s life embodies the birth of a new awareness and appreciation of rhythmicity in both Nature and human nature.
Visit Kevin Dann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cassandra Falke's "The Phenomenology of Love and Reading"

Cassandra Falke is Professor of English Literature and Culture at the University of Tromsø, Norway. Her books include Literature by the Working Class: English Autobiography, 1820-1848 (2013) and, as editor, Intersections in Christianity and Critical Theory (2010). She has also published articles about English Romanticism, literary theory, and liberal arts education.

Falke applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Phenomenology of Love and Reading, and reported the following:
From Page 99:
Describing the adonné, the receiver of gifts that we all are, Thomas Carlson writes:
If everything is given and the given is without limit or reserve, every moment gives something utterly new—unforeseen and unforeseeable—and thus always still to be seen, and the obligation of the adonné in every moment is to decide, without ground, to receive and to see what gives itself by responding to it and so making it phenomenal.
According to this formulation, our greatest responsibility is to pay attention. The phenomenological reduction places this responsibility upon us because it is only through our attention that events (including events of reading) can be phenomenalized. The erotic reduction enforces the responsibility to pay attention even further. It is through the attentions of others that we are formed in love, so conversely it is through attending to another person in love that we help him or her come forth as a person.

The attention that the lover gives another person is not the attention that she gives an object because her beloved is not phenomenologically separable from her.
Page 99 of The Phenomenology of Love and Reading begins a chapter on attention – the self-forgetting attention we employ in an act of pursuit and the alert attention to detail called forth by stillness. Both of these forms of attention, elaborated by Heidegger and Husserl respectively, are evoked by reading and by love. The book as a whole takes seriously a proposition put forth by contemporary phenomenologist Jean-Luc Marion that he calls “the erotic reduction.” According to Marion, we are all lovers even more fundamentally than we are thinkers or even independent beings. Love includes romance, but also the unique love we have for each friend, each child, each parent, each unknown but briefly beloved face of a person we help or wholeheartedly admire. If Marion is right, I ask, then what does that imply for readers of literature? Can reading literature be an act that contributes to our becoming through love, and if so, how? The chapter on attention is part of my answer to that question. Because reading literature demands strong, self-forgetting attention, it changes the kind of attention that we then give to other people and to all the unforeseeable gifts Carlson mentions. Reading literature strengthens us in several of love´s habits, and the habit of attention is one of these.

The book is a sincere attempt to think about why reading literature matters, and page 99 manifests the earnestness of the book as a whole. Being earnest in public is always a risk, but the book had to be written that way. Otherwise it would not enact the openness to being changed that a commitment to love demands we cultivate. Works of literature, like other people, can shock and change us or they can work on us through a slow unfolding, but only if we are open to becoming what the voice of the other evokes in us. As the last sentence quoted above suggests, the attention we pay during an act of reading is not the same as the attention we pay to another embodied person because the love we are already in makes us responsible for other people in a way that we are never responsible or other things or events. Nevertheless, the ability of a work of literature to expand us in ways we cannot foresee or control makes it valuable to us as lovers. It is a gift we should welcome.
Read an excerpt from The Phenomenology of Love and Reading, and learn more about the book at the Bloomsbury website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 6, 2017

Andrew Stuhl's "Unfreezing the Arctic"

Andrew Stuhl is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bucknell University. He teaches environmental history, history of ecology, environmental humanities, and Arctic studies.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Unfreezing the Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands, and reported the following:
Flipping to page 99 of my book, I find myself in the middle of an exploration of permafrost, a term coined by engineers and geologists in the 1940s to describe the phenomena they found under the surface of the tundra in Arctic locations: that is, ground that appeared to be frozen for most of the year. After World War II, the US Navy established the United States' first laboratory in the Arctic in Alaska, where the principal object of study was permafrost; Canada followed suit with a similar research center in the 1950s. In my research, I analyze these scientific developments in light of the political and economic context surrounding it, following the simple, but penetrating question "Why did scientists and governments suddenly become so interested in Arctic subsurface environments in the mid 1900s?" I write, "Through [research on soil moisture] permafrost scientists could help better locate power plants, barracks, hangars, and even hospitals..."

It may seem outlandish from today's perspective, but such sentiments galvanized circles of bureaucrats, oil company executives, and scientists in the 1940s and 1950s in both the US and Canada. The dream was to use new information on the subsurface environment to figure out how to build this infrastructure, take advantage of rich hydrocarbon resources, and finally settle the last frontier. Or perhaps this does not seem so outlandish, given that current discourses around the Arctic in North America have many of these same elements regarding politics, economic exploitation, research, and environmental conditions. Indeed, the main thrust of my project in the book is to forge connections between past and present and ask readers to ponder more carefully the many layers of the Arctic, as it undergoes rapid social and environmental change today.
Visit Andrew Stuhl's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė's "The Power of Systems"

Eglė Rindzevičiūtė is a Lecturer in Sociology at Kingston University London, UK. She is a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Public Administration, Gothenburg University, Sweden, author of Constructing Soviet Cultural Policy: Cybernetics and Governance in Lithuania after World War II (2008) and co-editor of The Struggle for the Long Term in Transnational Science and Politics: Forging the Future (2015).

Rindzeviciute applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Power of Systems: How Policy Sciences Opened Up the Cold War World, and reported the following:
In The Power of Systems, I introduce readers to one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War: the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, an international think tank established by the U.S. and Soviet governments to advance scientific collaboration. From 1972 until the late 1980s IIASA in Austria was one of the very few permanent platforms where policy scientists from both sides of the Cold War divide could work together to articulate and solve world problems. This think tank was a rare zone of freedom, communication, and negotiation, where leading Soviet scientists could try out their innovative ideas, benefit from access to Western literature, and develop social networks, thus paving the way for some of the key science and policy breakthroughs of the twentieth century.

From page 99:
Yet informality does not automatically result from merely disregarding formal rules or bureaucratic regulations. Informality is always a context- bound condition that revolves around an organization’s specific rules and draws on the organization’s knowledge. This became evident in the mediation of the differences between Eastern and Western organizational cultures: a particular version of informality had to be developed that would enable IIASA to serve as a bridge between East and West. Whereas Raiffa’s in-depth knowledge of social relations and individual cultural habits was instrumental in bringing top US scholars to IIASA, neither he nor anyone else at that time had any detailed knowledge, or even intuition, about many of incoming Soviet scholars. Could an internal mechanism of evaluation be enforced to sort out productive scientists from less productive ones? This was not considered to be a solution. Retrospectively, Raiffa explained his staffing strategy, saying that the formal evaluation of scholarly output was irrelevant, because scholars were primarily self- motivated and competing against other scholars:
There is little to gain and a lot, possibly, to lose in morale if we attempt to control the output of our scientists. Our most effective means of controlling the quantity, quality and suitability of our output is to select wisely the people who are supposed to produce this output.
But was not this approach severely limited, given that the control over the inflow of Soviet scientists was so limited? Whereas Western scholars could be approached individually, contacts with Soviet scholars were funneled through the GKNT and the Academy of Sciences. All official invitations to Soviet scientists had to trickle down through the complex bureaucratic system, a slow and painstaking process during which the lists of invitees were modified to accommodate competing interests within the Soviet research institutes and the GKNT.
Page 99 contains actually quite an important part of my argument on the role of informality in building diplomatic and scientific bridges between East and West during the Cold War.
Visit Eglė Rindzevičiūtė's website, and learn more about The Power of Systems at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue