Friday, October 21, 2016

Halloween Reading List: George A. Romero: Interviews

Halloween is just around the corner and we’re literally counting the days.

UPM has published a surprisingly large amount of books on the frightful topics of horror film, ghosts, witches, and zombies. In the days leading up to Halloween, we’ve asked our staff members to choose their favorite Halloween-themed book. And every day until Halloween, we will post a new staff pick. Follow along here for our curated Halloween reading list.

Today, Associate Editor Katie Keene selects George A. Romero: Interviewsa collection of interviews with the prolific director commonly known as a director of zombie films, a genre he himself launched.

If you’re like me, you’re counting down the days to see who Negan killed. 

While you wait, do yourself a favor and pay homage to the master: George Romero. Like many, my love of horror began in black-and-white with a well-dressed zombie chasing a frustrating blonde through a cemetery.

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara…” 

Each year I watch the holy trinity of horror movies—Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Deadleading up to Halloween. If you’re into horror, you’ll love reading about Romero’s collaborations with the greats, like Dario Argento, director of Suspiria, and Tom Savini, the Godfather of Gore. If you aren’t in the know, discover for the first time Romero and the movie that launched a genre—one that cost a mere $114,000 to create but grossed over $30,000,000 worldwide—quickly to become classic cinema.

Monday, October 17, 2016

On Dylan Winning the Nobel

Last week Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature—the first musician to win the award. In choosing a popular musician for the literary world’s highest honor, the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, dramatically redefined the boundaries of literature, setting off a debate about whether song lyrics have the same artistic value as poetry or novels.

Gordon Ball, a longtime advocate for Nobel laureate Dylan, nominated the singer-songwriter for the award 15 years in a row beginning in 1996. Ball also and penned the essay “A Nobel for Dylan?” which was included in our 2011 volume, The Poetics of American Song Lyrics.

Below, Charlotte Pence, editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics reflects on Dylan’s achievement and argues that songwriters deserve to be included in literature classes

I have to admit I was surprised that Dylan was awarded the Nobel, even though that is something that I’ve wished would happen for years. Much of the inspiration for the anthology that I put together, The Poetics of American Song Lyrics, began as conversations with other poets about whether or not Dylan should receive a prize in literature.

As a poet and professor, I’m of the mind that songwriters deserve to be included in literature classes—not because songs and poems are the same genre—but because songs are literature. Their words shape and move us, and we are all better served with broader definitions of who or what is studied. When I first began proposing this anthology in 2006, publishers turned it down because they felt that such a stance would be too difficult to market. But in ten short years, the anthology is out along with a number of other excellent books on the subject such as The Anthology of Rap. And now, the Prize has been awarded to Dylan.

Gordon Ball, an authority on Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation, has advocated for Dylan winning this award since 1996. In his essay, “A Nobel for Dylan?” Ball reminds us that in 1900, Nobel statutes defined literature as “not only belles-lettres” but any writing that possesses literary value. Ball writes, “The art of poetry is thousands of years old; it began in performance and has survived in good part on oral strengths, less through the rather recent convenience of moveable type. In our era Bob Dylan has helped return poetry to its primordial transmission by human breath; he’s revived traditions of bard, minstrel, troubadour.” Not only has his writing reminded us of the relationship with poetry, but also with poetry’s relationship with advocacy. Another criteria of the Nobel Prize, which supported Churchill’s receiving the Prize in 1953 partly for his oratory skills, is that the writer’s work contribute to humanity, and we cannot overlook Dylan’s work as a civil rights advocate.

As I am thinking about Dylan and the award today, I happen to be in the Lake District in England. This semester, I have the privilege of being a visiting faculty member at Harlaxton College, so I took a few poetry students on a pilgrimage from William Wordsworth’s early home, Dove Cottage, where he wrote “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” (affectionately referred to as “the daffodil poem”), to Rydal Mount, where he lived from 1813 until his death. We ended at his grave. As we walked the four miles, we walked through contrasts: hills and valleys; sun and rain; lightness and darkness. A strand of sun would manage to cut through the clouds and color one mountainside gold, leaving the other side gun-grey. I couldn’t help but think of Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, and her contributions to literature. Simply put, she does not receive enough credit as a writer. She journaled about their lives, chronicling the minute changes of mosses to what Wordsworth was writing. In fact, her journal entry, dated April 15th, 1802, described the daffodils that inspired Wordsworth’s poem:
“We saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness &the rest tossed & reeled & danced….”
Her journals, many now argue, are literature. Granted, they are not personal essays just as Dylan’s songs are not poems. Yet our world is changed the better for the words found there, despite how one wants to define what genre those words belong to.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Louisiana's Most Famous Bayou

In Teche, Shane K. Bernard thoroughly examines the legendary waterway that is Louisiana’s most famous bayou. Bernard delves into the bayou's geologic formation as a vestige of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, its prehistoric Native American occupation, and its colonial settlement by French, Spanish, and, eventually, Anglo-American pioneers. He surveys the coming of indigo, cotton, and sugar; steam-powered sugar mills and riverboats; and the brutal institution of slavery.

He also examines the impact of the Civil War on the Teche, depicting the running battles up and down the bayou and the sporadic gunboat duels, when ironclads clashed in the narrow confines of the dark, sluggish river.

Describing the misery of the postbellum era, Bernard reveals how epic floods, yellow fever, racial violence, and widespread poverty disrupted the lives of those who resided under the sprawling, moss-draped live oaks lining the Teche's banks.

Further, he chronicles the slow decline of the bayou, as the coming of the railroad, automobiles, and highways reduced its value as a means of travel. Finally, he considers modern efforts to redesign the Teche using dams, locks, levees, and other water-control measures. He examines the recent push to clean and revitalize the bayou after years of desecration by litter, pollutants, and invasive species.

Illustrated with historic images and numerous maps, this book will be required reading for anyone seeking the colorful history of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

As a bonus, the second part of the book describes Bernard's own canoe journey down the Teche's 125-mile course. This modern personal account from the field reveals the current state of the bayou and the remarkable people who still live along its banks.

In the video below, Bernard talks about his latest book, sharing images and maps, how he came up with the idea for the book, and the most interesting things he learned during his research.

Teche will be available in November.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Remembering Gloria Naylor

Earlier this week, author Gloria Naylor, whose stories chronicling the experiences of black women in the 1980s and 1990s drew wide acclaim, died at age 66.

We are proud to have Naylor included in our Literary Conversation Series. Conversations with Gloria Naylor collects her interviews and shows her to be one of the most talented novelists to emerge in the past twenty years. The fourteen interviews that are included range from 1983, soon after the publication of her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, to 2000.  Altogether they shed light on Naylor in all her wit, wisdom, and candor. She is the first among the current generation of African American women novelists to have made a study of her literary predecessors. Interviews with her are compelling in their revelation of the evolutionary journey of a self-professed introvert and dreamer who is as indebted to the English classics as she is to blues, jazz, or Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye.

Below, Maxine Montgomery, who edited Conversations with Gloria Naylor, has penned a brief remembrance of Naylor and shares the story of the time she met and interviewed her.

I became acquainted with Gloria Naylor in a graduate course on the African-American novel at the University of Illinois during the 1980's. Our readings included a range of canonical texts that are mainstays in the tradition of Black fictional discourse, from Charles Chesnutt's early twentieth-century novel The Marrow of Tradition, to the contemporary era, with a focus on the writing of African-American women. By far, it was the debut work of fiction by Naylor, an author who had just made an appearance on the literary scene, that made a lasting impression in terms of my understanding of and appreciation for novelistic contributions by Black women, authors whose writings were often excluded from or marginalized in mainstream studies of the American and African-American Literary canon. After reading Naylor's first novel and reflecting on her riveting portrait of Black womanhood in the post Civil Rights Era, I became a life-long fan of the woman behind The Women of Brewster Place.

My scholarly interest in Naylor's work deepened with the publication of each subsequent text. As she carried out her avowed purpose of writing a series of novels that would recapture various aspects of Black life in the twentieth-century, creating multi-layered works that would lay the foundation for her career,  I felt as though I had not only discovered someone whose writing skirted the often monolithic representations of Black life present in far too many African-American novels, I found an author unafraid of telling the untold stories of individuals whose stories were lying dormant, unheard, waiting to be told. Naylor, a consummate storyteller, became the voice through which the voices of countless others found unimpeded expression.   

It was during my work on Conversations with Gloria Naylor that I summoned the courage to contact Naylor. My goal was to conduct a personal interview and ask questions about her life, art, and politics. Looking for answers to the probing questions that I entertained while reading her work, I sent a letter requesting an interview. Weeks later, she phoned me at home, surprised that I was willing to travel to Brooklyn for a short, two-hour conversation.

I met Naylor at her Brooklyn home, a spacious, multi-story apartment in the upscale Park Slope neighborhood. Dressed casually in a dark-colored T-shirt and slacks, she answered the door, smiled, and invited me into her living room. I was awestruck at the opportunity to be in the presence of the woman whose writing had greatly impacted my life. Naylor was very down-to-earth. Although she was somewhat guarded at first, she was also welcoming and congenial. She impressed me as being someone who, despite her status as a New Yorker, had a down-home warmth that is no doubt a reflection of her parents' rural Mississippi roots.

Our interview progressed well, in spite of an occasional interruption from the mail-carrier and a nephew who walked into the living room. As our conversation drew to a close, I asked a question that few of us like to reflect on because it reminds us of mortality. "How do you want to be remembered as a novelist," I queried. Naylor paused, as if no one had ever posed such a question to her before. Her response was at once both measured and thoughtful:  "I want to be remembered as a good, good, good storyteller," she said firmly. "I think the more you keep it simple, the greater your reach is going to be as far as whom you affect. You have a story. I have a story. Everyone has a story. And it is important that I tell that story as succinctly and as honestly as I can." 

With her decades-long literary career, her penetrating portraits of African-American life, and the lasting legacy she leaves for the up-and-coming generation of women writers, Naylor has accomplished her goal.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Conversation with Daniel Marrone, author of Forging the Past: Seth and the Art of Memory

Forging the Past: Seth and the Art of Memory by Daniel Marrone a critical study of the extraordinary Canadian comics creator. This is a comprehensive account of this work and the complex interventions it makes into the past. Moving beyond common notions of nostalgia, Marrone explores the various ways in which Seth's comics induce readers to participate in forging histories and memories

This is the most thorough, sustained investigation of Seth's work to date. Included as an appendix is a substantial interview, conducted by the author, in which Seth candidly discusses his work, his peers, and his influences. Forging the Past is now available from UPM

Below we talk with Marrone about topics he covers in the book and well as Seth’s place in relation to other comics

What’s the best place to start for readers who are unfamiliar with Seth’s work?

Seth himself recommends George Sprott – but he recognizes that the fan favorite may actually be Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World. In some ways, the two books seem like polar opposites: Wimbledon Green is a lively send-up of the world of comic book collecting, a dense, compact volume of satirical vignettes from Seth’s sketchbook; George Sprott is a rather sober character study, very polished and capacious, with arresting two-page spreads and a sprawling fold-out section.

But these two books also have a lot in common, from their cumulative, nonlinear narrative structure to their meditations on the elusiveness of memory and identity. The melancholy qualities of George Sprott are balanced by humor, while Wimbledon Green’s sketchbook satire is unexpectedly poignant at times.

The title of the book refers to ‘the art of memory’ – what exactly does that mean?

We generally think of memory as a natural mental phenomenon or capacity, but there is a long philosophical and rhetorical tradition that conceives of memory as a technique or technology, an artificial process of recollection. In the book, I often treat memory in this way – as a medium or an art – and I use Seth’s work to highlight some of the similarities between ‘the art of memory’ and the medium of comics.

In terms of story and character, Seth’s comics are frequently about memory in the more familiar sense of the word, but they also seem to constitute an ‘art of memory’ in their own right.

What position does Seth’s work occupy in relation to other comics?

Seth is by most measures one of the foremost cartoonists working today, both in Canada and internationally. His contemporary cohort includes artists like Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Joe Matt, and Chris Ware; as part of UPM’s Great Comics Artists Series, Forging the Past puts Seth in the company of Ware, Lynda Barry, Alan Moore, Jack Kirby, and Charles Schulz, among others.

Like his contemporaries, Seth is working in a cultural context cemented by the rise of alternative comics, in which cartoonists are generally prized as individual and idiosyncratic auteurs. In the same way that Drawn and Quarterly, his longtime publisher, extends the project of an alternative publication like Raw, Seth may be regarded as a successor to the alternative cartoonists of 1980s.

Of course, his work clearly evokes a history of cartooning that stretches back much further: his drawing style bears the influence of HergĂ©’s clear line and Peter Arno’s New Yorker gags, while his various projects explicitly engage with, maintain, and complicate the legacy of Canadian cartoonists such as Doug Wright and Jimmy Frise.

If Seth’s style is so strongly influenced by the history of cartooning, in what ways are his comics innovative?

Seth’s comics are distinguished by inconspicuous formal experimentation, which often takes the form of metafictional explorations and compositions that test the limits of cartooning conventions. Even his very first book, It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, has many of the self-referential hallmarks that characterize his later work: comics within comics, cartoon renderings of photographs, and a narrative that blurs the boundary between fiction and non-fiction.

Seth’s whole approach to history and cartooning (not to mention the history of cartooning) invites readers to deliberately re-orient themselves as they read. This constant reorientation makes the readers active participants in Seth’s world-building, which involves a truly wide range of storytelling techniques (George Sprott alone includes interviews with characters, a not-quite-omniscient narrator, a fold-out section that mixes memories and photographs, and even cardboard models of a fictional town, Dominion City).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Michael Copperman On His Return to Mississippi

The following is a guest post from Michael Copperman. Copperman is the author of the new book Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta -- a mesmerizing account of the realities of working with Teach For America in one of the country's poorest and most challenged regions. This weekend Copperman will be returning to Mississippi for the first time in 6 years to participate in the Mississippi Book Festival (details below). 

He writes below about  his return and what he's looking forward to

To begin: a return.

To return, experience anew and reflect; to return again.

Which is to say that I am coming to Mississippi, where as the sign says, “It’s Like Coming Home.”

My memoir, Teacher, opens with my return to the Mississippi after some four years away—driving the long straight stretch of 61 out of Memphis, across the Mississippi border, and down into the flats and fields of the Delta after some four years away, and coming back to the town where I taught in the public schools. Back through the long flat furrowed cotton fields, under a depthless sky, to return to the school where I taught fourth grade, and was never the same—not the same naive, idealistic young man, and never without the memory of the kids I taught, as I carry still their foolishness and clamor and bravado, their perilous shine and wonder, their unfilled promise.

Now, it has been another six years, and what I am most looking forward to is seeing them, these kids whose lives I still follow through social media—some still in the town where I taught, grown into adult lives of their own and children and rent and jobs, and some finishing community college in the area, or bound on scholarship to Memphis. Some perhaps who I am not in touch with, but might see on the street, or meet up with at the Sonic where I am fitting to buy all the curly fries and burgers and shakes these kids—no, no, these young adults—whose lives changed me the years I taught them. Who made me into the educator and man I am today.

I am also looking forward to the small things—to the hush puppies and catfish and okra, to live blues undivorced from origins, to seeing old friends, teachers and roommates and mentors, and to the pleasure of returning with a book, and having had the good fortune to have a press as respected as UPM support it with release events.

I cannot wait to be back in Mississippi, and see what has changed, and who the children I taught have become.

Michael Copperman will be speaking on the Schools in Change panel at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 20 at the State Capitol. The panel discussion begins at 11:15.

He will be also signing and reading from his new book at Turnrow Books on August 22 at 5:30 p.m.; Square Books on August 23rd at 5:00 p.m.; and at the VIZ Reading Series in Hattiesburg on August 26 at 8:00 pm.

Read more about the book at

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Godfather of Mississippi

Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi is a biography of a powerful Mississippi Senator who was rife with contradictions.

For decades after the Second World War, Senator James O. Eastland (1904-1986) was one of the more intransigent leaders of the Deep South's resistance to what he called "the Second Reconstruction." And yet he developed, late in his life, a very real friendship with state NAACP chair Aaron Henry. Big Jim Eastland provides the life story of this savvy, unpredictable powerhouse.

From 1947 to 1978, Eastland wore that image of resistance proudly, even while recognizing from the beginning his was the losing side. Biographer J. Lee Annis Jr. chronicles such complexities extensively and also delves into many facets lesser known to the general public.

Born in the Mississippi Delta as part of the elite planter class, Eastland was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1941 by Democratic Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr., following the death of Senator Pat Harrison. Eastland ran for and won the Senate seat in 1942 and served in the Senate from 1943 until his resignation December 27, 1978.

Eastland with Lyndon Johnson
A blunt man of few words and many contradictions, Eastland was an important player on the Washington scene, from his initial 88 day stint in 1941 where he salvaged several local projects from bungling bureaucratic intervention to the 1970s when he shepherded Supreme Court nominees of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to confirmation by the Senate. Along the way, Annis describes the objections Eastland raised to various civil rights proposals from the 1940s to the 1960s, along with the accommodations Eastland was forced to make to African American interests after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Annis’ research is grounded in scores of interviews as well many previously unpublished stories important to understanding Eastland. Big Jim Eastland: The Godfather of Mississippi not only covers his long fight for the lost cause of preserving a segregated society, but also touches upon his work to create the Marshall Plan, represent Mississippi farmers and others, and create federal projects in Mississippi.

Annis will be discussing his book tomorrow,  August 17, noon–1 p.m. at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building. As part of the History Is Lunch series

Annis will also be participating in the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday as part of a panel discussion on Mississippi History. He will be joined by fellow UPM authors Anne Webster and Jim Barnett. The panel discussion begins at 1:45 in the state capitol. 


Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...