Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Praise for Happy Clouds, Happy Trees

Happy Clouds, Happy Trees: The Bob Ross Phenomenon explores of one of the most beloved and talented artists and painting instructors ever to teach on American television. Released earlier this year, the book reacquaints readers with Bob Ross (1942–1995) as the gentle, afro’d painter of happy trees on PBS. 

But Ross was a man of many contradictions. He’s famous, but few know him by name. Show someone a picture of this man with the trademark Afro and house-painting brush, and then they are likely to smile with nostalgia. On TV he emoted a rural naiveté and spoke about happy clouds and happy trees, which he simultaneously marketed to his fans from the helm of a multimillion-dollar company. He was, according to many, a mediocre painter, and yet as an artist he seems endlessly fascinating. Authors Kristin Congdon, Doug Blandy, and Danny Coeyman  thoughtfully explore how the Bob Ross phenomenon grew into a juggernaut.

This book uses contemporary art theory to explore the sophistication of Bob Ross’s vision as an artist. It traces the ways in which his many fans have worshiped, emulated, and parodied him and his work.The authors address issues of amateur art, sentimentality, imitation, boredom, seduction, and democratic practices in the art world. They fully examine Ross as a painter, teacher, healer, media star, performer, magician, and networker.

The latest issue of CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries features a very positive review of the book. Reviewer E.H. Teague had this to say: 
Though this is a university press publication, with thorough footnotes, it is written in a style that will appeal to a popular audience. Illustrations include portrait drawings by a coauthor that pose Ross as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Picasso, and other artists. Thus the authors, perhaps by intent, match their approach to their subject in a style that the subject would appreciate. This book will be especially valuable for folk art collections. 
Summing Up: Highly recommended.
Happy Clouds, Happy Trees is now available from UPM.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Conversation with Jack Haney, editor of The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev

The folktales of A.N. Afanas’ev represent the largest single collection of folktales in any European language and perhaps in the world. Widely regarded as the Russian Grimm, Afanas’ev collected folktales from throughout the Russian Empire in what are now regarded as the three East Slavic languages—Byelorusian, Russian, and Ukrainian.

The result of his collecting, the collecting of friends and correspondents, and in a few cases his publishing of works from earlier and forgotten collections is truly phenomenal. In his lifetime Afanas’ev published more than 575 tales in his most popular and best known work, Narodnye russkie skazki.

Released this month as first of three volumes featuring the first complete translation into English of Afanans’ev’s Russian Folktales is The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev: Volume I edited by Jack Haney.

Until now, there has been no complete edition of the Russian folktales of Afanas’ev. His translation is based on L. G. Barag and N. V. Novikov's edition, widely regarded as the authoritative Russian-language version. The present edition includes commentaries to each tale as well as its international classification number.

Haney is a retired professor of Slavic languages and literature, University of Washington, and is the translator and editor of Long, Long Tales from the Russian North (published by University Press of Mississippi). Below Haney speaks about his work with Russian folktales and the importance of Afanas'ev’s work. 

When did you first become acquainted with Afanas'ev and his Russian Folktales?
I first became acquainted with some of the Afanas'ev folktales when I worked in a small way on the Oxford book of Russian Folk Literature, published in 1967. Though there were but eight folktales in that collection, they were enough to whet my appetite and I increasing turned my attention to the Russian folktale, and not only those in the vast Afanas'ev collection but to the corpus as a whole, which comprises several thousand tales, some recorded by serious folklorists and ethnographers and others popularly.Eventually I felt confident enough to begin offering a course on Russian folk literature to university undergraduates, a course I continued to teach until my retirement in 2001.

Were you the first to begin serious work on the Afanas'ev collection?
Oh, certainly not. In 1873 W.R. S. Ralston published
Russian-Folktales, which he dedicated to Afanas'ev. This was probably the first substantial work based on Afanas'ev, A very popular edition of some of these same tales by Arthur Ransome followed in 1916, although he retold them in his own inimitable way. Norbert Guterman published a large number of the tales in his Russian Fairy Tales in 1945 but since then there have been only the odd selections from Afanas'ev and the Guterman volume is now linguistically out of date and incomplete. In addition there is no apparatus with it so that for folklorists it is not very useful. It is time for the complete tales finally to appear in English.

You have previously published a series of volumes called The Complete Russian Folktale. How does that differ from the Afanas'ev collection? 
In that collection I sought to offer to the reader an example of every type of folktale recorded in Russian as listed in the index to the East Slavic folktales. The vast majority of those chosen were from collections other than Afanas'ev's; indeed, I used tales from the latter only when there were no alternatives available. Thus, the two projects are unrelated.

What is special about the Afanas'ev collection?
Not only is it the largest single collection of Russian tales, if not the largest collection of any one people's folktales by a single editor and collector, it is the most popular among the many, many Russian collections. Many of these Russian tales have become classics in their own right in Russia and have been translated into many languages Especially well  known are those featuring Baba Yaga, the Russian witch, but there are others as well.. They have been adapted for children, for whom they were not originally intended, and they have also been adapted for film and TV and even the stage in Russia so that some of them are widely known indeed.

What is the audience for which this translation is intended?
I hope that the tales will be widely read by all who like reading folktales but because of the apparatus I have provided they should prove useful to students at the high school and university levels, as well as serious folklorists who have no Russian or for whom the Russian editions are not available.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Baz Luhrmann: Interviews

Though he has made only five films in two decades—Strictly BallroomWilliam Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, and the Oscar-nominated films Moulin Rouge!Australia, and The Great GatsbyAustralian writer-director Baz Luhrmann (b. 1962) is an internationally known brand name. His name has even entered the English language as a verb, as in "to Baz things up," meaning "to decorate them with an exuberant flourish."

Released last month, Baz Luhrmann: Interviews collects twenty interviews that range from 1992 to 2013—the whole of Luhrmann’s feature directing career. Taken together, these conversations provide a chronological overview of his career and analytical insight into his work.

In this collection of interviews edited by Tom Ryan, Luhrmann discusses his methods and his motives, explaining what’s been important to him and his collaborators from the start and how he’s been able to maintain an independence from the studios that have backed his work. He also speaks about his other artistic endeavors, including productions of La Bohème and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and his and collaborative partner Catherine Martin, who has received two Academy Awards for her work with Luhrmann.

Most recently, Chanel brought on director Baz Luhrmann to create a short film celebrating their iconic fragrance Chanel No. 5. The result was a three-and-a-half-minute piece starring Gisele Bundchen titled “The One That I Want.” This is actually Luhrmann’s second film/advertisement for Chanel. His first was made in November 2004 and starred Nicole Kidman.

Watch the short film below and read a Vanity Fair interview with Luhrmann here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Q&A with Carolyn Brown, author of Song of My Life: A Biography of Margaret Walker

 Author Margaret Walker (1915–1998) has been described as “the most famous person nobody knows.” It is a shocking misperception of a woman who was an award-winning poet, novelist, essayist, educator, and activist as well as friend and mentor to many of our most prominent twentieth-century African American writers.

Song of My Life by Carolyn J. Brown intends to reintroduce Margaret Walker to readers by telling her life story—a story that many can relate to as she overcame familiar obstacles related to race, gender, and poverty. Walker's journey to become a nationally known writer and educator is an incredible story of hard work and perseverance.

Below we talk with Brown about her inspiration to study Walker's life, her research, and her future works. 

What inspired you to write a biography of Margaret Walker?

I discovered Margaret Walker after I moved to Jackson. I remember the moment exactly. I was reading an article in the January 2012 edition of Southern Living magazine entitled “Mississippi’s Literary Trail” when I first came across her name. I was excited to see the article in Southern Living because I knew it would mention the Eudora Welty House Education and Visitors Center, a place near and dear to my heart. However, after reading the section of the article devoted to the Welty House, the story continued and said to be sure to also visit “the Margaret Walker Center, home to the nation's second largest collection of a modern black female author's papers (second only to Maya Angelou's).” I was stunned.

Who was Margaret Walker? And, why, as well read as I profess to be, do I know nothing about her? I then quickly looked for information about her online, and discovered there was no book biography about her. As I collected more and more bits and pieces about this fascinating woman, I realized that I had found my next book subject—a second important woman writer from Jackson who has been sorely overlooked yet has had friendships with many of our most well-known twentieth century African American writers, such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez.

Where did you get the title Song of My Life?

The phrase “song of my life” comes from Margaret Walker herself. In an interview she gave to Dr. Jerry W. Ward that was published in the Mississippi Quarterly in 1988, Margaret Walker is looking back on her life and talking about writing an autobiography. She had various health issues, and said “I wonder if I can live to finish it. I keep feeling that it should be the best thing I’ve ever done. It should be a very good work. I wonder sometimes if the beauty I feel I have experienced in my life can be beautifully expressed there. . . .This book about my life will not be confessional. It won’t be purely social and intellectual history. But I do want it to be a song of my life.”

I love that phrase! Sadly, Margaret Walker did not live to finish it herself, but she left pages and pages of a draft of her autobiography at the Margaret Walker Alexander Center as well as many journals (she journaled all her life) which recently have been digitized by the staff at the Center and are accessible online. It was these materials that I used, along with interviews she gave at the end of her life, to write this biography.

What were some of the most exciting items you uncovered in your research?

I loved finding evidence of her life at various institutions where she attended school. For example, I went to the archives of Dillard University in New Orleans because Margaret attended Gilbert Academy and later New Orleans University (which today is Dillard) and there I found photographs of her parents who were both teachers there and Margaret’s name on the twelfth-grade graduation list. Northwestern University, where she went to school after New Orleans University, had a copy of her application. It’s a wonderful primary document; in it she responds to the question why she feels a college education will help her be successful. Seventeen-year-old Margaret responds that “I sincerely feel that a college education will best prepare me for the life of service I desire most to render to my people and country.” It is clear that she accomplished the goal she set for herself when she was a young woman.

For readers who are unfamiliar with Margaret Walker’s work, where would you suggest they begin?

Margaret Walker wrote in many genres, but she was first and foremost a poet, and I would recommend beginning with her most famous and award-winning poem “For My People.” That is her signature poem, and an excellent example of her work. I also would recommend Jubilee, the novel that was based on Walker’s great grandmother’s life and which took Walker over thirty years to write. Her great grandmother was born a slave in Terrell County, Georgia, and the novel is divided into three sections: the antebellum era, Civil War, and Reconstruction. It’s a landmark literary achievement as it presents the nineteenth-century African American experience from a female slave’s point of view. Walker’s research for Jubilee took her all over the South, and she draws on slave narratives and folk traditions to tell a powerful and emotional story of survival.

Are you planning to write any other biographies?

Carolyn Brown
Yes. My next biography is about Mississippi artist Kate Freeman Clark. I studied art history in college and thought it would be a nice change of pace after writing about two authors. I discovered Holly Springs artist Kate Freeman Clark in Patti Carr Black’s book Art in Mississippi 1720-1980 and her story intrigued me. After studying art in New York for several years with American Impressionist William Merritt Chase, Kate Freeman Clark abruptly returned to Holly Springs and apparently never painted again. 

What makes her story particularly fascinating is that in her will she bequeathed all her paintings to the city of Holly Springs as well as funds to build a gallery to store and show them. Over 1200 paintings sit in the gallery in Holly Springs and are the work of a first-rate American Impressionist painter! It is my hope that a book about her life will bring much-needed and well-deserved attention to Clark’s beautiful works of art.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Book Roundup

UPM is introducing seven new titles this month. All of the titles listed below are now available.

The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas'ev: Volume I, Edited by Jack V. Haney

The folktales of A. N. Afanas'ev represent the largest single collection of folktales in any European language and perhaps in the world. Widely regarded as the Russian Grimm, Afanas'ev collected folktales from throughout the Russian Empire in what are now regarded as the three East Slavic languages, Byelorusian, Russian, and Ukrainian. This volume is the first of a comprehensive trilogy that also includes commentaries to each tale.

Critical Interventions in Caribbean Politics and Theory, By Brian Meeks

These essays by Brian Meeks, a noted public intellectual in the Caribbean, reflect on Caribbean politics, particularly radical politics and ideologies in the postcolonial era. But his essays also explain the peculiarities of the contemporary neoliberal period while searching for pathways beyond the current plight.

Harmony Korine: Interviews, Edited by Eric Kohn

The newest edition of the Conversation with Filmmakers Series tracks Korine’s stunning rise, fall, and rise again through his own evolving voice. Editor Eric Kohn has brought together interviews from over two decades of the director’s career including rare interviews unavailable in print for years as well as a new conversation recorded at the filmmaker’s home in Nashville. As an interview subject, Korine is lively, complex, entertaining, and introspective. Korine is one of the most interesting filmmakers on the planet discussing his work. 

Hearths of Darkness: The Family in the American Horror Film,Updated Edition, By Tony Williams

This book traces the origins of the 1970s family horror subgenre  to certain aspects of American culture and classical Hollywood cinema. Williams investigates the key works of the 1970s by directors such as Larry Cohen, George A. Romero, Brian De Palma, Wes Craven, and Tobe Hooper, revealing the distinctive nature of films such as BoneIt's AliveGod Told MeCarrieThe ExorcistExorcist 2, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The book concludes with a new postscript examining neglected films of the twentieth and early twenty-first century.

Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten FamousComics and Their Creators, By Robert C. Harvey

Robert C. Harvey, cartoonist and a veteran comics critic, author of several histories of comics and biographies of cartoonists, tells forgotten stories of a dozen now obscure but once famous cartoonists and their creations. He also includes accounts of the cartooning careers of a ground-breaking African American and a woman who broke into an industry once dominated by white men.

The Port Royal Experiment: A Case Study in Development, By Kevin Dougherty

The Port Royal Experiment was a joint governmental and private effort begun during the Civil War to transition former slaves to freedom and self-sufficiency. Topics explored by Dougherty include planning considerations, philanthropic society activity, civil society, economic development, political development, and resistance. Each chapter presents the case study in the context of more recent developmental and nation-building efforts in such places as Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

A Vulgar Art: A New Approach to Stand-Up Comedy, By Ian Brodie
This book is the first examination of stand-up comedy through the lens of folklore.  By using a folkloristic approach to stand-up comedy, Brodie leverages the discipline's central method of studying interpersonal, artistic communication and performance. This book regards everything from microphones to clothing and LPs to twitter as strategies for bridging the spatial, temporal, and sociocultural distances between the performer and the audience.

Read a Q&A interview with Brodie here.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Praise for UPM Music Books

The most recent issue of ARSC Journal features reviews of two UPM books — The Amazing Jimmi Mayes: Sideman to the Stars and Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia, 1930-1942.

Reviewer Bill Dahl refers to Jimmi Mayes as the ‘Forrest Gump of the music business’ which is certainly an apt comparison as Mayes has shared the stage with several music luminaries throughout his widely varied career. Dahl goes on to say that “Mayes has penned a down-to-earth, succinct account of his existence, which commenced in segregated Jackson, Mississippi (where he began playing the skins while in high school and soaked up the blues all the while) before he took the long jaunt north to Chicago.”

And he finishes by saying, “Overall, this honest portrayal of Mayes’ life and times is an engaging and enlightening read.The Amazing Jimmi Mayes is available now from UPM. 
John W. Troutman reviewed Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia calling Christopher Wilkinson's book a “wonderfully researched”  presentation of the vibrant dance culture of West Virginia during the long 1930s. He goes on to say:
One of Wilkinson’s contributions lies in his ability to use a musical micro-history of West Virginia’s coal camps in order to further disrupt the dichotomies that originally defined the work of many music scholars: those of rural versus urban entertainments, of “hot” versus “sweet” jazz adherents, and of the musical preferences of whites versus blacks and middle class versus working class audiences.

Troutman also agreed that Wilkinson’ book was deserving of the Best Research in Recorded Jazz Music in 2013 award it received from the ARSC. Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia is now available in paperback. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Q&A with Ian Brodie, author of A Vulgar Art

Ian Brodie is the author of A Vulgar Art: A New Approach to Stand-Up Comedy. This book is the first examination of stand-up comedy through the lens of folklore.

By using a folkloristic approach to stand-up comedy, Brodie leverages the discipline's central method of studying interpersonal, artistic communication and performance. This book regards everything from microphones to clothing and LPs to twitter as strategies for bridging the spatial, temporal, and sociocultural distances between the performer and the audience.

Below is a conversation with Ian about his book, research, and what he sees as emerging trends in stand-up comedy. A Vulgar Art is now available from UPM.

Explain your title: is comedy necessarily ‘vulgar’?

No, at least not in the sense of dealing with taboo topics or using offensive language. But the title comes from a quote of George Carlin. In some of his final interviews he reminded us that ‘vulgar’ means ‘of the people’ (or ‘of the crowd’). It is not a top-down art form that requires the training of the academy or the conservatory: it emerges out of the real-world experience of people typically from outside of the corridors of power, and is directed to people of similar experiences. 

So A Vulgar Art refers to an inherently participatory form of talk between people in a non-hierarchical relationship that is similar to kinship and friendship, even when the comedian and the audience are actually strangers.

But many comedians can and do use vulgarity, in the more common sense meaning of that word.

True, but so can friends when they are among themselves. We speak according to the mores and norms of our group: we use different language in front of strangers from what we use in front of our families and our peers, and we are aware of those cues. And we use different language in times of play and leisure than we do at times of work. So comedians use the language appropriate to the group. If you do not like vulgarity in your day-to-day life you probably won’t like it much in your entertainment. Both the language and the content of stand-up is not what we would expect to hear in serious talk, in talk that is meant to be constructive or instrumental. It is play, and part of the comedian’s art is testing the limits of what is considered appropriate as part of that play, and he or she allowed to do so because the audience also frames it as play.

What makes ‘good’ stand-up comedy?

Louis CK
Stand-up aims at laughter: that is its goal. If a comic generates laughs it is good: if it does not it is bad (or, rather, it is a failed performance). It doesn't have to meet your criteria for what is funny, only the specific audience’s. A comic who has earned high praise from critics and crowds alike – let’s use
Louis CK as an example – still needs to make the people in front of him laugh, and if he does not it is a bad performance, because it stems from misreading the crowd. A comedian that might be otherwise thought of as a hack – let’s not use a named example – is performing ‘good’ comedy if the crowd is left laughing. 


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