Thursday, May 11, 2017


Comedian Mort Sahl turns 90 today, May 11, 2017. In honor of his birthday, James Curtis, author of the newly released biography of Sahl, pays tribute to the father of modern comedy. 

Today Morton Lyon Sahl turns 90, and, in typical fashion, he will celebrate with a performance. The scene will be a 102-year-old theater in Mill Valley, California, some ten miles from where he made his first professional appearance on December 22, 1953. Physically, the years have weighed heavily on him. He walks with the aid of a cane, and his vision, after a stroke in 2008 robbed him of the sight in one eye, limits the newspaper and magazine reading he once did by the hour. Seated in a chair, he’s not the bristling presence on stage he was in his prime, but once he begins to talk, the years melt away and he bears witness to the  twentieth century and what has come since in a way few people can.

Mort is not above making cracks about his age and physical condition. At a 2014 memorial for his pal Robin Williams, he slowly made his way to the lectern as some in the celebrity-laden audience appeared surprised he was still alive. When he finally reached center stage, he leaned into the microphone and said, “I’ve just about paid off my student loans.” More recently, he interrupted his entrance on a Thursday night to comment on the Duke Ellington tune the pianist was using as his theme music. “Don’t you think he should be playing ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’?” he asked.      

Mort Sahl was always quick-witted, but for more than 60 years the raw material for his act has been politics and current events. In earlier days, he was thought to single-handedly keep entire newsstands in business. Now most of his news comes from cable TV and the Internet. During the Republican primary season, he liked to pick on presumed frontrunner Jeb Bush. (“Now I know the true meaning of No Child Left Behind,” he said.) Presently he takes aim at Donald Trump and his family, often on Twitter: “We’ve had good presidents and bad presidents but never no president,” went a recent tweet. “Ivanka Trump calls herself a feminist. Does that mean she pays the Chinese boys and girls she employs the same $64 a week?” wondered another. “There is a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the conscience of America,” a third concluded.

It’s Mort’s mind that always fascinated me, that ability to think on his feet while using words the way a jazz soloist uses notes. It was a quality fully on display when I discovered him on Los Angeles television in 1966. Later, I saw him live in various venues and got to appreciate how beautifully he filled a small club with his wit. Everyone knew the broad outlines of his life. He started out attacking Richard Nixon, wrote quips for John F. Kennedy, married a Playboy centerfold, tanked his career over his criticism of the Warren Report. I always knew his story would make a good book, and I waited for years for someone to write it. When nobody did, I finally took the plunge after a decade of talking myself out of it.

Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy took four years to research and write. At the core of that process were 40 hours of recordings I made with Mort, asking him about the details of his life in a way I don’t think anyone else ever had. I expected it to be a difficult process, and in a way it was, since he’s by nature a suspicious and combative man. I think our relationship improved when I was able to turn him on to a Swedish jazz singer he had never encountered. Then for his 87th birthday I gave him a set of Bill Evans CDs, and any chill that remained between us instantly thawed. 

The book was never targeted for Mort’s birthday, and it’s pretty much a coincidence that it was ready for publication within days of the event. Some people wondered why I wanted to write it at all, though that was something I never questioned myself. In my mind, Mort Sahl is not simply a comedian, but a living part of modern history whose memories and observations are both funny and profound. And despite taking as much of a knocking-around as life can deliver, he’s still standing, still at it at a time when most of his contemporaries have passed from the scene, some, like Lenny Bruce, decades ago.

Not long after Mort’s historic debut at San Francisco’s hungry i, the tradition was established of introducing him to audiences as The Next President of the United States. So if you’ve ever laughed at Bill Maher, marveled at the filmmaking prowess of Woody Allen, or been riveted by a Dick Cavett interview, raise a glass today and toast the birthday of The Next President of the United States, the man who influenced them all, the iconoclastic father of modern comedy, the one and only Mort Sahl.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dan Duryea on Turner Classic Movies

When we discovered TCM would feature a Starring Dan Duryea night, naturally we asked Mike Peros, author of DAN DURYEA: HEEL WITH A HEART to give us a list of his favorite Dan Duryea movies. If one night of Dan Duryea isn't enough, make sure you follow up with Mike's list. 

Starring Dan Duryea, March 31 on TCM 

By Mike Peros, author of DAN DURYEA: HEEL WITH A HEART

Finally, after years of opening my TCM Now Playing guide and seeing all kinds of luminaries (and not-so-luminaries) being offered a month, a night, or a day, I was thrilled when I saw TCM offering a “Starring Dan Duryea” night on March 31.  It’s a good line-up, including the classic Western Winchester ’73, the seminal noir Scarlet Street, 1950’s The Underworld Story (as the flawed good guy in a brave film for the era), Another Part of the Forest (he was Leo in The Little Foxes; in this prequel, he’s a young Oscar Hubbard—in essence, he’s, playing his own father!) and Pride of the Yankees (he and Walter Brennan share some good banter as sportswriters).

Now the good people at TCM didn’t consult me, but if they had, I’d have come up with a slightly different schedule for the evening (I might stretch it to the following morning):

The Little Foxes – Talk about vivid first impressions.  Duryea’s performance as the scheming, sniveling Leo received its fair share of praise, making an indelible mark (for better or worse) on both critics and moviegoers.  Duryea benefited when Lillian Hellman adapted her play, both with added screen time and a memorable scene with his father Oscar—which was shifted by director William Wyler from the living room to the bathroom—to great dramatic effect. 

Scarlet Street – A far darker film than its companion piece The Woman in the Window (both were directed by Fritz Lang and starred Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett), and as uncompromising as you can get.  Here Duryea shows all the traits that made him a guy you love to hate—including slapping the female lead around.  His female fans loved it.

Black Angel – My favorite sympathetic Duryea portrayal.  He’s a lovelorn alcoholic pianist helping a young lady (of whom he’s become enamored) clear her husband of murder—specifically of Duryea’s ex-wife.  It’s a haunting noir, with great support from June Vincent, Peter Lorre, and Broderick Crawford.

Still from Criss Cross
Criss Cross – Duryea is a slick mobster, Burt Lancaster is a naïve armored car driver, and Yvonne De Carlo is the woman they both desire. Duryea and Lancaster hate each other, but that doesn’t stop them from planning a daring heist.  If you’re thinking this can’t end well—it doesn’t.  Essential viewing!

The Underworld Story – Hard-hitting drama about an unscrupulous reporter exiled to the hinterlands who develops a conscience as he gets his big break which involves both a murder and the subsequent hounding of an innocent young woman.  It was a brave film that tackles mob rule, McCarthyism and racism. Duryea is terrific, with Herbert Marshall and Gale Storm lending good support.

Ride Clear of Diablo – A lively Audie Murphy western is elevated by Duryea’s performance as a cackling, carefree outlaw named Whitey (he played a few outlaws named Whitey in the 1950s) who befriends and bedevils Murphy’s naïve deputy.  Duryea and Murphy play beautifully off each other in the best of three Murphy/Duryea teamings.

World for Ransom – Robert Aldrich takes Duryea’s television China Smith, gives him a new name and more of a “fallen romantic” past in this low-budget drama of a jaded private eye doing his best to keep his friend out of trouble—at the behest of his former love—now married to the friend.  Duryea is both tough and sensitive as a very reluctant hero, with Patric Knowles, Marian Carr, and Reginald Denny providing very capable supporting work.

Still from The Burglar
The Burglar – Another low-budget thriller, another fine Duryea performance as an aging burglar who makes a big score, then fights his feelings for his ward (Jayne Mansfield) as he eludes a sweaty, corrupt and possibly murderous cop.   It’s one of Duryea’s best performances, as he invests a weary career criminal with a depth of feeling that makes his final redemptive actions quite credible.

To learn even more about Dan Duryea, purchase your copy of DAN DURYEA: HEAL WITH A HEART here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Interested in interning at UPM?

Find out what it's like to work as an intern at UPM in their own words. Two former interns, Aaron Payne and Jess Bennett, take over the blog to discuss their experiences at UPM. To apply, send a resume and cover letter to Emily Bandy ( The deadline to apply for both the McRae Internship and editorial internships is April 10.

Aaron Payne
When I first heard about the possibility of an internship with the University Press of Mississippi at Delta State University, I was immediately interested. I had been waiting for the chance to see what real editing is like, and this internship has been exactly that. I learned that there are separate fields within editorial—acquiring (bringing in new books) and production (copyediting, proofreading, and indexing books). This internship focuses on production and involves checking a manuscript over and over again to make sure you have caught all of the errors and that everything is laid out correctly.
            I went into the internship being nervous and not fully knowing what to expect, but that changed immediately. Project Manager Shane Gong Stewart quickly made me feel at ease, and from there we just started working. There was no rush, so I did not feel pressured to get things done. I was able to work efficiently at my own pace. One of the things I started with was looking at, reading, and editing indexes. I did not realize how much work and attention goes into editing the index for a book. The selected entries are very specific, and there are more organizational rules than one would think. There are many rules to apply at one time—for instance, checking the proper use of dashes and following rules for selecting subentries and cross references for overlapping ideas, all while alphabetizing entries and making sure page numbers are in numerical order. Everything needs to be checked multiple times, and it really helps to read the index out loud to check for mistakes, as tedious as it can be at times.
            Another element of production that I learned about was coding manuscripts. After editing several indexes, I was then given a document to code. I inserted codes that would indicate particular formatting cues for the designer, ranging from coding for line spacing, chapter titles, chapter authors, extracts, footnotes, and bibliographies to inserting callouts for pictures. It was an interesting aspect of production to get to work on.
            One of the bigger projects that I worked on this semester was an interview book, Jim Shooter: Conversations. One of the press’s series is a compilation of interviews with comic artists (Conversations with Comic Artists). The Jim Shooter book was interesting for me to work on because I enjoy comics-based television shows and movies, so reading about the original comics, especially hearing from the creators and writers of those comics appealed to me. It was remarkable learning that Jim Shooter started writing for DC Comics while he was still in high school and that that was how he entered into comic writing. With this project, I was involved in several different aspects of the editing process: I helped code and format the book, and then I got to read through it, correcting grammar and making sure the text flowed well and maintained the voice of the speakers. (The latter task is what I had been envisioning as editing and what I thought I would be doing from the beginning of a career as an editor.)
            Perhaps what has stuck with me most so far from this internship is the moment I actually felt like an editor. I was going through a completed PDF and checking that the chapter titles matched the contents page, the running heads were consistent, dashes were used correctly, spacing was accurate, the text was justified, and any errors in the formatting of the document were caught. After learning of all these elements and the rules to follow, the editing—in particular the difference between a hyphen, em dash, and en dash—started to click in my head. I also noticed that I was starting to apply these rules to the materials I was reading in my spare time. Looking for these attributes was starting to become second nature to me. It was in that moment that I realized I was truly learning these rules and applying them to aspects in my life. It was empowering.
            All in all, this internship has been very enlightening. It has helped me grow as a student, but more importantly it has given me ideas for career possibilities. What I have liked most about this internship is the chance to get to talk about life with Shane. Not only have I been able to learn about the process of editing from her, but she has also taken the time to invest in me and share personal experiences about life after college. She has shared her knowledge and has given me valuable information that will be applicable to my life moving forward. This is the kind of advice and guidance that I have been wanting since starting college—knowledge that is truly life applicable and that will help me succeed out on my own in the “real world.” This internship has given me editorial experience with that type of guidance as an added bonus.

Jess Bennett
Over the summer I had the privilege to work in the University Press of Mississippi’s main office in Jackson through the McRae Internship, an experience that required me to work with each branch of the press from editorial to business and marketing.  This internship was very intensive, especially since many positions in the press were changing during that time.  Our previous director changed presses, for example, while the head of the design department retired.  Refilling these positions consistently altered the work load among press employees, and this fluctuation lasted for the whole summer. 
            Once I returned to Delta State for my senior year, I anticipated that my work load would be easier, since I would only be working with the editorial department.  While my suspicions were true insofar as work load was concerned, the nature—perhaps enormity—of each assignment was quite different than in my previous year.  Still feeling the aftershocks of the summer staff changes, the editorial department had lost a lot of time on certain projects.  One such assignment, which Project Manager Shane Gong Stewart undertook a large portion of, was The Mississippi Encyclopedia, a lengthy project that, like any encyclopedia, requires fine-toothed combing in order to make sure each entry is accurate.
            While Shane dealt with the Encyclopedia, Aaron Payne, my fellow intern, and I helped with many of the remaining projects.  Naturally, we felt the same time crunch, meaning that these assignments not only needed to be handled well, but also in a timely fashion.  This aspect of the job proved more difficult than last year because I also encountered more challenging aspects of the editorial process.  For example, one of the projects I worked on was a book of interviews with the Chinese film director Wong Kar-Wai.  Naturally, many of the interviews were translated into English, and though the majority of the book’s content was very engaging, Shane and I found that some passages did not translate clearly.  At that point, we were confronted with one of the many difficult questions that editors have to wrestle with: what are the limitations on an editor when he or she works with a translation?  Of course, I was under the same time limitations as Shane, meaning that I had to process difficult situations such as translation in a short amount of time.
            Despite the difficulty of these challenges, the outcome was still quite rewarding.  When I face challenges of a similar nature in a college course, there is generally more time to navigate through each difficulty.  This luxury often does not occur in a job.  However, I felt a sense of accomplishment through being able to handle these challenges in a short amount of time.  While working at the main office, I learned that time, as far as the work force is concerned, is hardly ever ideal.  So, in a sense, I feel more prepared to enter “the real world.”
            One part of my job that was not affected by all the changes in the main office was the concern that Shane shows towards her workers.  This semester I came in with two capstone projects hanging over my head—one for English and one for History—and Shane said right at the start that if I felt like I was getting overwhelmed, then I needed to let her know as soon as possible.  Speaking frankly, any worker is lucky to come across such concern.  The fact that Shane shows this consideration for her interns exemplifies how wonderful a supervisor she is.  Furthermore, a similar level of consideration is present in the University Press of Mississippi as a whole, and I am excited to see where my final semester as an editorial intern takes me.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Celebrate Women's History Month!

March is Women’s History Month, so now through March 31, these five titles are on sale. If you purchase all five, we’ll send you a tote bag and a sixth book on women for free!

Edited by Earl G. Ingersoll
Paper, $15.00
"I think the worst thing that can happen to a poet is to be self-conscious, to think, 'I'm writing a poem' the moment that you're writing a poem."

Susan E. Kirtley
Paper, $15.00
A critical biography of one of the pioneers of alternative weekly comic strips

Martha Wyatt-Rossignol
Cloth, $25.00
A first-person account from a black Mississippian navigating the tumultuous civil rights era and its aftermath

Steve Taravella
Paper, $15.00
The full story of one of Hollywood's most accomplished character actresses

Elise Varner Winter
Edited by JoAnne Prichard Morris
Cloth, $15.00
The firsthand account of a governor's wife who transformed her position from Mansion hostess to a more meaningful role in state government

Buy all five to receive a tote bag AND a sixth book free!!!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Creole Cobwebs:The Story behind Flight Risk

Once a week I grab a broom and climb on a chair to sweep away the cobwebs clinging to my sixteen-foot ceilings. I’ve seldom spotted any actual spiders yet have never seen so many cobwebs. And like my memories, I can’t keep up with them. Unbidden shadow shows from other times and places fill my mind with a gauzy light, taking over whole corners of consciousness just like the relentless spiders at work above. If anybody had predicted years ago, while I was drifting from one end of the earth to the other, that one day in my sixties I’d be living alone in the French Quarter, brushing away cobwebs and writing a memoir titled Flight Risk, I would only have had one thing to say.
                 Why, of course.  
                 Like many Southerners, I relate to people by telling them stories, and often the ones I come back to are my own. We are the stories of our lives, and storytelling is how we integrate our personalities into an autonomous “I,” the past into the present. Our selective memories edit us into being with the blue pencil of passing time. Once we lose that narrative thread, we’re no longer ourselves, as Alzheimer’s teaches us. The storytelling instinct is more than entertainment or self-aggrandizement; it wells up from an atavistic place connected to self-preservation and tribal identity. The tipsy after-dinner anecdote is a distant echo of the griot or shaman or bard sitting around the fire.
                As I stare up at the ceiling scanning the batwings of cobwebs, I wonder what I’ve been running from most of my life. For several years, of course, I was racing away from a backward Southern past. Flight Risk begins with the saga of how I escaped from the gothic mental hospital to which my parents committed me when I was nineteen, and then continues with a hair-raising flight a decade later from a Guatemalan jail, and several years after that, how I snuck out of China, abandoning my life there along with many of my collectivist ideals. These stories foreshadow a more recent one, how I escaped from the biblical floods in a stolen school bus three days after Katrina hit New Orleans.
                Hanging in my living room under the cobwebs are newly framed family documents rescued from a musty shoebox, where they were stored for a hundred-and-fifty years. New Orleans Creoles never threw anything away, particularly papers pertaining to their origins.  Perhaps my spiders are direct descendents of my family’s, French Quarter incarnations of Clotho, the spinner among the Three Fates who has woven the web of my past.
                Yet occasionally I need to brush down the cobwebs so that they don’t take over my present life. Writing and publishing this book has been a way to do that. I hope that I’ve also captured the history of my times and of the places where I’ve lived, as any memoir should. In French, histoire means both an individual’s story and also our collective one: history. One thing is clear: my personal histoires would be blown away like the dust from slave bricks unless I make them part of history by getting this book into your hands.   

Below is a list of titles that Nolan says have inspired his writing.

Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories
T.C. Boyle, Stories, Vols. I and II
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: all short stories and novels

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass 
Pablo Neruda, Residence on Earth and Isla Negra: A Notebook 
Federico Garcia Lorca, Selected Poems

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory

Praise for Flight Risk

 Flight Risk graces New Orleans with one of its most enduring literary portraits. There’s suspense and beauty on every page.” –Andrei Codrescu

“... vivid, entertaining, and utterly memorable, one of the most enjoyable reads that has come my way for a very long time.” –Alexander McCall Smith

“James Nolan … sure can tell a story and build it up to a climax.” –Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“A knockout! Boomer memoirists will read James Nolan and weep with envy ... He writes like magic.” –Jed Horne

“A wryly eloquent memoir of world travel and the joys, and difficulties, of returning home.” –Kirkus Reviews

Flight Risk: Memoirs of a New Orleans Bad Boy is available online from University Press of Mississippi or at your favorite local bookstore. Purchase your copy today.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Ten Marketing Tips for Authors --- an Undercover Agent's Hit List

When Charlie Spillers started campaigning for his book, Confessions of an Undercover Agent: Adventures, Close Calls, and the Toll of a Double Life, we knew immediately we had a remarkable author on our hands. He learned like lightning, was a self-starter, kept us informed, and kept on conquering. We thought it would be a help to all first-time authors for Charlie to write about what he learned.

10 Marketing Tips for Authors

            Marketing a book is not about the book—it’s about people: potential readers, bookstore owners and managers, members of civic organizations, and the media.

            During the past nine months I have done more than seventy book events in three states, and many newspaper, radio and TV interviews. Those didn’t occur on their own.

            Marketing a book is the personal responsibility of an author. Although the publisher may have a marketing and publicity department, they are busy with other books and authors and can’t concentrate solely on your book. Only you can do that. Your primary tools are personal appearances at book signings, and doing media interviews. 

            The publisher and bookstores will arrange some book talks and signings. You should consider that the minimum and seek opportunities to arrange additional events that will increase the popularity of your book and generate sales. For me and my book, that meant doing these things.

            1. Bookstores. Identify other bookstores and contact them to arrange book events. For example, my publisher had never scheduled events for one small bookstore in a small town. I contacted the store and about fifty people attended the book talk and signing. That led to an invitation to do a book talk to a large senior citizens group. When store owners and managers become aware of your offers to do book signings they will place book orders. Those book sales likely would have been missed had you not pursued them.

            2. Support bookstores by signing stock. I regularly check with bookstores and sign their stock. And before going on a trip I’ll check with the bookstores along the route and offer to stop by and sign stock. While on vacation in Florida I contacted bookstores and offered to sign stock.  That prompted two stores to order book shipments. Autographed books help sales and bookstores appreciate that kind of author support.

            3. Arrange talks to groups and civic clubs. I spent many hours researching civic clubs around the state and in adjoining states.  Most clubs, especially Rotary Clubs, are always looking for speakers. I usually email the president or other officer and offer to speak. I include a brief bio, an image of the book cover and an author photo. I also mention any personal connection to the town, such as having lived there while growing up. If any stories in the book pertain to the area, I’ll point that out.

            4. Reach out to the media for coverage of events. When a signing is scheduled for a book store, I’ll ask the owner if he or she has media contacts that will publicize the event. I also offer to do interviews with newspapers, radio stations and TV stations. I research radio, TV and newspapers in the area and sometimes make direct contact, usually by email. As a result of those efforts I’ve done many media interviews that would not have otherwise occurred.

            5. Arrange book talks at libraries. Most have monthly books and lunch programs. I send an email offering to do a book talk. Libraries usually allow the author or a bookstore to sell books at the event. Even though I may have books I usually try to arrange bookstores to cover the library events. That has two advantages—more sales for the stores and the stores can handle credit card purchases. Libraries usually publicize the event through their Facebook page and with an article in the local newspaper.

            6.  Generate turnout for events. Get out word about book signings through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, radio, newspaper, TV and emails to friends and contacts. Prior to a book event I will email and text friends, acquaintances and contacts in the area to let them know I will be doing a book talk. Instead of sending group messages, I message each individual. Facebook has been my biggest platform in getting word out about events, and fortunately many friends share the announcements on their FB page.

            7. Share information about the popularity of the book. I did this when my book became the #1 New Release on Amazon, when it was repeatedly on the weekly top 10 bestselling list or was recognized in some other way. Even small recognition helps. When I stop by Barnes & Nobles stores to sign stock the staff always mentions that the book is selling well. I sometimes mention that on FB. When readers know the book is popular, that news confirms their opinion of it and their desire to buy it.

            8. At book talks at clubs and libraries pass around a couple copies of the book. People will be more willing to stand in line after the talk to buy the book if they have had an opportunity to hold it and look through it. It requires a leap of faith to stand in line to buy it, especially when they haven’t even seen it.

            9. Make book events special. I want readers to feel like they have something special and therefore I take time to write meaningful inscriptions in books. Following book signings and talks I often post photos on social media and mention the names of some of the people who attended.

            10. Coordinate events and media with the publisher’s marketing and publicity departments.

            Finally, enjoy yourself at book events.  My greatest pleasure in being an author is being able to meet people, make new friends, and visit with old friends.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Excerpt: Direct Democracy: Collective Power, the Swarm, and the Literatures of the Americas

The recent film The Birth of a Nation is once again attracting attention to the story of Nat Turner and the 1831 rebellion against slavery in Southampton County, Virginia. The following is an excerpt from Scott Henkel’s forthcoming book, Direct Democracy: Collective Power, the Swarm, and the Literatures of the Americas, available this spring from UPM

In the first decades of the nineteenth century, southeast Virginia, like much of the region, experienced an economic depression that drove down the prices for cotton and other commodities, as well as the price for slaves. This region of Virginia trafficked enslaved people to much of the South, so when the depression slowed down this trafficking, the black population in the area rose. 

As census data shows, from 1800 to 1830, the white population in Southeast Virginia rose marginally, but the black population rose to a far more significant degree. The area’s population, therefore, was influenced by the movement and circulation of people, and also of ideas. Cedric Robinson writes that “in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Franco-Haitian slave owners fled to Louisiana, Virginia, and the Carolinas with as many slaves as they could transport, thereby also transporting the Haitian Revolution.” It was a dangerous mix: anxiety over the economy, a growing black population, and reports of slave rebellion throughout the South, the Caribbean, and Latin America combined to make the life of a slave, which was brutal to begin with, even worse. 

Nat Turner’s body bore the marks of what this life must have been: descriptions of him state that he had scars on one of his temples and the back of his neck, as well as a large knot on the bone above his right wrist, the result, most likely, of that bone breaking and then healing without having been set properly.

Such repression breeds resistance, and a growing black population in proximity to a population of whites growing increasingly frustrated yet comparatively smaller provides a good explanation of why such a rebellion occurred where and when it did. Turner and his peers must have noticed this shifting terrain, and sensed an opening. There may have also been a more immediate effect of the economic situation: indebted enslavers tended to talk about selling slaves, an act that always split families and laid bare the cruel characteristics of the slavocracy’s racial capitalism; predicting the impending sale may have prompted the plotters to carry out plans that had been long in the making.

One is tempted to speculate about what success may have meant in practical terms to Turner and his peers. The most likely goal seems to have been a life of marronage in the Dismal Swamp, about forty miles from Jerusalem, now Cortland, where the rebellion started. One could also take the so-called Confessions of Nat Turner literally on this point, and believe that the rebellion’s goal was to spread fear throughout the region. At minimum, it needs to be recognized that given the right set of circumstances, rebelling against an unjust system is itself an endeavor worth undertaking. 

This is not a blind lashing out, but rather merely to suggest that there are times when passive resistance becomes insufficient or intolerable and active resistance seems to be the only logical option, regardless of the consequences which may follow. In any case, the Southampton Rebellion is another piece of evidence to support C. L. R. James’ comment that enslaved people rebel because they want to be free, and that this is a fact that no ruling class wants to admit.  

It is reasonable to expect that the men and women who participated in the Southampton Rebellion had diverse ideas about what liberty meant to them, varying opinions of what the outcome of their rebellion might be, and various suggestions about the most effective tactics. Some may have fought out of rage, some to repay particular grievances, some because they thought the rebellion was a path to freedom for themselves or for their families.
Some participants may have acted out of an altruism that hoped that their rebellion would be a step towards universal emancipation. Yet the people who chose to participate found ways to cooperate even in the face of great difficulties, and they struck a blow that left a lasting mark on the slavocracy. They did not need to define liberty in exactly the same way; what they needed was to find ways to cooperate in order to make an effective challenge to the systematized injustices they faced. The participants in the Southampton Rebellion were successful in forging that cooperation, and that fact deserves recognition.

Scott Henkel is assistant professor of English and African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of Wyoming, specializing in the literature of labor and slavery, democratic political movements, critical theory, free speech and censorship, and complex systems. His research has appeared in the journals Walt Whitman Quarterly Review and Workplace: a Journal of American Labor as well as the edited volumes Problems of Democracy: Language and Speaking and The Grapes of Wrath: A Reconsideration.


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