From Jacob Oson’s “A Search for Truth; or, An Inquiry for the Origin of the African Nation” to Ann Plato’s Essays to William Still’s The Underground Railroad, nineteenth-century book writers connected their scholarly endeavors to unearthing a communal past. Oson accentuated Africa’s role as central to human history. Plato used the quiet dignity of her essays to highlight the role of black women in the immediate and larger communities of the period. Still presented the Underground Railroad as the living embodiment of a race’s communal struggle for dignity and recognition. He did so in a postbellum moment fraught with the politics of sectional reconciliation, which sought to eradicate the memory of a contested past.
The audience eagerly anticipated a larger-than-life figure, a novelist, journalist, sailor, war correspondent, exponent of modern marriage, sportswriter, and, most recently, a gentleman farmer-rancher. His audience reached from the workers with “hard hands and strong arms” to the affluent bourgeoisie of “placid . . . sedentary existence.” Awaiting his appearance in the hall, many in the audience opened purses or dug into trouser pockets to snap up the ten-cent “‘genuine’ blood red flags, the ‘Jack London souvenirs of a great and momentous occasion.’” The fiery female union organizer from the coalfields, Mother Jones, was in the hall, and her shout-out later in the evening was to be memorable for its typical “crisp” and “clipped speech.” The atmosphere was amiable, though the speaker was overdue because his train was late. When London finally took the stage at 9:15 P.M., no one in the audience (not even the New York Times reporter) guessed that the celebrated Jack London was half-sick from lingering effects of the flulike grippe. This was America’s epicenter of capitalism, and Gotham could flatten a man who didn’t show himself fit in body and mind. Such a man wouldn’t last one round.
As we travel home this Thanksgiving, it is worth taking time to reflect on the various meanings of this holiday—personal, collective, regional, and national. A product of nineteenth-century sectional, socio-sexual, and imperialist imperatives, Thanksgiving is far from a physically satisfying celebration involving a return to an uncomplicated home.
Gina Mahalek: Jack London is well known for his adventure novels, like The Call of the Wild. But apart from tales such as the one about a dog in the Yukon, who was he? And why does he matter today?
Cecelia Tichi: Jack London (1876-1916) was the most popular U.S. writer of the early 20th century, the first to earn $1 million. In a career spanning twenty years, he published fifty books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous essays. His books sold well internationally and have been translated into several languages. He continues to be one of the most famous and esteemed writers in the world—arguably better known and respected abroad than here in the United States.
These accounts were prefatory to what in the Puritan era would have been termed the “application” of Apess’s texts, specifically, how they served as “looking-glasses” or mirrors for white people to see themselves as they were. Look at the “reservations” in the New England states, Apess commanded, home to “the most mean, abject, miserable race of beings in the world,” places of “prodigality and prostitution” where rum corroded the inhabitants’ moral fiber, and sexual exploitation often was the result. “Agents” or overseers appointed by the state offered no help and often participated in the Natives’ exploitation, neglecting to educate them as the law required and helping themselves to wood and other cash crops on tribal lands. And why? It was because of racial prejudice, whites’ unwillingness to acknowledge the simple humanity of the Indians. “I would ask,” Apess wrote, “if there cannot be as good feelings and principles under a red skin as there can be under a white” (155–56).
It seems fitting that I should document the AMAZING PLACEment of this wonderful book on the New York Times Bestseller List. Thursday, May 7, 2015, I got word it was named #8 by the New York Times Bestseller list for the TRAVEL category.
“What Would Jesus Do About Measles?” asks Paul A. Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in the opinion pages of the New York Times. Recalling the 1991 measles epidemic in Philadelphia (1400 people were infected; 9 children died), Offit points out that the outbreak was so virulent because two fundamentalist Christian churches that discouraged vaccination were at its epicenter. Public health officials brought the epidemic under control—in part—by getting a court order to vaccinate children over their parents’ protests. Citing the current measles outbreak and the approximately 30,000 children in the United States who are unvaccinated for religious reasons, Offit makes the case for eliminating the religious vaccination exemption. Moreover, Offit thinks Jesus—who stood up for children—would get them vaccinated against measles to keep them safe and to protect others.
Friendliness was the vibe of my entire experience at ABA’s Winter Institute. I’d expected to meet several North Carolina-based booksellers, but I wasn’t prepared for the tremendous interest booksellers from California, Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Texas, and Ohio expressed. The thing was, they’d come to North Carolina, seen it with their own eyes, spent time here, liked what they saw, and clearly wanted to share a sense of that experience with their patrons. “Read these folks!” I told them. “You will get all sorts of perspectives on the state, from politics to lyrical meditations on its beauty.”
Contemporary documentary projects such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York thrive today in a spirit similar to that which led the vision of the Federal Writers’ Project and These Are Our Lives. They remind us that every life has a story, and every story matters.
Thrown out in the third century, rediscovered in 1906, these book rolls are finally now, in the twenty-first century, revealing to us the interests and priorities of a book collector who lived, read, and strove to understand his texts some eighteen hundred years ago.
The 5-volume set of ‘A History of the Book in America’ is now available in paperback at a special discounted price. Don’t miss out on this limited-time offer. Buy the set and save big!
To celebrate Tobe’s seventy-fifth anniversary, historian Benjamin Filene, director of public history at UNC Greensboro, will moderate a panel called “Voices of Tobe,” featuring special guest appearances by several individuals from Tobe, their descendants, and members of their community.
When it was published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin quickly became the most inflammatory, explosive, and politically significant literary text of the antebellum period. Adapted to the stage shortly thereafter, Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s moral fervor, emotional power, and iconic characters soon made it a theatrical institution.
Poet, playwright, and political activist Amiri Baraka passed away last Thursday at the age of 79. As one of the most significant black literary voices of his time, Baraka helped shape the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. His book Blues People: Negro Music in White America, is highly remembered as a classic chronicle on the role of jazz and the blues in American culture. Komozi Woodard, author of A Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Black Power Politics, spoke on a panel about Amiri Baraka’s legacy on Democracy Now.
The film tells the story of Solomon Northrup (Ejiofor), a free man and fiddle-player from New York who was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in Louisiana. It explores Northrup’s efforts to retain his dignity in the face of inhumanity as he longs for the family he was taken from and hopes for freedom throughout time in the employ of three different masters, ranging from a kindly preacher (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a cruel plantation owner (Fassbender). Remarkably, and horrifically, the story is a true one.
Our daily conversations help me understand Mother’s story. Her long life is filled with tales, like a library with shelves of books. Each day we select a story that reminds me of who I am and why family and place are so important in my life.
Even with all the criteria Farrell needed to meet, the final product is wonderfully authentic. Farrell explained, “The children look natural and unposed because I spent far more time on the little game we played than on the photography. The photography was incidental, and I think that only a few times were the children aware of the camera.”
My grandfather loved to tell me the long, frightening story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. When he finished telling the tale, I would ask him, “Grandad, tell it again.” And he would patiently tell me the story again. No memory from my childhood burns brighter than this story and its telling by my grandfather.
I like the discipline of history, especially the requirements that I support what I say with evidence and that I not ignore inconvenient evidence. But I wanted to write a book with emotional as well as intellectual depth. And so, borrowing elements of form and tone from fictional personal histories, I attempted a narrative of a love affair informed by the sensibility of a novelist.
Now available: Alan M. Wald’s American Literary Left Trilogy, Omnibus E-Book: Includes American Night, Trinity of Passion, and Exiles from a Future Time