Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sky Blue Water writers' seasonal traditions and Minnesota food experiences. (Part 2 of 2)

Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers is a one-of-a-kind collection of short stories that celebrate Minnesota's vibrant storytelling tradition. A rich and often under-appreciated part of this tradition is youth storytelling. This collection celebrates young adult and intermediate fiction from some of Minnesota's most beloved authors, emerging talents, and many more. In this two-part series, we feature short, diverse, meaningful reflections on various places and traditions, within and beyond Minnesota, by Sky Blue Water's contributors. Here are writers' reflections on place and tradition plus experiences with food and the chilly seasons. See also Part 1: Writers' favorite places to read, write (and not-write), and think.


I think my most unique dining experience in the greater Twin Cities area took place some years ago, when friends invited me to visit a Wisconsin "pizza farm" with them one Friday afternoon. We drove maybe 45 minutes until we crossed over "to the other side," found ourselves winding through various country roads and passing quaint towns, until we came to a beautiful and bucolic farm overflowing with people and cars. The food was so good there that people had come from two states (Wisconsin and Minnesota) to sample it! We spread out our blankets on a patch of grass, and then ordered our pizzas, whose toppings were all fresh ingredients from the farm, such as basil, tomatoes, mozzarella, and even bacon (Food of The Gods!). It took about 45 minutes to get our crispy, piping hot, wood-fired pizzas. Needless to say, they were gone in less than ten.


I remember my very first apple. We lived in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp. My parents had gotten clearance for our little family of four and a large group of cousins to venture to a small provincial town. For many of us, it was the furthest we had ever traveled. Armed with just a few bills, their entire life savings in the camp, my mother and father took us on our faraway adventure. There, we saw a glistening red apple on a street vendor's cart. We'd never seen the fruit before. In the camp, the fruit we knew best were the ripe bananas that Thai farmers sold to the refugees from the gates. The apple was 100 baht, more than half of what my mother and father had in their hands, but my sister, my cousins, and I looked, we yearned to touch, we said we smelled flowers we had no name for emanating off the red fruit. My mother and father bought us the single apple. We all took a bite. I remember the mushiness and the guilt of eating the expensive apple. To this day, I cannot tolerate soft apples. It brings to mind, too clearly, the taste of our yearning.


Every ethnicity has dishes that can be traced back to the homeland, and many of them are ethno-specific in the extreme. Balut, for example.* Or chipolines.** Or lutefisk.*** If you’re from Minnesota you’ve heard of lutefisk, although most of you probably haven’t tried it. I hadn’t . . . until I wrote Opposite Land, which concerns lutefisk and its Scandinavian proponents. In the name of research, I partook. I will say this: it was a memorable dish that no amount of white sauce or melted butter could redeem. Perhaps, in fairness, I should try “lutfisk,” the Swedish iteration—but I think I’ll pass.

*A duck fetus boiled and served in the shell (Philippines).

**Fried grasshoppers (Mexico).

***Salted, lye-soaked, dried, re-soaked, and boiled cod (Norway).


There is something celebratory and festive about eating outdoors, and I try to indulge in this custom as often as the Minnesota summer will allow. I look for restaurants with patios and invite myself onto people's porches. I walk long distances in the heat in search of ice cream. One of my favorite outdoor venues is Sandcastle, an elegant shack-like restaurant on Lake Nokomis, where you can order food and drink at the little window, and then eat by the water with your toes in the sand. It is almost a requirement that customers at Sandcastle bring a dog along when they dine, so there are many silver bowls of water available at snout-level. Signs warn against feeding the many ducks, but the ducks are probably getting fed; otherwise they wouldn't be so aggressive. The dogs and the splashing bathing-suited children usually keep the ducks in check. All in all, it is thoroughly charming. I was thinking about Lake Nokomis when I wrote my contribution to Sky Blue Water.


Lutefisk gets a bad rap and it should. It's a horrible, horrible thing. Eating it is not a rite of passage. It won't earn you any Minnesota street credibility. Anyone who says different is a liar. When I was 12 years old my dad encouraged me to eat some at a Scandinavian buffet my grandparents dragged us to before a Christmas concert. Everyone cheered me on. How could I say no? This was clearly going to be a cherished family memory and I'd be the star! I should have known better. Just one year before my grandfather Warren had tricked me into trying some mustard-slathered chitlins and didn't tell me what they were made out of until it was too late. Grandparents may seem kind and innocent. They're not. I cut into the fish jello. I took a bite. Pain. Horror. Betrayal. Beware the lutefisk!


One of my favorite travel stories is actually about a trip that someone else took. Many years ago, a photographer friend was making plans to embark on her first trip to Iceland. Before she left, I shared with her a poem by one of my favorite Minnesota writers, Bill Holm, along with one simple challenge. It was a short poem about a single tree in a single county on the northern edge of the country. My challenge? To find that tree and photograph it.

Here's the poem:

A Grove in Kelduhverfi
by Bill Holm

Here in this almost treeless district
a single Rowan tree stands next
to the south wall of the farmstead,
almost grown into the house itself.
This old one is taller than the house
and seems likely to survive its ruin
when the farmer quits to move to town.
That tree was watered, guarded, humored
probably given a name and loved.
It was a forest of one tree,
and not another one for miles.
One is enough; you do not need
a jungle to teach you what a tree is,
or a teeming city to teach you what is man.

A quick Google search will tell you that Kelduhverfi sits between a mountain and a river in a region of Iceland that has been vastly transformed over the centuries by shifting tectonic plates. In particular, there was apparently a real wild stretch of earthquakes in the late '70s and early '80s. Now, one would think this might make finding a lone tree a bit of a challenge. Who knows? Maybe it was a challenge. All I know is that, sure enough, she found it. And she returned from her trip with this beautiful photograph.


I’m 100% a place kind of person, and my favorite place on earth is the Big Island of Hawaii. But it might be the North Shore of Lake Superior, in our own lovely state. And it might be western Nebraska, where I grew up. I can’t quite decide. What do all these places have in common? Space. Beautiful natural surroundings. A lack of people. A calm but intense energy. A distinct sense of being away from it all. Visiting cities is pretty great, too—I loved Athens, Istanbul, London, Dublin, New York, Los Angeles—but I’m always going to want to come home to the quiet peace of uninhabited land. There’s nothing more soul-nourishing than communing with oceans (inland or otherwise), trees, and hills instead of screens and people caught in the frenzy of the twenty-first century. Old-fashioned? Of course. But give me that rural life any time. Give me my nature. Give me my space.


I love the day I wake up and know that the ice on the nearby lake is walkable. Like discovering an amazing book or a secret room, I am allowed into a place that was formerly forbidden. It is full of clues to a hidden world: leaves, frozen in place; trapped bubbles; abandoned nests. The world looks different from this new perspective—the sky closer, and the shore far away. There is a delicious hint of danger as well—perhaps I’ve gauged it wrong and might fall through. So I walk slowly and carefully over the clear, black ice like a brave pioneer, thrilled to my boots.


When I was a child and my grandmother was alive, we celebrated the shift from fall into winter with a Hmong new year spirit calling ceremony. I have memories of seeing my older cousins, holding huge wooden pestles, pounding rice cakes in a communal bin in Uncle Chue's old, unfinished basement. My mother and my aunts wrapped the sticky rice cake in pieces of foil paper. We grilled them on hot pans. Ate the sticky off our fingers with the sweet taste of dark corn syrup. I can still smell the scent of incense throughout the house, leading to the open doorway and the stretch of Minnesota's gray dawn. My grandmother, her round, soft body, was the separation between our warm world and the cold outside. After she called out our names into the dark to return to the safety of those who loved us, we feasted on chicken drumsticks and bowls of steaming jasmine rice. We dipped the chicken into bowls of spicy Thai chili and fish sauce. The turn of the seasons still bring me back to those many years in America, where we entered from fall into winter, upon the call of our grandmother's voice.


As an adopted Minnesotan, I noticed a winter ritual right away when I moved here in 1992: winter itself! My favorite thing about this state (aside from our exceedingly beautiful nature) is the fact that Minnesotans go outside, in all weather, even in the winter. I have joyfully participated in our winter party since I arrived. In fact, the first package I received from my dad at my new Minnesota address was a pair of Cabela’s long johns (I still have them!). Though I’m not as brave as people who bike to work in February, I own a pair of snowshoes and a pair of skis, and I use them as often as I can. I do refuse to take a vehicle on a frozen lake—that’s a firm boundary—but I’ll do just about anything else outside in the winter. It’s too gorgeous to stay inside!

Part 1: Writers' favorite places to read, write (and not-write), and think.

The writers here are contributors to Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers, a collection that embodies passion for fostering literacy in young readers. Sky Blue Water celebrates young adult and intermediate fiction from some of Minnesota’s most beloved and award-winning authors to emerging talents and many more. Featuring primarily never-published stories, this anthology beautifully captures the essence of Minnesota adolescence in twenty short stories and poems. A portion of the proceeds from Sky Blue Water will go to the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, a Twin Cities organization offering free tutoring and writing assistance for students ages six to eighteen.

"This mother lode of short stories by talented Minnesota writers offers vivid glimpses into the cultural life of the state through the eyes of its youth. The authors get into the heads of their young characters through their spot-on use of dialogue and genuine senses of innocence and wonder."—Kirkus Reviews

"A high-quality anthology full of classroom potential, sure to inspire budding writers and hook casual readers, too."—School Library Journal

Sky Blue Water writers' favorite places to read, write (or not write), and get inspired. (Part 1 of 2)

Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers is a one-of-a-kind collection of short stories that celebrate Minnesota's vibrant storytelling tradition. A rich and often under-appreciated part of this tradition is youth storytelling. This collection celebrates young adult and intermediate fiction from some of Minnesota's most beloved authors, emerging talents, and many more. In this two-part series, we feature short, diverse, meaningful reflections on various places and traditions, within and beyond Minnesota, by Sky Blue Water's contributors. Here are writers' favorite places to write, read, and get inspired, whether outdoors, at home, or at the library. See also Part 2: Food and seasons.


I was stuck. I was desperate. I had some serious revisions to do but couldn’t see my way through the tangle of words. I longed to get away from the computer to a place of seclusion, peace, and beauty; but where? I was in the city and couldn’t go far. Without much hope, I googled “waterfall, path, Minneapolis, secret,” and up popped “Hidden Falls Park.” It looked like just the thing, so I packed up lawn chair, snacks, and manuscript and headed out. Half an hour later I was comfortably wedged between a rock wall and a tree growing on the edge of a cliff. With an enchanting view over the cliff, to my right, the gurgling waterfall a few feet ahead, and a shifting, leafy, light-filled green all around, I sat for a full hour just listening and watching, the pen slack in my hand. The tangle started to relax. After a time the thread of an idea came clear, and I wrote it down. Then another came, and another. A few minutes into the second hour I was scribbling page after page, and by the time I had to leave, many hours later, the writing was in a completely new place.

Lynne Jonell's writing space.


I have loved two libraries, one like a husband and the other like a lover. The Arlington Hills (St. Paul) branch in the old Carnegie building was solid and strong and it was close to our house so it was where our father usually took us in the old, maroon Chevrolet Caprice—a former cop car he had found for cheap. The other: the Rice Street Public Library, its building younger, its brick newer, its contents more mysterious because we only went there once in a long while. At one library, I was myself, a thin Hmong kid with straight bangs and arms full of books that I was interested in. At the other, I dressed up in some cleaner version of myself, my moves more hesitant toward the shelves, my selections limited to only the books that I knew I would read. I grew up with a husband library and a lover library and they both were good to me.


I grew up going to the Carnegie library in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and my favorite library today is the Carnegie library in St. Anthony Park in St. Paul. Like many Carnegie libraries, it’s a beautiful, symmetric building, and this one’s even more stunning as it sits on an angle to the street. Like many Carnegie libraries, it became too small and in 1999 an addition was put on. This was the marvelous round children’s room that was placed behind the building in order to preserve the architectural integrity of the original library. Pay a visit to this extraordinary building. Check out the beautiful gardens in front in the summer. Ascend the stairs and walk into this peaceful space. Notice the big windows that allow light to stream in. It’s a temple of books, of words, of the world. I feel fortunate to live in the land of Sky Blue Water, a place that values libraries and has so many beautiful ones for us to use.


Of course, the Hopkins Library on 11th Avenue had books. I remember the spinners of paperbacks from which my mother always found the most interesting novels to read aloud to me. I remember low bins at waist height where you could flip through the picture books in the same way adults looked for albums at the record store. There were shelves of fiction alphabetized by author’s last name (Aiken, Cleary, Cooper, London, Paulsen, Wilder). Yes, there were books.

But there was also the bathtub. Tucked into the children’s area, this old-fashioned (even in the 1970s and 1980s) cast iron tub was prime real estate for curling up in while your mother finished browsing in the mysteries. Lined with orange shag carpeting, the tub was often filled with other kids waiting for their own mothers and fighting over the few flattened pillows (or maybe it’s ratty stuffed animals I’m remembering). When you were small you had to figure out how to scale the tub’s tall sides with a book tucked under your arm. Once your legs were longer, it was easy to maneuver in with a stack of Anne of Green Gables. Eventually, the bathtub fell victim to what I can only guess were bureaucratic choices or liability fears (head lice, anyone?), and the children’s area no longer includes an orange-carpeted tub.

Luckily, the books are still there.


Alhambra Civic Center Library (California) was the very first library I visited in America. It was there where I learned and was fond of the English learning language collection. It was there that I dreamed to become someday the Lady in Square Glasses and White Ruffled Blouse sitting at the circulation desk. I don’t know why she always looked serious. Two decades later, I became the first Vietnamese librarian in Minnesota and currently work at the Augsburg Park Library, my hometown and favorite library, where I meet library users from all walks of life. It is there that I have dedicated my time to helping new immigrants transition into life in America. I believe that my work has inspired others to also pursue their dreams and a good education. It is there when I hear kids unexpectedly say the darnedest things that make grownups around them laugh or be embarrassed, from Do you fix cars? to Why do you have an extra long tooth? to Why is there a portable toilet on the library roof? to Why does the snapping turtle visit the library? Believe it or not, all these questions have been asked and I have answered them all accordingly. Most of all, our library staff have refined and learned new skills to meet new needs and expectations. Boys and girls, go ask Librarian Phước Trần for the recipe of her birthday cake baked in the refugee camp and the instructions how to make a lucky charm. Augsburg Park Library is located at 7100 Nicollet Ave S, Richfield, MN 55423.


Every place is a good place to write when you’ve got something that needs to be written. That being said, I do have two favorite writing places. In Duluth it is my “little house in the backyard,” a 10-by-12 shed outfitted with a little woodstove, a little desk, and a big window overlooking Tischer Creek. My other favorite place is the screen porch of my cabin, which is where I am now. It overlooks a north woods lake and the surrounding woods.

Probably the reason I love these places so much is that they offer so much in the way of distraction. Really, they are both wonderful places to not write. There’s so much else going on: a ballet school of mergansers come clattering across the lake, executing chassé in their underwater toe shoes; a pileated woodpecker instructs Junior how to jackhammer beetles out of a rotten log; a red squirrel scolds everyone in French (I presume, given the way he rolls his r’s) . . . there are hummingbirds on surveillance missions, chattering kingfishers, and this morning three baby raccoons that trundled up the wrong tree, causing no end of parental consternation. And every day there is the lake itself, undergoing constant scene changes.

Really! How’s a person to get any writing done?


Birds of a Feather

In late August loons flock up on northern Minnesota lakes before heading south for the winter. Similarly, I meet about the same time of year for a weeklong island retreat with other writers of children’s and YA literature. Incredibly, this ritual has been going on for the past 25 years.

Many of these retreats have taken place on Mallard Island, also known as "Ober’s Island," so named after the early environmentalist Ernest Oberholtzer. More recently, we’ve been meeting on nearby Atsokan Island, with an occasional cruise on the island’s restored yacht, Virginia. (Islands and boats find their way into my YA novels, Frozen and Ice-Out, though I rename them.)

An island retreat is the perfect way to shut out the daily patter of life and sink wholly into one’s own work. Temps on the last retreat dropped close to 34 degrees one night, yet the sun warmed the sand beach and rocky shore to the mid-70s during the days. Along with taking saunas, jumping into brisk water, napping, and hiking, our retreats are built around writing on our own, usually in separate cabins, and gathering toward evening to share what we’re working on. In a semi-circle beside a fire in the lodge’s stone hearth, we read from our work-in-progress. Over the years, we’ve left our light fingerprints on each others’ works through critique questions, but always, we respect the work-in-progress as the author’s to revise as she must.

Now I must wait for our next retreat, but I’m grateful it’s on my calendar. I wouldn’t be where I am as a writer today or have published nearly as many books without these annual retreats and the nurturing friendships of other dedicated, amazing writers.

We writers are pretty solitary, but like the Minnesota state bird, there are times when we need to flock up again before setting off toward our next destination.


When I write, my dog just stares at me. His face is filled with despair, like he's pretty sure I won't come up with anything worthwhile today or ever. I should just give up, close my computer, and rub him behind his soft, sweet ears. "I'll prove you wrong, Bruce Valentine!" I tell him. It's very inspiring.

Bruce Valentine.


I am so proud and just tickled to pieces that for two years in a row my children's books Powwow Summer (Minnesota Historical Society Press) and The Farmers Market: Families Working Together (CarolRhoda) have been chosen for the Floating Library project on Twin Cities-area lakes. Sarah Peters, artist, writer, and arts administrator, is the creator of this public art event. "This project draws on the common past time of beach reading and the inventive thinking of artists working with the form of the book to provide context-appropriate and uncommon reading material to people who are already gathered on the water."

Part 2: Ruminations on place, tradition, and uniquely Minnesota dining experiences.

The writers here are contributors to Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers, a collection that embodies passion for fostering literacy in young readers. Sky Blue Water celebrates young adult and intermediate fiction from some of Minnesota’s most beloved and award-winning authors to emerging talents and many more. Featuring primarily never-published stories, this anthology beautifully captures the essence of Minnesota adolescence in twenty short stories and poems. A portion of the proceeds from Sky Blue Water will go to the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, a Twin Cities organization offering free tutoring and writing assistance for students ages six to eighteen.

"This mother lode of short stories by talented Minnesota writers offers vivid glimpses into the cultural life of the state through the eyes of its youth. The authors get into the heads of their young characters through their spot-on use of dialogue and genuine senses of innocence and wonder."—Kirkus Reviews

"A high-quality anthology full of classroom potential, sure to inspire budding writers and hook casual readers, too."—School Library Journal

Friday, November 18, 2016

#UPWeek | #ReadUP | University Press Week: Meet our first director and get a preview of this weekend's Avant Museology, a collaborative two-day symposium.

Today's post is published in connection with University Press Week, which is organized by the Association of American for University Presses (AAUP). University Press Week was first declared in 1978 by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. More background on #UPWeek can be found here. Likewise, in connection with Give to the Max Day (an initiative to support Minnesota nonprofits on Nov. 17), we published a piece on the early history of University of Minnesota Press, whose first director was Margaret S. Harding—the first woman director of any university press in the country.

As a university press, community is at the center of our mission, and below, Posthumanities series editor Cary Wolfe demonstrates one of our commitments to our communities: a two-day symposium, Avant Museology, that is a collaboration with Walker Art Center and e-flux, which begins on Sunday.

Posthumanities series editor

The University of Minnesota Press’s co-sponsorship of Avant Museology (a two-day symposium co-sponsored with e-flux and the Walker Art Center) showcases how art, architecture, theory, and philosophy can make common cause and how the Press's Posthumanities series occupies a unique role in bringing theorists and artists into conversation. The series has long been committed to the idea that theorists, philosophers, and scholars—working as they do in the relatively impoverished medium of words and texts—have much to learn from artists, designers, architects, and others who work in rich, multidimensional media that allow a kind of non-analytical, non-propositional form of conceptualization of the problems and questions that animate theory and criticism today: questions of the place of the human in relation to other forms of life; the past, present, and future of the planet; and how technology is informing these in ever more visible and dramatic ways. Institutions such as the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota Press have a key role to play in supporting and sustaining these increasingly interdisciplinary exchanges; and many of the volumes in the Posthumanities series—now at 39 titles—take up the relationship between art, architecture, design, and theory, including Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, and series editor Cary Wolfe’s What Is Posthumanism?

On Monday, November 21, at 3:45, Wolfe and Morton will engage in a free-wheeling conversation at the Walker Art Center on the topic “Avant What?” Morton and Wolfe will explore the idea of the avant and the various ways in which avantness has historically been incarnated in art, literature, music, and culture. Both authors will discuss the relationship of the idea of the avant to their own work and the extent to which it is or isn’t a useful way to think ideas of time and temporality, newness and oldness, chronology and succession, beforeness and afterness, and the layered, textured, multi-species, ontologically diverse spaces in which culture (and not just human culture) happens: Morton in relation to his writings on literature, art, music, and ecology in landmark texts such as Ecology Without Nature, The Ecological Thought, Hyperobjects, and Dark Ecology, and Wolfe in relation to his work as both author (Critical Environments, Animal Rites, What Is Posthumanism?, and Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame) and founding editor of the Posthumanities series at the University of Minnesota Press. The Posthumanities series, in which Morton’s book Hyperobjects appears, made a point of disturbing our habitual ways of thinking about this set of questions around temporality, chronology, and succession by republishing as its very first volume in 2007 Michel Serres’ landmark work in science and literature from 1980, The Parasite—a commitment that continues through series titles such as the new translation of Jakob von Uexkull’s pathbreaking text from 1934, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, published in the series in 2010. Like the concept of the “avant” as reframed by Morton and Wolfe, then, the “post-” of the Posthumanities series designates not a simple temporal succession of the “before” and the “after,” the “new” and the “old,” but rather a recursive temporality in and through which the past and the present constantly reshape and renew themselves and their genealogical relations. And in this more complex genealogical space, something “old” or “past” may, paradoxically, reveal itself to be new and even “avant” in relation to the habits, conventions, and orthodoxies that shape our present modes of thought.

More about Avant Museology, including a complete schedule of sessions.

As part of University Press Week, four members and collaborators have new blog posts today:
University of California Press
Seminary Co-op Bookstores
University of Nebraska Press
University of North Carolina Press


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Enclosure-based rhetoric and fundamentals behind the school-to-prison pipeline

Assistant professor of anthropology, University of California, Irvine

At the July 2014 Compton Unified School District (CUSD) board meeting, an ordinance was passed that paved the way for CUSD police officers to carry AR-15 semi-automatic rifles on school campuses. For those unfamiliar with the AR-15, it is a military-grade assault weapon that produces enough energy to shred human bones. The rationale from the school district was based upon public safety and dubious claims of imminent threats. Setting aside the fact that studies have shown that the presence of armed security forces creates unsafe school spaces, there is something profound about the adaptation of a law that would set into motion technologies reserved for the most severe acts of violence, such as war, as normal day-to-day engagement with youth.

A major caveat of the story of course is that Compton is not just any school district and these laws did not spring forth out of a vacuum. The children who attend school in CUSD are the descendants of migrants—Black southern migrants who made their way westward during the middle of the twentieth century and migrants from Mexico and Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Void of any sustainable formal economic foundation, the living-wage jobs that did not require a college education and were once plentiful during the 1960s and 70s have long vacated. The cumulative effect of decades-long budget cuts have gutted a much-needed social and health infrastructure resulting in astronomically high rates of death caused by preventable health calamities. The school district also has had a decades-long fraught relationship with the California Department of Education, as for nearly ten years the district was taken over by the state governing board for issues related to financial mismanagement and testing protocols. Schools within the district have lost accreditation and the district has become a prime target by charter school enterprises for a wholesale takeover.

Yet Compton, while unique in many ways, is not exceptional. The story of Compton is the same as the stories of neighboring cities and communities throughout the south central region of Los Angeles County. Yet a major question that lingers is why has the solution been a ramping up of a permanent and increasingly powerful police state upon Black schools in Los Angeles County? The rationale that has garnered the most attention to date is the narrative of the school-to-prison pipeline, in which schools disproportionally target non-white (mostly Black) students for issues of disciplinary force. These issues range from school policing to matters of detention, suspension, and expulsion. The effects of these actions have lead to a proverbial funneling mechanism that pushes students out of the embrace of the school and into the clutches of a vast prison system.

While the school-to-prison pipeline is well-intentioned, as a matter of historical, social, economic, and political consequence it is severely flawed. For example, what is to be done by the fact that Black schools in Los Angeles County were already well on their way to being staffed, patrolled, and governed by an alliance of police and school district officials before the dawn of prison expansion? How we do account for the countless individuals who do finish formal schooling and still end up in the clutches of prison? Given the violent history (and recent past) of education in the United States, why are schools depicted as the safe spaces from menacing walls behind prison bars? Very simply, the school-to-prison pipeline model does not help us address fundamental issues that are the core of the relationship between schools and prisons.

In its place, I argue that we should develop models that take into account the multifaceted nature of state structures such as prisons and public education. My preferred model is based upon the principle of enclosures. The most readily conjured vision of an enclosure is something that limits pathways. Whether it is a fence, wall, or policies that create impediments, enclosures function to prevent action, movement, and freedom. A central aspect of the enclosure model is that it is not static. It provides breadth to understand how in some instances schools may have informed by prisons and in others, how schools have shaped prisons. Yet it also provides space to map out the distinct manner in which they developed independently of each other and yet are similarly affected by larger structural forces such as religion.

A key facet of the enclosure model is to situate the development of schools and prisons within the context of society that is responding to the actions of Black people. The importance of tracing the genealogy of Compton, for example, extends beyond the boundaries of stated geography. These neighborhoods and communities carry with them a historical past that has intimate knowledge of state-sponsored violence. A violence that is connected to lynchings, church burnings, land dispossession, and externally funded military coups. A violence that was meted out in response to particular organizing efforts to establish spaces beyond enclosures.

This leads us back to the carrying of AR-15s on school grounds. We have to move beyond an analysis that looks at these incidents as simply too many police and understand that the institution of police on schools is located within a historical and contemporary contestation over enclosures. Without being flippant, police are merely the heavy hand enacted to maintain control over an institution (education) that has been hotly contested since its inception. It is then up to us to do the heavy lifting and figure out how and why education and prisons have developed into a seemingly symbiotic relationship. Let us move beyond convenient, simplistic narratives about both schools and prisons and wrestle with the unsettling matters of history that cannot be contained by a catchphrase or slogan.


Damien M. Sojoyner is author of First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He researches the relationship among the public education system, prisons, and the construction of Black masculinity in Southern California. His writing has appeared in Transforming Anthropology; Race, Ethnicity, and Education; and the Berkeley Review of Education.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Gift that Lasts a Century

Dedication and imagination and belief in knowledge do matter.
To have known Margaret Harding was to have been reassured about the significance of these things and about ourselves for respecting them.
—John Ervin, Jr., Director, University of Minnesota Press, 1957–1989

Dear Reader,

I never met Margaret S. Harding, but I do know she was many things. Feminist. Teacher. Wife. Reader. Mother. And by 1927, she’d accomplished many things—she’d earned a master’s degree in history and had taught in high schools across the Midwest; she’d helped organize a teacher’s union and had become its first national secretary, she’d worked and marched in support of women’s right to vote. And in 1927, the recently widowed, 43-year-old mother of three added a twofold accomplishment to her growing list: first director of the University of Minnesota Press and first woman director of any university press in the country. Over the next 26 years—the first decade of which coincided with the Great Depression, when money for everything was scarce—she established a press that to this day actively seeks to make the very best and newest ideas in scholarship both accessible and affordable, to celebrate our region without provincialism, and to create books that nurture curiosity and inspire wonder in readers of all ages.

Understanding the challenges faced by nonprofit university presses even during times of plenty, Margaret’s family established the Margaret Harding Memorial Endowment to help support the work of women writers. Since 1973, the gift has helped make possible decades of books by women, including The Essential Ellen Willis, winner of a 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award—a book that perfectly exemplifies Harding’s feminist spirit and commitment to giving voice to writers and scholars who might otherwise not have one, two qualities that still guide the Press today.

“It was her deepest belief that education would be the salvation of mankind; and education, in her view, meant books—books for everyone, books as the staff of life and of the human spirit,” her daughter concluded at Margaret’s memorial. Margaret’s many gifts—the gift of her dedication, time, expertise, and money—are why we have been, but your many gifts as readers, scholars, and donors are why we are.

I never met Margaret Harding, but I do know her, because her deepest beliefs mirror my own. I too believe education and imagination and knowledge matter, which is why I continue her work every day. This Give to the Max Day we honor her, and hope you’ll join us in continuing the work she began.

Give a gift today.

Thank you,
Molly Fuller, Outreach and Development Manager

Friday, November 11, 2016

Press staff feature: A guide to the Twin Cities for American Anthropological Association meeting attendees (or anyone who finds themselves looking for Twin Cities advice from people who live there)

The Stone Arch Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis.

Dear conference attendees: The University of Minnesota Press welcomes you to the Twin Cities for the 115th American Anthropological Association meeting! We hope you enjoy your time here and have a chance to escape the Convention Center to experience everything the cities have to offer. Minneapolis is a walkable city with some of the best green spaces and parks in the country (there are 22 lakes within the city limits of Minneapolis) and stunning views of the Mississippi River, which cuts through downtown (over the only falls on the river and through its only gorge). We also are home to a vibrant and hip music scene (First Avenue, where the late great Prince filmed Purple Rain, is just down the street), world-class art, and great theater. And skip the usual conference chain restaurants to explore the amazing dining scene here, including adventurous global cuisine and farm-to-table experiences paired with a crazy craft beer scene.

For those venturing beyond the confines of the conference hotel and convention center, some of us at the Press put together a handy little guide for venturing out and exploring all that the Twin Cities has to offer.

Jason Weidemann, Editorial Director

Download a printable version of our guide.


If you don’t have the time or energy to explore the city (and I’m often guilty of this after a long day of conferencing), here are a few places that are likely near your hotel and within a 5- to 8-minute walk from the convention center. While these may not be the pinnacle of the Minneapolis scene (with the exception of the jazz music at the Dakota), they’re reliable standbys and all offer late-night options for when those academic conversations linger into the night . . .

The Local
Irish pub that features an 80-foot mahogany bar and numerous nooks and crannies (check out the Kissing Room). Their Guinness pours are good, and if you need something more substantial, try their pot roast, bangers & mash, or fish & chips. It can get busy during happy hour, but the space is large, and there’s usually room at the bar. Good brunch, too.
931 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402

Devil’s Advocate
Come for the excellent selection of beers on tap, stay because it’s just easier than finding another place to have dinner. They seem to have an obsession with meatballs for those of you who are meat eaters. Vibe trends a bit more alternative, especially when it is after happy hour, which is a nice break from the typical downtown vibe.
89 S 10th St, Minneapolis, MN 55402

Dakota Jazz Club
Operating as a jazz club but also featuring wonderful cocktails and food. Often have reasonably priced jazz shows, especially if you’re willing to go after 10 p.m. They have a great happy hour from 4-6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10-1 a.m. Friday through Sunday. Normally a bit quieter and more intimate setting that has fewer downtown “bros.”
1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55403

A very good hotel bar/restaurant that features a lower-level “Library Bar.” Quiet, intimate, cozy, it’s a great place to unwind after a hectic day. They have a variety of non-alcoholic cocktails, too, that are more inventive than just soda water + lime, as well as kombucha on tap.
901 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403

—Danielle Kasprzak, Humanities Editor


Nicollet Mall passes by the Minneapolis Convention Center, where it continues south. Colloquially known as “Eat Street,” you’ll find a wealth of food and drink options stretching from 15th Street down to 28th Street. Here are my favorite spots, all a short walk or cab ride from the meeting.

Evergreen has two things going for it: some of the best, most authentic Taiwanese food in the Midwest (so say the critics), and an approach to vegan and vegetarian cooking that doesn’t treat meatless dishes as an afterthought. Vegan egg rolls, vegan wonton soup, and lots of mock meat dishes. It’s a little bit hard to find—in a basement, below a flower shop. But it’s a great spot for folks on a budget.
Evergreen Chinese Restaurant
2424 Nicollet Avenue. Minneapolis 55404

Black Forest Inn has anchored the corner of 26th and Nicollet for over 50 years. While it’s the ideal place to get your fix of spaetzel, schnitzel, and cabbage in various stages of fermentation, this is also a good choice for a post-conference drink in the bar. Be sure to check out the enormous photograph hanging there, “The Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution,” which Richard Avedon gifted to his favorite South Minneapolis bar. Look closely, and you’ll see the bullet holes a bar regular added in 1986. Upon holstering his pistol, he explained, “That photo always bugged the hell out of me.”
Black Forest Inn
1 East 26 Street, Minneapolis 55404

Glam Doll Donuts is just around the corner from the Black Forest Inn. It hasn’t been open nearly as long, but it’s already just as much an institution. Badass donuts made by badass women, each one a little edible idol of confection. In addition to bacon-flavored creations, they also have a large selection of vegan donuts (fried in soy and cottonseed oil). Plus, they deliver via bicycle, including to the convention center and hotels (if it’s snowing, remember to tip your delivery person extra!).
Glam Doll Donuts
2605 Nicollet Avenue. Minneapolis 55408

Quang Restaurant is the perfect antidote to those cold, dark November nights in Minneapolis. The dining room is large, spare, and always busy. Super fast, super cheap, and super delicious. There are several restaurants on Eat Street that serve solid pho, but this one is my favorite.
Quang Restaurant
2719 Nicollet Avenue. Minneapolis 55408

—Jason Weidemann, Editorial Director


Blackeye Roasting Co.
Tucked away in the downtown skyway system, Blackeye Roasting Co. is a hidden coffee gem. Their recently opened bar boasts some of the best coffee around these parts: nitro-infused cold brew coffee/tea, kombucha on tap, and a smooth espresso blend make it a must-visit. With unpretentious but skilled baristas (one of whom recently won a local latte-art throwdown), Blackeye is for those who like their coffee simple but perfect.
330 2nd Ave South #210 Minneapolis 55401
Weekdays, 7am–4pm

Five Watt Coffee
Of the coffee shops/roasters in the Twin Cities, Five Watt Coffee is undoubtedly among the most innovative. Owners Caleb and Lee take a craft-cocktail approach to coffee with more than nine different signature drinks, almost all of which use their own homemade infusions and bitters. I recommend trying their lesser-known hopped Big Watt Brewer’s cold brew. IPA-lovers, you’re welcome.
3745 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis 55409
Every day, 6am–10pm

Spyhouse Roasting Co.
Home base of Tony Querio, winner of this year’s SCAA U.S. Roaster Champion award, Spyhouse’s four cafes are well-loved for their consistency and quality. If you like your coffee roasted light with fruity or nutty flavors, Spyhouse’s beans—particularly their Orion espresso blend—will hit the spot. Also offers some of the best hipster-watching in town bar none.
907 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis 55401 (and three other locations)
Weekdays 6am–8pm, Sat 7am–8pm, Sun 8am–8pm

Penny’s Coffee
The newest coffee shop downtown, Penny’s offers savory and sweet crepes and delectable pastries in an airy, modern space—two of the shop’s huge, two-story walls are glass paneled from floor-to-ceiling. The house espresso blend from La Colombe—Philly-based roaster—brings a slightly smoky yet sweet flavor that’s amazing in a latte or cappuccino. A great breakfast spot!
100 Washington Square, 100 S Washington Ave, Minneapolis 55401
Every day, 7am–7pm

—Kenneth Wee, Production Assistant


Hang out on the Guthrie’s Endless Bridge
One of the best views of the Mississippi, day or dusk or night. You don’t need a ticket to sit on the famed theater’s rooftop terrace. The Jean Nouvel-designed architecture is also a site to behold: the facility holds tours (not free) on the third Saturday of the month at 10 a.m.
Guthrie Theater
818 S 2nd St, Minneapolis 55415

Visit the first taproom in Minneapolis
Fulton Brewery opened the first taproom in Minneapolis in 2012. They give free tours most Saturdays, but unfortunately for this weekend, not the third Saturday of the month. Still, you will be doing yourself a favor to pop in, even if just to look around. The Sweet Child of Vine is a classic if you’re looking for some delicious hoppyness.
Fulton Brewery
414 N 6th Ave, Minneapolis 55401

Take in the annual MCAD Art Sale
This event is an annual tradition for me. You can get first dibs on paintings, drawings, photography, mixed media, and even live-drawn anime by extremely talented and creative students by paying for entry on Thursday or Friday; on Saturday, attendance is free.
Minneapolis College of Art and Design
2501 Stevens Avenue, Minneapolis 55404

Visit Mia
This always-free museum (except for ticketed exhibitions like Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation, happening now) is about a two-minute walk from MCAD, so you could park once and do both in one day.
Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 Third Ave S, Minneapolis 55404

Tune in to The Current (89.3)
The Current is a local MPR outlet that features a great mix of new and old music along with local bands. Its Prince coverage is unparalleled, and their hosts are extremely down-to-earth and fun to listen to.

Not-free addendum: Avant Museology
A two-day symposium exploring the practices and sociopolitical implications of contemporary museology is happening on Nov. 20 and 21. Press authors Cary Wolfe and Timothy Morton are heading a session. The event is cosponsored by the University of Minnesota Press, e-flux, and the Walker Art Center. Tickets are $45, or $25 for members.
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis 55403

—Maggie Sattler, Direct Mail and Web Marketing Manager


1) The World’s Quietest Room. No, really. Like, Guinness award-winning lack of noise. This anechoic chamber boasts a background noise level of -9.4 dBA (for reference, 0 is perfect infant hearing), or more plainly it is 99.99% sound absorbent. Contact ahead of time to see about participating in a tour.
2709 East 25th Street, Minneapolis 55406

2) Orlin Triangle. Small wedges of green space pop up all across the city when a street bisects the grid system. Many of these tiny triangles are legit parks, managed by the park board, and Orlin holds the title of smallest park in Minneapolis, measuring about .01 acres. I don’t recall how big Leslie Knope’s infamous “smallest park” was, but I’d guess Orlin gives it a run for its money.
2200 SE Orlin Ave. SE, Minneapolis 55414

3) The Raptor Center. An animal rescue specifically for birds of prey where you’ll realize that these are the coolest animals you’ve never thought about. There’s a hawk named Casper that’s been there since I was ten.
1920 Fitch Ave., St. Paul 55108

3.5) The Minnesota State Fair. While you’re at the Raptor Center, consider taking a short walk to visit our fairgrounds. It’s not currently fair time, but you can still wander around the streets and pretend you’re exploring an abandoned town, because that’s exactly what it feels like.
1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul 55108

4) The House of Balls. A wunderkammer open whenever the artist-in-residence (Allen Christian) is home, no matter the hour.
1504 S 7th St, Minneapolis 55454

5) Wild Rumpus. I don’t pick favorites when it comes to bookstores, but Wild Rumpus is amazing and hands down the most tourist worthy. It’s a children’s bookstore, but equally magical for adults. Chickens roam about the stacks, cats sun themselves in the storefront window, and all of the scary books are housed in a dark shed in the back (with the tarantulas). They have a well-curated adult section if kids books aren’t your thing, including a badass collection of graphic novels.
2720 West 43rd Street, Minneapolis 55410

5.5) Moon Palace Books. If I’m going to give a shout-out to Wild Rumpus, then I also need to tell you about Moon Palace, a wonderful, if less animal-filled, bookstore. It’s located on the former grounds of Wonderland, an amusement park in the early 1900s with a particularly unique attraction: premature babies. I promise this is slightly less twisted than it sounds—incubators were a new technology, and by allowing paying visitors into what was known as the Infantorium, the cost of the staff, care, and facilities was paid for, saving the lives of these babies at no cost to their families.
3260 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis 55406

6) Eden Prairie Center. I’m sure you’re wondering why I wouldn’t suggest the Mall of America if I’m going to promote something as universal as a shopping mall, but I have not one compelling reason but two: Mallrats and Drop Dead Gorgeous, which both had scenes filmed here. The interior has changed a bit since the ‘90s, but there is something undeniably enjoyable and singular about the people watching there.
8251 Flying Cloud Dr, Eden Prairie 55344

—Molly Fuller, Outreach and Development Manager


1. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota
The art collection of the University of Minnesota resides in a stunning museum on campus, the Weisman Art Museum next to the Mississippi River and the campus student union. The museum was designed by Frank Gehry and is an amalgamation of silver shapes, angles, and spaces; the building has been called “Baby Bilbao” since Gehry worked out ideas for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, at a much smaller scale here, in his first art museum. The galleries of contemporary art now feature the university’s permanent collection, which focuses on American modernist painting; avant-garde Latin American art; a variety of art (from photographs and sculptures to iron pours) inspired by the Mississippi River; and quirky sculptures and drawings based on psychoanalysis’s “talking cure.” Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish is also on display. 333 East River Road, University of Minnesota campus, Minneapolis. 612-625-9494. Parking ramp at museum; ten-minute taxi ride; Metro Green Line. T, Th, F 10–5; W 10–8; Sa, Su 11–5.

2. Walker Art Center and Groveland Gallery, Minneapolis
It’s worth navigating your way through a construction zone to visit the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis’s renowned contemporary art museum and one of the premier modern art museums in the world. The galleries celebrate the Walker’s seventy-fifth anniversary with iconic works from its permanent collection, a “greatest hits” of twentieth-century art from Marcel Duchamp to Kara Walker. The Sculpture Garden is currently closed and very much under construction, but instead you can enjoy Avant Garden on Saturday, November 19, a terrific art gala to support the museum and its educational programs.

Right behind the Walker is Groveland Gallery. Located in the former mansion of a prominent nineteenth-century Minneapolis architect, Groveland Gallery features contemporary regional art, especially by artists from Minnesota. Landscape paintings and abstract works are currently on display in galleries in the mansion and in the carriage house. 1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis. 612-375-7600. Parking ramp at museum; twenty-minute walk (west on West 15th Street to Hennepin Avenue); five-minute taxi ride. T, W, F, Sa, Su 11–5; Th 11–9. 25 Groveland Terrace, Minneapolis. 612-377-7800. Parking lot and street parking at gallery (or park at Walker ramp); half-hour walk or five-minute taxi ride. T, W, Th, F, Sa 12–5.

3. Bockley Gallery in Kenwood
This small art gallery represents many regional artists, including George Morrison, Julie Buffalohead, Jim Denomie, Pao Houa Her, Stuart Nielsen, and Norval Morrisseau. The current exhibition features the art of Frank Big Bear, a longtime Minnesota resident. After visiting the gallery, you can dine at The Kenwood restaurant next door, check out the fine-art prints and cards of Twin Cities scenes at FrameStyles around the corner, or wander a few more steps down the street and visit Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, Birchbark Books. To thoroughly experience the beauty of this neighborhood, continue walking on Twenty-first Street to Lake of the Isles, and complete your visit to Kenwood with a walk around the lake (approximately 45 minutes on a designated walking path), a favorite activity of locals. 2123 West Twenty-first Street, Minneapolis. 612-377-4669. Street parking; fifteen-minute taxi ride. W, Th, F, Sa 12–5. 2115 West Twenty-first Street, Minneapolis. 612-374-4023.
Daily 10–6. 2115 West Twenty-first Street, Minneapolis. 612-377-3695. T, W, Th, Su 8–9; F, Sa 8–10. 2107 Penn Avenue South, Minneapolis. 612-374-2420. M, T, W, Th 10–7; F 10–6; Sa 10–5.

4. American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis
This museum and cultural center is unique to Minneapolis and its strong Scandinavian heritage. The elegant mansion (often referred to as “the Castle”) was built at the beginning of the twentieth century by the owner of the largest Swedish-language newspaper in the United States. The furnishings and ornate decorations of the home are intact, including elaborate tile stoves in most rooms, a multilevel carved mahogany fireplace integrated with a balcony, a grand staircase, and a stained glass mural. Swedish glass art, woodworking, and textiles are on display, as is a large exhibit on holiday traditions in the Scandinavian countries. The award-winning café Fika offers meals, drinks, desserts, and, of course, excellent coffee. 2600 Park Avenue, Minneapolis. 612-871-4907. Parking lot next to museum; ten-minute taxi ride. T, Th, F 12–5; W 12–8; Sa 10–5; Su 12–5.

5. Minneapolis Institute of Art
You could spend your entire time in Minneapolis exploring the extensive collections of this fine museum: Mia presents art from all continents, all historical periods, and all genres. Favorites of the locals include Rembrandt’s Lucretia, the Jade Mountain from eighteenth-century China, the Baroque inkstands, Charles Cordier’s Bust of a Nubian or a Kabyle and Raffaelo Monti’s Veiled Lady, photographs by Richard Avedon and Alec Soth, and the re-created rooms (really, wouldn’t we all be more productive if we had our own Studio of Gratifying Discourse?); the decorative arts galleries were Mick Jagger’s preference during his visit last year. Besides its permanent collection, the museum is now hosting a large exhibition on Martin Luther and art relating to the Reformation as well as exhibitions on American and international modernism, masks from Sierra Leone, watercolors by Seth Eastman, and paintings by Liu Dan. 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis. 612-870-3000. Parking lots and ramp next to museum, street parking; five-minute taxi ride. T, W, Sa 10–5; Th, F 10–9; Su 11–5.

—Laura Westlund, Managing Editor

Click for a printable version of this guide.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fuel vs. energy: A new narrative, from A to Z

Karen Pinkus is author of Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary, which is an idiosyncratic, speculative dictionary of fuels, real and imagined, historical and futuristic, hopeless and utopian. From "Air" to "Zyklon B," entries in this unusual dictionary include Algae, Clathrates, Dilithium, Fleece, Goats, Theology, Whale Oil, and many, many more. This dictionary can help scramble our thinking about fuel in order to open up potential ways of interacting with real and imaginary substances, by wrenching them out of narrative and placing them into an idiosyncratic dictionary to be applied by readers into new narratives.

Here, Pinkus adds an addendum to Fuel.


Cornell University

Since I completed my book, I've come across a number of headlines with some version of the following format: "Scientists discover X as a fuel."

Here are some fuels that didn't make it into the book.

* indicates an entry in Fuel.

Coffee grinds: Korean scientists discover a new source of fuel as they gaze into bottoms of their coffee cups! But wait . . . not fuel, exactly. More like a substance that could help bind methane* (natural gas), making it potentially more efficient to combust; waste as a coagulant for a fossil fuel that gets by on its name and its status as "transitional." Fuel from waste: it's the ultimate (alchemical) dream! What's the harm in dreaming? None, maybe, unless dreaming means disengagement from any thought about what we are facing. Good to the last drop.

Carbon dioxide (CO2): Speaking of waste and alchemy . . . scientists may soon turn pollution into fuel! [1]  To be clear, carbon dioxide is already being subjected to a number of transmutations. For one thing, carbon (and its non-use) is traded as commodity in various markets. Some experts believe that a global carbon pricing scheme would make it easier to manage emissions. But if carbon is going to be buried or used for some practical purpose, it can't really be classified as "waste" (see carbon monoxide, below). Carbon capture and sequestration (one of the main techniques of geo-engineering) is already underway in various parts of the world and it is likely to be scaled up. Carbon could be buried (for future generations to release, or not), and/or used to enhance production of oil in low-yield wells. Icelandic scientists, injecting it into basaltic rock, have found it solidifies very quickly—it turns into stone! (Is this the reverse transmutation of early modern alchemy? A sign of the alchemist's bad technique or his bad soul*, depending on where you stand on the practice vs. theory spectrum?) Moreover, carbon dioxide is actually polyvalent. As Gökçe Günel writes, "Carbon capture and storage professionals acknowledge how the multiplicity of the molecule makes it difficult for them to produce carbon dioxide as a commodity, characterized by exchange and commensurability. Yet CCS professionals do not intend to create 'sameness' across the market. In formulating carbon dioxide as a commodity, they seek to create 'links' between the different existences of the molecule. In this context, the process of making carbon dioxide into a commodity is not a practice of flattening but rather 'linking' its various versions." [2] This observation is ever more important as the corporate and governmental management of carbon is becoming a reality.

But what if we could actually recycle carbon, turning it (back) into fuel? A group at the University of Illinois in Chicago is looking at capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (perhaps using structures similar to Lackner leaves) and instead of sequestering it for some future generation to deal with, by a chemical process and through the use of the sun* as fuel, recycling it for an "infinite" loop of combustion. Leaving aside the biogeochemical aspects of this process, and noting that in Science, where they announce their findings, the authors make no broad critical or cultural claims other than to say that their discovery could have positive impacts on the environment, the use of CO2 as an efficient syngas is not an epistemological break, just a lucky break in the laboratory.

Carbon monoxide: "Biological wizardry ferments carbon monoxide into biofuel." [3] Scientists are working on the right combination of microbes to turn waste into ethanol. Wizards vs. alchemists? In Fuel I make a case for the alchemical analogy—with all of its historical, figurative, and cultural baggage—as crucial to thinking fuels, beyond the common sense of "magic." But we are in the era of Harry Potter and we should probably forgive some lack of linguistic rigor in everyday speech. Or should we? And then, can the microbes themselves be termed a kind of fuel since they do the energetic work of breaking down "waste"?

Cow manure: Recently, T: The New York Times Style Magazine ran a stunning series of photographs of a farm/museum in Nothern Italy that is transforming cow dung into biofuel and also into a new building material called merdacotta. Yes, you read right, the style section! A spread of aesthetically pleasing images including vats of shit painted in earth tones. The manager talks of "getting back to zero."

Dancing/stepping feet: Various new technologies placed in floor tiles (the Watt disco in Rotterdam, for instance) generate energy when people dance or step (triggering small photovoltaic cells).

Data: I recently gave a talk at the Humanities Lab of American University. There, Joshua McCoy suggested to me that data itself—by virtue of the fact that it is entered into a complex (and carbon-intensive) system and generates more data—might, somewhat perversely, be considered a fuel in the terms I set out in my dictionary.

Fish poop: A potential biofuel source for jet fuels currently under investigation by Boeing.

Hurricane: A Japanese company is working on capturing extreme wind* power (from hurricanes and typhoons, ever more frequent) in specially equipped turbines.

Tobacco: Oil could be extracted from (nicotine-free) tobacco and used as jet fuel, also helping growers who are suffering due to anti-smoking campaigns.

Urine: "Benzina addio!" ("Goodbye gasoline!") runs a headline from an Italian newspaper. La pipì will run cars, ships, turn on our computers, appliances, and so on. Give me a cup and let's get started! But as we read on, it turns out that energy might some day in the future be obtained from urine. Okay, good. But then, some vague language: "used as an additive, urine combats the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere serving as a marvelous tool for the environment and for our health." [4] So after it passes through a filter made of pure Sardinian Sheep's wool, Sardinian pee could—if the right technology comes along—be transmuted into a cleaner carburante fuel. Until then, let's keep waiting and hoping.


Karen Pinkus is professor of Italian and comparative literature at Cornell University and chair of the Faculty Advisory Board of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. She has widely written on climate change and the humanities, as well as on literary theory, visual arts, Italian culture, and cinema. Her books include Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary (Minnesota, 2016), Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism (Minnesota, 1995), and Alchemical Mercury: A Theory of Ambivalence.


[1] Ironically, carbon dioxide was not classified as "pollution" when the 1970 The Clean Air Act was ratified, and this might be a loophole to undo the U.S.'s commitments under the Paris COP 21 accords. Via.
[2] Gökçe Günel, "What is Carbon Dioxide? When is Carbon Dioxide?," Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Vol 39, n. 1, 2016: 33-45. DOI: 10.1111/plar.12129. P. 33
[3] Headline from an article on Cornell University research project that has been experimenting to see what kinds of microbes might metabolize CO1 most efficiently. See: Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Chronicle, July 26, 2016.
[4] Sara Ficocelli, "Benzina Addio," La repubblica. 13 November, 2013. I am grateful to Lia Turtas for pointing out this article and alerting me to the work of Edilana's green businesses.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Climate change, carbon-heavy masculinity, and the politics of exposure

University of Texas at Arlington

The final weeks of the 2016 U.S. presidential election have become a lewd circus. Complex, urgent issues such as climate change have been upstaged by rude outbursts—“you’re a puppet!,”“such a nasty woman.” It is difficult to imagine these scenes could have anything at all to do with climate change or other environmental crises, and yet the mode of masculinity on display, is, I would argue, a “carbon-heavy masculinity,” a gendered style that contributes to increasing CO2 emissions. This exaggerated form of masculinity is recognizable in the U.S. as a familiar type of tough-guy bravado, but during a time of concern about terrorism, immigration, and economic inequality, the style—which can be performed by people of any sex or gender—is not just individual but political, even nationalistic, with wide-ranging implications.

After 9/11, during a transitional time when the majority of U.S. citizens finally began to believe that global warming was real, modes of carbon-heavy masculinity intensified. Living in Texas, I’ve noticed trucks and SUVs getting bigger and bigger as they tower over my Prius. Many trucks now sport aggressive front grilles and threatening weapon-like cones jutting out from the wheels. I’ve laughed at the spectacle of large metal “testicles” strapped to trailer hitches and have spotted a few jacked-up trucks “rolling coal”—spewing extra and extra black exhaust from their oversized smokestacks. Just last night, driving on an already hazardous freeway, we were enveloped in dense smoke that made it impossible to see where we were going. Rolling coal enthusiasts defy the EPA, the “liberal climate change conspiracy,” and government regulations in general, as they spend thousands of dollars to produce smoky spectacles. Coal rollers delight in a sense of libertarian freedom injected with a bit of violence. While women, as well as men, may inhabit these mammoth vehicles, YouTube videos such as “Rolling Coal on Hot Babe” display misogyny, as they revel in covering a woman in a bikini with black smoke. One meme illustrated with a picture of a Prius on the top and a picture of trucks on the bottom says, “You keep your fuel mileage. We’ll keep our manhood.” Even stroller pushers can hold on to their manhood with the colossal “vRS Mega Man-Pram.” While these particular modes of carbon-heavy masculinity might seem extreme, they exist on a spectrum with more “normal” sights—freeways lined with giant SUVs and suburban “hummer” assault vehicles, gated communities, and McMansions functioning as fortresses for families that can afford them. The reaction to a more frightening world is to aggressively shore up borders—of the nation, the home, the vehicle, and the self. Domestic militarism involves not only arming oneself but armoring oneself with layers of protective gear. The climate change implications are obvious, as larger homes and larger vehicles leave bigger carbon footprints.

Many environmental movements and feminist movements, on the other hand, occupy a sense of the self as exposed to environmental and other harms. When the already infamous video clip of the presidential candidate discussing how he grabs women’s genitals was released, women on social media told their own stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, exposing these incidents as a mode of political solidarity. And terrific cross-species memes exploded—with furry and fierce feline images: “Pussy grabs back,” “Pussy Votes,” and more. Against carbon-heavy masculinity, which asserts a tough exterior and strong borders, would be what I call “insurgent vulnerability,” in which we occupy a queer permeability as a potent political stance. Refusing to tow the line of capitalist individualism in which each citizen is expected to purchase the proper accoutrements for their own protection, some people search for a more collective and ethical sense of embodiment.

Environmental justice, environmental health, climate change, plastic pollution, and other movements stress that the human is “trans-corporeal,” inseparable from substances and materials that cross through bodies and environments. Thinking of oneself as utterly exposed to toxins and climates makes environmentalism something that is always as close as one’s own skin, something that is not optional, as no amount of armor can shield us from carcinogens or hurricanes. These exposures are terribly differential, however, as money can buy some protections—the most economically disadvantaged are almost always the most vulnerable to environmental risk and harm. Yet to occupy or perform exposure—even when exposures are unequally distributed—can be a form of political alliance. To occupy exposure as a political or ethical stance entails tracing how we are implicated in global systems of injustice, inequality, and what Rob Nixon has called “slow violence.” Even the most ordinary activities of daily life in industrialized countries—using a cell phone, driving a car, drinking bottled water—are part of global systems of extraction, production, pollution, and disposal that affect countless human lives, animal lives, and ecological systems. To occupy exposure is to directly engage in less harmful practices and to demand large-scale change.

Cartoonish versions of carbon-heavy masculinity would seem to invoke a gendered binary where women pose as the “angels in the ecosystem,” in Val Plumwood’s vivid phrase. Any one, male or female, can occupy those modes of masculinity, however, and anyone, male, female, or genderqueer can engage in modes of being that are less gender normative and less harmful to the planet. People of all sorts of genders delight in improvising alternatives to aggressive, carbon-heavy hypermasculinity. But it is also important to credit the long legacy of feminist and queer art, activism, and thought that have critiqued dominant modes of masculinity and have created so many rich, lively, dazzling alternatives.

Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasure in Posthuman Times features surprisingly playful, parodic, humorous, even psychedelic modes of occupying exposure as an ethics and politics, such as La Tigresa who—barebreasted—shouts poetry at loggers to persuade them to stop chopping down the old growth forests. In various demonstrations around the world “alphabodies” place their flesh in contact with ice, snow, or scratchy fields to spell out “No War,” “No GM” or other slogans. One Plastic Pollution activist video features a plastic bag gone rogue, rambling across the landscape accompanied by plucky tunes, provoking us to think about the material agency of discarded objects ("The Ballad of the Plastic Bag"). Another video stages a romantic beach scene where lovers feed each other a plate of seafood that happens to be filled with crunchy and colorful plastic bits ("Plastic Seduction"). Artist Marina Zurkow’s haunting animated video, “Slurb,” shows human, aquatic, and hybrid beings immersed in a post-apocalyptic watery world. The human and humanoid creatures in this video are painted the same aqua hue as the water that surrounds them, stressing the human enmeshment with the flooded, post-climate-change environment. Other visual renderings of aquatic lives include the stunning black and white video of a pteropod shell revolving as it dissolves, dramatizing the effects of ocean acidification. This short but entrancing video recalls the popular icon (think dormroom posters and headshops) of mind-altering practices—the spiral. Psychedelic traditions can be embraced as means of imagining the scale of human effects in the Anthropocene, exposing one’s consciousness across unimaginable depths, rather than enclosing it. To occupy an insurgent sense of exposure means to dwell in the dissolve where “the environment” can never be imagined as external. Rather than shoring up boundaries and borders, environmental consciousness, activism, and the practices of everyday life can begin with the recognition that humans and all other creatures are enmeshed with and exposed to the rapidly changing multi-species world.


Stacy Alaimo is professor of English and director of the environmental and sustainability studies minor at the University of Texas at Arlington. She is author of Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times, Undomesticated Ground, and Bodily Natures; editor of Matter; and coeditor of Material Feminisms.

"Accessibly written, lucidly argued, and capacious in its ambit, there is so much in this book to savor, to be inspired by, and to provoke."
—Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, author of Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman

"In addition to the descriptions and analyses of imaginative activism, strange agencies of non-human entities, and the politics of place, Alaimo develops compelling theories of self, action, and being human along the way."
—J. Jack Halberstam, University of Southern California

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

On Bobby Vee, a great man to the core.


We knew Alzheimer’s would take Bobby Vee from us eventually, but it still seems too soon, too much, too unfair.

Wasn’t he just 15?

Didn’t he just step confidently onto that stage in Moorhead and make his first public appearance in place of Buddy Holly?

Didn’t he just reel off a string of Top 10 hits written by Carole King and other Brill Building giants?

Didn’t we just see him a few weeks, a few months, a few years ago, touring with his sons and playing all his familiar favorites?

Isn’t there some way we can freeze time and keep this kind, caring, creative young man eternally with us?

It seems the younger they are when they first burst upon the scene, the quicker they fade out of sight – drugs, booze, sex, scandal, indolence, or an inability to handle all the pressures that fame can thrust upon the famous. But that didn’t happen to Robert Velline of Fargo, North Dakota. He became Bobby Vee, but he never stopped being the nice guy that everybody liked, admired, and thought of as a friend. In some ways, he was always the kid who had to beg his older brother to let him into their basement band, who wrote songs in study hall, who gave young Bob Dylan a chance to play piano in his band, and who somehow beat all the odds and went from, yes, a complete unknown to one of the biggest-selling singers in the U.S.

Bobby Vee seems fixed in our minds as a teenager because that’s exactly what he was when he and The Shadows volunteered to fill in for Buddy Holly at the Winter Dance Party on February 3, 1959, after Holly was killed in a plane crash in Iowa. He was still just 16 when he and the band journeyed to Minneapolis in the spring of 1959 to record his composition “Suzie Baby,” the first rock and roll record recorded at Kay Bank studio and released on Soma records. Just a few months later, he was signed by Liberty Records and moved to Los Angeles, while his classmates were returning to Fargo Central for another year of English composition and algebra.

It was the dawning of the era of the teen idol – Ricky, Frankie, Fabian, and others – and Bobby Vee had the perfect voice to bridge the gap between the hiccuppy rockabilly style of Holly and the smoother pop sounds that began to dominate the radio. The best songwriters of the era – Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Burt Bacharach, Jack Keller, Howard Greenfield, Helen Miller – could have placed their songs with anyone, but they frequently turned to young Bobby Vee, knowing he would deliver every nuance and emotion in their material.

Several generations have come and gone since the 18-year-old Vee topped the charts with such great songs as “Take Good Care of My Baby” and “Run to Him” – just two years after leaving his midwestern home – but time shouldn’t blunt his remarkable accomplishments. Nor should his ten years on the Top 40 charts be looked at as the defining entry in his curriculum vitae.

Long after his hitmaking days were over, Bobby Vee continued to make huge contributions to his community and to his fraternity of musicians. He had four children with his high-school sweetheart, Karen (they’d been married for 51 years when she passed away last year), and his three sons played in his touring band for decades. He was also a tireless promoter and advisor to his friends in the music business. On his return from a tour of Europe – where he remained a big star into the 1990s and beyond – he informed friend Tony Andreason of the Trashmen that they, too, had a huge following in England, Germany, and France. “You should go over there,” he urged them. They did, to great acclaim and ever-increasing tour schedules. When Bob Lind – singer/songwriter of “Elusive Butterfly” fame – decided he wanted to return to the music business a few years ago, it was Bobby Vee – his first friend in Los Angeles – who spent hours on the phone with him, helping him strategize his comeback.

In a business where being a self-centered hedonist is almost considered part of the definition of success, Bobby Vee was the opposite: humble, loyal, helpful, and decent. No one who worked with him, knew him, or had a chance meeting with him had anything but the kindest words to say about him. To his final days – suffering from an illness that cruelly makes its sufferers forget even the best parts of themselves – Bobby Vee never forgot to treat people with courtesy and respect. He never stopped being that great 15-year-old high school kid who everybody really liked, and who could really sing.


Rick Shefchik, longtime Pioneer Press journalist, is author of Everybody's Heard about the Bird and From Fields to Fairways.