Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Secret of the Secret of Color


Color has a secret.

In one form or another, this has been the message of the recent boom in color studies. Sometimes the secret is psychological. Seeing blue involves not only light waves and retinas, but also an act of interpretation based on lighting conditions and on what, in the past, we’ve made of similar stimuli. That’s why some people saw blue and black in that famous dress, while others saw white and gold.

Sometimes the secret is social. That red shirt you’re wearing? It’s not just red but “spiced apple” or “rapture rose” or some other specific hue picked out and promoted by a color forecasting group, an actual group of actual people who meet up in convention centers to set color trends. Manufacturers have their “color experts,” who decide which hues will be used for the season’s products. That’s why, as Regina Lee Blaszczyk notes in her history of these color professionals, the same shade of lime green or mustard yellow will suddenly seem to be everywhere, from clothing to throw pillows to the menus at the new bakery. The workings of these color cabals are revealed every couple of years in the popular press.

Sometimes the secret is historical. Did you know that “ultramarine” is derived from the Latin for “beyond the sea,” and that the name designated the long passage that lapis lazuli had to take from the mines of Afghanistan to Europe? Or that ultramarine pigment was, for centuries, costlier than gold, which is why artists in the fifteenth-century began using them for the Virgin Mary’s robes? Kassia St Clair’s The Secret Lives of Colour brims with such secrets, stretching from ancient times to modernity. Her entry on Baker-Miller pink, for instance, tells of the brief moment in the 1980s when this Pepto-Bismol-like hue came to be used in prisons, buses, and housing estates because of its supposed ability to subdue the violent impulses of young men. Other books by Michel Pastoureau, Victoria Finlay, David Kastan, and Gavin Evans, to name just a few, reveal similar “hidden messages” about color.

There’s always a secret. The pleasure of reading these books and articles about color is in seeing how something that seems natural and self-evident is in fact the result of complex historical and biological processes. Color, that paradigm of immediacy, turns out to be riddled with mediations.

When I began writing about color and American literature as a graduate student, I too wanted to tell secrets. I found that my period of interest—those essential years between 1880 and 1930 when American modernity took its distinctive form—witnessed crucial developments in how color was made and understood. The mass production of new synthetic dyes changed the look and feel of commercial colors, bringing a vibrant and expansive palette to the goods of everyday life. The emerging science of psychology took color as one of its early subjects, redefining it in the process. Studies of color perception and its relation to environmental stimuli and the state of the observer (whether distracted, focused, listening to sounds, thinking about language, and so on), put forth a detailed view both of how color experience is produced and of how specific colors affect us. Advertisers and social reformers quickly sought to put these theories to work.

By telling the cultural and literary history of color, I wanted to tell a broader story about how the modern sensory scene came about, including an account of the habits of feeling and seeing such a scene demanded. (That’s one area in which literature proves helpful: in dramatizing historical ways of responding to color).

But the more I researched, the more I realized that I was not simply finding further color secrets but witnessing the more fundamental construction of color as something with a secret. In the novels, poetry, decoration manuals, children’s books, philosophical essays, psychological studies, pedagogical journals, and business magazines that I read, and that I discuss in my book Chromographia, I saw how color came to be understood in two separate yet related ways. First, as a distinct domain of nature with its own laws and principles, such that an artist or designer could learn how to manipulate color effects. Second, as an intense and emotionally-charged experience, something that hits the body directly, bypassing conscious thought. I became more and more interested in how these two faces of color fit together, and in how they were often held apart. Because it’s in this duplicity that color came to be something at once immediate and mediated, wholly manifest and yet full of hidden depths.

When L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, he worked with illustrator W. W. Denslow to make his book “glow” with bright color. In fact, the whole narrative universe of the original Oz story—with its color-coded regions and hyper-green Emerald City—is designed to show off the colors of the actual book. As a children’s author, Baum exploited the immediacy of color.

The gates of the Emerald City. Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, illustrations by Denslow, 109. Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Yet as an advertiser and window-dresser (before Oz he edited a professional journal called The Show Window), Baum leaned on the “laws” of color, which he held to be hidden from average observers and so perfect for stimulating consumer desire. He gave readers tips on how to manipulate the “set laws” of color and advised that even items “desirable in themselves” still “need[ed] a color effect to throw them out properly”—otherwise consumers might not even realize they wanted it.[1]

The doubleness of color held in other areas as well. Empirical studies of color perception in the period tended to emphasize one of two things: either the direct, bodily reaction to chromatic stimuli (such that certain colors caused certain moods--see Baker-Miller pink), or the complex calculations that the brain makes in order to see a particular color. In this latter case, what we see when we see red is not so much a thing as a set of relations, which our minds mediate into a single sensation, imbued with qualitative immediacy. This, in fact, is what Gertrude Stein discovered when she apprenticed as a color researcher in the Harvard psychology lab in the 1890s. And it’s the basic insight about color that she carried into her famously saturated book of poetry, Tender Buttons (1914).

Two Milton Bradley Color Wheels (bottom right and left), along with several color disks of various sizes. There are also apparatuses for testing the perception of afterimages, luminous color, color blindness, and "appreciation of color." "Instruments for Experiments on Sight," from Hugo Munsterberg, Psychological Laboratory of Harvard University, 8.

The more I saw this dual nature of color in the wider cultural conversation about color effects—and I should note that at the turn of the twentieth century this conversation was livelier than it had ever been—the more I realized that the blend of immediacy and mediation opened a new space for exploring the language of color, and in particular its literary uses. An obligatory move in recent books on color is to point out that language can never do justice to the visual world. This is usually done with an apologetic tone. The idea is that language is an abstract system of mediations, while visual color is a concrete presentation of brute sensation. But if we take seriously the challenge of color’s duality, the way it results from the transformation of mediations into immediacy, and if we are willing to shed the ingrained philosophical habit of thinking of the abstract and the concrete as two incompatible realms (rather than as two phases in an ongoing process), then the language of color is no longer an embarrassment to vision. Rather, our verbal invocations of color—from the names we give it to the ways we narrate its effects—stand as extensions and transformations of color itself.

In Chromographia, I’ve tried to show just how inventive and consequential the literary transformations of chromatic experience were in the early decades of American modernity. There are lots of color “secrets” in the book, many of which give a historical background for the current crop of color books. But perhaps the most important story it tells is that of the secret of color’s secrets.


Nicholas Gaskill is associate professor of American literature at the University of Oxford and tutorial fellow at Oriel College. He is coeditor of The Lure of Whitehead (Minnesota, 2014).

"What happened when chemists invented mauve? When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz taught us childhood meant colorfulness? When Stephen Crane painted courage red? In Nicholas Gaskill’s brilliant, beautiful, and mind-expanding book, we learn the myriad ways in which being modern in America meant no less than an encounter with color itself. And that meant thinking anew about mind and body, language and world, the challenges of the avant-garde and the pleasures of popular culture. Chromographia is that rare and iridescent thing: a philosophically searching contribution to literary–cultural history."—Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University, Bloomington

"Between the 1880s and the 1930s the world changed color. Nicholas Gaskill’s multilayered study of the period shows how a number of factors—an emerging relational understanding of chromatic experience, the commercial production of synthetic dyes, and theories of vision derived from evolutionary biology—together gave color a new visibility and brilliance and transformed it into a vitally important subject for literary and artistic modernism. If the cultural study of color—let’s call it Chromotology—was a recognized discipline, then this would be one of its principal texts."—David Batchelor, author of Chromophobia

"Chromographia is a study of color perception just as brilliant as all the saturated hues that the new chromatic technologies and synthetic dyes of the nineteenth century brought out like never before. Nicholas Gaskill explores the meaning of this modern, multicolored world from the perspective of the writers, philosophers, psychologists, and educators who, in trying to cultivate a feeling for color, believe that language has the power to augment our sensory encounter with the world and to make life more vivid. This is a dazzling book that puts us in immediate relation with the vibrancy of these decades as we learn about the dynamic forms that color takes, its importance to aesthetic experience, and its intensifying, clarifying role in modern thought."—Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Berkeley

[1] L. Frank Baum, The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors: A Complete Manual of Window Trimming, Designed as an Educator in All the Details of the Art, According to the Best Accepted Methods, and Treating Fully Every Important Subject (Chicago: Show Window Publishing, 1900), 24, 35.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Anika Fajardo: On searching for identity, exploring origins, and reconciling what family means


I once went swimming in natural hot springs in Colombia. It was the mid-1990s and Colombia was, according to the U.S. State Department, the most dangerous country on earth. At twenty-one years old, I had just arrived to see my father for the first time since I was a baby. His wife had brought me and my cousin to the town of Coconuco in the Western Cordillera of the Andes Mountains, where underground geothermal springs fuel a somewhat tepid ecotourism. I remember being poised in my unflattering one piece on the bank of the aguas tibias.

Publishing my memoir, Magical Realism for Non-Believers, feels just as precarious as standing on the edge of that pool. I began working on what would become this book nine years ago and, while the goal was always to publish, I never really thought about what that would mean. When I was writing abut my family, myself, and our foibles and follies, I never considered what it would be like for those stories to belong to readers and not just me.

A few other tourists had come to visit the Coconuco springs that day, even though low clouds made the high-altitude air chilly and damp. The rocks that created makeshift paths were icy on my bare feet. This pool was naturally occurring and rimmed with lush vegetation—plants I, having grown up in Minnesota, couldn’t identify, making the whole experience even more surreal.

That surrealism of my return trip to Colombia and getting to know my father is what drove me to write this book. It’s a story of searching for identity, exploring origins, and reconciling what family means. But I hope it also demonstrates the magic of life. While this is creative nonfiction (meaning these are true events that really happened), and I can’t do what Gabriel García Márquez does with story, the genre of magical realism—superimposed over memoir—lets me tell you about the leap into aguas tibias, the time snow erased my past, the drama of my daughter’s birth via emergency C-section. Because life—reality—is magical.

As I looked down into aqua-blue water, Spanish words swirled around me and the faint scent of sulfur hung in the air. Those moments before you leap, the moment before you know what will happen and how it will affect you, require bravery and probably a little insanity. Launching my memoir into the world feels just as brave and just as insane. But like that day in the Andes, all I can do is wiggle my toes, giggle with anticipation, and jump.


Anika Fajardo was born in Colombia and raised in Minnesota. Her writing has been published in the anthologies Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction and Sky Blue Water: Great Stories for Young Readers (Minnesota, 2016). She has earned awards from the Jerome Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Loft Literary Center. The manuscript for Magical Realism for Non-Believers was a finalist for the Bakeless Literary Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She lives in Minneapolis.

"Incredibly well written and compelling, Anika Fajardo’s Magical Realism for Non-Believers is a remarkable memoir about the search for a father, a culture, a self. I felt like I was reading about my own life and the price I paid for assimilation and acculturation. I simply couldn’t put it down."—Pablo Medina, author of The Island Kingdom and Cubop City Blues

"Bicultural experience is a dispassionate term for life lived across borders, identities, and even family trees. As Anika Fajardo makes clear in this searching and lyrical memoir, there is nothing dispassionate about flying back to one’s birthland, walking its soil again, or breaking bread with family who have become as good as strangers. Fajardo seeks to reconnect these missing and scattered pieces, and it is a privilege to journey beside her."—Lila Quintero Weaver, author of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White

"A rare read, you know the kind: you don’t want it to end but you can’t put it down. Bewitching and beautiful, bound to move anyone who was ever a parent or a child, and just as compelling (and magical) the second time around."—Dinah Lenney, author of The Object Parade

Launch event: 7:00 PM, Thursday, April 18, 2019. Moon Palace Books (3032 Minnehaha Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55406)

A full list of Anika's events can be found here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

How a chance encounter led to an uncommon collection of Sami folktales by Emilie Demant Hatt.


By the Fire is an uncommon collection of Sami folktales recorded by a woman who was herself quite remarkable for her time. Emilie Demant Hatt was born in a rural village in Jutland, Denmark, in 1873 and only attended school up to the age of fourteen. But with help from her mother’s family, Demant Hatt moved to Copenhagen in her early twenties to study art at the Royal Academy. At the age of thirty-one, by now a painter, she traveled with her sister to northern Sweden as one of the first tourists on the new iron ore train through the high mountains between Sweden and Norway, lands previously inhabited mainly by the nomadic Sami herders and their reindeer.

Demant Hatt’s chance encounter on the train with Sami wolf-hunter and would-be writer Johan Turi changed both of their lives. After studying the Sami language at Copenhagen University and preparing herself as best she could for a sojourn among reindeer herders, Demant returned to Sápmi in 1907 and spent nine months with Johan Turi’s brother and his family. She then accompanied another group of herders and reindeer over the mountains from Sweden to Norway, a grueling trek memorably chronicled in her travel narrative, With the Lapps in the High Mountains (1913). Demant Hatt later went on to make many field trips to Sápmi, to translate and edit the work of Johan Turi, to travel in North America with her husband Gudmund Hatt, and to study with the Boas circle at Columbia University. She became a noted Expressionist painter and left a large body of work with Sápmi as a major motif.

As the translator of her astonishing (and beautifully written) travel narrative, and eventually as the biographer of Emilie Demant Hatt, I was familiar with her illustrated collection of folktales, By the Fire (Ved ilden). Originally published in 1922 and long out of print and neglected by Nordic folklorists, By the Fire first struck me by the charm and power of the linocuts, so reminiscent of the German graphic artists of the time. Through her endnotes I could see that she had collected her tales from various siidas or communities in Swedish Sápmi, and I gradually realized that a large number of tales must have come from her women friends and teachers over the years 1907 to 1916, even though few names were mentioned. That Demant Hatt was particularly interested in the lives of women and children was already evident to me. Her ethnography is notable not only for the fact that she was an early practitioner of participant observation but also because her focus—many years before Margaret Mead went to Samoa—was on the daily lives and customs of women relating to courtship, marriage, childbirth, work inside the tents and work outside (often in dramatic weather conditions), herding, leading migrations, and setting up camp.

I wrote about By the Fire and some of the storytellers in my biography of Demant Hatt, Black Fox, and then, after deciding to translate the folktales, I returned to her field notes in Danish (500 pages, fortunately typed), which are held at the archives of the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, along with her photo albums from Sápmi. Using the field notes as my guide, I was able to correlate many of the folktales with individual storytellers. Some I was familiar with already: Anni Rasti, for instance, whom Demant Hatt had memorably described in With the Lapps as “Gate,” in whose tent she lived in spring of 1908 on that rigorous, nearly two-month trek over icy plateaus and frothing rivers, to get to the green meadows of Norway. Or Märta Nilsson, a Sami elder and “wise woman,” who resided in a tent with her husband Nils in a siida near Östersund in South Sápmi. Demant Hatt spent six weeks with this couple in 1910. Other storytellers I was less acquainted with: Margreta Bengtsson, a mother, wife, and herder in Pite Sápmi, with whose family Demant Hatt and her husband traveled in 1914; or the former herder Anders Larsson, whom the Hatts got to know well in 1912. Thanks to a travel fellowship from the American Scandinavian Foundation, I was able to spend some weeks in 2017 in archives in Uppsala and Stockholm, gathering material on the storytellers to add to what I already knew from Demant Hatt’s mostly unpublished manuscripts.

In my research I often found that the details of the herders’ lives in the early twentieth century, at a time when their culture was gravely threatened, gave added resonance to the stories she collected from them. Demant Hatt admired the Sami for their resilience and humor, and she collected a number of tales and legends that spoke to how an indigenous people could protect themselves against enemies, often through inventive means, and otherwise bear witness and seek justice. Some of the tales she recorded are well-known in Sápmi and appear in other historic collections, but it’s notable that By the Fire contains a higher proportion of tales by women, and perhaps because of that, a higher proportion of girls and women as heroines who outwit farmers, bandits, Dog-Turks, their Stallo fathers, and even Swedish pastors who mean them and their people harm.

By the Fire is less comprehensive than deeply personal, the reflection both of self-educated scholarship and an unusually modern view for the time that indigenous people, and especially women, deserve to have their voices heard in all their wisdom, humor, and power. I’m very happy that this collection in English translation will be available to a wider audience almost one hundred years after its first publication.


Barbara Sjoholm is a writer, editor, and translator of Danish and Norwegian literature, including By the Fire: Sami Folktales and Legends. She has written fiction and nonfiction.

Emilie Demant Hatt (1873–1958) was a Danish artist and ethnographer who lived among the Sami of Swedish Lapland in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

"When the darkness draws [the Sami] to the campfire, when the stew kettle hangs on its sooty chain and steam and smoke rise up through the tent opening to the clouds and night sky, then rest comes, memories slip in, like dreams to a sleeper. . . . The spirit of Fairy Tale perches at the edge of the hearth. The fire hisses, the flames flare and die back. . . Outside in the deepest night wander the dead, the spirits, the evil thoughts one person sends another. . . Here inside the tent is the campfire; here is home, the great safe place."
—Emilie Demant Hatt, from the Introduction

"By the Fire offers insights into the fascinating Sami storytelling tradition at a time when folk beliefs met Christianity—where motifs from Cinderella and legends about sea monsters intertwine in milieus as diverse as icy mountains and tobacco fields. Barbara Sjoholm's translation renders these wonderful stories in all their darkness and power."
—Coppélie Cocq, Umeå University

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

American Masculinity in a New Era

By Miriam J. Abelson

What does it mean to be a man in America?

This question was at the forefront of the minds of many of the 66 trans men I interviewed while doing research for my book, Men in Place. These men lived in a wide variety of cities and rural areas across the United States West, South, and Midwest. Perhaps this question has not been easy to answer in any era, but American masculinity and manhood seem particularly fraught at the end of the second decade of the 21st century.

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have shone new light on rampant sexual harassment, assault, and gender inequality across industries and locales. Indeed, there is a growing recognition of the harmful effects of masculinity on the larger society and on men and boys themselves. Even the recent headline-making advertisement by Gillette asks for men and boys to rethink how they behave with one another and with women, by posing their long running tag line – The Best a Man Can Get – as a question: Is this the best a man can get? The ad is a prime example of calls to reform masculinity, but we also see rising resentment and backlash from those loathe to give up their personal and social positions of power.

Trans men who I interviewed described navigating the pressures of being a man and being masculine in ways that are similar to other men. Their stories illustrated that they did not have one specific way to be masculine, but that their expressions of masculinity depended on the spaces and places they lived in and moved through in their everyday lives, shifting and balancing as they entered different contexts. In most places, but certainly not all, the ideal for masculinity was an in-between masculinity that is not hypermasculine but also not too feminine or effeminate. From this study, I conclude that masculinity is dynamic: not just toxic or healthy, but variable depending on the space. Those that perform it most successfully are individuals that can maintain the in-between as they encounter the social expectations that shape particular situations.

Although these changes sound promising, this new ideal of in-between masculinity mostly leaves existing social hierarchies in place.

In my work I find that maintaining these social hierarchies happens through an emphasis on who can control themselves and who cannot. Control is a hallmark of dominating masculinities in the sense of men being rigid or controlling of others. Yet, in this newer ideal, control does not mean inflexibility; rather it is men’s ability to maintain the in-between in responding to the demands of a particular space, such as region or even in public bathrooms. Men who can adjust to the demands of masculinity across these spaces become proper men in comparison to those who cannot maintain control. On one end, women or feminine men are too weak and emotional. They are not capable of being strong in the right spaces. On the other end, hypermasculine men, usually coded as poor black urban men or poor white rural men, are too much like a stereotypical macho man. They are too violent or unable to express the correct emotions in the right spaces.

In this way men can both strive to maintain a certain manliness while also displacing the blame for sexism, racism, and other social ills onto hypermasculine men. This dynamic appears where white working class rural men in the South and Midwest are solely blamed for the election of Donald Trump, even if his support actually had a wider base among affluent suburban Republicans. It also appears in the more widely publicized but not new killings of black men, like Stephon Clark or Michael Brown, because they are viewed by police as hypermasculine violent threats. The black men killed on the street and the poor rural Trump voter are linked not only in their relation to space but also as symbolic representations of masculinities that are not under control. In one instance, lives that must be eliminated because of their threat; in the other, the assertion that hypermasculinity and attendant racism and sexism are located only in rural spaces and particular regions. Some men may never be able to achieve the in-between of “acceptable” masculinity by virtue of their race, class, sexuality, or some combination of them.

In regard to violence, this in-between masculinity means that either being a violent perpetrator or a victim of violence can make a man illegitimate. This means men must carefully navigate fears, which are often tied to particular spaces, in order to avoid being a victim. Trans men’s fears in rural spaces provide a particularly telling example of how these dynamics are gendered, raced, and classed.

Rural spaces are commonly thought to be especially dangerous for LGBT people due to the idea that small towns are dominated by backward, white, lower class men who are exceptionally hateful toward queer or transgender people. At the center of LGBT fears is the specter of rural masculinities that are too violent. The men I interviewed reported trying to protect themselves from potential violence by watching how they acted in order to not seem too much like a gay man in rural spaces. Shifting their behavior allowed them to avoid violence and also maintain an in-between masculinity. They could distinguish themselves both from the violence of potential perpetrators and from the weakness of a victim.

Indeed, the finding from my work that often surprises people the most is that the majority of trans men I interviewed who lived rurally had few interpersonal problems beyond finding reliable access to medical care. This is because they were white in predominately white areas and their masculinity fit in with the local ideals for how men are supposed to be. At the same time, fear drove them to be complicit in the sexism and racism occurring around them. Race, in this case as a particular classed and masculine whiteness, shaped both who is feared and how one can find belonging in rural spaces.

What could it mean to be a man in America?

Debates about the behavior of men exemplified by #MeToo and the Gillette ad signal that perhaps U.S. masculinity is in crisis. Mass shootings and increased white supremacist organizing suggest that white masculinity is a crisis in itself. My work illustrates that a contextual understanding of masculinity as always intertwined with race and sexuality is necessary to chart a different course forward. Further, it will take efforts not just for men to do masculinity differently, but to move beyond surface changes and actually undermine existing hierarchies that disadvantage women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and poor people.


Miriam J. Abelson is assistant professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Portland State University.

"In Men in Place, Miriam J. Abelson foregrounds the lives of an intentionally diverse sample of trans men in the U.S. to address shifts in the look and feel of powerful intersecting systems of inequality. In this brilliantly written, theoretically sophisticated, interdisciplinary, and compassionate study, Abelson poses new challenges to research on masculinities and gender and sexual inequality that illuminate dynamics of power and inequality that reach far beyond the lives of the trans men she studied."—Tristan Bridges, University of California, Santa Barbara

"What does it mean to be a man in the 21st century? Through moving interviews with trans men from across the United States, Miriam J. Abelson documents that there is no easy answer to this question. Men in Place shows us that we cannot begin to understand what it means to be a man without understanding race and space. Abelson weaves a story of manhood that is almost always just out of reach for all men, a Goldilocks masculinity that must be managed, tailored, and altered depending on the environment. Men in Place is a must read for scholars interested in masculinity and its meanings across space."—C.J. Pascoe, University of Oregon

"Men in Place boldly investigates the intersections of white supremacy, economic strain, and rurality as they shape disparities in the experiences of rural trans men of color and their white counterparts. With powerful detail, Miriam J. Abelson demonstrates how the willingness of cis people to embrace trans men as men is shaped by their perception of local and external threats to their community—threats that are not just related to gender and sexuality, but also demographic and economic transformations. This book's substantial and diverse sample of trans men and its critical race and feminist theoretical orientation make Men in Place a unique and necessary contribution to trans studies."—Jane Ward, author of Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Linda LeGarde Grover: On resilience and loss.


The story began for me when I was a child, too young to question but old enough to see, hear, and remember. Adults conversing over tea occasionally forgot that there were children present and alluded to loss: to Indian boarding schools; to runaways and the foster home system; to inexperienced girls leaving home; to pregnancies and adoptions; to death, to a disappearance. For a few seconds their words hung in the air, then an auntie would snap her eyes from the speaker to the children, and the subject would change, or another auntie might say, “You kids go play in the other room.”

Years later my father, brother, and I stood in a courtroom as a judge who was attempting to determine an old probate case involving treaty land holdings and allotments asked a list of questions about an aunt who had disappeared decades before. It is doubtful that her story will ever be known. Perhaps the fictional Loretta Gallette, the young mother who disappears in this novel, walked out of the courtroom with us; not long after that she made her appearance in my writing.

The fictional Loretta Gallette gave to her daughters “the most beautiful names she could think of”: Azure Sky and Rainfall Dawn. She also gave them a night of memory before she signed them over to the county foster care system and vanished. The loss felt by the extended family and community of the Mozhay Point Ojibwe rippled through the decades that followed like waves expanding from a rock thrown into a pond. In the Night of Memory is fiction, yet stories of missing women and girls are distressingly familiar to American Indian communities throughout North America. As Loretta’s story touched many lives, so do the stories of all Native women; Loretta, her daughters, and the Mozhay Point Band of Ojibwe will, sadly, seem familiar in many ways. Each story is unique and singular; at the same time they are all the same: there is loss and guilt, and there are countless questions of what if, how, why; of what will we do now and how can we bear this and endure.

In the Night of Memory is a recounting of loss by Loretta’s daughters as well as other women of the northeastern Minnesota communities of Mozhay Point, Miskwaa Ziibens, and Duluth. In the tradition of time-honored Ojibwe teaching, Auntie Girlie, the oldest living Mozhay relative, provides the reader with a history of both communities as well as the complex relationships between lands and people. Like me, Auntie Girlie is a sentimental realist who intends that the story shall be told. Between the two of us we place Loretta, her girls, and the relatives and community members of the Mozhay Point Band of Ojibwe within a context that shines a light of humor, hope, and resilience on the actions and events of our lives and future.


Linda LeGarde Grover is professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. Grover's latest novel is In the Night of Memory. Her novel The Road Back to Sweetgrass (Minnesota, 2014) received the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Fiction Award as well as the Native Writers Circle of the Americas First Book Award. The Dance Boots, a book of stories, received the Flannery O’Connor Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and her poetry collection The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives received the Red Mountain Press Editor’s Award and the 2017 Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for Poetry. Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year (Minnesota, 2017) won the 2018 Minnesota Book Award for Memoir and Creative Nonfiction and the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award.

"With In the Night of Memory, Linda LeGarde Grover offers us a gift of story across generations of Native American women. This book examines what it means to grow up poor, grow up female, and grow up in a place that should be home but feels far from belonging. Grover creates a tapestry of history and imagination, a weaving of perspectives beautiful and wise, a collection of truths that anchors and honors the experiences of Indigenous women."
—Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

"In the Night of Memory is a moving story of loss and recovery in Native America. Linda LeGarde Grover has created fully realized characters pushed to the margins of their own lives but who, nevertheless, manage to live on their own terms. Riding on the wave of this poignant novel are some of the most important issues affecting American Indians today, including the loss of family and heritage and the destruction and disappearance of American Indian women. A remarkable achievement."
—David Treuer

"Once again Linda LeGarde Grover skillfully knots together the lives of Anishinaabeg connected to the fictional Mozhay Point Reservation. Like lace, the knotted pattern has gaps, absence, loss, and a design because of what—because of who—is missing. Set across decades and told through generations of relatives, In the Night of Memory mirrors actual history, from government removal of American Indian children to our current crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States and Canada. The intimate and interested narrative voices carry the readers, keeping them witnessing and understanding how what happened in the past never stops happening—and continues to impact communities today."
—Heid Erdrich

"I love this book! What a beautiful story of love and loss—from the pain of intergenerational effects to the trauma of the child welfare system to the hopefulness of community re-engagement. I felt an instant connection with the poetically named Rainfall Dawn and Azure Sky, and their mother Loretta, too. The whole family lived and breathed on the page and filled me right up as if I were there with them. I was sad to finish this one."
—Katherena Vermette, author of The Break

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Letter from a Radical Hag

Dear Reader,

Octogenarian Haze Evans believes that curiosity is the collagen of the mind, staving off mental sags, droops, and wrinkles. She doesn't care that Society reserves its pompom waving and back flips for those who've yet to cross the 40-year line; as a newspaper columnist, she's got people to listen to, stories to write, thoughts to share. She feels privileged to write about the drama, comedy, tragedy, romance, mystery, and intrigue that exist—in varying degrees—in everyone's life, including her own.

Haze began writing her columns in 1954 and to school myself on past current events, I occasionally Googled "What was happening in the year 19-- or 20--?" More often, I relied on a reference book called The Time Tables of History and just now, to make sure I got the title right, I pulled the book off its shelf and randomly turned to the year 1977 and in the "History, Politics" column, read "President Carter warns that the energy crisis in the U.S. could bring on a 'national catastrophe'; Americans must respond with the 'moral equivalent of war,' making 'profound' changes in their oil consumption." (Whoa, talk about prescient!) That's the lesson that was reiterated while writing this book: history can teach us valuable lessons, if we're only willing to listen.

I don't want to give much of the story's plot away, preferring that you buy the book by the caseload (happy to provide an answer to all your gift-giving needs!), but one of the last columns Haze writes before she's felled by a stroke (from which she may or may not recover) is about the upcoming 2016 presidential election. Her own mother's generation wasn't allowed to vote until 1920 (less than a hundred years ago!), and that Haze might help elect the first American female president thrills and humbles her.

In her columns, Haze writes from the perspective all of us have: as a citizen in our own small world and in the big world at large. The Vietnam War doesn't come close to touching her in the way it touches grieving parents who listen over and over to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds because it was the favorite album of their killed-in-action son. In an '80s column about the emerging AIDS epidemic, she writes about Richard, a cherished childhood friend whose sexuality is ridiculed and mocked by other classmates. Her perspective endears her to many readers, but not to one particular Joseph Snell, whose world-view is rarely in focus with her own and who writes letters to the paper complaining about her work being "nothing more than the chronicles of a radical hag." After one column in which she ruminates on the practice of taking the husband's name after marriage, she receives criticism from him and others, and she ends a rebuttal column with a favorite cookie recipe. That begs a different kind of question: how many male columnists would feel the need to mollify irate readers by sharing recipes?

The online world we're living in now hosts "trolls" who are literally underground (seeing as many of them write from their basement) and who criticize/excoriate/threaten anonymously, which of course is cowardly. At least pre-cyber, those writing in to fulminate against old-school bloggers—columnists—had the courage to sign their names. Of course, the sexism and ageism was most often directed at women (would Snell ever call a male columnist a radical old coot?).

Sam, the fourteen-year-old son of the newspaper's publisher scoffs at the idea that "an old lady's columns" could interest him. Given (he'd say forced into) a summer job at the paper, he's tasked with going through archives and reading Haze's words as well as letters from readers. His evolution was satisfying to write about; he not only lets go of his own sexism and ageism but also leads his classmates in recognizing the worth of the words of Haze the person.

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) is a book about the value of all of our stories and of the voices that tell them. I hope it will make you laugh, cry, gasp, think, wonder, get miffed, get riled, and get inspired. And remember when making the almond crescents, a light touch works best. I would offer that as all-around good advice, except not to professional masseuses or boxers.

In Radical Hagginess,
Lorna Landvik


Lorna Landvik is the author of twelve novels, including the bestselling Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Oh My Stars, Best to Laugh (Minnesota, 2015), and Once in a Blue Moon Lodge (Minnesota, 2017). She has performed stand-up and improvisational comedy around the country and is a public speaker, playwright, and actor most recently in the one-woman, all-improvised show Party in the Rec Room. She lives in Minneapolis.

Lorna has two upcoming launch events:
  • 7:00 PM, Tuesday, March 26th, 2019. Hosted by Valley Bookseller at Trinity Lutheran Church (115 4th St. N., Stillwater, MN 55082). Tickets are $15 with $5 going toward the purchase of the book, and are available in person at Valley Bookseller or at
  • 7:00 PM, Wednesday, March 27th, 2019. Hosted by Excelsior Bay Books at Trinity Episcopal Church (322 2nd St., Excelsior, MN 55331).  Tickets are $15 with $5 going toward the purchase of the book, and are available in person at Excelsior Bay Books or by calling 952-401-0932, or at
A full list of Lorna's events can be found here.

"A comic love letter to journalism and literature, Lorna Landvik’s newest novel is smart, funny, and intimate, with a terrifically memorable cast of small-town characters. Read the book, then head for the kitchen and start baking. Delicious!"—Julie Schumacher, author of The Shakespeare Requirement

"Landvik uses wisdom and her trademark humor to encourage readers to have a thoughtful response to the world and the people with whom they share it. A pleasure to read."—Kirkus Reviews

"At a time when local newspapers are nearing extinction, and reporters are deemed enemies of the people, Landvik’s smart and lovely paean to journalists is a welcome reminder of the important role they play in the lives of those who depend on newspapers for more than just information."—Booklist

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Greetings from the London Book Fair!

Hello from London! I arrived yesterday in the city along with my colleague, press director Doug Armato. Once we have a cuppa and a bacon butty, we'll be ready to represent the University of Minnesota Press at this year's London Book Fair.

We have a long-standing and active international rights and translations program, with press titles routinely translated and published by diverse publishers from around the world. But this is actually the first time the University of Minnesota Press has attended the London Book Fair. This year, we are showcasing a diverse list to international publishers (mainly from Europe) that includes our cutting edge scholarly and theory titles alongside our curated lists of commercial fiction, children's and young adult fiction, and cookbooks.

I would like to draw your attention to a handful of titles, included below, that we feel will receive significant attention in London:

What God Is Honored Here?
Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss for Native Women and Women of Color
Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang, editors

A literary collection of voices from indigenous women and women of color who have undergone miscarriage and infant loss

World rights all languages
October 2019

A Cook's Guide to Using Honey and Maple Syrup
Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen

A beautiful, delicious celebration of two natural sweeteners in irresistible recipes

World rights all languages
April 2019

A Critical Guide to the Future of the Galaxy
Dan Golding

Politics, craft, and cultural nostalgia in the remaking of Star Wars for a new age

World rights all languages
March 2019

Jacqueline Briggs Martin 
Illustrated by Larry Day

An irresistible read-aloud picture book, in which a little odd-duck-out discovers her unique strengths

World rights all languages
February 2019

A PDF of our full rights catalog can be see here.

You'll be able to find us under the beautiful glass arches of Olympia in London at the AUPresses Pavillion, Stand #7D14. 

Hope to see you there!

Jason Weidemann, Editorial Director

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Big Surreal


Surrealism is an art and literary movement in the early twentieth century. Its best-known work is a painting by Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, in which clocks look like they’re melting in a bleak and blank terrain. In Surrealist painting, distortions of everyday reality, in scale, shape, and space give surreal as an adjective its definition of strange, disorienting, and off kilter. Dreamlike but not dreamy, an experience of surreality takes one aback and dislocates her: where am I? A terminal cancer diagnosis can be a surreal experience.

I received such a diagnosis at Christmastime 2016.

Where am I? I really don’t know.
I am lying on the living room couch, I’m reading in the gray leather chair, I’m mopping the floor, I buy groceries and drive a car. I walk the dog and brush her.
I am in the material world.

Where am I?
I lose my bearings but not my mind.

I am not here at all.
My mind is gossamer and huge
And clear unlike ever before. Its clarity astounds me.
“Mind” is inaccurate, and that I continue to use “I” is abundantly disappointing.
I cannot constitute any self. I am not me, not I. Nothing is mine, and “mind” is absurd.
This no place and nothing, a unity, has neither shape nor parameters. It is composed of myriad scintillae, random in their activity, and not the least chaotic, arising and passing, changing in instants, combining, recombining, disappearing. The epitome of speed and stillness.  
The no place is nothing in particular. It wants not a thing. It needs no witness. It is essenceless present.
I am bodiless. What is in, on, and through the gossamer is not contained or containable, and it keeps changing, quicker than in instants. “Floating” and “high speed” do not seem compatible, but in the no place they are. It offers nothing to see, smell, touch, taste, or hear. “Gossamer” and “transparency” are miserable descriptions.

How have I gotten to the no place? I can’t be at all certain.
Taxotere? A very potent chemotherapy I experienced in 2017 that seemed to veil my forehead, both outside and in.
Whole brain radiation? A treatment I chose in early 2018 that I feared was deranging my mind and causing cognitive losses. The radiation oncologist said that if I chose not to proceed, I could be dead within a few weeks.
A meditation technique that I’ve practiced for nearly ten years in which the meditator does her best to be still, scan her body, and be as attentive as possible to bodily sensations? Equanimity is a goal.
Each one has taken me far away from the accepted reality of domestic and work life. I’ve returned from the treatments both diminished and expanded, and I continue the meditation, a practice that is intended to create equanimity. The second time I was flying home from one of the ten-day retreats, in 2010, I was meditating and my arm closest to the plane window disappeared. It was only scintillae. I was very scared, but a teacher of the method who I contacted once I was home assured me that nothing unusual had occurred.

I am completely inadequate in describing the no place. It is not a vision, nor a fantasy. I’m not trying to paint a picture.

I am living and dying. In the Living with Cancer Support group that I have often gone to, we say that everyone is dying, but they don’t know it like we do. Smack up against it. A terminal diagnosis and the many MRIs and PET scans that I’ve had over the months and years, the follow-ups with medical and radiation oncologists, the infusions, the blood work that shows whether I’m sickening from medications, the lingering fatigue, the shorter walks that I must take so that I don’t get so tired that I risk falling. I used to walk easily and happily from the Metropolitan Museum to SoHo—a distance of 4.6 miles. I used to be elated when MRIs and PET scans were clear. Metastatic breast cancer has no cure, but an all-clear result may seem like stasis regarding the cancer, a kind of cure. I said to the acupuncturist I see that some people would find it weird that I’m not elated at the latest MRI result, from February 2019, and she said, “You’re realistic.” I’m so glad you said that,” I smiled.

We think of ourselves as who we were. Who we were is normal, and comfortable through familiarity with the past. Normal is a constant. So people opt for procedures that purport to keep them looking young, though often they look surreal, like Dolly Parton at the 2019 Grammys. Ants, symbols of decay, crawl on one of the clocks in The Persistence of Memory. The material world moves towards entropy, but the bodies of celebrities must not succumb to deterioration. No matter. They are icons of deterioration.

Cancer treatments, like dermal fillers and cosmetic surgery, try to reverse time. I look for beauty in the surreal disarray of my life. Clocks melt, time softens into nothingness. Beauty in scintillae, in utter impermanence.


Joanna Frueh is a writer, performance artist, scholar, art critic and historian, and teacher whose work expands into photographic, video, and audio pieces. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art in 2008. Her books include Erotic Faculties, Monster/Beauty: Building the Body of Love, Swooning Beauty: A Memoir of Pleasure, and Clairvoyance (For Those in the Desert): Performance Pieces, 1979–2004. She has performed and lectured in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom and is professor emeritus of art history at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"Unapologetic Beauty is a downright necessary meditation on women’s wisdom and beauty in aging. Joanna Frueh and Frances Murray—in writing and image—call out the fact that our ‘hyperbeauty’ culture relies on stereotypical ‘taboos’ to make individuals unique or edgy, when we must rather recognize that ‘real flesh, real love: they are the taboos.’ And the world needs more of both."—Maria Elena Buszek, University of Colorado, Denver

"Joanna Frueh develops her earlier strands: body image; representation of self; relationships between image, text, and body; body work; illness and healing. Starting with friendship and creativity, she draws these themes in her work together in a powerful invocation of moving toward self-love through self-acceptance. It will always be the right time to read this, no matter the body one inhabits."—Hilary Robinson, editor of Feminism Art Theory: An Anthology, 1968-2014 

"A wonderful, evocative depiction of a woman in all her glory."—Susan Love, author of Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Jane St. Anthony: What, after all, is normal?


In seventh grade, Patrick handed a note to me. It didn’t travel far. Patrick and I sat side by side, our desks aligned. Sandra sat directly behind Patrick, and Steven was behind me. When Sister Evangeline wasn’t watching us, seventh grade felt like a jolly double date in a convertible.

“I love Jane,” Patrick had written. “I really do.” It was signed with his full name.

I carried the note in the inside pocket of my brown corduroy winter jacket for a very long time.

Did I know what it felt like to be loved? I believed I did and it was thrilling.

As the size of our class grew from forty-eight to fifty-four, the drama increased—whether spoken, observed, or written on scraps of paper. Alliances were forged and sometimes broken. Mystery, embarrassment, hilarity, secrets, defeat, redemption, acclaim were experienced in one room with one Dominican nun in charge.

Is this what author Willa Cather meant when she wrote, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen”?

In Whatever Normal Is, Margaret, Grace, and Isabelle are best friends, with Margaret and Grace having forged an alliance in first grade. They first appear in The Summer Sherman Loves Me, set in the summer before seventh grade, and Grace stars in her own book, Grace Above All, the next summer. Gentle Isabelle joins them in eighth grade in Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart.

In Whatever Normal Is, the girls are high school juniors.

Feeling uncertain and somewhat invisible, Margaret focuses on the end of high school. Isabelle accepts it as her destiny. The outspoken Grace proposes a blueprint for happiness: a job, a car, and a boyfriend.

And so Grace presses to expand their worlds.

She achieves the first goal—a job, where she eyes a co-worker named Teddy almost as much as the pie counter she manages.

But Teddy’s attention is on Margaret, who agonizes over telling Grace.

Sometimes Isabelle must mediate. When Margaret falters—overwhelmed by keeping the secret of Teddy from Grace—Isabelle steps in.

I promise you, Grace,” said Margaret. “I promise that I will never keep anything from you again. I was wrong.”
“I’m going inside now. I’m done with this crap,“ [Grace] continued, as she slowly stood. “Anyway, it wasn’t about Teddy. It was about you committing a sin of omission. It’s what you didn’t say. That’s what hurts the most.” She stared at Margaret. “I suppose that maybe we can get past this at some time if you stop weeping all over the steps right now.”
“Kiss and make up,” Isabelle said, as Margaret put her head on Grace’s shoulder and cried harder. Grace seemed to be carved out of granite. But her arm began to move stiffly, and she patted Margaret’s back while her face remained stoical.

And as Teddy becomes closer to Margaret, he wrestles with his own reasons for needing her.

As a daydreamer and wanna-be writer, I didn’t realize all the material to be hoarded simply by being alive, at any age, in any place.

What, after all, is normal?

What does it feel like to be loved?

These are some of the questions, “the basic material,” as Willa Cather called it, that inform my stories.


Jane St. Anthony is author of Whatever Normal Is, The Summer Sherman Loved Me, Grace Above All, and Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart, which was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and won the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for Young Adult and Middle Grade. She lives in Minneapolis and works with young writers.

"Jane St. Anthony keenly captures the essence of coming of age: that irreversible moment of discovery that the world is much greater and deeper than you have imagined—and that other people’s lives are as big as your own."
—Jane O’Reilly, author of The Secret of Goldenrod