Friday, February 26, 2010

CAA, in a nutshell

A roundup of what came out of the University of Minnesota Press's time at the College Art Association conference this month:

-Our top 3 most popular books at this very busy, well-attended conference were: Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between, by Sharon Irish; String, Felt, Thread, by Elissa Auther; and Modernism after Wagner by Juliet Koss.

-We hosted a nice, lively booth book signing with Sharon Irish (at left, background) and artist Suzanne Lacy (foreground). Prior to this event, we spoke with Irish about her experiences with Suzanne Lacy while writing this book; find the text of that conversation here.

-Another hit at the conference was Matthew Biro's The Dada Cyborg, which was a finalist for the 2010 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award. (Read our Q&A with Biro here.)

-A reporter for the CAA blog stopped by the trade show and interviewed our eloquent sales coordinator Erik Anderson about the overall interest in UMP's recent rush of art and architecture books, and about his personal experiences in publishing.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gayla Marty: On leaving—but not entirely leaving—the family farm

Gayla Marty grew up on a dairy farm near Rush City, Minnesota. She is currently a communications director at the University of Minnesota. Her new memoir, Memory of Trees: A Daughter's Story of a Family Farm, reveals her search to understand her attachment to the family farm and the reasons it was sold. Marty still walks the gravel roads in Pine County with her mother, who lives on a remaining portion of the family farm.

Q. What advantages did you experience growing up on a farm (as opposed to a more urban upbringing)?

The two most striking things, I think, were being close to a lot of different animals—cows, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, birds, and other wildlife on our place—and eating so close to the source; milk, meat, and all the fruits and vegetables grown in our garden, orchards, and woods. But after I moved to the city, I felt a freedom similar to farm life, free of the social pressures in school and small-town life.

Q. As you grew older, did you feel more of an urge to leave or to stay while you prepared for your post-high-school future?

I definitely felt a stronger urge to leave than to stay, and it had more to do with the town than the farm. I could not wait to get out of high school, which is bruising for a lot of people, partly because so many of us start out pretty tender or idealistic or a little different. I didn’t feel an urge to leave the farm, though, as much as an expectation that I must. With four boys on our farm, there was no place for me. Either way, my main concerns were finding a vocation and a mate. It never occurred to me that the farm wouldn’t be there for me always to visit.

Q. Can you explain the connection you felt to the family farm and how it has changed over time?

When the Marty farm was sold in 1991, I was a wreck and I couldn’t explain why. I wanted to know: Why was I so attached to that farm when I hadn’t lived there for years? And why me more than any of the ten of us except my uncle? He and I seemed to have so little in common anymore. I started writing about it to try to figure this out.

I discovered that it had to do with the way culture and values and aesthetics are transmitted from one generation to the next. In fact, my uncle and I had a lot in common. We were both firstborns shaped by the same person: Viola, his Swedish Baptist mother and my grandmother. She loved the outdoors and taught us the vocabulary and language of everything in it, using and supplementing verses and stories from the Bible. Later, my uncle and I took different spiritual paths, but we both continued to express our intellectual lives in the language of the Bible and the natural world. The farm was like a sacred text for both of us.

As I grew up and social life at school got more stressful, the farm was a refuge where I could be myself and contribute to the family in a well defined role. During my college years, the farm was an anchor while I sailed. During my years as a young mother, it was a retreat from my city life. After the land was sold, it became a wound. For many years, I couldn’t drive by or even look at it, from Highway 61 across the monocrop of corn, without anguish. It became a warning. But I realized, too, that farms like my family’s have been a source of anguish to those before us.

My connection to the farm turned into a connection to other small farms and to the plot under our house in Minneapolis. Our little household joined a food buyers club, bought shares in CSAs (community supported agriculture), and invested in what would become the Eastside Food Coop in northeast Minneapolis. Most years, we’ve planted a garden of some sort. In 2004-05, we went through the Farm Beginnings program of the Land Stewardship Project to try to put my farm ghost to rest.

My parents built a new house on the land that came through my mother’s side of the family. Sometime after my father died, I began going there on weekends and finished writing the book, looking out on a wooded ravine. During that time, I started to see my mother’s childhood farm through her eyes.

Q. How do you talk to your own children about the family farm?

I wrote Memory of Trees partly to relieve them of having to listen to me talk about it! Seriously, I wanted to leave a record of the world I knew because it’s so easy to oversimplify or glorify it as a golden age, on one hand, or dismiss it as a simple or ugly past best forgotten. I also needed to make connections between that world and the world we live in now, even in the middle of a city. I wanted to show women and men how important it is to put their love of the natural world into language so their children and grandchildren learn the words for what they love and find beautiful. For example—while walking down your block, what kinds of birds can you hear and see? Can you name the trees?


Memory of Trees: A Daughter's Story of a Family Farm will be available from University of Minnesota Press in April. A book launch event is planned for April 11th at University Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Photo (above): In 1962, 4-year-old Gayla Marty walks with her mother through the family farm in Minnesota's St. Croix Valley.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rod Carew: 'I grew up'

On Monday at a news conference to promote the upcoming All-Star game in Anaheim this July, Rod Carew spoke warmly about his daughter, who lost a tragic battle with leukemia about 14 years ago, and about changes he's made in his life — growing up, mellowing out — in the last few years. Read the entire LA Times column here.

The University of Minnesota Press is publishing a new edition of Rod Carew's memoir, Carew, with a new foreword by Torii Hunter. The book will be available in April.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Colin Firth: Best Actor at BAFTA Awards

We are thrilled for Colin Firth's big win at the BAFTA Awards last night!
He was up against a lot of talent — Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Jeremy Renner and Andy Serkis — and it's wonderful to see his A Single Man performance receive such deserved recognition.

Check out his award speech in which he thanks "the fridge guy," without whom he would not have accepted the A Single Man role.

Further links:
-Could Colin Firth be the Great British Actor of our time? / The Guardian
-Video of Firth and Serkis on their BAFTA nominations / BBC News
-A Single Man: "Bound to be as influential on men's fashion as the extraordinary stylish drama Mad Men." / Irish Independent

Be sure to visit our A Single Man book site and leave a comment at our Readers' Forum.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sustainability and small-town America

This AP story caught our eye this week: Florida family gives up on small-town North Dakota. Here's the gist: After four years of attempts to assimilate and live comfortably in close-knit Hazelton, ND, a Miami family of four has decided to opt out.

Which brings up an interesting point: While media stories tend to focus on the rural population drain occurring in small-town America, in fact there may be a force other than the desire for big-city opportunities at work: the small town's tendency to be stubbornly resistant to change. Even when change may be key to the area's survival.

We asked two authors with personal ties to stories such as this to comment on the issue. Carrie A. Meyer (Days on the Family Farm) teaches economics at George Mason University and grew up on a farm in Illinois. Dean Hulse (Westhope) is a freelance writer who grew up on a farm in Westhope, ND (population: about 500) and lives in Fargo. While writing from different perspectives, both provide equally insightful glances into Midwestern small-town culture and thoughts about its past, present and future.



Coincidences can provide teachable moments because not all fairy tales are intended for children. The very same week I read the discouraging North Dakota news story, I also attended a literary event and bought a memoir about an adoptee from Korea who grew up in Minnesota.

The news story involves Hazelton, North Dakota (pop: 240), and a couple from Florida who were lured to the small town four years ago by the offer of money and real estate, provided by the Hazelton Development Corp.

Michael and Jeanette Tristani and their twins (now twelve) want to move back to Miami. One reason is Jeanette’s elderly parents, who require care but don’t want to receive it in a state where the snow flies many months of the year. Another reason is the cold shoulder the Tristanis believe they’ve gotten from locals.

Of course, there are at least two sides to every story, and this one involving the Tristanis includes a petition for a restraining order against the owners of a coffee shop that competed with the Tristanis’s business. The news story reports that both businesses now are shuttered.

One of the locals summed up the Tristani affair this way: “Not everybody fits in in a small town.”

Which brings me to the adult fairy tale, included in The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka, who is passionate about international adoption—particularly about how important it is to keep alive in the adoptee a sense of his or her own culture. For many years, she felt lost between two cultures while she lived in a rural Minnesota community with “its own self-purging system.”

In her book, Jane Jeong Trenka tells about a small mountain village where the happiest people in Korea lived. Running through the middle of the village was a “laughing” river, which the people loved. Frightening wooden statues guarded the village gates and kept out “evil things.” One day a dragon came to the village’s guarded gates and asked the tallest statue for permission to enter the village. The statue refused, and kept refusing for thirty days and nights. On the thirty-first day, the dragon (who cried silver tears) left the happy village and headed home. The dragon died en route and the laughing river “closed her arms around the dragon and tasted his kinship … [s]he knew in her heart that the dragon was not bad. She sang a smooth lullaby in her liquid voice as she gently rocked the dragon’s tired body through the night.”

Oh, to have the wisdom of the laughing river.

Having left (abandoned, some may say) my hometown, I, too, have been treated as “the other” by people I’ve known all my life. Certainly, nothing comparable to what Jane Jeong Trenka has witnessed, but enough to write the following in my book, Westhope: Life as a Former Farm Boy: “I hold a postindustrial vision of home, and of my homecoming, that is neither nostalgic nor utopian, merely untried. I see a community as accepting of new ideas and different cultures as its members are supportive of people who grieve.”

If depopulation of the countryside is a pox on our society, and I believe it is, then any barriers ensuring a status-quo homogeneity represent a placebo, not the antidote.



The issue of dying small towns in rural communities in the Great Plains is a difficult and painful one. Fundamentally there are too many towns and not enough spending power to support small businesses. When the Great Plains was settled and towns sprang up, farmers sold their crops and spent their money in the closest town. If the town was more than 7 miles away it was too far to go with a horse and wagon. Small towns produced the goods and services farmers needed — they had blacksmiths, harness makers, carriage makers, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, sawmills, and grist mills. Such towns peaked around 1900.

Even though the farm economy is pretty good these days, there are far fewer farm families, most of the things they buy aren’t produced locally anymore, and good roads and modern automobiles make it easy to drive farther to bigger towns for routine shopping.

My heart breaks when I think of the small town in central Kansas near my brother’s farm. My grandfather chaired the building committee for a new church building there in the 1970s. Church members lovingly removed the stain glass windows from the old church built in 1900 and put them in a beautiful new building. But there aren’t enough congregants to support a minister, and the town has two other churches.

As Michael and Jeanette Tristani found out, it’s not easy to move to a town in which the families have known each other for more than a century. The last thing these old timers want is a new business to run the old businesses out of business. One new business that is welcome in my brother’s town, however, is a retirement home. It’s keeping some older folks in town a few more years, attracting others from nearby towns, and providing a few jobs for younger folks.

Small towns that are closer to large employment centers can hope to attract commuters and tourists. While on book tour last summer, I was cheered to see the downtown areas of many small towns in Illinois looking more charming and less rundown than I remembered them, with busy family-owned diners on Main Street.


Further reading:
-Days on the Family Farm: From the Golden Age through the Great Depression, by Carrie Meyer.
-Westhope: Life as a Former Farm Boy, by Dean Hulse.
-The Emptied Prairie, National Geographic.
-The Rural Brain Drain, The Chronicle.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a personal story or other media article to share? Please leave us your comments.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Amy Bass's road to the Vancouver Olympics

Amy Bass appears very busy these days. She is director of the honors program at The College of New Rochelle, author of the recently published Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W. E. B. Du Bois, and — not to mention — supervisor of the research room for NBC's coverage of the Vancouver Olympics.

In a short, lively blog interview, Bass reveals how she became involved with NBC and offers important advice to undergraduate history majors. She says:

Historians have made research an art form. We know how to turn the tiniest details into important pieces of the big picture and — perhaps most importantly — we know how to express it well. The ability to think, write, speak, communicate, innovate and create: that is history well done.

Read the full interview here.

Bass is also author of Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Erik Anderson, exhibitor extraordinaire

Last week at the College Art Association conference, an interviewer stopped by the University of Minnesota Press's book exhibit booth to chat with UMP's talented sales coordinator Erik Anderson. Read on at the CAA blog as Anderson talks about how he got his start in the publishing industry and what's new at UMP.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Narrating Companion Species

The University of New England's Center for Global Humanities has released video of an important lecture on animal studies, titled "Narrating Companion Species," by Susan McHugh. McHugh is an associate professor of English at UNE who studies literary, visual and scientific stories of animals. Her book Animal Narratives: Forms of Species and Social Agency is forthcoming with University of Minnesota Press (2011) and will be a member of the Press's Posthumanities Series. Within the lecture, McHugh compares her work and her working background with that of Donna Haraway, one of the founders of the posthumanities and author of When Species Meet.

Check out the lecture, which is just under two hours long, here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Three questions with Elissa Auther

Elissa Auther is founder of Feminism & Co.: Art, Sex, Politics, a program that explores feminist social, political, and artistic issues through creative forms of pedagogy. She is associate professor of contemporary art at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and has written about, among other topics, modernist art criticism, the hierarchy of art and craft, installation art, and feminist activist art. Her new book, String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art, studies the advance of thread, rope, string, felt, and fabric from the "low" world of craft to the "high" world of art in the 1960s-70s.

Q. What are three things that everyone should know about your book?
String, Felt, Thread examines the use of fiber in art across the larger art world in the 1960s and 1970s, an approach that illuminates intersections between artistic spheres of practice—from craft, to post-minimalism, to the feminist art movement—normally addressed in isolation from each other.
While the book addresses the elevation of a single medium—fiber—it also examines how aesthetic hierarchies and boundaries, specifically their creation, maintenance, and dissolution over time, has shaped the art world and our experience as artists, viewers, critics, collectors, or art historians.
The conclusion to the book investigates the open embrace of fiber and its associated techniques by contemporary artists, many of whom embrace craft in ways that would have been career-jeopardizing in the 1960s and 1970s.

Q. Where does your interest in art history and feminism begin?
As an undergraduate living in San Francisco in the late 1980s, I encountered a number of public works of art made of fiber. A piece that really intrigued me was Barbara Shawcroft's gargantuan abstract fiber sculpture for the Embarcadero BART/MUNI underground station, "Legs" (at left; image courtesy of Flickr). The piece consists of multiple hanging elements in heavy gauge rope, some hand-knotted and plaited, others left unmanipulated. In a course taught by Judith Bettelheim at San Francisco State University, I encountered Shawcroft's work again alongside the fiber sculpture of Sheila Hicks and Claire Zeisler, artists who were new to me at the time. What was brilliant about the course was that fiber-based work by artists with backgrounds in weaving was presented in the context of post-minimalist sculpture rather than "craft." Many years later as a graduate student looking for a dissertation topic, I returned to this work and the conventional categorization of fiber sculpture as "craft" and post-minimalist sculpture utilizing felt, yarn, and rope as "fine art." I also revisited feminist work in fiber—a subject that interested me for its politicization of craft. I realized I was attracted to all of this work for its complicated relationship to aesthetic hierarchies, and I elected to write on the various challenges that were mounted to the boundary separating art from craft in the 1960s and 1970s. Conveniently, the topic brought together my interests in a wide range of work made of fiber as well as the feminist critique of the art/craft divide.

Q. Was there a specific turning point in history, an event or individual, that marked a change in the way the art world characterized fiber art (from "craft" to fine art)?
Not really, although I would argue that the feminist art movement of the 1970s had an immense impact on the way fiber is used in art today. Feminist artists involved in the critique of the hierarchy of art and craft helped to legitimize the personal as an appropriate subject for art, resulting in an unprecedented expansion of artistic form and practice. Although they did not render the hierarchy of art and craft defunct, the women’s art movement was ultimately more successful in expanding the category of art to include fiber because its agenda, not to mention its audience, far exceeded the provincial borders of the art world in the 1970s.

> Click for more info on String, Felt, Thread.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Understanding Dubai's political economy

Almost two months ago, author Waleed Hazbun wrote a provocative piece on this blog about the current economic climate of Dubai. At the time, the article came on the heels of the news that Dubai's state-owned real estate firm, Nakheel, was deeply in debt and seeking help to make bond payments. Now, in light of the incredible news that the much-hyped Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai) has been closed to the public just one month after its grand opening, the article's analysis of Dubai's infrastructure has fresh relevance. Read on as Hazbun lays out a list of possible alternate futures for Dubai.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Non-sex workers writing about sex work

Australian sex worker Elena Jeffreys has written a review essay for Intersections about four books written by non-sex workers about sex work. She features Tiantian Zheng's Red Lights:

Zheng proposes that it is too simplistic to conclude, as Pan Suimin did, that clients only see sex workers for reasons of sexual pleasure. Rather the Chinese men in Dalian see sex workers as a foil to impotence and proof of their strength against China's condemnation of promiscuity. Participants of sex work, clients and workers, are struggling against dominant social conditioning.

Read the entire essay here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Single Man: Behind the Scenes

The film A Single Man, which releases today in an expanded number of theaters upon Colin Firth's Oscar nod, has been the subject of much analysis in the media recently. Has it been snubbed in a handful of deserving Oscar categories? Did efforts to market it deliberately gloss over the fact that this is a film about a gay man's grief? Has Tom Ford gone too far by telling the media that the film is not a gay film, presumably to boost its appeal to the masses?

Ford has, in fact, received much praise for his directorial debut; Peter Travers of Rolling Stone crowned him a "visionary," while the Telegraph pronounced his work an "immaculate conception." But for fervent Christopher Isherwood fans, the film strays too much from the book, adding scenes and missing themes that were central to the author's intent.

To address this, the London Times has interviewed Isherwood's surviving partner Don Bachardy, who had a hand in the making of the film. He says:
“My advice to Tom Ford was the same advice Chris gave to young screenwriters adapting books. He always advised them to make it their own, to not try to reproduce the book in movie form. He had my backing to make it his own and that’s what he did.”

Read the article here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Art history, Suzanne Lacy, and the 'spaces between': A Q&A with Sharon Irish

Sharon Irish, an art and architecture historian who works at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is author of Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between. Suzanne Lacy is the recipient of this year's College Art Association Lifetime Achievement award. She will join Irish next week at the CAA convention in Chicago to sign copies of the book at the U of M Press booth (details here). Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with the author; you can read the full text of this Q&A here.

Q: On your website, you indicate an interest in "ways to activate history and the arts in the present day." Was it this motivating force that first introduced you to Suzanne Lacy?

A: Almost twenty years ago (1991), during the first Gulf War, I was looking for a way to connect my art historical scholarship to my political concerns about violence and racism. (I felt pretty distant from my research in American architecture of the early twentieth century.) I had gone to the Women’s Caucus for Art meeting in NYC in 1990 and experienced a profound awakening of sorts, by seeing and hearing about a number of women artists who were using methods drawn from theatre and political protest to give visual form to their ideas, including Suzanne. Of course, these were not new methods, but they were new to me. I started corresponding with a number of artists that winter and eventually I met Suzanne in 1992. She invited me to participate in “Full Circle: Monuments to Women” in Chicago. That involvement with the placement of 100 boulders in downtown Chicago to honor women made me realize that architectural history could be activated, for me anyway, by connecting it to socially engaged contemporary art.

Suzanne builds coalitions to accomplish her artistic and political goals. While often uneasy and difficult, these relationships realize what Bernice Johnson Reagon noted: “Today wherever women gather together, it is not necessarily nurturing. It is coalition building. And if you feel the strain, you may be doing some good work.”


U of M Press on WCCO

Upon yesterday's announcement of the Oscar nomination for A Single Man, WCCO reporter Darcy Pohland stopped by our office in downtown Minneapolis. Check out the news footage, which includes info about all of Minnesota's ties to the Oscars, here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Single Man at the Oscars + UK premiere + book vs. film

We are delighted (and not at all surprised) at the news that can-you-believe-he's-never-before-been-nominated Colin Firth has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the Tom Ford-directed A Single Man.

(Though, in our totally biased opinion, the film deserves to be among the Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Julianne Moore) categories as well -- not to mention Best Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction and Best Score for Abel Korzeniowski -- still, we digress.)

The film is currently getting all kinds of buzz around the UK, where it will open in wide release on February 12th. Here's a link to footage from the UK premiere, which includes interviews with Tom Ford, Colin Firth, Matthew Goode and Nicholas Hoult.

A few recent comments on our A Single Man Readers' Forum have addressed discrepancies between the book and the film. To that effect, Claude J. Summers has written a fine piece for glbtq on the film's factual and thematic departures from the novel:

The question in the novel is not whether George will kill himself, but whether he will be able to escape his obsession with the past, and whether his fierce individuality can be incorporated within a larger, spiritual perspective. Isherwood's great theme is the transience of mundane existence when seen from the perspective of eternity while Tom Ford's is the smaller one of apprehending the beauty and joy of mundane life itself.

Ford is clearly aware of a spiritual dimension to George's dilemma, as evidenced by references to the protagonist's spirituality and by the recurrent water motif, which he presents beautifully and meaningfully both in George's stunning dream of Jim and in the exuberant "baptism of the surf" that he experiences with Kenny. Ford also suggests spiritual mystery through images of moonlight on the ocean and by the lingering image of a full moon, reminiscent of shots in David Lean's film of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India.

Read the entire article here.
Your comments are most welcome and encouraged. Please leave your thoughts below or join the conversation on our readers' forum.

Claude J. Summers wrote the foreword for Isherwood on Writing, which is edited by James J. Berg.