Thursday, March 29, 2012

The National Organization for Marriage is part of a long history of "divide and conquer"

The National Organization for Marriage's latest tactics—the latest reflecting a search for "non-intellectual" celebrity spokespeople, have been making headlines this week. The thing is, these tactics are nothing new. Image source.


BY AMY STONE
Assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio and author of Gay Rights at the Ballot Box


In several news outlets this week, there has been discussion of confidential documents leaked from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) about their “divide and conquer” tactics to separate blacks from gays. The goals of these tactics are to create a wedge between two key Democratic constituencies and dilute the vote in support of same-sex marriage.

This is nothing new.

Anti-gay Religious Right activists have been intentionally dividing African American voters from LGBT issues during ballot measure campaigns for several decades now. In my book, Gay Rights at the Ballot Box, I analyze how this strategy was conceived in Colorado, birthplace of Colorado Amendment 2 in November 1992, where organizers like Tony Marco developed political messages about gays as counterfeit minorities attempting to steal the civil rights movement from African Americans. Religious Right leaders had used political messages about preferential treatment and “special rights” to frame gay rights since the 1970s, language that ironically was developed in opposition to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. The logic was that gays and lesbians at the time were asking for “special rights” for protection, rights that went above and beyond what was offered to all other Americans, and were trying to claim that they were minorities. These messages about “special rights” relied on understandings of civil rights as a zero-sum game; that to pass a civil rights law meant that rights were being taken from someone else and redistributed.

In the campaign to pass Colorado Amendment 2 and many other campaigns that followed, the anti-gay Religious Right positioned gays and lesbians as taking rights away from African Americans. In the classic anti-gay film Gay Rights, Special Rights, the well-known footage of Martin Luther King Jr. orating the “I Have a Dream” speech is overlaid with ominous concerns about LGBT rights usurping civil rights from racial minorities. In this film, minority spokespeople and depictions of gay men as wealthy and powerful are used as evidence that gays were illegitimate minorities. Campaign literature during this time used language from the civil rights movement about equality along with phrases like “this is a hijacking of the freedom train” and invocations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his family. Indeed, King's niece Alveda Celeste King was used as a speaker at anti-gay rallies across the country in the late 1990s.

Anti-gay activists also have a long history of engaging in racial coalition building with African American pastors. In Cincinnati Issue 3 in 1993, an initiative that eliminated all existing and future LGBT rights in Cincinnati, African Americans were targeted by Issue 3 proponents and featured prominently in Issue 3 literature. In a strategy memo from the Cincinnati anti-gay campaign, the leader noted “a key ingredient to victory is winning the Black vote. Our spokesperson was the President of the Black Baptist Ministerial Association. Even with a Black spokesperson, the Black vote was split evenly, which was our goal.”

To reinforce this antagonism, the anti-gay Religious Right almost exclusively uses images of white gay men and lesbians to represent the LGBT movement in their messages. The absence of LGBT people of color in anti-gay literature furthers this antagonism by constructing LGBT life as white.

For me, the real irony of these tactics is that they construct the Religious Right as supportive of civil rights, sidestepping the long history of Religious Right opposition to African American civil rights.

These “divide and conquer” tactics have only multiplied with the contemporary ballot measures about same-sex marriage. However, they are nothing new. The Religious Right has been doing this for decades now.

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Amy Stone is author of Gay Rights at the Ballot Box and assistant professor of sociology at Trinity University in San Antonio.

"Amy L. Stone crafts a compelling, deeply textured portrayal of the more than 200 anti-gay ballot campaigns in the U.S. since 1974. Through interviews with movement leaders and other sources, Stone deftly analyzes the tension between winning campaigns and building a sustainable movement, between national, urban activists and local, rural communities, as well as debates over tactics and messaging. Gay Rights at the Ballot Box is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the central, disturbing role anti-gay politics has played in contemporary U.S. politics."
—Sean Cahill, Ph.D., Fenway Institute and New York University

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Advice for new authors

At last week's annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, our editorial assistant Danielle Kasprzak, along with representatives from other presses, agreed to dole out sound advice to grad students and other prospective authors looking to get published:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Univocal: Letterpress Theory

Univocal is a publisher of beautiful handmade, letterpress-printed books of critical theory by major renowned philosophers (not to mention "anti-philosophers") of our time. University of Minnesota Press is excited to be distributing Univocal's gorgeous books this fall. Check out this video to see them in action:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Our need for consolation: reading Stig Dagerman.


BY LO DAGERMAN

Finally, the writings of Swedish author Stig Dagerman are becoming more available in the English language. Several volumes, some in new translations, are currently being published in the USA: German Autumn, Island of the Doomed, A Burnt Child (forthcoming) from the University of Minnesota Press, and a short story collection by Godine (see links below). Dagerman’s entire body of work is available in French, and a good part in Italian, German and Spanish, and the goal, as Siri Hustvedt suggested at a recent Dagerman seminar in Stockholm, is to eventually have all of his works available in English.

A dominant theme in Dagerman’s writing, says Hustvedt, is “… a cry for individual responsibility and freedom.” His was a time of crazed mass movements—in Nazi, fascist or communist colors—genocide, the ravages of war, the nuclear threat. His journey, and that of his generation, became to eke out a path towards freedom and hope through fear and a sense of meaninglessness.

Island of the Doomed is a symbolic novel describing how a stranded, fear-ridden humanity—its only certainty being of dying—might find that path. To Dagerman, a utopian anarchist and atheist, organized religion offers no consolation. His road toward transcendence is to stare fear in the face, closely observing, to come to terms with an existence void of ulterior meaning, and on that basis take action, however small and symbolic, that fosters human connection and solidarity.

“ … the awareness, simply awareness, the open eyes that fearlessly observe their terrifying situation have to be the guiding star of the self, our only compass that stake out the direction …”
—Stig Dagerman, Island of the Doomed


In the fall of 1946, he was sent as a journalist to war-ravaged Germany to write a series of articles that were later collected in the book German Autumn. Dagerman, who had fought Swedish Nazi supporters on the streets of Stockholm, was married to a German political refugee and spoke German fluently. The combination of his political outlook, access and courage led him in a unique direction:

"A French journalist of high repute begged me with the best of intentions and for the sake of objectivity to read German newspapers instead of looking at German dwellings or sniffing in German cooking-pots. Is it not something of this attitude which colors a large part of world opinion and which made Victor Gollancz, the Jewish publisher from London, feel, after his journey to Germany in this same autumn, that 'the values of the West are in danger' – values consisting of respect for the individual even when the individual has forfeited our sympathy and compassion, that is, the capacity to react in the face of suffering whether that suffering may be deserved or undeserved."
—Stig Dagerman, German Autumn


German Autumn has become an international journalistic classic on the aftermath of war: “… on a par,” said Henning Mankell, “with John Reed’s classic articles from the Soviet Union as well as Edgar Snow’s articles about the great political revolution in China.”

Autobiographical elements in Dagerman’s fiction are strongest in his short stories and the novel A Burnt Child. Crafted in a naturalistic style, they beautifully convey emotion in an understated fashion that makes their impact so much greater. As the great Graham Greene pointed out: “Dagerman wrote with beautiful objectivity. Instead of emotive phrases, he uses a choice of facts like bricks to construct an emotion.”

His short stories (a new collection to be published by Godine this fall, with a preface written by Alice McDermott) give insight into aspects of his childhood and adolescence. Set in a chronological order, the stories follow a male protagonist from his early rural upbringing on his grandparents’ farm through to his coming of age, living with his father in the working-class neighborhoods of Stockholm. The collection, titled To Kill A Child, refers to a loss of innocence experienced by the young child. It is also the title of a landmark short story that is widely read by generations of Swedish youths to promote safe driving. A Burnt Child, Dagerman’s third novel, is a natural companion to his short story collection. It follows a young male protagonist as he moves into Oedipal-tinged complexities of young adulthood.

Nowhere, however, is Dagerman more self-disclosing than in his haunting autobiographical essay Our Need for Consolation Is Insatiable. The essay was written in 1952, after years of writer’s block and depression, against which Dagerman valiantly struggled. “I chase consolation as a hunter tracking prey,” he wrote. Analyzing his struggle, Dagerman manages to identify, through the therapeutic force of his writing, a glimmer of hope, another road toward transcendence and liberation. A short film titled Our Need for Consolation premiered in Europe in January this year. It stars Stellan Skarsgard as the narrator of this text.

In the end, Dagerman’s search for transcendence could not see him through. After his spectacular rise to literary fame at the age of 22, followed by a burst of output of novels, journalism, short stories, drama and poetry, he succumbed to depression and died in 1954 at the age of 31.

Dagerman stands out as the epigone of a generation, as his work continues to enlighten and inspire.

“With humble gratitude to Stig Dagerman who, in order to show us the way, let himself be consumed by his own fire.”
—JMG Le Clezio, Introduction to Island of the Doomed (2012)


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Lo Dagerman, M.Sc. in Counseling, resides in Maryland where she works with the mental health of children. She is the developer and manager of www.dagerman.us and producer of two short films based on the writing of Stig Dagerman in English translation.

Further links:
German Autumn
Island of the Doomed
A Burnt Child
Short story collection

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Diane Fujino: Remembering Richard Aoki (Nov. 20, 1938 - March 15, 2009)



BY DIANE C. FUJINO
Associate professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara


It’s been three years since Richard Aoki passed away. I was in Berkeley, California, that weekend in March 2009 celebrating the 40th anniversaries of UC Berkeley’s Third World Liberation Front strike and the formation of the Asian American Political Alliance. Richard was perhaps the most prominent Asian American organizer of the Third World strike that gained ethnic studies, a leader of the early Asian American Movement, and the highest ranking non-Black in the Black Panther Party (BPP). Richard’s presence filled the various rooms, with talk of his “bad ass” militancy and courage, of his exploits against the police, and of his Black oratory style. But I also remember Richard’s vulnerability. That weekend, he was a few miles away in a hospital, struggling with kidney failure, heart problems, and other complications. On March 15, 2009, I was sitting in the San Francisco airport awaiting my flight home when I received the phone call that Richard had died at the age of 70.

Richard was both bigger than life and embedded in life. In his book Seize the Time, Bobby Seale, co-founder of the BPP, wrote about Richard Aoki as the “Japanese radical cat” who gave the BPP its first two guns to enable their police patrols. Even before Bobby Seale and Huey Newton started the BPP in 1966, they had regular political exchanges with Richard while sipping wine and eating cheese. Richard’s masculinity was shaped in the milieu of Cold War militarism, with the United States buttressing its troops to defend against fears of nuclear blowback and challenges to its newly acquired position as world leader. Richard eagerly joined the US Army while still in high school. He was part of the generation of young men compelled to military service via the Universal Military Training Act of 1951. But he had long been enthralled with guns and jumped at the chance to flex his muscles while defending the nation against known and unknown enemies.

While in the military reserves, he began a series of blue-collar jobs and accidentally gained a class consciousness through encounters with labor and socialist organizers and the downside of capitalist production. He was soon raising critiques of US imperialism, capitalism, and racism as his new enemies. He joined the Socialist Workers Party in the early 1960s and helped found a campus group, the Socialist Discussion Club, at Merritt College in Oakland. It was at Merritt College that he began political exchanges on socialism and Black nationalism with the future co-founders of the BPP. In the BPP, Richard served as Captain of the tiny Berkeley branch and became a Field Marshall at large. His was a masculine warrior practice.

But Richard also embodied other aspects of an organizer, community builder, teacher, and academic counselor for working-class students of color. After obtaining his master’s degree in social welfare at UC Berkeley, he worked for most of his life as an academic counselor and part-time instructor at East Bay community colleges. Through his professional work, Richard found ways to express a complex masculinity, one that allowed him to nurture students and to fight against race and class inequalities, to do the mundane work of checking units and to physically protect colleagues and students from potential violence and the rulings of elite courtrooms, and to provide frontline counseling services and to serve as Academic Senate president creating and implementing policy decisions.

The Richard I remember was tough. He was “packing” at any moment. One day a parking lot attendant mistreated us and Richard almost went off on him. He was witty, widely read, and had mastered the power of words to create a political analysis or tell a funny joke. He was a gentleman of his generation, taking me out to eat as we conducted 10-hour interview marathons, but never asking me where I wanted to eat. He was thoughtful and generous, sending annual Christmas cards and giving away books to many and a cherished stuffed bear to my sons. He became the main familial caregiver to his elderly mother. He stuck to his working-class roots, living in a Spartanly furnished apartment and desiring to eat bacon, eggs oozing yellow yolk, and muffins overflowing with melted butter at his favorite University Café. Richard was disappointed when the diner closed, but I must confess to being relieved not to eat there every single day throughout our interviews. He loved to smoke, but quit when his health required it. He wasn’t so successful at ending his daily habit of downing 10 to 12 cans of Dr. Pepper, despite having diabetes.

I miss Richard—a man very human in his quirks and contradictions and very principled in his political commitments and vision for a radically transformed society.

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Diane C. Fujino is associate professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is author of Samurai among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life, out this month from U of MN Press.

"This book is a necessary kind of reading that illuminates my friend’s political revolutionary life’s meaning: Richard Aoki’s reverence."
—Bobby Seale, founding Chairman and National Organizer of the Black Panther Party

"Richard Aoki straddled the worlds of ethnicity by the radical bridge he built through his engagement with an authentic, even saucy American radicalism. Diane C. Fujino unearths Richard’s story with sympathy and warmth, and in the process redeems the legacy of a remarkable American radical."
—Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People's History Of The Third World


UC Berkeley is hosting a launch event for Samurai among Panthers at 7PM on Saturday, April 21, 2012. Click here for more info.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How do libraries keep up with their communities as their work changes with the times?

Heard of Phone Booth Libraries? They've been popping up around NYC thanks to the work of architect John Locke. Across the world, libraries struggling with dwindling budgets are finding creative ways to engage their communities. Image source.

BY SHANNON MATTERN
Assistant professor at The New School

It was only a decade ago that America’s public libraries were still enjoying their “third wave” of major construction (the first boom was during the Carnegie era, and the second, at mid-century). High-profile architects were designing innovative library buildings for downtowns that were undergoing dramatic renewals. Throughout the 90s and early aughts, many libraries regarded their construction projects as opportunities to work through critical questions regarding their institution’s functions and identity: What role did these buildings play in their cities? What were their obligations to their multiple publics, and how could the building provide space to serve those publics’ needs, while also honoring the library’s obligations to its collections and infrastructure? How would libraries balance their provisions for both “old” media and “new”? How would they create buildings that are flexible, functional, and full of light – and that reflect their cities’ evolving identities?

Those challenges remain – but today, (no) thanks in large part to a bleak economic climate and a media landscape that’s evolving far too fast for libraries and buildings to keep up, libraries are making different choices than they did just a few short years ago. While traveling around the country ten years ago, researching for my book, I spoke with many librarians who aimed to consolidate their often-distributed collections and make them available, in their entirety, for open access; today, by contrast, some libraries are moving sizable portions of their collections off-site, to remote storage, in order to reserve space for more public gathering spaces or other programmatic areas. Ten or fifteen years ago, librarians were concerned with dedicating sufficient room to public desktop computers; today, this remains a concern – but it’s compounded by the need to respond to the rise of social media, mobile computing, and other technological developments. The Free Library of Philadelphia, which has been planning for the renovation of its Central Library for more than a decade, acknowledged in its new strategic plan that “[t]he work of libraries has changed more in the last decade than it did in the prior 100 years. And that work will likely change more in the next decade than it did in the prior one.”

How’s a library to keep up? Some have responded by building hackerspaces and fablabs for the public – or, like the NYPL, creating in-house labs for technological development – transforming the library into a space of technological praxis, a place where learning is transformed into making. Others have continued along a path set by early library innovators, many of which I profiled in my book, and incorporated more public gathering, multi-use, and even commercial spaces into their library buildings. Still others have developed robust social media identities and optimized their web resources for mobile phone users, and some have incorporated innovative gaming ventures (the challenge here is to avoid simply jumping on the “gamification” bandwagon).

With each new Google product release, new mobile technology development, new e-reader launch brings new opportunities for the library to “innovate” in response. And while “keeping current” is a crucial goal, it’s important to place that “pursuit of currency” in a larger cultural, political-economic, and institutional context. Striving to stay technologically relevant can, in fact, backfire when it means merely responding to (or, if you’re Harvard, keeping ahead of) commercial media’s profit-driven innovations; we see these mistakes – technological innovation for technological innovation’s sake – in the education arena quite often.

It’s important that libraries keep sight of their long-term goals and time-honored values, which should remain steadfast regardless what Google decides to do tomorrow, and that they keep in close contact with their publics. In my book, I focused a great deal on how libraries involve and respond to their publics, and how they balance seemingly competing obligations: to “old” and “new” (and ever-“newer”) media, to public service and commerce, to staff and patrons. Other critics and scholars have paid attention to how libraries have long negotiated the tricky terrain between copyright (and, increasingly digital media rights management) and freedom of access, between preservation and innovation, etc.

Those challenges won’t go away.

They may manifest themselves in different forms week by week, but the basic provocations should be familiar. Libraries will be better positioned to face those challenges if they do so with their publics at their side – and that partnership requires the cultivation of a robust system of exchange and collaboration between libraries and the communities from which they emerge, and which they serve.

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Shannon Mattern is assistant professor of media studies at The New School. She is author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities.

"I've kept Shannon Mattern's superb book, The New Downtown Library, beside me for several years as an invaluable guide to all the wonders and travails associated with the great project of public library-building. It doesn't pull punches, it is erudite and filled with fine insights, and the writing is energetic and at times profound."
—Ken Worpole, The Cities Institute, London Metropolitan University

Thursday, March 1, 2012

They Came for John Fea.

To Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and those who follow in their footsteps: Stop the madness. Just. Please. Stop.


BY DR. AMY BASS
Professor of history at The College of New Rochelle



First they came for the communists,

And I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

And I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

And I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me

And there was no one left to speak out.


Martin Niemöller's oft-cited words, of which there are many versions, speak to political apathy in a time of complicated politics. Even the most politically passionate can be myopic, and Niemöller reminds us to not wait until something specifically targets us before we are moved to action. While many social movements have embraced this lesson in order to recruit more to a cause, the words can strike as relevant even in the most mundane of pursuits. One need not be on the frontlines of combative war or marching with signs on the steps of the Supreme Court to bear in mind that politics can appear at the doorstep for many reasons.


Those of us within the academy are often accused of writing things no one reads, lecturing irrelevant facts to the uninterested, and holing up in our ivy-clad buildings to accumulate knowledge that has no bearing on anything. And while we fight that personification of what it means to be a professor—our publications are important, our students do evolve, and for structural reasons most of the ivy has been removed—sometimes we forget the safety our relative isolation provides us. We watched in horror as two seemingly irreproachable members of our group, Frances Fox Piven and William Cronon, were targeted for what their minds were producing. These kinds of attacks are not new, to be sure. Mussolini famously went after Gramsci because, as the prosecutor at the trial explained, "For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning." In my own research and writing, I have focused on similar cases: the FBI targeted sociology professor Harry Edwards, leader of the Olympic Project for Human Rights in 1968, and of course W.E.B. Du Bois became a favorite mark of the U.S. State Department. More recently, my friend Vijay Prashad, whose book The Karma of Brown Folk had an enormous influence on my own work, became fodder for Bill O'Reilly last spring. O’Reilly pounced on comments Vijay had made about the killing of Osama bin Laden, deeming them to be treasonous and bringing the wrath of Fox News viewers down upon Vijay’s head.

It is, then, nothing new for academics to lose their ivy-walled safety net when scholarly thought leaves campus. But it does seem to be occurring in a newfangled, electronically inspired way.
 Gramsci, of course, was imprisoned. Edwards came home one day to find his dog dismembered, its parts spread around his yard. Du Bois left, choosing to finish his days in Ghana. These are consequences that are, to be sure, high, and certainly they are but a few of the many many examples intellectuals of all sides, left and right, have faced in intense political climates.


For Piven and Cronan, national outrage and national glee surrounded accusations made against them. Both rose above it: Piven eloquently responded on Democracy Now, coping majestically with what it was like, at the hands of Glenn Beck's followers, to turn on a computer to find the words "DIE YOU C*NT" filling her inbox. Cronon garnered massive support in his stance against Wisconsin’s attempt to use the FOIA to obtain his emails and sits even more securely at the top of his field, elected president of the American Historical Association. And Vijay, in perfect character, acknowledges the path he has chosen, one that he substantiates daily with his voracious appetite for reading and writing: “I have got it from the Right of all kinds, the O'Reillys and the Hindu Unity people – one crazier than the other.”

But then they came for John Fea.


I went to graduate school with John; our offices were next to each other. There was much that divided us: he was a colonial Americanist, I did 20th century cultural studies. He was married and en route to having two daughters; I stayed out until the wee hours of the night, consuming red wine and wearing grungy clothes and feeling ever-so-intellectual. He is an evangelical Christian and I'm, well, not even close to anything like that. But we also shared a lot: very dedicated to our work, very active seminar participants. I was writing a dissertation about the Olympics Games; he loved basketball. We chatted frequently and developed a mutually respectful relationship. And we both went on to secure tenure-track jobs, no mean feat, and through email – and eventually Facebook – maintained a solid level of being "in touch."

I remember when he emailed to tell me that one of his daughters had an Olympic-themed birthday party. I swooned. 


John has in recent years become a very successful blogger in addition to a very successful historian (his second book, Was America Founded A Christian Nation?, was just nominated for the prestigious George Washington Book Prize.) From his office at Pennsylvania's Messiah College, an evangelical liberal arts college with an excellent reputation, John writes his blog, "The Way of Improvement Leads Home," which has featured my own work a few times and to which I've become a frequent commentator. We do not agree about a range of things, especially in terms of our politics and in terms of how we envision the role of the historian in broader society.

Howard Zinn is one of our sticking points.

But our exchanges are enormously instructive for me. John introduces me to many viewpoints that my own left-leaning world does not offer. He makes me think. A lot. And without question, my own views have become stronger for my relationship with him.

John also writes for Patheos, a website devoted to “balanced views on religion and spirituality.” Here is where they found him. In a recent column, John carefully and methodically argued that Barack Obama might be the most explicitly Christian president in U.S. history, despite John’s reservations that Obama “has failed to articulate the faith-based political vision he promised us….”

Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze” did not like it. Calling out John’s “pro-Obama column,” the website condemned his take on the president, was particularly outraged that this came from an alleged Christian, and then concluded the attack by pointing out that Frances Fox Piven had spoken at Messiah last year. Enough said.

Instantly, a crisis for the extreme right had appeared: more than 800 commentators to the Blaze piece spouted their usual spurious screams of OBAMA IS A MUSLIM, adding FEA IS A LEFTY SOCIALIST (if only! I told him) to the battle cry. In his eloquent blog response to the furor, “The Culture Wars are Real”, John stated that he has received nasty emails and voicemails, in addition to the venom being spewed on the Beck website (with some comparing him to Hitler, Louis Farrakhan, and – somewhat inexplicably – Woodrow Wilson). There were demands for Messiah to fire him. Many wanted him cast into perdition. “How,” he responded, “can democracy flourish without civility, respect for those with whom we differ, and a sense of mutual understanding?”

This I found to be heartbreaking. Not only had the Blaze failed to represent his Patheos piece correctly, the way the fanatics went about their attack had left John in despair over the ability of American politics to take place via civil discourse any longer.

Few people have taught me more about how to disagree civilly than John Fea.

So here is what I civilly ask these people: Stop the madness. Stop looking for every and any opportunity to ask for the birth certificate. Stop saying Obama is a Muslim. Stop lying about the economy. Stop calling women who use contraception sluts and prostitutes (and seriously, Rush – which is it, because it can’t be both). There are plenty of us on the Left to come for, but when you chose John, a politically moderate, historically sound evangelical Christian, you chose poorly: he agrees with some of the saner things that you say, but you were too fired up to read it correctly. If you read it at all.

There are plenty to come for - plenty who are willing to go as far to the left as you are going to the right. But John Fea is out of your league.

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Amy Bass is professor of history at The College of New Rochelle. She is author of Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W. E. B. DuBois and Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete. You can follow her on Twitter at @bassab1.

On Those About Him Remained Silent:
"Amy Bass’s excellent history of ‘un-American activities’ in a pleasant New England town is another cautionary illustration of the banality of evil: in this case, the long, willful distortion of the progressive legacy of their greatest native son, W. E. B. Du Bois, by the people of Great Barrington in the service of a perverted patriotism."
—David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919–1963


On Not the Triumph but the Struggle:
"In addition to being competition, entertainment, business, and shared experience, Sport has often been a stage where significant social issues were played out. In the twentieth century, those issues often pertained to human rights and race. Sometimes the dynamics of sports served to clarify those issues, sometimes to muddle them. Here, Amy Bass sorts through the events and perceptions linked to some of the biggest names and moments in sports history, and assesses their meaning beyond the playing field."
—Bob Costas, NBC Sports

Opening this weekend at the History Theatre: Coco's Diary

This screenshot from www.pegmeier.com shows the actresses that will play the role of Coco Irvine at the History Theatre this month. The play is based on the diary of Coco Irvine, who was a young teen living on Summit Avenue in the 1920s—the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald's time living there.


BY PEG MEIER
Prolific author and former Star Tribune reporter

Aaaand now it's a play!

Coco Irvine's life in what is now the Governor's Mansion comes alive on stage this weekend at downtown St. Paul's History Theatre.

Just as with the book Through No Fault of My Own, the play "Coco's Diary" reveals so much about the life of St. Paul's upper crust in the 1920s. The play is charming, sweet, hilarious, spunky, historical, daring (at least, for 1927), poignant, and dotted with 1920s popular music on the piano.

The real Coco kept her diary in 1927. She lived in a 20-room mansion. Her father was head of Weyerhaeuser Lumber. As adults after their parents' deaths, Coco and her younger sister donated the home to the state of Minnesota. It's now the Governor's Residence. The stage set is based on the solarium of the Irvine residence.

The way the play came about is this: I showed the diary to my friend and two-blocks-away neighbor, Ron Peluso (the History Theatre's artistic director). I wrote feature stories for the Star Tribune for 35 years (happily retiring in 2006), and he had adapted some of those stories to the stage. Ron liked my idea a few years ago about putting my research on Sister Elizabeth Kenny into play form. It became "Sister Kenny's Children" at the History Theatre.

Could Coco too go on stage? I knocked on Ron's door at home one afternoon. He likes to say it was 6 a.m. and I woke him up. Not true. There are day people (like me) and night people (like Ron). I thought the diary so darling, so immersed in St. Paul history, so rich in 1920s language, that he should read it. I told him he would love the diary and might want to stage it.

He did, and he did.

Ron and playwright Bob Beveridge wrote the play. Their script sticks closely to the book. Two girls play the part of the young Coco Irvine. Kacie Riddle is 13 and Anna Evans is 15; they alternate performances. Jake Endres plays Coco's brother, father, and other male roles. Andrea Wollenberg is the mother, sister, and other female roles.

Only three actors, but many parts. How do they do it? With changes in props and voices and narration. Don't worry; it's easy to follow. I've been permitted to sit in on rehearsals, so I'm telling you firsthand—all the actors are fabulous.

When Coco lived at 1006 Summit Avenue in the 1920s, the street was St. Paul's showcase. It was arguably the toniest street in Minnesota, lined on both sides with homes of men who had made fortunes in mining, lumber and railroads.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, celebrities such as James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway, and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, lived on the street. People across the nation still know Summit Avenue as the street where a 22-year-old Fitzgerald finished his first novel, This Side of Paradise. When that story of young love was accepted for publication, Fitzgerald ran up and down Summit Avenue to proclaim the good news.

Fitzgerald was strapped for money in 1919 and lived in a third-floor room at 599 Summit. He resented the wealth of people such as Coco's family, who lived just a mile west on the same street. The Irvines lived the kind of life to which Fitzgerald aspired (as did his character Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby), with dance lessons and sailboats and garden parties. In his fiction, he used names of real people in the neighborhood, including "Clotilde," Coco's real name and that of her mother. In This Side of Paradise, "Clothilde" (he changed the spelling) is a servant. Perhaps a literary stab at the Irvines?

So much shenanigans have moved from printed page to the stage. Seeing Coco on stage is better than I could have imagined.

I'll be at many performances, loving the play and selling copies of the accompanying diary Through No Fault of My Own. For more info, visit www.historytheatre.com.

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Peg Meier was a reporter at the Star Tribune for thirty-five years. She is the author of many popular books, including Wishing for a Snow Day, Bring Warm Clothes, and Too Hot, Went to Lake. Find more info at www.pegmeier.com.

"The glimpses of Coco's privileged life in the Roaring 20s are intriguing and humorous, but what makes this account so appealing is the clear evocation of what it is to be 13—impatient to be grown up yet still childlike in many ways. Coco's innocence will make today's readers smile."
—Kirkus Reviews


"An unrepentant attention-seeker, Coco gets into frequent trouble at home and at school, but her exuberance, defiance, and sweetness will win over readers from her first entry. This effervescent journal demonstrates Irvine’s early, intense enthusiasm for writing and independent thought, as well as her unmistakable talent. Photos of Coco and an afterword about her (fairly tragic) adult life round out an otherwise blithe glimpse into the past."
—Publishers Weekly