Friday, April 28, 2017
BY SARAH STONICH
Upon the paperback release of Shelter: Off the Grid in the Mostly Magnetic North, author Sarah Stonich answers questions posed by BookFox.
Q. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both. I’d compare a good session of writing to a long day of stone-stacking or gardening. They are very similar in that you’re left exhausted in the best possible way, with tangible results. One is such a mental endeavor and the other so physical, yet the satisfaction is oddly similar.
Q. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I was never a young writer—I assumed one couldn’t presume to write before accruing some life first, so didn’t write a word until my late thirties and wasn’t published until after forty. Knowing now that my most satisfying writing is not the product of experience but of imagination, I would tell my younger self to pick up the pen sooner. I would say trust your imagination to drive the work, spare yourself any pretense of control. Ditch the ego and don’t let yourself get in the way of the story.
Q. How important is truth in memoir?
I love Stephen Colbert's term "truthiness" but am alarmed at how honest reportage is labeled "fake news." Truth matters. But, because there are so few facts in a life, memoir may be the single exception where truthiness is acceptable. Can you remember a conversation verbatim? Probably not. Can a writer truthfully portray a story, a person a memory authentically without a list of facts? I think so.
Q. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
As a child I had a sort of epiphany I had no language for. I do my best adult imitation of describing that moment in Shelter—I typed out words, even though there was more to that experience than words can convey.
Q. What memoirs have you read lately?
I’m reading It’s Okay to Laugh: Crying is Cool, Too by Nora McInerny Purmort – a surprisingly uplifting memoir by a young wife and mother whose husband dies of brain cancer. Not the sort of story I’d normally seek out, but my family is currently taking a similar gut-punch. Nora’s story is reminding me there is a perverse nobility and strength that comes with death.
Q. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Too many—five? Seven? Probably ten. I like to think I will finish some of those half-baked efforts, but since new ideas for books are already elbowing in, the odds narrow.
Q. What does literary success look like to you?
Making a living wage is rare for most writers. Literary "stardom" is a dream. Realistically, success for me is being positively reviewed and acquiring a loyal readership. When something I’ve written has either touched or inspired a reader or made them relate deeply to a character, that feels like success. When readers take the trouble to write or post a review online, that’s even better. Hopefully, my books get read. Since financial security isn’t a realistic goal (buy books!) there is at least consolation knowing my efforts and words aren’t just dissipating into the ether.
Q. Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
No – it’s more like play. The act of stringing and juggling words and stories feels like self-indulgence, shirking the very adult and serious business of living. That said, there is the occasional enlightening moment, when the writing teaches me something.
Q. What did you edit out of this book?
Things about my relationship with my husband, which I feel very protective of. And that’s all I’m gonna say!
Q. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
The Dublin stumble of writers pubs. The Twin Cities alone has enough literary history to plot out a great route for a pilgrimage. Canadians have a program called Bookmarks, placing plaques at the locales of literary landmarks to commemorate the books and authors. A few years back a map of MN authors was produced at some expense. If more were invested in a permanent literary trail, we could be a book tourist’s destination.
Q.What’s next for you?
When I finished Vacationland, I didn’t realize it wasn’t finished with me. Several characters wouldn’t let me go, and so that book has expanded into a trilogy. I’m just wrapping up Laurentian Divide and beginning research on book three.
Q. Will you do any events surrounding the paperback release of Shelter: Off the Grid in the Mostly Magnetic North?
I usually enlist other authors and have a conversation surrounding a theme. ‘Paddling, Mushing, and Woodshedding’ will take place at Common Good Books at 7pm on May 18th with Julie Buckles, author of Paddling to Winter, and Blair Braverman, intrepid musher who wrote Welcome to The Goddamn Ice Cube.
Vacationland (Minnesota, 2013), The Ice Chorus, and These Granite Islands (Minnesota, 2013) as well as Fishing with RayAnne (writing as Ava Finch). The founder of WordStalkers.com, she lives in Minneapolis in a repurposed flour mill.
Shelter: Off the Grid in the Mostly Magnetic North is now available in a paperback edition from University of Minnesota Press.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
"Flying Funny": The unusual gravity-defying first act of improv theater's founding father, Dudley Riggs.
Now we know it as Improvisational Theater.
The father of improvisation and founder of the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis in 1958, Dudley Riggs grew up in the circus. His parents were circus performers and as a young boy, Dudley was thrown into the exciting, adrenaline-fueled world of performance. His younger years were spent mostly on the road until he reached college age, settling by chance in Minnesota and floating an idea he had held in his head for some time about applying the Freudian technique of "free association" to theatrical performance. A friend told him to lay off "improvisation"—that was the territory of jazz music.
This idea took on many iterations, all of which are detailed in Dudley's new memoir, Flying Funny: My Life without a Net, which includes a foreword by Al Franken. On Wednesday, April 19, the University of Minnesota Press and the Brave New Workshop hosted an evening to celebrate the book's publication and the wondrous early life Dudley lived that led to the Brave New Workshop's successful creation and evolution into the longest running satirical comedy theater in the United States.
|Brave New Introduction: University of Minnesota |
Press director Doug Armato introduces Dudley Riggs
to the stage, apologizing for bringing a
scripted speech (gasp!) to an improvisational theater.
|A circus-style juggling act before Dudley Riggs|
takes the stage.
|Riggs on stage with Brave New Workshop's co-owner|
|A full house.|
|After the Q&A with Sweeney, Brave New Workshop performers|
improvised scenes inspired by chapter titles from Riggs' memoir:
"The Circus at War," "Clown Diplomacy," and "Never Let Them Know
You Can Drive a Semi."
|A post-Q&A reception with classic slides from Riggs' career.|
|Autographing new books, hot off the presses.|
|207 East Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis was the original|
location Riggs selected for his theater.
|The Brave New Workshop would go through a few more location changes,|
including two locations in Uptown Minneapolis,
before arriving at its current location in downtown Minneapolis.
Check our website for more Flying Funny events.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
BY NORA MURPHY
“We’re just Potato Famine Irish,” declared my grandfather when, as a child, I asked him about our family’s roots in Ireland. A Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, his word sank heavily into my heart and lodged there for decades. They didn’t resurface until decades later, when I began working at the Minneapolis American Indian Center.
Surrounded by Native colleagues with visible roots that grounded them in this land, I learned that "Minnesota" is a Dakota word, that the cradleboard my friend was making for her grandson was just like the one her ancestors would have made. These lessons rekindled my curiosity about my family’s past. But I also began to feel a disturbing dis-ease—an intuitive sense that something was not right. It’s taken nearly twenty years to begin to understand this dis-ease. While reconnection and healing have begun, the work is ongoing. This journey is the subject of my new memoir, White Birch, Red Hawthorn.
The longer I worked in the Native community, the more I began to see two sources of the dis-ease in my heart. One source was the loss of connection to ancestral homelands. Though I’m not 100% Irish, three of my grandparents were Irish and it is the culture with which my family identifies the most.
Why didn’t my Grandfather Murphy know about his family’s Irish heritage? Why didn’t we know the names and birthplaces of our ancestors? Was it shameful to be “just Potato Famine Irish”? The erasure of our backstory left me feeling exiled, outside of the circle of belonging. My heart wanted in, not only for myself, but for my children.
Denial was a second source of my dis-ease—the denial of the harm that European American families like mine participated in and caused to our Native American hosts when they settled here. Since then the generational layers of denial, an inheritance passed along by pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps upward mobility, hardens the heart.
This hard heart numbs itself to the reality of past and present suffering in Native communities all across America. By not responding to this pain, I realized that I was negating the basic human instinct of compassion. The more I saw, the less comfortable I was with maintaining old shields of denial and the more human I wanted to become.
White Birch, Red Hawthorn names some of the pain that European immigrants like my family caused to the three main tribes in Minnesota—the Dakota, the Ojibwe, and the Ho-Chunk. It explores the worldview of dominion inherited in stories by American icons like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Paul Bunyan, Henry David Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold. It suggests pathways for reconnection to Ireland.
Each step required lifting layers of lies and touching raw wounds trapped for generations. Only then could I begin to glimpse the possibility of healing. This possibility demanded that once I had a clearer view of the truth, I needed to look beyond facts and find a new way of living. This new way asks us to set down dominion and step back into the circle of humanity.
Above all, this journey toward healing is not over. Standing Rock is just one recent example of how our country continues to harm Native tribes and lands. Even so, I feel hopeful. Each one of us can play a part in lifting the dis-ease of denial and exile. We can examine the stories we’ve inherited, set down the conqueror’s tools, and begin to listen. It’s not easy, but every step counts.
White Birch, Red Hawthorn. She is a fifth-generation Irish Minnesotan. She was born and lives in Imniża Ska, the white cliffs overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers in St. Paul. She has worked and volunteered in the Native community since 1995 and has published five previous books—children’s histories, short stories, and a memoir about women’s textiles, Knitting the Threads of Time.
"Nora Murphy defines her work as cultural outsider: she listens, she doesn’t try to fix anything, and she resists the urge to dominate. She has accomplished the difficult task of writing from what she has learned of people unlike herself, not about them. Harder still, she has learned to love another culture and yet understand it does not belong to her."
—Heid Erdrich, author of Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper
"White Birch, Red Hawthorn is not only educational, with the stories of the struggles that have been inflicted on American Indians, but also an inspirational story of Nora Murphy’s path to discover her Irish ancestry."
—Mary LaGarde, Executive Director, Minneapolis American Indian
"Nora Murphy displays incredible bravery—she asks hard questions and points out the elephant in the room. She creates language to say the things left unsaid."
—Wambdi Wapaha, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation
Monday, April 10, 2017
BY ADAIR ROUNTHWAITE
Assistant professor of art history at the University of Washington in Seattle
From an art historian’s perspective, one of the most fascinating elements of 2017’s American political landscape has been conservatives’ defense of the National Endowment for the Arts. These statements of defense have followed the Trump administration’s budget proposal, which as is now widely known, would eliminate the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Institute of Museum and Library Services in their entirety.
It is unsurprising to hear leftists point out how taxpayer-funded security for Trump Tower for a year costs more than the entire NEA budget, or to see the College Art Association registering its “complete and total opposition” to NEA and NEH elimination. Quite unanticipated, though, has been to read about Republicans not only saying they support the NEA, but also that they support it, as Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) said in a recent statement, at “the present level of funding.”
Positions such as Amodei’s are a far cry from former Republican Senator Alphonse D’Amato’s denunciation of artist Andres Serrano on the floor of the Senate in May 1989. D’Amato branded Serrano’s 1987 photograph Piss Christ “trash,” and tore up an image of the work for performative emphasis. At that time, debates about the NEA centered on questions of art’s content, and on whether art with certain content was inappropriate for public support. Since those debates, the NEA has changed its practices, most notably by stopping direct grants to artists. It carefully distributes its grants across all 50 states, with sparsely populated states such as Vermont, Alaska, and Wyoming among the top beneficiaries in terms of per capita funding. Indeed, some important Republicans who vocally support the NEA hail from these states, such as Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Evident in current attitudes toward the endowment, however, is not just the impact of these pragmatic changes, but a new vocabulary for discussing the role of the endowment. That vocabulary centers on participation as opposed to on content. In this respect, the recent conversation demonstrates the centrality of participation to current understandings of art’s politics, and moreover, the way ideas about participation might serve as a common ground between people who agree on virtually nothing else concerning contemporary art.
We can see this rhetoric of participation at work in Mike Huckabee’s recent Washington Post op ed defending the NEA. Huckabee points out that “hateful high-dollar” (liberal) celebrities receive nothing from the NEA, and pivots quickly from dismissing them to focus on “the real recipients of endowment funds: the kids in poverty for whom NEA programs may be their only chance to learn to play an instrument, test-drive their God-given creativity and develop a passion for those things that civilize and humanize us all.” Huckabee points out that participation in the arts raises SAT scores and fosters creativity which “finds cures for diseases, creates companies such as Apple and Microsoft and, above all, makes our culture more livable.”
Few contemporary artists, museum professionals, or educators will identify with Huckabee’s understanding of creativity, nestled as it is between an evangelical worldview and unbridled enthusiasm for capitalist enterprise. But what is striking is that his emphasis on participation as central to understanding the role of art in contemporary culture finds parallels in leftist arts practice, pedagogy, and museum programming. We too are interested in activating our publics: the period since the Culture Wars has seen a huge expansion in the predominance in American art of practices which seek to engage broad audiences in diverse kinds of making, learning, and social interaction. Not only artists but also museums and galleries prioritize participation, deploying sophisticated strategies from digital engagement to on-the-ground interaction to help audience members be active producers of their own experiences. While Huckabee positions broad participation in the arts between God and Microsoft, leftist artists and art institutions also place value in participation’s ability to address both the ideal and the pragmatic. As I analyze in Asking the Audience, participation both captures the aspirations which animate socially engaged art, and brings attention to the concrete details of facilitating particular projects with specific audiences. My book demonstrates that in the US, the late 1980s was an essential moment for the development of this participatory paradigm, which responded to changes in the funding, audience demographics, and politics of contemporary art.
Arguably, participation as it operates in contemporary art has no content as such. Instead, it enables artists and museum professionals to create practices of engagement with particular publics to produce certain outcomes, while also letting that engagement remain dynamically animated by hopes, aims, and ideals that can’t be easily quantified.
As such, perhaps the fact that participation has eclipsed content as the central focus in public exchanges about federal arts funding means that certain liberals and conservatives will be able to find more common ground in terms of articulating what the role of the endowments should be. It will be interesting to see how this round of threats gets played out, whether in defunding the NEA, in reshaping it, or in a continuation of the status quo. Indeed, the differences between the current NEA and the form of the endowment before the Culture Wars are so great that we might well ask whether the NEA “survived” those debates at all. Perhaps it makes more sense to think of it as having been eliminated and then regenerated in a new form, namely with participation displacing freedom of expression as one of its structuring commitments. In any case, it’s clear that in the early 21st century, participation is central to debates about art’s politics both within the art world and beyond it. For the time being, it will remain essential to conversations among politicians, art professionals, and public about what art can and should do in this uncertain moment.
Asking the Audience: Participatory Art in 1980s New York. She is assistant professor of art history at the University of Washington in Seattle, and has published essays on a range of topics in contemporary global art history in journals such as Representations, Camera Obscura, Art Journal, and Third Text.
"Asking the Audience provides an invaluable foundation for understanding the emergence of institutionalized social art practice over the past fifteen years. Adair Rounthwaite's detailed discussion of the role of pedagogy and education grounds these projects in broader intellectual trends during the 1980s and early 90s."
—Grant Kester, University of California, San Diego
Friday, April 7, 2017
Manifold is an intuitive, collaborative platform for scholarly publishing. With iterative texts, powerful annotation tools, rich media support, and robust community dialogue, Manifold transforms scholarly publications into living digital works.
The Manifold team is delighted to launch a public beta of its new publishing platform for interactive scholarly monographs: http://staging.manifoldapp.org/.
Funded through the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Manifold is a collaboration between University of Minnesota Press, the GC Digital Scholarship Lab at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and Cast Iron Coding.
We began work on the project two years ago, aiming to create a responsive platform for interactive books that would help university presses share long-form monographs through an appealing and elegant interface. After many meetings and planning discussions, and following 1300+ commits to our public code repository, the initial version of the platform is ready for review.
On the beta site, you will find a selection of projects from the University of Minnesota Press that may be read, annotated, highlighted, and shared through social media. These include two recently published full-length scholarly books, a selection from the Forerunners: Ideas First series, and four projects just beginning to take shape on the platform.
This post continues (and was originally published at) manifold.umn.edu. Click for a full list of projects currently taking shape on the platform.