When she isn't eavesdropping on family gossip or gazing at taxidermy squirrels in smoky dives, Courtney Kersten charts the uncertainty of her midwestern homeland by looking to the stars and planets. As a teen she had plunged deep into the worlds of signs, symbols, and prophecy. But as her mother—her traveling companion into these spheres—lies dying, Kersten must learn to navigate without the person who always lit the way. Their last journey together, to swim in a Wisconsin lake, is a bittersweet, darkly comic, poignant climax to this transformative memoir.
Dear Wizard is a carefully selected, highly crafted gathering of letters from over three decades of correspondence between authors Nicholas Delbanco and Jon Manchip White. This correspondence, in part a contest to outdo one another with exotic and outlandish letterhead, ranges in tone from carefree to grave and covers topics as diverse as the art and practice of writing, the state of the writer’s profession, and age, illness, love, and loss.
My parents always told me I was Mexican. I was Mexican because they were Mexican. This was sometimes modified to “Mexican American,” since I was born in California, and thus automatically a U.S. citizen. But, my parents said, this, too, was once part of Mexico. My father would say this with a sweeping gesture, taking in the smog, the beautiful mountains, the cars and houses and fast-food franchises. When he made that gesture, all was cleared away in my mind’s eye to leave the hazy impression of a better place. We were here when the white people came, the Spaniards, then the Americans. And we will be here when they go away, he would say, and it will be part of Mexico again.
Thus begins a lyrical and entirely absorbing collection of personal essays by esteemed Chicana writer and gifted storyteller Kathleen Alcalá. Loosely linked by an exploration of the many meanings of “family,” these essays move in a broad arc from the stories and experiences of those close to her to those whom she wonders about, like Andrea Yates, a mother who drowned her children. In the process of digging and sifting, she is frequently surprised by what she unearths. Her family, she discovers, were Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition who took on the trappings of Catholicism in order to survive.
Although the essays are in many ways personal, they are also universal. When she examines her family history, she is encouraging us to inspect our own families, too. When she investigates a family secret, she is supporting our own search for meaning. And when she writes that being separated from our indigenous culture is “a form of illiteracy,” we know exactly what she means. After reading these essays, we find that we have discovered not only why Kathleen Alcalá is a writer but also why we appreciate her so much. She helps us to find ourselves.
The story of southern writing—the Dixie Limited, if you will—runs along an iron path: an official narrative of a literature about community, about place and the past, about miscegenation, white patriarchy, and the epic of race. Patricia Yaeger dynamites the rails, providing an entirely new set of categories through which to understand southern literature and culture.
For Yaeger, works by black and white southern women writers reveal a shared obsession with monstrosity and the grotesque and with the strange zones of contact between black and white, such as the daily trauma of underpaid labor and the workings of racial and gender politics in the unnoticed yet all too familiar everyday. Yaeger also excavates a southern fascination with dirt—who owns it, who cleans it, and whose bodies are buried in it.
Yaeger's brilliant, theoretically informed readings of Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, Flannery O'Connor, Alice Walker, and Eudora Welty (among many others) explode the mystifications of southern literary tradition and forge a new path for southern studies.
The book won the Barbara Perkins and George Perkins Award given by the Society for the Study of Narrative Literature.
As the United States enters the twenty-first century, it confronts two powers that loomed less large on the world stage a century before. Yet American policies toward Russia and China have been shaped by attitudes going back even further, as this new book relates.
Distorted Mirrors traces American prejudices toward the two countries by focusing on the views of influential writers and politicians over the course of the twentieth century. Donald Davis and Eugene Trani show where American images of Russia and China originated, how they evolved, and how they have often helped sustain foreign policies generally negative toward the former and positive toward the latter.
This wide-ranging survey draws on memoirs, archives, and interviews, much the material appearing in print for the first time, to show how influential individuals shaped these perceptions and policies based on what they saw—or thought they saw—in those two countries. Through a series of tableaux that traces America’s relations with Russia and China through the twentieth century, the authors show how personalities of certain players impacted interpretation of key situations and conflicts and how cultural attitudes toward Russia and China became ingrained and difficult to dislodge.
The book traces formative attitudes back to two late-nineteenth-century books, with George Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System painting a grim picture of tsarist penal colonies and William Rockhill’s Land of the Lamas depicting China as an exotic Shangri-la. Davis and Trani show how these images were sustained over the years: for Russia, by Slavic expert Samuel Harper, State Department official Robert Kelley, journalist Eugene Lyons, ambassador William Bullitt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and policymakers George F. Kennan and Paul Nitze; and for China, by President Woodrow Wilson, philosopher John Dewey, journalist Edgar Snow, novelist Pearl S. Buck, ambassador Nelson T. Johnson, FDR, journalist Theodore White, and statesman Henry Kissinger. They also relate how Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush tried to replace these misconceptions with a policy of accommodation, and they assess the state of current U.S. attitudes and policies.
Distorted Mirrors marks a fresh approach to U.S. relations with these countries, emphasizing long-term attitudes that influenced policies rather than the reverse. It shows us that perceptions shaped over the course of the twentieth century are crucial for their bearing on the twenty-first, particularly if those unrestrained prejudices reemerge.
Divergent Trajectories: Interviews with Innovative Fiction Writers by Flore Chevaillier examines the aesthetic, political, philosophical, and cultural dimensions of contemporary fiction through a series of interviews with some of today’s most cutting-edge fiction writers. New relationships between literature, media culture, and hypertexts have added to modes of experimentation and reshaped the boundaries between literary and pop culture media; visual arts and literature; critical theory and fiction writing; and print and digital texts. This collection of interviews undertakes such experimentations through an intimate glance, allowing readers to learn about each writer’s journey, as well as their aesthetic, political, and personal choices.
Including interviews with R. M. Berry, Debra Di Blasi, Percival Everett, Thalia Field, Renee Gladman, Bhanu Kapil, Lance Olsen, Michael Martone, Carole Maso, Joseph McElroy, Christina Milletti, Alan Singer, and Steve Tomasula, Divergent Trajectories provides a framework that allows innovative authors to discuss in some depth their works, backgrounds, formal research, thematic preferences, genre treatment, aesthetic philosophies, dominant linguistic expressions, cultural trends, and the literary canon. Through an examination of these concepts, writers ask what “traditional” and “innovative” writing is, and most of all, what fiction is today.
Popular western writer Zane Grey was a literary celebrity during his lifetime and the center of a huge enterprise based on his writing, which included books, magazine serials, film and stage versions of his stories, even comic strips. His wife, Dolly, closely guided Grey's career almost from its beginning, editing and sometimes revising his work, negotiating with publishers and movie studios, and skillfully managing the considerable fortune derived from these activities.
Dolly maintained the facade of a conventional married life that was essential to Grey's public image and the traditional middle-class values his work reflected. This facade was constantly threatened by Grey's numerous affairs with other women. The stress of hiding these dalliances placed a huge strain on their relationship, and much of Zane and Dolly's union was sustained largely by correspondence. Their letters--thousands of them--reveal the true nature of this complex partnership. As edited by Candace Kant, the letters offer an engrossing portrait of an extremely unorthodox marriage and its times.
“Many memories, many myths”—this is how Wendy Doniger begins the story of her parents’ origins in Europe and sharply bifurcated life in America. Recalling their contrasting attitudes toward Judaism and religion in general—and acknowledging the mythologized narratives that keep bubbling up in those recollections—Doniger tells the story of their childhoods, their unusual marriage, their life in the post–World War II Jewish enclave of Great Neck, New York, and her own complex relationship with each of them.
Dorothy West is best known as one of the youngest writers involved in the Harlem Renaissance. Subsequently, her work is read as a product of the urban aesthetics of this artistic movement. But West was also intimately rooted in a very different milieu—Oak Bluffs, an exclusive retreat for African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard. She played an integral role in the development and preservation of that community. In the years between publishing her two novels, 1948’s The Living is Easy and the 1995 bestseller The Wedding, she worked as a columnist for the Vineyard Gazette.
Dorothy West’s Paradise captures the scope of the author’s long life and career, reading it alongside the unique cultural geography of Oak Bluffs and its history as an elite African American enclave—a place that West envisioned both as a separatist refuge and as a space for interracial contact. An essential book for both fans of West’s fiction and students of race, class, and American women’s lives, Dorothy West’s Paradise offers an intimate biography of an important author and a privileged glimpse into the society that shaped her work.
A lyrical coming-of-age memoir, Down from the Mountaintop chronicles a quest for belonging. Raised in northwestern Montana by Pentecostal homesteaders whose twenty-year experiment in subsistence living was closely tied to their faith, Joshua Doležal experienced a childhood marked equally by his parents’ quest for spiritual transcendence and the surrounding Rocky Mountain landscape. Unable to fully embrace the fundamentalism of his parents, he began to search for religious experience elsewhere: in baseball, books, and weightlifting, then later in migrations to Tennessee, Nebraska, and Uruguay. Yet even as he sought to understand his place in the world, he continued to yearn for his mountain home.
For more than a decade, Doležal taught in the Midwest throughout the school year but returned to Montana and Idaho in the summers to work as a firefighter and wilderness ranger. He reveled in the life of the body and the purifying effects of isolation and nature, believing he had found transcendence. Yet his summers tied him even more to the mountain landscape, fueling his sense of exile on the plains.
It took falling in love, marrying, and starting a family in Iowa to allow Doležal to fully examine his desire for a spiritual mountaintop from which to view the world. In doing so, he undergoes a fundamental redefinition of the nature of home and belonging. He learns to accept the plains on their own terms, moving from condemnation to acceptance and from isolation to community. Coming down from the mountaintop means opening himself to relationships, grounding himself as a husband, father, and gardener who learns that where things grow, the grower also takes root.
More than any other single characteristic, aridity defines the American West. Water scarcity and its biologically critical function have also molded the regional literature of the region. Using novels by Barbara Kingsolver, Edward Abbey, John Steinbeck and Mary Austin, Dripping Dry combines literary analysis with environmental criticism to demonstrate how the myths that have pervaded the regional literature of the West have interacted with the myths that have shaped water policy throughout the twentieth century.
The four works selected (Animal Dreams, The Monkey Wrench Gang, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Ford) present a composite portrait of reclamation, which the author argues is one of the most important cultural and ecological phenomena in the nation's history. The tensions and contradictions presented by the novels underscore the compelling need for an ecocritique of the relationship between literature and politics. David N. Cassuto deciphers the myths of reclamation and restoration and presents a third alternative--sustainability--in their stead. The challenge is a large one, because of the size and complexity of the region and because nature continues to evolve and create itself, a process involving language, ideology, and the land.
The book is designed to be an interdisciplinary contribution both to the emerging field of literature and the environment, as well as to environmental studies. It will be welcomed by scholars as well as general readers interested in new approaches to literature and environmental issues, and by those interested in the geography and literature of the western United States.
David N. Cassuto, formerly of the English Department of the University of Missouri-Rolla, is a practicing attorney in San Francisco, specializing in environmental issues.