Why Richard III?

This week in North Philly Notes, Jeffrey Wilson, author of Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity, writes about why the historical figure seems to be everywhere these days.

“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer,” Richard III beams at the start of Shakespeare’s play.

Summer 2022 really was Richard III’s “glorious summer,” with four major productions appearing all at once: Arthur Hughes for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon; Danai Gurira in the role at the Public Theater in New York; Colm Feore at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada; and The Lost King, a feature film starring Sally Hawkins.

Each production brought something new. Hughes was the first disabled actor to play Shakespeare’s most famous disabled character for the Royal Shakespeare Company, creating conversations about the relationships between disabled actors’ and disabled characters’ bodies. Gurira was the first Black woman to play Richard III on a major stage, sparking discussions about disability and intersectionality. Feore opened the Stratford Festival’s new Tom Patterson Theatre, harkening back to the festival’s first ever play—Richard III in 1953. And The Lost King commemorated the tenth anniversary of the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton on August 24, 2012, stirring controversy about the representation of academic work in mainstream media.

But why Richard III? Why is he always everywhere?

While mired in details of medieval English history, Shakespeare’s Richard III and its configuration of disability, villainy, and tragedy still speak to us in the twenty-first century with a surprising urgency. “Foremost among the standard-bearers of Disability Studies is Shakespeare’s Richard III,” noted leading disability scholar Tobin Siebers just before his death in 2015. Richard’s body was international front-page news when his skeleton was discovered. He’s in that echelon of Shakespearean characters—Shylock, Falstaff, Hamlet, Othello, Caliban—who have entire books written about them, like mine: Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History.

Richard III was Shakespeare’s second-most popular play in print during his lifetime and the most performed history play in both the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. The four greatest Shakespearean actors of the past four centuries—Richard Burbage, David Garrick, Edmund Kean, Laurence Olivier—all played Richard before Hamlet.

The first Shakespeare play professionally staged in America? Richard III, in 1749. The first play performed by an African American acting company? Richard III, in 1821. Documentaries are made about the challenge and importance of Richard III, such as Looking for Richard (1996) and NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (2014). The play inspired the recent Netflix hit House of Cards and drew comparisons to the rise of Donald Trump in the New York Times.

James Siemon, a recent editor of Shakespeare’s play, says that Richard III is Janus-faced, pointing from the early-modern age back to its medieval past but also forward to a modern future, “socially topical both to Shakespeare’s London, and, paradoxically, to subsequent social formations even today.” Disability historian Katherine Schaap Williams similarly notes, “Richard’s double-facing presence in the narrative of disability theory,” the character cited as evidence both for and against the presence of the modern understanding of “disability” in the early-modern age.

There’s always a multi-temporality with Richard. How is Richard III always so historical and so current? Why are issues related to medieval disability so relevant to modern life? Why is Shakespeare’s play so persistent? Why do we care so much about Richard III? What is the significance of his body—not only its meaning in Shakespeare’s text (what it signifies) but also its importance as a cultural touchstone in England and beyond (why it is significant)?

The question about cultural importance is connected to the one about textual meaning. Shakespeare wrote three plays about Richard. In the first, Richard’s enemies say his disability signifies his villainy, calling him a “heap of wrath, foul indigested lump, / As crooked in thy manners as thy shape.” In the second, Richard says his body is not the sign but the cause of his behavior: “Love forswore me in my mother’s womb.” In the third, Richard becomes what Sigmund Freud later called an “exception,” someone who has been slighted by nature, has suffered an unfair disadvantage, something he does not deserve and uses to excuse himself from the ethics that govern civil society. “I am determined to prove a villain,” he says with a giddy smile, but should we hear the “determined” in that line as I have been destined for villainy or as I have resolved myself to villainy?

A certain ambiguity in Shakespeare’s representation of Richard’s disability—which destabilized meaning by dramatizing different meanings being made, deferring meaning to different audiences interpreting disability from different perspectives—has created a flexible conceptual space with a huge gravitational pull: some of our most consequential theories of modern aesthetics, theology, philosophy, ethics, psychology, sociology, historiography, science, medicine, and politics have been brought into attempts to understand Richard’s body.

In a quintessentially Shakespearean exchange, the playwright’s dramatic mode, both tragic and ironic, calls upon some of life’s biggest questions (because it is tragic) but defers answers to the audience (because it is ironic), leaving Richard’s body open to interpretation in different ages embracing different attitudes toward stigma. The changing meaning of disability repeatedly recontextualized through shifting perspectives and circumstances in Shakespeare’s history plays has thus prompted and sustained more than four hundred years of changing interpretations of Richard, his body, his behavior, and his status as either the villain or the victim of Tudor history. The meaning of Richard’s disability changes with time, not only in the course of Shakespeare’s plays but also in the broader cultural history surrounding them.

An interpretation of Richard’s body is never just an interpretation of Richard’s body. When we interpret Richard’s disability, it interprets us in return. It brings us to declare our motives and commitments in our attempts to unfold, explain, condemn, justify, defend, and so forth. It catches something in our core and brings it to the surface through its configuration of abstract questions about reality and issues specific to our bodies. It brings us to consider how we would and should respond when, like Richard, we are born into a world that is totally confusing, deeply unsatisfying, or both.

Announcing Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, Volume 9, Issue 1, Spring 2022

This week in North Philly Notes, we present the new issue of our journal, Kalfou.

Special Issue: “In These Uncertain Times, Pittsburgh”

Guest Editors: Leon Ford and Deanna Fracul

FEATURE ARTICLES

Introduction: In These Uncertain Times, Pittsburgh • Deanna Fracul and Leon Ford

Uncertainty, Discourse, and Democracy in John Edgar Wideman’s Writing, 1980s to Today • Leila Kamali

Call-and-Response in the City: Embodied Mercy in August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and GoneKathy Glass

Resisting Arrest: Race and Pittsburghers’ Struggles against Police Power from the 1840s through the 1950s • Elaine Frantz

Tomorrow Never Came • Jamaal Scott

Working Together for Health Equity: How a Multidisciplinary, Community-Engaged Partnership Reframed Our Understandings of Pittsburgh’s Maternal-Child Health Crisis • Cathleen J. Appelt, Andrew T. Simpson, Jessica A. Devido, Sarah Greenwald, and Brittany Urban

Pittsburgh, the Realest City: Shit Talk’n’, Storytell’n’, Social Livin’ • Jacqueline Roebuck Sakho

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM

TALKATIVE ANCESTORS

Derrick Bell on Living in Relation to Others

KEYWORDS

Frankstown Was the World with a Big W: Pittsburgh and Beyond, an Interview with John Edgar Wideman • Leila Kamali

LA MESA POPULAR

Black Lives and the Tree of Life • Emmai Alaquiva and Lauren Apter Bairnsfather

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION

East Pittsburgh: White Supremacy, Radical Relationships, and Chosen Family • Norman Conti

MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT

Where Have All the Black Revolutionaries Gone in Steel City? An Interview with Sala Udin • Tony Gaskew

TEACHING AND TRUTH

Redreaming Boundaries and Community Engagement: John Edgar Wideman and the Homewood Reading Series • Esohe Osai and Dan Kubis

Khalifa • Richard Khalifa Diggs, with postscript by Norman Conti

IN MEMORIAM

Memorial Quilt: Patchworked Remembrances of Those Stolen from Us • Mian Laubscher, Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, and Keith David Miles

REVIEW

A City Divided: Race, Fear, and the Law in Police Confrontations, by David A. Harris • Jesse S. G. Wozniak

————————

MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT

Scholar Collectives Advocating for Social Justice in Education • Lois A. Yamauchi, Joni B. Acuff, Ruchi Agarwal-Rangnath, Bill Ayers, Margarita Berta-Ávila, Kari Kokka, Kevin Kumashiro, Therese Quinn, Colleen Rost-Banik, and Katherine Schultz

IN MEMORIAM

The People’s Artist: In Loving Memory of Eugene Eda Wade, 1939–2021 • Hannah Jeffery

REVIEW

Prison Theatre and the Global Crisis of Incarceration, by Ashley E. Lucas • Chinua Thelwell

Temple University Press’ Fall 2022 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we announce our forthcoming Fall 2022 titles.

Are All Politics Nationalized?: Evidence from the 2020 Campaigns in Pennsylvania, Edited by Stephen K. Medvic, Matthew M. Schousen, and Berwood A. Yost

Do local concerns still play a significant role in campaigns up and down the ballot?

Beauty and Brutality: Manila and Its Global Discontents, Edited by Martin F. Manalansan IV, Robert Diaz, and Roland B. Tolentino
Diverse perspectives on Manila that suggest the city’s exhilarating sights and sounds broaden how Philippine histories are defined and understood

BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered!: Hidden African American Philadelphia of the Twentieth Century, by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection

The historic accomplishments of 14 notable Black Philadelphians from the twentieth-century—in graphic novel form

Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose and Lessons for a Future GOP, by Mileah K. Kromer

What the story of Maryland’s two-term Republican governor can teach us about winning elections

Bringing the Civic Back In: Zane L. Miller and American Urban History, Edited by Larry Bennett, John D. Fairfield, and Patricia Mooney-Melvin

A critical appraisal of the career of Zane L. Miller, one of the founders of the new urban history

Cultures Colliding: American Missionaries, Chinese Resistance, and the Rise of Modern Institutions in China, John R. Haddad

Why American missionaries started building schools, colleges, medical schools, hospitals, and YMCA chapters in China before 1900

Divide & Conquer: Race, Gangs, Identity, and Conflict, by Robert D. Weide

Argues that contemporary identity politics divides gang members and their communities across racial lines

Engaging Place, Engaging Practices: Urban History and Campus-Community Partnerships, Edited by Robin F. Bachin and Amy L. Howard

How public history can be a catalyst for stronger relationships between universities and their communities

An Epidemic among My People: Religion, Politics, and COVID-19 in the United States, Edited by Paul A. Djupe and Amanda Friesen

Did religion make the pandemic worse or help keep it contained?

Gendered Places: The Landscape of Local Gender Norms across the United States, by William J. Scarborough

Reveals how distinct cultural environments shape the patterns of gender inequality

A Good Place to Do Business: The Politics of Downtown Renewal since 1945, by Roger Biles and Mark H. Rose

How six industrial cities in the American Rust Belt reacted to deindustrialization in the years after World War II

Justice Outsourced: The Therapeutic Jurisprudence Implications of Judicial Decision-Making by Nonjudicial Officers, Edited by Michael L. Perlin and Kelly Frailing

Examines the hidden use of nonjudicial officers in the criminal justice system

Memory Passages: Holocaust Memorials in the United States and Germany, by Natasha Goldman

Now in Paperback—Considers Holocaust memorials in the United States and Germany, postwar to the present

The Mouse Who Played Football, Written by Brian Westbrook Sr. and Lesley Van Arsdall; Illustrated by Mr. Tom

Who would ever think that a mouse could play football?

Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL, By Ed Garvey; Edited by Chuck Cascio

An inside look at the struggles Ed Garvey faced in bringing true professionalism to football players

The Real Philadelphia Book 2nd Edition, by Jazz Bridge

An anthology of compositions by popular Philadelphia jazz and blues artists accessible for every musician

Reforming Philadelphia, 1682⁠–⁠2022, by Richardson Dilworth

A short but comprehensive political history of the city, from its founding in 1682 to the present day

Refugee Lifeworlds: The Afterlife of the Cold War in Cambodia, by Y-Dang Troeung

Explores key works that have emerged out of the Cambodian refugee archive

A Refugee’s American Dream: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service, by Leth Oun with Joe Samuel Starnes

The remarkable story of Leth Oun, from overcoming tragedy and forced labor in Cambodia to realizing dreams he never could have imagined in America

Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History, by Jeffrey R. Wilson

How is Richard III always both so historical and so current?

The Rise and Fall of America’s Concentration Camp Law: Civil Liberties Debates from the Internment to McCarthyism and the Radical 1960s, by Masumi Izumi

Now in Paperback—Dissecting the complex relationship among race, national security, and civil liberties in “the age of American concentration camps”

The Spires Still Point to Heaven: Cincinnati’s Religious Landscape, 1788–1873, by Matthew Smith 

How nineteenth-century Cincinnati tested the boundaries of nativism, toleration, and freedom

Teaching Fear: How We Learn to Fear Crime and Why It Matters, Nicole E. Rader

How rules about safety and the fear of crime are learned and crystalized into crime myths— especially for women

Toward a Framework for Vietnamese American Studies: History, Community, and Memory, Edited by Linda Ho Peché, Alex-Thai Dinh Vo, and Tuong Vu

A multi-disciplinary examination of Vietnamese American history and experience

Understanding Crime and Place: A Methods Handbook, Edited by Elizabeth R. Groff and Cory P. Haberman

A hands-on introduction to the fundamental techniques and methods used for understanding geography of crime

Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our Asian American Studies titles for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Readers can get 30% these books with the code TAAAS22 at checkout through our shopping cart.

Passing for Perfect: College Impostors and Other Model Minorities, by erin Khuê Ninh, asks, How does it feel to be model minority—and why would that drive one to live a lie?

“As an Asian American daughter of immigrants, reading Passing for Perfect, I felt my life understood. erin Khuê Ninh has explained our plight—the mad scramble for refuge, the guilt over our parents’ sacrifices, and our trust that education will save us. This book will give us strength against the attackers who blame us for what’s wrong with America. We shall overcome violence with knowledge.”—Maxine Hong Kingston

Read more here
Model Machines: A History of the Asian as Automaton, by Long T. Bui, presents a study of the stereotype and representation of Asians as robotic machines through history.

“In this powerful and indispensable historiography, Long Bui puts to rest any lingering doubt about the pernicious pervasiveness of the model machine myth that has long cast Asians as technologized nonhumans in American cultural and economic histories…. Bui provides rigorous analyses of the implications and damages of the myth as well as bold provocations for interventions and change.”—Betsy Huang, Associate Professor of English and Dean of the College at Clark University

Read more here
Pedagogies of WoundednessIllness, Memoir, and the Ends of the Model Minority, by James Kyung-Jin Lee considers what happens when illness betrays Asian American fantasies of indefinite progress?

“In this powerful and indispensable hist“James Kyung-Jin Lee’s Pedagogies of Woundedness is a poignant and moving work of criticism about illness and mortality. Beginning with a remarkable connection between the seeming invulnerability of Asian Americans as a model minority and their prevalence in the medical profession, Lee proceeds to explore the many ways that Asian Americans have written about bodies, health, and death. One comes away from his insights wiser and braver about what we all must face.”Viet Thanh Nguyen, University Professor at the University of Southern California, and author of Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War

Read more here
CULTURAL STUDIES 
Asian American Connective Action in the Age of Social Media: Civic Engagement, Contested Issues, and Emerging Identities, by James S. Lai, examines how social media has changed the way Asian Americans participate in politics.

“Lai’s timely book provides a nuanced analysis of the ideological and other divisions among Asian Americans, scrupulously refusing to homogenize or essentialize them.”Claire Jean Kim, Professor of Political Science and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Irvine

Read more here
Ethical Encounters: Transnational Feminism, Human Rights, and War Cinema in Bangladesh, by Elora Halim Chowdhury, illuminates how visual practices of recollecting violent legacies in Bangladeshi cinema can generate possibilities for gender justice.

“This book enables a timely understanding of contemporary Bangladesh through the cinematic lens of 1971.—Nayanika Mookherjee, Professor of Political Anthropology at Durham University, UK

Read more here
Giving Back: Filipino America and the Politics of Diaspora Giving, by L. Joyce Zapanta Mariano, explores transnational giving practices as political projects that shape the Filipino diaspora.

Giving Back is a compelling ethnography about the politics of diaspora giving, tying the personal, the family, the community, the state, and the global in a critical stroke of brilliance, empathy, and alternative visions of philanthropy and volunteerism in the lives of Filipinos in America….Mariano’s critical examination of the politics of diaspora giving is a must-read for Filipinos and anyone participating in transnational philanthropy.”—Pacific Historical Review

Read more here
Reencounters: On the Korean War and Diasporic Memory Critique, by Crystal Mun-hye Baik, examines the insidious ramifications of the un-ended Korean War through an interdisciplinary archive of diasporic memory works. 

Crystal Baik’s Reencounters offers a vital archive of desire, violence, silence, and decolonial possibility while crafting a much-needed critical framework for thinking and feeling through the diasporic memory work of contemporary Korean/American artists and cultural producers.”Eleana Kim, University of California, Irvine

Read more here
BIOGRAPHY
 
Prisoner of Wars: A Hmong Fighter Pilot’s Story of Escaping Death and Confronting Life, by Chia Youyee Vang, with Pao Yang, Retired Captain, U.S. Secret War in Laos, recounts the life of Pao Yang, whose experiences defy conventional accounts of the Vietnam War.

“It is rare to read personal accounts from those who fought as surrogate soldiers of the American Armed Forces in Laos and to hear about the experiences of our T-28 pilots, because so many of them were killed during the war. Vang did a wonderful job of capturing the experiences of Pao Yang, one of the Hmong T-28 pilots who was shot down and captured by the communists. I will definitely use this book as a requirement for my Introduction to Hmong History class.”—Lee Pao Xiong, Director and Professor of the Center for Hmong and East Asian Studies, Concordia University

Read more here
Water Thicker Than Blood: A Memoir of a Post-Internment Childhood, by George Uba, is an evocative yet unsparing examination of the damaging effects of post-internment ideologies of acceptance and belonging experienced by a Japanese American family.

This is a lovely addition to the rich literature somehow created out of a moment in history where an entire generation of Japanese Americans had every dream they’d ever had taken from them, all at once.”—Cynthia Kadohata, Newbery Medal– and National Book Award–winning author of Kira-Kira and The Thing about Luck

Read more here
Elaine Black Yoneda: Jewish Immigration, Labor Activism, and Japanese American Exclusion and Incarceration, by Rachel Schreiber, recounts the remarkable story of a Jewish activist who joined her incarcerated Japanese American husband and son in an American concentration camp.
 
“Rachel Schreiber, an expert on Jewish women labor activists, presents a highly useful biographical sketch of an important figure in Elaine Black Yoneda. Avoiding the extremes of mythologizing or demonizing her subject, she offers a balanced account that historians specializing in women’s history, labor history, and Japanese American history will heartily welcome to the scholarly works in these areas of inquiry.“—Brian Hayashi, Professor of History at Kent State University

Read more here
LITERARY STUDIES 
Warring Genealogies: Race, Kinship, and the Korean War, by Joo Ok Kim, examines the racial legacies of the Korean War through Chicano/a cultural production and U.S. archives of white supremacy.

“Crucially, Kim’s juxtaposition and brilliant analysis of unlikely archival materials and cultural texts make an original and exceedingly important contribution to our understandings of the links between the Korean War and U.S. racial, carceral, and settler colonial formations. This is a rigorous and impressive interdisciplinary cultural study.”—Jodi Kim, Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside

Read more here
Q & A: Voices from Queer Asian North America, Edited by Martin F. Manalansan IV, Alice Y. Hom, and Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Preface by David L. Eng, offers a vibrant array of scholarly and personal essays, poetry, and visual art that broaden ideas and experiences about contemporary LGBTQ Asian North America

“[T]hese voices from queer Asian North America attest to the brilliance, fierceness, and raucous pleasures of queer diasporic world-making, theorizing, and cultural production. A landmark achievement.”—Gayatri Gopinath, Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University

Read more here
Ocean Passages: Navigating Pacific Islander and Asian American Literatures, by Erin Suzuki, compares and contrasts the diverse experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander subjectivities across a shared sea.

Ocean Passages demonstrates how transpacific studies can evolve and continue to be a generative framing for counterhegemonic, decolonial research across disciplines.” —Lateral

Read more here
Unsettled Solidarities: Asian and Indigenous Cross-Representations in the Américas, by Quynh Nhu Le, illuminates the intersecting logics of settler colonialism and racialization through analysis of contemporary Asian and Indigenous crossings in the Américas.
Association for Asian American Studies’ Humanities and Cultural Studies: Literary Studies Book Award, 2021

Read more here
Graphic Migrations: Precarity and Gender in India and the Diaspora, by Kavita Daiya, examines “what remains” in migration stories surrounding the 1947 Partition of India.

“Daiya’swide scholarly purview ranges across literature, cinema, graphic novels, and the creative arts, as she assembles a rich archive of contemporary reflection and critical relevance.”— Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

Read more here

Women’s History Month: Anna May Wong

This week in North Philly Notes, in honor of Women’s History Month, we repost Shirley Jennifer Lim’s article about Anna May Wong that appeared in The Conversation on March 7.

The U.S. Mint will, over the next four years, issue quarters featuring the likenesses of American women who contributed to “the development and history of our country.”

The first batch of the American Women Quarters Program, announced in January 2022, includes astronaut Sally Ride and poet Maya Angelou.

One name on the list might be less familiar to some Americans: Chinese American actress Anna May Wong.

Back of quarter featuring engraving of woman.
Anna May Wong will appear on the back of a quarter as part of the U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program. U.S. Mint via Getty Images

As someone who has written a biography on Wong, I was delighted to provide the U.S. Mint with Wong’s backstory.

The subject of renewed attention in recent years, Wong is often referred to as a Hollywood star – in fact, the U.S. Treasury describes her as “the first Chinese American film star in Hollywood.” And she certainly did dazzle in her roles.

But to me, this characterization diminishes her chief accomplishment: her capacity for reinvention. Hollywood continually stymied her ambitions. And yet out of the ashes of rejection, she persevered, becoming an Australian vaudeville chanteuse, a British theatrical luminary, a B-film pulp diva and an American television celebrity.

A star is born

Born just outside of Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1905, Wong grew up witnessing movies being made all around her. She dreamed of one day becoming a leading lady.

Cutting classes in order to beg directors for roles, Wong began her career as an extra in Alla Nazimova’s 1919 classic film about China’s Boxer Rebellion, “The Red Lantern.” In 1922, at the age of 17, Wong landed her first starring role in “The Toll of the Sea,” playing a character based on Madame Butterfly. Her performance was well received, and she went on to be cast as the Mongol slave in the 1924 hit film “The Thief of Bagdad.”

However, she quickly hit a wall in an era when it was common to cast white actors in yellowface – having them tape their eyes, wear makeup and assume exaggerated accents and gestures – to play Asian characters. (This practice would continue for decades: In 1961, director Blake Edwards egregiously cast Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and as recently as 2015, Emma Stone was controversially cast as a part-Chinese, part-Hawaiian character in “Aloha.”) Wong would go on to land roles playing unnamed minor characters in the 1927 film “Old San Francisco” and “Across to Singapore,” which premiered a year later. But anything outside of typecast roles seemed out of reach.

Woman and man hold hands.
In ‘Daughter of the Dragon,’ Anna May Wong starred alongside Warner Oland, a Swedish-American actor who often appeared in yellowface. LMPC/Getty Images

In some ways, her career mirrored that of the great Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa, who had forged a path for people of Asian Pacific descent in Hollywood. Hayakawa became a star through his headlining role in the 1915 Lasky-Famous Players film, “The Cheat.” However, as anti-Japanese sentiment increased in the U.S., his roles dried up. By 1922, he had left Hollywood.

European fame

Some actresses would have accepted their lot, grateful for the chance to simply appear in films.

Not Wong.

In 1928, fed up with a lack of opportunities in Hollywood, she packed her bags and sailed to Europe, where she became a global star.

Woman holding purse on sidewalk.
Wong poses in front of the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris in 1935. Bettmann/Getty Images

From 1928 to 1934 she made a series of movies for Germany’s Universum-Film Aktiengeselleschaft, and found work with other leading studios such as France’s Gaumont and Associated Talking Pictures in the U.K. She impressed in her roles, attracting the attention of luminaries such as the German intellectual Walter Benjamin, British actor Laurence Olivier, German actress Marlene Dietrich and African American actor Paul Robeson. In Europe, Wong joined the ranks of African American artists such as Robeson, Josephine Baker and Langston Hughes, who, frustrated by segregation in the U.S., had left the country and found adulation in Europe.

When film work wasn’t forthcoming, Wong turned to vaudeville. In 1934, she embarked on a European tour, where she sang, danced and acted before enthralled audiences in cities large and small, from Madrid to Göteborg, Sweden.

Wong’s revue showcased her chameleonlike powers to transform herself. In Göteborg, for example, she performed eight numbers that included the Chinese folk song “Jasmine Flower” and the contemporary French hit “Parlez-moi d’Amour.” Inhabiting a variety of roles and races, she seamlessly shifted from speaking Chinese to French, from portraying a folk singer to appearing as a tuxedo-clad nightclub siren.

Wong decides to do it on her own

What I love about Wong is that even as Hollywood thwarted her time and again, she continued creating her own opportunities.

Though she spent years in Europe, Wong continued to audition for American roles.

In 1937, she tried out for the leading role in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “The Good Earth.” After she was rejected, she decided that if she couldn’t star in a movie, she would simply make one of her own.

She took her one and only trip to China, documenting the experience. Her charming short film showed numerous activities, including female impersonators teaching Wong how to enact Chinese female roles, a trip to the Western Hills, and a visit to the family’s ancestral village. At a time when the number of prominent female directors in Hollywood could be counted on one hand, it was a remarkable feat.

Two decades later, the film would air on ABC. By that time, Wong had established herself as a TV star by playing a gallery owner-cum-detective who traveled the globe solving crimes in “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.” It was the first television series to feature an Asian Pacific American lead.

By the time Wong died on February 3, 1961, she had left a legacy of more than 50 films, numerous Broadway and vaudeville shows, and a television series. Equally important is how she became a global celebrity despite being shut out from Hollywood’s A-list leading roles.

It’s a story of tenacity and determination that can inspire all who want to see images of people of color reflected back to them on screen.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Use promo code TWHM22 for 30% off all our Women’s Studies titles. Sale ends March 31, 2022.

New Titles

Elaine Black Yoneda: Jewish Immigration, Labor Activism, and Japanese American Exclusion and Incarceration, by Rachel Schreiber, recounts the remarkable story of a Jewish activist who joined her incarcerated Japanese American husband and son in an American concentration camp.

Are You Two Sisters: The Journey of a Lesbian Couple, by Susan Krieger, authored by one of the most respected figures in the field of personal ethnographic narrative, this book serves as both a memoir and a sociological study, telling the story of one lesbian couple’s lifelong journey together.

From our Backlist:

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, by Shirley Jennifer Lim, shows how Anna May Wong’s work shaped racial modernity and made her one of the most significant actresses of the twentieth century.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood.

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith Baer, reconciles liberalism and feminist theory.

Feminist Reflections on Childhood: A History and Call to Action, by Penny A. Weiss, recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people.

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, how and why women run for office.

Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America, by Jean Elson, a fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores.

Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, by Leah Ruppanner challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers.

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, an anthology that celebrates the life and work of a major African American writer.

Their Day in the Sun: Women in the Manhattan Project, by Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Herzenberg, tells the hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism, by Barbara Tomlinson, a sustained critique of the ways in which scholars have engaged with and deployed intersectionality.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislature: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, by Anna Mitchell Mahoney, investigates the opportunities, resources, and frames that women utilize to create legislative caucuses.

Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, by Pedro A.G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, explains what the rise and fall of Brazil’s first and only female president can teach us about women’s empowerment.

What is past is prologue: A century of gangs in the United States

This week in North Philly Notes, Scott Decker, David Pyrooz, and James Densley, the coauthors of On Gangs take a look back at gangs in American society.

Like most social phenomena, gangs are dynamic. The structure, membership, activities and relationships among gangs and gang members change over time and space. Against this backdrop of evolving gang life, there are some common findings. Levels of involvement in crime, gender imbalance, short-term membership, and a loosely structured organization remain common features of gangs historically and geographically.

On Gangs examines transcendent and emerging issues in the understanding of gangs. The book is motivated by a simple, but sometimes elusive principle; understanding should bring about fairer, more just and effective policies, practices, and programs. The study of gangs has had an important job to do in this regard. Explaining the increase in gang membership during the crack cocaine epidemic, rising gun violence, mass incarceration and the role of technology (particularly computer-mediated communication) in conflict, crime and the response to crime are all topics that gang research has tackled.  

If asked to identify a single finding from gang research, policy, and practice, we would point to the enhanced involvement in crime that accompanies gang membership. Simply put, gang membership increases involvement in crime, particularly violent crime, and increases the risk of victimization, resulting in loss, debilitating injury, and, tragically, death. Group processes in gangs are what land gang members in jail or prison, dimming their chances for education, employment, housing, and participation in many civic activities. Gang membership impedes adolescents and young adults from participating in the very activities that social scientists expect to either prevent them from further criminal involvement or enable them to reverse their involvement in crime. From this perspective, addressing mass incarceration and the pipeline from schools and the streets to prison is a key issue to address through economic and social policy.

The field has learned a good deal about gangs in the past three decades. The pace and volume of gang research increased dramatically as data improved and a broader range of scholars grappled with understanding involvement in and consequences of gang membership. Critical issues such as the involvement of women in gangs, the role of technology in gang joining and activities, the spread of US-style gangs to other countries, and the changing structure of gang membership are all features of the book.

On Gangs also provides comprehensive assessments of the role of gender and masculinities in gangs, immigration, race, and ethnicity, the changing role of imprisonment in gang life, and a sober assessment not only of gang “programming” but also of how criminologists must go about assessing the impact of a wide range of interventions from prevention through confinement. We take a critical look at policing gangs in the 21st century and the emergence and expansion of controversial anti-gang legislation. We take the “What Works” question head on and offer objective frameworks for assessing the impact of a wide range of policies and practices.

One measure of the importance of gangs in American society can be gauged by their role in popular culture, particularly movies and music. As we note in the book, “Gangster Movies” are just as old as academic gang research. James Cagney and Jean Harlow, two of the biggest names in Hollywood starred in The Public Enemy in 1931, one of the first portrayals of gangs and gang members on screen. West Side Story debuted in 1961, and now sixty years later has been remade by Steven Spielberg. And Al Pacino’s Scarface continues to serve as inspiration for gang members; in some cases, Tony Montana’s rags to riches story is a blueprint for their gang careers. Public fascination with gangs, gang members and gang activity certainly help spin myths about gangs (e.g., once you join a gang, you can never leave; gangs are highly organized; women are “appendages” to male gangs; prison gangs run the streets, etc.), which often have negative consequences. Such myths impair our ability to build consensus about gang interventions, secure funding and public support for such interventions and spread fear and racial animus.

As comprehensive as On Gangs is, it is not the final word. There will be new challenges—globalization, climate change, continued demographic churning, the changing nature and structure of employment, virtual life and the metaverse—that will alter the character of social relations and social structure. Certainly, gangs will be affected by and have effects on the social orders to come. It is our contention that the accumulated knowledge on gangs be viewed with a critical lens and be used to shape future perceptions of and responses to gangs and gang members.

Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggests the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to receive and read this holiday season. 

We wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: This year I’d give friends and family a subscription to the Press journal Kalfou, which publishes articles on racial and ethnic studies and social justice that are especially relevant these days. For example, recent articles addressed racialized juvenile incarceration, the role of murals as “monument[s] to blackness,” the ethnic and social makeup of “essential” workers during the pandemic, and the global racial and gender health inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Get:  At this point my bookshelves and devices are full of books I haven’t gotten to yet, which is what’s held me back from buying the 800+-page The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. But if someone were to give it to me, it would go at the top of my long to-be-read list.

Karen Baker, Associate Director and Financial Manager

Give: I would give Real Philly History, Real Fast, by Jim Murphy, because my son-in-law is very interested in exploring Philadelphia and this book would be a great guide for him.

Get: I would like to receive Will, by Will Smith, because he is a Philly guy and I think his story would be very interesting.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Give: Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s edited collection Critical Race Theory, our doorstopper reader on the subject. There is so much fear and misunderstanding associated with teaching critical race theory (CRT) in our schools that it has become the flashpoint in the culture. This massive volume with over 800 pages and a large array of voices and topics provides much understanding of what CRT is and what it is not.  

Get: I hope to get Bryant Terry’s Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora. It’s my kind of cookbook with not only recipes and beautiful art, but history, poetry, and a musical playlist curated by the author!! 

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

Give: We have a bounty of attractive and engrossing trade titles this year, but I’m going with Barksdale Maynard’s Artists of Wyeth Country. This project has personal resonance for me in part because I spent a lot of time in the Brandywine Valley as a kid, and I have very fond memories of it—visiting our close family friends who live there, and taking many long walks through what I now know is Wyeth country. Maynard’s book embraces this locale just as the Wyeth family and their local artistic kin have for generations. It’s a unique project, part family biography and part tour guide, and I know so many people who have a special affinity for these artists, their work, and this place. It’s a pretty perfect gift. 

Get: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. This book promises to upend core understandings about the past, who we are, and how we arrived at this civilizational point. I’ll read it in hopes it can also upend some of our darker conventional wisdom about the apparently rather dismal present and future. Fingers crossed. Rest in peace, David Graeber.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: The Evolution of a Cricket Fan, by Samir Chopra. I don’t know much about cricket, but this isn’t just a book about the game—it’s about tracing your growth and change and sense of belonging through your relationship with sports fandom. 

Get: Intimacies: A Novel, by Katie Kitamura. Maybe it’s just professional interest, but I’ve been intrigued lately by books that break conventional storytelling structures and grammars. Hopefully, it will leave me more open-minded and helpful when my authors need help delivering their message in unconventional ways.

Shaun Vigil, Editor

Give: Rachel Schreiber’s Elaine Black Yoneda offers a deeply researched and narratively engaging view into Elaine Black Yoneda’s singular life. On a personal note, it was the first title I signed since joining the Press, which makes it all the more special to see in print!

Get: After another long year, what I’m asking after is a book that can allow me the space to pop in and out of it any time I need a good laugh. While I’ve ready many of its entries over the years, John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise: An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order hasn’t ever found its way to my bookshelf. I’m hoping that this holiday season changes that.

Will Forrest, Editorial Assistant and Rights and Contracts Manager
Give: The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode. I may be biased as an Italian living in the Philadelphia area, but this is a beautiful and fascinating book on an important part of the city’s cultural heritage.

Get: A few years ago a new edition of Life? Or Theatre?, a gorgeous and incredibly powerful artwork/memoir/proto-graphic novel was published. Charlotte Solomon was a brilliant German Jewish artist who lived a fascinating life, witnessed firsthand the rise of the Nazis, and was ultimately killed in the Holocaust. It’s one of the most incredible literary works I’ve ever read and I’d love to have this new edition with newly discovered paintings and new essays.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

Gave: I already gave Ray Didinger’s Finished Business to a family member at Thanksgiving. He is a forever Philadelphia sports fan—the range of essays are perfect for him.

Get: I am hoping to get Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See is one of my all-time favorite books.

Ashley Petrucci, Senior Production Editor

Give: Stephen Feldman’s Pack the Court! because it’s very relevant to our current political climate and provides information as to why court packing might or might not happen.

Get: I have several books borrowed from the public library through Libby that I plan to read, including For Whom the Bell TollsAmericanah, and 1Q84 that I hope to get time to read!

Annie Johnson, Assistant Director for Open Publishing Initiatives and Scholarly Communications

Give: The Battles of Germantown, by David. W. Young. Although Young’s focus is on one particular neighborhood in Philadelphia, the lessons he has drawn from his own experience are applicable to public historians everywhere.

Get: The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information by Craig Robinson, which argues that filing is a distinct mode of information labor that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century and became critical to the development of corporate capitalism.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give: Walking in Cities, edited by Evrick Brown and Timothy Shortell, may be a good book to inspire readers to see the urban world around them anew.

Get: I’m keen to read Solid Ivory, filmmaker James Ivory’s memoir, edited by Peter Cameron.

Announcing Temple University Press’ Spring 2022 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we are pleased to present our forthcoming Spring 2022 titles (in alphabetical order).

Africana Studies: Theoretical Futures, edited by Grant Farred
A provocative collection committed to keeping the dynamism of the Africana Studies discipline alive

Beethoven in Beijing: Stories from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Historic Journey to China, by Jennifer Lin, with a foreword by Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin

An eye-opening account of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s unprecedented 1973 visit to the People’s Republic of China

Before Crips: Fussin’, Cussin’, and Discussin’ among South Los Angeles Juvenile Gangs, by John C. Quicker and Akil S. Batani-Khalfani

A historical analysis of South Los Angeles juvenile gang life as revealed by those who were there

Elusive Kinship: Disability and Human Rights in Postcolonial Literature, by Christopher Krentz

Why disabled characters are integral to novels of the global South

Ethical Encounters: Transnational Feminism, Human Rights, and War Cinema in Bangladesh, by Elora Halim Chowdhury

Illuminates how visual practices of recollecting violent legacies in Bangladeshi cinema can generate possibilities for gender justice

Exploring Philly Nature: A Guide for All Four Seasons, by Bernard S. Brown, Illustrations by Samantha Wittchen

A handy guide for all ages to Philly’s urban plants, animals, fungi, and—yes—even slime molds

If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress: Black Politics in Twentieth-Century Philadelphia, edited by James Wolfinger, with a Foreword by Heather Ann Thompson

Highlighting the creativity, tenacity, and discipline displayed by Black activists in Philadelphia

It Was Always a Choice: Picking Up the Baton of Athlete Activism, by David Steele

Examining American athletes’ activism for racial and social justice, on and off the field

Just Care: Messy Entanglements of Disability, Dependency, and Desire, by Akemi Nishida

How care is both socially oppressive and a way that marginalized communities can fight for social justice

Letting Play Bloom: Designing Nature-Based Risky Play for Children, by Lolly Tai, with a foreword by Teri Hendy

Exploring innovative, inspiring, and creative ideas for designing children’s play spaces

Loving Orphaned Space: The Art and Science of Belonging to Earth, by Mrill Ingram

Providing a new vision for the ignored and abused spaces around us

Model Machines: A History of the Asian as Automaton, by Long T. Bui

A study of the stereotype and representation of Asians as robotic machines through history

Public Schools, Private Governance: Education Reform and Democracy in New Orleans, by J. Celeste Lay

A comprehensive examination of education reforms and their political effects on Black and poor public-school parents in New Orleans, pre- and post-Katrina

Regarding Animals, Second Edition, by Arnold Arluke, Clinton R. Sanders, and Leslie Irvine

A new edition of an award-winning book that examines how people live with contradictory attitudes toward animals

School Zone: A Problem Analysis of Student Offending and Victimization, by Pamela Wilcox, Graham C. Ousey, and Marie Skubak Tillyer

Why some school environments are more conducive to crime than safety

Warring Genealogies: Race, Kinship, and the Korean War, by Joo Ok Kim

Examines the racial legacies of the Korean War through Chicano/a cultural production and U.S. archives of white supremacy

Water Thicker Than Blood: A Memoir of a Post-Internment Childhood, by George Uba

An evocative yet unsparing examination of the damaging effects of post-internment ideologies of acceptance and belonging experienced by a Japanese American family

What Workers Say: Decades of Struggle and How to Make Real Opportunity Now, by Roberta Rehner Iversen

Voices from the labor market on the chronic lack of advancement

A Q&A with Temple University Press’ new Editorial Assistant, Will Forrest

This week in North Philly Notes, we get to learn more about Temple University Press’s new editorial assistant, Will Forrest, who joined the Temple University Press staff this week.


You are “returning” to the Press having worked here as a student. Can you talk about your experiences at the Press?

I first worked as an intern for TUP during my senior year as an undergraduate, mostly working on rights and contracts. I was amazed at the variety of responsibilities I was handed and their importance. It was not your typical mindless gofer intern busy work. I loved my time as an intern and got a feel for nearly every aspect of what it takes to publish a book. I am overjoyed to return as an editorial assistant!

What book(s) do you like to read/are you currently reading?

I am currently reading By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age by Paul Boyer. History is probably my biggest love, and oddly enough, I have been interested in the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war for most of my life (although the Soviet Union did not exist when I was born). I am also rereading Anthony Heilbut’s The Gospel Sound, his look at the vibrant and often underappreciated world of African-American gospel music. It might be my favorite book on American music.

Has any single book made a particularly strong impression on you? (What and why or how)?

Many of my strongest responses to books came early in my life, and the book that I credit with really sparking my interest in writing and storytelling is Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. It was the first book I remembered reading where I felt like I identified with the character, understood that he was speaking from a unique point of view, and made me feel less isolated. It launched me into reading Blume’s other books as well as other stories about teenagers and young adults. I still find that I especially like reading novels and consuming other media about young people, and my creative ideas are often filled with young people working things out.

You have an interest in playwriting. Can you tell us about that?

I have loved theater for most of my life, and writing has also been a major part of my life, but it wasn’t until around college that the two began to dovetail. I like the freedom and sparseness of writing plays compared to other forms. Most of my play ideas end up being rooted in history one way or another, and often my plays are places to string together seemingly separate interests and ideas I have. I actually have a play I wrote being read online at Temple this fall called Window of Vulnerability about nuclear war planning and its psychological impact on ordinary people during the Cold War.

When and how do you read?

I am a very undisciplined reader. I typically read in the evenings after most of my daily business is done, and read essentially until I get tired or disinterested, whichever comes first. Even if I am very engaged by a book I don’t usually feel the urge to finish it right there and then, and I sometimes then end up reading multiple books at a time. 

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I would venture to say that many of my books on the Cold War might surprise some given the event took place before I was born. One that might surprise most people, especially people of a certain age, is Richard Zoglin’s biography HOPE of Bob Hope. It’s natural to wonder why any young person would be interested in the life of a comedian known for being a conservative square who performed well past his prime and toured the world with the USO. But American entertainment history is a major interest of mine, and like him or not (and some of his early movies aren’t bad), there are few entertainers as important to 20th century America as Bob Hope.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine?

To be honest, I never really identified much with superheroes or superhero/comic culture in general aside from watching some of the films. I used to wear a Superman t-shirt that I won in a crane machine on the NJ boardwalk when I was much younger, and I suppose I still think he’s pretty cool. I also like Superman because he’s not as omnipresent as the Marvel heroes in today’s culture.

What Temple University Press book has particular meaning to you (and why)?

This is an unusual and obscure choice, but it is a book the Press published in 1974 called Broadcasting in Africa: A Continental Survey of Radio and Television. When my brother, who shares many of the same historical interests I do, found out I worked for the Temple University Press and that they had a library of their catalog, one of the first things he asked me about was this book. He wanted to know if they had it because it is very hard to find and one of the only books written during the era on the topic. It was this experience that made me realize the unique vision of TUP to publish pioneering works on topics that are not often written about, and it crystallized that the books TUP publishes are interesting to many diverse groups, including my brother.

What Temple University Press book would you recommend to someone?

I think Mary Lou Nemanic’s recent Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalism is an incredibly important read for anyone who cares about truth. As local newspapers shutter around the country in the face of the digital revolution, especially in smaller communities, local stories and viewpoints slowly start to disappear from the nationwide conversation along with their invaluable investigations. Local dailies are often the first papers to report on what will become major national stories, and when they fall on hard times, things start to fall through the cracks.

What book will you read next?

My backlog of books to read is quite extensive. I have Peter Guralnick’s biography of Sam Cooke entitled Dream Boogie on my shelf, and as a huge fan of Cooke, that era of American music, and Guralnick’s other books, I will devour it. I also just bought Vincent J. Indonti’s African Americans Against the Bomb and am very excited to read it.

What three writers would you invite to a dinner party?

Even though I read largely non-fiction, I think great fiction storytellers might make better dinner party guests because of their natural inclination towards dreaming worlds and listening to their characters. So I would invite Judy Blume and Elena Ferrante, two of my favorite living novelists (I hopefully will have learned Italian to speak with Elena) as well as Sarah Ruhl, a playwright I admire very much. I would pay homage and hopefully we would spend the evening talking about everything other than their work. I’m also not much of a cook, so if any of them have any specialties or feel inclined to provide courses, I would be ecstatic.

%d bloggers like this: