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.

Celebrating National Book Lover’s Day

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate National Book Lover’s Day with a collection of Temple University Press titles our staff members cherish.

Bass Line: The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton. Many years ago, in 1988, the Press published a collection of stories and photographs from the “dean of bass players,” Milt Hinton. Through this book I got to view the jazz world from an original source as Hinton played for over 50 years with all of the greats—Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and my idol Sarah Vaughan, just to name a few. Recall that famous photo of Billie Holliday in the recording studio in 1958? Hinton took it! When the book was published, even Paul McCartney said of all the bass players he played with “…none were better than Milt…”  I treasure this TUP book!!—Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

I cannot possibly choose a favorite, but I’d like to highlight one recent title I’m particularly proud of, John Kromer’s Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City. This book demonstrates something special about the Press. Most people know we have a strong list in scholarly titles focused on social change, as well as a top-notch regional trade list, but Kromer’s book nicely bridges these, with engaging stories and a scholarly backbone to teach us important lessons about politics in the city we love and call home.—Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

P is for Philadelphia. I love that we published a children’s book that gives an alphabetical tour of our area, but the fact that it is illustrated by the children of Philadelphia makes it so much more special.—Karen Baker, Associate Director and Financial Manager

A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region A beautifully illustrated look at the gardens in the area in a handheld book. What a wonderful way to reminisce of gardens visited or add to your must-see lists! Grab a copy, go outside, and enjoy!—Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

I wouldn’t dare choose between my projects and authors since I arrived at the Press, so I would point to our backlist title The Philosophy of Alain Locke.—Ryan Mulligan, Editor

I love Palestra Pandemonium. Before I came to Temple, or knew anything about TUP, I gifted this book to several Big 5 fans and Penn alums for whom the Palestra is hallowed ground.—Mary Rose Muccie, Director 

Celeste-Marie Bernier’s Suffering and Sunset. His story, and the sketches and paintings included in this book, are very moving and beautiful.—Kate Nichols, Art Director 

While I have too many favorites to count, in terms of recent publications I would like to give Q & A: Voices from Queer Asian North America a special mention. Working on this new volume that continues on in the spirit of the landmark Q & A: Queer in Asian America is just the type of opportunity that every editor hopes to find. Moreover, it was truly a pleasure shepherding a volume that has all the makings of a landmark volume in its own right.—Shaun Vigil, Editor

May-lee Chai’s poignant memoir, Hapa Girl, is a beautifully written, heartbreaking memoir about a mixed-race family struggling against racism in South Dakota. Chai proves how deep the bonds of family can be but also about her resilience during difficult times. While her story unfolds in the 1980s, it is, sadly, still timely today.—Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Happy Pride!

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Pride Month by showcasing a handful of our recent LGBTQ+ titles. You can check out all of our Sexuality Studies series titles here and all of our Sexuality Studies/Sexual Identity titles here.

Disruptive Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirut, by Ghassan Moussawi, provides the first comprehensive study to employ the lens of queer lives in the Arab World to understand everyday life disruptions, conflicts, and violence.

Disruptive Situations challenges representations of contemporary Beirut as an exceptional space for LGBTQ people by highlighting everyday life in a city where violence is the norm. Moussawi’s intrepid ethnography features the voices of women, gay men, and genderqueer persons in Beirut to examine how queer individuals negotiate life in this uncertain region. He argues that the daily survival strategies in Beirut are queer—and not only enacted by LGBTQ people—since Beirutis are living amidst an already queer situation of ongoing precarity.

Action = Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France, by Christophe Broqua, chronicles the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris.

Act Up–Paris became one of the most notable protest groups in France in the mid-1990s. Founded in 1989, and following the New York model, it became a confrontational voice representing the interests of those affected by HIV through openly political activism. Action = Vie, the English-language translation of Christophe Broqua’s study of the grassroots activist branch, explains the reasons for the French group’s success and sheds light on Act Up’s defining features—such as its unique articulation between AIDS and gay activism. Featuring numerous accounts by witnesses and participants, Broqua traces the history of Act Up–Paris and shows how thousands of gay men and women confronted the AIDS epidemic by mobilizing with public actions.

Disabled Futures: A Framework for Radical Inclusion, by Milo W. Obourn, offers a new avenue for understanding race, gender, and disability as mutually constitutive through an analysis of literature and films.

Disabled Futures makes an important intervention in disability studies by taking an intersectional approach to race, gender, and disability. Milo Obourn reads disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, and critical race studies to develop a framework for addressing inequity. They theorize the concept of “racialized disgender”—to describe the ways in which racialization and gendering are social processes with disabling effects—thereby offering a new avenue for understanding race, gender, and disability as mutually constitutive.

Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality and Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, by Andrew Israel Ross, shows how female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men shaped the history and emergence of modern Paris in the nineteenth century.

Andrew Israel Ross’s illuminating study, Public City/Public Sex, chronicles the tension between the embourgeoisement and democratization of urban culture in nineteenth-century Paris and the commercialization and commodification of a public sexual culture, the emergence of new sex districts, as well as the development of gay and lesbian subcultures. Public City/Public Sex examines how the notion that male sexual desire required suitable outlets shaped urban policing and development. Ross traces the struggle to control sex in public and argues that it was the very effort to police the city that created new opportunities for women who sold sex and men who sought sex with other men. Placing public sex at the center of urban history, Ross shows how those who used public spaces played a central role in defining the way the city was understood.

And Coming Out this month

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

This new edition of Q & A is neither a sequel nor an update, but an entirely new work borne out of the progressive political and cultural advances of the queer experiences of Asian North American communities. The artists, activists, community organizers, creative writers, poets, scholars, and visual artists that contribute to this exciting new volume make visible the complicated intertwining of sexuality with race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Sections address activism, radicalism, and social justice; transformations in the meaning of Asian-ness and queerness in various mass media issues of queerness in relation to settler colonialism and diaspora; and issues of bodies, health, disability, gender transitions, death, healing, and resilience.

The visual art, autobiographical writings, poetry, scholarly essays, meditations, and analyses of histories and popular culture in the new Q & A gesture to enduring everyday racial-gender-sexual experiences of mis-recognition, micro-aggressions, loss, and trauma when racialized Asian bodies are questioned, pathologized, marginalized, or violated. This anthology seeks to expand the idea of Asian and American in LGBTQ studies.

Listen UP! The Temple University Press Podcast

This week in North Philly Notes, we announce the new Temple University Press podcast, which features an interview with Ray Didinger about his memoir, Finished Business: My Fifty Years of Headlines, Heroes, and Heartaches.

The Temple University Press Podcast is where you can hear about all the books you’ll want to read next.

Click here to listen

The Temple University Press Podcast is available wherever you find your podcasts, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Overcast, among other outlets.


About this episode

For our inaugural podcast, we asked Temple University podcast host and producer Sam Cohn to interview Ray Didinger, a man who has become synonymous with Philadelphia sports. He recently published his memoir, Finished Business, which opens immediately following the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII victory. It is a moment that felt like the entire city of Philadelphia was hoisting the Lombardi trophy in unison. Ray’s writing poetically weaves through his life as a storyteller, capturing his enthusiasm for sports and his affection for Philadelphia fans.

Didinger began rooting for the Eagles as a kid, hanging out in his grandfather’s bar in Southwest Philadelphia. He spent his summers at the team’s training camp in Hershey, PA. It was there he met his idol, flanker Tommy McDonald. He would later write a play, Tommy and Me, about their friendship and his efforts to see McDonald enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Didinger has been covering the Eagles as a newspaper columnist or TV analyst since 1970, working for the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Daily News before transitioning to work at NFL Films, Comcast SportsNet, and WIP Sports Radio. With his memoir, he looks back on his career.


Fini
shed Business is available through the Temple University Press website, and your favorite booksellers, both online and local.

Unorthodox Captures Many Truths of Leaving Hasidic Communities

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Degrees of Separation author Schneur Zalman Newfield’s recent article from The Society Pages that considers the Netflix series, Unorthodox, about exiting ultra-Orthodox communities, the subject of his new book.

Like many who left ultra-Orthodox communities in which they were raised, I eagerly awaited the release of the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s first memoir by the same title that chronicles her journey out of her Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and her efforts to join the broader secular society. I was curious to see in what ways the narrative of the miniseries would reflect the experiences of the 74 ex-Hasidic men and women I interviewed for my PhD dissertation and forthcoming book, Degrees of SeparationIdentity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Hasidic communities adhere strictly to Orthodox Jewish law, members tend to marry young and have large families, and generally shun non-Jewish culture and outsiders.

Degrees of Separation_smThe miniseries revolves around the attempt of Esty Shapiro—brilliantly portrayed by Shira Haas—to leave her socially and culturally isolated Williamsburg community and start a new life in Berlin, Germany. The miniseries is deeply compelling and captures many truths about the lives of the people I interviewed as well as many others who make the complex journey out of ultra-Orthodoxy.

The miniseries highlights Esty’s traumatic experiences inside her Hasidic marriage. Although Esty rejects the term “escaped” to describe her journey and protests that her community was not “a prison,” she did suffer a lot. As Esty reflects at one point about her life in Brooklyn to her new friends in Berlin, “God expected too much from me.” She is perplexed when informed just before her wedding of the basic mechanics of sex and the complex details of the “family purity” laws that require her to chart when she is menstruating and to abstain from sex during those times and for a week afterwards. Esty cries through the sheering off of all her lush hair the morning after her wedding and is terrified and alienated when she visits the ritual bath (mikvah) and immerses herself in order to make herself “pure” and available to have sex with her husband. She also suffers extreme physical pain when having sex with her husband and after months of trying, they are only able to engage fully in intercourse a single time. The physical pain is only heightened and given an added sting by her nosy and insensitive mother-in-law’s intrusions into her sex life aimed at securing her another grandchild. Ultimately, her mother-in-law encourages her son to divorce Esty because it is believed she will never be able to get pregnant.

I will focus on three themes of the exit process from religion that are significant in my own research and are all dramatized in Unorthodox: the dire warnings from community members to potential exiters; the maintenance of religious beliefs and practices by exiters even after they exit; and the hybrid technique of integrating aspects of an exiters’ past into their present and future.

While still in Williamsburg, Esty secretly took piano lessons for several years from a non-Jewish woman who rented an apartment from her grandfather. Before Esty leaves Brooklyn, the music teacher gives her student a small compass to help her find her way once she exits her community. Indeed, it is an extremely difficult task for exiters to create a new life for themselves once all the rules, norms, expectations that they grew up with are discarded. These communities tell those contemplating or suspected of contemplating leaving that it is impossible to do so, that all who leave are crazy and end up with ruined and dysfunctional lives. It is clearly a lie, but for those inside the community lacking information about the outside world and those who make it out, this can be a very compelling argument to stay.

One of the most powerful scenes occurs shortly after Esty clandestinely travels from Brooklyn to Berlin and finds herself on a beach, surrounded by scantily clad carefree swimmers splashing around and enjoying their time in the sun. Esty is still wearing her Hasidic garb, including her conservative long skirt, thick opaque brown tights, and wig (sheitel). We feel Esty’s internal struggle, her desire to be “normal” and join in the fun, while being simultaneously horrified that people could expose so much of their bodies to total strangers. She has internalized the teachings of her community that stipulate that the body, especially a woman’s body, must always be covered up in order to protect its sanctity and the purity of those around her. Esty wavers for a moment, but then gathers her courage. She takes off her opaque tights and walks into the lake fully clothed. As she enters the shallow waters, she pulls off her wig and releases it. It floats away. This emersion is a sort of reverse mikvah, a ritual cleansing of her former life and a symbolic rebirth into her new secular identity.

Esty’s internal struggle mirrors what many of my interviewees grapple with once they leave their community but still hold onto numerous religious practices and beliefs from their old community, such as an aversion to eating pork—which is strictly forbidden by Jewish law—and the persistence of belief in God, and conservative views of gender and race. These practices and beliefs can prove difficult, if not impossible, to jettison.

One of the best techniques that Hasidic exiters have found for integrating into the broader secular society is taking a hybrid approach to their life. That is, to find a way to incorporate elements of their past into their present and future. This approach is powerfully exemplified in the final scene of the miniseries when Esty auditions for entrance to a prestigious Berlin music institute. Esty first sings a short piece from Schubert entitled “An die Musik,” and does a competent job. Then she is asked to sing another song and chooses a Hasidic one with Hebrew words that was chanted at her wedding. She sways (shuckles) just as Hasidic Jews typically do when lost in a melody.  Her rendition is soul stirring. The viewer is mesmerized by Esty’s blending of classic European and Hasidic music. In that moment she has decided not to ghettoize her past but to allow it to blend into her present and future. In my book I call this “embracing a hybrid identity.” It’s not a brief transitional phase, but a long term strategy for pursuing a life that is deeply different from the life one was raised and trained in. Examples of hybridity include schuckling, like Esty in Unorthodox, while engaging in secular activities such as studying American law, or occasionally taking the time to study a passage of Talmud while pursuing a doctorate in French literature.

The main weakness of the miniseries is its inclusion of a spy-like theme that distracts from its beauty and authenticity. This theme begins in the opening scene of the miniseries with Esty surreptitiously collecting hidden items from around her bedroom—a wad of cash from inside a foam wig holder—in preparation of her departure. The covert ops continue with a scene where Esty is taken by an aunt to a kosher supermarket so that her prospective mother-in-law can furtively inspect her, like a piece of meat at a butcher shop, to see if she passes muster. This entire scene makes no sense. The mother-in-law doesn’t know her from around the small and close-knit neighborhood?  She can’t ask a friend? The espionage intensifies when the Rebbe, the spiritual leader of the Hasidic community, orders Esty’s sheepish husband Yanky, accompanied by his cousin Moshe, a thuggish character and former renegade himself, to travel to Berlin to track down and bring back Esty. Moshe even receives the obligatory box with a pistol when he checks into his Berlin hotel. Who does he get the gun from and what exactly is he supposed to do with it once he meets up with Esty?

This espionage subplot seems truly absurd. It makes Hasidic Jews and those who leave their community seem entirely foreign to the viewers who are finally coming to know this “exotic” community through shows like this one and to see them for the normal human beings they are, albeit living a wildly different lifestyle.

Sociologically speaking, exiting from strict religious communities is an example of the broader phenomenon of personal transformation and resocialization, similar to the processes people experience after a divorce and when immigrating to a new country. Leaving a religion is traumatic and complex, but not unrelated to other kinds of social experiences. It is helpful to think of religious exiters in relation to other forms of exiting. This helps humanize religious exiters and helps us realize that the process of resocialization is a more common one than we might otherwise imagine. People from all walks of life may need to engage in resocialization at some point or another.

Ironically, the actress who plays Esty, Shira Haas, starred in the international hit show on Netflix Shtisel, which was a huge success because it made the ultra-Orthodox appear normal, or more accurately, as troubled and complex as everyone else. They have distinct religious dress, beliefs, and rituals, but they too have romantic problems, marital disharmony, financial woes, struggles to find a career, and disappointments from their children.

Notwithstanding the distraction from the spy element, Unorthodox is a powerful series that celebrates the human capacity for personal transformation. It affirms that birth is not destiny, and gives voice to a group of survivors that are often marginalized in mainstream culture.

Schneur Zalman Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social Sciences, Human Services, and Criminal Justice at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. Visit him online at zalmannewfield.com.

Social Distancing with Shakespeare

This week in North Philly Notes, Jeffrey Wilson, author of Shakespeare and Trump, writes about why people are cycling experiences with coronavirus through Shakespeare.

First came the meme to wash hands for the duration of Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot” speech.

Soon society was shutting down. “I’m worried about Covid-19 causing theatres to go dark,” tweeted theater-maker @MediocreDave on March 9, 2020. “Not because I’ll lose income, but because we’ll inevitably be subjected to opportunistic Shakespeare scholars making smug but superficial analogies to the playhouse closures of the late Elizabethan plague years.” That’ll be the end of that, I thought.

The next day, Slate ran a piece from Ben Cohen, “The Infectious Pestilence Did Reign: How the Plague Ravaged William Shakespeare’s World and Inspired his Work, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth.” Two days later, Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith was historicizing appropriations of Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing scene for Penguin Books. Another two days, and The Atlantic ran Daniel Pollack-Pelzner’s “Shakespeare Wrote His Best Works During a Plague.”

The content of these essays—Shakespeare born in plague, shuttered theaters prompting his poetry, Romeo and Juliet derailed by quarantine, playwrights sustained by wealthy patrons, disease threatening rival acting troupes, great art created in isolation—is not as fascinating as the questions raised by their method. Why are people cycling experiences with coronavirus through Shakespeare? What do we gain from comparisons between social distancing in Shakespeare’s time and in ours? How might our experiences with social distancing help us better understand Shakespeare’s? How can these examples help us think about academic work in 2020?

On March 14, @rosannecash caused a collective groan by tweeting, “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.”

Twitter did its thing. “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” wrote @sydneeisanelf. “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he masturbated incessantly,” said @emilynussbaum.

With doors shuttered, some theaters offered plays and programming online, free to the public, including Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theater, the Public Theater, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Then came pop-up performances like Patrick Stewart’s #ASonnetADay and The Two Gentleman of Verona on Zoom. What is the value of art in times of social distancing? How is social distancing changing the way art is done? Based on the analogy to Shakespeare, what might the art that comes out of coronavirus look like?

Academics followed suit. On March 23, Andy Kesson, Callan Davies, and Emma Whipday launched A Bit Lit, featuring open-access, of-the-moment interviews with early-modern literary scholars. What is the role of humanistic thought and conversation in times of social distancing? What is the importance—if any—of studying Shakespeare when society is in such turmoil?

Social distancing with Shakespeare soon became A Thing. Kathryn Harkup in The Telegraph on March 15; Andrew Dickson in The Guardian on March 22; James Shapiro on CNN on March 30. The genre was common enough to call for satire. On April 1, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner wrote “What Shakespeare Actually Did During the Plague” for The New Yorker: “Day 25: Definitely too dark. Keep the mood light! No one wants to see a tragedy after a plague.”

Emma Smith tackled that tension with a straight face in the New York Times, arguing that “[Shakespeare’s] fictions reimagine the macro-narrative of epidemic as the micro-narrative of tragedy.” Is our experience with coronavirus tragic? What makes something tragic?

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Ian Wheeler cited Shakespeare to argue that, in America, “We need a better patronage system for artists.” In The New Yorker, James Shapiro lobbed Coriolanus-shaped bombs at the Trump administration: “The casual insults, the condescension, and the refusal to accept responsibility will be familiar to anyone who has lately tuned in to the daily White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.”

Shakespeare and Trump_smThese various ShakesTakes sift into terms developed in Shakespeare and Trump, my recent book about the surprising—and bizarre—relationship between the provincial English playwright and the billionaire President of the United States. There are the ShakesMemes. There are the Politicitations. And there is the Shaxtivism.

Above all, the Shakespearean gloss on social distancing shows the power—and pitfalls—of Public Shakespeare, where scholars eschew peer-reviewed academic writing in favor of public engagement.

I come not to bury Public Shakespeare, nor to praise it. I want to ask what it is, where it comes from, how it works, and why it elicits simultaneous enthusiasm and nausea. What is behind the push in some scholars to filter current events through Shakespeare? What is behind the tendency in others to get annoyed when they do?

Why are Shakespeareans suddenly authorities on everything—from presidential politics to social distancing? At a time when Donald Trump nonchalantly disclaims, “I’m not a doctor,” then proceeds to use his power and platform to promote hydroxychloroquine, why are Shakespeare scholars going widely outside their areas of expertise surrounding a 400-year-old English playwright to comment on current events?

Four points:

  1. As an early-modern playwright who often represented medieval and ancient history, Shakespeare built into his texts the practice of engaging the present with the distant past.
  2. As artworks that often have scholarly sources, yet are performed for a broad audience of mixed social backgrounds, Shakespeare’s plays have public engagement built into them.
  3. The long tradition of modern-dress Shakespearean performance and adaptation provides a model for scholars looking to bring ideas that are old and artistic into conversation with current events.
  4. At a time when the humanities are said to be in crisis, Public Shakespeare gives scholars a platform to illustrate the practicality and utility of our field.

There is tremendous energy right now behind public-facing ShakesWork with an ethical if not activist edge. There is also legitimate skepticism of that endeavor. As @ClearShakes wrote on April 12, “Guys, sometimes there just isn’t a Shakespeare play that’s relevant to our situation.”

But recognizing Public Shakespeare as more closely related to Shakespearean performance than Shakespearean scholarship helps us understand why, like any show that takes creative risks, some cheer and some hiss.

 

Announcing Temple University Press’ Spring 2020 Catalog

Happy New Year! And Happy New Catalog! This week in North Philly Notes, we announce the titles from our Spring 2020 catalog

 

Shakespeare and Trumpby Jeffrey R. Wilson

Revealing the modernity of Shakespeare’s politics, and the theatricality of Trump’s

Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politicsby Susan Herbst

A look at how civility and incivility are strategic weapons on the state of American democracy, now with a new Preface for 2020

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Centuryby Keneshia N. Grant

Examining the political impact of Black migration on politics in three northern cities from 1915 to 1965

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: American Life in Columnsby Michael A. Smerconish

Now in Paperback—the opinions—and evolution—of Michael Smerconish, the provocative radio/TV host and political pundit

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

Gender Differences in Public Opinion: Values and Political ConsequencesMary-Kate Lizotte

Explores the gender gap in public opinion through a values lens

Under the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery, Boundary Work, and the Pursuit of the Natural Fakeby Samantha Kwan and Jennifer Graves 

How the pursuit of a “naturally” beautiful body plays out in cosmetic surgery

Sport and Moral Conflict: A Conventionalist Theoryby William J. Morgan 

How we make our way morally and otherwise when we cannot see eye to eye on the point and purpose of sport

Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sportsby Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow

How fantasy sport participants experience gendered power

Biz Mackey, A Giant behind the Plate: The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcherby Rich Westcott

Now in Paperback—the first biography of arguably the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues

Allies and Obstacles: Disability Activism and Parents of Children with Disabilitiesby Allison C. Carey, Pamela Block, and Richard K. Scotch

Addresses the nature and history of activism by parents of people with disabilities, and its complex relationship to activism by disabled leaders

Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, by Schneur Zalman Newfield

How exiting ultra-Orthodox Judaism is not a single act of defiance, but an interactive process that extends for years after leaving

Psychobilly: Subcultural Survivalby Kimberly Kattari

How people improve their lives by participating in a rebellious music-based subculture

Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalism, by Mary Lou Nemanic

How daily metro newspapers can continue to survive in the age of digital journalism

Reinventing the Austin City Councilby Ann O’M. Bowman

Examining how Austin, Texas changed the way it elects its city council—and why it matters

Disruptive Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirutby Ghassan Moussawi

The first comprehensive study to employ the lens of queer lives in the Arab World to understand everyday life disruptions, conflicts, and violence

Transnational Nationalism and Collective Identity among the American Irishby Howard Lune

How collective action creates meaning and identity within culturally diverse and physically dispersed communities

Communists and Community: Activism in Detroit’s Labor Movement, 1941-1956, by Ryan S. Pettengill

Enhances our understanding of the central role Communists played in the advancement of social democracy throughout the mid-twentieth century

A Collective Pursuit: Teacher’s Unions and Education Reformby Lesley Lavery

Arguing that teachers’ unions are working in community to reinvigorate the collective pursuit of reforms beneficial to both educators and public education

The United States of India: Anticolonial Literature and Transnational Refractionby Manan Desai

Examines a network of intellectuals who attempted to reimagine and reshape the relationship between the U.S. and India

The Winterthur Garden Guide: Color for Every Seasonby Linda Eirhart

How to build a garden with the “Winterthur look”

Sequestrada: A New Film by a Temple University Press author Sabrina McCormick

This week in North Philly Notes, Sabrina McCormick, author of Mobilizing Science, promotes the Sequestrada, the film she co-wrote and co-directed with Soopum Sohn, about the devastation of the Brazilian Amazon. Based in part on her research about the anti-dam movement in Brazil—the subject of Mobilizing ScienceSequestrada stars Tim Blake Nelson and Gretchen Mol. The film opens November 15 at the Village East Cinema in New York, followed by a VOD Release on Tuesday, December 17.

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Synopsis:

Sequestrada follows Kamodjara and her father, Cristiano, members of the Arara, an Amazonian indigenous tribe. When they leave their reservation to protest a dam that will displace their people, Kamodjara is separated from her family and kidnapped by traffickers.

Roberto, an indigenous agency bureaucrat overseeing a report that could change everything, is under pressure to support the dam’s construction. Thomas, an American investor in the dam, makes his way to Brazil to sway Roberto’s opinion. The film tells the story of how these three lives intertwine against a backdrop of geopolitics and environmental disaster.

Sequestrada was shot on location in Brazil and is based on the real-life event of the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, which is displacing the Arara—who have lived along the Amazon River for countless generations. The film, which had its world premiere at the Beijing Film Festival last April, deftly incorporates the experiences of local non-professional actors to tell a gripping local story of global consequences.

Artist’s Statement:

Sabrina had been doing research in Brazil for fifteen years and had made her first documentary about people displaced by large dams. She had received funding to go to the Amazon where the world’s third largest dam was being built and contested by indigenous groups who were illegally affected. We mapped out a plot. Sabrina had worked with organizations contesting dams for a long time and we planned to meet with a few of them based near Belo Monte to find out more of what the past thirty years had been like, beginning with Sting protesting the dam and a Kayapo woman slashing a government official in 1984.

Then we left for Altamira, ourselves. The last plane to the Amazon was full of men. Sabrina and a flight attendant were the only women. The men were all workers going to the Belo Monte Dam. When it landed in Altamira and the doors opened, we felt the sauna of the Amazon.

Altamira is a small town where indigenous tribes visit to buy flip flops, t-shirts, and supermarket junk food. We approached a group that we learned were Arara. We spent about three days to see if they wanted to be on camera. Then the whole Arara tribe disappeared. They re-appeared with a huge bag of live turtles. They invited Sabrina to sit in the local indigenous housing and eat a turtle they had just cooked. Then they started to open up. We learned they have a system where a chief (cacique) decides everything, so we mainly tried to speak to him. He was a quiet, young man. Later, we found he had only been cacique for one year. There was another man with thick glasses, who had been watching us. We talked to him. It turned out that he had been the chief for many years before this young man.

When he decided we were not dangerous, he stopped being a quiet man. We created a character for him so he could speak about the Arara tribe and the Belo Monte dam. The last day of the shoot, he asked Soopum if he could try his hat. He wore Soopum’s hat and was silent for long time, smiling. He seemed proud and happy. But it was Soopum’s only hat and the Equator sun made Soopum’s black hair so hot, that he really needed the hat. Sabrina didn’t want to give up her hat, either. Soopum politely asked for the hat back. He and tribe members thanked us making this film. We hugged the Arara and parted ways.

Sabrina guided the storyline exploring how government corruption undergirded the illegal construction of massive infrastructure, damaging lives and releasing methane from the degradation of flora and fauna. Soopum added fictional plot lines with traditional film language under given location and situations. Together, they captured true moments with the actors when they were living normally. We wrote together based on footage and the tribe members writing with us such that each character’s life and the fictional plot became interwoven. We constructed scenes with them, explaining where we thought the storyline was going and recording their reactions, modifying the plot with their perspectives and lines from their personal experiences.

With that approach, we fused real and imagined worlds in multiple layers, the real effects the dam has on climate change and the lives of indigenous people who live nearby, along with a narrative of imagined characters who reflect the stories of how Belo Monte came to be what it is today.

About Sabrina McCormick’s book, Mobilizing Science

Moblizing Science sm compMobilizing Science theoretically and empirically explores the rise of a new kind of social movement—one that attempts to empower citizens through the use of expert scientific research. Sabrina McCormick advances theories of social movements, development, and science and technology studies by examining how these fields intersect in cases around the globe.

McCormick grounds her argument in two very different case studies: the anti-dam movement in Brazil and the environmental breast cancer prevention movement in the U.S. These, and many other cases, show that the scientization of society, where expert knowledge is inculcated in multiple institutions and lay people are marginalized, give rise to these new types of movements. While activists who consequently engage in science often instigate new methods that result in new findings and scientific tools, these movements still often fail due to superficial participatory institutions and tightly knit corporate/government relationships.

University Press Week Blog Tour: Arts and Culture

It’s University Press Week and the Blog Tour is back! This year’s theme is #TurnItUP. Today’s theme is Arts and Culture

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MIT University Press @mitpress
Is planning a Q&A with our longtime editor Roger Conover (who is retiring next year) and one of his authors Slavoj Žižek , a philosopher and cultural critic, about his career here at the Press.

Athabasca University Press  @au_press
Discusses Frankenstein’s influence on Canadian pop culture with a focus on music. Naturally, the author had to create a mix of all the songs mentioned in the book and so we will be discussing how university presses can quite literally #TurnItUp.

Rutgers University Press @RutgersUPress
Dedicates a post to our new book Junctures in Women’s Leadership: The Arts by Judith Brodsky and Ferris Olin

Yale University Press @yaleARTBooks
Based on the book Essential Modernism, edited by Dominic Bradbury, we’ll have a post by Dominic about how immigrants enrich a country’s art and architecture (discusses a number of artists and architects who arrived in the US at midcentury).

Duke University Press @DukePress
Features some recent collaborations with museums, sharing why these collaborations work for both of us.

University of Minnesota Press @UMinnPress
Adrienne Kennedy will be inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame on Nov. 12th. We’ll run an excerpt from The Adrienne Kennedy Reader.

University of Toronto Press @utpress
Social media specialist Tanya Rohrmoser discusses how social media can be an effective vehicle for communicating research in the arts and humanities

Considering gay economies of desire, intraracial romance, and sexual intimacy

This week in North Philly Notes, Cynthia Wu, author of Sticky Rice, writes about issues of race and sexuality, the subjects of her new book, a critical literary study.

Last month, Sinakhone Keodara, a Lao American actor, screenwriter, and entertainment executive, made headlines when he announced on Twitter his plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Grindr, a popular geosocial networking app for men interested in dating other men. The problem? The commonplace declarations that announce “no Asians,” which are allowed by moderators to remain on user profiles. Those who broadcast this restriction are mostly, but not exclusively, white.  Their ubiquity creates a hostile climate for Asian American men.

In a separate statement, Keodara clarified that white men should not “flatter [themselves]” to imagine that Asian American men need to convince them of their appeal. Rather, these outward expressions of racial loathing tap into a larger historical fetch of inequities leveled against people of Asian descent—from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the World War II Japanese American internment, and the Department of Homeland Security’s present-day profiling of Arab and South Asian Americans.

Keodara’s refusal to uphold white men’s primacy in the gay economy of desire resonates with the premises of Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire.  “Sticky rice” is a term coined by gay Asian American men to denote those amongst them who prefer intraracial romantic and sexual intimacies. As the logic goes, Asian American men who stick to themselves—like the types of rice grains favored by many Asian cuisines—disrupt presumptions about their aspirations to both whiteness and heteronormativity.

Sticky Rice_smMy book is not an ethnography of these men, however. It is a literary critical study that borrows from their language of intraracial bonding to revisit some of the most widely read selections in the canon of Asian American literature. In so doing, it revises an origin narrative about this body of work that has taken the heterosexuality of its seminal texts for granted.

John Okada’s 1957 novel, No-No Boy, presents a key example of how returning to old texts with new lenses produces a more nuanced story about the rise of an Asian American arts and culture movement. The novel, ignored upon its publication, was later championed by an all-male vanguard of separatist cultural producers in the early 1970s. These novelists, poets, and playwrights were known for their public condemnation of femininity and queerness. Okada’s work, they asserted, portrayed a shining model of politicized Asian American manhood in line with their stringent ideals.

No-No Boy, set in the period right after World War II, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two Japanese American men, a disabled veteran and a nondisabled draft resister. The former holds the approval of the United States for his patriotic sacrifice to the nation, while the latter is condemned for his refusal to join the Army from within the confines of an internment camp.

The novel is often read as a treatise on the impossibility of choosing between a violent and—ultimately—fatal assimilation and a resistance that could not be realized in the midst of the Cold War. What has been overlooked in the literary criticism on No-No Boy is the erotic and sexual attraction between the main characters. I argue that the bond between the two men dissipates the either-or dichotomy that divided Japanese Americans during and after the war. Moreover, it calls into question the favorability of proximity to whiteness and heterosexuality alike.

That men of color could afford or would want to turn away from these trappings of legitimacy is often unthinkable. The lawsuit Keodara is threatening against Grindr, after all, is a reaction to the social acceptability of rejecting Asian American men on racially discriminatory grounds. We all know that a common response to rejection is more impassioned efforts at inclusion.

However, rather than compensatorily clinging to mainstream standards, the male characters in Asian American literature’s seminal texts show that we need a wholesale rethinking of love, intimacy, justice, and community. Their bonds with one another and their relentless intent to stick together become the basis on which we can imagine a different order of values.

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