What happens when the protests end?

In this blog entry, Harold McDougall, author of Black Baltimore, looks at growing civic infrastructure from family and neighborhood connections to show the “powers that be” that little people matter

Recent events in Baltimore are a reminder of the need to build “civic infrastructure” in inner-city communities like Sandtown, the neighborhood in which Freddie Gray lived, a neighborhood I studied closely when writing Black Baltimore, more than twenty years ago.

Sandtown then was home to many community-based, self-help efforts that provided examples of what participatory democracy, on a small scale, should look like. News reports from Sandtown in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death show they are still there—Rev. A.C. Vaughn’s Sharon Baptist Church, the New Song Community school, the Sandtown-Winchester Improvement Association, ”helicopter” parents and grandparents, trying to guide their kids through the maze.

black baltimoreI celebrated the indigenous social capital of these small-scale efforts in the book, calling them “base communities” because they reminded me of the Christian study circles organized by liberation theologists in Latin America. Groups of no more than twenty, seminar-size, where people could connect, reason together, figure things out and take action.

Friends and colleagues challenged my idea, arguing that while intimate and powerful, these small groups were not scaled to solve the problems they could see. Employment? Education? Police misconduct? Environmental damage? How could a group of twenty people respond to such large-scale issues?

So I went back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to take base communities to a scale large enough so they could impact the issues people in neighborhoods like Sandtown face without sacrificing the intimacy and trust that made them so powerful, so important, so precious.

It was quite an undertaking, assisted by serendipity and caring people as much as by scholarship and hard study. It’s taken a long time.

The process started at a National Civic League annual meeting I attended, where former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley gave a speech comparing American society to a three-legged stool. There is a government leg, a business leg, and a community leg, he said. Bradley got the audience’s attention by declaring that the government and business legs are very long while the community leg is very short, making the stool—and the society—unstable.

How can community be lengthened, strengthened, so that it can balance business and government? Episodic flare-ups, through demonstrations, protests and other forms of mobilization, are not enough. Once grievances have been addressed, or the protesters silenced or co-opted, activity tends to subside. Civil society needs an ongoing civic infrastructure if it is to impact government beyond periodic elections, and business beyond individual consumer choice.

But how to build that infrastructure, how to knit those base communities together?

Then I met Don Anderson, a lawyer and social activist who was also an African-American descendant of Thomas Jefferson. He had come across some of his ancestor’s writing on “Citizen’s Assemblies.” The assemblies were to be sized to a Congressional district, and would select their Member through a series of caucuses. The Assembly’s most intriguing aspect, however, was its structure, and its potential to do a lot more than elect a Member of Congress.

The building block of Jefferson’s assembly was a neighborhood council of seven families, comprised of one representative from each family. Each council in turn selects its own representative, and these seven people meet as a “conference” representing seven councils (49 families). Finally, each conference sends a representative to an assembly representing all the conferences in the congressional district. The assembly conveys information—and instructions—from the constituent base to the member of Congress. (The model’s democracy was apparently a bit too direct for the Founding Fathers, and it never left the drawing board.)

This was what I was looking for.

Today, Sandtown numbers approximately 9,000 people. A Sandtown Citizen’s Assembly could aggregate families directly, and empower the people of the neighborhood. Such an Assembly could hold local government more closely accountable—schools, the police, elected officials—not from the distance of the voting booth but up close and personal. The Assembly could also perform some functions parallel to government, such as community mediation. (I called this the “politics of parallelism” in Black Baltimore)

The Sandtown Citizen’s Assembly could also check businesses and banks engaging in exploitative or high-handed practices. Past examples include the boycotts and selective buying campaigns of the civil rights movement, and labor’s boycotts and public shaming campaigns. Co-ops such as those Gar Alperovitz has described [http://democracycollaborative.org/] could round out the Assembly portfolio, creating “social” businesses, micro-enterprises, and other “off-the-grid” sources of income.

Protests emerging from the hassles people in neighborhoods like Sandtown face every day have erupted all across the country.  These protests are, at bottom, about a political and economic system that just doesn’t care about little people until, like Lilliputians, they get organized.

Reflecting on Vietnam

This week in North Philly Notes, as the world reflects on the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War ending, we reflect on some of our books on Vietnam.

This Is All I Choose to Tell: History and Hybridity in Vietnamese American Literature by Isabelle Thuy Pelaud

In the first book-length study of Vietnamese American literature, Isabelle Thuy Pelaud probes the complexities of Vietnamese American identity and politics. She provides an analytical introduction to the literature, showing how generational differences play out in genre and text. In addition, she asks, can the term Vietnamese American be disassociated from representations of the war without erasing its legacy?

Transnationalizing Viet Nam: Community, Culture, and Politics in the Diaspora by Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde

Vietnamese diasporic relations affect—and are directly affected by—events in Viet Nam. InTransnationalizing Viet Nam, Kieu-Linh Caroline Valverde explores these connections, providing a nuanced understanding of this globalized community. Valverde draws on 250 interviews and almost two decades of research to show the complex relationship between Vietnamese in the diaspora and those back at the homeland.

Inventing Vietnam: The War in Film and Television edited by Michael Anderegg

The Vietnam War has been depicted by every available medium, each presenting a message, an agenda, of what the filmmakers and producers choose to project about America’s involvement in Southeast Asia. This collection of essays, most of which are previously unpublished, analyzes the themes, modes, and stylistic strategies seen in a broad range of films and television programs.

Songs of the Caged, Songs of the Free: Music and the Vietnamese Refugee Experience by Adelaida Reyes

The Vietnamese refugee experience calls attention to issues commonly raised by migration: the redefinition of group relations, the reformulation of identity, and the reconstruction of social and musical life in resettlement. Fifteen years ago, Adelaida Reyes began doing fieldwork on the musical activities of Vietnamese refugees. She entered the emotion-driven world of forced migrants through expressive culture, learned to see the lives of refugee-resettlers through the music they made and enjoyed, and, in turn, gained a deeper understanding of their music through knowledge of their lives.

Ordinary Lives: Platoon 1005 and the Vietnam War by W.D. Ehrhart

In the summer of 1966, in the middle of the Vietnam War, eighty young volunteers arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island, South Carolina, from all over the Eastern United States. For the next eight weeks, as Platoon 1005, they endured one of the most intense basic training programs ever devised. Twenty-seven years after basic training, Ehrhart began what became a five-year search for the men of his platoon. Who were these men alongside whom he trained? What Ehrhart learned offers an extraordinary window into the complexities of the Vietnam Generation and the United States of America then and now.

The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight and New Beginnings  edited by Sucheng Chan, with contributions by students at the University of California

The conflict that Americans call the “Vietnam War” was only one of many incursions into Vietnam by foreign powers. However, it has had a profound effect on the Vietnamese people who left their homeland in the years following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Collected here are fifteen first-person narratives written by refugees who left Vietnam as children and later enrolled as students at the University of California, where they studied with the well-known scholar and teacher Sucheng Chan. She has provided a comprehensive introduction to their autobiographical accounts, which succinctly encompasses more than a thousand years of Vietnamese history. The volume concludes with a thorough bibliography and videography compiled by the editor.

Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism by Lan P. Duong

Treacherous Subjects is a provocative and thoughtful examination of Vietnamese films and literature viewed through a feminist lens. Lan Duong investigates the postwar cultural productions of writers and filmmakers, including Tony Bui, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Tran Anh Hung. Taking her cue from the double meaning of “collaborator,” Duong shows how history has shaped the loyalties and shifting alliances of the Vietnamese, many of whom are caught between opposing/constricting forces of nationalism, patriarchy, and communism.

America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, Second Edition  by George C. Herring

First published in 1979, America’s Longest War has been highly regarded both by scholars and general readers. Extensive and yet manageable, this assessment of our national tragedy provides an accurate and objective analysis of the hostilities at home and abroad. This second edition of America’s Longest War becomes more timely as we commemorate a decade since the end of the war and attempt to reflect dispassionately on its effects on our national character and policy.

Aging Out of Retirement Communities?

This week in North Philly Notes, Brittany Bramlett, author of Senior Power or Senior Peril, writes about how senior retirement communities in Florida—and around the country—are in peril in the light of changing economics.

The Villages is an expansive retirement community with age restrictions in place. Grandchildren can visit but not for extended periods of time. I visited The Villages in 2010 as part of the field research for my book, Senior Power or Senior Peril, I found a lively retirement community with golf carts galore. The thousands of homes in The Villages surround impeccably maintained Town Centers. Residents have the freedom and time to devote to the hundreds of social clubs available.

But, things are different for the neighboring community of Tavares, Florida. Here is an excerpt from my field notes from Tuesday, September 28th, 2010:

Bramlett_v2_042814.indd“As I leave the Villages, I leave the beautiful, developed neighborhoods of Sumter County.  On my drive to my hotel, the scene is different. Gone are the golf courses and perfectly maintained grassy areas. Instead, I pass by a lot of older homes, some prefab homes and trailers.  I see a number of Dollar Generals on my drive and a lot of car dealerships. There aren’t many, if any, restaurants or stores that look new.  I don’t see coffee shops or upscale shopping. This area appears to be a community of people struggling economically. And, developers have not been recently attracted outside of The Villages.”

There will probably always be retirement communities like The Villages, but these gated communities may be increasingly out of reach for the next generation of older Americans.

According to the Pew Research Center, “by 2022, the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] projects that 31.9% of those ages 65 to 74 will still be working. That compares with 20.4% of the same age bracket in the workforce in 2002 and 26.8% who were in the workforce in 2012.”

The rate of older adults in the workforce is rising. And, projections indicate that this trend will continue. The Pew Research Center notes the trend and suggests a number of reasons for the graying workforce. One explanation centers on economic hardship faced by senior citizens as a result of the Great Recession.

With trends like this, there will probably be less people moving to places like The Villages in Florida. These changes will certainly have implications for aged communities. First, more people will age in place, which means new aged communities (without amenities) developing all over the country. Second, places like Tavares might benefit from the increased presence of older adults living and working in their communities.

Places with concentrations of older adults will probably always vary in important ways, economically, politically, and culturally. In Senior Power or Senior Peril, I examine aged communities at length. Older residents in aged communities have greater political knowledge than older people living elsewhere and tend to support safety net policies to a greater degree. These places are fascinating for understanding group dynamics and homogeneous communities. Surely, they will continue to be places that draw our attention as their citizens and governments respond to demographic as well as economic and political forces.

Live Twitter Chat @TempleUnivPress on Gender and Political Campaigns

@TempleUnivPress will host its first live Twitter Chat on February 20 from 12noon – 1:00 pm EST.  This week in North Philly Notes, Kelly Dittmar, author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns, previews her upcoming Live Twitter Chat and the participants.

The topic under discussion is:  Will a woman run for president in 2016? If so, what role might gender play in her campaign or the campaigns of her opponents?

Dittmar_2.inddIn my book, Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns, I argue that campaigns are gendered institutions where political candidates – men and women – are expected to adapt to the gendered rules of the game. For male candidates, stereotypic expectations of gender (masculinity) and candidacy coincide, while women candidates are expected to meet often disparate voter expectations of both femininity and candidacy. As a result, men and women candidates navigate differently gendered terrain en route to Election Day.

Male and female candidates typically navigate this terrain under the guidance of campaign professionals – practitioners and consultants who make their livings by planning, running, and advising campaigns. In Navigating Gendered Terrain, I survey and interview these political practitioners to better understand the ways in which gender informs campaign strategy and decision-making, noting that their perceptions of voters’ gender expectations often inform the ways in which they run campaigns. Moreover, the strategic and tactical decisions they make matter beyond winning or losing; they also have the potential to replicate or disrupt gender norms in electoral politics.

On Friday, February 20th (12pm-1pm ET), I will be joined by the following experts in a Twitter chat about gender and political campaigns. Veteran political consultants Christine Matthews (Partner, Burning Glass Consulting) and Martha McKenna (Partner, McKenna Pihlaja), as well as Debbie Walsh (Director, Center for American Women and Politics) will lead a conversation about how gender informs campaign strategy, how voters perceive male and female candidates, how strategy informs voters’ gender expectations, and what this all means for women running for and winning elective office. Please join us in this Twitter chat, hosted by Temple University Press (@TempleUnivPress), by following the Twitter handles listed here and using the hashtag #genderpolitics.

The participants include:

  • Christine Matthews (@cmatthewspolls) is President of Bellwether Research and Partner at Burning Glass Consulting. She has been conducting public opinion research for over twenty years at her own firm and as a partner at other top Republican polling firms. She served as an advisor for both Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels’ campaigns, including his re-election against a Democratic woman candidate in which he won 56% of women. In 2014, Campaigns & Elections magazine named Christine as one of their top 50 influencers shaping campaigns and the future of the industry.
  • Martha McKenna (@mmckenn) is a partner in the Democratic political media-consulting firm McKenna Pihlaja. Recently named one of Campaigns & Elections magazine’s “Influencers to Watch in 2014,” she has been integral to Senate gains made by Democrats over the last 3 cycles. After a decade of work with EMILY’s List, Martha successfully engineered U.S. Senate campaigns for Democratic candidates as the political director at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. She then ran the DSCC’s Independent Expenditure operation in 2012 through her consulting firm. Martha is also the co-founder of Emerge Maryland, an organization for Democratic women seeking state and local office.
  • Debbie Walsh (@debbiewalsh58) is director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. She joined the CAWP staff in 1981. As director of the Center, she oversees CAWP’s research, education and public service programs. She is frequently called upon by the media for information and comment and speaks to a variety of audiences around the country on topics related to women’s political participation. First as director of CAWP’s Program for Women Public Officials and now as the Center’s director, Walsh has led the Center’s extensive work with women officeholders and organized more than a dozen national conferences for women officials.
  • Kelly Dittmar (@kdittmar) is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University–Camden and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. She is the author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns (Temple University Press, 2015), as well as multiple book chapters on gender and American politics. Her esearch focuses on gender and American political institutions with a particular focus on how gender informs campaigns and the impact of gender diversity among elites in policy and political decisions, priorities, and processes.  In addition to her academic work, Kelly works with CAWP’s programs for women’s public leadership and has been an expert source and commentator for media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, Huffington Post, and the Washington Post.

Honoring Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the International Olympic Committee’s Woman of the Year

This week in North Philly Notes, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, co-editor of Equal Playresponds to being named the 2014 Woman of the Year by the International Olympic Committee.

The International Olympic Committee presented the 2014 Women & Sports Trophy for the Americas to Nancy Hogshead-Makar during the general assembly in Monaco. Hogshead-Makar was recognized for her life-long advocacy for access and equality in athletics, and her legal expertise on women’s sports issues. Hogshead-Makar is a scholar, frequent speaker, and winner of three Gold Medals in swimming in the 1984 Olympics. She is the co-author of Equal Play; Title IX and Social Change, with Andrew Zimbalist.

Equal Play smallThe Trophy came with $37,000 in prize money for a project that will forward women’s sports issues. Hogshead-Makar will create an on-line training platform for Title IX education, specifically targeted towards coaches. Additional on-line training programs on legal issues involving women and sports are expected later in 2015, including sports administrators, families and law school students.

In 2014, Hogshead-Makar launched Champion Women to lead targeted efforts to aggressively advocate for equality, with expertise in topics include sport access and equal treatment, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and assault, employment and pregnancy and legal enforcement under Title IX and the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.

Hogshead-Makar has testified in Congress numerous times on the topic of gender equity in athletics, written numerous scholarly and lay articles, and has been a frequent guest on national news programs on the topic, including 60 Minutes, Fox News, CNN, ESPN, NPR, MSNBC and network morning news programming. She serves as an expert witness in Title IX cases, has written amicus briefs representing athletic organizations in precedent-setting litigation, and has organized numerous sign-on position statements for sports governing bodies. From 2003 – 2012 she was the Co-Chair of American Bar Association Committee on the Rights of Women. Sports Illustrated Magazine listed her as one of the most influential people in the history of Title IX.

Hogshead-Makar said,

“Winning this award from the International Olympic Committee is as meaningful and powerful as the day I touched the wall in 1984 to win a gold medal. The men and women of the IOC are using the Olympic platform to enhance gender equity globally – throughout society. The stand they’re taking is changing the world; women’s sports participation breaks down stereotypes that hold women back.

Of course there are hundreds of people I’ve worked with shoulder-to-shoulder that I’d like to thank, but in particular I’d like to thank Scott Blackmun, CEO of the USOC for nominating me, Duke Professor Jean O’Barr for inspiring me intellectually, Anita DeFrantz, IOC Executive Board Member for supporting me, and Donna de Varona, 1964 Olympic for sparking this pursuit in my heart back in 1984.”

Remembering the absences of history

This week in North Philly Notes, Roger Aden, author of Upon the Ruins of Liberty, writes about how absences in history can yield surprising tensions and stories.

I was reading a story the other day about a former college basketball coach who had in his possession an immensely valuable historical document: the text used by Martin Luther King, Jr. when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Mall in 1963. Stunningly, the most memorable portion of the speech did not appear in the text. Instead of concluding his remarks as planned, King both ad-libbed and drew upon previous orations as he shared his dream with the nation. The coach’s prized possession thus gains much of its symbolic power not just from its provenance, but also from the striking absence of language that still resonates in memory half a century later.

Our nation’s stories are full of absences. While we rightfully treasure historical artifacts in which powerful remnants of the past are embedded, we also tightly grasp the stories, memories, and events which remain meaningful to us even if we have few, if any, physical reminders of them. That’s what makes the stories of the President’s House site in Independence National Historical Park so compelling for me. Here, on the front porch of a new building dedicated to remembering and displaying one of our nation’s most treasured historical icons (the Liberty Bell), and less than a block away from a colonial-era structure in which the Declaration of Independence was approved, lies the site in which the revered George Washington dodged Pennsylvania law to ensure that the enslaved Africans toiling in the executive mansion in Philadelphia remained in bondage to him and his wife. We have little physical evidence about the lives of those enslaved Africans nor have we historically devoted many resources to telling the stories of any enslaved Africans in the national commemorative landscape, yet those stories have nonetheless lingered on the periphery of national memory. The excavation of these stories at the President’s House provided powerful reminders that the seemingly absent is always present and that our national embrace of liberty was imperfectly enacted—even in its birthplace.

Aden_2.inddIn Upon the Ruins of Liberty, I explore how this tension between absences and presences manifested itself throughout the development of the site. From the park’s initial reluctance to disrupt its relatively seamless stories of the triumph of liberty and the potency of American exceptionalism, to the dedicated efforts of historians, community activists, and dedicated political leaders to give a presence to the stories of liberty denied, even the initial controversy about how to handle Edward Lawler, Jr.’s discoveries about the site and all of its inhabitants sparked a great deal of soul-searching about the inclusion and exclusion of stories in the park, the commemorative landscape, and the nation’s history. Both the inertia of history and the passion of those whose stories have lingered on the edges of that history starkly emerged in the early stages of the controversy about what to do with Lawler’s revelations.

Nor did the inertia and passion dissipate during, and ever after, the completion of the first federal site dedicated to telling the stories of slavery. Every step in the project’s development—deciding what to do at the site, picking a design for a memorial installation, revising that design after the surprising results of an excavation revealed remnants of the original structure, and telling the stories within the design—featured discussions about how to make present, in the national historical park nicknamed “the cradle of liberty,” the absences of the past. I explore those tensions in Upon the Ruins of Liberty, while drawing upon the insights of those intimately involved with the project and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering which led to the site’s development as it stands today. And, because the stories of history are always open-ended, I illustrate how the completed site remains a place of controversy because of what it includes and excludes in its telling of history. The President’s House site and, I hope, the book which tells the story of its development prod us to remember that the absences of history are not forgotten, but nor are they easily integrated into narratives which possess the inertia of centuries of sharing. The story of the quest for liberty in America, as Dr. King reminded us, is a story we should continue to embrace, while we also work to make present and remember all such quests pursued by the people of the United States.

Temple University Press’ book lovers select the books they read or want to receive this year

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press’ book lovers pick the titles they read or want to receive this year.

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Early DecisionOf all the books I read this past year, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, by Lucy Crawford, was the one that stuck with me. The novel, written by a college admissions coach, describes such a coach working with five high-school seniors on their applications to top-tier schools. Their parents are overly involved, elitist, and pushy, and the kids struggle with achieving perfection in all areas IDed as key for admission to the college of their (or mom and dad’s) dreams. They’re caught up in balancing the need to stand out with not stepping too far outside the lines of expectation. As the mother of a high-school senior, this was a well-written cautionary tale. The book was poignant and, for me, depressing. It was the roadmap of a route I never intended to, and didn’t, travel.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager
AlltheLight

I just finished reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a really intriguing, moving story, about the converging lives of a blind French girl and German boy during World War II. It is written beautifully, with such compelling detail, I was mesmerized.

 

 

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

Mr. BoardwalkI hope to receive Mr. Boardwalk, by Louis Greenstein, the author’s debut novel about a boy’s infatuation with the wonders of summers on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1960s and 1970s and his subsequent nostalgia for Atlantic City in his adult life. Having spent many happy family vacations at the Jersey shore during the same era, I look forward to sharing in that nostalgia.

 

Micah Kleit, Interim Editor-in-Chief 
Eichmann in JerusalemBetween Bettina Stangneth’s new book on Eichmann and the recent revelations of Saskia Sassen’s “missing chapter” of her childhood in Argentina, Hannah Arendt has been in the news a lot this year, which lead me to re-read her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. I am amazed at how much of what she wrote, about the ironies of the trial and her description of totalitarianism (more contradictory than banal, as I read her), still remains essential today. Arendt was concerned, I think, with what it took to be moral and, perhaps more urgently, where morality could be found in world without absolutes, and her quest for both underpinned her reportorial and philosophical work, much of which was distilled through this excellent long essay. George Santayana famously said that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” As Arendt shows (as did Philip Gourevitch and others who write in her shadow), we always forget history and are always repeating it. The challenge we face isn’t so much the fight to preserve memory to prevent more genocides, but to recognize the human impulses behind them, and to identify humanity wherever it persists.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

ShipofGoldI’m late to the party on this one, but this year I finally got around to reading Gary Kinder’s 1998 book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It’s a gripping popular history about the 1857 sinking of the SS Central America, a steamboat laden with California gold bound for New York, and heroic efforts to recover the wreck more than 100 years later. The loss of the Central America is thought to have been a significant contributing factor in sparking the Panic of 1857. Highly recommended!

 

Karen Baker, Operations Manager
GameofThronesThe book I want to receive/read is The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. Yes, I am ‘one of those Game of Thrones fans, and I would like to read this book to get the history behind the story, worlds and characters in the show.

 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

CosbyI was reading Cosby: His Life and Times by Mark Whitaker, and enjoying recalling “Fat Albert” cartoons, the “Huxtable” family, and reading how America’s favorite dad grew up in Philadelphia, attended Temple University, and tried his hand playing jazz.  I rejoiced in his climb to the top of one of the hardest industries—television. As an African American, I took pride in his accomplishments. I cried as I read about his only son being killed senselessly.  Then, the news stories broke and I put the book down.  I just couldn’t read it while the horrific stories circled; the book briefly mentioning his escapades as “womanizing.”  Resolved that the news was never going to end, I finished the book hurriedly this weekend.  I have never been more happy to put a book back on the shelf.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager
TakeThisManPerhaps the best non-fiction book I read this year was Brando Skyhorse’s exceptional memoir,  Take this Man. Skyhorse, who wrote one of my favorite novels, The Madonnas of Echo Park, chronicles his childhood, living with his mother and grandmother in Echo Park, LA. He describes the series of men his mother married and dated during his youth, and his interactions with them. Skyhorse’s adolescence was complicated  by his mother lying to him about being Native American, when he was in fact, Mexican. When he learns the truth, Skyhorse searches for his biological father and constructs his own identity. Take this Man speaks volumes about family and fatherhood, identity and passing as well as how one copes with dysfunction. These are themes that fascinate me, and Skyhorse’s story is as astonishing as his writing.

I loved you moreThe best fiction book I read in 2014 was Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More, which explores the intense bond between two writers — the gay Ben Grunewald and the straight Hank Christian—over two decades. Each chapter reads like a magnificent short story, but they are even more powerful as a novel. Spanbauer masterfully controls his characters’ romantic and dramatic experiences, right up to the book’s sucker-punch ending.

 

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading from everyone at Temple University Press.

We promise more great books in 2015.

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