Slade House in Review(s)

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A new novel from David Mitchell, Slade House, was published in October 2015. Following up on a 2015 special issue  of the journal SubStance devoted to Mitchell’s extraordinary works of fiction, Paul Harris and Patrick O’Donnell previewed Slade House in a pre-publication discussion. Now that the novel has received its early critical response, Harris and O’Donnell review the reviews.


 

Paul Harris

Paul Harris

PAUL HARRIS: As we suspected, the reviews of David Mitchell’s Slade House seem quite cleanly divided between two types of responses. Either the novel is a “devilishly fun … fiendish delight” fit to devour in a single sitting like the twins sucking down another soul, or it is dismissed as “soul-sucking mumbo-jumbo” registering too high on the “wackometer” to enjoy, let alone take seriously.

The most positive reviews see it as an entertainment given substance by the “human warmth” of its characters or the philosophical questions it raises: John Boyne calls it “a highly effective, creepy and witty ghost story, designed to unsettle the reader and raise questions about what all of us might do in our quest for immortality.” The most negative assessments see Slade House as a letdown, or even a betrayal: for Scarlet Thomas, the novel moves Mitchell from exemplary author (“what would David Mitchell do?”) to one “writing [his] own fan fiction.” Thomas criticizes Mitchell for moral and political disingenuousness: the novel sounds “hefty themes” but transfers “meaning and purpose” from the real to the “supernatural” and ends up offering only a “Bill and Ted philosophy” that we should all “be excellent to one another.”

 

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Patrick, do you see a third alternative to these views, an excluded middle that gets us out of the muddle of either seeing Slade House as a lite fictional funhouse or a shrill failure without much value? In considering this question myself, one avenue that I’ve thought about is genre. Reflecting on the many reviews I read, I realize how critical the lens of genre is in the reader’s reception of Slade House. The novel has garnered ubiquitous comparisons to Henry James’s Turn of the Screw for giving the ghost story a new twist, while also being lauded for its Lovecraftian integration of horror and science fiction. Others, though, diagnose Slade House as over the top in its deployment of genre(s) and heavy-handed in explaining or laying bare the rules of its fictive world.  I found science fiction writer and critic Paul Kincaid’s review the most informed, persuasive take on this issue. Though the novel as a whole sounds the horror note, Kincaid points out that in each section Mitchell “sets up genre expectations and then upends them in a very deliberate and calculated way.” This pattern is what makes Mitchell so successful: Kincaid concludes that Slade House “works, as all of Mitchell’s novels have worked, because we start out reading one thing and end up reading something very different indeed.”

Mitchell both explodes the boundaries of genre (by refusing to stay within the confines of distinct classes of fiction) and implodes them (by miming a genre and then turning it inside out).

Kincaid’s review made me appreciate Mitchell’s constant upending of expectations, but it also made me wonder whether the game can reach a point of exhaustion. Mitchell’s fictional arcs can abruptly shift dimensions, it seems, because it is all fiction—it’s all made up, so you are free to make anything up and keep changing the rules; once this is the case, ultimately there is nothing that can be trusted and nothing that cannot be done.

Slade House seems to assert this view of narration or fiction most explicitly or literally. The twins have infinite fiction-creating power dressed up in Lacuna-Operandi-Orison stagesets, but they SO free to compose the scene and inhabit characters that there are no rules left. Behind the world being constructed is an omnipotent wizard who can wave a wand at any time, without any need to justify matters. The orison of the Fox and Hounds pub featuring Jonah commandeering Fred Pink in the novel’s penultimate section felt the most contrived; the sudden shift left me more ticked off than tickled. This reversal then sets up the final turning of the tables, at yet another level of abstraction, when Marinus’s powers prove even more infinite than the Grayers, and time enters the Lacuna. As readers, we should be able to see this coming because that final section is narrated by Norah, and each section has shown the destruction of unsuspecting narrators who think they are in one world with one set of rules but turn out not to know who or what they are up against.

Returning to one strand of our previous discussion, I am left wondering what Slade House tells us about the house of fiction. If the rules of conjuring have no rules, or all genres and conventions can be flouted at any time, then there is not enough suspense or tension left to warrant our entering into a state of suspended disbelief—put differently, with nothing to believe in, there is nothing not to believe in, and hence no disbelief either.

What are your thoughts about this very basic but also encompassing question of the rules for constructing houses of fiction?


 

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell

PATRICK O’DONNELL:  Like you, I am not terribly surprised by the bifurcated responses from the reviewers, though I think those that regard Slade House as a minor entertainment really miss the mark. Many of the responses that you cite proceed from a set of expectations regarding both David Mitchell (a major novelist in mid-career) and the fictional genres that he characteristically engages—or rather, the fictional sub-genres (as they are often viewed) of  fantasy, science fiction, horror.  The combination of “major novelist” and “sub-genre” poses a dilemma for reviewers who have a hard time putting together the notions of serious literature and popular genres, despite much important Anglo-American fiction since the 1960s closing the gap between “high” and “low” art.”

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I’ll simply note in this regard that one of Mitchell’s fictional mentors, Haruki Murakami, received a similar set of binary responses to 1Q84. Reviewers, in the main, weren’t particularly happy with that novel’s engagement with what they perceived as a chaotic mix of realism, mysticism, fantasy, and various shaggy dog pyrotechnics.

There seems to be an equal amount of difficulty with the expectation that each succeeding novel by an acknowledged, important novelist and prolific writer must somehow “top” everything that has come before, or offer some kind of visible, steady advance (“the best David Mitchell novel yet!”) in an ever-rising career trajectory.

I’m quite sure there is a large excluded middle between viewing Slade House as either a delightful (but minor) entertainment or a “fan fiction.” There are many ways seeing the novel that do not rely so much on the expectations I’ve mentioned.

I’m in complete agreement with you that examining what Mitchell is doLost in the Funhouseing with genre in Slade House, and throughout his fiction, offers one way of getting at what is at stake in this newest work. Some of the reviewers seem to suggest that nothing important is at stake, particularly those who are disappointed that Mitchell seems to be trading off his investment in the “big themes” of human greed, exploitation, colonialism, mortality, historical inevitability, or historical change, etc., for sheer fun, fantasy, and entertainment (or lack thereof).  And, I think you are quite right in suggesting that the novel is constantly turning the tables on itself and on the expectations of its readers by positing that its own fictional rules are constantly changing and subverting their own tenancy. I’m reminded of the line in John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse: “for whom is the funhouse fun?”

For you, it seems that the suspension of belief in the rules that undergird the suspension of disbelief results in a kind of mise en abyme of infinite play and a loss of semiotic power that, for those unhappy with certain putative versions of postmodernism, signals a dead end of sorts.

I’d like to pose another possible way of seeing all of this.  The novel—quite seriously, I think, for all of its esoteric claptrap, as well as its fractality and generic hybridity—poses the questions of who is making the rules, and what are the hidden or manifest agendas of their making?

How do those in power (the rule-makers) stay in power, and what do power-mongering and rule-making—which in Mitchell’s fiction has everything to do with the enforcement and construction of a supposedly orderly and stable “reality” that enables those in power to remain empowered—have to do with our sense of what constitutes human identity?

Michel Foucault has performed for us the crucial work of explaining how power operates in relation to knowledge: he poses and answers a series of complicated epistemological questions. But he doesn’t get at what power has to do with us ontologically, and I think that is what Mitchell is trying to get at in his work, including Slade House, with its soulsucking semi-immortals and its rebirthed “saviors” like Marinus, who operates not as a deus ex machina but as a last-ditch interventionist embodying the unforeseen good luck of those who will not be destroyed by the Grayers in the future (though that’s not to say something else won’t come along to take their place). The novel might then be seen as extending the fantasy of empowerment, perhaps to its absurdist limit, enabling us to ask some key questions: what happens if everyone is in on the lie of this fantasy that disguises the real fragility and vulnerability of the empowered? What happens if we see that power, with all of its seductions, is the opposite of what constitutes (or should constitute) life and being? What if the construction of reality is put into the hands of the multitude and not the hands of the one per cent?

Let me put the ball back in your court, Paul: How do you see Slade House in relation to Mitchell’s previous fiction: as an advance, an extension, a repetition, a refutation—or, if none of those, how can we regard it?  Is there any way to tell where Mitchell goes from here?


 

PAUL HARRIS: Pat, you just hit the refresh button on Slade House for me: I look forward to rereading it to watch how empowerment is linked to world-making and see how it plays in these terms. You’re right to remind Mitchell readers that, just as he collapses serious and popular genres, he also sounds heavy themes in seemingly light stories.

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As for how Slade House relates to Mitchell’s previous work, in form and structure it most clearly resembles Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas, and Bone Clocks. All these texts are divided into discrete sections with different narrators set in different decades/centuries. The obvious difference is that Slade House takes place at one setting, while the episodes in the other novels span the globe. Just as the spatial setting doesn’t change, Slade House also generates a more static image or concept of time than those other novels. Even though its episodes move forward nine years each time, each plays out the same scenario, so there is not the same kind of plot advancement as in the other texts.

The game afoot is to defy mortality: the Grayers persist in a Lacuna where time doesn’t pass, and they consume engifted souls to keep themselves from aging.  The narrative time thus progresses in a recursive loop; each nine years a new narrator enters a new Orison, but the modus operandi remains the same. The novel’s temporality reminds me a bit of a video game, where a new player enters and tries to beat the villains. It is reminiscent of the film Run Lola Run (explicitly framed as a video game sequence, run three times through), except that not all characters remain the same through the iterations of the game-time. As in that film, here there is Run Lolalearning, or shared information, that accumulates in the game’s iterations: knowledge and weapons are passed forward. For the reader, each section makes us increasingly familiar with the plot routine (enter the house, consume Banjanx, go upstairs, soul is consumed). So, as we make our way through it, the novel seems to become more and more suspended in the ghostly time of its fictional house. Of course, like all Mitchell novels, it ends with a new beginning. Instead of Norah’s death closing the deal, she transverses into a fetus and vows revenge on Marinus—and surely we can anticipate seeing this confrontation in a future novel.

This brings me to the other question you posed: what direction Mitchell might take from here. Mitchell is particularly fun to play this game with, because he keeps defying expectations and exploring new territories. In imagining Mitchell’s career trajectory, I don’t think about his work as a single arc or linear process. I’ve written before that it seems more fitting to imagine his texts as iterations in a fractal imagination. The recurring characters, themes, and genres prompt me to picture his “übernovel” as a sort of strange attractor; each text marks a recursive movement—both returning to familiar sites and opening new terrains—that simultaneously fleshes out and fills in more and more of his fictional universe. With each textual iteration, the overall shape and contours of his übernovel become increasingly clear and its constituent parts more densely interwoven.

If we conceptualize Mitchell’s work this way, then speculating where Mitchell’s work will go next would entail running the strange attractor simulation through its next iteration. Stanislaw Lem actually thought about authors’ work in this way in his brDostoevskyilliant “History of Bitic Literature” thought-experimental essay published in 1973. (Lem is a “Prescient” if ever there was one!) Lem imagines computing machines capable of “bitic mimesis,” machine-written imitation of writers. He describes a novel by Pseudodostoevsky, created by a computer processing all existing Dostoevsky novels as information in “the space of meanings” and modeling his corpus as “a curved mass, recalling in its structure an open torus, that is, a ‘broken ring’ (with a gap). Thus it was a relatively simple task (for machines, of course, not for people!) to close that gap, inserting the missing link” (58).

At first sight, it seems much harder to model Mitchell’s writing in that way than Dostoevsky’s; the latter seems to have an internal stylistic and generic consistency that Mitchell purposely eschews. But with each successive novel, his corpus seems to gain coherence and consistency, assuming some sort of discernible shape. If I tried to model Mitchell’s work, I wouldn’t start from “the space of meanings” in the words, but rather I would list a set of recurring elements—island or city settings, cats, types of characters (angry writer, gifted rebellious teen)—and a template for form, such as every ending a beginning, stand-alone episodic stories serving a larger plot, etc.

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Putting aside this digressive line of speculative unreasoning, one could make a more educated guess at predicting the shape of Mitchell’s future work by following the clues he himself has laid down. In her excellent piece about The Bone Clocks, Kathryn Schulz reports that Mitchell mapped out his next several several texts: “These include further adventures with soul-eating villains, a trio of linked novellas set in New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a return to historical fiction (different hemisphere this time), and a fictionalized biography of an 18th-century person you’ve probably heard of. The final installment of the Marinus trilogy will follow all that. Mitchell is also toying with an idea for what will by then be his 12th novel. It is set 250 million years in the future.”  It will be interesting to see if Mitchell adheres to this plan or if he cannot stop his restless imagination from going in other directions. Regardless of what Orisons Mitchell sends from his Operandi though, I confess that I’ll always eagerly eat the Banjanx he serves up, as long as my psychovoltage holds out.

I have suggested that Mitchell might serve readers well by publishing serially rather than in novels. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ‘subscribe’ to him, and receive his novels in installments, rather than waiting for the whole work to be done and consuming it all at once?  This would make reading Mitchell much more fun; not only would we endure shorter breaks between new Mitchell texts, but we would also stay in suspense much longer when one section ends, and have time to wonder what is coming next. This would also prevent book reviews from spoiling the surprise of reading his novels, the problem we attempted to mitigate in our first exchange.

I find reading his books now comparable to binge-watching seasons of a TV series. Just playing with this scenario, if the storylines of several novels are already set, one could even imagine a point where Mitchell could hire ‘writers’ to execute textual episodes in the ongoing übernovel saga. This turnabout on himself would even be fair play in some way.  Mitchell has been a kind of authorial noncorporum who infiltrates the minds of narrators, styles of authors, and conventions of genres, and speaks through them. He does more than allude to other writers; it is like he dons their modus operandi and produces a new version of them: number9dream is like Murakami as done by Mitchell; Cloud Atlas is like Mitchell does Defoe, Melville, Nabokov, Hoban, etc.  So why not see if talented writers could ‘do’ Mitchell?

David Mitchell book tour

David Mitchell

Of course, I don’t imagine or expect that Mitchell would ever outsource his stories to other writers. But I do think that he and his editor/publisher/agent might consider alternative delivery systems beyond print novels. He has already migrated into twitter; why not break new ground in publishing fiction?  I actually suggested this to Mitchell a year ago; he simply responded in conventional terms, saying that he would continue to follow the existing process. This occurred at a book tour stop for Bone Clocks, so maybe it wasn’t the right context for him to consider other options.

So, I’ll bounce it back to you—where do you see Mitchell going from here, and what do you think of his moving to some sort of serial publication, adapted to the contemporary historical context?


 

PATRICK O’DONNELL:  Thanks, Paul, for this lively speculation on where Mitchell might go from here. I completely agree that his fictions, as they unfold across the time of their writing, are “iterations in a fractal imagination”—that’s a terrific way of viewing his work incrementally. Doing so, as you suggest, leads to many interesting possibilities for reading him in the future (as well as considering what his writing in/of the future might look like).

There are “personalities” like Marinus to consider, who appears to be an amalgamation of tendencies or projections, a wavering needle on the scale that runs from protagonist to antagonist.  Then there are all the atomistic shapes and designs of Mitchell’s work, taken fractally as a non-totalizable totality—rooms, islands, fortresses, cities, avenues, pathways, landscapes, artifacts, assemblages of all kinds. One finds all of these and more in any novelist of Mitchell’s encyclopedic demeanor, but in observing these iterations across—now—seven novels, we definitely get the sense that each of these shapes and designs bear striking similarities but are radically different from novel to novel.

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One of the pleasures taken by many of Mitchell’s fans is playing “Where’s Waldo?” with his novels as they appear, focusing on the transmigratory characters of the novels. It’s rather like spotting the various manifestations of Tom Hanks in the film adaptation of Cloud Atlas (which, by the way, despite some dismal reviews, provides to my mind a compelling and precise visual rendering of Mitchell’s sense that civilizations across time are made up of transmutable identities, forms, and objects in continuous collision with each other). But to play “Where’s Waldo?” with the novels largely misses the point, because doing so overdetermines character as the primary element of his fiction.

I know there are some who read the repeated/rebirthed characters of Mitchell’s novels as generating some concept of transcendent human identity, or as a comment about the survival of “the human” over the reaches of time and amidst the collapse of civilizations and cultures, but I don’t quite see it that way. The repeated identities of his novels, to me, are simply one set of elements among many that circulate molecularly through his fiction: his game is terrain, not identity, and thus he is always moving—at times sequentially, at times randomly—between generated worlds always in the process of formation. This is another reason why I think the Wachowskis/Twyker adaptation of Cloud Atlas was so successful while being true to its materiality as a visual experience:  while probably difficult to understand “thematically,” especially for those not familiar with the novel and thus challenged to follow the intertwined plots of the film, visually, it captured perfectly Mitchell’s sense that history “happens” in a fragmented, non-linear fashion, that cultures and identities evolve fractally, and that the “whole” of reality is an illusion for which we generate partial narrative patterns and signifying chains as compensations.

David Mitchel ghost

David Mitchell

Given all of that, I agree entirely that the future “Mitchell” may well try out different forms and kinds of writing made available as the digital age progresses. As we know, writing and thinking are being radically transformed by the advent of social media, and there are several contemporary writers beginning to experiment with those forms in interesting ways.

The origins of Slade House in Twitter certainly indicates that Mitchell may well be moving into this territory. It will be interesting to see what happens along these lines given that, predictably, he will continue to be strongly tied to the notion of the book and the narrative traditions that have emerged in the post-Gutenberg book culture. (For many, “the book” is done, though not, I think, for David Mitchell.)  As you suggest, Mitchell may well move into a form of serial publication that somehow replicates both the novel’s traditional seriality (think of the apocryphal crowds waiting on the Brooklyn docks for the arrival of the latest number of The Old Curiosity Shop in the nineteenth century, and yielding up a universal moan when readers collectively came upon the death of Little Nell) and the new serialities of the digital age: semirandom, occasional, serendipitous, wherever Google takes us.

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But I think as well that Mitchell may in the future be exploring both other media and new ways of viewing how human cognition and behavior work, made available by the fast-moving advances in neuroscience and genetics currently taking place. The two indicators of this for me are his recent collaborative work with his wife, KA Yoshida, on the English translation of Naoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump, and the “3-D film-opera,” The Sunken Garden, with Michel van der Aa. I think it’s quite possible that Mitchell will be engaging in future collaborative projects that mix media (as he does genres in his novels) or that involve collaborative writing projects of some kind.

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David Mitchell and Michael van der Aa

And—given Mitchell’s fascination with childhood and adolescence (revealed most fully in blackswangreen but visible throughout his fiction), combined with the cognitive and learning processes of children that he directly engages with personally and in the act of co-translating the memoir of an autistic teenager—I would not be at all surprised to see Mitchell writing young adult fiction, or, in another dimension, exploring the ways in which narrative operates cognitively for different minds. In this, as in all of his work, I believe his focus will be not upon the universal, but upon the differences, the fractures in the surface and the gradations in the terrain, however we stumble upon them.


 

PAUL HARRIS: Patrick, this has been a great pleasure.  Thank you for contributing your perspectives on David Mitchell to SubStanceI look forward to reading more of your work and perhaps resuming this conversation when “Season 8” of Mitchell’s übernovel comes out.


 

Paul Harris

Paul Harris

Paul A. Harris is a co-editor of SubStance and a professor of English at Loyola Marymount University. He served as president of the International Society for the Study of Time from 2004-2013 and edited the recent SubStance issue David Mitchell in the Labyrinth of Time.  His current project is The Petriverse of Pierre Jardin.

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell is a professor of twentieth- and twenty-first-century British and American literature at Michigan State University; he is the author and editor of over a dozen books on modern and contemporary fiction, most recently, The American Novel Now:  Reading American Fiction Since 1980 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), and A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell (Bloomsbury, 2015).  He is currently working on a book about Henry James and contemporary cinema.

 

A Mysterious Life and Calling

Preacher, teacher, and postmistress, Charlotte Levy Riley was born into slavery but became a popular evangelist after emancipation

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A MYSTERIOUS LIFE AND CALLING
From Slavery to Ministry in South Carolina  

Reverend Mrs. Charlotte S. Riley
Edited with an introduction by Crystal J. Lucky; Foreword by Joycelyn K. Moody

University of Wisconsin Press   January 2016

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    Professor Crystal J. Lucky

Crystal Lucky lived up to her name when she found a forgotten autobiography of a former slave in the library archives at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Lucky, an associate professor of English and the director of the Africana Studies Program at Villanova University in Philadelphia, is also an ordained elder, church official, and pastor’s wife. So, she was thrilled and astonished to discover the unknown memoir of an African American woman who was a licensed minister and popular preacher in the Carolinas after emancipation from slavery.

Reverend Mrs. Charlotte Levy Riley had called her book, “A Mysterious Life and Calling.” As Lucky began to read it, she knew that she had found something—and someone—extraordinary. Lucky has now published Riley’s memoir with the University of Wisconsin Press, providing an introduction and notes on events, society, and religious practice in the periods before, during, and after the Civil War and Reconstruction, and placing Riley’s story in the context of other spiritual autobiographies and slave narratives.

“[Crystal] Lucky has truly uncovered a gem with this autobiography of Charlotte S. Riley, a former slave who became a reverend in the African Methodist Episcopal church after emancipation. . . . An important, informative achievement.”—Publishers Weekly

Born into slavery in 1839 in Charleston, South Carolina, young Charlotte Levy was taught to read, write, and sew despite laws forbidding black literacy. Raised a Presbyterian, she wrote of her conversion at age fourteen to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, embracing its ecstatic worship and led by her own spiritual visions.

Riley’s memoir is a revelation on many counts, including life in urban Charleston before and after emancipation, her work as a preacher at multiracial revivals, the rise of African American civil servants in the Reconstruction era, and her education and development as the only woman preacher in South Carolina. She was a licensed female minister in a patriarchal church, a feat rarely achieved at that time by women anywhere in the country, whether black or white. She also became a teacher of newly emancipated black people and their children, and postmistress of Lincolnville, an all-black incorporated town outside of Charleston where she owned a home and spent most of her adult life.

An astounding find! Riley’s autobiography shifts and revises what we thought we knew about black autobiography, antebellum autobiography, memoirs of spiritual awakening, narratives of slavery, and the history of South Carolina.” —Joycelyn Moody, University of Texas at San Antonio

Riley published her memoir privately in the early twentieth century, but as of yet Lucky has not discovered the year of its publication. “What is clear,” Lucky says, “is that the events span the nineteenth century and the earliest years of the twentieth. Charlotte was born to enslaved parents, John and Sarah Levy, in Charleston on August 26, 1839.”

“As an enslaved girl in one of the busiest cities in the antebellum South, young Charlotte was spared some of the physical hardships of chattel slavery. She even received a modest education at a school run by a local widow, where she learned to read, write, sew, and do basic math. Her mother died when she was very young, so an uncle and a grandmother helped to raise her. Eventually, she began to live with and serve her grandmother’s white mistress, which closely aligned her with affluent, white Charlestonians. At the close of the Civil War, Charlotte married a free black architect, was shortly thereafter abandoned by her husband, began to worship and work with the A.M.E. Church, taught in a church-sponsored school, and received her local preacher’s license in 1871, just one year after African American men obtained the right to vote. She really is quite remarkable.”—Crystal Lucky

As the Reverend Charlotte S. Riley, the newly freed woman worked tirelessly to position African American men, women, and children to benefit economically, educationally, and spiritually from the vast changes that were happening throughout the United States as a result of Emancipation. She taught basic literacy skills and Bible classes to children and adults and traveled hundreds of miles to preach, despite debilitating health problems. In her travels, she also began to assist African American communities and mentor leaders in resisting the backlash of racial violence and the rise of Jim Crow laws. She took a role in organizing sharecroppers, assisting the newly formed Colored National Labor Union, and aiding the Honorable Robert Brown Elliott, the first African American commanding general of the South Carolina National Guard.

Although a memoir like Riley’s is quite rare, Lucky points out, “The power of narrative was important for women, whose physical presence was consistently scrutinized. Riley was aware of her tenuous public position; she repeatedly refers to herself in her autobiography as a ‘woman preacher’ rather than as a preacher or minister.” For some, her existence posed problems. “She faced skepticism from whites and blacks about whether a ‘real woman’ could be a preacher and, in turn, whether a preacher could really be a woman.”

A few accounts by nineteenth-century black preaching women in the northern states are known, but this is the first discovery of such a memoir written in the American South. Herman Beaver, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, notes, “This edition will be in people’s hands for a very long time. A Mysterious Life and Calling is a valuable primary source that can be referenced and studied in so many literary and cultural contexts.”

A Mysterious Life and Calling: From Slavery to Ministry in South Carolina by the Reverend Charlotte S. Riley will be published in January 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press and can be ordered from local and online booksellers, or requested from libraries. Publicity contact: publicity@uwpress.wisc.edu

University of Wisconsin Press launches three African Studies journals

At last week’s annual convention of the African Studies Association in San Diego, the University of Wisconsin Press announced that it is the new publisher of three journals in the field: African Economic History, Ghana Studies, and Mande Studies. The journals had previously been published by the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in affiliation with the Ghana Studies Association and Mande Studies Association.

“The University of Wisconsin Press has been an active and award-winning book publisher in African studies for more than fifty years, often partnering with the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s prestigious African Studies Program on book series and conference exhibits,” noted press director Dennis Lloyd. “Publishing these journals is a natural extension of that collaboration and of our commitment to the field of African Studies.”

The African Studies Program at UW–Madison will continue to be involved as a collaborator and liaison. Neil Kodesh, ASP director, said the transition to UWP “will result in much higher quality production and customer service, while maintaining affordability at a nonprofit university press. And the new designs look great!”

“It was exciting to reintroduce these journals at the ASA conference,” said Toni Gunnison, Journals Manager at UWP. “It is our priority to make the journal content more dynamic and available online. We will be able to improve each journal’s international visibility through online services, marketing, customer service and fulfillment, and advertising. UWP publishes fifteen journals covering in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields, so we have the staff and expertise to enhance these journals in a cost-efficient way.”

FergusonUWP’s production manager for journals, John Ferguson, has given each journal a fresh new cover and interior text design.

“In approaching the redesign of these journals, I asked the faculty and staff at the UW–Madison African Studies program for ideas. We really wanted covers that represent the research content of the journals. Catherine Reiland, interim associate director at ASP, connected me with Mary Hark in UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology. The patterns that appear on the journals are photographic representations of indigo-dyed handmade papers that Mary created with botanical fiber collected in Kumasi, Ghana.”

African Economic History was founded in 1974 by the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin and subsequently has also been affiliated York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas. The annual journal publishes multidisciplinary work in English and French on the economic history of African societies from precolonial times to the present. The journal is edited by Mariana Candido (University of Kansas), Jennifer Lofkrantz (State University of New York–Geneseo), and Paul E. Lovejoy (York University).

Ghana Studies is the journal of the Ghana Studies Association, an international affiliate of the African Studies Association. Published annually, Ghana Studies provides a forum for peer-reviewed, cutting-edge research about Ghana’s society, culture, environment and history. In addition, it features occasional material, source reports, book reviews, and notices of fellowships and prizes awarded by the Ghana Studies Association. Since its first issue in 1998, Ghana Studies has published significant work by leading scholars based in Ghana, the US, Canada, and Europe. The journal is edited by Akousua Adomako Ampofo (University of Ghana) and Sean Hanretta (Northwestern University).

Mande Studies was founded in 1999 by MANSA, the Mande Studies Association. It is an international, interdisciplinary annual journal publishing scholarly essays in English and French on the history, arts, anthropology, sociology, development, and contemporary issues relating to the diverse peoples and cultures of the Mande diaspora of West Africa. The Mande world includes parts of the Cape Verde Islands, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana. The journal is edited by Peter Mark (Wesleyan University) and Ismaela Samba Traoré (Institut des sciences humaines, Mali).

For more information, contact:
Sheila Leary, Communications Director, The University of Wisconsin Press
publicity@uwpress.wisc.edu   608-263-0734   uwpress.wisc.edu

 

 

Surprising? Mysterious!

Today kicks off the fourth annual University Press Week organized by the American Association of University Presses. The University of Wisconsin Press and more than fUPW-Logo-2015orty other presses are participating in the AAUP’s annual blog tour during the week. This tour highlights the value of university presses and the contributions they make to scholarship and our society. This year’s theme is Surprising! so the blogs will highlight some of the surprising things university presses publish. Check the tour every day for new posts!


 

Mystery fiction from the University of Wisconsin Press is both a hit and a fit

DeVita Collage

James DeVita

James DeVita is Wisconsin’s preeminent stage actor, acclaimed this year by the Wall Street Journal as “the best classical actor in the United States today.” But DeVita jokes that he’s really a writer with an acting habit. A successful playwright and author of much-praised YA novels, DeVita published his first novel for adults this year, a gritty crime thriller set in Chicago and Wisconsin. The twist? A WINSOME MURDER stars a hard-bitten detective who finds insights in Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays.

“An engaging mystery that’s a feast of literary allusions. . . . [Detective James] Mangan’s ‘verbal quirks,’ snatches of prose or poetry that pop into his head and help him solve cases, make him an unusually distinctive sleuth.” —Publishers Weekly

This combination of regional settings and brainy themes epitomizes the successful range of mystery fiction that UWP has been publishing in recent years. DeVita hopes to spin his debut mystery into a series (in between acting stints at the Milwaukee Rep, American Players Theatre, and touring performances). Several other UWP authors are already on a roll with their own mystery series.

Combo Draine-Hinden

Michael Hinden and Betsy Draine

Summers spent in the Dordogne region of France inspired Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, professors emeriti of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to start their Nora Barnes and Toby Sandler Series. Like their sleuths, Draine and Hinden are a married couple who enjoy travel, art, and fine food and wine. After writing two nonfiction books about Dordogne, they collaborated on MURDER IN LASCAUX, sending their detective duo into the famous cave filled with Cro-Magnon paintings as well as into French castles, chateaus, and restaurants.

“A whodunit that nicely balances a breezily light travelogue with urgency and suspense. Readers will hope this is the first of a series,” wrote Publishers Weekly.

Readers’ hopes were answered with a second book in the series, THE BODY IN BODEGA BAY, in which art historian Nora and antiques dealer Toby are at home in California, sorting out a criminal tangle of Russian art and Alfred Hitchcock memorabilia. And in Spring 2016, Nora and Toby will be back in the south of France with DEATH ON A STARRY NIGHT. French art, fine wine, romance, and murder mingle as academics squabble over how Vincent Van Gogh died.

Wisconsin’s most popular vacation destination is the setting for Patricia Skalka’s Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries. Door County is the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” a scenic peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. Skalka, a former writer for Reader’s Digest and a native of Chicago, has mapped out plots for seven Dave Cubiak mysteries, inspired by time spent at her Door cottage over the years. Skalka_Death Stalks and Gills Rock

In DEATH STALKS DOOR COUNTY, Skalka introduced Dave Cubiak, a morose homicide detective hoping to find solace in a new job as a park ranger. But there is no peace for Cubiak, as six deaths mar the holiday mood of summer vacationers. She followed up quickly with DEATH AT GILLS ROCK, in which newly elected Sheriff Cubiak follows an old trail of lies and betrayal.

“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.”—Library Journal, *starred review

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ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY LIE is the eighth installment in Lev Raphael’s series featuring English professor (and part-time sleuth) Nick Hoffman, set in a Michigan college town. Raphael draws on his experience as an Edith Wharton scholar, a prominent gay writer, and the son of Holocaust survivors to fashion a stunning and suspenseful tale of slander, prejudice, harassment, moral courage and cowardice, and the militarization of local police.

Lev Raphael

Lev Raphael

“It’s a terrifying thought: the idea that someone can accuse you of a crime, and a SWAT team shows up at your door and drags you away. . . . Raphael makes it quite clear that no one is immune.”—Mystery Scene

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps

Popular Wisconsin writer Jerry Apps has produced six novels set in fictional Ames County, Wisconsin, some with mystery themes. His bestseller has been IN A PICKLE, in which the heavy-handed tactics of the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company are wreaking havoc with small farmers’ way of life.

“Apps utterly wins us over.  . . . [He} invests the novel with the kind of realism, precise detail, and local color that only someone who had lived the story could do.”Booklist 

In a Pickle

Not a review of David Mitchell’s new novel *SLADE HOUSE*

Previewing the book without preempting the pleasure of reading it

A conversation with Mitchell scholars Paul A. Harris and Patrick O’Donnell

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The University of Wisconsin Press journal SubStance published a special issue earlier in 2015, edited by Paul A. Harris, devoted to the extraordinary fiction of David Mitchell. A new novel from Mitchell, Slade House, debuts October 25, 2015.

Traditional book reviews of novelist David Mitchell’s writing inevitably spoil the pleasures of discovering what turn this genre-bending author’s latest work has taken; even a cursory account of plot, characters, and structure tells many Mitchell fans things they’d rather not have known. Here, Mitchell scholars Paul A. Harris and Patrick O’Donnell engage in a critical conversation about Slade House, in the hopes of piquing readers’ curiosity without making them feel piqued or PO’d.

This conversation will resume in early November, when Harris and O’Donnell will assess and respond to reviews of Slade House after it appears October 25.

PAH Patrick, I am delighted that you agreed to discuss Slade House prior to its imminent arrival (October 25) in bookstores and the mailboxes of Mitchell fans. I cannot help but point out that the opening lines of your own book on Mitchell (A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell) fit his next novel perfectly: you cite W.G. Sebald character Austerlitz’s belief that “all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive at a certain house at a given 9781441171221time.”  Since those lines seem almost literally accurate in describing Slade House, I have to wonder what your immediate reaction was when you finished the text.  Did it seem like what you would have expected of his next novel, or does it break new ground?

For my part, I have to confess that at first the book left me a bit flat; it felt like The Bone Clocks ‘lite’ (in terms of both literary density and weight). As I read the novel, I kept anticipating/imagining the negative reviews it seems likely to receive from canonical- and avant-garde-minded critics alike. But as I flipped around in it and thought more about it, I concluded that Slade House is even more successful than Mitchell’s prior books at managing to be both accessible and complex, popular and academic. It’s a really fast read that keeps you engaged, but on reflection it seems meta-literary in complicated, interesting ways.

POD Thanks, Paul, I am delighted to join in this conversation with you about David Mitchell’s newest novel. As  you suggest, it is no surprise that Mitchell would write a novel about a house—in this case, a haunted house. The interior spaces of Mitchell’s novels are typically freighted with the past, the history of the events that have taken place therein, the memories or remnants of the characters that have inhabited them. I think Slade House is in many ways an intensification of Mitchell’s interest in the ways that time and space intersect, or perhaps a better way to think about it is that his “global” interest in those intersections has been given a specific location in a London back alley. Indeed, many of the stories that circulate through Slade House will seem familiar (if inevitably uncanny) to Mitchell’s readers as we encounter motifs and figures writ large in The Bone Clocks and percolating through all of the other novels. But I completely agree with you that what is happening here goes well beyond a continuation of the same esoteric narrative about the wars of the atemporals. I’d be interested to hear more about what your views about the metaliterary tropes and ideas of the novel.9780812976823

PAH Let me return to your unexpectedly apt introductory words in A Temporary Future. You wrote that “The ‘certain’ house at which one arrives in reading Mitchell—the novel one holds in one’s hands—is typically composed of many parts and genres, the architecture being neither carpenter’s gothic nor that of the sedimented multinovel, but a capacious assemblage of narratives connected to each other in differential patterns. Those patterns, detected by readers through variable acts of attention, can shift and fluctuate depending on the circumstances of one’s reading, the narrative thread that draws one’s notice at a given moment, the emergence of a sequence that compels one to recall something in a given novel’s ‘past,’ or something that seems to be lurking in its ‘future.’” These words not only apply literally to Slade House, but could also describe Mitchell’s ‘house of fiction’ as a whole. Simply put, one could say that Mitchell’s ‘house’ (Slade House and oeuvre alike) has only an ambiguous physical location and elusive materiality; one could say that it doesn’t exist in space but rather persists in time. I suppose that on one level this is true of all fiction; what would you say makes Mitchell’s work different in this regard?

POD  I really like the notion of the house of Slade House as analogous to Mitchell’s “house of fiction” as a whole, and the idea that this house persists across multiple genres and temporalities but, in effect, floats in space. We could compare Mitchell’s house of fiction to the famous figure Henry James put forward in his preface to The Portrait of a Lady, where he says that the house of fiction “has in short not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will. These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene that we might have expected of them a greater sameness of report than we find. They are but windows at the best, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected, perched aloft; they are not hinged doors opening straight upon life.”  James’s figure is primarily epistemological and perspectival: reality is complex, and we perceive it, and know it, via multiple apertures, each framed by the position of the viewer and her/his “will” or capacity to see what is out there. Mitchell’s house is, by comparison, ontological, an incarceration of time and space that frames the condition of our being-in-the-world. I think one of the great attractions of a novel like Slade House is that Mitchell is enable to dramatize the immensely complex relationship between time, space, and being through an array of popular narrative genres and highly readable stories. The stories do not simplify the philosophical issues involved, they illuminate them, as light through a stained glass window illuminates religious mysteries.

But that brings me to a question for you that I think the novel raises as a continuation of the “Shaded Way” narratives that 9780375724503have been circulating in Mitchell’s novels since they were first hinted at in the Mongolia chapter of Ghostwritten: what do we make of Mitchell’s ongoing interest in the connection between science and religion, or science and the “other-natural” (as compared to the “supernatural)?  Any thoughts?

PAH Pat, thank you for bring in the very apposite James passage; I completely concur with the contrast you draw between his perspectival-nuance view and Mitchell’s constructive-ontological narrative poetics. I would add that it feels like James is always looking over the shoulders of his characters; that he gives us the world from their viewpoint but he is constantly “piercing” their windows onto the world, and actually he has difficulty allowing a character’s “individual vision” or “will” to take over the narrative. Mitchell, by contrast, seems to have full-blown voices in his head that he transcribes onto the page. He is invested in getting speech, language, allusive details, and tone exactly right for the multiplicity of characters he creates, the figures who become the reader’s guides through the global tours of his books. At the Los Angeles stop of his Bone Clocks book tour, when two young aspiring novelists asked him what one should do to become a better writer, his immediate response was to listen to people, to hear acutely and precisely how people speak—the locutions and accents and diction. I remember thinking, yes, one sees that in his books; it’s just easy to forget how quickly he immerses us in his characters’ voices, because when we think about his texts, it’s the innovations in form, settings, and intertextuality that stand out, plus the philosophical/cultural questions he raises (mortality, power, genocide, predation). There are inevitable echoes across his different voices—I recall one reviewer somewhat snarkily stringing together similar-sounding quotes from characters across Bone Clocks—but the passages were all the kind of pithy riffs/aphoristic formulations that Mitchell excels at and understandably (in my view) cannot resist writing. It’s not the case that all his characters speak in similar voices in general.

To me, Mitchell’s ability to transcribe voices onto the page operates in an interesting way—sometimes I think he is a ventriloquist; at other times it seems as if he’s the dummy.  This connects to the question you posed, because I remember that my first response to the noncorporeal intelligence of the Mongolia chapter in Ghostwritten was that it was a simple, literal embodiment or allegory of narration—particularly Mitchell’s narrative mode, ‘transmigrating’ from one mind to another as he changes chapters.  In Temporary Future you neatly characterize that character’s consciousness as “an assemblage of overlapping and differentiated cognitive maps, languages, fragmentary memories, and partial histories,” and read it as a metaphor for connections among strangers across time and space, as well as a figure for the fractured nature of identity in Mitchell.  I agree with this and by comparison what I saw is quite basic—the transmigration is a map of the narration’s itinerary, an image of Mitchell’s own constructive, creative journey from one person-place to another.

In terms of the question of the ‘other-natural,’ it does seem puzzling that Mitchell repeatedly disavows belief in anything beyond the material or natural, yet repeatedly returns to fantastic elements in his fiction that suggest otherwise.cover_sub  I think it might be possible to sort of invert the question: it is precisely the ability of narration to move magically, fantastically, across time and space, to inhabit other minds, to bring them to life and let them expire, or to have them hop into another head instead—‘other-natural’ elements or dimensions would just be an extension of these powers of narration. When I asked him about this issue in the interview for SubStance, he said:

“Maybe it’s worthwhile to note that a novel is a zone of near-infinite possibilities, where contradictory elements can co-exist, including temporal ones. The Bone Clocks is about mortals like us . . . as well as pseudo-immortals like the Anchorites . . . as well as the Horologists, who have a ‘Serial Repeater’ time-scale; and that’s okay, assuming you think the novel works. If The Bone Clocks was an astrophysics dissertation, I’d have my academic ID revoked and be escorted to the campus gate by security, and quite right too. Because it’s a novel, I get away with it. The other handy thing about novels is that while they explore, they don’t have to arrive at tidy conclusions.”

So, to me, Mitchell’s work invokes the ‘other natural’ as a possible world as a function of fiction’s power to produce infinite possible worlds. Maybe I am just using Mitchell’s ducking of the question to duck the question. . . . Bringing this back to Slade House, I felt that the way that the antagonists construct characters and the house clearly maps to Mitchell’s sense of the unlimited powers of the author to make up anything at any time, and to change the game as he or she sees fit.

After all that, then, I can only echo your unanswered question back to you: what do you make of Mitchell’s ongoing interest in the connection between science and religion, or science and the “other-natural” (as compared to the “supernatural)?

POD  I’m really intrigued by your statements about Mitchell’s ventriloquism, and I quite agree that he has an amazing capacity to capture and throw an assemblage of voices in his novels. This reminds me of Dickens, who knew a good deal about ventriloquism in the nineteenth century, and who was observed by his daughter, Mamie, to be “practicing” the voices of his characters before a mirror. Like Dickens, the convincingness of Mitchell’s voices have to do not just with matters of pitch and locution, but also with location—the planetary spaces that Mitchell is able to evoke both in the past and in the future. One of the things that would distinguish him from a Charles Dickens—picking up on your point about Mitchell’s character—and worlds-hopping—is his invocation of multiple worlds in adjacency, the multiple realities or, as Ursula Heise would put it, “chronoschisms” that Mitchell’s readers are encouraged to inhabit as stories and as formal structures. In a sense, both James and Dickens are after a kind of mastery—James (especially late James) to represent the totality of a consciousness or perspective, Dickens to trace the master plot behind all of the subplots and seemingly disconnected narratives of urban cacophony. I think the difference in Mitchell is that, as an author, he is not interested in mastery: as you elegantly put it, he brings plots, worlds and characters to life and allows them to expire, often in medias res. This may be going a bit out on a limb, but one of the great attractions of Mitchell’s narratives is their stories, made up in a very traditional sense of compelling characters and interesting, suspenseful plots; however, as an author (and of course this is something of a trompe d’oeil) he is far less anxious than Dickens or James about forsaking his authority over them; he seems not particularly worried about the form of singularity that we term “author,” though of course he has attained great visibility and, even, celebrity status despite his self-effacing authority. In other terms, he generates multiple, partial worlds and stories that make room for readers to connect, recall, and retell; in effect, he forsakes his authority, or alternatively, he allows readers the sense that they are co-authoring the work.

Bringing this back to Slade House, you’ve already suggested a number of ways that we could view this novel as a series of stories that entail metanarrative consequences for Mitchell’s own “house of fiction.” Not too fancifully, I think, we could consider all of Mitchell’s novels as “slade houses” (with the obvious pun on “slade/slayed”) through which his living-dying characters circulate in time. While, as devotees of “the Shaded Way” (adding a third resonance to “slade/slayed/shade”), the antagonists of Slade House seek immortality via the obscene consumption of souls, they fail over time—time itself is their enemy—as do the vampiric “immortals” of The Bone Clocks, Cloud Atlas, and Ghostwritten; in the end, they die, every single one of them. And the protagonists in this metaphysical battle, the Atemporals, also can and do die; in fact, death is essential to their being, as is the case with Marinus, who makes his/her reappearance as a psychiatrist from Toronto in Slade House. I think through all of this that Mitchell sees mortality, the fact of death that comes to us all, as the primary condition of being human, and all of our attempts to circumvent death (and time, for that matter), as the engine behind the construction of empires, the accumulation of wealth, the quest for power, and the recurrence of war—as if, in the latter, we can defeat death by incurring it everywhere.

And this then takes me to responding to your call out on the question of the relation between science and religion in Mitchell. I couldn’t help laughing at Mitchell’s saying that if The Bone Clocks was an astrophysics dissertation, his academic ID would be revoked and he’d be escorted to the exit by campus security. Yet if you read some of the material with which Mitchell is clearly acquainted on quantum physics, the concept of black holes or the many-worlds interpretation would sound no more outlandish to skeptical ears than the idea of an ongoing war between two semi-immortal factions taking place in a parallel universe that, every so often, encroaches upon human individuals in the “real” world. I think Mitchell is interested in the deep connections to be perceived across history between religion and science, both disciplines premised upon systems of belief that offer the potential of extended life or life after death. I can hear the empiricists scoffing at this, but what else is behind the multilayered and extending scientific quests that inform cybernetics (replacing mortal elements with mechanical parts that last longer following an infinite logic of substitution), astrophysics (in the attempt to understand the origins of the universe and the limitations on its near-infinite expanse), mathematics (in the abstractions infinite numbers), or genetics (in the attempt to create a complete DNA map and thus genetically produce individuals who can live longer, and perhaps even be reborn after death through cryogenics). I think Mitchell in his fiction is particularly attuned to how driven we are to find a way to cheat death. Authors do this in their writing (which they hope will live well beyond them in future generations of readers); Mitchell generates a form of writing which takes as a principle theme the good and bad consequences of this “life-drive.”

Paul Harris

Paul Harris

Paul A. Harris is a co-editor of SubStance and a professor of English at Loyola Marymount University. He served as president of the International Society for the Study of Time from 2004-2013 and edited the recent SubStance issue David Mitchell in the Labyrinth of Time.  His current project is The Petriverse of Pierre Jardin.

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell

Patrick O’Donnell is a professor of twentieth- and twenty-first-century British and American literature at Michigan State University; he is the author and editor of over a dozen books on modern and contemporary fiction, most recently, The American Novel Now:  Reading American Fiction Since 1980 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), and A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell (Bloomsbury, 2015).  He is currently working on a book about Henry James and contemporary cinema.

Remembering Jean Sue Libkind

Jean Sue Johnson Libkind. Photo by Robert Libkind.

Jean Sue Johnson Libkind. Photo by Robert Libkind.

In Memoriam, Jean Sue Johnson Libkind, former marketing manager of the University of Wisconsin Press

JEAN SUE JOHNSON LIBKIND, retired publishing executive and literary agent, died Oct. 17, 2015 at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse, Philadelphia. Mrs. Libkind, 71, had resided in Philadelphia since 1984.

Mrs. Libkind, born in Racine, Wisconsin, operated a literary agency in Philadelphia, the Bookschlepper, representing university and academic publishers in the management of subsidiary rights. After graduation from Park High School in Racine, she earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism in 1966 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She attended the university on a scholarship from Western Printing of Racine, the publishers of Golden Books, where her father was a staff artist. She also attended summer school at the University of Oslo, Norway. While at the University of Wisconsin, she was managing editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Cardinal. She also served as a board member of the Daily Cardinal Alumni Association.

Before starting her own agency, she was director of publishing operations for the Jewish Publication Society in Philadelphia, and before that worked as a marketing manager for the University of Pennsylvania Press, the University of Georgia Press, and the University of Wisconsin Press. She had also served as managing director of Worldwide Books in Ithaca, New York. Her professional affiliations included Women in Scholarly Publishing, of which she was a founding member, the Philadelphia Publishers Group, Women in Communications, and the Madison Press Club.

She was among the founders and later president of Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary Park, which improved the neglected property outside the walls of the historic prison in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood. While a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, she was president of seven after school day care centers. She was a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Athens, Georgia, and was until her recent illness active with the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, including its women’s book club.

She was preceded in death by her son, Eric David Spradling; her father, John B. Johnson; her mother, Jean Barr Johnson; and step-mother, Loretta Richards Johnson. She is survived by her husband, Robert L. Libkind, as well as aunts and cousins in Wisconsin, Alaska and Norway.

In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the American Heart Association.

Jean Sue has asked that the following be sent to all her friends in the event of her death:

My apologia,

Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free. 

If I, if I’ve been unkind, I hope that you will just let it go by, and if I, if I have been untrue, I hope you know that it was not to you. 

I saw a man, a beggar leaning on his crutch. He said to me, “Why do you ask for so much?” There was a woman, a woman leaning in a door, She said “Why not, why not, why not ask for more?’

Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.

— Leonard Cohen.

Here are some things you’ve heard me say; I call them “GienTsu-isms”—

  • It is not enough to survive. One must do it with a sense of style, a sense of grace and a sense of humor.
  • The mark of a civilization is how it treats its old, its young and its ill. We are barbarians.
  • “If you give a child a love of reading and teach him to read with ease, the child can learn anything.”
  • Romance doesn’t end in a marriage; the love evolves into something far deeper than mere romance with a bit of whimsy emerging every once in a while, just for fun.
  • It is not enough to practice what you preach; you must have the courage to preach what you practice.
  • It’s that damn “Y” chromosome: the leg of the Y gets caught in a man’s ear and he can’t hear what you’re saying.
  • There are twenty people in the world and everything else is done with smoke and mirrors.
  • The good news about the human race is that 99.9% of the people are doing the best they can; the bad news is that 99.9% of the people are doing the best they can.
  • A bird in the hand leaves a messy palm.
  • I earned every one of these wrinkles and gray white hairs.
  • I’m an old woman and I can do what I want.
  • The opinions of those who wish you well matter; the others can go to hell.
  • It is easier to ask for forgiveness than beg for permission.
  • Every time I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s some damn gnome with a lantern.
  • She’s got Bette Davis eyes; I’ve got Madelyn Albright’s hair.
  • Most policies are like fire hydrants. Everybody wants to leave his/her mark.
  • Subset: There is always a Chihuahua who thinks he is a Great Dane..
  • In case of an emergency, call an ambulance.
  • When the organic material impacts with the ventilating device, have a beer and remember the good times.

With love and affection—Jean Sue

  • Remember: No place is safe: Mrs. Elizabeth Anne Hewelett Hodges, 32, was asleep on the living room couch when a nine-pound meteor came through the roof of her Sulacauga, Alabama house, bounced off the radio and struck her hip (November 30, 1954). She was bruised; the radio did not survive.

Recent Book Awards and Honors

Click on the book covers for more information on each book.

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Rigoberto González, author of the UW Press books Butterfly Boy and Autobiography of My Hungers  *  Awarded the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement by the Publishing Triangle

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The CitNava-picy of Palaces: A Novel by Michael Nava
Winner, International Latino Book Award for Latino Fiction, Latino Literacy Now  *  Second place, International Latino Book Award for Historical Fiction, Latino Literacy Now   *   Finalist, Gay Fiction, Lambda Literary Awards

Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia by Michelle Caswell Caswell-pic
Winner, Waldo Gifford Leland Award, Society of American Archivists 5210-165w

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Understanding and Teaching U.S. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History, edited by Leila J. Rupp and Susan K. Freeman
Winner, Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Anthology

My FavorJoanne Diazite Tyrants by Joanne Diaz
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Winner, Midwest Book Award for Poetry, Midwest Independent Publishers Association

Otherwise Unseeable by Betsy Sholl
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Winner, Maine Literary Award, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance

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The Sleeve Waves by Angela Sorby
Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award, Wisconsin Library Association  *  Honorable Mention, Edna Meudt Poetry Book Award, Council of Wisconsin Writers

The Offense of Love:5302-165wHejduk-Julia-2014-165t Ars Amatoria, Remedia Amoris, and Tristia 2  by Ovid, translation by Julia Dyson Hejduk
Finalist, National Translation Award, American Literary Translators Association

5251-165wMcLean-Susan-2014-165t Selected Epigrams by Martial, Translated by Susan McLean
 Finalist, Literary Translation Award, PEN Center USA


Living a Land Ethic: A History of Cooperative Conservation by Stephen A. Laubach
Finalist, Midwest Book Award for Nature, Midwest Independent Publishers Association  *  5201-165w
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Finalist, Midwest Book Award for History, Midwest Independent Publishers Association

 

Assault with a Deadly Lie: A Nick Hoffman Novel of Suspense by Lev Raphael5306-165w  Raphael-Lev-2014-165t

Finalist, Midwest Book Award for Mystery/Thriller Fiction, Midwest Independent Publishers Association

Toni Gunnison named Journals Division Manager at University of Wisconsin Press

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Toni Gunnison (photo by Chloe Lauer)

Toni Gunnison
(photo by Chloe Lauer)

After a national search, Toni Gunnison has been appointed manager of the Journals Division at the University of Wisconsin Press. Gunnison first joined UWP as journals marketing manager in 2007. Since March 2015 she has served as interim journals manager, following the departure of Jason Gray, who left to join the staff of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

The University of Wisconsin Press currently publishes fifteen journals covering a broad range of humanities, social science, and STEM areas. Titles include American Orthoptic Journal, Arctic Anthropology, Contemporary Literature, Ecological Restoration, the Journal of Human Resources, Land Economics, Landscape Journal, Luso-Brazilian Review, Monatshefte, Native Plants Journal, and Substance. The newest journals, put under contract during Gunnison’s tenure as interim journals manager, are Constitutional Studies, African Economic History, Ghana Studies, and Mande Studies.

“Toni is a strong leader whose skills, experiences, and vision for the future will greatly benefit the University of Wisconsin Press,” says Dennis Lloyd, director of UWP. “I am looking forward to working with her. Her knowledge of what the Journals Division has been—and what it can be—is unparalleled.”

Over the past eight years, Gunnison has handled diverse assignments for UWP, including journal and books marketing, project management for website and database renovations, and serving as liaison to content-hosting platforms such as HighWire, JSTOR, and Project MUSE.

As chair of the Digital Committee of the Association of American University Presses for the last two years, Gunnison is well versed in issues facing academic publishers as digital content continues to evolve.

“Our journals are in a strong position to face the changes in academic publishing. We’re eager to use our expertise as publishers to help journal editors and their staffs adapt to new ways of working, as well as making journal content more accessible and visible,” Gunnison noted.

At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Gunnison has served on several search committees and on the Equity and Diversity Committee of the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research and Graduate Education.

Atticus Finch and Witnessing Whiteness

Reposted from the blog MoralesWrites by Jennifer Morales

Jennifer Morales

Jennifer Morales

Jennifer Morales is on a national book tour for her fiction collection, Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories (UW Press), and having conversations about race in America

Tuesday was the first time on the Meet Me Halfwaybook tour when the travel schedule, the weather, and our health aligned to allow me and Keren to get out with the “Please Talk With Me About Race” sign. The sign is about 4 feet tall and is painted with black lettering on a white background. We have a 1×4 to prop it up so passersby can read it easily.

We looked for an area of St. Louis that had two things: diverse foot traffic and a laundromat. (It’s Day 6 and we were running out of underwear …) While the clothes spun in the washer, we drove down S. Grand Avenue to find a good place to set up shop. There was a little pocket park in the middle of a row of restaurants, Ritz Park, run by the local business improvement district. It had concrete benches near the sidewalk where diners, students, and others were going by. So when the laundry was dry, we went back there.

I settled myself in on one of the benches with the sign next to me and put on my “door face” — the open, welcoming, cheerful face I used to wear whenever I rang a doorbell during voter outreach on the campaign trail.Meet Me Halfway

I took notes on each interaction we had — from the African American studies professor who outlined the racial divisions in St. Louis County for us, to the white man who flew by saying, “I’m late for a meeting but I’m so glad you’re doing this,” to the black homeless Army veteran who told us how he lived and worked odd jobs in this neighborhood “365 days a year” but was still regularly arrested by white police officers for no reason at all.

But I want most to talk about Gordon. He is a 30-year-old African American man, currently down on his luck and couch surfing. When I asked him if he would talk with me, he looked at my “Please Talk With Me About Race” and said, “Sure, as long as you’re talking about how to end it. As long as it’s for good.”

After he told me familiar stories about his dealings with cops — don’t gather in groups larger than two, try to stay by older folks if possible, walk away slowly if you see a white cop coming but don’t let him know you saw him — I asked Gordon if he thought the state of racial dialogue was better or worse since the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson.

Jennifer in a St. Louis pocket park with the "Please Talk With Me About Race" sign.

“Definitely worse,” he said. The people in the mostly white areas of the county were using the protests that followed Brown’s death as further reason to look down upon and shut themselves away from young black men like Gordon.

I asked him what he thought would change things for the better. He thought for a short minute and said, “It’s going to take time, all of us being human and all. It’s going to take time.”

He paused and then pointed to organizing. He called on the “old heads” to help the younger generations focus their protests in the most powerful and effective ways. But he acknowledged the importance of mass protest to make the case for justice, regardless. “Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t do it all himself. It was a lot of people over a lot of years.”

Finally, he mentioned white allies speaking up. He had recently seen an old movie about a black man charged with rape and the white lawyer who defended him.

“To Kill a Mockingbird?” I suggested.

“Yeah, that was it. White people have to get to the point of saying ‘This is wrong.’ That white lawyer knew the guy didn’t do it, so he stood up.”

Read more of Jennifer Morales’s blogs from her tour, talking about race in America at MoralesWrites.com.

Margaret Beattie Bogue named recipient of the first Frederick Jackson Turner Award

The Midwestern History Association this week announced the winner of its first annual Frederick Jackson Turner Award, bestowed on an individual for lifetime service to Midwestern history. The honor is conferred upon Margaret Beattie Bogue, professor emerita of history and liberal studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Margaret Beattie Bogue

Margaret Beattie Bogue

Bogue joined the University of Wisconsin Extension program in 1966 and later the Department of History at UW–Madison. Her research interests have included the fisheries and wetlands of the Great Lakes region as well as Midwestern agricultural and environmental history.

The Midwestern History Association was formed in 2014 to advocate and support greater attention to Midwestern history among professional historians. Bogue is the first recipient of this new award, which will be presented April 17th at the annual meeting of the Midwestern History Association in St. Louis, in conjunction with the Organization of American Historians conference.

“The Midwestern History Association is proud to confer the first Turner Award upon Professor Bogue, who has been a long-time leader in studying the American Midwest, especially its deeply agrarian character and the decisive role of the Great Lakes in the region’s development,” said Jon K. Lauck, president of the association.

BogueFishingBogue’s definitive history of the decline of the Great Lakes’ fisheries—Fishing the Great Lakes: An Environmental History, 1783–1933 was published in 2000 by the University of Wisconsin Press and received national and regional awards, including the Wisconsin Library Association’s Outstanding Achievement book award. She also brought the rich local histories of the Great Lakes region to the general public through two guides to historic sites: Around the Shores of Lake Michigan and Around the Shores of Lake Superior, also both published by UW Press. In her 2007 second edition of the Superior book, she added historical essays on the Ojibwe presence, French exploration, industry on and around the lake, and the impact of this human history on the natural environment, garnering that book several awards, including the Award of Bogue_LakeSuperiorLGMerit for Leadership in History from the American Association for State and Local History. Her first book, in 1959, was Patterns from the Sod: Land Use and Tenure in the Grand Prairie, 1850–1900 (Illinois State Historical Library).

“Margaret Bogue does meticulous research and analysis, but she makes her work accessible to general readers as well as scholars. She’s always been active in bringing history to the citizens of the Midwest and Great Lakes regions,” noted Gwen Walker, editorial director of the University of Wisconsin Press.

The Turner Award is named for the prominent historian Frederick Jackson Turner, whose famous 1890 lecture on the influence of “the frontier” on American identity considerably shaped the historiography of the Midwest and the broader field of U.S. history. Turner was born in Portage, Wisconsin, in 1861 and earned his BA from the University of Wisconsin in 1884. His essays on regionalism and the American Midwest won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1933. As a professor at the University of Wisconsin and later at Harvard, Turner trained many historians and helped shape many fields of historiography. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the discipline of American history was his focus on Midwestern history, an emphasis that was carried on by his many students.

The members of this year’s Frederick Jackson Turner Award committee are Pamela Riney-Kehrberg of Iowa State University, Brian Hosmer of the University of Tulsa, and Jane Pederson of the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire.