Dina Gilio-Whitaker riding the waves. Photo source: Dina Gilio-Whitaker
This blog appeared originally on Gilio-Whitaker's site RumiNative.
At first glance, using the terms surfing and indigeneity (as in “Indigenous”) in the same sentence may seem like a non-sequitur, something that doesn’t connect or make sense. Yes, it makes sense in the context of Hawaii given that the modern sport of surfing as we know it emerges out of Native Hawaiian culture. But what does surfing have to do with American Indians? Quite a bit as it turns out, based on research and writing I’ve been doing for several years now.
No one knows if Elena Ferrante is a tennis fan. No one knows much about her at all. The identity of the author of the wildly popular Neapolitan novels remains a useful mystery—useful because it reveals the poverty of our literary-critical apparatus: without the usual cues of biography and author appearances and interviews, critics have been tripping over themselves to place her work. Feminist. Post-ideological. Neo-neo-realist. They’re not wrong, exactly. But to understand Ferrante, it might help to be a tennis fan—or, at least, to be a fan of one particular match. Krickstein vs Connors, U.S. Open, 1991.
Montgomery comrades Rosa Parks and Virginia Durr come together in South Hadley, Massachusetts, 1981. Photo credit: Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives, Portrait Collection.
Today’s theme for University Press Week is Presses in Conversation with Authors. In our entry in the blog tour, our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik interviews Jeanne Theoharis, author of the 2014 NAACP Image Award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Theoharis is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY and the author of numerous books and articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, and the politics of race in contemporary America. She is also series editor for a new Beacon Press series, Stride Toward Justice: Confronting Race, Gender & Class in the United States. The series offers progressive voices writing on and at the intersection of race, gender and class and is an urgent response to the injustices of our times and the ideas that hide and sustain them. Theoharis’s coeditor for the series is Melissa Harris-Perry, Presidential Endowed Chair in Politics and International Affairs, the director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, and host of Melissa Harris-Perry, which airs weekend mornings on MSNBC.
Retaking the Keystone XL Pathway. Photo credit: Tar Sands Blockade
Wen Stephenson was invited by the Reverend Kyle Childress, longtime pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas and one of the key voices in What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other, to speak to the congregation. The church's congregation plays a crucial role in the resistance to the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. They supported the Tar Sands Blockade and welcomed young blockaders into their homes.
Stephenson tells us: “By uncanny coincidence, I was in Houston, doing an event with the grassroots group TEJAS (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services)—whose founders Juan and Bryan Parras, and organizer Yudith Nieto, figure prominently in the book—when the news broke that President Obama had rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, or the northern leg of it. And the very next day I went up to Nacogdoches. Too many people, especially in our national media, have forgotten that the southern leg of the pipeline was built with Obama’s blessing, and that it began pumping tar-sands crude to refineries in Port Arthur and Houston in January 2014.”
He adds: “I realize now that this book project wasn't truly finished until I went back to Nacogdoches and spoke to the people of that church community. It really closed the circle for me, in a profound way.”
When I was fifteen, I stepped into a warm bath on my church's sanctuary stage. I was a bit of an outsider—the occasionally bullied Chinese-American kid in the white suburb—and I had found a place of belonging at this Chinese immigrant church. I made a joke about how I felt the same way about my new faith as my sixteen-year-old friend felt about her new driver’s license: I had no idea how I ever lived without this. Even my pastor chuckled as he clasped my hands, preparing to dunk me. Then I heard the splash of the warm water, the muffled underwater silence and the burst of cheers as my body broke through the surface. Smiling through currents of water, I saw the congregation beaming back. I had begun my new life in Christ.
From there, my story followed a steady path toward lifelong evangelical devotion. Equipped with the good news, I led youth group Bible studies and then attended college where I became an evangelical activist, leading my campus ministry's weekly gatherings of more than 100 students. Some friends called me the “super Christian,” the kid who was “on fire for Jesus.” Mentors from church and my campus Christian club encouraged me to join their staffs. I longed to be in ministry and these opportunities fit the disciple’s narrative. There I was at the precipice of adulthood, armed with my fiery devotion. But just a few years later, the flame went out.
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
Rampant wildfires across the West, venomous sea snakes on California beaches—sound familiar? Rarely does a day pass without a headline focused on climate-related news. Every time I read one of these stories, my mind goes to the people living amidst it: exhausted hotshot crews in Twisp, WA, barefoot beachcombers in Oxnard, CA. Though national in distribution, every story begins in its own neighborhood.
About a year ago, the National Park Service invited me to write an essay for a web-based literary anthology focused on climate-triggered ecological changes in my own backyard: Denali National Park. Denali's sub-Arctic location means that taiga (the boreal forest) and tundra (a treeless region often with permafrost present) overlap, making it an ideal place to track changes. The Park Service supports critical scientific research in Denali all year round, noting and recording everything from sound pollution to glacier profiles. But the NPS also knows that one of the best ways to invest visitors in climate research is not through power points and charts, but through narrative. Hence, the call for essays by writers from the region. Here's how Denali introduces the anthology project on its website:
Deborah Jian Lee left the evangelical world in her mid-twenties after growing weary of the culture wars. While she remained committed to her faith, she struggled to reconcile the message of the religious right with the gospels, so her faith became a wandering, nameless thing. After returning to the evangelical world as a journalist, she sought out believers who were living out the teachings of Jesus and found a radical tribe of evangelicals thriving at the margins. Racial minorities, women, and queer Christians were carving a new path for evangelicalism—one rooted in social justice. Deborah decided to write a book for the younger version of herself—the one who mistakenly thought that being evangelical and embracing social gospel values were mutually exclusive. She realized that if she had met these devout believers back then, if she had known their stories intimately and understood evangelical history more robustly, she likely would not have left the community. This book is for the generation of faithful evangelicals, post-evangelicals, ex-evangelicals, questioning evangelicals and weary evangelicals looking for a family with whom to live out their faith, with all the mess and beauty that comes with community. It’s also a book for the rest of the world—secular liberals, the media, religious progressives, etc—who have often misunderstood and stereotyped the evangelical community. With love, passion and rigorous reporting, Deborah tells the story of the evangelicals the world needs to meet in Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism (on sale November 10).
An Invitation to Our Readers: We want you to add your voice to the conversation by sharing stories about ways evangelicals are reclaiming the faith and rescuing it from partisan politics. Use the hashtag #RescuingJesus across social media and help us shine a light on the individuals and organizations who are propelling this shift.
Read on to learn about some of the individuals who are part of the new face of the Evangelical movement.
Lanza hiking in the Grand Canyon, May 2015. Photo credits: Michael Lanza
When the country’s largest consumer co-op retailer announces it will close its doors and website on one of the biggest shopping days of the year, it attracts attention. REI did just that when it announced last week that it’s closing all 143 stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and won’t process any online purchases until the following day. Employees will get a paid day off and be encouraged to get outside—and no doubt many of them will.
Beyond the benefit to REI’s workers and potential impact on company sales, does this matter to anyone else? I say, yes, it does, for reasons that reach far beyond REI’s walls. Maybe least obviously, but most importantly, this is good for our kids.
George Orwell’s 1984 taught us that language—and who uses it—truly does matter. In the case of educating Texan youth about American history, language matters a great deal. McGraw-Hill Education’s current geography textbook, approved for Texas high schools, refers to African slaves as “workers” in a chapter on immigration patterns. Other linguistic sleights of hand include using the passive voice to obscure slave owner’s brutal treatment of slaves. It appears we have a Ministry of Truth at work after all, just like the one where Orwell’s ill-fated hero Winston Smith worked, rewriting history. The fact is especially disconcerting, as Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks.
From Steubenville to State College to Missoula, small towns often step into the spotlight where sex crimes are concerned. After the stark details get spun through the news cycle, the towns are left to themselves again, usually divided, impenitent, and often unable to determine what role the community itself played in perpetuating the violence or the criminalization of the victims. As a young woman involved in a small town scandal myself, I can testify to the communal damage that lasts long after journalists and reporters have moved on to the next big story.
It is mysterious and beautiful, literally a creature from a different world. Its body is ebony above and golden below, a serpent with aposematic paint. The edges of the opposing colors undulate down its side until the yellow becomes drips on the black, dorsally flattened tail. The exotic animal is a yellow bellied sea snake, Pelamis platura, which is normally found in warm, tropical waters. But due to a recent climatic vagary, the snake has found its way onto an Oxnard beach, miles up the coast from Los Angeles, hundreds of miles from the edge of its normal range. It is stunning, amazing, but how is the event chronicled?
I wrote The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks to challenge the limited stories and troubled uses of Parks and the movement. There was nothing natural or passive about what Rosa Parks did but rather something fiercely determined. It was not a singular act but part of her larger lifelong history of activism, a string of acts of bus resistance in the years preceding her stand, and a collective uprising following her arrest that led to a mass movement in Montgomery. To the end of her life, Parks believed the struggle for racial justice was not over and she continued to press for more change in the United States.
Some Tennessee lawmakers and parents are in a tizzy because they believe seventh-graders are spending too much time learning about Islam as part of social studies.
A Tennessee lawmaker leading the charge has spewed an all-too common refrain, saying the state's schools were leaning toward indoctrination because they emphasized learning about Islam more than about Christianity. The lawmaker last week upped the ante and proposed a bill prohibiting Tennessee public school courses from including "religious doctrine" until students are at least in 10th grade. What the lawmaker means by religious doctrine is fuzzy. But she's a part of a statewide movement of parents and groups taking aim at lessons on Islam. A Christian organization joined the fray by submitting a public records request to every school district in the state asking for curriculum that included Islam.
At last, Back to the Future Day is upon us. We’ve all been tallying the predictions in Robert Zemeckis’s science-fiction adventure comedy that came true and the ones that did not. Take, for example, the rejuvenation clinic that Doc visited in Back to the Future II. Today’s Botox treatments can’t compare to the full blood transfusion, hair repair, and spleen and colon replacement that extended Doc’s life by forty years. In the near future, however, life extension could be a reality. But at what cost? In his new book Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society of the Near Future, award-winning historian Michael Bess speculates about the enhancements headed our way, beginning in the next half-century. As Bess lays out the benefits and consequences of our bioenhanced future, he starts many of the chapters with fictional vignettes meant to illustrate what life may be like in the near-future. In the book, he asks readers to consider the overarching implications that these advancements may have on our society.
In this short vignette Bess imagines the future of rejuvenation therapy.
What has been your relationship with environmental issues?
My mother took me to my first protest when I was six, against the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire in 1976. She also took me for walks in the local woods and taught me about trees. So I had a good grounding both in caring about nature and citizen activism, which has stayed with me throughout my life. At this point in history, the number one issue is climate change. If we don't address that, everything else will be beside the point.
What do you look for in books dealing with these issues?
Obviously, I hope the books I look for on environmental issues will move people to action. The way to bring people in is through stories. Having something new to add to the conversation is important as well, but I look for writing that can teach about the issues by engaging readers with good writing and compelling storytelling. Whether the book is about solar power, orcas, or farming, the information is grounded in stories of people, places, struggles, hope.
And sometimes, as in literary nature writing as opposed to issue-driven books, the writing is enough—creating something beautiful in the service of nature speaks to our human connection with the “natural” world and with each other.
Dan Wilkins, Director of Public Relations for the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, and Nicholas Hyndman, University of Toledo student double-majoring in Disability Studies and Business Administration. Photo credit: Kim E. Nielsen
“I’ve never been this excited about my education before,” my student said as we discussed his undergraduate B.A. degree in Disability Studies. Then he laughed at himself with astonishment. Because of his commitment to the topic, he also was working harder in his college coursework than he ever had before; and he’d never imagined that academic hard work and excitement could go together. This student, like all of our students, came to the University of Toledo’s Disability Studies Program seeking a future job (for himself) and justice (for all).
Lamentations and cries that the Republicans were at it again trying to suppress the black vote arose when the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced on September 30th that because of budget cuts it would close thirty-one part-time-county-owned satellite drivers’ license offices. Eight of these were in counties where seventy-five percent of the registered voters are black. Many are in rural communities with high poverty rates and little or no public transportation. In addition to protesting, active and determined organizing to obtain the required voter identification for the unregistered might be a useful strategy in countering Alabama Republicans’ move.
People often ask if it was hard for me, as a journalist, to write a memoir. It wasn’t. In many ways, the people I interviewed over the years for news stories—many of them immigrants, many of them poor—taught me to trust the power of personal stories. One of them was Alaaedien. He drove cabs in New York City, and one day, he picked up a man outside of Grand Central Station. The man was young, and he wanted Alaaedien to take him to upstate New York. The cab ride would cost almost a thousand dollars, Alaaedien explained. That was fine. The young man’s new girlfriend lived upstate. He would pay Alaaedien when they got there.
Alaaedien was thinking about his own girlfriend. She was in Egypt, and he wanted to bring her to New York. He wanted to marry her. A thousand dollars would help. He drove the young man upstate. Seven hours later, they pulled onto a residential street and the young man disappeared into a house. Alaaedien had gambled on the American Dream and lost, but that’s not how he looked at it. I tried to be a good man, he told me. In fact, he had even lent the young man fifteen dollars for food on that long drive north. I nodded and wrote it down, and when the story was published the next day in the Metro section of the New York Times, a reader called. She didn’t know Alaaedien, but she wanted to give him the thousand dollars he had lost on the cab fare.
Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons
On Monday, October 5th, I had the privilege to join Helene Atwan, our director, and Tom Hallock, our associate publisher and director of sales and marketing, at Boston Symphony Hall for the Terezín Music Foundation’s 2015 Gala, “Liberation: A Concert Honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi Camps.” This celebration perfectly timed with the release of Liberation: New Works on Freedom from Internationally Renowned Poets, a poetry anthology edited and introduced by Mark Ludwig, the executive director of the Terezín Music Foundation.
The concert, featuring works by composers commissioned to set poems from the collection to music, began with a candle lighting to honor the liberators and survivors with members of the Hawthorne String Quartet beautifully playing in the background. The Boston Children’s Chorus performed two pieces, “The Day of Light,” composed by David Post and dedicated to Hanka Krasa, and “The Song About the Child,” composed by Sivan Eldar.
Portrait of Ada Lovelace by Alfred Edward Chalon, 1840
Today is the day to thank Ada Lovelace for the device you’re using right now to read this. Born Augusta Ada Gordon in 1815, she is recognized as the “first computer programmer.” In the early 1840s, Lovelace translated and expanded on an Italian article describing Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her elaborate notes included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers, largely recognized as the first computer code. Lovelace’s notes helped inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers one hundred years later.
While Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the achievements and contributions of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), science is still regarded as a boys’ club. Why is this? Even now in the twenty-first century, there should be more women in high ranking positions in the hard sciences. Novelist, essayist, and short story writer Eileen Pollack, who was one of the first two women to earn a Bachelor of Science in physics from Yale in 1978, takes a long hard look at this question in her new book The Only Woman in the Room.