Every year we ask all of our students and faculty to select a book from our Literature Circle book list to read. In the early weeks of September we divide the entire school into book groups to discuss their book of choice. Here are some of my favorites from this year’s list:
My mentor and dear friend, Vito Perrone, died this August. I always like to re-read his books before the school year begins. A Letter to Teachers andTeacher with A Heart are books that help me re-energize and re-focus each year. I know that Vito would have liked to have discussed Wilkerson’s book and that he would have pushed me to describe the connections that I saw with Warmth of Other Suns and Porgy and Bess. He would have helped me develop those generative questions to guide difficult discussions. I know he would have come and sat in our literature circles, too. He would have wanted to hear how books captured my students’ imaginations and passions. When I am at my lowest about the state of schools and education policy, Vito would inspire me to “recommit ourselves to a wide-awakeness on behalf of our students, schools, and communities, to a greater understanding that we are about democratic work. Our schools are not yet as good as they should be (Teacher with a Heart, intro p xi).” I hope I can take that wide-awakeness into this new school year.
Of course, you don't need to be a Unitarian Universalist to appreciate Eboo Patel's writing: Reza Aslan said that, "Acts of Faith is more than a book, it is an awakening of the mind. It should be required reading for all Americans." And former president Bill Clinton called it "a beautifully written story of discovery and hope." Since its publication in 2007, this book has been selected as a school-wide read at numerous colleges, and Eboo Patel was selected by Barack Obama for the Advisory Council in his Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
My new book is about many things, including the need to fight for a limited wildness, but it is also, to a lesser extent, about language. I’ve always wondered why our words grow soft and mushy when we begin to talk about nature. Perhaps I am too persnickety, too preoccupied with the language that we use to describe the natural world, but I am in the minority that believes we should watch our words, that false language both reflects and encourages false thinking, that our lives depend on our sentences. I feel particularly strongly that “being in nature” should not be described as some precious or highfalutin' experience. After all, didn’t we as a species evolve, along with our words, while spending a million years or so living in the midst of the natural world? And wasn’t our relationship with that world, among other things, quite practical and direct? “Nature” is where the living roots of our language evolved, which suggests that that language should still be able to circle back and describe the place from whence we came without fencing it behind some quasi-mysterious mumbo-jumbo.
So many people who speak for the wild world seem to feel the need to speak in the voice of the mystic, with a hushed, voice-over reverence. We affect this high priest tone, and everyone else is expected to get down on their knees and listen to the whispered wisdom of the shaman. At times like those there’s very little indication that any of us have the quality that many humans find most important for living on earth: a sense of humor. You’d never guess that any of us ever laughed or farted. (Which, it needs to be made clear, is different than translating Native American Myths about trickster coyotes who laugh and fart.)
I cringe when my language grows too flaccid on the one hand–oh, Great Blue Heron, help my soul and keep all sweetness and light–or, on the other, too rigid and devoid of feeling–Great Blue Heron, or Ardea herodias, is a member of the Heron (snore). . . .
Lately, I’ve been invited to give a lot of talks and when I speak people sit listening, rapt, or at least putting on rapt faces. I suppose if I really wanted to make it big I would start spreading the word of doom and intoning the phrase “global warming” over and over, hitting my audiences with it like a big stick. But I’ve got other ideas, however, impure little ideas that get in the way. For instance, sometimes I think that, from an artistic point of view, the end of the world might be kind of interesting, at least more interesting than all the dull predictions about it. Another troubling notion is that I’m not really sure I want to be this thing called an environmentalist.
I’m not trying to be glib here–I don’t think it’s unimportant to fight for environmental causes. It’s just that I would like to put forth a sloppier form of environmentalism, a simultaneously more human and wild form, a more commonsense form and, hopefully, in the end, a more effective form. Because the old, guilt-ridden, mystical enviro-speak just isn’t cutting it. Maybe the musty way of talking about nature needs to be thrown over a clothesline and beaten with a broom. That’s what I’ve been trying to say at these talks I’ve been giving. My role, to put it more clearly, is to try to pull the pole out of the collective environmental ass. It isn’t easy work. For a costume I wear a Hawaiian shirt and to get into character I drink a few beers. Throughout my talks I make jokes about how earnest everyone is and the audience usually laughs along semi-masochistically. Sometimes I get carried away. I start feeling megalomaniacal and believe I am the bringer of a new language. I imagine myself to be Bob Dylan at Newport, playing electric guitar among the folkies, trying (futilely) to get them to yell out “Judas.”
This last metaphor was confirmed by one of the door prizes I was given recently, a CD tribute to Rachel Carson’s work, after a talk at a conference in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to celebrate Carson’s life and work. On the way home I listened to a song on the CD about the demise of the osprey from DDT, and then another on the birds’ remarkable comeback, a subject I wrote a book about. It is fair to say that Carson is one of my greatest heroes but the music that came warbling out of my speakers seemed to be sung by a caricature of a late fifties Pete Seeger wannabe, who wailed about the poisons coursing through the ospreys’ bodies with such excruciatingly earnest detail that it almost made me root for the birds’ death. Anything as long as the song ended. This, I found myself thinking, this is part of the problem. Why does nature turn us into this kind of warbler? It makes me long for a new sort of music, a music anyone would listen to; a music that the Dan Driscoll’s of the world could actually work to: a punk osprey tribute sung by, say, the Sex Pistols.
And maybe, I think now, that’s a good place to start.
If you haven't checked out the enormous wealth of reading material at Scribd, perhaps you can start with our LGBT Pride Collection. For Pride Month, we've pulled together excerpts from a dozen books: memoir, history, and ideas. Click on the covers below to read an excerpt from each book:
And if our excerpts whet your appetite for more, here are some interesting Scribd posts from other publishers we like.
“It seems to me that what the Pentagon Papers really demonstrated 40 years ago was the price of that practice,” he said. “Which is that letting a small group of men in secret in the executive branch make these decisions — initiate them secretly, carry them out secretly and manipulate Congress, and lie to Congress and the public as to why they’re doing it and what they’re doing — is a recipe for, a guarantee of Vietnams and Iraqs and Libyas, and in general foolish, reckless, dangerous policies.” -- Daniel Ellsberg in the New York Times, June 8, 2011
Rev. Robert N. West, UUA President, and Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) hold a press conference on Nov. 5, 1971 concerning Beacon Press' publication of "The Pentagon Papers" and ongoing harassment of the UUA by the FBI. Photo courtesy Robert N. West.
Forty years ago this month, the New York Times began publishing excerpts from what has been popularly referred to as "The Pentagon Papers," and officially known as "the Report of the O.S.D. Vietnam Task Force." The papers, which were smuggled out of the RAND corporation by Daniel Ellsberg, were published a few months later by Beacon Press as the Senator Gravel Edition of The Pentagon Papers: The Defense Department History of United States Decisionmaking in Vietnam. The story of their publication is a gripping tale, one that involved heroic stands by Ellsberg, Senator Mike Gravel, Beacon Press director Gobin Stair, and UUA President Robert West against immense pressure from the Nixon administration.
It has taken four decades for the government to officially release the papers. We aren't worried here about the new, "official" publication affecting sales: the five volumes-- a whopping 7,000 pages-- have long been out of print, and were never a commercial "success." In fact the cost of producing the books combined with the associated legal fees was a huge financial burden for the press. Loans from the Unitarian Universalist Association and a significant donation from the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, combined with smaller donations from supporters and from other publishing houses (led by a $2,500 donation from Random House), helped allay the enormous expense. But the reasons for publishing the papers were never financial:
In 2002, during an interview with Susan Wilson in preparation for Beacon’s 150th anniversary, Stair referred to The Pentagon Papers as “a test of our purpose,” before concluding, “We were publishing what needed to be published." (From "Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers" by Allison Trzop)
We aren't sure why it took forty years for the government to declassify these papers, but we look back at that moment in the history of Beacon Press with great pride. Subpoenas, FBI investigations, and even calls from President Nixon himself deterred neither Beacon Press nor the Unitarian Universalist Association from doing what was right, and it is our goal today to function by the same principles that guided those brave decisions.
Beacon Press director Helene Atwan talked with Judge Nancy Gertner about her new book, In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate. Watch to hear about her life as a defense lawyer, what it meant to her to defend women, and the different paths Gertner and Justice Sotomayor took to becoming judges.
Regan will be a panelist in two different sessions. For "Borderlines," Regan will join Phil Caputo, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and a novelist (Crossers),and Thomas Cobb, novelist whose Crazy Heart was turned into the Oscar-winning film, for a session on writing about the border. The panel will meet at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 12, in the Catalina Room of the UA Student Union.
Regan will also be speaking at 4 p.m., Saturday, in Gallagher Theater in the UA Student Union, in the session "Dispatches from the Borderlands: Human Rights, Personal Stories." Moderated by journalism professor Jay Rochlin, the panel also includes authors Sam Quinones (Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream) and Kathryn Ferguson, Norma Price and Ted Parks (co-authors of Crossing with the Virgin). The session will be broadcast live by CNN's Book TV.
In December, Regan's book was named a winner in the 2010 Southwest Books of the Year Best Reading competition run by the Friends of the Pima County Public Library. Judge Margaret Loghry noted, "All concerned citizens should read this collection to better understand the issues in the borderlands today." The Unitarian Universalist Church also selected The Death of Josseline as a Common Read, to be read and studied by congregations nationwide.
Three months ago I heard my mother's voice for the first time since I was nine. When I first heard her voice I said, "Mom! You have a Texas accent!" All those years of reading her lips and I had never really known that. We both laughed ourselves sick.
When she was six months pregnant with me, she'd been given an antibiotic that saved both our lives, but left me with a chemical imbalance that insidiously ate away at my hearing.
As I wrote in my memoir, "By the time I was nine the voices of everyone I loved had all but disappeared."
That was my life for 51 years. Then, last May, I was given a cochlear implant. I'd resisted it like crazy. I was used to my hearing aids and couldn't believe the operation (which is, after all, a brain surgery) could offer anything better than I already had. I'd worked hard to understand as much as I could and to be myself in the world. But one day, after attending a meeting with my Vocational Rehab counselor and me, my lover and sweetheart Donna Marie said to me, “Why should you have to work so hard?"
So there was that. And the fact that my counselor had almost exactly the same type of hearing loss I did (profound) and she had two implants. Her audiologist, who is my audiologist, told me that to watch her after she had had the implant was like seeing someone put points on their IQ.
So I had the operation. They implanted receivers in my brain, tucked a magnet under my scalp. It took me a month to heal. And then they brought out the gem-- the cochlear computer itself. When I first began thinking of the cochlear I had imagined the machine to be the size of half my head-- a huge, robotic, unabsorbed twin.
The real deal looked sweet in its little box. It slipped easily behind my ear. And the coil that ran from the computer to the magnet inside my head was no bigger than the thumb of an alderman.
When they first turned it on, I was in a soundproof room alone with Katherine Gray the audiologist, an intern, Donna, and Diane Wilkins, who was taping it for a documentary about the process we're doing called Rewired.
They turned it on and that soundproof room turned on in my head like a space shuttle-- filled with sounds that everyone else in the room had long learned to ignore. It tore my head off.
That's why Katherine had insisted on holding my hand. The rush of sound is like the rush of blood and makes you sick with the excess.
I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to adapt. And then Katherine let go of my hand and took out a small child's bell and rang it.
And that tiny little bell sounded in my brain so sweetly, so clearly, my whole soul turned to it.
That was the beginning of my new love affair with sound. The world is exactly what I thought it would be -- a miraculous, buzzing confusion. And my brain is already beginning to categorize the different meanings of different sounds. So, yes, there are birds -- which I kind of believed in because I had seen the fluttering through the skies but never really believed that they made the cacophony that everyone claimed. But then I heard them clanking and clattering. And they were all one until again my brain became to sort through them and tell me, well, this is one kind of bird and it makes a sweet trill; and this other yaks like a gossip. And this one over there -- and, god, I actually could locate it by its singing-- and the song sounded (or so I imagined) first like yearning and then changed. Of course in my state of mind I defined that change of tone as happiness.
Photo of Terry Galloway enjoying piano taken for the documentary Rewired.
About the author
Terry Galloway, a 2013 Alpert Award nominee, is a writer and performer who writes and performs. Her theater work has been produced in venues ranging from the American Place Theater in NY to the Zap Club in Brighton England; her short videos have been featured in film festivals all over the world; and her poems, essays and flights of fanciful non fiction have been widely anthologized; and three of the three theaters she co-founded over the course of her career are still going strong. Read her memoir, Mean Little deaf Queer to find out more. You can also visit her website for more info and follow her on Twitter.
This week, we've been sharing stories by Terry Galloway, author of Mean Little deaf Queer: A Memoir. Today, we're posting an excerpt from that book, in which she explains the difference between Big-D and Little-d deaf.
We're giving away five signed copies ofMean Little deaf Queer. To enter, leave a comment on today's post, like any post about the book on our Facebook page, or share a link on Twitter. We'll choose winners at random at the end of the week from entries across our social media empire.
I recently read that hearing is the last of the senses to go. I’ve taken this to mean I’m going to be buried alive, because, deaf as I am, I won’t know I’m not already dead. This alarming new bit of information moved me to take up the nonhearing exercises I used to indulge in when I was younger. I put my hearing aids aside, stretch out on the bed, and get myself ready for what’s in store. The mattress trembles with every passing car and so do I. When a train rumbles and chugs along the tracks three blocks to the north, my body rumbles and chugs right along with it. Thunder shakes the walls of the little house where I live and the shocks of it make the headboard and my own heart thwack. Lying there awake too long breeds in me a deep unease, a fear that I ought to be feeling something I’m not. My longtime love, Donna Marie, calling for help in the back room; our cat, Tweety, yowling piteously to be let in. Those are the times when going deaf the way I have, in fits and starts, seems most akin to dying. I’m losing, will lose, have lost. And each step of the way, my body seems to have been trying to tell me something new, something it seems I ought to have known all along.
In 1961, the year after I was diagnosed, my body reached a tipping point and I began to lose my hearing in big old chunks. It was a loss as erratic and unsettling as a Ukrainian train schedule. I’d lose a decibel or two of sound, then my hearing would stabilize. A day, a week, a month later, whole conversations would fade into gibber- ish. Familiar noises like the purr of the refrigerator would simply vanish and I’d have to adjust all over again. One late afternoon I fell into a doze on the couch listening to my parents’ muttered lazy Sunday conversation, then woke a handful of minutes later to what seemed like nothing. For two days even my own voice was an echo in my head.
I loved the crispness of my own speech, a trait both Trudy and I picked up from our German maids. When we first moved from Germany to Texas my precise enunciation marked me as somehow superior to those who drawled or squeezed words through their noses. After my deafness took hold, my speech began changing, every vowel out of my mouth taking on a soft slur that people took for south- ern. I didn’t love the South then, the way I love it now. And that change to my voice embarrassed me, but not as much as it did to see the new incongruities of my voice reflected in people’s faces, the wince when I was talking too loudly, the grimace when I wasn’t talking loudly enough, or the skeptical twist of brow when I’d swear I didn’t mean my tone to be angry, that I had no idea I sounded sardonic when I’d meant to sound sincere. I could feel all the lilt and color draining from my voice, feel it becoming a monoto- nous drone. I’d forget to give the end of a sentence a vocal twist to make it mean this one thing, or drop the sound in the middle to make it mean another. I found it hard to remember how words I knew sounded, harder still to learn new words I couldn’t quite hear. My two sisters loved playing teacher, and made exaggerated facial displays, showing me how my lips should move to form the new syllables. But even with my new hearing aids it was hard to piece the muted gabble of sounds together into any kind of sense.
Hearing aids or no, I was constantly being taken unawares, and that made me jumpy, almost paranoid. I didn’t realize someone was running around the corner until the body was upon me, didn’t answer the voice calling from the bathroom until they’d got up off the toilet to scream, didn’t know anyone was pounding at a locked door unless I accidentally opened it and they came tumbling through. I was a private child, made even more private by the con- fusion and intensity of my sexual desires, and everyone seemed to be sneaking up on me. I needed a big hunk of uninterrupted solitude to play out my needs to their natu- ral conclusions, and it divided my focus having to keep one eye on my closed bedroom door and the other on my Barbie and Midge dolls having sex.
At the same time, I was discovering, to my repeated embarrassment, the Freudian element in lip reading. One memorable afternoon as I was inching forward in the lunch line, I looked up at the lips of the fourth-grade sex bomb who had just cut in front of me, and was wonderfully taken aback when she deigned to address me: “Hey kid, you’ve just made my day!” My heart started thumping like a happy Disney bunny until her flat inflection, her narrowed eyes, and the pinchy look around her nose clued me in to what she’d really just said, which was, “Hey pig, get out of my way.” Who knew deafness could be so ironic?
All my mother and father knew of deafness was what they’d seen in a film called Johnny Belinda, about the rape of a tragically clueless deaf and mute girl doomed, like me, always to be taken by unwelcome surprise. All they knew about the deaf was that they signed. My parents didn’t know what to think of Sign. They knew it to be a real lan- guage, but it was an alien one, something neither one of them—even my father, with his spy’s proficiency in Ger- man and Russian—could ever imagine learning. When the Texas school system offered them the choice of leav- ing me in public school or enrolling me in a school for the deaf, they had no idea how to choose, and left it up to me. I’d seen only one person sign before, and the symbols her hands carved out of air seemed akin to the soundless lan- guage of the TV Apaches I so admired. I was already using my hands anyway—to gesture, touch, and feel. Sound was quickly seeping away from me, leaving me in a void I was anxious to fill. I would have welcomed that new way to understand. But for my mother’s sake I wanted to appear whole again. I already knew how to do that—act cool and pretend all was well. Over pancakes one Sunday morning, my parents asked me if I wanted to transfer to a special school where they’d teach me to sign. I didn’t even bother to think about it, just downed my cocoa and rolled my eyes as if they’d told the biggest joke in the world. “Sign? Hah. Not for me, thank you. And pass the syrup, please.”
At public school in Fort Hood, I sat up front and did the best I could to learn, and each afternoon served out a two- hour sentence in the gulag known as special ed. Special ed was usually held in a one-room annex that looked like a trailer on stilts. There was a steep ramp with handrails running from the ground to the door. The room was dark and close and stuffy, just big enough to hold the handful of us special kids. There was usually someone in a wheel- chair, someone blind, someone dull and thuggish, and at one point a sister and brother who seemed old to be in elementary school—they both had a shadow of a beard and a look about their eyes that reminded me of dogs turned mean after being poked at, beaten, and teased. I realize now they were probably mildly retarded, because when- ever they talked, which was seldom, their faces would con- tort in rubbery exaggeration, as if they had to fight their own muscles to get the words out right. We did nothing productive those two hours we were together. Zero. Zilch. We sat, fidgeted, or stretched out and whiled away the hours. Since I was able-bodied I helped empty the pee bags and sometimes I’d read aloud while the volunteer assis- tant, whose Texas twang thrummed like an overtightened string, would correct my pronunciation, teaching me to say “fir” instead of “for” and “enny” instead of “any.”
I was a clever little schemer and a voracious reader, so I managed to keep up in my regular classes at school, getting hard-won B’s and A’s even though the teachers had a bad habit of turning their backs as they were speaking to write on the blackboard. I’d read their lips as they said, “We call the theory that there is only one . . .” then they’d turn their backs and the rest would be lost in puffs of chalk. It didn’t occur to me to ask my teachers to change their behavior, to look at me when they were talking, to slow down so I could read their lips. I was a child and thought I had no agency. But I knew I was flying by the seat of my pants, that every answer I gave was guesswork, that I couldn’t really spell or diagram a sentence; and at age ten, then eleven, then twelve, I was still using my fingers to add and subtract. It wasn’t until years later that I found out I’d been one of the lucky ones.
As a child I didn’t pay much heed to other deaf chil- dren, because I didn’t know any. The deaf as a people don’t regard themselves as disabled but simply a culture entire, like the Amish. And, like the Amish, they keep to themselves. There is a definite hierarchy in that deaf cul- ture. If you are deaf of deaf—a deaf person born to deaf parents—and your language is Sign and the company you keep is primarily deaf, you are Deaf with a capital D. If you are hearing-born to deaf and you sign and live and play primarily within the deaf community, your blood is still pure. It dilutes a bit with every variation from those first golden means, but lowest on the deaf totem pole are the waverers like me who came to deafness gradually or late and were “mainstreamed” to be part of the hearing world. As a general rule we suck at Sign. My own Sign is on par with my Spanish, which can get me to the bathroom, but after that, nada. We are known as the little-d deaf.
Growing up, I knew none of this. I was twenty-five before I went to my first deaf gathering, and I was taken aback to encounter hostility and suspicion there. When I introduced myself as Deaf, overenunciating and gesturing broadly with my hands, one of the women signed to me furiously, her eyes getting harder by the second as she re- alized how little I understood. I wasn’t Deaf but deaf, and when she signed the lower-case d I could almost smell its rotten tang. I’d gone there thinking I’d be embraced like a prodigal daughter and instead found myself under fire for, so I thought—the same curse that had befallen me at the Lions Camp for Crippled Children—not being disabled enough. Hostility makes me hostile in return. It was all I could do not to stick out my tongue and grimace and pos- ture like a Maori warrior. I walked out of there thinking they were a closed, provincial bunch and I was better off outside their preachy little circle. I remained smug in my lowercase superiority until a few years later when I devel- oped a crush on a deaf woman who was a consultant for the PBS television series for disabled children I was cowriting. She spoke as well as signed and it was she who told me these stories.
Once upon a time in certain institutions for the deaf, Sign was out of fashion and something called total communication was in. Total communication simply meant that deaf children would be taught any and all ways to communicate, and that meant lip reading as well as Sign. In some places the message got skewed and in those places the fashion of the day became for deaf children, all deaf children, to learn to lip-read and speak. Sign was frowned upon if not strictly forbidden. As an expert lip-reader I can tell you, lip-reading is a true talent and hard as hell to learn. Most people never can.
The children who couldn’t learn to lip-read tried to please their teachers by moving their lips while mimicking what they thought were the right sounds. But the sounds they made were random, based on raw physicality, the feel of air moving through the throat and head. Hearing par- ents didn’t like their children vocalizing this way, because it was too close, they complained to the teachers, to the grunting of animals. If the sounds the children were mak- ing weren’t the “perfect” ones, their teachers would tape the children’s mouths as punishment. The children were trying their hardest to please, to communicate, so they’d gesture as they tried to form the shapes of the words in their minds, shapes for which they had no sounds. That struck their teachers and their parents again as looking too animal, too vulgar, too much like Sign, so to teach them better, the teachers would tie the children’s hands to their chairs. “Read the lips,” they were told over and over again, but those children couldn’t do more than guess what they were being asked to read. It was next to impossible for them to find the essence of elusive sounds in the swift mo- tion of the mouth. Many of them grew up without language—a whole generation who couldn’t speak, couldn’t sign, and could barely read or write.
She had other stories to tell me too, of unbearable disregard. A child was born to hearing parents, both doctors, full of high expectation for their children, but this infant girl wasn’t thriving like her two brothers. She seemed indifferent to language, slow to respond to the simplest commands. They were ambitious, busy people who had no time to waste on a child who was, for whatever reason, less than perfect. They diagnosed her themselves as being mentally retarded and had her committed as a toddler to a state institution. Years later a new attendant who was fond of the child noticed her collecting gum from under the tables and chairs. As he watched her fashion intricate and fantastical figures from the raw material, it began to dawn on him that a mistake had been made. He stood behind her and clapped his hands. She didn’t respond. That was all it took to find out she was simply deaf.
Years later I met that girl. By then she had become an artist, living on her own. She wore two hearing aids like mine and also had pulled off a miracle—she not only signed, she lip-read. She vocalized too. But when we talked, I remember thinking how interesting it was that her facial expressions were identical to those of the brother and sister I knew from special ed. I never shared my observation with her. I didn’t want her to be disturbed about something she couldn’t change. Besides, she probably already knew the oddities of her own speech, the same way I know that when I talk—despite all my pains—the words out of my mouth are cottony, blurry around the edges, as if they’re in danger of being swallowed back down my throat. Exactly the way a little-d deaf like me would speak.
Mark Twain defined a “classic” book as one “which people praise and don’t read.” He should know. How many of you have read Huckleberry Finn? This “classic” has been condemned, banned, or people attempted to ban it, in a variety of locations, and for various reasons, since it was first published in 1885. Back then it was banned because Twain had the audacity to create a character, Jim, who was not only black, but as human–and as fully developed–as the other major characters in the story. Jim is not only fully human, but the hero of the story. It ran contrary to everything white Americans had been raised to believe; that white America had been built upon since its founding.
When I was in junior high school in the 1960′s, several of my black classmates wanted the book banned from our school library for a different reason: because Twain regularly refers to Jim with the “n” word, which they found deeply offensive. Many teachers in K-12 classes struggle with how to teach this masterpiece, about which Hemingway said, “All American writing comes from that.” It is challenging to explain to kids today the context in which Huck Finn was written. I believe I understand the difficulties teachers face.
Caveat: in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a white man writing about a book that was written by a white man–albeit one who died 100 years ago in a very different era. I encourage readers to ponder these facts as you consider my words. I also encourage you to consider what others have written, like Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Perry or author Earl Ofari Hutchinson for instance. Further disclosure: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the best book I’ve ever read. No one else can ever write the “Classic American Novel.” It has already been published. This is it.
A new version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is now being published by New South Books. Twain scholar Alan Gribben is the editor. He has replaced the “n” word with the word “slave.” I’m sure Dr. Gribben and New South Books have the noblest of intentions; to get Twain back into K-12 classrooms.
And there are many reasons why this is a really bad idea. I’ll focus on two:
Utilizing the word “slave” perpetuates one of the dehumanizing aspects of the system of slavery. Describing someone who was owned by another as a “slave” strips away her or his humanity–reduces that person to a commodity. They were enslaved people, not slaves.
I understand the challenge that educators face, but what are classrooms for if not to struggle with difficult subjects in order to wrestle with them? The one way we will finally heal from the legacy of slavery is to talk about all aspects of it no matter how difficult, awkward, and hurtful those conversations may be. Hiding behind an alternative word–and a poorly chosen one at that–does not teach students to deal honestly with truth; it does nothing to teach people to struggle together with difficult subjects; it does nothing to help with healing from the historic trauma that continues to afflict the people of the United States. It perpetuates injustice and ignorance.
When my grandchildren are old enough to enjoy and learn from Huckleberry Finn I hope they’ll read it the way Twain wrote it. I trust their parents–and hopefully their teachers–to work with them to understand the context of the times in which Twain lived and wrote, the horrible system of slavery that drove the entire economy of our nation, and why it is important to understand and talk about these issues.
We’ve all heard that the roads in Hell are paved with good intentions. This new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a well-intentioned mistake. Read the original. Then read it–and discuss it–with your children.
Margaret Regan's The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands has been praised as, "A keen-eyed perspective of how questionable public policy has resulted in far too much preventable loss of life," (Midwest Book Review) and, "A humane, sensitive, and informative perspective on a current and controversial topic" (Ana Castillo, author of The Guardians).
The book has been chosen as this year's Common Read by the Unitarian-Universalist Association, and a reader's guide is available on Beacon.org. Read an excerpt below or at Scribd and get talking about the human stories behind the contentious issue of undocumented immigration.
You can also read these previous posts at Beacon Broadside by author Margaret Regan, or browse all of our posts on immigration.
"Acts of Faith, a beautifully written story of discovery and hope, chronicles Dr. Eboo Patel's struggle to forge his identity as a Muslim, an Indian, and an American. In the process, he developed a deep reverence for what all faiths have in common, and founded an interfaith movement to help young people to embrace their common humanity through their faith. This young social entrepreneur offers us a powerful way to deal with one of the most important issues of our time." —President Bill Clinton
Eboo Patel grew up outside of Chicago, subject to a constant barrage of racist bullying, and unsure of what it meant to be Muslim. In high school he rejected everything about his Indian and Muslim heritage and excelled in academics in an attempt to be like the white Americans around him. In college, this illusion came undone as Patel discovered the liberatory power of identity politics—and a deep rage at the inequities and hypocrisies of America.
He soon learned that anger is not an identity. As the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Atlanta Olympics bombing, and 9/11 occurred, Patel saw how religious extremists recruited young people with similar raw emotions and manipulated them into becoming hate-filled murderers. He, on the other hand, was encountering a set of people and ideas that illuminated a different understanding: an America striving to achieve its core value of openness to all; an Islam seeking to return to its primary teachings of mercy and reconciliation; an India with diversity woven into its original fabric. Patel's most important discovery was not about his relationship with his past but about his concrete responsibility to make the best part of that past—the possibility of pluralism—a reality in the contemporary world.
Beacon Press has just released a new edition of the paperback of Acts of Faith, with a new afterword by the author. Read an excerpt from the book below or on Scribd.
Today's post is from Helene Atwan, the director of Beacon Press.
While one man and his small group of followers in
Gainesville, Florida are talking about burning copies of the Quran on 9/11,
it's been thrilling to see America's secular and religious communities reacting
in solidarity. Religious leaders,
including Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association,
are calling on their communities to read the Quran. The Mass Bible society has a project to
donate two copies of the Quran for every one burned. For those
who would like to take the opportunity to read at least some passages from the
Quran, you'll find some excerpts here.
Michelle J. Richard is Assistant to the Associate Publisher and Rights and Publicity Assistant at Beacon Press.
President Barack Obama and Angela Richard
Imagine my surprise this past Sunday afternoon when my mom called me with "I shouldn't be telling you this over the phone but I'm just bursting from the excitement!" replacing her "Hello."
She launched into a detailed back story, and although I had no idea what news she was getting ready to spill, I could feel myself becoming giddy. Fantasies of lottery millions or free island getaway vacations decorated my mind.
"Barack Obama is coming to our house!"
So then I said, ok no really – tell me what’s going on.
After lamenting the absence of a One Book, One City program in Boston, the Globe decided to launch an experiment: a citywide reading program of its own. The comments that followed the story after it ran in the Books section and on Boston.com confirmed what we suspected — local citizens are certainly among the country's most opinionated readers. What better place to host a reading program than Boston? Here's how the Globe online book club will work: What follows is a list of 10 books, many of which were culled from readers' suggestions. The list — we hope — has something for everyone; each book certainly has plenty of meat for discussion. The only theme: All the books have local interest. Readers will have one week to vote for their pick (voting closes July 13). Once the winner is announced participants will then have a month to read the book. At the end of the month Boston.com will host a discussion with an expert moderator.
Go to the Globe website and vote now for the title you'd like to read. The poll closes tomorrow, so cast your vote now!
Today's post is from Caitlin Meyer, a publicist here at Beacon Press, who was recently quoted in Publisher's Weekly.
On Friday I returned from New York where I had been attending 2010's BEA (BookExpo America) conference. After taking the long weekend to recuperate from all the activity, I wanted to share the experience with our Beacon Broadside readers. Last week, I, along with our Director, Helene Atwan, our Publicity Director, Pam MacColl, and our Executive Editors, Amy Caldwell and Gayatri Patnaik, came together with friends and colleagues from the book world to celebrate the past, present, and future of publishing. Here are some highlights from our four days in New York:
This year the event was held at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. Beacon Press was one of 1,500 exhibitors in attendance, with an estimated 22,000 people in attendance.
The conference kicked off on Tuesday with a plenary meeting for the exhibitors titled, "The Value of a Book." Everyone gathered to watch a heated discussion about the current state of publishing and how upcoming changes to the industry will affect agents, authors, and publishers alike.
When it was over we headed straight upstairs to the exhibit hall to set up our booth.
We were promoting some of our most anticipated titles for the fall, including Swan, the twentieth poetry collection from Mary Oliver, and our very first graphic novel, an adaptation with Jamar Nicholas of Geoffrey Canada's memoir, Fist Stick Knife Gun. Our booth was well positioned near our new distributor, Random House.
Later that morning Pam and I attended the panel discussion, "Building Online Reader Communities with an Eye on ROI." The entire conference, including this panel, was being live tweeted all week. The benefit of social networking has been an ongoing conversation in the publishing world for quite some time now. This panel included a discussion about how authors, bookstores, and publishers can use these new technologies to their advantage.
Things were in full swing by Wednesday. Everyone was busy taking meetings with agents, authors, editors, producers, and booksellers.
Across the aisle from us, new author, Vordak, was trying to lure people in with his plans to take over the world. Helene took a moment to pose for a photo with him. I couldn't hear what they were talking about, but I assume they were comparing notes on world domination tactics.
Later in the afternoon, C-SPAN BookTV stopped by to talk to Pam about our
new fall list. She did an amazing job discussing our upcoming books. The producers even stopped back the next day to compliment her, (we'll be sure to share a link when the video airs).
In fact, she did such a great job that Mr. Bananagrams himself agreed to have his photo taken with her.
On Thursday we started the day out at the "Adult Book & Author Breakfast," hosted by Jon Stewart.
Stewart was a part of an author panel, along with John Grisham, Condoleezza Rice, and Mary Roach. Each of the authors gave a tease for their upcoming book and took part in a Q&A with the audience. Stewart made it clear that he was less than pleased with the direction of the audience's somewhat self-serving questions, but we didn't mind his blunt approach. After all, "The Daily Show" has been a friend to Beacon this year.
The rest of the day was spent much like Wednesday had been: taking meetings, connecting with the media and booksellers, and continuing to spread the word about Beacon Press. The view from our booth did change that day though. Vordak was gone and replaced by this guy...
...who I believe comes from Middleworld. He was the strong and silent type, but was nice enough to pose with me. The picture is blurry because everyone was rushing around the exhibit hall to make sure they took it all in before the end of the day. I think my photographer might have gotten jostled by a passing book enthusiast.
As the day wound down I really began to appreciate everything I'd seen and done during the week. This was my first BEA and I felt very grateful for and inspired by my wonderful and knowledgeable colleagues.
I was also honored to be a part of the thriving community of publishing professionals and book lovers. Each year we hear more and more about the fast approaching "death of print." Yet, each year Beacon Press and other publishers around the globe bring in new and exciting writers who help us to keep books alive in the marketplace. Yes, there was much discussion about ebooks and Twitter accounts. Yes, the print industry, from books to newspapers, is facing new challenges. And yes, publishing will need to continue to evolve in order to keep up with changing technologies. But one of the most valuable lessons I took away from BEA was that there are still few things that excite people as much as the prospect of writing, publishing, or reading a good book. If the community and enthusiasm of this year's attendees is any indication of our publishing future, I think we'll be ok.
Oh…and while I was in NYC, I also went to the Museum of Natural History. It can't be all work all the time!
On the wall in my study is an index card with a quote on it from Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. "We are communal histories, communal books," it says. I carry those sentiments into the classroom with me five times a week at the university where I teach, as I try to communicate to my students why stories matter, why books matter, and why, by God, we should all read. Sometimes I am so busy proselytizing the virtues of literature that I forget to look inside and ask myself "Why does my own writing matter?" I write because I love writing and because I think it changes lives—sometimes in ways that we can't possibly anticipate. I suppose our books are, in this sense, like our children. We send them into the world, and they do things that we never intended them to do, things that are sometimes confounding, often improbable and even heart stopping. They make their way in the world totally independent of us. Maybe that is ultimately what a book launch is all about.
Having said this, I've also had moments of real doubt over the past four years about whether writing has the power to change anything. I have spent the past eight years of my life writing about Sri Lanka, a country that has been at war with itself for thirty plus years. I lived there with my son in 2001-2002 and then returned after the 2004 tsunami. In the fall of 2005, a cease-fire hung in the balance, and it became possible finally to get up to the Tamil north. I felt that I really needed the Tamil perspective on this war for the book I was writing. In Jaffna I stayed in a makeshift guest house where I was the lone guest on a street where every house had either been destroyed or abandoned. I spent my days talking to students, to people who were part of demining operations, to people whose children had been forcibly recruited by the Tamil Tigers, and to people who had suffered war loss compounded by tsunami loss. And at night I came back to the guest house and wrote about them. I struggled with what I was doing up there as a writer. The people in Jaffna didn't need me sitting at my computer; they needed aid and they needed for this war to be over, the very things I could not give them. Was I using these people, I wondered, as nothing more than material for my book?
Today's post is from Tom Hallock, Associate Publisher of Beacon Press.
Last week, Beacon announced a change in its distribution from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to Random House Publisher Services which will be effective July 1, 2010.
It's a big change and one we’re excited about. The new partnership encompasses all formats and channels. Random House will be selling Beacon books, audios, eBooks and audio downloads to US, Canada (as of 1/1/11), and other English language markets. We will also have the support of Random House in the academic, library, school and special sales areas. We think this new partnership will serve our authors and their books-- and enable us to reach a wide audience through a variety of channels in a variety of formats. We also think this will enable us to focus on building our lists and exploring the new publishing and marketing opportunities of the digital age.
Although we won't start shipping books until July 1, our work with RHPS started in December and it's been exciting to see things take shape. We launched our fall 2010 list, including our first graphic book (an adaptation of Geoff Canada's Fist Stick Knife Gun), at sales conference last week. We've already started working with our new distributor on Book Expo, ALA, and the London Book fair and are especially excited about their support in bringing Eboo Patel (Acts of Faith) to the Freshman Year Experience conference in January 11.
The change also means we’re saying goodbye to two distributors who have served us well over the past decade. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has been with us-- and looked out for our interests-- through some tough times, including the recent economic downturn. They helped us launch Michael Patrick MacDonald's All Souls, Meredith Hall's Without a Map and many new titles by Mary Oliver including her first audios. We'll miss having a distributor across the Boston Common, with whom we could talk through the issues of the day over lunch at the Beacon Hill Bistro. We'll also miss working with Beth Ineson and the all the great reps at HMH. We leave with a sense of gratitude to them and to Gary Gentel, Laurie Brown and the HMH management team for all they've done for the press in the past ten years.
We'll also be saying goodbye six months later to our wonderfully independent Canadian distributor, Fitzhenry and Whiteside. Among the things I have loved about working with them is that I can always get their President, Sharon Fitzhenry, on the phone and that I was greeted at the door by their resident cats. (It reminds me of my days at FSG when a monstrously ill-tempered cat named Maizy inhabited the sales and marketing floor. The Fitz cats always treated me well, however.) And I want to give special thanks to Fitz's Michael Davis who educated me about many things Canadian and did yeoman’s work on our list.
We enter this period of change with a sense of excitement and optimism about the future. We think technology is giving us ways to reach new readers and fulfill our mission in new ways. And we feel like we've found the right partner for these times in Random House Publisher Services.
A fantastic interview with Ruthanne Lum McCunn over at Bookslut (and also posted at the Smithsonian Bookdragon blog) made us think that you all should read a sample of her completely amazing novel, Thousand Pieces of Gold. The book is a biographical novel about the life of Lalu Nathoy, aka Polly Bemis, a Chinese woman who was auctioned as a slave in San Francisco and later bought her freedom and became a pioneer legend. Here is an excerpt of the novel we're sharing on Scribd. You can find a reader's guide to the book on the Beacon website.