As a part of the highbrow academic publishing community, what do you think about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature? I know you’re not putting out fiction and poetry. But does giving that kind of august recognition to an undoubtedly pop cultural figure diminish an award that at least had the rep for rewarding high (or at least slightly higher) culture? Or do you buy the committee’s argument that songwriting now belongs up on the mountain with poetry? Yours, R.Z.
Dear R.Z.: The Bolshevik remains indecisive, as often happens since The Party is no longer around to tell him what to think. On the one hand, I felt the headline to the news stories should have read: MAN WITH EVERYTHING GIVEN EVEN MORE. On the other, his elevation in a sense democratizes an award inevitably seen as snobby and elitist. The man became famous singing and writing the people’s music, after all, and then remained genuinely popular for fifty years. He’s that rare laureate known to the public, recognized for his/her impact, and beloved by millions. I am not sure that’s happened since Pablo Neruda or maybe John Steinbeck.
The black-and-white poise of the re-created tour in I’m Not There softens the actual color footage of these 1966 performances, shot by Pennebaker for the unreleased film Eat the Document and excerpted in Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (2005).
When I reviewed this documentary for Sight and Sound, I was struck most of all by an impression that Dylan seems under major stress, jolted by the power of the band’s music, as if he had not simply picked up a Stratocaster but actually plugged himself into the mains—for example, performing “Like a Rolling Stone” in Newcastle: “Rickety-seeming and stick thin in a tight black velvet suit, Dylan looks like a high-heeled marionette. At his left, guitarist Robbie Robertson watches with an expression veering between concern and euphoria; he stands like a bodyguard while Dylan is convulsed by the song, which he shouts out—at one point cupping his hands around his mouth as if the better to let the words pour out of him, his exhausted eyes directed way over the heads of the audience, his face jerking skittishly as if he were being administered electric shocks.”
Occasionally we would make a weekend trip to New York to hang out with all the pickers down there. On arrival we would inevitably head for Izzy Young’s Folklore Center on Bleeker Street. Izzy was one of those larger-than-life people—full of energy, absolutely committed to folk music as a force for social change. The front of the store had records, songbooks, and instruction books. Izzy had a cramped, crowded office at the back where he would hold court with anyone who happened to come in.
Bill and I quickly figured out that if we hung around Izzy’s long enough someone we knew—or wanted to know—would come in, and one thing would lead to another. One day there was this kid in the back hunched over Izzy’s typewriter, typing furiously. Eventually he took a break, and Izzy introduced me to Bob Dylan. After a while we made our way to a bar called The Dugout, next to The Bitter End, which was the most “professional” folk club in the Village. Bob and I hit it off. Over a few beers we discovered a mutual love for Hank Williams. Theo Bikel was running a hootenanny next door, so we decided to go in and sign up. We were told that the list was full, so we just found a place in the hallway leading back to the kitchen and sang some Hank Williams songs to each other. Probably one of the last times Bob couldn’t get in a door!
Teach the controversy! Like any academic press, UIP delves into the taboo, the transgressive, and the fringe. Such books reflect our belief that a lot of topics go unseen, and a lot of voices unheard, by the mainstream. TBT presents a short survey of Press books that venture beyond the regular to spark thought and encourage the rubbing of chins.
Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage, by Martin Ottenheimer
Social anthropologist Martin Ottenheimer challenges the widely held American belief that legislation against marriage between first cousins is based on a biological risk to offspring. In fact, its author maintains, the U.S. prohibition against such unions originated largely because of the belief that it would promote more rapid assimilation of immigrants.
Ottenheimer questioned U.S. laws against cousin marriage because his international research into marriage patterns showed no European countries prohibit such unions. He examines the historical development of U.S. laws governing marriage, contrasts them with European laws, and analyzes the genetic implications of first cousin marriage. Modern genetic evidence, Ottenheimer says, doesn’t support the concept that children of these unions are at any special risk.
The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, by Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton, and Emily Toth
Acclaimed as a classic since its initial publication, The Curse provides a cultural history of menstruation from menarche to menopause. The authors provide a lively discussion of ancient and modern taboos as in a wide-ranging jaunt that looks at medical approaches, menstrual humor, the sanitary products industry, advertising, and attitudes toward menstruation in art and daily life. They also look at issues like premenstrual syndrome, toxic shock, and tampon reliability.
Fresh, feminist, and always fascinating, The Curse is a classic look at the historical and cultural dimensions of an everyday, yet not-often-spoken of, part of women’s lives.
Tin Men: The Art, Craft, and Social History behind Tin Men, by Archie Green
For centuries, the history and lore of tinkers, tinners, tinsmiths, and their contemporary counterparts the sheet-metal workers have been represented through the creation of figurative sculptures known as tin men, crafted from sheet metal and scraps into likenesses that include clowns, knights, cowboys, and L. Frank Baum’s Tin Woodsman of Oz.
In this vibrant exploration of tin men and their creators, labor folklorist Archie Green interviews craftspeople, gallery owners, collectors, and Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association officials, linking tinsmith artistry to issues of craft education, union traditions, labor history, and social class. Enhanced by numerous illustrations, the volume also includes an inventory of tin men located in sheet metal shops, galleries, and museums.
This weekend, citizens in Olney will begin the annual census of the town’s famous albino squirrel population, to see just how the white varmints have fared over the past year. White squirrels have a presence in Olney. They appear on the police cars, park district signs, garbage cans, the newspaper’s logo, T-shirts, and of course in the souvenir shops. Laws protect their right to cross avenues and sidewalks first. Village regs prohibit anyone from taking a white squirrel beyond the city limits. Caring citizens provide squirrel houses and put out feeding boxes and watering stations. The town even provides free corn.
Women filing gender-based asylum claims long faced skepticism and outright rejection within the U.S. immigration system. Despite erratic progress, the United States still fails to recognize gender as an established category for experiencing persecution. Gender exists in a sort of limbo segregated from other aspects of identity and experience.
Now available, the UIP release Gendered Asylum: Race and Violence in U.S. Law and Politics delves into this complex area. Sara L. McKinnon exposes racialized rhetorics of violence in politics and charts the development of gender as a category in U.S. asylum law. Starting with the late 1980s, when gender-based requests first emerged in case law, McKinnon analyzes gender- and sexuality-related cases against the backdrop of national and transnational politics. Her focus falls on cases as diverse as Guatemalan and Salvadoran women sexually abused during the Dirty Wars and transgender asylum seekers from around the world fleeing brutally violent situations. She reviews the claims, evidence, testimony, and message strategies that unfolded in these legal arguments and decisions, and illuminates how legal decisions turned gender into a political construct vulnerable to U.S. national and global interests. She also explores myriad related aspects of the process, including how subjects are racialized and the effects of that racialization, and the consequences of policies that position gender as a signifier for women via normative assumptions about sex and heterosexuality.
Wide-ranging and rich with human detail, Gendered Asylum uses feminist, immigration, and legal studies to engage one of the hotly debated issues of our time.
As energetic on the road as she is with her prose, Penny is currently crisscrossing North Carolina and nearby regions to introduce readers, radio listeners, and bookstore patrons to Mr. Seckler’s music and life. Those of you lucky enough to be near Garner, NC can catch her at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, October 14, at Lorraine’s Coffee House and Music. The bluegrass-and-java mainstay will host Penny’s book signing and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if a little music broke out afterwards.
Tonight, the world once again courts apocalypse, as the Chicago Cubs put on their best woolens to embark on the long, untrod road to the World Series. Winners of over 100 games for the first time since the Great Depression, the Chicago nine have stoked expectations while setting up a flame-out that could only eclipse the most crashing disappointment in city sports history. The last time the Cubs made the Series, Harry Truman was listening distractedly to the wireless as he tried to figure out FDR’s terrible handwriting.
Just competing for the World Series opens the door to, in theory, winning the World Series, an event some believe must bring about the end of the world. My personal theory is that an asteroid will strike the earth just as Kris Bryant connects for a title-clinching homer in the fourteenth inning of Game Seven, a catastrophe that will scotch his chance to pose on a bearskin rug for Cosmo.
This will seem hard to believe, but Cubs postseason baseball did not always bring on a fearsome Time of Portents. Yea, in an earlier time, the Cubs won pennants so often their presence in the postseason became tiresome. Laurent Pernot, in his UIP charmer Before the Ivy: The Cubs’ Golden Age in Pre-Wrigley Chicago, even called one of his chapters “Again, Chicago is Champion” without being hooted down by Leon Durham-scarred hecklers. Of course, in true Cubs fashion, Pernot is referring to the other Chicago team.
Today marks National Noodle Day, an observance that simultaneously celebrates a food most beloved of preschoolers and college students while making you wonder if this national day trend has gone too far. At UIP we take no stance on the question—it’s bad for business—but we do encourage all of you to investigate a clutch of Throwback books that encourage you to use your noodle. And when it comes to noodles, no one uses that bend-me shape-me pasta item like Jewish Americans. The Chosen People have turned out kugels of varying quality since the early days of the Republic. With Rosh Hashanah just past us and the blast of the shofar fading into the ether, we present a
Coalfield Jews: An Appalachian History, by Deborah R. Weiner
Coalfield Jews explores the intersection of two simultaneous historic events: central Appalachia’s transformative coal boom (1880s-1920), and the mass migration of eastern European Jews to America. Traveling to southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia to investigate the coal boom’s opportunities, some Jewish immigrants found success as retailers and established numerous small but flourishing Jewish communities.
Deborah R. Weiner’s Coalfield Jews provides the first extended study of Jews in Appalachia, exploring where they settled, how they made their place within a surprisingly receptive dominant culture, how they competed with coal company stores, interacted with their non-Jewish neighbors, and maintained a strong Jewish identity deep in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. To tell this story, Weiner draws on a wide range of primary sources in social, cultural, religious, labor, economic, and regional history. She also includes moving personal statements, from oral histories as well as archival sources, to create a holistic portrayal of Jewish life that will challenge commonly held views of Appalachia as well as the American Jewish experience.
Jews, Sports, and the Rites of Citizenship, edited by Jack Kugelmass
To many, an association between Jews and sports seems almost oxymoronic—yet Jews have been prominent in boxing, basketball, and fencing, and some would argue that hurler Sandy Koufax is America’s greatest athlete ever. In Jews, Sports, and the Rites of Citizenship, Jack Kugelmass shows that sports–significant in constructing nations and in determining their degree of exclusivity—also figures prominently in the Jewish imaginary. This interdisciplinary collection brings together the perspectives of anthropologists and historians to provide both methodological and regional comparative frameworks for exploring the meaning of sports for a minority population.
Jewish Gangsters of Modern Literature, by Rachel Rubin
In this vividly written study, Rachel Rubin posits the Jewish literary gangster—a figure whose violence, transgressiveness, and ongoing internal conflict render him an important symbol of modernity—as a locus for exploring questions of artistic power in the interwar years. Focusing specifically on the Russian writer Isaac Babel and Americans Mike Gold, Samuel Ornitz, and Daniel Fuchs, but also taking in cartoons, movies, and modernist paintings, Rubin casts the Jewish gangster as a favorite figure used by left-wing Jewish writers to examine their own place in world history.
Rubin contends that these writers saw their artistic endeavors as akin to the work of their gangster doubles: outcasts and rebels “kneebreaking” their way into the literary canon while continuing to “do business” with the system. In the hands of Jewish literary communists—themselves engaged in transgressing cultural boundaries—the figure of the Jewish gangster provides an occasion to craft a virile Jewish masculinity, to consider the role of vernacular in literature, to interrogate the place of art within a political economy, and to explore the fate of Jewishness in the “new worlds” of the United States and the Soviet Union.
Penny Parsons’ acclaimed biography of bluegrass legend Curly Seckler keeps earning plaudits and getting attention. Recently, Penny sat down at WPAQ in Mt. Airy, North Carolina to discuss Mr. Seckler with Ivy Sheppard. Afterward, Ms. Sheppard received more requests to play Curly Seckler music than she’d ever had. Have a listen to stories of great music and a bigger-than-life musical career.