September 22 is an auspicious date in Illinois history. As this post recounts, boxing history took place on the date. In 1985, Willie Nelson teamed with John Mellencamp and Neil Young to put up the first Farm Aid extravaganza at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. And, in the bitter presidential campaign of 1960, Richard M. Nixon drew worldwide attention to tiny Sullivan, Illinois just by showing up for lunch.

Sullivan’s town fathers had invited Nixon and opponent John F. Kennedy to a debate. To everyone’s surprise, Nixon accepted. When JFK failed to show, Nixon settled for lunch and giving a speech at a town park. Nixon’s sandwich was buffalo meat courtesy of a bison herd kept outside of town. Standing guard over Nixon’s picnic table: Boy Scout and local teen Steve Jenne.

Nixon ate half the sandwich before adjourning to the park’s baseball diamond to speechify. A crowd of 17,000 followed. Jenne stayed behind.“Being the good Boy Scout that I was,” he said, “I stood there and guarded that sandwich.” It soon became clear Nixon was not a member of the Clean Plate Club. Jenne, in a stroke of genius, packed up the then-vice president’s lunch leftovers and kept the sandwich in his freezer. For decades.

Twenty-eight years later, a newspaper’s story about the sandwich went nationwide. Jenne and the bison meat ended up on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. (Johnny gave Jenne a half-eaten barbeque sandwich to take home.) Later, Jenne took the meat item west again to appear on a game show. Media continued to interview him about the Nixon culinary encounter well into the 2000s. A Journal Gazette and Times-Courier article noted that he had by then wrapped it in new cellophane, though it remained in the same applesauce jar that had housed the sandwich since 1960.

ntarangwiMwenda Ntarangwi is an associate professor of anthropology at Calvin College. He recently answered some questions about his book The Street Is My Pulpit:
Hip Hop and Christianity in Kenya.

Q: Your book explores the Kenyan music scene through the lens of Christian hip hop artist Juliani’s life and career. For those unfamiliar with Juliani, can your briefly introduce the artist and his role in the Kenyan music scene?

Mwenda Ntarangwi: Born in Dandora, a suburb of Nairobi famed for having the biggest dumpsite in the world, Juliani is one of the most popular hip hop artists in Kenya. He started his music career at the feet of Kalamashaka, Kenya’s pioneering hip hop artists, where he honed his lyrical prowess to articulate social problems facing youth in Kenya. Born Julius Owino, Juliani is known for his electrifying stage performance, dreadlocked hair, and a down-to-earth demeanor rare for artists as popular as he. His name has been used to promote new farming techniques, cell phone products, environmental issues, political change, wildlife conservation, and economic programs, among many others.

Q: How did your interest in break-dancing lead, eventually, to your academic study?

Ntarangwi: It got me connected to not only other youth with a similar interest but to a world far away from me that seemed to grapple with the same challenges I was facing as a young person trying to figure out my own identity and place in society. The breakdance film Breakin’ provided an interesting background to the pursuit of social issues I came to find in hip hop because it had some young people challenging authority as represented in a judge who was blocking a team from entering into a dance competition.

Q: There is a growing youth population in Kenya. Does the hip hop scene take on unique characteristics due to the demographic shift?

Ntarangwi: Because the majority of the audience for hip hop is youth, there is a special connection they have with the music especially the socially-conscious version that seeks to articulate their problems and frustrations. It is also because hip hop as an industry promises the youth (who constitute the majority of the unemployed) opportunities for a better livelihood and a platform to speak their minds without much control from such avenues as the government or their elders. Having the chance to articulate one’s lived experiences as well as aspirations is a powerful thing for youth who live in a context where they often feel disenfranchised.

Q: What is the Kama Si Sisi program?

Ntarangwi: This is a project introduced by Juliani to mobilize youth to become agents of change in their own lives’ circumstances. Kama Si Sisi (nani?), which means “if not us (then who?)” in Swahili is a program that encourages youth to seek economic independence through savings and entrepreneurship, combat climate change through planting trees and reducing trash, and changing the political scenario by being actively getting involved in voting and holding their leaders accountable.

Q: Are the social boundaries of Christianity different in Kenyan hip hop than in Western popular culture?

Ntarangwi: In Kenya there isn’t yet an operating public separation of church and state as it is in the West even though the 2010 national constitution requires such separation. Kenyan Christians are much more culturally conservative than their western counterparts. This has shaped the kind of music accepted as Christian and has led to a number of questions about how much of Juliani’s music is Christian. This is especially so for those who see Christian music as only about verses from the Bible or making references to Jesus. Kenyan Christianity also has shaped much of the public discourse, limiting the level of inappropriate language that can be used in hip hop. This makes Kenyan hip hop (Christian or otherwise) much more clean than its U.S. counterpart, for instance.


welkerOne of the Press’s more eagerly awaited recent titles, and a runaway hit at this summer’s Book Expo in Chicago, Baring Witness is now on sale.

Acclaimed author-editor Holly Welker and thirty-six Mormon women write about devotion and love and luck, about the wonder of discovery, and about the journeys, both thorny and magical, to humor, grace, and contentment. They speak to a diversity of life experiences: what happens when one partner rejects Church teachings; marrying outside one’s faith; the pain of divorce and widowhood; the horrors of spousal abuse; the hard journey from visions of an idealized marriage to the everyday truth; sexuality within Mormon marriage; how the pressure to find a husband shapes young women’s actions and sense of self; and the ways Mormon belief and culture can influence second marriages and same-sex unions. The result is an unflinching look at the earthly realities of an institution central to Mormon life.

leon and simonetteIn this new UIP collection, Javier F. León and Helena Simonett curate a group of essential writings from the last twenty-five years of Latin American music studies. Chosen as representative, outstanding, and influential in the field, each article appears in English translation. A detailed new introduction by León and Simonett both surveys and contextualizes the history of Latin American ethnomusicology, opening the door for readers energized by the musical forms brought and nurtured by immigrants from throughout Latin America.

Contributors include Marina Alonso Bolaños, Gonzalo Camacho Díaz, José Jorge de Carvalho, Claudio F. Díaz, Rodrigo Cantos Savelli Gomes, Juan Pablo González, Rubén López-Cano, Angela Lühning, Jorge Martínez Ulloa, Maria Ignêz Cruz Mello, Julio Mendívil, Carlos Miñana Blasco, Raúl R. Romero, Iñigo Sánchez Fuarros, Carlos Sandroni, Carolina Santamaría-Delgado, Rodrigo Torres Alvarado, and Alejandro Vera.

welkerHolly Welker is an award-winning poet and essayist living in Arizona. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Best American Essays, and other publications. She recently answered some questions about the edited collection Baring Witness: 36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage.

Q: What was the inspiration for the collection?

Holly Welker: Many things made me decide that I wanted to put this collection of essays together, but there were two situations in particular that made it seem urgent. The first was that I moved to Utah in the summer 2008, as the fight over California’s Proposition 8 to amend the state constitution really heated up. The mobilization of individual Mormons was instrumental in the passage of Prop 8, and it got me thinking about why the church would ask its members to take this political stand.

The other event was the death of my mother in 2010, six months before my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. In my grief over that loss, I started thinking about how different her life was from mine, and wondering about expectations she’d had for her life that might not have been fulfilled. I began asking friends for stories about their marriages in the hopes of gaining further insight into my parents’ marriage, even though I had been a witness to it all my life and knew it well. Continue reading

potawatomi trail of deathThe President does not know the truth. He, like me, has been imposed upon. He does not know that you made my young chiefs drunk and got their consent and pretended to get mine. He would not drive me from my home and the graves of my tribe, and my children, who have gone to the Great Spirit, nor allow you to tell me that your braves will take me, tied like a dog.
—Chief Menominee

On September 16, 1838, the straggling remnants of the Potawatomi nation that had lived in northern Indiana made its way into a camp at Danville. Twelve days earlier, a volunteer white militia under General John Tipton had tied up the Potawatomi leader and prophet Menominee before torching the area’s Potawatomi villages and homes. Menominee began the forced journey west in a jail wagon with two other chiefs. The rest of his 859 people set out on a 660-mile march to a resettlement area in Kansas on foot and horseback.

The Native Americans arrived in Danville in the midst of what was probably a typhoid epidemic. The Potawatomi buried four of its people in the town. At the same time, a French priest named Benjamin Marie Petit caught up with the convoy. Petit had baptized many of the Potawatomi in Indiana, and members of the nation attended Mass at Petit’s church in Logansport. Called Little Duck by his parishioners, Petit acquired a working knowledge of the Potawatomi language. His empathy for both their persons and their culture made him a popular figure.

The caravan crossed Illinois via Catlin, Sidney, Monticello, Decatur, Springfield, and a string of towns further west before moving into Missouri. There, the epidemic eased. The trail ended on November 4 at Osawatomie, Kansas. The 756 remaining Potawatomi—some had died on the trail, others had run away—had been promised houses as part of the resettlement. They found empty land and a landscape settling into pre-winter cold. Petit, now ill, stayed the rest of the year before leaving for St. Louis with Nan-wesh-mah, a Potawatomi friend. Petit died early the next year.

The Potawatomi lost 42 people on the Trail of Death. The states of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas declared the route a National Historic Trail from 1994-1996. A statue of Menominee, dedicated in 1909, stands southwest of Plymouth, Indiana.

whitneyIn the new UIP release Splattered Ink, Sarah Whitney explores postfeminist gothic, that blockbuster-laden, Oprah-sanctified genre literary that jars readers, rejects happy endings (and beginnings), and finds powerful new ways to talk about violence against women. The genre in particular challenges postfeminist assumptions of women’s equality and empowerment.

Whitney’s analysis includes a in-depth look at bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult. Let these brief excerpts whet your appetite for a fascinating literary foray into one of the most beloved and high-profile genres in contemporary lit.

1. Picoult’s interest in creating indeterminate stories poses a conundrum for readers. Her desire for readers to carefully consider all sides and come to their own particular solutions to moral dilemmas is well-intentioned and inclusive. By writing open-ended narratives, she promotes ongoing conversation with her readers through various media platforms, including her author website and Twitter. On the other hand, it recalls choice feminism, which, as Michaele Ferguson argues, “evinces a fear of politics” and simply “aims to avoid having to make judgments, to avoid taking controversial stands that might offend and exclude, and to de-radicalize feminist claims.”

2. Jodi Picoult’s world, like those of the other authors working in postfeminist gothic, is one where we are born into risk and pain. Christopher Wilson writes that in contemporary America, it is “always necessary that the pain of the crime victim be opened up, so that it may be appropriated into an ever-vigilant, populist, and sleepless state.” Like a literary version of the iconic “security mom,” Picoult keeps readers awake at night through her repeated narratives of violated children. She has told Ginia Bellafante that her fascination with this narrative is an attempt to ward off maternal harm. “There is a part of me that believes that if I think about these issues, if I put myself through the emotional wringer, I somehow develop an immunity for my own family. . . . I realize that this kind of thinking is completely ridiculous,” she admits.

3. In the opening of Perfect Match, Nina Frost forces Tylenol down her mildly sick son’s throat as she hurries to her job. “You’ll just hope that your own son has the good sense to get sick when you’re not scheduled in court. . . . How can everyone else’s kid be a priority over your own?” her husband lectures accusingly. This scene of domestic strife in which Nina ignores her son’s strange silence and his bed-wetting, abruptly dumping him at day care, signals a now-familiar theme of the incompetent working mother. Because Nina does not properly attend to the tenets of postfeminist new momism, she exposes her child to abuse. Nathaniel is molested by a priest who, by virtue of his moral authority, is easily able to compel Nathaniel’s silence. But it was Nina, we learn, who pushed the unwilling child into the priests’ clutches for a special story hour.

4. Jodi Picoult’s novels fetishize balance in two distinct ways. Picoult locates value in the concept of balance, and expresses it through her multiple perspectives and resistance to truth claims. In an interview with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, she states that if “you can make them [readers] understand why someone with a differing opinion has that opinion and at least come to respect that opinion, I think you make the world a better place. I think I’m still teaching. It’s just a really big classroom.” The challenge for readers . . . is to judge among these differing opinions and to struggle against simple relativism, particularly within Picoult’s stories of gendered violence. In addition, within her narratives, Picoult also invokes the concept of “balance” in a more traditional postfeminist way, finding meaning and progress in the restoration of domestic equilibrium for career-oriented mothers.

whitneyOne of this month’s new UIP releases, Splattered Ink is a bold analysis of postfeminist gothic, a literary genre that continues to jar readers, reject happy endings, and find powerful new ways to talk about violence against women.

Sarah E. Whitney explores the genre’s challenge to postfeminist assumptions of women’s equality and empowerment. The authors she examines—Patricia Cornwell, Jodi Picoult, Susanna Moore, Sapphire, and Alice Sebold—construct narratives around socially invisible and physically broken protagonists who directly experience consequences of women’s ongoing disempowerment. Their works ask readers to inhabit women’s suffering and to face the uncomfortable, all-too-denied fact that today’s women must navigate lives fraught with risk. Whitney’s analysis places the authors within a female gothic tradition that has long given voice to women’s fears of their own powerlessness. But she also reveals the paradox that allows the genre to powerfully critique postfeminism’s often sunshiney outlook while uneasily coexisting within the same universe.

One man’s opinion: if I had to choose the hardest gig in show business or performance, without a doubt I would say “comedian.” It is hard to spin a funny story. It is hard to tell a joke. It is hard to deadpan and hard to double-take and hard to raise an eyebrow just the right way. My own tragic lack of funniness no doubt enters into my calculations, so I won’t dispute if you list the insane qualifications for opera or the grueling years-long preparations for Chinese acrobatics. But given a choice, I’d let a couple of guys use me as a jump-rope before I’d attempt three minutes of standup.

You might think, “University press: an institution as funny as a martini made of paste.” And in many cases you would be correct. But you’re at the University of Illinois Press blog, and UIP has long produced comedy by the tome-ful. Journey below the fold to discover humorosity of the rib-wreckingest, gut-bustingest kind, all in English, and all there for you at a mere click.

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