Monday, November 13, 2017

Jessica Hopper and Oliver Wang Join American Music Series Editorial Team

Authors and music critics Jessica Hopper and Oliver Wang have joined David Menconi of the Raleigh News & Observer on the editorial team of the American Music series published by the University of Texas Press.

“We are at a particularly ripe time within music culture to interrogate what is American music; we're overdue for an expansion of the canon,” says Hopper.

“There’s such great potential to publish more books about pop music that are smart and
cogent but written for a broad audience,” Wang added. “It’s a thrill to play a role in helping shepherd some of those projects.”

The American Music series, which began in 2012, publishes cultural histories, essay

collections, critical artist biographies, memoirs, and other forms of inventive storytelling that expand readers’ perceptions of music.

“There are so many incredible music journalists, critics, poets, academics, amateurs, and musicians writing right now whose perspectives and curiosities can serve to enlighten our own,” says Hopper. “My hope is that in this new phase of the series we can publish work informed by both fandom and scholarship, delve into regional scenes, and raise up marginalized sounds and ideas, contemporary and historic.”

Highlights from the series include Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chestnutt, one of 
NPR’s Best Books of 2015 and a finalist for the American Booksellers Association 2016 Book of the Year, and John Prine: In Spite of Himself, praised by Publishers Weekly as “an admiring portrait of an often restless though always canny songwriter.”

The newest release, Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives, edited by Holly Gleason, is a collection of essays from some of America’s most intriguing women writers on the female country artists who have inspired them, including Brenda Lee, June Carter Cash, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Taylor Swift.

As the series has expanded beyond Americana and roots music, the editors have made it a priority to seek out manuscripts from diverse voices across genres.

“I’d like to see more books focused on particular music scenes, both historic and contemporary,” says Wang. “I like thinking about how music roots itself in neighborhoods and communities and the rich relationships that flow out of that.”

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Adds Hopper, “We need more books by black and brown women. We need more books on music by trans and queer pioneers. We need more books about hip hop. We need more books about Latinx artists shaping American music. We need women telling their own stories. We need books to explain how the AIDS crisis impacted American music making. And we need books that get at the histories that are unGoogleable, before they ebb away entirely.”

Upcoming books in the series include A Spy in the House of Loud, a memoir from Chris Stamey, founding member of the dB’s, that will be available next April; and, tentatively slated for 2019, a history of women in punk by journalist, musician, and “Punk Professor” Vivien Goldman, and a critical biography of A Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, author of They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

More information about the series, forthcoming books, and submissions can be found at:

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Jessica Hopper is a Chicago-based writer and producer. She was previously the executive editor of MTV News, Senior Editor at Pitchfork, and Music Editor at Rookie. Her essays have appeared in Best Music Writing for 2004, 2005, 2007, 2010, and 2011. Hopper was the longtime music consultant for This American Life. She is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking (2009), The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (2015) and the forthcoming Night Moves (2018).

David Menconi is a music critic and arts reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. He has also written three books, two of them (2012's Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown and Ray Benson's 2015 memoir Comin' Right at Ya) published by University of Texas Press.

Oliver Wang is a professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach, and author of Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Area. He writes regularly on music and arts, including for KCET’s Artbound, NPR, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the creator of an audioblog, Soul Sides, and host of a weekly podcast, Heat Rocks.

The American Music series is written for pop music enthusiasts of all stripes, and books in this series treat important, enduring, and perhaps under-recognized aspects of our most dynamic art form. Any definition of American music must encompass the full diversity of people, genres, and forces that have shaped it, and to that end the series publishes cultural histories, essay collections, critical artist biographies, and memoirs, as well as other forms of inventive storytelling.

Additional Information:

Cameron M. Ludwick | Senior Publicist | | T: 512.232.7633

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Selling the Facts in Independent Bookstores

Bookstores have always been a locus of ideas, but in the months since the hateful rhetoric and racial violence surrounding the 2016 election, they have become a place of refuge and knowledge-seeking around the country. To celebrate today's University Press Week blog tour theme of "Selling the Facts," we talked to booksellers here in Austin, Texas, about selling books as a form of activism in the misinformation age. 
'Righteous Babe' Sue from BookWoman

We are quite fortunate to have many independent bookstores in this city, where readers are convening to sort through the 'fake news' epidemic and fight intolerance. BookWoman is literally one woman, the incredible Susan Post, who co-founded a collective called Common Woman Bookstore over forty years ago. She is quite busy doing what she loves. However, she enthusiastically shared her forthcoming event on Wednesday, November 8, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. with author Annette McGivney discussing domestic violence and her new book Pure Land. All of Annette McGivney's profits from the books sold will be donated to Austin's SAFE Alliance Family Shelter.

Please enjoy this edited interview with local booksellers from BookPeopleSouth Congress BooksMalvern Booksand Monkeywrench Books about how the business of selling facts is going.

What has it been like working in bookselling since the election?

Erika Allbright
South Congress Books, in the heart of the South Congress shopping district

Definitely a bigger interest in certain books like 1984. We get a lot of comments about how 1984 was quite prophetic. We've always had a lot of people interested in history, but a few more are trying to see how the past led us to where we are right now in 2017.
Erika from South Congress Books

Taylor Pate
Malvern Books

So we sell small press and independently published books and our focus is literary arts so a lot of it is politically informed and socially engaged. For our community, you know, the air went out of the room when the election happened and since then it's pretty much been business as normal. We just keep choosing the books that we like. Nothing in that regard has really changed.

Display inside Malvern Books

Our mission hasn't changed at all, but these days it's all about exploring how we can engage our communities in new ways. Some people, yes, they come in for a diversion from current events. They want comfort. But there are also people coming in looking for more information or a motivation to take action. A lot of university presses publish books that people are looking for on policy topics like immigration. Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide was very popular.

Anonymous volunteer
Monkeywrench Books

So prior to the election, most of the people who came in here, I don't want to say had an "ideology" but had formed opinions about the election. But many more people who don't have formed opinions have been in the store recently. 

Instagram post by BookPeople staff

How have your conversations with your customers changed?

Erika, South Congress Books

It's a bit more political. Of course, it's something we try to keep on the soft pedal just because we have all kinds of people here. So when I'm up front talking to everyone who comes in, I just don't bring it up. But if someone brings it up like they did this morning, commenting on the protagonist in 1984 and how he was tasked with rewriting the news to reflect more positively on the government . . . this person was talking to me, he was an older fellow, I'd say he was probably eighty, commenting on how prophetic he had found it. And I just kinda go, "Yeah, you've got that right." And I just have to leave it at that because I'm at work, whereas if we were drinking a beer together...

Taylor, Malvern

Customers have had conversations with us.  I mean, like I said we try to be a safe space, an open, inclusive space for everyone. We feel like we're a space for those conversations to happen and we encourage them. We've had a couple of events that were like "resistance" events, to call attention to the fact that not everyone agrees with the people who are in power right now and the decisions that are being made. Our voices aren't nothing, especially in a bookstore. We have a really big community, we actually have several author communities that use this space as a place to have their community events, so we just kinda sat back and watched all of that happen. And you know, from the old-school Austin poets to groups of disabled folks, these people are all affected in a different way by fears. The customers? Yeah, we've just been talking politics.

Abby, BookPeople

South Congress Books storefront
Yeah, certainly. It's always been rewarding to share in these ways with customers, to steer someone and possibly expand their worldview. You know the groups that had convened here before have seen increased membership from people who are coming to work through issues like race and prejudice. We have a diversity book club that has really increased its membership. They've stepped up their focus on tough conversations. We're lucky enough to be able to turn on a dime as events unfold: you know, put up a display like our "Alternative Facts" one or our Black Lives Matter one. Our literature in translation group this past year has really put their focus on diversity. Our colleague Megan coordinated a staff training with the Anti-Defamation League to talk to our entire staff about how to overcome stereotypes. We also made a special push for Mohsin Hamid's Exit West. We heard a lot of buzz about the book and thought it was the perfect read to address the refugee crisis. We decided to commit a portion of the proceeds from the first 500 hardcovers sold to donate to Caritas of Austin, an organization that works with refugees and vulnerable immigrant communities in Austin. Our hope is to promote empathy, and we hope to keep it going with different books and organizations in the future.

Anonymous, Monkeywrench

Some of them do want to have that conversation with a bookseller. Most people don't come in to debate, but most people who come in are trying to figure out their own ideas. 

Display inside Malvern Books

Do you feel a greater sense of purpose in your job?

Erika, South Congress Books

Absolutely. I love that question. That's something we've even discussed as a team. About how important it is to be a gateway to ideas. We sell ideas here. And I have a great story. It still cracks me up. We had a signed book by Bill Clinton in the front window and this fellow, his friend wanted to come in but he . . . people will jokingly make it clear sometimes that they don't have anything to do with books. And so this guy came in and was kinda talking to himself and to me and he said, "Oh, Bill Clinton, huh? That's some pretty expensive toilet paper you got there." And I just kept my mouth shut, you know, mhmm! And he said just as he was walking out the door, "Books scare me!" It was all okay, you know. Just one of those things. But I wanted to shout out after him, "I bet they do! Because they're full of ideas!" So some people really feel the need to let you know their position. You see when people only come in because their friends drag them in, and they're like, "Oh, you know, I never read." So my little line when they say that is, "Oh, well that's okay! We have books with pictures." And that usually makes people laugh. It softens it. I see sometimes people are a little intimidated because they know they're not well-read and so I very much want them not to be intimidated. It doesn't matter if you don't read. Bookstores are for everybody.

Taylor, Malvern
Sign inside BookWoman

No, we've always felt that sense of purpose here. That's been our message and our purpose as a store, you know, to bring books to the world. But as individual staff members, our staff has always had that purpose. We've seen a huge swing, you know. We have a lot of open mikes. It's a community space and this is a place where people do feel comfortable to just come in and speak whatever is in their heart, whatever is bothering them. So we have seen a ton of that, especially at the open mikes. It's sobering to see how everyone is affected by it. You think that some little thing is no big deal and then someone writes a ten-minute piece about it.

Anonymous, Monkeywrench

Not really a greater purpose, but a greater opportunity. Basically, Trump and Trump-like figures are an inevitable result of the kind of world we live in. The purpose is the same; the urgency might be more.

What is your biggest challenge getting books that matter to readers?

Taylor of Malvern Books

Taylor, Malvern

It's just getting readers in the door for us. Whether people are coming in looking for that sort of thing and event, or aren't really looking for something politically-inspired, you know, it's something we feel really passionate about. When we're making a list of recommendations for a customer, we'll try to have that list be as diverse as possible, always. I mean, for the benefit of the reader but also for the benefit of the writer. Yeah, we just need people in the store. So our biggest sales day ever was on Inauguration Day when we donated 100% of our sales to Planned Parenthood. That was our biggest sale day ever. We promote stuff like that on social media and local radio stations; you know, it was probably in the [Austin] Chronicle. There was a network of stores that day. People would just go on down to Bouldin Creek Cafe for brunch after shopping, you know, saying "I'll keep donating all my money!" That was the biggest single sales day since our opening; it was insane. If you were wondering if people even knew we were here, they totally did! Because they all showed up to support Planned Parenthood on inauguration day. It was really great. And we try to do few a fundraisers a year.

Anonymous, Monkeywrench

Money. Definitely money. There's plenty of books out there and we try to help people get those books. For a lot of people, it's just easier to get the electronic version or go through Amazon. There's a lot of stuff closing in this neighborhood. The skate shop across the street just shut down.

Do you as a staff brainstorm opportunities or do the communities come to you?

Taylor, Malvern
Interior of Monkeywrench Books

Honestly, it's often the owner or someone on staff who has those ideas. But you know, with all the hate that is happening in the world right now, it's not like we're at a loss for causes to donate to. And people are energized. Recently we donated to a "keep guns off the street" organization in response to the Las Vegas shooting and before that we were doing the Southern Poverty Law Center. We try and do what we can. We've got a phenomenal owner who doesn't mind taking the hit on a big sales day to donate to a worthy cause.

Keep going on the blog tour! Today’s theme 'Selling the Facts' has contributions from our fellow university presses:

University of Minnesota Press blogs about Bookstores/Booksellers and/or sales folks (reps and in-house) in the Age of Trump or Selling Books as a Form of Activism

University of Hawai’i Press offers guerilla-style interviews with local booksellers on their experiences serving readers since the election.

Johns Hopkins University Press Baltimore Indy The Ivy Bookshop writes about selling in the Age of Trump and working with JHUP in general.

Duke University Press Sales Manager Jennifer Schaper reports on how Frankfurt Book Fair attendees were engaging with Trump and Brexit

Columbia University Press Conor Broughan, Northeast Sales Representative for the Columbia University Press Sales Consortium, discusses the roles of University Presses and their sales representatives in politically complicated times.

University Press of Kentucky  Societal benefits (payoff) in university presses continuing to publish and readers continuing to have access to well-researched, low-controversy, long-form published content in an age of distraction, manufactured outrage, and hyper partisanship.

University of Toronto Press The experiences of a Canadian higher education sales rep, selling books on US campuses.

Monday, November 6, 2017

University Press Week Blog Tour: Day 1

Welcome to the sixth annual University Press WeekIn today’s political climate—where “fake news” and “alternate facts” are believed by so many people—valuing expertise and knowledge can feel like a radical act.

University presses not only believe in facts and knowledge, but traffic in them daily, publishing approximately 14,000 books and more than 1,100 journals each year, read by
people around the globe.

For the annual blog tour, our fellow presses are featuring posts for each day of the week including commentary on the following themes: “Scholarship Making a Difference,” "Producing the Books that Matter," "Libraries and Librarians helping us all #LookItUP," "#TwitterStorm," and "Selling the Facts."

Participate in the celebration by reading through the blog tour all this week, contribute to the conversation using the hashtags #LookItUP #UPWeek on social media, and visit for more information.

Here are the blog posts for today's theme Scholarship Making a Difference:

Wilfrid Laurier University Press – a post by Daniel Heath Justice about why university presses matter, the importance of Indigenous voices, and why he chose WLU Press for his book

Temple University Press: a post about books and authors that focus on racism and whiteness

Wayne State University Press: a post about a forthcoming book on slavery in 21st century America

University Press of Colorado: a feature of the press's post-truth-focused titles

Princeton University Press: Al Bertrand on the importance of non-partisan peer-reviewed social science in today's climate

George Mason University Press: a post on the path to discovery onf an overlooked and misunderstood yet influential historical figure

Cambridge: University Press: a post about Marie Curie and her struggle for recognition within the French scientific community dominated by male scientists.

University of Toronto Press: a post on the importance of making scholarship accessible to students and the role of publishers in helping to build better citizens; a post on how academic publishing can go beyond just facts to attempt to win over hearts and minds

Monday, October 30, 2017

UT Press at the 2017 Texas Book Festival

This weekend, the University of Texas Press and many of our authors will enjoy the 22nd annual Texas Book Festival on the Capitol grounds in downtown Austin and environs.

We'll have a booth on Colorado Street with tons of titles for sale at a great discount, so please stop by. There are a lot of wonderful authors in attendance this year, so we’ve distilled our authors' appearances into a single UT Press schedule (browse the full schedule here):


10:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Texas Institute Of Letters Award Winners
Author: Stephen Harrigan
Moderator: Steve Davis
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.036
Booksigning: Main Book Signing Tent (Congress near 10th Street)

Enjoy seeing some of the top writers in Texas at this lively panel discussion featuring winners of the Texas Institute of Letters’ 2017 Literary Awards. The TIL was founded in 1936 and has been a leading force in Texas literature for more than 80 years.

Where to find the author online: @stephenharrigan | Website

11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

Author: Michael Hurd
LocationC-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent
Booksigning: Main Book Signing Tent (Congress near 10th Street)

Michael Hurd, sportswriter and director of Prairie View A&M University's Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, and journalist Bobby Hawthorne discuss the inspiring, largely unknown story of African American high school football in Texas, showing how football offered a potent source of pride and ambition in the black community. While "Friday night lights" shone on white high school football games, African American teams across Texas burned up the gridiron on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Thursday Night Lights is their story.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Chad Conine Hits the Texas Football Trifecta

When it comes to sports, Texas more than earns its bragging rights. The Lone Star State has produced championship teams and legendary athletes not only in football, baseball, and basketball, but in dozens of other sports as well. Chad Conine has covered Texas sports for twenty years—everything from Tuesday night high school volleyball matches to
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Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys games. His new book, Texas Sports: Unforgettable Stories for Every Day of the Year, celebrates more than a century of achievements in a day-by-day record of the people and events—both unforgettable and little-known—that have made Texas a powerhouse in the world of sports.

Chad recently braved an exhausting road trip around Texas in one weekend to cover the three pillars of football: high school Friday night lights, college game day, and the NFL. We asked him to report from the field. 

Chad Conine will be speaking and signing Texas Sports at BookPeople this Sunday, October 15th at 2 p.m. Don't miss it!

Dispatches from the Texas Football Trifecta Road Trip

The first thing I want you to know, dear reader, is that I didn’t decide to cover three different levels of football in three far-flung cities all in the same weekend as a publicity stunt. That would have been fun, possibly. Like a football version of “Amazing Race.”

But no, it wasn’t like that.

It was just the way the schedule worked out and I could see it coming a mile away, so I decided to make the most of it.

When I noticed Texas Tech was hosting an Oklahoma State team that was sure to be ranked on September 30, and the Dallas Cowboys, whom I’m covering full-time for the first time this season, was playing at noon on October 1, I knew it would be an active weekend. I figured The Sports Xchange, my usual freelancing gig for top 25 college football, would like me to cover the Red Raiders versus Oklahoma State and I consider Lubbock my territory and want to keep it. There was simply no reason to duck out of covering a high school game on Friday night, since the college game started at 7 on Saturday night, giving me plenty of time to make it from the Waco area to Lubbock. The real trick would be leaving Texas Tech’s Jones Stadium after midnight and arriving at Jerry World in Arlington, ideally by 11 a.m., while still finding time to sleep a little.

If anything, this trip was a good indication that I’m addicted to writing about football. I clearly can't say, “no.”

But luckily, my friend and fellow creative professional Jacob Robinson, couldn’t turn down the chance to go to three football games in a weekend either, so I had a good traveling buddy.


5:30 p.m. – As I packed for the weekend, I looked into my closet and instead of picking out shirts to wear to the Saturday and Sunday games, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Am I crazy for doing this?”

I like to work long days and I like being up against a deadline. But when I finish doing those things, I like to wind down by drinking a beer and then having a good long sleep. That’s not how this weekend set up, though. But sometimes the fear of sleep deprivation is worse than sleep deprivation itself. So I gave myself a pep talk.

“Just give me 48 hours,” I told my psyche, “and then we can recover on Monday.”

8:05 p.m. – Tweeted: “Fairfield RB (Kadarrius) Walker kept his feet through the hole and sprung for a 41-yard TD. Eagles 14, China Spring 0. 10:08 2Q. #TribFridayNight.”

On the drive home on Sunday, as Jacob and I discussed our favorite plays from the weekend, I picked this one. I liked the combination of Walker finding his balance and realizing he had open field in front of him, plus the fact that it gave underdog Fairfield a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter.

8:30 p.m. – It was homecoming at China Spring, which meant I had a couple of extra minutes during halftime to write up the first-half action. This is a unique function of my job on Friday nights. High school football halftime lasts 28 minutes, longer than college or the NFL. So I use that time by writing as much about the first half as possible. I think I could teach a journalism class on how well this works.

Also, if you think about it, covering high school football is the last real opportunity for sportswriters to be the ones to tell the reading audience what happened in a football game. Once you go up a level to college, every game is televised and all the highlights are available in the palms of our hands. So the men and women covering college and the NFL are trying to tell you more about a game you’ve already seen and digested, probably even by the time a game story hits the internet. But if you like high school football, then reading the Saturday morning paper is fun because you actually get to learn something about what happened on Friday night.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How We Build Cities Helps Cause Disasters

When she was only nine, Dayani Baldelomar left her Nicaraguan village with nothing more than a change of clothes. She was among tens of thousands of rural migrants to Managua in the 1980s and 1990s. After years of homelessness, Dayani landed in a shantytown called The Widows, squeezed between a drainage ditch and putrid Lake Managua. Her neighbor, Yadira Castellón, also migrated from the mountains. Driven by hope for a better future for their children, Dayani, Yadira, and their husbands invent jobs in Managua’s spreading markets and dumps, joining the planet’s burgeoning informal economy. But a swelling tide of family crises and environmental calamities threaten to break their toehold in the city.

Dayani’s and Yadira’s struggles reveal one of the world’s biggest challenges: by 2050, almost one-third of all people will likely live in slums without basic services, vulnerable to disasters caused by the convergence of climate change and breakneck urbanization. To tell their stories, Douglas Haynes followed Dayani’s and Yadira’s families for five years, learning 
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firsthand how their lives in the city are a tightrope walk between new opportunities and chronic insecurity. Every Day We Live Is the Future: 
Surviving in a City of Disasters
by Douglas Haynes is a gripping, unforgettable account of two women’s herculean efforts to persevere and educate their children. It sounds a powerful call for understanding the growing risks to new urbanites, how to help them prosper, and why their lives matter for us all.

We asked Douglas Haynes to keep the conversation going after the headlines from Houston, Puerto Rico, and other devastated areas have faded, providing insight into how we can restructure our cities to mitigate the effects of catastrophic weather events.

How We Build Cities Helps Cause Disasters

By Douglas Haynes

At least twenty dead from flooding around Houston. At least fourteen in Mumbai. Nearly 500 killed by a landslide and deluges in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The recent headlines make it seem like the weather alone slayed the unfortunate in these cities that appear worlds apart. But human choices made the floods worse in all of these metropolises. Urban sprawl, deforestation, and housing in high-risk areas were among the biggest factors. And both cities face increasingly frequent storms supercharged by the changing climate. All these factors converging leads to chronic disasters.

Houston, Mumbai, and Freetown are not unique. They are harbingers of a growing wave of urban catastrophes around the world. By 2030, cities will likely cover an additional land area about the size of Peru. As cities grow, pavement spreads, sending rain runoff faster into flood-prone areas. And the loss of natural vegetation means the remaining soil doesn’t retain moisture as well. In flood plains and mountainous cities, urbanization already exacerbates the risk of inundation, as does the growing amount of garbage that clogs drainage systems in many cities. Add what journalist John Metcalfe calls the “rain-bombs” of the changing climate to this mix, and the result is explosive potential for human catastrophes.

These catastrophes do not and will not affect everyone equally. Around the world, low-income people bear the brunt of floods and landslides and often have no insurance or savings accounts to help them recover. No city illustrates the inequity of disasters better than Managua, Nicaragua, where I have reported intermittently since 2010. Between 1980 and 2010, Managua’s area tripled, following a worldwide trend of decreasing urban density. The city sprawled into the surrounding mountains and leveled all but 1 percent of the trees in its watershed. Managua now floods about every three years. Between 2009 and 2014, almost 30,000 people—most of them low-income—were evacuated and resettled due to floods, landslides, and earthquakes.

A landslide that killed nine there in October 2014 epitomized these disasters’ disproportionate impacts on the poor. During an hour of intense rain, a thirty-foot-high concrete wall surrounding a middle-class subdivision collapsed on four squatters’ homes in an arroyo below. This tragedy deeply moved the city’s tens of thousands of squatters because they saw that they easily could have been the victims. Almost all of them live in high-risk locations. As the unfolding tragedy in Houston reveals, this vulnerability of marginalized people is not just a problem in low-income countries. If you cannot afford to live in a safe place, an hour of hard rain could kill you.

For disaster victims, whether the event that harmed you is a named storm worthy of international news is irrelevant. Every day, the gradual confluence of unplanned urbanization, inequality, and climate change causes calamities just as damaging for individuals as media-hyped catastrophes. These events make it harder for people to climb out of poverty, and their consequences on personal assets, health, livelihoods, and infrastructure sap the resilience of the communities least able to recover. In this way, the sum of small disasters keeps adding up over years and generations. According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, “Many commentators argue that the aggregate impact of small events in cities exceeds losses to the low-frequency, high-impact hazards that capture news headlines.”

After the headlines from Houston, Mumbai, and Freetown have faded, the costs of their disasters will continue mounting. Epidemics will need to be stopped, roads and bridges and houses will need to be rebuilt, and displaced people will need to start new lives. All of these efforts could quickly be waylaid by further small disasters.

To help rebuild and mitigate more crises, donors and aid organizations should support governments and communities with sustained disaster risk management initiatives. These should include at least three key elements: identifying at-risk housing areas and offering low-cost resettlement options; undertaking large-scale reforestation and restoration of native vegetation in urban areas; and improving and expanding drainage infrastructure and waste disposal. Ultimately, the larger forces driving inequality and climate change also need to be addressed. Doing so will require global cooperation on an unprecedented scale.

Such cooperation will be difficult to galvanize until we recognize that urban disasters are in part our own making, not just random weather events. “The truth is that most of the flooding in Houston is manmade,” Ed Brown, a member of Houston’s Residents Against Flooding group told a Guardian reporter earlier this year. In this truth resides some redemption. It is in our own hands to help reverse the tide of floods and landslides sweeping cities.

Douglas Haynes is a journalist, essayist, and poet, and teaches at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He is the author of Every Day We Live is the Future: Surviving in a City of Disasters.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Climate Change, Resettlement, and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria

Natural disasters, the effects of climate change, and political upheavals and war have driven tens of millions of people from their homes and spurred intense debates about how governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should respond with long-term resettlement strategies. Many resettlement efforts have focused primarily on providing infrastructure and have done little to help displaced people and communities rebuild social structure, which has led to resettlement failures throughout the world. So what does it take to transform a resettlement into a successful community?

Ryan Alaniz's new book, From Strangers to Neighbors: Post-Disaster Resettlement and Development in Honduras, offers the first long-term comparative study of social outcomes through a case study of two Honduran resettlements built for survivors of Hurricane Mitch (1998) by two different NGOs. We asked Professor Alaniz to comment on the aftermath and recovery for recent disasters, Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Alaniz is an associate professor of sociology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He is also affiliated with the United Nations University and the Resilient Communities Research Institute.

Hurricane Harvey and Irma—Build Back Better—elsewhere?

By Ryan Alaniz

The last two decades have witnessed a growing consensus among scientists that climate
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change will increase the number and intensity of future hazards such as floods, hurricanes, typhoons, droughts, and storms (IPCC 2015). Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and now Maria, are among the most recent examples, and Harvey may likely be the most expensive disaster in US history.

The United Nations has found that the greatest effects will be on the most impoverished nations. In Bangladesh, for example, an estimated 18 million people (approximately the population of metro Los Angeles and metro Boston combined) will be forced to relocate by 2050 due to rising sea levels, salinization of potable water sources, and more extreme cyclones.

Under these conditions, survivors are faced with only two options: rebuild or relocate. The World Bank [1] has found that rebuilding maintains place attachment and a sense of community, making it the preferable option. A person or community can (and should) also rebuild with potential hazards in mind, mitigating the effects of future disasters. However, rebuilding may put survivors at even greater future risk due to the increasing dangers and realities of climate change (among other political, economic, or social factors). By studying the changes in sea level, scholars have mapped the impact of a one- to ten-foot rise along the US coastline. The results are frightening, and when coupled with increasingly numerous and intense storms, the coasts are at high risk of disaster. Indeed, if this season is any indication, the new normal may make certain areas of the United States uninhabitable; rebuilding along coastlines that continually flood or even disappear entirely during a storm surge, would be too expensive and unsustainable. Increasing premiums was a factor that led to fewer Floridians buying federally-subsidized flood insurance—when Irma hit, 59 percent of residents did not have flood insurance.

Relocation/resettlement [2] is the safer long-term option. It offers the greatest potential for developing safe structures in protected geographic areas, away from coastlines. The process of resettlement, though, is challenging and expensive to implement, and is not always successful. Many resettlement efforts have failed because of the complexity of relocating hundreds or thousands of families, while also providing the necessary supports for community development. In my own work studying seven resettlements that were constructed after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in 1998, organizations built excellent infrastructure—houses, roads, utilities, schools, clinics, etc.—but spent little or no time developing social structures; the shared norms and values that lead to greater trust among neighbors, communication, general participation in community affairs, and a common identity and vision. Organizations received donations to build houses, but the groups of traumatized survivors themselves—strangers who were relocated to live in geographic proximity—had to build community. In the end, these resettlements offered worse, or only slightly better, outcomes for the residents relocated from peri-urban areas.

However, other resettlements have developed into new, healthy communities with some success. When organizations worked in concert with survivors to ensure the development of both infrastructure and social structures, the results were locales in which people felt safe, had opportunities, were engaged in civic affairs, worked together, and looked out for and supported one another. The difference is in the quantity and quality of support. Survivors face major challenges in re-orienting their lives in new circumstances. The sponsoring nongovernmental organizations or government entities must ensure that residents have the provisions and guidance necessary to create the social relationships needed to form community.

The consensus on climate change is clear: we must brace for both increasing numbers and increasing intensity of future hazards. It is up to all of us to recognize the vulnerabilities of where we live and make the hard choices about whether to stay or go. Rebuilding where disaster will strike again may risk time, resources, and even lives. Migration or resettlement present further challenges. If resettlement becomes a necessity, organizations and federal agencies must support the development of social structures in equal proportion to infrastructure, to empower residents to slowly convert their new resettlement into a healthy and thriving community.

[1] Jha, Abhas K. with Jennifer Duyne Barenstein, Priscilla M. Phelps, Daniel Pittet, and Stephen Sena. 2010. Safer Homes, Stronger Communities: A Handbook for Reconstructing after Natural Disasters, Chapter 12. Washington DC: World Bank.

[2] Relocation and resettlement are often used interchangeably.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Banned Books Week: On Translating a Controversial Work

Banned Books Week (Sept. 24-30) is the book world’s annual celebration of our right to choose and have access to the books that we want to read. Run by the American Library Association, libraries, bookstores, and the online book community will use this week to host events, highlight banned books, and spotlight the conversation about the real and pressing issue of book censorship in communities around the world. 

Censorship in modern day Egypt has severely restricted the freedoms of artists and writers. In the fall of 2014, a young writer named Ahmed Naji's novel Istikhdam al-haya was published in Arabic to acclaim in Egypt and the wider Arab world. But in 2016, Naji was sentenced to two years in prison after a reader complained that an excerpt published in a literary journal harmed public morality. His imprisonment marks the first time in modern Egypt that an author has been jailed for a work of literature. Writers like Zadie Smith and literary organizations around the world rallied to support Naji; he won the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award after his imprisonment. Naji was released in December 2016, but his original conviction was overturned in May 2017. At this time, he is awaiting retrial and banned from leaving Egypt.

We are proud to partner with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin to distribute the English translation of Naji's novel Using Life to give the work the international readership it deserves. As Zadie Smith wrote in The New York Review of Books:

Using Life is a riotous novel about a failing state, a corrupt city, a hypocritical authority, but it is also about tequila shots and getting laid and smoking weed with your infuriating girlfriend and debating whether rock music died in the Seventies and if Quentin Tarantino is a genius or a fraud. It’s a young man’s book. A young man whose youth is colliding with a dark moment in history.”

The original Arabic publication Istikhdam al-haya
Our English translation, available for pre-order now

Set in modern-day Cairo, Using Life follows a young filmmaker, Bassam Bahgat, after a 
secret society hires him to create a series of documentary films about the urban planning and architecture of Cairo. The plot in which Bassam finds himself ensnared unfolds in the novel’s unique mix of text and black-and-white illustrations. The Society of Urbanists, Bassam discovers, is responsible for centuries of world-wide conspiracies that have shaped political regimes, geographical boundaries, reigning ideologies, and religions. It is responsible for today’s Cairo, and for everywhere else, too. Yet its methods are subtle and indirect: it operates primarily through manipulating urban architecture, rather than brute force. As Bassam immerses himself in the Society and its shadowy figures, he finds Cairo on the brink of a planned apocalypse, designed to wipe out the whole city and rebuild anew.

The English translation comes out December 2017. To celebrate, we're excerpting the translator's note by Benjamin Koerber below. You can also read an essay he wrote for The New Inquiry in May of last year: "Using Life: Instructions for Play," and Naji's most "offensive" chapter from Using Life is excerpted on


By Benjamin Koerber

Using Life (Istikhdam al-haya in Arabic) has been the victim of some infamous misinterpretations. In late 2015, its author, Ahmed Naji, was referred to a Cairo criminal court after an earlier version of two chapters appeared in the prestigious Egyptian literary journal Akhbar al-Adab. The charge of “harming public morals” was based, ostensibly, on the testimony of a private citizen who suffered a “drop in blood pressure” after encountering the text’s sexually explicit language. There is, in reality, nothing remarkable about the obscenities in Using Life, and language far more explicit has appeared often in both contemporary and classical Arabic literature. Most observers considered the case absurd, all the more so when the prosecution appeared to have mistaken this work of fiction for a personal confession of acts committed by the author. Nonetheless, after an earlier acquittal, a higher court sentenced Ahmed Naji to the maximum of two years in prison. This marks the first time in modern Egypt that an author has been jailed for a work of fiction. After ten months in prison, and an international campaign of solidarity, Naji was released pending an appeal. The original sentence was finally overturned in May, 2017. At the time of writing, his case is awaiting retrial.

Perhaps ironically, such direct and draconian displays of state power are largely peripheral to the novel’s core critical concerns. Instead, Using Life directs the reader’s gaze at the more subtle mechanisms of repression and constraint at work in contemporary Egypt: the perfidy of friends and lovers, the “kitschification” of culture, and, most importantly, conspiracies wrought in the realm of architecture and urban planning. The book is a response, in the first place, to the utterly unlivable state of today’s Cairo—“a miserable, hideous, filthy, rotten, dark, oppressive, be•sieged, lifeless, enervating, polluted, overcrowded, impoverished, angry, smoke-filled, simmering, humid, trashy, shitty, choleric, anemic mess of a city,” according to the protagonist, Bassam Bahgat. Let the reader be aware that among the city’s current residents, Bassam’s feelings are far from unusual. Cairo’s decades-old crises in housing, electricity, waste management, and traffic (to name a few) have left the city both physically and psychologically scarred, and have remained unresolved amidst the waves of revolution and counterrevolution unleashed since January 25, 2011. The intervention of the security services into urban planning has disfigured the city even further: unbreachable metal sidewalk fences, forcibly depopulated public spaces, and huge con•crete block walls constructed in the middle of major streets are now familiar sights around the capital.

Yet as parts of Cairo have shut down, new aesthetic practices have emerged over the last decade to open new spaces for expression, as well as to repurpose old ones. Graffiti artists have laid claim to the city’s walls and barriers. Comedians and cartoonists have attracted cult followings through YouTube, and bloggers have emerged from the obscurity of their bedrooms to pioneer new literary genres (see, for example, Ghada Abdel Aal’s I Want to Get Married! [2008; trans. Eltahawy, 2010]). In fashion, advertising, and graphic design, independent artists have made spectacular interventions in fields typically dominated by foreign brands.

In Using Life, Naji, together with illustrator Ayman Al Zorkany, has managed to synthesize many elements of this resurgent urban culture into something that is more than just a novel. Its publication in November 2014 was followed by the sale of t-shirts, coffee mugs, and a variety of accessories featuring Al Zorkany’s illustrations, which the artist has also developed into a short film entitled “The Last Dance of the Blue Anus-Fly.” As a book, Using Life follows a number of recent experiments in graphic fiction in Egypt and the wider Arab world, such as Metro (El-Shafee, 2008; trans. Rossetti, 2012) and Fi Shaqqat Bab al-Luq (The apartment in Bab al-Louq) (Maher, Ganzeer, and Nady, 2014); as a literary-graphic hybrid, it resembles most closely Hilal Chouman’s Limbo Beirut (2013; trans. Stanton, 2016). In spite of these affinities, it remains a highly idiosyncratic work, whose style and content can best be understood as the product of its author’s and illustrator’s aesthetic sensibilities and professional backgrounds. Naji, whose former digital avatar “Bisu” was a renowned trickster and collector of oddities in the early years of Egypt’s blogosphere (2004– 2009), has since become known for his assorted creative and critical works, including his novel Rogers (2007), his “history” of Egypt’s blogger subculture (2010), and his contributions as editor of the prestigious literary review Akhbar al-Adab. Ayman Al Zorkany’s background in illustration, costume design, and adver•tising places him outside the jealously guarded borders of Egypt’s literary establishment, and thus pushes Using Life well beyond reigning definitions of the Arabic novel.

Portions of Using Life are indeed “graphic” in both senses of the word, and this presents the reader and the translator with special challenges. While it is hoped that the English reader will approach the depictions of sexuality, drug use, and urban rot with greater forbearance than the Cairene prosecutor, it is inevitable that certain images or expressions may not fit comfortably with everyone’s tastes. In this respect, the reader is urged to bear in mind that certain words in the novel’s vocabulary—e.g., “balls” (bidan), “ass-kissing” (taʿris), and “cocksuckery” (khawlana)— have a different sort of currency, and inhabit a somewhat different web of associations, in the Arabic original. Moreover, while such words are certainly marks of an “attitude,” their transposition into a foreign idiom will make it difficult to draw wholly accurate assumptions about a speaker’s social status, intelligence, or political leanings. These qualifications apply equally to the novel’s illustrations. Sometimes, an image’s local significance will be grasped easily enough: to paraphrase William S. Burroughs, a rat is a rat is a rat is a rat, is a police officer. At other times, one will have to be thoroughly immersed in Egyptian popular culture to know that a scientific description of cockroaches, for example, is a jab at the mercurial public intellectual Mustafa Mahmoud.

. . . 

I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to those many who have assisted in the present translation. Special thanks are due to Wendy Moore, publications editor for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, for her tireless efforts and support at all hours and stages of the project. Dena Afrasiabi, publications editor for CMES, performed extraordinary and brilliant work in guiding the book through the intense final stretch. Series editor Tarek El-Ariss was, long ago, the first to recommend this book to me and recognize the importance of its translation; he has been a constant source of inspiration, insight, magic, and mirth at all levels of its development. I thank Marcia Lynx Qualey ( for providing many helpful comments and suggestions on the offending Chapter Six, generously promoting Using Life and the work of Ahmed Naji on a truly global scale, and facilitating my public debut in the Arabic translation community. For his brilliant insights into the finer points of Arabic-English translation, many illuminating conversations on the worlds summoned in this novel, and support and sustenance along the way, I offer my utmost gratitude, thanks, and cat memes to Ehab Elshazly. I owe an unpayable debt to the anonymous reviewer who went above and beyond the ordinary duties of that role to offer very helpful and much needed guidance on nearly every aspect of this translation; while any remaining faults are my own, this reviewer’s insights and suggestions have had a significant impact on the final product.

Most of all, I would like to thank Ahmed Naji and Ayman Al Zorkany for welcoming me into the worlds they have created, help•ing me adapt, and not minding when I run off to play on my own.