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.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Nadia Yaqub Remembers Her Friend and Co-Editor Rula Quawas

Read the New York Times piece on Rula Quawas here.

Remembering Rula Quawas

By Nadia Yaqub

On July 25, 2017, Rula Quawas, my close friend and the coeditor of Bad Girls of the Arab World, passed away suddenly. The volume was scheduled to appear just a few weeks later. She never got to hold it in her hands.

Rula Quawas in 2016 with students at the University of Jordan. Credit Leen Quawas
I first met Rula in September 2005 when she came to UNC–Chapel Hill as a visiting scholar. A professor of American literature at the University of Jordan, she was researching connections between Margaret Fuller and Huda Sha`rawi, two feminists—one American and the other Egyptian—who, despite the temporal and geographic distances that separated them, shared many traits that Rula valued, including a passion for knowledge and education and a commitment to activism. I did not know it when I met her, but these were Rula’s defining passions as well. 

Rula and I hit it off immediately. As any of her numerous friends and acquaintances will tell you, she was extraordinarily friendly, with a welcoming smile and a ready store of witty 
phrases (“witty” was one of her favorite words). I was drawn to something instantly familiar and comfortable in her manner—a practical aesthetic (short hair, simple attire) that was immediately familiar from my childhood in Beirut, and a conversational manner that invited reflection and engagement and was free of judgment. Rula welcomed brilliance, but one did not have to be brilliant to be her friend. 

Rula and I met several times during her semester at Carolina. She visited my course on Arabic literature in translation, and together we attended public presentations on geisha by students in Jan Bardsley’s first-year seminar. We enjoyed numerous meetings over coffee or dinner. A few days after we met, we were both invited to speak on a panel about Arab feminist writers that was organized by a campus student group. I promptly emailed her, expecting that she would take the lead because I was no expert on Arab feminism, and she
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responded in kind. We did not know at that point how much our scholarly interests would converge in the ensuing years. For me, a scholarly interest in Arab feminism was very much a product of my relationship with Rula, and developed alongside my friendship with her. Rula, of course, was just being modest; she was already an ardent, practicing feminist, and just two years later she would be selected to found and direct the Women’s Studies Center at the University of Jordan, the first center of its kind in Jordan.

Bad Girls of the Arab World was born during the summer of 2006. I was conducting research in the region and attending the World Congress of Middle East Studies, which took place in Amman, Jordan, that year. Bad Girls of Japan had just come out and we–Rula, Elizabeth Bishop, and I—discussed, with great enthusiasm, the need for such a volume about the Arab world. But we would not feel ready to take on the project for another eight years.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Editor's Introduction to the Modernist Native American Literature Special Issue

Modernism and Native America

James H. Cox

The fall edition of Texas Studies in Literature and Language is a special issue on the topic of Modernism and Native America. The journal’s co-editor James Cox wrote an introduction, which we are excited to share in advance of this issue’s September publication.

In 1967, the same year in which excerpts of Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday’s novel House Made of Dawn first appeared in issues of The Reporter and New Mexico Quarterly,
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Irving Howe published a retrospective on modernism, The Idea of the Modern in Literature and the Arts. In the introduction, which shares a title with the volume, Howe observes, “I will be discussing a literary movement or period that I call ‘Modernism,’ while knowing full well that the term is elusive and protean, and its definition hopelessly complicated” (12). After wringing his hands over the daunting task of defining the term, he concludes his opening gambit: “Since modernism is a matter close to us in time, perhaps still alive in our own time, the important thing is not to be ‘definitive,’ which by the very nature of things is unlikely, but to keep ideas in motion, the subject alive” (12). After Harper & Row published Momaday’s novel, it won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and helped inaugurate the Native American renaissance. From our early twenty-first century vantage point, the coincident publication of Howe’s book and the excerpts from Momaday’s novel comprises a literary historical moment rich with uncertainty and possibility. A specialist in modernism expresses apprehension that the literature under his consideration “seems to be coming to an end” (13), and, though by the late 1960s many Native American writers had earned some acclaim and the recognition of scholars, Native American literary studies did not yet exist as an academic field of critical inquiry. Momaday, according to the nearly axiomatic narrative of Native American literary history, had not launched but was on the verge of setting in motion a renaissance and contributing more broadly to the institutionalization of ethnic American literary studies in the academy.

As Native American literature scholar Louis Owens suggests, Momaday’s novel works as a hinge between these two literary traditions, one ostensibly taking its final breaths, the other, again ostensibly, about to take its first breath or at least its most dramatic. Owens, who opened his 1985 study of John Steinbeck with an objection to the conventional scholarly judgment that he was insufficiently modernist, attributes the celebration of House Made of Dawn in part to the novel’s modernist components. In House Made of Dawn, he observes, “critics discovered . . . a novel that displayed the craft and ambitious complexity expected of the major writers of modernism” (23). It was a novel, too, Owens claims, “that lent itself rather nicely to the conventional tools of modernist critique—never mind the subtle complexities of Pueblo and Navajo elements in the novel” (23). Indeed, it “is even at first glance recognizably modernist” and seems “to contain the requisite elements of a work assimilable into the modernist canon” (91). Modernism, Owens contends, was still alive in the late 1960s in the pages of House Made of Dawn, yet he does not fully commit to calling the novel modernist. As his subsequent reading of the novel demonstrates, it challenges and exceeds modernism too much to bear the label.

The editor of and contributors to this special issue share Howe’s and Owens’s cautious approach to defining modernism and labeling texts modernist, though we do not object to Mark McGurl calling House Made of Dawn a “modernist novel” and have sympathy for McGurl’s claim that the novel incorporates rather than experiences contamination by modernism (240). We embrace, too, the proliferation of modernisms, especially those, such as Christopher Schedler’s border modernism, that account for Indigenous literary production and indigeneity beyond primitivist representations. This special issue also participates in the “two significant enterprises” of the New Modernist Studies: “one that reconsiders the definitions, locations, and producers of ‘modernism’ and another that applies new approaches and methodologies to ‘modernist’ works” (Mao and Walkowitz 1). Yet we chose not to call this special issue “Native American Modernism” or “Indigenous Modernism.” Instead, “Modernism and Native America” leaves these terms in productive tension and resists the implication that designating Native American literary productions as modernist amplifies their literary value. Kirby Brown, who has spent the better part of the last ten years studying mid-twentieth-century Native American writing, opens the article portion of the special issue with a call for New Modernist literary studies to recognize and fully engage the Native presence in modernity and modernism. Todd Downing, who makes a brief appearance in Brown’s article, occupies Charles Rzepka’s full attention in the next. Rzepka demonstrates that Downing, the closeted gay Choctaw author of nine detective novels and a history of Mexico, “raises many more questions than the New Modernism can answer.” Indeed, he asserts, “By certain lights he seems, if anything, irredeemably pre-Modernist.” Eric Gary Anderson and Melanie Benson Taylor, both scholars of the Native South, consider how Ernest Hemingway and Katherine Anne Porter “understand indigeneity as both place and people” and explore “why Hemingway and Porter turn South precisely as they also try to figure out their intensely ambivalent, sometimes post-traumatic, sometimes impossibly contradictory relationship to Native America.” Michael Tavel Clarke brings the special issue full circle back to Momaday by arguing that The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969), the book that followed House Made of Dawn and shares content with it, “satisfies formal definitions of modernism,” and, therefore, helps to restore more robust formal analysis to New Modernist Studies.

This special issue also includes, as an invitation to enter the conversation occurring within these pages, an example of one of the modernists’ favorite genres, a manifesto authored by Lynn Riggs with the help of Mary Hunter, Andrius Jilinsky, and his professional and romantic partner Enrique Gasque-Molina/Ramon Naya, and published here for the first time with the permission of the Paul Green and Lynn Riggs estates. Riggs, born in Indian Territory in 1899 about six weeks after Ernest Hemingway, sent this revolutionary vision for the theatre as a letter to his friend, Pulitzer Prize–winning dramatist Paul Green. Riggs’s letter, conveying “the will to immediate and radical change” (11), to use Mao and Walkowitz’s definition of the key feature of manifestos in the introduction to Bad Modernisms, burns with energy and outrage. At once rejecting idealism and articulating an idealistic vision for the stage, the Vine Theatre manifesto pits imagination and poetry, or art, versus entertainment, a “racket” driven by Hollywood and Broadway, and attempts to reclaim theatre for the avant-garde. In alliance with other forces working “in opposition to the triumphant, arrogant state,” it also contains a strong social justice component while simultaneously denying a political enterprise: “we have no worldly battle to fight.” Riggs announces, too, that the Vine Theatre will embrace what became, in retrospect, pace Michael North, the motivating force of much modernist art and literature: “Our theatre, by its very nature, will produce new forms.” Had he known about Riggs’s manifesto, Howe, the modernism scholar and progressive public intellectual, likely would have celebrated it.

The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas


Howe, Irving, editor. The Idea of the Modern in Literature and the Arts. Horizon Press, 1967.

Mao, Douglas, and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, editors. Bad Modernisms. Duke UP, 2006.

McGurl, Mark. The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Harvard UP, 2009.

North, Michael. Novelty: A History of the New. U of Chicago P, 2013.

Owens, Louis. John Steinbeck’s Re-Vision of America. U of Georgia P, 1985.

Owens, Louis. Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel. U of Oklahoma P, 1992.

Schedler, Christopher. Border Modernism: Intercultural Readings in American Literary Modernism. Routledge, 2002.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oral Histories from Michael Crouser's Mountain Ranch

This week, Michael Crouser is taking over the Smithsonian Magazine's Instagram feed with images from his book Mountain Ranch. To honor the ten years he spent shadowing and photographing cattle ranchers in the mountains of Colorado, we're excerpting two oral histories from the Heritage section of Mountain Ranch. Crouser writes in his afterword“The men and women I have met, photographed, and become friends with in Colorado are often fourth-, fifth-, or even sixth-generation ranchers. And I find it amazing and nearly unbelievable that a young rancher can step out of his or her front door into the brisk morning, with snowcapped mountains ringing their view, saddle a horse, and set out to ride among the cattle, knowing that their great-great-grandparents, people they never met, had the exact same experience on the very same piece of land.”

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Punch George

Oak Creek, Colorado

They call me “Punch,” is what they call me. I used to help everybody with cows and whatever, you know, punchin’ cows. That’s how I got that name. I think I was about nine when I got that name, and it’s been with me ever since. You come here now, and somebody asks for Otto George—that’s my real name—nobody knows him. It’s always Punch. I was born in Bailey, Colorado, on the other side of the hill, in 1925. I’m eighty-nine, just about ninety. We lived on a ranch over there, but right after I was born they moved up here, to Oak Creek. Course they brought me with ’em. I quit school in the eighth grade. I met my wife in the third grade, and we stayed together all that time.

Andy Maneotis, he was the biggest sheep man around here then. He was a Greek fella. And I worked a lot for him, helping him dock and gather his sheep, till I got a little older. Seemed like the war broke out too soon, or something, and I went right into the service, into the Marines, when I was seventeen, in 1942. They sent me right over there to the South Pacific. I was over there for over three years. Then I come back to the States, and it wasn’t too long after I got back that the war ended. And then I married my wife, the one I met in the third grade. She waited for me, and so we went that route.

Before that, I was working at anything I could get, really. My dad moved to Salt Lake, and I lived here all alone since I was eleven. I lived in an old shack in Oak Creek in an alley, which was all right. But there was no water, no nothin’. And that’s where I lived. You know, I didn’t have no help when he was here, ’cause there was no work then, you know; we’s just comin’ out of the Depression. I can’t say that I remember anything about Christmas or holidays when I was a kid. It was just another day. I guess ’cause I was on my own and there was nobody around, ya know, so I just worked. Everybody burned coal, but a lot of them lived upstairs, and that’s what I done, packed coal upstairs. Get it for ’em and things like that. And I even racked pool balls in a pool hall one time.

We used to go over there to Burns all the time to go rodeoin’. I didn’t rodeo myself. I just
messed around, is all. I never did get good. And besides that, I had too much work I had to do. Just before ya get to Burns Hole, ya start down that steep hill and cross the Colorado River; right on top, before ya start down, is where the rodeo grounds is. We was over there a couple three weeks ago, my daughter and I, and their rodeo grounds is all caved in. A lot of it’s still standin’, but it’s pretty shabby.

I didn’t claim to be a cowboy, but I liked to think I was. I had a lot of horses when we got on the ranch. I liked draft horses awful well. We had around four thousand head of cattle that we loaded on the train, and they hauled ’em to Nebraska, but it took ’em four days to get there. No feed, no water. And when Mom and I got there, we couldn’t recognize our own cattle. They was all ganted up and hungry and dirty and . . . oh, geez, it was terrible.

I never will forget this one time, we was drivin’ our cattle up to Yampa, and they’d all be on
the road, and here’d come the traffic, and this guy come up and couldn’t get through, so I had a guy back there to tell him, “Well, just hang on till we get two or three more cars and I’ll take ya through.” Well, this guy pulled out that big ol’ pistol and said, “We’ll go through right now.” And they took him through. That’s the things that happen to ya, that’s all. Lotta experiences on the ranch.

Margie Gates

Burns, Colorado

I was born on Wolcott Divide, and I was a home birth, on November 23 of ’31. I was born in the Depression, of course, and jobs were few and far between. My father had been on the ranch in Radium that his father had homesteaded back in the 1880s, and he had to sell the ranch because his brothers and sisters in California were needing money. This left him kinda without a place to go, so he worked for the McLaughlin family, at State Bridge. He more or less managed the ranch for Mrs. McLaughlin. The ranch was up on the Wolcott Divide, and that’s where I was born. We lived there in a little two-room cabin.

My first memories are from when the McLaughlins decided they were gonna sell that ranch. That meant he had to find another job. So he went to Alma, Colorado, where there were jobs in the Lincoln mine. And I can remember—I was about three years of age—I can remember that the first summer we were there, we lived in a tent. And I remember my daddy making little stools out of a sign, for my brother and I . . . little stools for us to sit on. And I remember the man coming by, looking for his sign! My parents were wonderful. I was a daddy’s girl, and I sat on my daddy’s lap every morning. My mother’s cooking was wonderful. She could always cook meat, whether it was wild meat or whether it was tame. Chicken, pork, turkey, or ham.

My dad leased property up Gypsum Valley, and we lived on what they used to call the Congdon Ranch up there. He leased it, and we did haying and had cattle, milk cows, some sheep. I was just starting high school in Gypsum, and I herded sheep every day, and I learned very early on that you can stay out as late as you want to, but you’re gonna be at the breakfast table, and you are gonna eat breakfast. And then by eight o’clock you had to be out with the sheep, gettin’ ’em up on the mountain to eat for the day. And I’d bring the cows in every night before Daddy got home so he could milk ’em.

I rode every day, and I remember having a runaway. My brother, he wouldn’t saddle my horse for me. He said I had to learn how to saddle my own horse. He was five years older than I was, and he kinda thought he was my boss. Anyway, one day I went out to the corral, and his horse was saddled, and I thought, “I’m gonna ride that horse” rather than saddle my own. So I got on the horse. He saw me get on it, and he said, “Don’t go out the gate. You stay in the corral . . . don’t go out the gate.” Well, what did I do? I went out the gate! And the horse took off. I rode him all the way and finally got him turned around. I was on the main road, and luckily I didn’t run into any vehicle comin’ at us. But I had him stopped and turned around and comin’ back by the time my father and my brother got to me. And I didn’t get spanked!

I married Bud before I got out of nursing school. I met him when he came out to Gypsum to go to high school. I was in elementary and he was in high school. Bud was raised with girls, and so he knew how to talk to girls . . . give ’em a hard time, and all that kinda thing. And he’d walk along the fence there at the school, and we’d all—you know, silly girls—we were all out there lookin’ or doing something. And he was just really nice and smiley and fun to talk to. And I fell in love with him. That’s it. I was twelve. Yeah, I’ve loved him ever since I was twelve. You know, that’s the way it is. And that hasn’t changed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Photographer Nancy Rexroth on the Republication of her Classic Book 'IOWA'

In August of 2017, the University of Texas Press will be republishing IOWA, Nancy Rexroth's long out of print preeminent exemplar of Diana camera work, a cult collection of dreamlike, poetic images of "[her] own private landscape, a state of mind." The following contains Rexroth's current writings on IOWA, along with excerpts from her interviews with
Russell Joslin (from a 1998 SHOTS magazine interview) and Blake Andrews, discussing the Diana Camera and the meaning behind "Iowa."

"Since its publication in 1977, Nancy Rexroth's book IOWA has become an underground classic. Shot in the small rural country of Southeastern Ohio using a Diana camera with a plastic lens {cost = one dollar}, and named after her childhood memories, the book is mysterious on many levels" (Andrews, 2011).


"I was in graduate school at Ohio University in 1969. The courses were very technical for me, and we were studying the Zone System. I was so frustrated with it ALL, all things technical. An instructor {Arnold Gassan} had discovered the Diana in Chinatown, New York, and brought it back for use in the beginning photography classes. I saw him use the camera, and I realized that he had somehow loosened up. . .and he was almost silly while using the camera. . ."(Andrews, 2011). While observing him, I think that I saw from his reaction to the Diana that there was perhaps a magic there, an unlocking of the mind, when using such a basic toy camera. . .

"I bought a Diana camera, experimented for two weeks or so. I made a number of unremarkable photographs with it. At one point, I made an interior photo of a woman’s bed. After that image, I just got into a groove of feeling, with the camera..." (Andrews, 2011). "The photographs seemed to come from that one spot. That one feeling. It was like I had crawled through some kind of secret closet or trap door and found this place, and I mined that territory for the next six years. I continued because I loved it" (Joslin, 1998). 

"It really was a wonderful time to be a photographer because photography had just begun to be regarded as a respectable art form {the early 1970's}. It was starting to become a "good investment" also, which pushed things forward nicely. In graduate schools, things were still very technically oriented - "boy art" as a friend of mine called it. There were only one or two women in each graduate photo class. I felt alone, but used this to my advantage. You know, an, "Oh dear, I'll show you" attitude - an adrenaline thing. This helped because the guys in the program weren't always civil with me. The whole notion of feminism was just starting to be known. I toughened, and saw myself as a "female ambassador," who would make things better for the ladies that were to follow" (Joslin, 1998).


"I photographed in many small towns of Southeastern Ohio, all very sad and unpopulated places. Sometimes, I would just knock on doors and ask to photograph inside. I was pretty trusting back then to have done that. Nowadays, I would feel the possibility of never leaving one of those houses. Perhaps I would receive the blow of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" coming down on my head. . . and not take that chance" (Andrews, 2011). "I liked the scary aspect of those places; they were so different from the suburbs I grew up in. I like the fact that photography is an excuse to go somewhere" (Joslin, 1998).