Monday, May 23, 2016

'Amazonia in the Anthropocene' Q&A with Nicholas Kawa

Our latest author Q&A features Nicholas Kawa talking about his new book Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests. Professor Kawa researches biodiversity management and agricultural sustainability in the Amazon region at the Ohio State UniversityThis timely study explores how pre-Columbian Amerindians and contemporary rural Amazonians have shaped their environment and how that environment sometimes resists human manipulation and control. With implications for the human role in global environmental
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Amazonia in the Anthropocene engages the concept of the Anthropocene by tackling its problems and paradoxes from the vantage point of the world’s largest tropical rainforest. We asked him about his work, what we can learn from contemporary rural Amazonians, and the complicated identity politics of indigenous rights.

This week in New York City, Latin Americanists from all over the world will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). We'll be there to salute LASA for 50 years of fostering intellectual discussion, research, and teaching on Latin America, the Caribbean, and its people throughout the Americas. We invite attendees to stop by our booth at the 2016 annual meeting for our newest titles, to pick up a subject catalog, and for an exclusive LASA offer.

Explain the concept of the Anthropocene and how your work wrestles with defining this “new” geological epoch.

Anthropocene is rooted in the idea that human activity on the planet has been so impactful and pervasive that we have ushered in a new epoch in geological time. Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, is recognized for popularizing the term in 2000. However, in the past five years or so, it has really gained traction. It is not just being adopted by natural and physical scientists but also social scientists and scholars in the humanities. This is what I really appreciate about the concept of the Anthropocene: it’s encouraging truly interdisciplinary and even transdisciplinary dialogue. As a consequence, it has also generated considerable debate and controversy. One of the current debates centers on the origins of the Anthropocene. When did it begin? Crutzen and a few of his colleagues have traced it back to European industrialization while other scholars have suggested that it began with the development of agriculture. Still others have promoted later origin points including World War II and the radiological signatures left by the atom bomb. Most recently, a team of geologists has claimed that industrial plastics will stratigraphically define this new epoch. Regardless of when the Anthropocene began (which is a debate that will likely carry on), most scholars link it to the rise of modern industrialization and global capitalism.

In this book, I look at the Anthropocene from the vantage point of the rural Brazilian Amazon. In doing so, I highlight some of the problems with its current conceptualization. One problem I point out is its subtle Eurocentrism. In tracing the origins of the Anthropocene to industrial Europe, it is overlooked that people across the world have been implicated in and directly linked to the broader processes driving the Anthropocene. I show, for example, that many of rural Amazonia’s contemporary inhabitants are descendants of migrants who moved to the region to tap natural rubber, which fueled the burgeoning tire and automobile industries in North America and Europe. Another problem I highlight is the anthropocentrism embedded within the concept of the Anthropocene. While it’s suggested that humans are coming to dominate the planet, every day we get news about how various forces and life-forms that make up our environment are constantly pushing back against us: hurricanes, tsunamis, the Zika virus, flesh-eating microbes, and CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. The Anthropocene should remind us that while our technologies have expanded our ability to impact the planet, a much broader array of life-forms and forces is constantly thwarting our attempts to wrest control of the world around us.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Barbara Mundy wins the 2016 LASA Colonial Book Prize

Barbara Mundy’s The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City has been awarded the 2016 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Colonial Book Prize! Read what the prize committee has to say about Professor Mundy's work below.

The University of Texas Press salutes the Latin American Studies Association for 50 years of fostering intellectual discussion, research, and teaching on Latin America, the Caribbean, and its people throughout the Americas.

We invite attendees to stop by our booth at the 2016 annual meeting for our newest titles, to pick up a subject catalog, and for an exclusive LASA offer. Stay tuned to this blog for author guest posts, including Nicholas Kawa on his new book Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests.

LASA Colonial Book Prize Announcement

The winner of this year's prize from the LASA Colonial Section awarded to the best book in
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Colonial Studies is:

Barbara Mundy, 
The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.

Mundy has written a gorgeously illustrated book drawing on her training as an art historian, referencing as well architectural and urban history, and pre-Hispanic and colonial Spanish American history and narrative. Using the city as an organizing metaphor, she ‘reads’ a range of texts including maps, sculpture, architecture, indigenous language manuscripts, Spanish language chronicles and sermons…and even contemporary Mexico City subway maps.

Eschewing rupture (such as pre/post periodizations) for continuities, Mundy links pre-Hispanic Tenochtitlan and colonial Mexico City in compelling and nuanced ways. Her deft employment of theory (DeCerteau and Lefebvre, primarily) informs but never overwhelms her reading as she roots Mexica elite and commoner, preConquest and colonial agency in the performances of the city over time. Through her analysis, Mundy makes sculpture, imagery, and architecture move to dynamically represent the transformations of the city, marking the Mexica but also recalling the radical changes that have occurred. The committee found her central argument that indigenous peoples played a key role in shaping the post-conquest city in ways that scholars have overlooked to be quite persuasive.

Mundy's discussion of environmental issues (water), translation and nomenclature, and migration history will make her book significant for those outside the field of colonial studies. Common threads with her earlier work are the close attention to place-names as signifiers of rich cultural and historical meaning, recognition of collaborations between indigenous and European actors, and the wonderfully close readings of glyphs and maps, but this book represents a huge new project that draws on but in no way repeats that previous work.

By inviting her reader to "swim" through space, representation, and events, Mundy convinces us of the presence of an indigenous city into the colonial period and beyond through the intersections of water, markets, and indigenous leadership.

The Committee:

Chair, Mónica Díaz, Dept. of Hispanic Studies and History, University of Kentucky
Rachel O’Toole, Dept. of History, University of California, Irvine
Karen Stolley, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese, Emory University

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Media Studies Scholars on Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Reboots

Did we as a culture ask for Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising? Is Hollywood's alleged addiction to remakes, reboots, sequels, and other 'multiplicities' anything new? We asked three media studies scholars to debate the concept of originality in entertainment, what it means for the media to disparage perceived repetition, and how audiences interacting with an entire product like Star Wars: The Force Awakens—from pre-production to marketing—
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impacts how we read cultural output.

Participating in this discussion are Amanda Ann Klein, an associate professor of film studies at East Carolina University and co-editor of the new volume Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Reboots: Multiplicities in Film and Television and American Film Cycles: Reframing Genres, Screening Social Problems, and Defining Subcultures; Jonathan Gray, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts among other titles; and Will Brooker, the first British editor of Cinema Journal and Professor of Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University. Brooker has spent the last year living as David Bowie for the forthcoming book Forever Stardust.

You can find Amanda Ann Klein on Twitter @AmandaAnnKlein, Will Brooker @willbrooker, and Jonathan Gray @jonathanagray. Read Jonathan Gray's wonderful media and culture blog Antenna here.

Scholars in Conversation

Amanda Ann Klein: The release of The Force Awakens back in December got many moviegoers, fans, and anti-fans alike disparaging the film because it is a primary example of a “multiplicity” (a category which includes adaptations, sequels, remakes, imitations, trilogies, reboots, series, spin-offs, and cycles). Why is it that people are so critical of texts which appear to replicate other texts? Why are we so devoted to the idea of “originality”?

Will Brooker: Are we, though? People went to see the recent RoboCop, Total Recall, and Point Break—all remakes of movies that to me, seem almost part of the recent past. People optioned, produced, starred in, and distributed those movies. It’s true that they weren’t especially critically successful, but if we as a culture were so devoted to the idea of originality, they wouldn’t exist. If we were so hung up on originality, Fantastic Four wouldn’t have been remade last year, The Amazing Spider-Man wouldn’t have rebooted that character so quickly after the previous Spider-Man series, and we wouldn’t be seeing a new Batman in theaters this spring. We wouldn’t be seeing a new Bourne movie advertised now. We wouldn’t, surely, have seen Mad Max: Fury Road, and we wouldn’t have seen it critically acclaimed, because it’s essentially an unoriginal idea, an addition to a franchise, arguably a soft reboot of some form. We wouldn’t have a Marvel Cinematic Universe that generates so many different movies under the same umbrella, and on one level is just made up of endless sequels to the first Iron Man. And if these remarks seem to refer only to one (broad) genre—action/SF/superhero—look how many literary adaptations and movie remakes of TV shows have been released over the past five years.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Black Women, Music, and Community

Danny Alexander is a white man who has written a book about a black female artist: Real Love, No Drama: The Music of Mary J. Blige. Mary J. Blige grew up in Yonkers, New York, and Danny Alexander grew up in small town Oklahoma. Their backgrounds and life experiences couldn't be more different, but Blige's music has a way of connecting people. As America continues to wrestle with racial difference, Danny Alexander's new book is a testament to the hope that deeply personal and politically conscious music—like that of Mary J. Blige and many others—can bring about a more "woke" world. We asked Danny to write about what brought him to this project.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Real Love, No Drama by Danny Alexander

Real Love, No Drama

by Danny Alexander

Giveaway ends June 30, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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Why I Wrote a Book on The Queen of Hip Hop Soul
By Danny Alexander

My hometown library was built and long curated by a somewhat famous librarian named Ruth Brown, who just happens to share her name with the R&B artist who famously built Atlantic Records. In 1950, Bartlesville, Oklahoma’s Ruth Brown was fired for her civil rights activities, principally her work integrating the library around the children’s story hour. She was a member of the Congress for Racial Equality and was labeled a communist. Bette Davis played a fictionalized version of her in the 1956 movie Storm Center, yet she remains known mainly in civil rights circles (the Cold War environment I lived in as a child meant I didn’t even learn Brown’s story until years after I moved away). Since my own writing career has been focused on freedom of expression and a belief in trying to cross social boundaries that, in general, remain intact sixty-six years later, I was proud to have my first book signing across from her portrait in her former library. I was also happy to think she might have approved of the scene before her.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Martha D. Escobar on Immigration Reform

Today the United States leads the world in incarceration rates. The country increasingly relies on the prison system as a “fix” for the regulation of societal issues. Captivity Beyond Prisons: Criminalization Experiences of Latina (Im)migrants by Martha D. Escobar is the first full-length book to explicitly link prisons and incarceration to the criminalization of Latina
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(im)migrants. Accessible to both academics and those in the justice and social service sectors, Escobar’s book pushes readers to consider how, even in radical spaces, unequal power relations can be reproduced by the very entities that attempt to undo them.

We asked Professor Escobar to give her take on the complicated problem of immigration policy, reform, and enforcement in light of the prominence of this issue during the current presidential race.

Recent Enforcement Practices Against Central American Migrants/Refugees and Limitations of Immigrant Rights Discourse
By Martha D. Escobar

Since the mid-1990s the U.S. has witnessed an intense build up of the immigration enforcement infrastructure, and along with this, an increase in the number of detained and deported migrants. Critics note that no other administration has detained and deported more migrants than President Barack Obama’s.

The current administration adopted a two-pronged approach to the issue of immigration. On the one hand, it dramatically intensified the targeting of migrants, both at the border and within the U.S. This strategy is allegedly intended to show the GOP that this administration is serious about enforcing the border and provide them with an incentive to approach the negotiation table for immigration reform, which has proven to be ineffective. On the other hand, beginning in June of 2012, the Obama administration has enacted Executive Actions on Immigration, including temporary relief from deportation for early childhood arrivals (DACA) and parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (DAPA). This is in part intended to address the concerns of migrant rights advocates and activists who argue that most undocumented migrants have established roots in the U.S. and are contributing members of society. The Executive Actions are being legally contested by the State of Texas and the Supreme Court will rule on their constitutionality by June of this year.

Although the Executive Actions on Immigration appeared to be a shift in immigration enforcement policies, the Obama administration continued to intensify policing in migrant communities, with deportations reaching the highest record in 2013. Most recently, Central American migrants/refugees, many of whom fled because of the violence and danger in their countries of origin, have been targeted for deportation. This includes many children who crossed unaccompanied during the summer of 2014. The response of the administration to critics of these actions is to argue that enforcement is focused on people who have already been given orders of removal. These practices highlight some of the challenges facing migrants and their advocates.

Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration drew from much of the dominant migrant rights discourse that maintains that the majority of undocumented migrants have established strong roots in the U.S. and are contributing members of society who are less likely to engage in criminalized activities and access social welfare. This discourse works to draw lines between migrants that deserve belonging and protection and migrants that can be policed, detained, and deported. On November 20, 2014, when he announced an expansion of DACA and implementation of DAPA, President Obama gave an address to the nation. Drawing from migrant rights discourse, Obama marked the lines between deserving and undeserving migrants. He notes that his administration’s policies are to concentrate on migrant “criminals” and maintains that the focus of immigration enforcement will be on “actual threats to our security,” “Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” Together, the discourse used to rationalize his Executive Actions and the requirements for DACA and DAPA work to exclude millions of migrants.

In relation to the recent enforcement mobilizations against Central American migrants, particularly migrants who arrived as unaccompanied minors in 2014, one of the requirements to qualify for DACA and DAPA is that the individual have continuous residency in the U.S. beginning January 1, 2010. This means that for the thousands of migrants and refugees that entered the U.S. after this date, Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration do not offer any relief. Instead, the main option is to apply for asylum. However, applying for asylum is an extremely complicated process. One hurdle that applicants face is that they are not guaranteed an attorney and there are not enough pro-bono lawyers that are able to represent people in these cases. This translates to increased orders of removal and deportations.

The current moment of immigration enforcement, particularly the targeting of Central Americans that entered as unaccompanied minors in 2014, provides important lessons for migrant rights activists and advocates. When advocating for policy changes, advocates have to be reflective in the discourse that is used since it can be appropriated to implement policies that result in significant disruption and violence for those that are considered less deserving. In this case, the notion that migrants who have established roots in the U.S. are more deserving than recent arrivals contributes to the Obama administration’s rationalization that the recent enforcement practices waged against Central Americans are legitimate. The logic employed is that these are not people that have established roots in the U.S. or contributed to society, and thus, merit deportation. 

Martha D. Escobar is an assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Call for Papers: The Velvet Light Trap

Call for Papers

The Velvet Light Trap Issue #80: “Production Cultures”

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In the introduction to their edited book on production studies, Vicki Mayer, Miranda Banks, and John T. Caldwell argue that “the off-screen production of media is itself a cultural production, mythologized and branded much like the onscreen textual culture that media industries produce.” This has never been more true than in the current moment.

The production process – aided by the proliferation of social media – has become increasingly visible. Long before movies, games, comic book issues, or television series are released, audiences have already been exposed to, and have opined over, casting choices, false starts, locations, script drafts, and various other aspects of the production process. Additionally, the development of cinematic universes has caused the cultures of production to become increasingly complex, resulting in productions that are both more global and transmedia-minded. This raises new questions about power and labor as new relationships are forged between production capitals, and workers who have traditionally functioned independently of each other must come together to create transmedia stories. In addition, the newly-heightened visibility of the production process, and the consolidation of the production studies field, emphasizes the need to reexamine and evaluate production cultures of the past.

This issue of The Velvet Light Trap seeks historical and contemporary studies of media production. Submissions should engage with the above issues of increased complexity, visibility, and ubiquity, in addition to new questions. We invite scholars to submit work that not only deepens our current understanding of production studies, but also challenges our assumptions about what production cultures are, and the types of questions that should be asked about them. We would also ask scholars to consider how issues of gender, race, and sexuality function beyond the screen and contextualize these issues within the production process.

Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Relationships between producers and consumers
  • Negotiating professional identity
  • Evolution of production
  • Production communities
  • Creative hierarchies within cinematic universes
  • Industry lore related to specific productions
  • Issues of gender, race, sexuality, and/or disability
  • Labor relations, unions, and guilds
  • Below-the-line labor
  • Failed productions/Fired producers
  • Disputes between producers and creators
  • Unpaid labor and intern culture
  • Contracts and other legal issues
  • Labor of practical effects
  • Genre-specific work identities
  • Video game production cultures
  • Stunt work
  • Production and publicity of star texts
  • Gender and exploitation in music cultures
  • Production of user-generated media
  • Cultures of documentary film production
  • Cultures of live production (sports, news, live musicals)

Submission Guidelines:

Submissions should be between 8,000 and 10,000 words, formatted in Chicago style. Please submit an electronic copy of the paper, along with a one-page abstract, both saved as a Microsoft Word file. Remove any identifying information so that the submission is suitable for anonymous review. The entire essay, including block quotations and notes, should be double-spaced. Quotations not in English should be accompanied by translations. Photocopies of illustrations are sufficient for initial review, but authors should be prepared to supply camera-ready photographs on request. Illustrations will be sized by the publisher. Permissions are the responsibility of the author. Send electronic manuscripts and/or any questions to Submissions are due August 15, 2016.

About The Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal of Film & Television:

The Velvet Light Trap is a scholarly, blind peer-reviewed journal of film, television, and new media studies. Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas-Austin coordinate issues in alternation. Our Editorial Advisory Board includes such notable scholars as Charles Acland, Ben Aslinger, Miranda Banks, Caetlin Benson-Allot, Mark Betz, Corey Creekmur, Michael Curtin, Kay Dickinson, Bambi Haggins, Scott Higgins, Lucas Hilderbrand, Mary Kearney, Jon Kraszewski, Roberta Pearson, Nic Sammond, Jacob Smith, Jonathan Sterne, Cristina Venegas. For more information, please visit the journal’s website at

Friday, April 15, 2016

Mapping Madonnaland

Alina Simone is a singer-turned-writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Slate, The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian Long Read. She has authored two other books: the "vibrant, taut and humorous" You Must Go and Win (Kirkus Review), and the "wisecracking, mordantly observant, wide-awake" Note to Self (O Magazine). She's the daughter of political refugees from Soviet-controlled Ukraine (her father refused recruitment into the KGB) and happens to be hilarious.

When Simone agreed to write a book about Madonna for UT Press, she thought it might provide an interesting excuse to indulge her own eighties nostalgia. Wrong. While writing Madonnaland: And Other Detours into Fame and Fandomshe discovered not only an endless torrent of information on Madonna and her own ambivalence/jealousy of the Material Girl’s overwhelming commercial success, but also some quirky detours through the backroads of celebrity and fandom in America.

We put together the infographic below to illustrate some of the strange, compelling detours Alina Simone followed on her quest to write Madonnaland. Simone wrestles with Madonna's sexual politics and the "anti-Madonna" Sinead O'Connor. She delves into another Bay City, Michigan, musical act—the all-Latino Question Mark and the Mysterians of "96 Tears" fame. She excavates a black classic rock band whose mystery and rare vinyl cred rivals that of the guys from A Band Called Death. We've also excerpted a portion of the book below and thrown in a Madonnaland-themed Spotify playlist.

Enter to win a copy of Madonnaland on Goodreads!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Madonnaland by Alina Simone


by Alina Simone

Giveaway ends April 30, 2016.
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The first thing you see as you enter Bay City, Michigan, heading down M-25 West, is a sign commemorating the 2008 state championship win of the All Saints High School’s bowling, baseball, and softball teams. Further down M-25, beyond a historic district lined with the nineteenth-century homes of lumber barons, a sign celebrates the sister cities of Ansbach, Germany (capital of Middle Franconia), and Goderich, Ontario (home to the world’s largest undergound salt mine). Yet a third sign, located a few blocks north, announces Bay City as the hometown of Katie Lynn Laroche, Miss Michigan 2010. None of these signs are unusual for a quiet city of thirty-five thousand tucked between the Mitten State’s thumb and forefinger, but their subject matter does tell you a few things: that Bay City isn’t above a little self-congratulation, that you don’t have to be Helen Keller or Martin Luther King to have your name immortalized in painted metal on either end of M-25, and that Bay City doesn’t necessarily have a surplus of sign-worthy things to say about itself. Insofar as the third point goes, that turns out not to be true. The top-selling female artist in history and one of the most famous women alive, Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, was born in Bay City on August 16, 1958. A fact commemorated by the city exactly nowhere.

I’d been commissioned to write a book about Madonna, a project I’d taken on with enthusiasm, even bluster. After all, I still had my original copy of Like a Virgin on vinyl, an archive of back issues of Teen Beat magazine, and a Slinky’s worth of calcified black rubber bracelets in my parents’ closet back home. I’d spent more than half my life surfing the sine waves of Madonna’s career and could casually rattle off details both intimate and frighteningly banal about her sex life, her workout regime, her stance on the gifting of hydrangeas, and the unfortunate rodent problem she’d experienced of late at her $32 million compound on East Eighty-First Street, where a rat had been glimpsed scurrying into the bathroom while she discussed the possibility of collaborating again with Britney Spears during a video chat with the online radio show Saturday Night with Romeo.

Looking back, these qualifications were perhaps less than PhD-strength.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The story behind Joseph Skibell’s 'Six Memos from the Last Millennium'

Joseph Skibell is renowned as a critically acclaimed and prize-winning novelist, the author of such genre-defying works as A Blessing on the Moon and A Curable Romantic. Critics have called him “a major talent” (Publishers Weekly) whose “gifted, committed imagination” (New York Times) has produced works that are “always a joy to read” (Jerusalem Report). His new book is nothing short, while also a bit of a departure. Entitled Six Memos from the Last Millennium: A Novelist Reads the Talmud, it’s an elegantly written literary investigation into
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the tales of the Talmud – the great repository of ancient wisdom that is the foundation text, along with the Bible, of Rabbinic Judaism. (The Talmud’s composition dates roughly from between 200 and 500 CE.) This new work is no less genre-defying. Part fiction, part exegesis, part speculative theology, the book is, above all, a love letter to art of storytelling. And in its pages, Skibell looks at these old stories from the vantage of a modern novelist in order to find their relevance for readers today.

A Childlike Love of Stories, the Essence of Human Life

The story behind Joseph Skibell’s Six Memos from the Last Millennium: A Novelist Reads the Talmud

Can you tell us a little about the history of this project?

Well, that’s a great question. As I explain in the book’s introduction, some years ago, I was taking a Talmud class at an Orthodox synagogue. I was raised in a Reform community, so the Talmud was like a vast, unmapped world for me. About 4/5th of the Talmud is dedicated to – let’s call them – the theo-legal discussions of the Sages. Rabbinic Judaism is a religion of laws – what’s permitted, what’s forbidden – and the Talmudic Sages devote a kind of scientific rigor to deciphering the will of the Creator as it has been revealed in the pages of the Torah.

The other fifth of the Talmud, though, is the legendary parts: the stories of the Sages’ lives, tall tales, myths, legends. As a fiction writer, I was drawn to these stories, of course, but my teachers tended to skip over them or hurry past them, and they were given none of the time and attention, the almost scientific dissection, the legal parts of the Talmud were given. And so I decided to study them on my own, in a kind of openhearted, open-minded way, taking them at face value and seeing what they were really all about.

And what did you discover?

Well, first of all, I discovered that there’s a genius afoot in the Talmud, a dramatist with a kind of Shakespearean scope. This, I should say, is just my way of talking about these things. Originally, the Talmud was an oral law, and one spanning many generations. So it’s the work of many tongues and many hands – you can’t literally speak of an author – but the little stories and tales in it are all, curiously enough, dramatic in form.


Meaning that, like scenes in a play, they all take place in “real time.” They’re made out of dialogue and action. With very few exceptions, there’s no interiority in these stories, so if people in these tales want to think, they have to speak aloud, just like characters in a play. The narrative descriptions are mostly simple, physical actions, not unlike a playwright’s stage direction. I started by gathering all the stories and story fragments that had to do with the same figures or constellations of figures, and what I found is that each piece sort of illuminated the other pieces, and if you brought them all together, they formed a larger narrative or a more complete drama. And then I realized that you could approach these “scenes” as an actor or a director or a writer might, asking questions like, “What’s this person’s motivation?” or “Why would he say this?” or “Why would he do this?” or “What is he thinking here?”

It’s a different way of thinking about sacred text, and in my experience, it was a very fruitful approach. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Promising Problem: Latina/o, Chicana/o Voters

In just over thirty weeks, Americans will elect the 45th President of the United States. The campaign trail is contentious and many of the issues the candidates are debating pertain to Latinas/os and Chicanas/os, a coveted demographic for both Republicans and Democrats. Against a backdrop of deportations and voter suppression targeting Latinos, a new edited volume, A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History, presents the optimistic voices of scholars who call for sophisticated solutions while embracing transnationalism and the reality of multiple,
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overlapping identities. 
Although the political landscape is fraught with closed-off rhetoric, A Promising Problem encourages diversity of thought and opens the possibilities of historical imagination. We asked a few contributors to the book to comment on how their research has informed their views on the 2016 presidential election, providing new perspectives on America’s culture wars.

The Chicana/o and Latina/o vote is much debated this presidential election year. Does the history you uncover point to new realities or future directions for Chicana/o or Latina/o communities that are of importance for the 2016 election cycle?


Carlos Kevin Blanton, March 7th

Having just watched one “Super” Tuesday in early March with additional such Tuesdays to go as well as some scattered “Super” Saturdays and Sundays thrown in for good measure, I am struck at what a contradictory role Chicanas/os and Latinas/os play in this 2016 presidential election. Chicanas/os and Latinas/os are simultaneously celebrated and vilified, normalized and exoticized, and reflect both “promise” and “problem.”

As I write this, Cuban Americans named Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio remain credible Republican candidates running for President; another Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has jingoistically called for harsh deportations against Mexican immigrants as well as the construction of a massive wall on the U.S.-Mexico border for which he intends to force Mexico to pay, a claim former President of Mexico Vicente Fox has pugnaciously repudiated; and two Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, are vying for the support of Latina/o voters in states all over the country as a key demographic group for the success of their party. “Problem” and “Promise,” it seems, define this 2016 election cycle for Chicana/o and Latina/o communities. 

Suffice to say, I am very appreciative that I titled this new edited collection A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History. The word construction of “a promising problem” in the title, while it perhaps seems overly ironic, was one of the best ways I could concisely describe the very precarious balance we practitioners of Chicana/o history feel about working in a rich, growing, diverse, and intellectually promising field that, simultaneously, is the target of very public attacks and anti-Latina/o hysteria in the political sphere. As this 2016 election cycle continues, Chicana/o and Latina/o peoples and their issues will be front and center of the public debate as desired partners in electoral and governing success and also as being perceived as problems to be solved.

The essays in A Promising Problem add new insight into the Chicana/o past, present, and future. Transnationalism, civil rights activism, inter-Latina/o relations, the role of religion, the role of place and region such as the Nuevo South and the Midwest, and the production of culture and identity, are all important to understanding Chicana/o-Latina/o communities today in a very interdisciplinary sense. The history of these topics and more are intelligently explored in this collection. While A Promising Problem may not help anyone predict the next meaningful evening of voting, it will help readers understand Chicana/o-Latina/o people at the center of this presidential election and their pasts in fresh and insightful ways.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

UT Press at the San Antonio Book Festival

On Saturday, April 2, the University of Texas Press and four of our authors will enjoy the 4th annual San Antonio Book Festival at the Central Library and environs in downtown San Antonio. We'll have a booth in the Exhibitor Tent with tons of titles for sale at a great discount. There are a lot of great authors in attendance (Jamie Brickhouse! Nathalie Dupree! Sonia Manzano!), so we’ve distilled our authors' appearances into a single UT Press schedule.

Get The SABF App For Your Smart Phone. Just go the App Store on your device, download "Eventbase Free" and click on the San Antonio Book Festival tab.

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11:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande
Location: Auditorium, 1st floor of Library
Author: George T. Díaz

George T. Díaz is an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University. His award-winning book, Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande, was published with the University of Texas Press. Recently he served as the Visiting Scholar at the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston where he designed and taught a course on smuggling in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Díaz's research is informed by investigations in Mexican and U.S. archives as well as a lifetime of living on the border.

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12:15 PM - 1:15 PM
Location: Café Commerce, 1st floor of Library

Author: Clark Davis

Clark Davis is a Professor of English at the University of Denver. He is the author of It Starts with Trouble: William Goyen and the Life of WritingHawthorne’s Shyness: Ethics, Politics, and the Question of Engagement, and After the Whale: Melville in the Wake of Moby-Dick.

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1:15 PM - 2:00 PM
Location: The Studio, SW School of Art, McAllister Building
Author: DJ Stout

DJ Stout was the art director of Texas Monthly between 1987 and 1999, and he has been a partner in Pentagram’s Austin office since 2000. He is the author and designer of The Amazing Tale of Mr. Herbert and His Fabulous Alpine Cowboys Baseball Club: An Illustrated History of the Best Little Semipro Baseball Team in Texas. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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3:15 PM - 4:00 PM
A Love Letter to Texas Women
Location: West Terrace, 3rd floor of Library
Author: Sarah Bird

Sarah Bird is the author of ten novels, including Above the East China Sea and The Yokota Officers Club. She has been a colum­nist for Texas Monthly, a storyteller for NPR’s Moth Radio Hour, and a writer for the New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, Salon, and the Daily Beast, among others. A former Dobie-Paisano Fellow, a 2015 Meryl Streep Screenwriting Lab winner, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great Writers pick, she is the 2016 recipient of the Texas Institute of Letters Lifetime Achievement Award.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Latino Comic Books Past, Present, and Future

There are no limits to the ways in which Latinos can be represented and imagined in the world of comics. However, until now this area has been relatively understudied. Graphic Borders: Latino Comic Books Past, Present, and Future presents the most thorough exploration of comics by and about Latinos currently available. This exciting graphic genre conveys the distinctive and wide-ranging experiences of Latinos in the United States, from Latino superheroes in mainstream comics to subcultures on the indie spectrum like Love & Rockets

The World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction series includes monographs and edited volumes that focus on the analysis and interpretation of comic books and graphic nonfiction from around the world. The books published in the series will bring analytical approaches from such fields as literature, art history, cultural studies, communication studies, media studies, and film studies, among others to help define the comic book studies field at a time of great vitality and growth. To celebrate Graphic Borders as the first book in the World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction series, we asked co-editors Frederick Luis Aldama and Christopher González a few questions about their new book. 

What drew you both to pursue this project?

While scholarship on comics has come into its own of late, it’s largely been focused on white (usually male) creators and creations—and this in all the different styles, from the superhero to those of the Underground and Alternative scenes. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. And, we completely understand the scholarly compulsion; this has been the reading diet of most scholars working on comics in this country. And, we understand the significance of this work: to move forcefully comic book studies into centers of Ivory Tower knowledge making.

However, there’s much more to this story. There’s much more that needs our scholarly excavation and attention. Comic books by and about Latinos is a vital living, breathing archive of extraordinary creativity in need of our careful scholarly attention. It demands this.

Today, we as Latinos in the US are the majority minority. We’re seeing more and more Latinos pushing through the gates—and this in spite of the persistence of a push-out/lock-out education system. With pencil and paper and access to comics and any other cultural art forms, Latino comic book creators have been using this format to tell our stories and histories—and also to take us to places as yet unimagined. With access to the Internet with its funding and distribution platforms, these creators have been creating comics that reach readers across the country—the planet.

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Of course, we love these Latino comics so it doesn’t take any arm-twisting to get us to put to together a volume like this; or, in the case of Aldama, to write the first book on Latino comics (Your Brain on Latino Comics) and edit one of the first volumes on multicultural comics (Multicultural Comics: From Zap to Blue Beetle); it’s why Aldama’s about to publish Latino Comic Book Storytelling: An Odyssey by Interview—a project González contributes too as well. It’s why González edited a special issue of ImageText on Los Bros Hernandez and is finishing up his book on Gilbert Hernandez.

For us, to bring together these extraordinary scholars to enrich our understanding of comics by key shapers in our planetary republic of comics is a no brainer. It’s this sense of inclusivity and attention to the verbal-visual storytelling margins that led us to undertake the herculean work to edit the 350,000 double volume, Encyclopedia of World Comics.

At one point, it was Shakespeare’s moment and at another, Gabriel García Márquez. Today, it’s our moment. It’s the moment of extraordinary creation of comics by and about Latinos—and we’re here along with our scholarly hermanos and hermanas to shout this from rooftops.

What makes Latina/o-created comics unique?

There are two levels of comics creation to keep in mind here: the content and the form. Not surprisingly, some (most) Latino comic book creators have chosen to recreate experiences, stories, histories that have otherwise been swept to the side in mainstream culture. But the shape given to this content—this very varied Latino-ness, if you will—is extraordinarily diverse. Someone like Lalo Alcaraz (the subject of Juan Poblete’s work in this volume) chooses to reproduce our experience, giving it the form of satirical political cartoon; others like Los Bros Hernandez choose to recreate our experience by fleshing out huge storyworlds overflowing with an abundance of characters from all walks of life—and each (Gilbert and Jaime) with their own unique aesthetic style. Those like Wilfred Santiago (the subject of González’s scholarship herein) gravitate toward biography: Robeto Clemente’s breaking of color and linguistic barriers as one of the first Afrolatino players to make it in baseball’s major leagues. Yet others like Javier Hernandez (El Muerto) and Rafa Navarro (Sonambulo) breath new life into Marvel/DC narrative conventions with their creation of ancestrally rooted Latino superheroes.

Clemente experiences racism in the American South,
from 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago

To put it simply, there are no limits to the imagination when it comes to Latino comic book creators and their choices in terms of content and form. What we see today is that most (and to varying degrees) tend to choose to fill out their content with ingredients that speak to the Latino identity and experience. What we see today is that most take from and make their own (and make new) all those shaping devices and styles that make up our planetary republic of comics.