Tuesday, September 30, 2014

From Marianao to Mayberry

The first episode of The Andy Griffith Show aired fifty-four years ago this Friday. We asked noted writer and scholar Gustavo Pérez Firmat (one of Newsweek's 100 Americans to watch for in the 21st century”) to reflect on what the show meant to him as a Cuban exile and immigrant to the United States. His new book, A Cuban in Mayberry: Looking Back at America's Hometown, wrestles with the "irreplaceable intimacy between person and place" and explores how his addiction to reruns of The Andy Griffith Show provided an illusion of belonging to a community in which he never would have felt accepted.

We hope you enjoy this fascinating and touching tribute to a classic American cultural product from a very unique perspective.

From Marianao to Mayberry
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By Gustavo Pérez Firmat

The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS to aficionados) premiered on CBS on Monday October 3, 1960. Exactly three weeks later, on Monday October 24, I left Cuba with my parents, my two brothers and my sister on an overnight ferry to Key West called, of all things, The City of Havana. I was eleven years old. My parents were in their late thirties. That evening, as the City of Havana was crossing the Florida straits, CBS broadcast the fourth episode of TAGS, which has to do with the arrival in Mayberry of Ellie Walker, the first of Andy’s several girlfriends. As Ellie was beginning a new life in Mayberry, the Pérez family was beginning a new life in America. Ours would take me from Marianao, the Havana neighborhood where I was born, to Miami, where I grew up, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I’ve lived most of my adult life, and from there to Mayberry, the fictional town where The Andy Griffith Show takes place.

A Cuban in Mayberry tells the story of how I became an undocumented Mayberrian, the town’s resident alien, the lone Cuban coot in a flock of Southern geezers. If our work should be the praise of what we love, as John Ruskin believed, this is the story of my late-blooming love affair with an imaginary town and its citizens—call it a Mayberry-December romance.

The last episode of TAGS was broadcast more than 46 years ago, on April Fools Day, 1968, but the show has never lost its appeal. During TAGS’ last season on CBS it had a weekly audience of about fifteen and a half million viewers. In 1998 the Christian Science Monitor estimated that every day about five million people watched TAGS reruns on more than one hundred television stations across the country. Sixteen years later, TAGS is still syndicated in almost one hundred local TV markets. When the show commemorated its 50th anniversary in 2010, the milestone was observed in TAGS nation with a telethon on TVLand, a festival in Mount Airy, North Carolina (Andy Griffith’s hometown, the model for Mayberry), and the maiden race of the “Andy Griffith” stock car at the Banking 500 in Charlotte (“Andy” finished 31st). Websites devoted to the show abound. One of them, “The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club” (tagsrwc.com), originally a fan club founded at Vanderbilt University, has grown to more than twenty-thousand members and over a thousand local chapters with such names as “All Us Fifes Are Sensitive,” “Pipe Down, Otis,” “Aunt Bee’s Pickles,” “Briscoe’s Jug,” and “Ernest T. Bass Window Removers.” Offering thirty-two different "fixins," Mayberry’s Finest, a line of canned foods, made its debut in stores throughout the South in 2007. The Mayberry Ice Cream Restaurants, a chain of soup and sandwich shops, have existed in North Carolina since 1969.

For countless Americans, classic sitcoms like TAGS, Happy Days, or Saved by the Bell make up the soundtrack of their childhoods. The soundtrack of my childhood was Cuban-exile political talk and boleros. In fact I didn’t watch a complete episode of TAGS until four decades later. After teaching at Duke University for many years, I took a job at Columbia University in New York City. Once I became a part-time northerner, an unexpected thing happened. I started to miss North Carolina. I became homesick for a place that I’d never considered home. Unbeknownst to me, all those years in the Old North State had turned me into a Carolina Cuban, a cubanazo redneck, spic and hick in roughly equal parts.

To mitigate my longing for the South and its comforts, I began to watch reruns of TAGS. After a while, the two or three episodes that came on TVLand in the afternoons did not provide enough of a fix, and so I got the series on DVD—all 249 episodes of it. And when that wasn’t enough, I managed to find the 78 episodes of the sequel, Mayberry R.F.D. For as long as each episode lasted, I was no longer a Cuban exile, I became a Mayberrian. I knew as much about the Friendly Town as any of the locals. I could tell apart the Buntley twins. I knew that it was in room 209 of the Mayberry Hotel where Wilbur Hennessey got drunk and fell out the window. I knew that Sarah, the switchboard operator, takes a pinch of snuff now and then and that Barney subscribes to a men’s magazine called Love. And I discovered that Andy’s true love is not Helen Crump, the woman he eventually marries, but Sharon DeSpain, his high school sweetheart.

As I spent part of each day in Mayberry, I realized that my fascination with the show had as much to do with my status as a foreigner, and more concretely, as an exile, as with North Carolina. Unlike other TAGS fans, I wasn’t watching the show to relive the golden years of my childhood. It’s not always true that the allure of reruns depends on the viewer’s memory track, which the rerun jogs. It can be equally true that the allure of a rerun can reside in the fact that it’s not a rerun in any personal sense, that it takes us to a time and a place where we’ve never been.

I envied Mayberrians because, unlike me, they don’t spend their lives among strangers. Indeed, they do everything they can to avoid them. Following the biblical precept, Mayberrians love their neighbors—but to the exclusion of everyone else. One part of me found the townspeople’s xenophobia distasteful; another part of me wished that I was part of the club.

Someone who emigrates leaves behind many things, but none more strictly irreplaceable than the intimacy between person and place. Watching TAGS, I came to understand how it must feel to enjoy such intimacy, to feel rooted in the ground under your feet and to know that you live among people who are similarly rooted. Everyone was born someplace, but not everybody has a hometown, for the term designates an intensity of connection that not all of us have experienced. What I liked about TAGS was Mayberry and what I liked about Mayberrians was that they lived in their hometown, which was the whole of their world. For Andy and his neighbors, the town and its environs, what in Spanish is called la patria chica, the small homeland, is as far as their eyes can see.

My interest in the show as a mitigation of exile dictated the structure of the book. In the first part I look at the Mayberrian world as a whole—its geography, atmosphere, the distinction between outsider and insider, and the townsfolk’s view of history. The last chapter of this section, an extended obituary, traces the decline and fall of Mayberry as it evolves from TAGS to Mayberry R.F.D. and subsequently to the 1986 reunion movie, Return to Mayberry. In the second part of the book I draw partial portraits of the local worthies to explain how they contribute to the character of the place. If in Part 1 the discussion of the Mayberrian sense of place is motivated my own displacement, the portraits in Part 2 are underwritten by an exile’s search for community. Throughout, my aim was been to understand, on the one hand, the conditions that make possible the intimacy of person and place, and on the other, the sequence of events that leads to the erosion of this intimacy.

In “Mountain Wedding,” an episode from the third season, Barney Fife takes his leave from Briscoe Darling, the patriarch of a hillbilly clan, by saying, “Adios, amigo,” the only Spanish words ever uttered in TAGS. When Barney says this, Briscoe turns to Andy with a puzzled expression and asks: “He one of ours?” Of course, Barney is one of theirs, of that place and of those people, even if he is sometimes loathe to admit it.

Were this question addressed to me, I’d have to answer it in the negative. If nothing else, my southern accent—from the truly deep South—would give me away. Groucho Marx once quipped that he wouldn’t belong to any club that would have him as a member. Unlike Groucho, I belong to a club that perhaps wouldn’t have me as a member. Mayberrian soil—red clay—is not receptive to transplants. Imagine someone walking into the Mayberry Diner and ordering arroz con pollo. He would be run out of town.

And yet I treasure what Mayberry has given me, the illusion of belonging, the sense that things could be otherwise. It may not be much, but I’m grateful to have it. The Cuban-American poet Ricardo Pau Llosa once wrote: “The exile knows his place. It is the imagination.” When I was young my imagination transported me to Cuba. Now it takes me to Mayberry. As the grandson of Spanish immigrants who later became Cuban exiles, and as the son of Cuban exiles who refused to become immigrants, I’m happy to inhabit a world whose residents will never be forced to become exiles or immigrants. That such a world does not exist only makes it more necessary.

When Andy Griffith passed away in the summer of 2012, all of North Carolina seemed to go into mourning. In addition to the normal reruns, local stations launched week-long TAGS marathons, and thousands of North Carolinians sent in testimonials about the impact of the program on their lives. Some said that they had learned from Sheriff Andy how to raise their children; others talked about the joy that the program had brought them. A woman from Greenville wrote: “Andy is my hero. He has been for most of my 49 years. Andy represented the very best of what makes North Carolina so special. My family will never forget him.” Countless others echoed this sentiment; Andy—the actor as well as the character—was a “true Tarheel.”

I was tempted to add my own testimonial, but I was reluctant to do so. As someone who was raised by people who wouldn’t know a dumpling from a duck, and, moreover, as a newcomer to Mayberry, I didn’t share the experiences of the authors of the testimonials. I felt like the stranger who shows up at a funeral and no one knows what he is doing there. Instead I wrote A Cuban in Mayberry, the belated testimonial of a true-enough Tarheel.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Freedom to Read: 13 Links for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week (Sept. 21-27) is the book world’s annual celebration of our right to choose and have access to the books that we want to read. 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 across the nation. 

This year the Banned Books Week National Committee has chosen to emphasize the censorship, banning, and challenging of comics and graphic novels because “Despite their serious literary merit and popularity as a genre, they are often subject to censorship,” Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee, said in a statement about this year’s effort.

UT Press wants to be a part of this effort. We hope you’ll think about not only the impact that banned books have had on you, but the consequences for communities that deny access to certain books. We hope you’ll show your support to those who stand up year-round to protect your freedom to choose the books that you want to read. This year we present to you a list of 13 things you can read, watch, check out, or do, to get engaged with Banned Books Week 2014. 

This article details a case this summer in which the College of Charleston in South Carolina was threatened with budget cuts for featuring a graphic novel, Fun Home, on an optional summer reading list


21 stories about comics that have been banned in the US

The CBLDF’s (that’s the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) 2014 handbook to Banned Books week

Sherman Alexie, one of the most frequently banned authors in the US, talks about the banning of his own book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Thirteen books you would never believe have been banned books

From Vonnegut to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed this timeline plots the last thirty years of banned books

Hear what these authors, including Markus Zusak, Khaled Hosseini, and Judy Blume, have to say about their own books being banned

Keep up with Banned Books Week by checking out the official Banned Books Week Twitter or Facebook

Interested in current state of banned books in Texas? Check out the ACLU’s (American Civil Liberties Union) most recent report, which even includes some good news

There’s certainly a book that changed your life on this comprehensive list of the most commonly challenged books in the United States

Attend a Banned Books Week event near you

Celebrate banned books week by reading public domain comics from the Golden age at The Digital Comics Museum

Participate in the 2014 Banned Books Virtual Read-out

Friday, September 12, 2014

9 Things We Didn't Know About Miss America

We live in a much more complicated world than in 1955 when the first telecast of the Miss America pageant aired. Even if you don't plan on tuning in to this Sunday's ABC broadcast of the pageant, it is fascinating to reflect on the history and ponder its place in our contemporary culture.
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Kate Shindle's Being Miss America: Behind the Rhinestone Curtain is both a charming personal narrative about Shindle's experiences as a former Miss America, and a revelatory historical account and critique of the Miss America Organization. We learned so much about this uniquely American institution that we plucked 9 takeaways from the book that stuck with us.

Listen to Kate Shindle's podcast episode (embedded below) and learn what we didn't know about Miss America.


The feminist symbolic gesture of bra burning is a media myth. History remembers activists burning their bras outside the Miss America pageant in 1968. While bras were among the "instruments of torture" placed in the 'Freedom Trash Can' as part of the protest, bras were not actually set ablaze. The New York Radical Women weren't just protesting Maidenform but the "degrading mindless-boob-girlie symbol." They also put copies of Playboy magazine and high-heeled shoes in there.
At the Freedom Trash Can, 1968 (Duke University, special collections)

America spoke, and we chose to keep the contestants in swimsuits. In 1995, the Miss America Organization attempted to settle the swimsuit competition controversy once and for all with a call-in vote:
"Seeking once and for all to bang the cultural gavel on the issue, the 1995 pageant incorporated a viewer call-in vote to decide whether this portion of the show would even happen. The well-spun effort—in which the powers that be claimed to be interested in letting the public make the determination about swimsuits—was actually a ringer; the cost of each phone vote virtually guaranteed that the pageant’s fans would dial in greater numbers than its detractors. And they did. About a million viewers spent fifty cents for each vote. Seventy-nine percent of them gave the thumbs-up to the swimsuit competition; since that decisive moment, it has continued without many mea culpas." (pp. 121)
It turns out that broadcasting a contest to choose the most "thoughtful valedictorian" Miss America does not make for sexy television.


Even pageant winners take women's studies classes and bristle at "prissy" stereotypes. During her year as Miss America, Kate Shindle once quipped to a nervous young man picking her up from the airport who jokingly assumed her heaviest suitcase was full of makeup, "Actually, that's the one with all my files on AIDS research."
"And then I feel terrible, because seriously, no need to be a complete bitch to this harmless guy. Except that I don’t think the stereotypes are harmless, because I live with them every day. Every time I show up somewhere and someone makes a crack about how surprised they are that I’m not wearing a gown. Yeah, dude. To a grade-school assembly? Seriously? Or the time I’m invited, and then uninvited, to speak at Stanford, because somebody gets the bug that Miss America won’t be able to relate to the students there. And by 'bug,' I mean 'suggestion from a women’s studies class.' Which I’ve also taken, by the way, at Northwestern. I think I can hang, guys." (pp. 51)

Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality

Reality shows and scholarship programs don't mix. When TLC broadcast the competition from 2007 to 2010, they attempted a few pre-ceremony reality shows where contestants had the clothes in their suitcases critiqued by the hosts of What Not to Wear. Another year, pageant hopefuls were asked to perform such irrelevant tasks as running obstacle courses on a cruise ship and designing outfits from scratch. It didn't go over well:

"There are also reportedly plenty of moments in these long, long days (often going from six a.m. until midnight, with not one penny of pay—which frankly doesn’t even sound legal) during which the producers try to set up conflict between the women. After the first few days, the contestants revolt and demand a meeting where they can voice their concerns. They refuse to be part of a show that is constantly trying to pit them against one another (“Miss West Virginia says she’s against gay marriage! You’re in favor of gay marriage; what do you think of her?!?”) The producers relent; the Miss America executives profess ignorance and horror that these things are going on at all." (pp. 183)


Controversy in the Miss America world isn't always bad for the pageant. Despite having to resign after nude photos surfaced, Vanessa Williams is apparently the most esteemed former Miss America, admired by both academics and journalists and even by the pageant's longtime fans and followers. Academy Award-winning author and former Miss America judge William Goldman says:
"I remember talking to some pageant people and they said that the best Miss America they ever had was Vanessa Williams. Apparently she was just sensational. She was just the most verbal, bright, terrific seller of the Miss America contest they'd ever had." (pp. 87)
Vanessa Williams, pictured at a 1984 press conference at the Golden Nugget.
Press of Atlantic City.


Pageant leadership should remember that old adage, "be careful what you ask for." In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Miss America Organization [MAO] tried to encourage a Miss America who spoke her mind by emphasizing her platform issue, but the pageant leadership wasn't prepared to work with Miss Americas who did just that:
"For more than a decade, MAO had rewarded young women for speaking their minds, both politically and with respect to their platform issues. The crown had elevated Miss America to the point where she had a voice. And this was the first time a Miss America had clearly and cannily used that voice to take the lead and put the organization in its place....the MAO leadership had absolutely no idea what to do with her....the pageant was still hanging on to the antiquated notion that a strong woman must be controlled. It probably was no coincidence that perceived 'manageability' began to pop up in Miss America judging literature and training as one of the critical personality traits for a winner." (pp. 170)

It never occurred to the MAO that a former participant could help guide the future of the program. Gretchen Carlson (Miss America 1989, host of The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson) was the first former Miss America to be invited to sit on the Miss America Organization's board, but only after 6 former winners solicited for representation:
"We tell the board members what we can offer them—sponsors, media contacts, turnaround specialists. We will call in our favors. We will mobilize other Miss Americas, most of whom are already fired up. Evelyn [Ay] gets choked up. Heather [Whitestone] cries. It’s pretty moving....And we tell them the only thing we want in return: board representation. It’s just stupid that Miss Americas—we who are living, breathing resources with significant experience, energy, and passion—are so underutilized....we do succeed in getting board representation. Two seats, to be exact. Later, three. Somewhat predictably, none of us who attended that meeting is among those chosen. If you speak up, you’re a threat. If you’re not easily managed, it’s better for you to be neutralized." (pp. 181) 

A public school assembly on AIDS delivered by a guest speaker can actually be informative, IF the speaker is savvy enough. It may not be surprising that it was easier to circumvent limitations instituted by high school administrators than the strictures of a multi-million dollar nonprofit organization, but Shindle got really good at dodging all the "don't-says" (condom, gay, etc.) at public school visits:

"Sure, I totally game the system. But what else am I supposed to do? Give a boring, condescending, up-on-a-pedestal speech that provides no information beyond 'just say no' and 'follow your dreams,' when that type of evasion is exactly what's causing AIDS to spread faster and faster and faster?...I tell them that they can ask me absolutely anything. And boy, do they." (pp. 105)
From Beyoncé's video for Pretty Hurts


Even the most outwardly confident and beautiful women struggle with body image issues. Not only is Shindle open about the problems plaguing the pageant internally, she's also very open about her own body image issues:
"I start to have problems with food. Without getting into the details, I’m overeating and then depriving myself. It’s dangerous and stupid and utterly not who I am—but really, the fact that I do it basically does make it who I am. It’s not unusual for me to burst into tears—big, hysterical tears, no less—if my plan to exercise gets thwarted by some event that runs long. Or if my ever-changing schedule means that I don’t get back to the hotel until after the gym is closed. It’s massively unhealthy, and it doesn’t stop when I give up the crown....It’s so much easier to turn myself inside out trying to make everyone happy—which, of course, is a fool’s errand on its own." (pp. 133)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor from Brazil to Canada

Labor Day may be the symbolic end of summer, but it's also a time to reflect on the contributions that workers, laborers, and unions have made to the social and economic well-being of the communities in which they work. Below are books from our backlist that tell the stories of workers from Latin America to Canada and everywhere in between. Happy Labor Day!
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From the Mines to the Streets

A Bolivian Activist's Life

By Benjamin Kohl and Linda C. Farthing, with Félix Muruchi
with Félix Muruchi

An extraordinary portrait of Bolivia's turbulent rise from military rule during the last half century, told through the eyes of a miner, union activist, and political prisoner.

By Vernon M. Briggs, Jr., Walter Fogel, and Fred H. Schmidt

The Chicano Worker is an incisive analysis of the labor-market experiences of Mexican American workers in the late twentieth century.
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The Informal and Underground Economy of the South Texas Border

By Chad Richardson and Michael J. Pisani

This first comprehensive, multidisciplinary, longitudinal study of the “off-the-books” economic systems that fuel the Laredo-to-Brownsville corridor examines the complex repercussions of these legal and illegal forms of border commerce.

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Organized Agriculture and the Labor Movement before the UFW

Puerto Rico, Hawaii, California

By Dionicio Nodín Valdés

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This pioneering comparative study investigates how agricultural workers in Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, and California struggled to organize and create a place for themselves in the institutional life of the United States.

Mexican Women in American Factories
Free Trade and Exploitation on the Border

By Carolyn Tuttle

Drawing on a rich data set of interviews with over 600 women maquila workers, this pathfinding book offers the first rigorous economic and sociological analysis of the impact of NAFTA and its implications for free trade around the world.

Tomorrow We're All Going to the Harvest
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Temporary Foreign Worker Programs and Neoliberal Political Economy

By Leigh Binford

This exceptional study examines the experience of Mexican workers in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), widely considered a model program by the World Bank and other international institutions despite the significant violations of labor and human rights inherent in the terms of employment.

Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950

By Gerald Horne

This engrossing book probes the motives and actions of all the players to reveal the full story of the Conference of Studio Unions strike and the resulting lockout of 1946.

Walking the Forest with Chico Mendes
Struggle for Justice in the Amazon
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By Gomercindo Rodrigues
Edited and translated by Linda Rabben

The inspiring story of courageous labor and environmental activist Chico Mendes, who led Brazil’s rubber tappers until his assassination in 1988.
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Apple Pie and Enchiladas
Latino Newcomers in the Rural Midwest

By Ann V. Millard and Jorge Chapa

The authors look at how Latinos fit into an already fractured social landscape with tensions among townspeople, farmers, and others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fall 2014 Preview

This fall and winter, UT Press will publish very important works in photographyfood, film and media studiesarchitectureLatin American Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies, including two new translations of provocative Lebanese texts by Rashid Al-Daif: Who's Afraid of Meryl Streep? and What Makes a Man?

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Not only do we have a memoir from a former Miss America, we're also publishing the first comprehensive examination of the Mr. America Contest by an acclaimed sports historian. Also this fall, a Cuban exile ponders the meaning of Mayberry, a veteran reporter for National Geographic and Newsweek provides a how-to handbook for aspiring journalists, and distinguished screenwriter and producer Bill Wittliff tells an engrossing tale of a Texas Huck Finn.
Below is a preview of our fall books, with videos and other goodies. Browse our full catalog here.

By Steve Wilson

More than 600 rarely seen items from the David O. Selznick archive—including on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage, restored costumes, and Selznick’s infamous memos—offer fans and film historians alike a must-have behind-the-camera view of the production of this classic movie on its seventy-fifth anniversary.

By Frederick Luis Aldama

With insightful analysis of films ranging from El Mariachi to Spy Kids 4 and Machete Kills, as well as a lively interview in which the filmmaker discusses his career, here is the first scholarly overview of the work of Robert Rodriguez, the most successful U.S. Latino filmmaker today.

By Kate Shindle

Kate Shindle weaves an engrossing memoir of her year as Miss America 1998 with a fascinating, insightful history of the pageant to reveal why confident, ambitious young women still compete in a beauty contest that struggles to remain culturally relevant.

“Kate Shindle’s sharply observed, smart, and heartbreaking take on Miss America will be embraced by pageant super fans and should be required reading for everyone who’s thought about what it takes to be America’s ideal.”
— Jennifer Weiner, author of Good in BedIn Her Shoes, and All Fall Down

By Judith Smith

Spotlighting a vibrant episode in the evolution of African American culture and consciousness in America, this book illuminates how multitalented performer Harry Belafonte became a civil rights icon, internationalist, and proponent of black pride and power.

“I thought I knew Harry Belafonte pretty well, but Judith Smith’s book has given me deeper insights into him. A wonderful portrait of Belafonte and his times.”
—Robert DeCormier, musical director for Harry Belafonte, 1957–1961
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By Aaron Siskind, Introduction by Gilles Mora

The first true retrospective of a towering figure in American photography and the only book on Aaron Siskind currently in print, this volume features important, rarely published work and an authoritative text by noted photo historian Gilles Mora.

Also forthcoming in photography, Beyond the Forest by Loli Kantor.