Friday, April 18, 2014

Mary Ellen Mark on Man and Beast

"I wish that the nature of Man were better."Mary Ellen Mark. 

This excerpt from Man and Beast: Photographs from Mexico and India features Mary Ellen Mark in conversation with Melissa Harris, editor-in-chief of Aperture Foundation, and Martin Bell, Mark's husband, former politician, and British UNICEF Ambassador. Mary Ellen Mark discusses her interest in photographing animals, her experiences creating the powerful images in her new book, the differences between 'Man' and 'Beast,' and how beasts can teach us to be better as humans.

Melissa Harris opens Man and Beast with this revealing insight into the internationally acclaimed photographer's personal philosophy behind her images of man and beast. View spreads from the book here, and buy the book for the full interview. 

Join us at The Wittliff Collections on Sunday, April 27, at 2pm for an exhibition reception, artist talk, and book signing with Mary Ellen Mark in attendance. Find out more about the event here.

MEM and Beast 

In December 2002 I found myself walking across Washington Square Park with my then-one-year-old Lhasa Apso, Ella, who was (reluctantly) wearing a fuzzy, bubblegum-pink boa—part of a ballerina outfit for children (although Ella would have no part of the tutu—just too demeaning, given her roots as a Tibetan palace guard dog). It was during that walk that I began to fully comprehend Mary Ellen Mark’s kooky, intense, and committed love affair with dogs. Ella and I were headed to Mary Ellen’s annual “Doggy Christmas Party.” Fifty to sixty dogs of friends and colleagues poured into her SoHo studio, both to attend the bash and to have their portraits taken. Sometimes at the party there are themes or props or backdrops or characters (an unfortunate soul dressed as the Statue of Liberty, for example, who posed with the dubious dogs)—but this year it was more or less simply about “festive attire,” hence the boa. I placed Ella on the platform for the shoot, whispering sweet “Sits” in her ear, until the time came for me to sidle away, as Mary Ellen prepared to photograph her. But Mary Ellen was not yet convinced by the composition, so she called to Ella to move “stage right” and “upstage,” along with other, non-doggy directions. Just an instant before Ella, overwhelmed, bolted decisively with cheetah-like agility, Mary Ellen made the portrait, which perfectly captures Ella’s funny imperiousness.

Mary Ellen becomes deeply invested in many of her subjects—sometimes knowing and photographing them over the course of many years, as she did with Erin Charles (a.k.a. Tiny, of the 1980s project Streetwise), and with the Damms, a homeless family that Mary Ellen photographed many times. There is often a performative or interactive element to the photographs, whether they are of twins, prom-goers, or street children, whether she is on the streets of Oaxaca, Mexico, where she teaches workshops each year, or at a horse farm in Connecticut or a circus in Calcutta, or photographing dogs—pretty much everywhere.

Mary Ellen’s sense of dogs’ unconditional love is matched only by her belief that beasts are, unlike man, rarely if ever gratuitously cruel. This understanding infuses Mary Ellen’s images with an unsentimental poignancy and a fully intentional anthropomorphism that, while sometimes ironic and other times unsettling, always render photographs that are remarkably engaging and winning.

— Melissa Harris, New York City, January 2013 

Mary Ellen Mark: I like animals you can relate to. And it’s interesting to observe them in their roles with people.

One of the things that fascinates me most about the circus is the relationship between the performers and the trained animals—how they depend on each other for life and for work. I know the animal-rights people are going to hate this, and I understand there is a concern about how circus animals are treated, but I myself didn’t see abuse—with only one exception. The animal trainers need the animals to survive, so they must treat them extremely well to make sure they are happy and in good health, and often there is a bond between them.

I also respect most animals, because they can kill you! I’ve never been attacked by an animal, but especially in the circus, I was careful. Although I did go in the cage with the lions in India. I felt I couldn’t get a strong picture without being in the cage with them. Martin was in the cage, too. We were in the cage with twelve lions. That was frightening.

The trainer was in there, but he was a macho jerk. He smacked one lion—on the nose—to show off, which was a terrible thing to watch. The lion was so hurt that he jumped off the stool and started to run around the cage. We were just standing there, and Martin said, “Don’t move!” The lion was bewildered and angry, and he was running around and running around—completely out of control. And there we were, just standing there. It was very scary. The trainer just wanted to show off, and he whipped him. It was horrible. We have the footage. We’ve never shown it because it is so disturbing. This guy was actually cruel—he was a cruel man. But he was unusual. Usually the trainers are not at all like that. . . . Mostly they depend on the animals. It’s their livelihood; they have to treat the animal well. And, also, they love the animal.

Melissa Harris: Do they?

MEM: Yes, they do love the animal. And they need the animal. They can’t survive without it. And those animals are very expensive; they can’t replace them. They have to be in good health. Trainers are very stupid if they treat the animal badly, because the animal can kill them, especially with an animal like an elephant. Elephants are very smart and sensitive. You have to be really respectful.

Chimpanzees bite. You can’t trust chimps. One bit Martin. And, not only did it bite him—that chimp held a grudge against him! So the rest of the time we were shooting, the chimp looked for him. The trainer said, “I neglected to tell you that this chimp was trained in Germany, and he hates fair men. He hates them.” Martin, what was the name of the chimp that bit you?

Martin Bell: Shiva. 

MEM: So every time Shiva came out to perform, he was looking for Martin in the audience. We were there with [the novelist] John Irving this time, and every time the chimp would escape we’d say, “Where’s John?” And then we’d find John, standing there with a chair in his hand! 

Melissa Harris: So John Irving wasn’t convinced about the chimp.

MEM: No. That chimp was really dangerous. And another one bit me—a female chimp named Mira—I think because she was jealous. I shook hands with her trainer, and she was very jealous.

MH: So she bit you?

MEM: Well, I went to thank her trainer after I took her portrait with him; in the portrait his arm is around her. I shook his hand, and said, “Thank you so much.” And the chimp looked at me and then she bit my hand.

The following year I came back to the same circus, and the trainer said to me, “Go and say hello to Mira. I’m sure she has forgiven you.” So I went up to her cage—she was in a training cage, which was quite large. I put my arm in to shake her hand. She looked at me. Then she ran to the back of the cage and she took this stance. And I thought, “Oh my God, she’s charging me!” I quickly pulled my arm out, just in time. . . . I never went around her again. She was really angry with me. She hadn’t forgotten. They don’t forget.

Another chimp I was very close to was named Raja. I loved Raja. Raja remembered me. I photographed Raja as a baby, and he remembered me when I came back. He loved me. I would go to his cage every day and give him a kiss, and he’d kiss me. The trainer said I was crazy, because he was huge—he looked like a gorilla. But he remembered me.

When I was leaving the circus, Raja knew I was going. He was so smart. The trainer said, “He’s been a bad boy today; you can’t go and say good-bye.” But Raja started to cry, so I went anyway to say good-bye. He died a couple of weeks later. Chimps don’t live long in captivity. Raja was only in his twenties.

Really, nothing compares with the Indian circus. I’ve thought about doing a major project on the Mexican circus—it’s charming—but the Indian circus is much more strange and magical. The Mexican circus is too influenced by commercialism, whereas the Indian circus is so much more original. It reminds me of Fellini. Every day we were presented with all these incredible experiences.

MH: With Man and Beast, what’s the nature of Man these days?

MEM: I wish that the nature of Man were better. I always think the nature of Beasts is better than the nature of Man. It’s more pure, more honest. Beast is more honest than Man. Man is more deceitful, unfortunately.

MH: When you take pictures of animals, what are you setting out to do?

MEM: My goal is different from Nick’s [Michael “Nick” Nichols, natural history photographer] 
in the sense that I’m looking for an anthropomorphic side to them. Trying to show the “Man” in animals. 

MH: And what is that?

MEM: Well, I’m trying to connect as a human being to what an animal is like. It’s not like a human being at all, though; it’s part of my fantasy. What really interested me so much in the Indian circus is that it’s so much about the anthropomorphic side of animals, like “Dr. Elephant.” Where else would you see a “Dr. Elephant”?

MH: Well—the anthropomorphic side is what we determine, or read into their behavior, or force upon the animals. It’s not really innate, is it? Continuing on the anthropomorphic track, is this ever demoralizing for the animal, from your perspective?

MEM: I know I’m reading things into the animals’ behavior, but on the other hand, their relationships, their roles with the humans in their lives are real—and sometimes, it’s just so touching. . . . I photographed a female elephant who rides in the U.S.A.’s UniverSoul Circus. That elephant looks so sad to me—it’s sad that it’s trapped in the circus, that it’s not out in the wild. I love elephants.

MH: So you’re exploring the emotional life of elephants?

MEM: Well, again I’m reading that idea into it. . . . Maybe the elephant is sad because he wants a peanut! I don’t know. It’s just that you’re looking, trying to read a certain emotion or narrative into it to get a great photograph. Like with the chimp Mira, when she had her arm around her trainer—I was trying to show that she was in love with him . . .

MH: But we don’t know what love means for a chimp.

MEM: No, we don’t. We do know that he feeds her.

MH: Are children and animals similar to photograph?

MEM: There’s an innocence sometimes in children, which is similar in animals. But I rarely look for the innocence. Children are “Man.” They can be very cruel. They’re little people, after all. That’s what I try to look for in children. I’m looking for the anthropomorphic things in animals. But I think in children I’m looking . . .

MH: . . . for the Beast?

MEM: Exactly. I look at children as just regular . . . as tiny humans. So I’m looking for the things they do that reveal their true nature.

MH: If you could be any animal, what would you be?

MEM: Oh, gosh. Well, I don’t know that I’d want to be a dog. . . . It would be nice to fly.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reading LBJ's Civil Rights Legacy

This week, President Obama, former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, and an impressive roster of speakers will visit Austin, TX, for a Civil Rights Summit hosted by the LBJ Presidential Library
This three-day event marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed by Lyndon Baines Johnson in a crucial step toward the realization of America's promise to its people. We're so proud that the University of Texas at Austin is affiliated with this summit, and would like to showcase some vital UT Press titles for understanding LBJ's legacy, the civil rights movement in Texas, and the complicated nature of our ongoing struggle for equality.

View the live stream of the entire Summit at, follow The LBJ Foundation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, and when the summit ends, keep the conversation going with these books.
Freedom Is Not Enough
The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Texas
By William S. Clayson

The first in-depth examination of Lyndon Johnson's Office of Economic Opportunity and its role in the rise and fall of postwar liberalism in the Lone Star State. William S. Clayson traces the rise and fall of postwar liberalism in the Lone Star State against a backdrop of dissent among Chicano militants and black nationalists who rejected Johnson's brand of liberalism.

More info
My Wild Ride as Air Force One Pilot, White House Aide, and Personal Confidant
By Brigadier General James U. Cross, USAF (retired), with Denise Gamino and Gary Rice

LBJ’s personal pilot—one of the few to fly Air Force One and simultaneously hold a full-time job in the White House—offers vivid recollections of the thirty-sixth president.

More info
A Washington Memoir
By Harry McPherson

This insider's view of Washington in the 1950s and 1960s, of the tumultuous presidency of Lyndon Johnson, and of the conflicts and factions of the president's staff has become a political classic since its original publication in 1972. In this reissue, Harry McPherson adds a new preface in which he reflects on changes in Washington since the Johnson era and on the lessons Bill Clinton could learn from the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

More info
The Gay Place
By Billy Lee Brammer
Introduction by Don Graham

A classic piece of Texas literature featuring three interlocking stories about a fictional Texas governor based on LBJ.
"An American classic in which a Johnsonian figure named Arthur 'Goddam' Fenstemaker strides through the pages, large, earthy, intelligent, threatening, working it seemed more often on the side of the angels than against them." —Gore Vidal

More info
LBJ and Mexican Americans
The Paradox of Power
By Julie Leininger Pycior

This book explores the complex and sometimes contradictory relations between LBJ and Mexican Americans. Mexican Americans' complicated relationship with LBJ influenced both their political development and his career with consequences that reverberated throughout society at large.

More info
Felix Longoria's Wake
Bereavement, Racism, and the Rise of Mexican American Activism
By Patrick Carroll

Patrick Carroll explains how a controversy over a slain Mexican American soldier contributed to the rise of Mexican American activism. This act of discrimination launched Dr. Héctor P. García and his newly formed American G.I. Forum into the vanguard of the Mexican civil rights movement, while simultaneously endangering and advancing the career of Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who arranged for Longoria's burial with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

More info
Before Brown
Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
By Gary M. Lavergne

The inspiring story of the courageous Houston mailman whose struggle to attend the University of Texas School of Law provided the precedent for the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that ended segregation in public education.

More info
No Color Is My Kind
The Life of Eldrewey Stearns and the Integration of Houston
By Thomas R. Cole

An uncommon chronicle of identity, fate, and compassion as two men—one Jewish and one African American—set out to rediscover a life lost to manic depression and alcoholism.
Weaving the tragic story of a charismatic and deeply troubled leader into the record of a major historic event, Cole also explores his emotionally charged collaboration with Stearns. Their poignant relationship sheds powerful and healing light on contemporary race relations in America, and especially on issues of power, authority, and mental illness.

Drawing on court cases spanning more than a century, Delaney examines the moves and countermoves of attorneys and judges who participated in the geopolitics of slavery and emancipation; in the development of Jim Crow segregation, which effectively created apartheid laws in many cities; and in debates over the "doctrine of changed conditions," which challenged the legality of restrictive covenants and private contracts designed to exclude people of color from white neighborhoods. This historical investigation yields new insights into the patterns of segregation that persist in American society today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

UT Press at the San Antonio Book Festival

On Saturday, April 5, the University of Texas Press and 8 of our authors will enjoy the 2nd 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 (Philipp Meyer! Sandra Cisneros!), so we’ve distilled our authors' appearances into a single UT Press schedule:

10:00 AM — 10:45 AM
Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards
Location: Swartz Room (2nd Floor of Central Library)
Authors: Jan Reid 
Moderator: Jan Jarboe Russell

11:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Authentic Texas: People of the Big Bend
Location: Rogers Hall, Southwest School of Art, Navarro Campus (1st Floor)
Authors: Marcia Hatfield Daudistel and Bill Wright
Moderator: Scott Martin

12:00 PM — 1:00 PM
Our Town: Stories That Shaped San Antonio
When Mexicans Could Play Ball: Basketball, Race, and Identity in San Antonio, 1928–1945
Location: Auditorium (1st Floor of Central Library)
Authors: Ignacio Garcia
Moderator: Gilbert Garcia

1:15 PM — 2:15 PM
Lake/Flato Houses: Embracing the Landscape
Location: Rogers Hall, Southwest School of Art, Navarro Campus (1st Floor)
Authors: Ted Flato
Moderator: Frederick Steiner
2:15 PM — 3:15 PM
Spies Like Us: The NSA, Big Brother, and Democracy
The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power
Location: Auditorium (1st Floor of Central Library)
Authors: John Prados
Moderator: Callie Enlow

2:30 PM — 3:15 PM
Surf Texas
Location: Rogers Hall, Southwest School of Art, Navarro Campus (1st Floor)
Authors: Kenny Braun
Moderator: Sandy McNab
4:00 PM — 5:00 PM
Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition
Location: Central Market Cooking Tent
(Southwest School of Art, outside in the Ursuline Campus parking lot on Augusta Street)
Authors: David Sterling

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kevin Smith, John Pierson on Linklater's Influence

We're knee-deep in South By Southwest here in Austin. With the film festival in full swing, this week's blog features an excerpt from UT film professor John Pierson's classic book Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema — back in print this spring! Here, Pierson sits down with Kevin Smith to talk about one of his biggest influences as a filmmaker, Richard Linklater. Linklater screened his film Boyhood at this year's gamut of film festivals, including SXSW, was nominated for an Oscar for Before Midnight, and continues to nourish the Austin film scene through the Austin Film Society.

Read the truncated conversation below to get a sense of Linklater's cultural influence. Get the book to delve even deeper into a pivotal era in indie film.

John Pierson: So you saw Slacker on your twenty-first birthday at the Angelika. That theater opened in late 1989. Was that the first time you went there?

Kevin Smith: No, the first film I've ever seen outside of New Jersey, unless I'm on vacation with my parents somewhere and then it's still a mainstream film, the film I travel to New York to the Angelika to see is—let me back up a minute....

We're on the cutting edge, The Dark Backward, nobody knows about this and he'll be the one to make Planet of the Apes. At the bottom of the Village Voice ad, it said come to the midnight screening and receive free pig newtons-which of course were fig newtons with a sticker on them.

The Dark Backward, which was not good at all, was our first independent movie. That was the first thing we ever went to see outside New Jersey, at the Angelika. The first time we see the Angelika we're like "there's an escalator in this movie place. Look at this, it's hip man, you can get coffee
," not that we're coffee drinkers, but we buy like a ham croissant sandwich at the cafe. The lobby's all different from the usual multiplex lobby we go to because they hang up these huge reviews of films and suddenly we feel, "Oh, my God there's a whole different subculture here." We're seeing people who're there. I mean this theater's packed....

The The Dark Backward is just a footnote because it gets me out of Jersey to New York. And then I have enough courage to see Slacker in New York at a midnight screening.

JP: What attracted you since there were no pig newtons?

KS: The Voice review and the image of the Madonna Pap smear girl; it just sounded great. I know it opened in July [1991]. I went on my birthday, August 2nd. And that's the movie that pushed me. It was like "Oh, my God," The whole ride home I'm like "look how simple it is. It's like there's nothing going on, it's dialogue, I can do this." This is the movie because this is approachable. I can do this.

JP: Technically Slacker was not the first thing I did after Roger & Me. There's a film in between I don't talk about much called End of the Night.

KS: Not to be confused with John Landis's Into the Night.

JP: . . . that we took to Cannes in May 1990. It sold very well in Europe but never really happened here. It was by restaurateur-turned-filmmaker Keith McNally who, unlike you, was obsessed with European filmmakers, particularly Wim Wenders. But to most people Slacker really seemed like my next film. It was an immensely enjoyable experience for two reasons. It was the easiest sale in history because it basically happened in a day because the right person, Michael Barker from Orion Classics, wound up in the right place, in Maine where I was, at the right time in August. Also because I just loved going back to a film not a phenomenon. People said, "Oh, now you've done this multimillion dollar deal, you'll never go back." The fact that there was this enormous deal on Roger & Me didn't change the basic nature of the material I liked in the first place. So I was really happy to be back with Slacker. Let's talk about your own personal timing here. Slacker was basically made in 1989 and opened in Austin for the first time in 1990. It just took another year for everything to come together for it to finally open in New York. If it had all happened sooner somehow it might not have been your moment?

KS: Yeah, I know, I might have missed the boat. It all falls into place, this is the summer I break up with my girlfriend presumably for good, leaving me lots of free time. She tells me I'm directionless
—I'm not pursuing anything, just working in the store. She's going to college, she's on the fast track. I'm like, "Well, I write" but she's, "What're you going to do with it?" I'm realizing I am directionless and suddenly we're on the outs and I have nothing to do and I go see Slacker and bang! it happens. But, had Slacker come out any earlier, maybe nothing would have happened at all. Or maybe it would have happened slower.... When and why did Rick [Linklater] get into film?

JP: When he found out his curveball wasn't good enough.

KS: That's right, he was a jock.

JP: He realized he wasn't heading for the World Series. He's the Burt Reynolds of auteurist directors.

KS: I mean what kind of stretch is that, to go from being like a jock to being like, "Yeah, I'm a filmmaker." Is it as big a stretch as going like, "Yeah, I worked at a convenience store and now I'm a filmmaker." Which is the bigger stretch?

JP: Well, he did the transitional step that people used to do, though. He went from being a jock to kicking around in whatever jobs he had, an oil rig job, a little bit of school, and then he started the Austin Film Society. He took his interest in film and became interested in purveying and conveying that to other people and out of that grew his own sense that he could be someone who made movies.

KS: So he was basically an exhibitor.

JP: Well, yeah, but an exhibitor who had a much bigger cultural influence in his community than a standard operator would because he was providing a unique service. Apparently on the University of Texas campus, film wasn't a big thing, so he was seizing on the available university crowd that was handy. I think he was doing a very traditional American thing. He was creating a community, a support community, that shared his interest, and eventually became the same core group that worked with him to help him realize his vision in a movie. In a way, your experiences were at the Quick Stop, and you didn't have an in-between—no film society, you skipped the oil rig.

KS: I thought about it, but I was like, "It's in the water, it's cold, I don't chew tobacco." Of my leaders, Rick is the most accessible cause he's a guy that was kinda like myself. He made his movie even cheaper than mine. He was young like I am. He was older though. I don't know, maybe it has something to do with that; it's a youth thing....

JP: You don't have anybody out of the independent world who's moved out into bigger studio films to use as your perfect role model at this point, right?

KS: Of course Richard is the predecessor. One would almost think I sold my soul to the devil just to get Richard's life. First I want to make my small independent, made for like twenty-seven grand and I'll sell it to a company and they'll distribute it well and it'll do at least a million bucks.

JP: Well, you're past that now. Up to that point it is like a mirror image.

KS: And then I want to make a comedy with Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel at Universal. It's almost the same mirrored existence. But, it begins and ends there. Dazed and Confused is really entertaining. But in terms of the execution, what I want to do and what Richard wants to do are really two totally different things. Richard basically is doing what I was intending to do with my first draft. Now it's gotten much bigger than that. The budget does go up a beat, but I mean bigger in terms of scope and who I want this movie to get to. You asked me the other day how I see Mallrats. I want this to be like every comedy I saw as a kid and was wowed by. John Landis when he was good, Ivan Reitman when he was really funny.


JP: Meanwhile Rick's dream is to meet Michelangelo Antonioni. Actually when you backtrack, the mirror distorts a bit right away because Clerks was seen by almost three times more people than Slacker—although it hasn't added a word to the language.

KS: He didn't add that word to the language. All one has to do is go back and watch Back to the Future Part II which pre-dates Slacker. When Marty McFly comes back from the future to the past or from the past to the future or whatever, he somehow screwed up the time line and Hill Valley was in a ruins and it was this degenerate town. The principal's on the porch firing his shotgun and when he's firing at the kids over Marty McFly's head he's like, "Eat lead, slackers."

JP: No less an authority than New York Times language columnist William Safire credits Rick. He analyzed a Clinton speech about American youth being "a generation of seekers, not slackers" by invoking Slacker, the movie.

KS: C'mon, giving Richard credit for adding the word to the icon. That's like suddenly I'm taking credit for the word clerks—which in France they buy, because they don't have that word, but here ...

JP: You're lucky they didn't call it Dante Darling there.

KS: More than just the leap-off point that gets me making movies, Slacker also serves as an example of what to do and work beyond even. Of course, you have your icons, the people you look up to. It's not a competitive thing, but you always want to go to where they've been and you want to take it beyond there. Whether it was conscious or subconscious, when you hear things like "You're going to pass Slacker's gross" or you read something in the press like, "The obvious comparison is Slacker but I like Clerks better" it does you a little good. I'm not blowing myself up here, but something I bring up in every interview is Richard's name. You see it in almost every article after my name and my producer's name. And that's because at every point when journalists ask, "Why, why, why?" I say, "Richard Linklater's movie Slacker." So I feel like I've done justice by giving credit where credit's due and bringing to the forefront a movie that inspired me, so that maybe people who didn't get a chance to see the movie are going to get a chance to see it now.

From Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema by John Pierson (Copyright © 1995, 1997, 2014).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Oveta Culp Hobby and Women’s History Month

Oveta Culp Hobby
By Debra L. Winegarten
For Women's History Month, we asked author Debra Winegarten to write about the accomplishments of Oveta Culp Hobby and her contributions to women's history. Oveta was the second woman in the US appointed to a Cabinet-level position thanks to President Eisenhower upon whom she made a lasting impression while she was a Colonel. Debra Winegarten's new book, Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, and Philanthropist, will publish in April.

Oveta Culp Hobby and Women’s History Month
by Debra L. Winegarten

National Women’s History Month traces its beginnings to 1978, when the Sonoma County, California’s Commission on the Status of Women’s Education Task Force declared a “Women’s History Week” celebration and scheduled the event to coincide with “International Women’s Day,” March 8th. The idea took root so quickly that by February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential Proclamation designating the week of March 8, 1980 as “National Women’s History Week.” By 1987, Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity. [1]

The first wave of feminism occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with the Seneca Falls, New York Convention in 1848 the rallying event, which launched the modern-day US women’s movement. The second wave of feminism ran from the 1960s to the 1990s, beginning with protests of the Miss American Pageant in the late 1960s. By 1978, the second wave of feminism in the United States was already going full throttle and had moved away from a “middle-class white women’s movement” to one that included women of color and women from developing nations. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s informed by post-modern and post-colonial thinking. [2]

While we often know the names of the heroines of the modern-day women’s movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug, I’d like to put forward a new name into the mix, one whose accomplishments helped propel women forward during World War II, at a time when the ideal of Rosie the Riveter is known to us, but the name of Oveta Culp Hobby has yet to be writ large in the books of women’s history.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted the first peacetime draft by signing into law the “Selective Service and Training Act on September 16, 1940. [3] This action set in motion an unexpected flurry of activity when the first male soldiers were conscripted in the fall of that year. “The War Department started receiving thousands of letters a day from women all over the country, wanting to know what, exactly, the government would be doing with their sons and brothers who were being forced into military service.”

The White House was ill-prepared to respond to this sea of inquiry, and started the Women’s Interest Section of the War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations to answer these letters. Oveta Culp Hobby, who, with her husband, the former Governor Will Hobby of Texas, was in Washington, D.C. at this time. The Hobbys owned and ran The Houston Post in addition to other local media interests. They were attending a meeting of the Federal Communications Commission regarding one of their Houston radio stations. General Surles met Oveta and asked her to run the Women’s Interest Section for the Army.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Top 10 Feminist Moments in Women’s Comedy

This Sunday, Ellen DeGeneres will host the 86th Academy Awards. DeGeneres and her career comprises a full chapter of Linda Mizejewski's new book Pretty/Funny: Women Comedians and Body Politics. Other chapters cover star writer/performer comedians Kathy Griffin, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho, and Wanda Sykes, among others. We asked Professor Mizejewski to list her favorite moments in comedy when women have delivered provocative commentary on women's issues.

Top 10 Feminist Moments in Women’s Comedy
By Linda Mizejewski

My favorite feminist moments in comedy would have to begin with Fanny Brice and her parody of the Ziegfeld showgirls in the 1920s, and then move to Mae West, Lily Tomlin, and episodes of Roseanne. The list would turn into another book! So I’ll focus instead on the new generation of women comedians who, since 2000, have grabbed headlines, turned heads, and in some cases made history with their political comedy about gender, sexuality, race, and class. The performances listed below are not in any order because all of them are amazing, but the Fey-Poehler performance is listed first because it’s the one that’s gotten the most mainstream attention.


The Saturday Night Live Tina Fey/Amy Poehler skit on Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton (2008)

At the height of the 2008 presidential campaign, Fey and Poehler impersonate Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton “crossing party lines to address the now very ugly role that sexism is playing in the campaign,” as Fey’s Palin piously puts it. This skit wittily contends that no matter what women look like, their looks will always be more important than what they say, as far as mainstream media is concerned. For the topic of international politics, Fey/Palin’s contribution is that she can see Russia from her house, while Poehler/Clinton, a brilliant politician, complains about journalists sniping that she has “cankles.” The skit was part of a series of Fey’s Palin impersonations on SNL which, some pollsters suggested, influenced the 2008 presidential election.

Watch the sketch: >>

Wanda Sykes’s routine on Michelle Obama in her performance concert I’ma Be Me (2009)

Sykes begins this routine with her childhood memory of her mother’s rebuke that Wanda and her sister shouldn’t “dance” in the car because “White people are looking at you!” She develops this into a scathing and hilarious commentary on the white policing of black bodies, especially black female bodies. When she uses the new First Lady as her extended example, the comedy is a coup of fierce race/gender critique. High points include Sykes lampooning the stereotype of “the angry black woman” and shrewdly pinpointing the racism underlying journalists’ probing question, “Who is the real Michelle Obama?” 


Margaret Cho’s All American Girl segment of I’m the One That I Want (2000)

In this segment of her first performance concert, Cho tells from a feminist perspective the story of her failed 1990s sitcom All American Girl. During her experience with ABC network executives, she was told her face was “too big for the camera”—that is, too Asian—and that she needed to lose 30 pounds in two weeks in order to look acceptable for primetime. In this virtuoso comeback, Cho castigates the racism and sexism of the entertainment industry and also tells how the ideal of the thin white body nearly killed her. Her exuberant manifesto at the end of this concert is a high point in feminist pop culture.


Ellen DeGeneres hosts the Emmy Primetime Awards (2001)

In the months after 9/11, the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony had been canceled twice and was finally re-scheduled in November, with DeGeneres as its host. She won overwhelming acclaim for a performance that hit exactly the right notes, respecting the ongoing national trauma and gracefully pointing to the future. This role was also the turnaround for DeGeneres’s career, which had faltered badly following her groundbreaking coming-out in 1997. Her television series Ellen (1994-98) had been picketed by protesters, slapped with censorship warnings, and eventually cancelled. But at the Emmys just four years later, she stepped into the role of affable host that turned out to be her niche, eventually launching her to international fame with her daytime talk show. At the 2001 Emmys, she cites her butch lesbianism as the key to the award ceremony’s political meaning: “What would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?” The line cleverly recruits the visibility of Jewishness, Hollywood liberalism, and homosexuality as signs of patriotism and calls attention to her gay identity as her claim to citizenship.

Monday, February 24, 2014

AAUP Listening Tour: Q&A with Peter Berkery

Peter Berkery, Executive Director of the Association of American University Presses, visited the University of Texas Press offices in Austin last week as part of his Mellon-funded tour of the AAUP member presses. Peter answered some questions about what he’s learned from his “Listening Tour,” the value of university presses to their host institutions, and advice for young professionals in scholarly publishing.

Follow the Listening Tour on the AAUP Digital Digest, and check out the University of Washington Press's Q&A with Peter from an earlier Listening Tour visit.

Shiori Kawasaki, 2013

Now that you are on the second leg of your Listening Tour, what is the most surprising or interesting thing that you have learned from the Presses you have visited?

It’s arcane, but the most surprising thing I’ve learned relates to my prior experience at Oxford University Press. People generally assume that size is what most sets OUP apart from other university presses. Of course size really does matter, but I’ve come to understand that the biggest differentiator is that OUP in the US is four thousand miles away from its parent institution. Being on campus, a direct part of the ecosystem, makes all the difference—and this is a factor that comes into play for many of our members.

What do you plan to do with all of the information that you are gathering?

Originally, the Listening Tour was intended to accelerate my learning curve. While I still have a lot to learn, I’m now 12 months in and I think people are expecting me to act on my newfound wisdom! So the information I accumulate will have several purposes. First, I will be reporting back to the Mellon Foundation (who funded this second leg of the Tour). Next, I’ll be reporting back to our Board, who will use my input to inform a pending revision to the AAUP Strategic Plan. Finally, I’ll base the specific program decisions we make to further the plan in part on what I’ve heard on the road.

One topic that comes up often among university presses is how to strengthen the relationship with our universities. How can AAUP help those in the academy better understand the role that university presses play in scholarly dialogue?

This is a great question, but a challenging one. First, the direct answer: AAUP needs to strengthen its relationships with other organizations that represent various elements of the academy
administrators, faculty, librarians, lawyers, finance officers, et cetera. It pains me to say this, but we’re barely on any of their radar screens. That said, a lot of the relationship-building work has to occur at the grassroots level, by individual presses. AAUP can equip university press leaders to do this critical work through training and toolkits, but the lifting has to happen on campus.

We have heard about a newly formed AAUP Early Career Group that is connecting young professionals in scholarly publishing for career networking and idea generating. What words of advice do you have for the ‘next generation’ of scholarly publishers?

The best career advice I’ve ever received
and I’m forever trying to put it into practice more myselfcame from a sales manager I worked with at Wolters Kluwer: Listen! The good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth because that’s the ratio He wants you to use them in!

Specific to scholarly publishing, I’d say listen to what’s happening in your ecosystem. It’s easy for us to get lost in the work we do
our elegant designs, our guerilla marketing strategies, the disciplines we acquire inbut more than ever we need to be mindful of how external changes are impacting the scholarly communications process we serve. Pay attention to how technology is changing research, and what that means for our authors and our customers in the future.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Black History Month Reading

February is Black History Month and in honor of the month’s observances, we’ve highlighted 10 titles from our African American Studies list. From racial profiling in the so-called "black belt," racial expressions of anger, and desegregation to black superheroes, and how “blackness” is imagined in science fiction films, here are a few select titles to enrich your reading life:
New Books

Black-Brown Solidarity
Racial Politics in the New Gulf South
By John D. Márquez

An eye-opening study of the new coalitions between Latinos and African Americans emerging throughout the Gulf South, where previously divided ethnicities are forging an unprecedented challenge to white hegemony.

On Anger
Race, Cognition, Narrative
By Sue Kim

Opening a stimulating dialogue between cognitive studies and cultural studies, On Anger uses narratives such as the film Crash, Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and the HBO series The Wire to argue that race is central to our conceptions and experiences of anger.

In Popular Culture

Disney's Most Notorious Film
Race, Convergence, and the Hidden Histories of Song of the South
By Jason Sperb

Analyzing histories of film reception, convergence, and race relations over seven decades, this pioneering book undertakes a superb, multifaceted reading of one of Hollywood’s most notorious films, Disney’s Song of the South.

"... Disney's Most Notorious Film... does more than dissect a film and the pros and cons around it. In its own way, it reveals that Song of the South, more or less by accident, holds a mirror to American views on race, with beauty or the lack thereof completely in the eyes of the beholder."—Mark Reynolds, PopMatters

Super Black
American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes
By Adilifu Nama

An exploration of black superheroes as a fascinating racial phenomenon and a powerful source of racial meaning, narrative, and imagination in American society.

"Adilifu Nama's Super Black does a great job of introducing many of today's comic book fans with the history of African Americans in comic books and pop culture generally….Super Black is a short, yet illuminating analysis of Black Superheroes and race relations, primarily in the 2-D world…. as a short book, it does one hell of a good job."—Tony Pecinovsky, People’s World

Black Space
Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film
By Adilifu Nama

Analyzing many of the most popular and influential science fiction films of the past five decades, this book presents the most comprehensive work to date on how race and “blackness” are imagined in science fiction film.

“…I can think of no work by a single author that presents such sustained, 'cover to cover' discussion of this vital and underexplored area in black representation."—Ed Guerrero, New York University, author of Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film

Civil Rights

Flames after Midnight
Murder, Vengeance, and the Desolation of a Texas Community, Revised Edition
By Monte Akers

Now updated with a shocking deathbed confession and a touching account of reconciliation, here is the engrossing story of a 1922 lynching followed by a racially motivated reign of terror and the devastating effects both had on a small Texas town.

"Flames after Midnight vividly captures [a] culture in all its repugnance, exploring the tenor of the times and delving into the character of the story's central figures. While it cannot by its nature be pleasant to read, it is a well-written and compelling history that in its scope extends beyond Kirven [Texas]. Akers holds up a mirror so that we see ourselves, in historical retrospect, at our worst."—USA Today

Before Brown
Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
By Gary M. Lavergne

The inspiring story of the courageous Houston mailman whose struggle to attend the University of Texas School of Law provided the precedent for the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that ended segregation in public education.

Before Brown was awarded both the 2010 Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas History from the Texas State Historical Association and the 2011 Carr P. Collins Award from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Desegregating Texas Schools
Eisenhower, Shivers, and the Crisis at Mansfield High
By Robyn Duff Ladino
Foreword by Alwyn Barr

The first full account of the Mansfield, Texas school integration crisis of 1956.


Acting Up and Getting Down
Plays by African American Texans
By Sandra M. Mayo and Elvin Holt

A collection of seven compelling plays from award-winning Texas writers, spanning turning points in history, intergenerational struggles, and cultural triumphs while exploring the complexity of African American life from a dazzling array of perspectives.

Cosmopolitan Minds
Literature, Emotion, and the Transnational Imagination
By Alexa Weik von Mossner

Reading transnational American literature from a cognitive perspective, this book argues that our emotional engagements with others–real and imagined–are crucially important for the development of cosmopolitan imaginations.