Tuesday, October 6, 2015

UTP on IndieBound's October Next List

Brick-and-mortar independent bookstores are on the rise in the Amazon age largely because they foster a sense of community through engaging staff, author events, and book clubs. That's why it is so exciting to have Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh on the October IndieBound Next List, a roundup of the best new books based on reviews by independent booksellers.

It's our third book to appear on an IndieBound Next List. First, the hardback edition of Jan Reid’s Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards (now a $11.36 paperback on our website), made a splash in 2012. Then in 2013, Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark landed on the list alongside Amy Tan, Wally Lamb, and Ann Patchett. Now Kristin Hersh's haunting ode to a lost friend Don't Suck, Don't Die has deeply moved booksellers across the country. Hersh's new book joins Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir, and other highly anticipated titles. Browse the full list here.

To celebrate, we've gathered all the bookseller reviews together and thrown in our book trailer, Spotify playlist, and fan zine!

Bookseller Quotes

"Add Kristin Hersh’s Don't Suck, Don't Die to the list of music memoirs that have little to do with music. A book about her friendship with the talented and tragic Vic Chesnutt, the style, tone, and quality of the very personal writing allow this work to sit nicely next to Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band, but the unique tenderness between Vic and Kristin ensure that the book also stands alone. The book sometimes feels like a punch in the gut, and sometimes like a good hug, but it is always affecting. For anyone who is a fan of Hersh, or anyone who loved Chesnutt, or anyone who has a best friend."
— Frank Reiss, Owner, A Cappella Books (Atlanta, GA)
"Vic Chesnutt wrote songs so brilliant and powerful that they drew the attention of the likes of Michael Stipe, Patti Smith, and Jeff Mangum. His direct, bold, and uncompromising honesty through artistry are the very things that made him a legend that never broke into mainstream popularity. In Don't Suck, Don't Die, his longtime touring partner and friend Kristen Hersh draws a portrait of an artist so clear and unflinching that only a true friend could. Hersh takes time to focus on the importance of both the tragedies and joys of Chesnutt's life and art, never dismissing the important fleeting moments in exchange for rock star spectacle. No other book about a musician reaches the level of intimacy, respect, and love for a friend as Hersh's does."
— Kevin Elliott, 57th Street Books (Chicago, IL)

"Hersh's memoir of her time spent touring with the musician Vic Chesnutt is an intimate portrayal of a unique friendship faced with the harsh realities of life on the road. Hersh addresses Chesnutt directly in this book giving the reader the feeling of eavesdropping on a conversation that is still ongoing even though Chesnutt killed himself years ago. The method clearly reveals the open wound of Hersh's heart and the beauty of her love for Chesnutt."
— Arsen Kashkashian, Boulder Book Store (Boulder, CO)

“This is an amazing memoir. It paints a beautiful portrait of Vic Chesnutt, his unique friendship with the author and the sorrowful broken darkness they each deal with. The language is warm, intimate and poetic. It's so gorgeous it actually hurts to read. I have not been so moved by a piece of art, any art in years. Even with the inevitable tragic ending, Hersh keeps you hanging on with her delicate and sublime prose. You know you are circling a vortex but the water is so perfect you don't care. This story aches, laughs, stuns, pulls you into it like a siren song. You will put it down with insights that seem natural but impossible. You'll want more of both Chesnutt and Hersh and all the more brokenhearted at the enormity of the loss.”
— Bosco Farr, Bookstore manager, BookPeople (Austin, TX)

Spotify Playlist

Friday, September 25, 2015

Censorship in Comics for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week (September 27 through October 3, 2015) is the book community’s annual opportunity to celebrate the freedom to read, and draw attention to those who hinder that right. Intellectual freedom is a core value of our mission; and the freedom to read is as integral to that value as the freedom to publish. 

This year's theme is Young Adult fiction—one of the most regularly challenged categories of books in libraries and schools across the country. We don't publish young adult fiction, but we are launching a new comic book studies series called
 World Comics and Graphic Nonfiction Series with Frederick Luis Aldama and Christopher González as series editors. The series will include monographs and edited volumes that focus on the analysis and interpretation of comic books and graphic nonfiction from around the world. 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.
More info

The Association of American University Presses is an official sponsor of Banned Books Week. To join the conversation, we're posting an excerpt from a recent issue of The Velvet Light Trap dealing with censorship in the comic book industry. To read Shawna Kidman's piece in full, you can access it through Project Muse, visit your local library, or purchase a single issue of The Velvet Light Trap on our website.

Contribute to the banned books conversation on social media with the hashtags #bannedbooks and #bannedbooksweek.

"Self-Regulation through Distribution: Censorship and the Comic Book Industry in 1954"
By Shawna Kidman

In the early 1950s, comic books boasted a readership of over seventy million Americans, each of whom consumed an average of six comics a month. There were two comic books published for every one book, with each copy likely passed on to more than three readers. And then, quite suddenly, the market crashed. Between 1954 and 1955, sales plummeted by 50 percent, from eighty million copies each month to just forty million. By 1956 more than half of the extant publishers had closed their doors, and two-thirds of the six hundred titles appearing monthly on newsstands had vanished.1 Just like that, comic books went from being one of the most popular forms of entertainment in America to a medium struggling for its survival.2

At the very same moment, as the comic book market was beginning its dramatic decline, the medium was undergoing a crisis in the political sphere. Psychiatrists, church officials, members of PTAs, and local politicians had for years been trying to link comic books to juvenile delinquency, illiteracy, and moral corruption. Finally, in the spring of 1954, the government got involved, and the Senate Judiciary Committee held televised hearings on the comic book industry and its alleged corruption of America’s youth. Pressured by this public relations disaster and the threat of local and state censorship, the major comic book publishers joined forces to form the Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA). This trade organization drafted a code of self-censorship and created an administrative body to enforce it known as the Comics Code Authority (CCA). Like the Production Code Administration (PCA) created by Hollywood twenty years earlier, the CCA would issue a seal of approval to those titles it deemed morally appropriate. Heavily promoted by the industry, this response seemed to satisfy government officials and consumers alike; within the year, interest in the controversy had faded almost entirely from public view.3 But the dramatic decline in sales was already well under way.

Most writers have characterized the anti-comics crusade and the simultaneous market crash in primarily cultural terms, drawing a causal link between these two events. The episode has been sensationalized in many journalistic accounts, which create a hero and villain respectively in the figures of EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines, an innovator responsible for “some of the best comic books ever published,” and Fredric Wertham, an “insane” psychiatrist who told “apocalyptic” lies about the dangers of mass media.4 In this version of the story, the Senate or “EC hearings” are recast as a trial on taste, Bill Gaines is understood as their “principal target,” and Wertham is accused of censoring Gaines right “out of existence.”5 Scholars meanwhile tend to point to social trends, blaming the controversy on McCarthyism; seething generational battles; culture wars rooted in class, money, religion, and politics; and fundamental struggles over “who had the right and the responsibility to shape American culture.”6 With a focus on comic book content or the cultural milieu, many of these descriptions marginalize the market crash itself, which is depicted as merely a side effect of censorship. Some have even argued that the anti-comics crusade was “almost solely responsible for the drastic decline in sales and the near death of the industry during the 1950s.”7

Figure 1. Comics Code Authority Seal, 1954. For more than three decades, this seal from the CCA would grace the cover of the majority of comic books sold in America.
Too often left out of these historical accounts is the way in which both censorship and shrinking audiences are fundamentally also industrial, economic, and political occurrences. Censorship in particular often seems like an issue that is primarily value-based and culturally contingent. However, in the context of mass media, the regulation of content necessarily involves vast and powerful infrastructures of enforcement capable of containing the inherent disorderliness of popular culture. So while we should not give up on analyzing the texts and ideologies at the center of media censorship, it is equally important to consider the material foundations that support systems of both restriction and circulation. More broadly, as Philip Napoli has noted, it is possible to use the political economy of media as a useful “foundation of knowledge for a wide range of important scholarly inquiries into the behaviors of media industries, as well as the broader political and cultural ramifications of these behaviors.”8 A better understanding of the industrial context in which most media is produced and initially circulated can lead to a more profound insight into all aspects of culture, including its active consumption, transformation, and recirculation by audiences and fans, the latter of which has been a particular interest of comic book studies.9

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

10 Moments that Pushed Film & Free Speech

At the end of September every year, Banned Books Week draws attention to the harms of censorship in the distribution and availability of controversial books. Challenging book bans is a vital exercise of our First Amendment rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. Censorship battles over all forms of media help broaden long-held interpretations of the Constitution, expand personal freedoms, and open new horizons for free speech.

In the spirit of celebrating media forms that push boundaries, we asked Jeremy Geltzer, an entertainment and intellectual property attorney and author of the forthcoming Dirty Words and Filthy Pictures (January 2016), to highlight ten moments in film and media history that helped reaffirm the freedoms protected under the First Amendment.

The May Irwin Kiss (1896)

Motion pictures were a new technology when Thomas Edison’s film unit produced an 18 second featurette that electrified peephole projectors across the East Coast. The May Irwin Kiss was intended to promote “The Widow Jones,” a Broadway play that had opened in September 1895. Edison’s camera captured the play’s climatic moment when John C. Rice planted his puckered lips on Ms. Irwin. At the time public behavior was governed by Victorian sensibilities of decency and humility but early filmgoers were mesmerized by the close up view of an intimate moment. The short movie was a big hit and helped motivate censors to monitor and regulate the new medium.

A Free Ride (c. 1915)

The same year The Birth of a Nation rocked America as the first blockbuster, behind closed doors another revolutionary picture was unspooling. A Free Ride, the oldest existing hardcore pornographic film produced in the United States became a stag party staple. Ride was not the first sex loop ever, Europe had been shooting f* films for a decade, but Ride’s anonymous director added a distinctively American touch—a narrative. In the film a man is seen driving through the country in his Model T. He picks up two girls and they head out for a pastoral pleasuring.

Theda Bara

Theda Bara riled early audiences with her ample assets. The guardians of Victorian values had taken a hit with May Irwin’s Kiss but the old ways crumbled when this full bosomed femme fatale appeared on screen. Bara made her debut in A Fool There Was (1915) and quickly followed up with Siren of Hell (1915), The Devil’s Daughter (1915), and Sin (1915). She played an irresistible temptress that lured unwitting men to their ruin as she spouted memorable lines like “Kiss me you fool!” Bara was a movie creation to be sure, transforming from Theodosia Goodman, a Jewish girl from Cleveland into the screen’s first vamp, as far removed from the waif-like innocence of Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish as humanly possible.

Hedy Lamarr’s nude swim in Ecstasy (1933)

Postmaster General Will Hays was invited to Hollywood to vouch for the clean, wholesome content of movies. By 1922 he established the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) to monitor mainstream movies, but independent producers and foreign filmmakers were beyond the his reach. When an Austrian-Hungarian starlet named Hedwig Kiesler appeared nude in a Czech film called Ecstasy she rocked the boat. While the film was butchered and banned throughout U.S. theaters, Louis B. Mayer set out on the first boat bound for Europe to sign the actress and remake her into Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr would become one of MGM’s great glamor girls of the 1940s.

The Miracle decision (1952)

From the 1930s-1950s, Will Hays, Joseph Breen, and the MPPDA held iron-fisted oversight in Hollywood, reining in racy content in studio films. Across the country, state censors and regional regulators could freely cut and ban movies. Their power derived from Mutual v. Ohio, a 1915 Supreme Court decision that held motion pictures were not protected under the First Amendment. Mutual controlled until 1952 when the Court heard Burstyn v. Wilson. This case centered on a film directed by Robert Rossellini called The Miracle. In The Miracle decision, the Court reversed its position. Censors could still regulate indecent and obscene movies but a ban based on blasphemy couldn’t stand. The Miracle was the first thread that began to unravel regulators strict control.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

VIDEO: Fall 2015 Preview

This fall and winter, UT Press will publish very important works in photography, food, film and media studies, musicLatin American Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and more.

Check out this preview of our fall books! Browse our full catalog here.

Coming Fall 2015

And here are more great fall titles:

Film, Media, and Popular Culture

More info
The Classical Mexican Cinema: The Poetics of the Exceptional Golden Age Films
By Charles Ramírez Berg

In one of the first systematic studies of style in Mexican filmmaking, a preeminent film scholar explores the creation of a Golden Age cinema that was uniquely Mexican in its themes, styles, and ideology.

More info

Jonathan Demme Presents Made in Texas: Six "New" Films from Austin
Edited by Louis Black

This DVD includes six short films that represent the creative community and avant-garde nature of Austin in the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially the new wave and punk scenes.

Watch the trailer here. 

More info
By Douglas Brode

With revelations for even the most avid fans, here are the one hundred greatest sci-fi films of all time, from today’s blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Gravity to forgotten classics and overlooked gems.

Read reviews here

Latin American Studies

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The Limits of Identity: Politics and Poetics in Latin America
By Charles Hatfield

Ranging over works of literature, political theory, and cultural criticism from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, this book offers a radical challenge to the theory of anti-universalism widely accepted in Latin American studies.

Read reviews here

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Photopoetics at Tlatelolco: Afterimages of Mexico, 1968
By Samuel Steinberg

Drawing on diverse photographic, cinematic, and literary artifacts, this critical study reinterprets the 1968 massacre of student-populist protesters in Mexico City, examining both the effects of the violence and the subsequent state-sponsored manipulation of cultural memory.

Read reviews here

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Cuban Underground Hip Hop: Black Thoughts, Black Revolution, Black Modernity
By Tanya L. Saunders

Drawing on over a decade of interviews and research, this fascinating book examines a group of self-described antiracist, revolutionary Cuban youth who used hip hop to launch a social movement that spurred international debate and cleared the path for social change and decolonization.

Read reviews here

Middle Eastern Studies

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The Ba'thification of Iraq: Saddam Hussein's Totalitarianism
By Aaron M. Faust

This fascinating analysis of a wealth of documents from the Hussein regime reveals the specific tactics used to inculcate loyalty in the Iraqi people during the nearly quarter century-long rule of Saddam Huessein and the Ba’th party.

Read reviews here

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Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA
Edited by Maria del Mar Logroño Narbona, Paulo G. Pinto, and John Tofik Karam

In the first book to comprehensively examine the Islamic experience in Latina/o societies—from Columbian voyages to the post-9/11 world—more than a dozen luminaries from nations throughout the Western Hemisphere explore how Islam indelibly influenced the making of the Americas.

Read reviews here

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Muhammad in the Digital Age
Edited by Ruqayya Yasmine Khan, foreword by Randall Nadeau

This remarkable collection of essays examines how Islam was introduced to the West through the Internet in an age of terrorism.

Read reviews here


Photographs by Spider Martin, with an introduction by Douglas Brinkley and a foreword by Don Carleton

As raw and unforgettable as the moment they were taken, these iconic images—never before published as a collection—document the historic Selma-to-Montgomery marches that turned the tide for African American voting rights.

Look inside the book here

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Political Abstraction
Photographs by Ralph Gibson

Ralph Gibson, an iconic American fine art photographer whose books Somnambulist, Deja-vu, and Days at Sea are considered classics of the twentieth-century photo-book genre, presents new work that explores the search for visual identity in a digital age.

Read more here

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Rodrigo Moya: Photography and Conscience/Fotografía y conciencia
Photographs by Rodrigo Moya, essay by Ariel Arnal

With photographs that have never been published before, this is the first English-Spanish bilingual retrospective of a prominent Mexican photographer who has documented Latin America from revolutionary movements to timeless moments of daily life.

Look inside the book here


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Comin' Right at Ya: How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel
By Ray Benson, and David Menconi

A who’s who of American popular music fills this lively memoir, in which Ray Benson recalls how a Philadelphia Jewish hippie and his bandmates in Asleep at the Wheel turned on generations of rock and country fans to Bob Wills–style Western swing.

Read an excerpt, reviews here

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Los Lobos: Dream in Blue
By Chris Morris

From the East Los Angeles barrio to international stardom, Los Lobos traces the musical evolution of a platinum-selling, Grammy Award–winning band that has ranged through virtually the entire breadth of American vernacular music, from traditional Mexican folk songs to roots rock and punk.

Read an excerpt, reviews here

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Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt
By Kristin Hersh, Foreword by Amanda Petrusich

A haunting ode to a lost friend, this memoir by the acclaimed author of Rat Girloffers the most personal, empathetic look at the creative genius and often-tormented life of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt that is ever likely to be written.

Read an excerpt, reviews, and more here


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Edited by Andrée Bober

Spotlighting more than eighty collections in very diverse fields, this extensively illustrated volume showcases the unparalleled quality and range of the holdings of the University of Texas at Austin.

Look inside the book here

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Picturing Texas Politics: A Photographic History from Sam Houston to Rick Perry
By Chuck Bailey; with historical text by Patrick Cox; introduction by John Anderson

With rare, previously unpublished photographs and iconic images of politicians from the state’s founders to Ann Richards, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry, here is the first-ever photographic album of Texas politicians and political campaigns.

Read an excerpt, reviews, and look inside here

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Texas Turtles & Crocodilians: A Field Guide
By Troy D. Hibbitts and Terry L. Hibbits
In this extensively illustrated field guide, two of the state’s most knowledgeable herpetologists present the first complete identification guide to all thirty-one native and established exotic turtle species in Texas, as well as the American Alligator.

Look inside and read reviews here

Monday, August 24, 2015

Nine Scholars on the Lessons of Katrina

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast and precipitated the flooding of New Orleans. It was a towering catastrophe by any standard. Some 1,800 persons were killed outright. More than a million were forced to relocate, many for the remainder of their lives. A city of five hundred thousand was nearly emptied of life. The storm stripped away the surface of our social structure and showed us what lies beneath—a grim look at race, class, and gender in these United States. 
It is crucial to get this story straight so that we may learn from it and be ready for that stark inevitability, the next time. When seen through a social science lens, Katrina informs us of the real human costs of a disaster and helps prepare us for the blows that we know are lurking just over the horizon. The Katrina Bookshelf is the result of a national effort to bring experts together in a collaborative program of research on the human costs of the disaster. The program was supported by the Ford, Gates, MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Russell Sage Foundations and sponsored by the Social Science Research Council. This is the most comprehensive social science coverage of a disaster to be found anywhere in the literature. It is also a deeply human story. 
— Kai Erikson, editor of The Katrina Bookshelf
The Katrina Bookshelf will contain ten volumes to be published through the year 2017. To highlight the important work contained within each work published thus far, we asked our authors to comment on what they hope we as a nation will take away from marking the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Below are important, evidence-based lessons gleaned from years of research.


Disasters of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina reveal the deep-seated, taken-for-granted inequities that structure our everyday lives. Typically, the actions of both government and business elites in the response and recovery after a disaster reproduce and even enhance those inequities.

In the immediate chaos and sense of urgency after a massive disaster, new resourcesmonetary as well as human—rush in, and the regulations and processes for spending public funds that normally require responsible oversight and accountability are washed away. Priorities are set and programs implemented that most often leave out the voices, experiences, and needs of the most vulnerable—single mothers and their children, low-moderate income people, renters, the aged, the disabled, people of color—while benefitting the already privileged.

To achieve true recovery for everyone, not just gains for a few, we must include vulnerable populations and their advocates in our decision making. Listening to the stories and observing the experiences of more than 500 displaced persons and dozens of first responders, service providers, community organizers, government officials, and residents, for example, our research group, 12 scholars in 13 different receiving communities across the country, found that the central need both in the disaster area and in the diaspora was for housing. In addition to the immediate need for safe, temporary housing, people needed long-term, affordable housing that enabled them to live in community and provided transportation to employment and access to social services, health care, and schools.

Recovery for everyone depends on developing housing policy that provides faster and more effective rebuilding assistance to rental property owners –especially to those with fewer than 6 units, prioritizes consolidating kin/community networks, includes incentives for rebuilders to hire returning residents, and offers access to employment and community services.
At a more structural/political level, we must uncouple disaster-resource prioritization, allocation, and distribution processes from unchecked control by government/corporate elites. And we must include significant input from the least powerful yet most affected people in local communities and require transparency and long-term accountability in the use of public funds.
— Lynn Weber
Evacuation, Displacement, and Prolonged Recovery
I think one of the most important lessons of Katrina is related to the enduring nature of the disruption that this terrible disaster caused. “Evacuation” suggests the movement of persons from a threatened location to a temporary safe haven. That was, indeed, the experience of many residents who had to leave New Orleans but were able find safe haven, locate secure shelter, and establish a sense of routine relatively quickly. 
But for tens of thousands of other survivors, Katrina’s aftermath was radically different and the disruption in their lives is ongoing. These individuals and households often made several moves in the weeks, months, and years following Katrina. They were the survivors who often bounced from a shelter, to a family member’s home, back to a shelter, to a trailer, to a motel, to temporary housing, to different temporary housing, to a homeless shelter, back to temporary housing… and on, and on, and on.
Those who experienced the most instability were also the ones who were often living in the most precarious circumstances before the storm. For them, Katrina has come to represent the disaster with no end. There is no thinking of it as a discrete event, bounded in time and space. Instead, this is the ongoing disaster that continues to ripple through their lives.
Anyone who has visited New Orleans and the rest of the battered Gulf Coast in the years since the storm would likely acknowledge that much progress has been made in restoring particular places that were badly damaged. Just as that work of rebuilding the physical infrastructure is ongoing, however, I would argue that we also need to continue to restore the lives of the people who were most affected. So on this tenth anniversary of Katrina, my hope is that we continue to focus on and invest in those most affected by the storm—both those who have returned to their former homes as well as those who permanently relocated elsewhere. If we do this, and we do it right, we will need to continue dedicating time, care, and resources to the systems that help people function effectively and live happier, healthier, more prosperous lives.
— Lori Peek

More info
Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora
Through an extensive research network, Displaced features the work of 12 scholars who interviewed 562 displaced adults and children; 104 first responders, service providers, and community organizers; and 101 other residents in the communities where Katrina survivors landed.

Lynn Weber is Professor of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, has for thirty years been a leader in developing the field of intersectionality—examining the nexus between race, class, gender, and other dimensions of social inequality. Her current work focuses on revealing inequalities in the process of recovery from disaster and in health outcomes.

Lori Peek is associate professor of Sociology and co-director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University. She is author of the award-winning book Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11, co-author of Children of Katrina, and co-editor of Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora.


I think Katrina was a national disgrace, but one that also presented an opportunity. As many in the mass media pointed out at the time, Katrina exposed the dark side of the United States, its poverty and historically and institutionally-rooted racism to full public view. Katrina made public what Michael Harrington famously called 'the other America'. 
Amid all the suffering and hand-wringing there was the possibility to refocus a national political agenda to acknowledge and to deal with these two foundational issues in a nation that prides itself on its moral goodness, as well as its wealth and ingenuity. That opportunity was never taken and while New Orleans, the site of so much attention during the storm, may have recovered to a degree and its flood protection system strengthened, the poverty and racism remain in place. 
This is a national issue, not merely a regional one and it is this issue that I would hope the current commemorations and discussion would tackle. There is a direct line to be drawn from Katrina to the current Black Lives Matter movement and with this mass movement, a new opportunity.
— Ron Eyerman
More info

Using cultural trauma theory, Is This America? explores how a wide range of media and popular culture producers have challenged the meaning of Katrina, in which the massive failure of government officials to uphold the American social contract exposed the foundational racial cleavage in our society.

Ronald Eyerman is a professor of sociology and co-director of the Center for Cultural Sociology at Yale University. His previous books include Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African American Identity and Narrating Trauma: On the Impact of Collective Suffering.

Cultural Communication

Katrina swept away the contents of every home in St. Bernard Parish, the worst hit area, where 67,000 structures were damaged or destroyed including all of those belonging to the 300-plus members of the Johnson-Fernandez family. Now, ten years later, we wonder: what does such unexpected loss and suffering have to teach us?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Designer on Reinventing Texas Classics

The first Texas-based writer to gain national attention, J. Frank Dobie proved that authentic writing springs easily from the native soil of Texas and the Southwest. To capture the intrigue of Dobie's storytelling, one of our book designers drew inspiration from old western pulp paperbacks to breathe new life into some Texas classics. Here's award-winning designer Derek George on his creative process.

Redesigning Texas Classics
By Derek George

Not being a native Texan myself, I’ve had to do my homework since moving here in 2007. There were so many names unfamiliar to me when I first got here, but I’d see them everywhere: Lamar, Travis, Burnet, and Kinky Friedman. Working for UT Press (and reading a few history books) has opened my eyes to the rich history of this state that I now call home.

If you like your history to sound like your old grandpa telling you stories on the front porch at dusk—full of cowboys and outlaws, buried treasures and lost mines—then J. Frank Dobie is your guy. The University of Texas Press keeps J. Frank Dobie’s books in print and as our current stock began to run out, our marketing team decided that it was a good time for a refresh of the design. I was the lucky designer who got to work on the project. As I began brainstorming concepts for the new designs, one of our sales reps at the time, Chris Hoyt, showed me a photo of an old western pulp paperback. I love old pulp paperbacks and immediately gravitated toward this approach. The style seemed to fit well with the Dobie books.

Drawing inspiration from old Western pulp paperbacks
I collect a lot of design from the internet to inspire me and liberally “borrow” from (all designers do this), and over the years, I’ve collected a lot of pulp paperback cover designs. One thing you notice right away from these old covers are the colorful, dramatic, and sometimes lurid illustrations that helped to give these books their character. We looked into commissioning new pulp art for the book covers, but it wasn’t within our budget (and apparently there aren’t a lot of illustrators who do this type of work these days). So I looked instead at the existing art inside the books and found that there was some pretty great stuff, most of which was done by the great Tom Lea, a good friend of Dobie’s.

A few patient and kind souls at the Harry Ransom Center helped me track down the original art that I wanted to use from the J. Frank Dobie archives here on campus. With the art chosen, it was just a matter of finding the right typography that fit with the western pulp paperback style, but still looked attractive to modern eyes. Since I was designing an entire series at once, I had to plan ahead with colors that go well together as a group, and designed a template that tied them all together. The ribbon with Dobie’s portrait was inspired by a similar treatment on some of the old Dell paperbacks. I like to work with a large pasteboard area in Adobe Illustrator and try out different colors and fonts until I get the combination right.

Click to enlarge and see the designs progress

Since designing the new covers, I’ve had a few people think that these were older cover designs of these books that they had never seen before, mistaking them for actual old paperbacks. I love when this happens.

This was a fun project to work on and I hope that the new redesigns can help people see the J. Frank Dobie books in a new way.