Guantanamo: The Reevaluation Begins Again

With some rough indications that intelligence from Guantanamo and the associated network of extra-legal prisons contributed to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, our nation is once again faced with tough questions about how it wants to pursue its most dangerous enemies. This comes on the heels of a very different development last week, when a new cache of documents from the Wikileaks trove demonstrated just how irrelevant to the fight some of the Guantanamo prisoners are.

We want to direct you again to our book, The Guantanamo Lawyers, and the associated online database of papers belonging and relating to the lawyers who have defended the inmates pro-bono. Their voices reveal some of the most important primary source material in the debate.

The Long-Term Costs of Amy Chua’s Crazy Parenting Essay

The Huffington Post runs a piece by erin Khue Ninh, author of the forthcoming book “Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature”, who argues that immigrant parents will still be reading the inflammatory article, which chronicles the success of extreme parenting without discussing the dangers, after the furor has passed.

Despite the frenzy of responses both in and now outside the Asian American community, however, I’ve not seen anyone name my deepest dismay about this essay. And as the piece continues to circulate — through the delayed but ever-widening network of emails forwarded — that neglected point becomes only more salient: Long after we have tired (as we have already begun to tire) of Facebook-posting or retweeting rebuttals and responses to Chua’s piece, it will still be finding its way to Asian parents like my own.

In light of this, to the extent that the book and essay do not align, the essay is more reprehensible, not less.

Because you see, the WSJ essay will reach these immigrant parents without context. It will not be accompanied by the outpouring of blogs and comments, testifying that parenting methods like those the article champions have driven their writers (or siblings) to therapy (or suicide). Neither will it be accompanied by Yang’s article nor Chua’s book, in which latter the author says she has beat a partial retreat from these methods — finding their destructive costs too high.

Two Parties at MLA: For ALI and for a new short story collection

Join NYU Press for two parties (i.e. free food & booze) at the Modern Language Association‘s annual meeting in Los Angelese this week.

Friday, from 4-5pm, in the American Literatures Initiative booth (217A), come celebrate the most recent books the ALI has published, which you can find listed on the ALI’s website

Saturday, 9:30-10:30am. Come Celebrate the publication of Best of Times, Worst of Times: Contemporary American Short Stories from the New Gilded Age with the editors (Wendy Martin and Cecelia Tichi)! At the NYU Press Booth (214/216).

Follow the #mla2011 hashtag on twitter for the latest updates on the convention.

Dances with Things—and Prizes, too!

Although books are said to be born at the moment of publication, the early stages of conceptualization and writing are excellent opportunities to introduce key themes from your larger work. Robin Bernstein’s book, Racial Innocence: Performing Childhood and Race from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the New Negro Movement (part of the America and the Long 19th Century series), is forthcoming from us in 2011, but one of its innovations has already begun to resonate within the academy, thanks to an article, “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race,” she wrote for Social Text (issue 101, Dec. 2009), which draws material from one of the book’s chapters. That article has since won two national prizes, The Outstanding Article Award , given by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and The Research and Publication Award, given by the American Theatre and Drama Society. In a fit of good luck and hard-earned recognition, she has also received a Harrington Fellowship for the 2010-2011 academic year. Congratulations, Robin!

“Dances with Things” develops a new methodology for reading things—material artifacts—as scripts that choreograph or prompt, but do not narrowly dictate, movement among human performers. This methodology enables scholars to access new evidence of past gestures, of the historical body-in-motion. An example of a scriptive thing might be a knife, a camera, or a novel—each a thing that prompts (but does not force) a person interacting with it to behave in a certain way or ways. When race enters the dance, e.g., when a white girl plays with a black doll or reads a book with racist overtones, the dance between person and thing can enact racial ideas and identities.

This methodology, which integrates performance theory with historical, social, cultural, and literary analysis, is laid out and developed in Robin’s forthcoming book, which looks at how white children and black adults were strategically paired in marketing and literature during the mid 19th century, transferring the innocence of white children to African Americans, a dynamic Bernstein calls “racial innocence.” This conflation enabled diametrically opposed political agendas to appear natural and, therefore, justified: abolition and slavery as well as enfranchisement and disenfranchisement of African Americans.

This is an excellent example of the benefits to authors of getting some of their core arguments out there in advance of the book, whether in journals or at academic conferences. It gives your peers an opportunity to productively engage you, and develops interest in and momentum towards the eventual book.

Paperback Little Rebels in PopMatters

Jeremy Estes put up an insightful review of Tales for Little Rebels at PopMatters. The paperback edition is brand new!

The model the editors point to is the New England Primer of 1690, in which Puritan children learned simple lessons like, “In Adam’s fall / We Sinned all”. While that’s an idea a little more complex than something like “A is for apple”, it’s nothing compared to 1935’s ABC for Martin which originally appeared in a communist publication produced both in the United State and Great Britain. With its praise of Stalin and examples like “M is for Marx, whose teachings proved true”, the primer is decidedly pro-Soviet, but its inclusion isn’t likely to put the book or its editors on any black lists. The aim is to illustrate how such primers “distill revolutionary ideas into their simplest forms”. Any subject in its simplest form ignores the nuance and complexity of the truth, which may give some modern parents pause before exposing their kids to a primer that praises both the rights of workers and dictators.

Lorca’s Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)

“Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)”
by Federico García Lorca, Greg Simon and Steven F. White, trans., 1998
from Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn

Out in the sky, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
Lunar creatures sniff and circle the dwellings.
Live iguanas will come to bite the men who don’t dream,
and the brokenhearted fugitive will meet on street corners
an incredible crocodile resting beneath the tender protest of the

Out in the world, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
There is a corpse in the farthest graveyard
complaining for three years
because of an arid landscape in his knee;
and a boy who was buried this morning cried so much
they had to call the dogs to quiet him.

Life is no dream. Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!
We fall down stairs and eat the moist earth,
or we climb to the snow’s edge with the choir of dead dahlias.
But there is no oblivion, no dream:
raw flesh. Kisses tie mouths
in a tangle of new veins
and those who are hurt will hurt without rest
and those who are frightened by death will carry it on their

One day
horses will live in the taverns
and furious ants
will attack the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cattle.
Another day
we’ll witness the resurrection of dead butterflies,
and still walking in a landscape of gray sponges and silent ships,
we’ll see our ring shine and rose spill from our tongues.

Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!
Those still marked by claws and cloudburst,
that boy who cries because he doesn’t know about the invention
of bridges,
or that corpse that has nothing more than its head and one
they all must be led to the wall where iguanas and serpents wait,
where the bear’s teeth wait,
where the mummified hand of a child waits
and the camel’s fur bristles with a violent blue chill.
Out in the sky, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
But if someone closes his eyes,
whip him, my children, whip him!
Let there be a panorama of open eyes
and bitter inflamed wounds.

Out in the world, no one sleeps. No one. No one.
I’ve said it before.
No one sleeps.
But at night, if someone has too much moss on his temples,
open the trap doors so he can see in moonlight
the fake goblets, the venom, and the skull of the theaters.

De Night in de Front from Chreesmas: A Yiddish Cartoon

A fantastic audio slide show from Is Diss a System?: A Milt Gross Comic Reader (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History)
has been put up at Tablet Magazine, featuring a rather odd take on a classic Christmas story. Read the article and watch the slide show!

Gross also parodied a number of American classics, including Poe’s poem “The Raven” and Longfellow’s poem “Hiawatha,” in the diction of the Feitelbaums. (The Yiddish-accented Native Americans in his “Hiawatta” predate Mel Brooks’ version of the same joke by almost 50 years.) Much of his work has now been reissued in Is Diss a System?: A Milt Gross Reader edited by Gross enthusiast Ari Y. Kelman, who wrote the book’s introduction. Here, we present Gross’s take on “The Night Before Christmas”—“De Night in de Front from Chreesmas” (1927)—narrated by the New Yiddish Repertory’s Allen Lewis Rickman.

People are Getting Fatter and Living Much Longer

An interview with Esther Rothblum, co-editor of our upcoming The Fat Studies Reader, appeared in the 9/11/09 edition of the San Diego Voice.

Is there resistance because this sort of movement could encourage people not to address potential health problems associated with being overweight?
In terms of academia, most people are unaware of fat studies. There’s no department of fat studies anywhere. Universities, contrary to what the general public believes, love it when there is controversy over new areas.

In terms of health, the most fascinating thing to me — and I’m not a health educator — is that people are getting fatter and people are living much longer. We are living 20 years longer on average than people born in the 1930s, compared to people born now. As one of our authors says, we’re getting fatter and we’re getting healthier. That is so counterintuitive to what the general public believes. …

Another factor about the health issue is that in this country weight and income are so strongly associated, especially for women. Poor people tend to weigh more and rich people tend to weigh less. The reason that is so important is that … poor people in this country have poor health care. When you’re comparing fat people and thin people on health, you’re really comparing poor people and rich people. So you’ve got to either focus only on fat and thin middle class people or you have to control statistically for income. But that is a big issue that we never seem to think about.

So what kind of challenges does that pose to the field?
Well the early years of fat studies were focused on trying to prove the health stuff and the lack of effectiveness of dieting. … What’s happened more recently is people have said, let’s focus on fat characters in movies and films. Let’s talk about the history of fat across countries, fat literature, and so on. …

We tend to get so obsessed with the health and dieting area that we forget all the other stuff.

How do you elevate the discourse to be more inclusive of all these elements?
With every group that has fought for its rights, there is a long history that we’re often not aware of. We tend to think about the recent past.

What has been difficult for fat studies maybe more than some other groups are the enormous markets that most companies stand to gain by trying to get people to be unhappy and lose weight. When people stop focusing on their appearance, it affects millions of people. The potential that millions of people could stop dieting, buying diet food or going to health spas is very threatening.

Almost every time I’m interviewed by the media, the last two paragraphs of the article will interview somebody who does weight loss surgery or diets, who will say that dieting is good and that people who are fat are unhealthy. It shows that we’re still at a point where there has to be this last word by the status quo.

A colleague of mine will say, it’s always, “P.S., we hate you.” Somehow fat studies is still so radical. … So many people just can’t believe that fat can be good. It’s kind of shocking in a way.

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Frank O’ Hara [1950]

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they’ve always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They’re strong as rocks.

April 30th is the 2nd annual (7th here in NYC) Poem In Your Pocket Day, part of National Poetry Month. We’ll let the Academy of American Poets explain it:

In this age of mechanical and digital reproduction, it’s easy to carry a poem, share a poem, or start your own PIYP day event. Here are some ideas of how you might get involved:
# Start a “poems for pockets” give-a-way in your school or workplace
# Urge local businesses to offer discounts for those carrying poems
# Post pocket-sized verses in public places
# Handwrite some lines on the back of your business cards
# Start a street team to pass out poems in your community
# Distribute bookmarks with your favorite immortal lines
# Add a poem to your email footer
# Post a poem on your blog or social networking page
# Project a poem on a wall, inside or out
# Text a poem to friends

Here’s a selection of Recent NYU Press series and books of and about poetry:

The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman

Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn
Irish Poetry: An Interpretive Anthology from Before Swift to Yeats and After
The Beginning of Terror: A Psychological Study of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Life and Work

Ask Your Burning Questions About Brooklyn Poetry

@The New York Times: This week, Michael Tyrell, co-editor of “Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn” (NYU Press, 2007), will be answering readers’ questions about the history of Brooklyn’s literary landscape, its place in American poetry and the poets who live and work in the borough. Readers who would like to ask Mr. Tyrell a question should do so in the comments box below. The first set of answers will be posted on Wednesday.