Photo Essay: Ten Northwest Luminaries Photographed by Mary Randlett

The University of Washington Press Blog has posted an article on their new book, Mary Randlett Potraits. The book is a collection of Mary Randlett’s photos and biographical essays written by Frances McCue. The article includes a number of photos of West Coast writers and artists including Henry Miller, Morris Graves, Imogen Cunningham and others. Randlett’s black and white portraits are absolutely stunning.

University of Washington Press Blog

McCUE-MaryRandlettPortraitsMary Randlett Portraitsthe first collection of Mary Randlett’s photographs of people—presents visual artists, writers, and arts advocates from 1949 to 2014. Her portraits are known for their effortless intimacy, illuminating her subjects as few ever saw them—something noted by many of those whom she photographed. The portraits are accompanied by biographical sketches written by Frances McCue. Her short essays blend life stories and reflections on the photographs with Randlett’s own reminiscences. McCue also provides an essay that is the first to frame the scope of Randlett’s life and professional career. Mary Randlett, who will be 91 in May, 2015, is still photographing landscapes. Her last portrait photograph was of the author of this book, Frances McCue. The photographs and vignettes below are extracted from Mary Randlett Portraits.

1. Henry Miller, 1949

“Turn up Partington Ridge,” Mary Randlett’s mother told her. They were driving along Big…

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Finalists for the Kirkus Prize

The Kirkus Prize awards $50,000 to winners of the fiction, nonfiction, and young reader’s categories.  The Kirkus Reviews is an 81 year old magazine that reviews over 7,000 books a year.  It has been an integral part of the publishing since its founding. is a fabulous source of reviews on brand news books in numerous genres.  Here are this years finalists:


The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Euphoria by Lily King

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters


Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World by Leo Damrosch

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science by Armand Marie Leroi

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, translated by Arthur Goldhammer

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Young Readers’ Literature:

El Deafo written and illustrated by Cece Bell

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Byrant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza Books) Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos

The Story of Owen

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnson

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual written and illustrated by  Kate Samworth


Rebel on Pointe

Here is an interview with Lee Wilson about her new book Rebel on Pointe. Wilson’s book is a memoir that delves the world of dance luminaries such as George Balanchine, Rudolf Nureyev and Rosella Hightower. Check out The Florida Bookshelf’s interview with Lee Wilson.

The Florida Bookshelf

Rebel_on_Pointe“Wilson has a gift for telling stories…Rebel on Pointe is one terrific read that fans of all ages will enjoy for its clear storytelling, historic perspectives and histrionic characters from someone who lived to see the status of women greatly elevated, and who was herself a part of that story.”—Critical Dance

“Touching and beautiful; Lee Wilson is an inspiration to us all for finding a passion in life and moving beyond familial pressures and societal norms.”—Zippora Karz, former soloist, New York City Ballet

“The culture of the ballet world is divulged in all its glorious detail. Wilson’s compelling account of her training and career shows the true courage and persistence this profession requires.”—Ali Duffy, founder and choreographer, Flatlands Dance Theatre

“Lee brings to her writing the same keen intelligence she brought to her dancing. It is a joy to relive some of the important moments…

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For T. S. Eliot’s birthday this week, a new book trailer and a look at his Complete Prose

John Hopkins University Press has posted an article about the publication of the first two digital volumes of The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot. The guest post by Jewel Spears Brooker and Ronald Schuchard includes an brief excerpt from the introduction and video trailer for the books.

Johns Hopkins University Press Blog

Guest post by Jewel Spears Brooker and Ronald Schuchard
eliot-portrait-webDigital editions of the first two volumes of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, a monumental work shepherded for many years by general editor Ronald Schuchard, will be officially published this week on Eliot’s birthday (September 26; he was born in St. Louis in 1888).  To mark the occasion, we are pleased to share a new book trailer along with a portion of the introduction to volume one, Apprentice Years, 1905–1918, which “returns readers to the beginning of Eliot’s intellectual life.”
“The token that a philosophy is true,” T. S. Eliot argued in a 1914 student essay, “is the fact that it brings us to the exact point from which we started.” Three decades later, in the final lines of his last major poem, “Four Quartets,” he echoes the idea: “And the end of all our exploring / Will…

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African American Soldiers During the Civil War: Interview with Author Bob Luke

Soldiering for Freedome

Johns Hopkins University Press recently published Soldiering for Freedom: How the Union Army Recruited, Trained, and Deployed the U.S. Colored Troops written by Bob Luke and John David Smith.  After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, African Americans volunteered to fight for the Union.  Soldiering for Freedom seeks to explain how these men were recruited, used, treated during the Civil War.

In addition to writing Soldiering for Freedom, Luke also wrote The Baltimore Elite Giants: Sport and Society in the Age of Negro League Baseball.  His co-author Smith is the Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at University of North Carolina and the author of Black Judas: William Hannibal Thomas and”The American Negro.”

Here is our interview with Bob Luke.

What drew you initially to the story of black Union soldiers? How did you first start on this project?

The Civil War fascinated me long before I co-authored the book.  My grandfather on my father’s side, born just ten years after Appomattox, treasured his copy of Francis Trevelyan Miller’s The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes. He bought it during the Depression with money saved from ever-declining sales at his art supplies store in Denver.  My grandmother never quite forgave him for the extravagance. I poured over Mathew Brady’s graphic photographs, read the articles, and happily accompanied my parents on trips to battlefields such as Gettysburg, Antietam, and Balls Bluff. Twenty-year old Private Samuel W. Isenberg, 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Light Artillery, (14th Reserves), my mothers’ great grandfather, saw action at Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.  I watched Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War several times and attended a book signing where I got an autographed copy of his companion book. Burns included the role of “black” soldiers but as a minor theme.

When Robert J. Brugger, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Johns Hopkins University Press, for whom I’d written a book about the Baltimore Elite Giants, a Negro league baseball team, suggested a book summarizing the role of African American soldiers, U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) as they became officially known, I saw an opportunity to delve into a Civil War topic of which I knew little.  Fortunately, I soon discovered much had been written on the subject, and that John David Smith, a nationally recognized expert on the subject, was willing to lend his expertise.

 Most historians labor in solitude, but you teamed with a partner.  What are the advantages to having a partner to work with on a book like this?

John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and author of books on African Americans in the mid to late Nineteenth century, brought instant expertise to my research findings. He quickly pointed out areas of the text that needed work, supplied quotes that enlivened the text, and brought the footnotes into acceptable form.  He saved time in the fact checking process, insured a level of credibility that may have been difficult to achieve without his involvement, and provided a comprehensive bibliography. In addition, John David supplied much appreciated companionship to what could have been a lonely task indeed.  Though we had not met and collaborated solely by e-mail, we soon fell into a simpatico rhythm of electronic back and forth.

The movie Glory about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was released back in 1989 to critical acclaim.  Were you ever concerned that you needed to address the many aspects of the movie in your book (accurate or inaccurate) or did you feel as though you could tell this story in a fairly fresh way?  

Glory deserved, in my opinion, its critical acclaim as a movie.  It graphically portrayed African Americans’ sacrifice, suffering, bravery, achievements, and white officer on black recruit cruelty. In so doing it presented not only a compelling story but brought attention to the then lesser known role of African American Union soldiers.  The movie did, however, take many liberties with the regiment’s history, and by extension, with the history of the U.S. Colored Troops. To have discussed the accurate points and tried to correct the liberties would have unnecessarily focused too much attention on one regiment and distracted the readers, many of whom are college students who may not be familiar with the movie, from the book’s main theme – the various ways in which African American soldiers were recruited, trained, and deployed.  I mentioned the movie only in passing. As a general rule, I don’t look for history at the movie theater. 

Memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Once the Proclamation was issued, the Union began recruiting black troops.  Did blacks begin volunteering to serve in the military before recruiting centers were even established?  How were free blacks and former slaves recruited into army units? 

The recruitment of African American soldiers was at differing times and places legal, illegal, haphazard, voluntary, systematic, and coercive.  Prior to Lincoln’s Final Emancipation of January 1, 1863, slaves by the thousands, individually as well as families, fled farms and plantations to join the army and win freedom for themselves.  Males worked as laborers while the women cooked and laundered.  In another pre-Proclamation effort, generals and politicians, notably in the Carolinas and Kansas, unbeknownst to Lincoln, promised slaves their freedom if they would enlist. Lincoln promptly voided the promises. Immediately following the Proclamation, which gave the army authority to arm African Americans, a group of prominent abolitionists led by industrialist George Stearns and including William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Philips, and Julia Ward Howe raised funds to support a network of more than 100 black recruiters. They worked the Mississippi Valley, the northern states, Canada, and the mid-west as far as St. Louis. The recruiters, who received two dollars for every able-bodied man they delivered, made all manner of promises, most of which were never kept.  Many of these recruits formed the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantries. 

As the need for Union recruits became ever more pressing, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton authorized Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to mount a recruiting campaign throughout the Mississippi Valley. Acting with Lincoln’s full authority, Thomas raised over 70,000 black troops. He ordered Union officers to accept all blacks who were streaming into their camps. Thomas gave speeches and set up recruiting centers. Some recruiters sought volunteers. Others visited farms and plantations often ordering the men at gun point to “volunteer,” dragging the reluctant out from under beds, and rounding up those who fled to the woods to avoid conscription.  Private citizens continued to play a major role, again in the North.  Poet, journalist, and newspaper editor William Cullen Bryant led a group of prominent New York City men to form the New York Association for Colored Volunteers. The association attracted enough volunteers from throughout the state, aided by the promise of a three hundred dollar enlistment bonus, to form a regiment. Philadelphia merchant, Thomas Webster, exhorting blacks to “forget the past” and promising them the “acclaim from all for their valor,” helped recruit three regiments from that city. John Mercer Langston, a recent African American Oberlin graduate, having seen his offer to form a black regiment rebuffed in 1862 by Ohio’s Governor David Todd, spearheaded the formation of a black regiment once Todd realized he had no choice but to supply an African American regiment from the Buckeye state.

Company E, 4th US Colored Troops 1865
Company E, 4th US Colored Troops 1865

It is widely known that black soldiers were often treated poorly by fellow white soldiers and officers.  It what ways were black troops discriminated against?

When the war began most whites felt it was “a white man’s war.”  Congressmen publicly derided African Americans’ willingness and ability to fight.  The governors of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Connecticut spurned offers by blacks to enlist. The prospect of blacks in arms enraged and scared many whites, especially slaveholders. Blacks, free or slave, at the time were not even considered to be citizens due to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott ruling in 1857.

Once in the army, they were confined to segregated regiments all of whose line officers were white. They received less pay than white soldiers.  Protesting the inequity cost Sergeant William Walker his life by firing squad. Until the last two years of the war most were assigned “fatigue duty”, various forms of manual labor, freeing white soldiers to do the fighting.  When they did see action they faced enslavement or execution if captured. Jefferson Davis considered captured black troops, and their white officers, to be traitors rather than prisoners of war; a status Jefferson accorded white Union soldiers. Confederate troops murdered many at the battle of Fort Pillow after they had surrendered.

The War Department often issued smooth bore muskets that lacked the accuracy of the standard issue rifle to African American soldiers.  Many were thrown into battle with little or no training.  Many who did receive training experienced pistol whippings, verbal threats, blows with the flat of a sword or fist, and being hung by the thumbs from many, but not all, white officers. Some favored the use of rewards such as a two day pass for the regiment’s most accurate rifleman or a small medal to members of a regiment’s company who performed best in drill.  White soldiers tried to scare black recruits by telling them they’d be shipped to Cuba or put on the front lines of every battle. In spite of it all, about 180,000 African Americans served in the army while about 20,000 saw service in the navy.

Troops at Dutch Gap in 1864
Troops at Dutch Gap in 1864, Courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Commons

How did black units perform in combat during the war? Did their performance convince Union commanders to alter how they were utilized?

African American troops took part in 449 fights, the majority of them minor engagements and skirmishes.  In all engagements, however, small or large in scope, they demonstrated courage and ferocity in combat.  Knowledge of what awaited them if captured fueled their intensity.  Their commanders at first used them to poke holes in enemy lines.  More often than not they succeeded in breaking through enemy positions while making a dent in officers’ skepticism of their worth. One officer wrote to his wife, “I confess I am surprised at the dash and courage of these men. I have never felt sure of them before and even now I fear they would not have that steadiness under fire that many [whites] have but for a charge they cannot be beat.”

Later in the war they took part in large-scale offensives in such battles as Fort Hudson and Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana; Olustee, Florida; the Battles of the Crater and New Market Heights outside of Richmond, Virginia and the Battle of Nashville.  There they proved to be steady under fire even while taking heavy losses. Following the Battle of Nashville, Colonel Rueben D. Massey said of them, “Death had known no distinction of color, nor had Valor, for the black’s were as near the enemy’s lines as were the whites.”

Were there any situations when the treatment of black soldiers improved?  If so, why?

Treatment of African American soldiers by the Union remained relatively unchanged and shoddy throughout the war.  Congress did not allow equal pay for all black soldiers until just a month before the war ended. While many attained non-commissioned officer status, none were selected as line officers for USCT regiments.  Those who protested their treatment often encountered a court martial, a jail sentence or worse. Their performance in battle, however, did change the opinion of them for the better on the part of many whites.  Eighteen African American soldiers and four seamen won a Medal of Honor. In a final tribute to their contributions toward saving the Union, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton selected the 45th USCT to be part of the honor guard for Lincoln’s second inaugural address in March 1865.  A month later he chose the 22nd USCT to lead Lincoln’s funeral procession as it neared the U. S. Capitol.  Few whites in 1861 could have imagined those honors being accorded to African American soldiers and sailors.

How would you recommend using this book in a class?  What will students be able to take away from reading your book?

I could see the book in a class on African American history or the Civil War.  It’s a historical hors d’oeuvre, 107 pages excluding footnotes and bibliography.  Students would gain an overview of race relations in mid-nineteenth century in general and during the Civil War in particular.  The bibliography provides many avenues for more in-depth reading.

Ranking Haruki Murakami’s Books

Haruki Murakami’s new book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage  was recently released to wide acclaim.  Murakami is not only recognized as one of the greatest writers of his generation, but also one of the most unique.  To the dismay of Japanese literary critics, Murakami has been strongly influenced by several Western writers including Raymond Carver, J.D. Salinger, Franz Kafka, and Kurt Vonnegut.  Despite his Western influences, Murakami’s books are still strongly influenced by his Japanese heritage.  Matthew Carl Strecher argues that while Murakami is a Japanese author, “he is also a global one” whose works should be seen as “as examinations of questions that concern all humanity.”

Ranking Murakami’s books is a foolhardy task.  Even the worst Murakami book (if there is such a thing) is better than most authors’ best book.  In other words, it is almost impossible to go wrong when you pick up one of his books.

Here’s our rankings:

 1.  A Wild Sheep Chase

 2.  Norwegian Wood (Vintage International)

 3.  After the Quake: Stories

 4.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

 5.  Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

 6.  Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Vintage International)

 7.  1Q84

 8.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

 9.  Kafka on the Shore

 10.  Hear the Wind Sing

 11.  Pinball, 1973

 12.  Dance Dance Dance

 13.  What I Talk about When I Talk about Running

 14.  After Dark (Vintage International)

 15.  South of the Border, West of the Sun: A Novel

 16.  The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

 17.  Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Here’s the link to the Publishers Weekly Rankings of Murakami’s books by Matthew Carl Strecher who has written several books on Murakami, Dances with Sheep: The Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Haruki Murakami, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Reader’s Guide, and the upcoming The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami. Slate also has an article where they recommend the five Murakami books you should read first.

Wilderburbs and Wildlife in the American West: A Q & A with Lincoln Bramwell

Lincoln Bramwell has a new book coming from University of Washington Press on wilderburbs. Wilderburbs are housing developments nestled up to “the edges of forests, deserts or mountain slopes of the American West.” When folks accustomed to suburban life move to a wilderburb they are often several new threats: wildfire, water scarcity and wild animals. Bramwell talks about Wilderburbs in an interview posted on the University of Washington Press Blog.

University of Washington Press Blog

Wilderburbs: Communities on Nature’s Edge is the environmental history of a housing phenomenon that places human developments in close proximity to wild places: on the edges of forests, deserts, and mountain slopes of the American West. Author Lincoln Bramwell, chief historian for the USDA Forest Service, spoke with us recently about what drove his interest in this topic and some of the major challenges that can accompany life in wilderburbs.

Q: Are wilderburbs and the sort of human/nature encounters they introduce a new phenomenon? 

Lincoln Bramwell: Wilderburbs are in no way a new phenomenon. People with means around the world have maintained country estates outside of the crowded metropolis for millennia. Wealthy Americans began imitating English country estates following the Revolution when cities like Philadelphia and Boston grew in population and density. While these spaces were definitely out of reach for all except the upper class, by the nineteenth…

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Celebrating the Jewish New Year with Jewish Books

The Temple University Press has posted an article celebrating the Jewish New Year with discussions of seven Jewish Studies books. These book explore a range of topics (the Catskills, sports, Jewish life and business.)

North Philly Notes

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase seven Jewish Studies titles in honor of the Jewish New Year,  5775.

Two classic Temple University Press titles highlight the Catskills resorts, which shaped American Jewish culture and attracted over a million visitors between the 1920s and the 1950s.

Catskill Culture by Phil Brown

catskill culture clBrown tells the stories of the many elements of this magical environment. Brown’s own experiences as a waiter, his mother’s culinary exploits as a chef, and his father’s jobs as maitre d’ and coffee shop operator offer a backdrop to the vital life of Catskills summers. Catskill Culture recounts the life of guests, staff, resort owners, entertainers, and local residents through the author’s memories and archival research and the memories of 120 others.

The Catskills enabled Jews to become more American while at the same time introducing the American public to immigrant Jewish culture. Catskills entertainment provided the…

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Fourth Down in Dunbar

Dunbar High School in Fort Myers has produced an extraordinary number of outstanding football players. David A. Dorsey has written a new book, Fourth Down in Dunbar, that examines that why an area plague with drug abuse and violence has also started the career of numerous NFL players.

The Florida Bookshelf

Deion Sanders, Jevon Kearse, Earnest Graham, Sammy Watkins and other NFL stars from Fort Myers, Florida are featured in Fourth Down in Dunbar, which we are pleased to be publishing today.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King says, “Rarely have we gotten such a vivid look into the reality of how big-time players avoided becoming statistics.” Fourth Down in Dunbar tells how the Dunbar neighborhoods of Fort Myers—plagued by drugs and violence and where many children are fatherless—gave rise to an incredible number of talented NFL players.

Nearly two dozen athletes from Dunbar have achieved massive success. Sammy Watkins being picked fourth in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills marks almost sixty years of the Dunbar star athlete phenomenon.

In his twenty years as a reporter for the Fort Myers News-Press, author David Dorsey has witnessed future stars mature from playing at local high schools to…

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An Excerpt from Theodore W. Pietsch’s Trees of Life

The Johns Hopkins Press Blog has included an excerpt from Theodore W. Pietsch’s Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution. Trees of Life is book about the tree diagrams created to illustrate evolution and the relationship between various organism. We have all seen these visual representations. These trees help convey fairly difficult concepts in a remarkably coherent and understandable way. Pietsch’s book crosses disciplinary lines between science, history of science, biology and intellectual history. The excerpt is from Pietsch’s preface.

Johns Hopkins University Press Blog

Our occasional Friday series on the blog, The Press Reads, features short excerpts from recent JHUP books. We hope to whet your appetite and inspire additions to your reading list.  Today’s selection is drawn from the preface ofTrees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution by Theodore W. Pietsch. Trees of Life, embraced by reviewers across many disciplines, is now available in trade paperback.

Ernst Haeckel's family tree of the mammals, from 1866. Ernst Haeckel’s family tree of the mammals, from 1866.

This is a book about  trees—not the transpiring, photosynthesizing kind, but tree-like branching diagrams that attempt to show the interrelationships of organisms, from viruses and bacteria to birds and mammals, both living and fossil. It is not intended as a treatise about the philosophy or science behind tree construction, nor is it a defense or refutation of the various relationships depicted among organisms. It is rather a celebration of the manifest beauty, intrinsic interest, and human…

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