Biography

Duke Ellington’s America in the New Yorker

May 13, 2010
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Duke Ellington’s America in the New Yorker

Duke Ellington’s influence on the world of music is well documented, but less so his impact on race relations in twentieth century America. In his new biography, Duke Ellington’s America, cultural historian Harvey G. Cohen shows how, as Ellington’s music propelled him to international fame, he was able to harness his unique social status and artistic genius to influence issues of race, equality and religion. A recent article on Ellington in the New Yorker draws on Cohen’s biography to offer a glimpse into Ellington’s life and his strategies for manipulating American cultural attitudes towards race. In the article, Claudia Roth Pierpont paints a picture of Ellington as a man constantly struggling to maintain a broad appeal, (even in the American south where he occasionally played for segregated audiences), while making his music the front on which he waged war against the racism that inevitably shaped his compositions, performances, and his life. Read it online at the New Yorker website. Also read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Press Release: Cohen, Duke Ellington’s America

May 6, 2010
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Press Release: Cohen, Duke Ellington’s America

Duke Ellington towered over the world of popular music for decades, a singular figure of nearly unmatched achievement and influence. From his unforgettable jazz standards like “Mood Indigo” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” to his longer, more orchestral suites that dramatically expanded the boundaries of the form, to his peerless leadership of his big band, Ellington left his mark on every aspect of jazz in its heyday. With Duke Ellington’s America, Harvey G. Cohen offers music fans a vivid, comprehensive account of Ellington’s life and times, setting the artist and his music fully in the context of twentieth-century American culture and history. Making use of unprecedented access to Ellington”s archives—as well as new interviews with his friends, family, and band members—Cohen illuminates Ellington’s constantly evolving approach to composition, performance, and the music business, while also taking into account his role as a spokesman for civil rights and racial justice. Throughout, Cohen regularly hands the mike to Ellington himself, drawing from countless interviews the bandleader gave over the years to lend Duke Ellington’s America an immediacy and intimacy unmatched by any previous account. . . .

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Devra G. Kleiman, 1942-2010

May 5, 2010
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Devra G. Kleiman, 1942-2010

World renowned conservation biologist Devra G. Kleiman passed away on April 29 in Washington D.C. Kleiman is best known for her work at Smithsonian National Zoo where she led groundbreaking research into how zoos can be utilized to aid in preserving endangered species, sparking a “revolution of the role of zoos as conservation organizations,” according to Steven Monfort, director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, who was quoted in an obituary appearing in yesterday’s Washington Post. Her book, co-edited by Mary E. Allen, Katerina V. Thompson, and Susan Lumpkin, Wild Mammals in Captivity: Principles and Techniques bears the fruits of much of this research. The first handbook of its kind, Wild Mammals in Captivity focuses on the advances made by Kleiman and the book’s other esteemed contributors to standard practice in the management of wild animals in captivity, and, with a second edition due out in August of this year, includes the most current information from field and captive studies of animal behavior, advances in captive breeding, research in physiology, genetics, and nutrition, and new thinking in animal management and welfare. Find out more about Kleiman and her work in the obit section of the Washington Post or find out . . .

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Martin Preib reads from The Wagon

April 23, 2010
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Martin Preib reads from The Wagon

In the latest episode of our podcast, Chicago Audio Works, Chicago Police officer, author, one-time doorman, union organizer, and bouncer Martin Prieb reads from his new book The Wagon and Other Stories from the City and answers a few questions about his work and writing. Inspired by Preib’s daily life as a policeman—as well as his many other experiences working in the Windy City’s service sector—The Wagon offers a view of city life from the vantage point of one of it’s newest most trenchant, and authentic chroniclers. With material that ranges from noir-like reports of police work to streetwise meditations on life and darkly humorous accounts of his other occupations, The Wagon brings the city of Chicago to life in ways that readers will long remember. For more read this review in this week’s issue of the Chicago Reader (scroll down to the bottom of the page), or read a story from the book: “Body Bags.” Hear more readings, interviews, and other features from our authors on Chicago Audio Works. . . .

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Free e-book of the month: Nice Guys Finish Last

April 2, 2010
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Free e-book of the month: Nice Guys Finish Last

The history of baseball is rife with colorful characters. But for sheer cantankerousness, fighting moxie, and will to win, very few have come close to Leo “the Lip” Durocher. Following a five-decade career as a player and manager for baseball’s most storied franchises, Durocher teamed up with veteran sportswriter Ed Linn to tell the story of his life in the game. The resulting book, Nice Guys Finish Last, is baseball at its best, and now through the end of the month, you can download it free from the University of Chicago Press website. More about the book: Durocher began his career inauspiciously, riding the bench for the powerhouse 1928 Yankees and hitting so poorly that Babe Ruth nicknamed him “the All-American Out.” But soon Durocher hit his stride: traded to St. Louis, he found his headlong play and never-say-die attitude a perfect fit with the rambunctious “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals. In 1939, he was named player-manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers—and almost instantly transformed the underachieving Bums into perennial contenders. He went on to manage the New York Giants, sharing the glory of one of the most famous moments in baseball history, Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world,” which won the . . .

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Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting

February 16, 2010
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Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting

Gerhard Richter has been known in the United States for some time, especially for the photo-paintings he made during the 1960s that rely on images culled from mass media and pop culture. But as demonstrated by the successful retrospective of his work on display at the MoMA in 2001, Richter’s oeuvre incorporates a highly diverse stylistic range—from the muted tones of the “blurred figurative paintings” produced in the 60s, to the “seductive abstract paintings” of his later work—and has since attracted much attention from audiences and critics alike. Yet despite the artist’s popularity there has been no definitive biographical account of his life, until now. As a recent review that ran in the February 11th edition of the Financial Times notes with his new book Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting Dietmar Elger offers for the first time insight into this fascinating artist’s life and work. From the review: Among the many triumphs of Dietmar Elger’s landmark first biography of the artist, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, written with full access to his archives, is to show how Richter’s apparently neutral tones are part of a long, complicated fight against traditional German emotionalism. Born in Dresden a year before . . .

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Free e-book of the month: Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White

January 4, 2010
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Free e-book of the month: Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White

The perfect remedy for those mid-winter blues, Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen’s fascinating (not to mention funny) tale of their careers as the first interracial comedy team in the history of show business in Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White, is now available for download free from the Press website. About the book: As the heady promise of the 1960s sagged under the weight of widespread violence, rioting, and racial unrest, two young men—one black and one white—took to stages across the nation to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing at it. Tim and Tom tells the story of that pioneering duo, the first interracial comedy team in the history of show business—and the last. Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen polished their act in the nightclubs of Chicago, then took it on the road, not only in the North, but in the still-simmering South as well, developing routines that even today remain surprisingly frank—and remarkably funny—about race. Most nights, the shock of seeing an integrated comedy team quickly dissipated in uproarious laughter, but on some occasions the audience’s confusion and discomfort led to racist heckling, threats, and even violence. Though Tim and Tom perpetually . . .

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Press Release: Graham, The Moon, Come to Earth

November 2, 2009
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Press Release: Graham, The Moon, Come to Earth

Though the telegram may be long gone, the allure of a dispatch from a foreign land remains strong. So when Philip Graham began chronicling his sojourn in Portugal at the popular McSweeney’s Web site, it didn’t take long for his dispatches to attract a following of readers eager to experience the faded glories and living mysteries of Lisbon. Now Graham has expanded on those dispatches, and the resulting book, The Moon, Come to Earth, is travel writing at its lyrical, introspective best. Whether wandering Lisbon’s cobbled medieval streets or wrestling with complicated local customs on the subway, Graham brings an attentive eye and love of idiosyncrasy to scenes that epitomize the paradox of living in a foreign city: Neither a tourist nor a local, he is forever between cultures, fascinated and admiring, but at the same time separate and uncertain. Through his explorations, the culture of Portugal—its rich literary culture, inventive cuisine, and saudade-drenched music—comes vibrantly to life. The Moon, Come to Earth is both a love letter to Lisbon and a testament to the pleasures and discoveries of travel itself. Read the press release. Also read an excerpt and see the author’s website. . . .

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Quote of the Week: Ben Hecht

October 30, 2009
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Quote of the Week: Ben Hecht

“Yes, we are all lost and wandering in the thick mists. We have no destinations. The city is without outlines. And the drift of figures is a meaningless thing. Figures that are going nowhere and coming from nowhere. A swarm of supernumeraries who are not in the play. Who saunter, dash, scurry, hesitate in search of a part in the play.” —from 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. Ben Hecht (1894—1964) was a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Daily Journal and the Chicago Daily News as well as a playwright, novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter. . . .

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Dispatches from Lisbon

October 6, 2009
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Dispatches from Lisbon

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