Blog Archives

5 Questions with Michelle Oyakawa, Coauthor of “Prisms of the People”

May 6, 2021
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Grassroots organizing and collective action have always been fundamental to American democracy but have been burgeoning since the 2016 election, as people struggle to make their voices heard in this moment of societal upheaval. In Prisms of the People, Hahrie Han, Elizabeth McKenna, and Michelle Oyakawa show how the power of successful movements most often is rooted in their ability to act as  “prisms of the people,” turning participation into political power just as prisms transform white light into rainbows. Understanding the organizational design choices that shape the people, their leaders, and their strategies can help us understand how grassroots groups achieve their goals. We asked Michelle Oyakawa a few questions about the book. How did you become interested in grassroots organizing and collective action? What led you to write about it? Each of us came to this work by engaging directly with organizations that engage people in public life and agitate for change. Participating in organizing and witnessing the promise it holds for both personal and political transformation inspired us to further investigate and understand how people can come together to build power for themselves and their communities. We are motivated by hope and resistance against cynicism and despair. . . .

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An Earth Day Reading List

April 22, 2021
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An Earth Day Reading List

First observed in 1970, Earth Day has grown into an annual, April 22 celebration of the natural world—and the importance of humanity’s role in protecting it. As we mark Earth Day 2021, read on for ten recommended books that are sure to inspire thought, awe, and action. Barbara J. King’s Animals’ Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity and in the Wild “King’s Animals’ Best Friends is the most comprehensive exploration I’ve read of the complex relationship between the human and nonhuman, full of great insights and practical information.”—Jeff VanderMeer, New York Times Book Review, “By the Book” Charley Hailey’s The Porch: Meditations on the Edge of Nature “Hailey bears daily witness to the subtle vibrations of the natural world that well up from below, drift down from above, or move across his screened porch in the form of air, sound, light, weather, or wing beats. With this book, he fulfills a fundamental requirement of morality—paying attention.”—Robert Pogue Harrison, author of Juvenescence Sandra Knapp’s Extraordinary Orchids “In this captivating overview, Knapp covers the biology of both terrestrial and epiphytic (tree-dwelling) orchids and explains how epiphytes are adapted to living in trees, even using a special form of . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Cruising the Dead River: David Wojnarowicz and New York’s Ruined Waterfront”

April 6, 2021
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Polymath artist David Wojnarowicz blazed a singular trail through the New York avant-garde from the 1970s until his untimely death in 1992. His incendiary and deeply personal work—often physically and spiritually rooted in the desolation of the Manhattan waterfront—roamed freely between painting, photography, film, and music to confront mainstream inaction on the AIDS epidemic. With the new documentary Wojnarowicz screening now in virtual cinemas, it’s the perfect time to revisit Fiona Anderson’s Cruising the Dead River: David Wojnarowicz and New York’s Ruined Waterfront, which Attitude Magazine called “a fascinating journey in cruising, sex, and the art scene of Manhattan’s dilapidated waterfront in the 1970s and 1980s.” Detailed descriptions of sex at the West Side piers appear in David Wojnarowicz’s personal journals from the summer of 1977. Walking “through Soho and over to Christopher Street” that September, he found himself in the dilapidated districts he had spent time in as a hustling teenager, by “the big pier past the old truck lines and the Silver Dollar Café/Restaurant.” There, he wrote, “away from the blatant exhibitionist energies of the NYC music scenes gay scenes,” he felt “uncontrollably sane.” In journal entries, poetry, memoir essays, photographs, short films, and drawings, he depicted the . . .

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“Feminisms: A Global History” Playlist

March 25, 2021
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In Feminisms: A Global History, historian Lucy Delap looks to the global past to give us a usable history of the movement against gender injustice—one that can help clarify questions of feminist strategy, priority, and focus in the contemporary moment. Rooted in recent innovative histories, the book incorporates alternative starting points and new thinkers, challenging the presumed priority of European feminists and ranging across a global terrain of revolutions, religions, empires, and anti-colonial struggles. The book’s final chapter explores the rich but often muted history of feminist music-making, shining a light on the chants, songs, and musical innovations that helped foster solidarity and subvert the status quo. Delap asks: “What is it like to hear feminism? Historical distance and the intangible nature of sound mean that there are limits to the aural archive. But by reading historical documents against the grain, it is possible to ‘hear feminism’ even at the distance of several centuries. The traces of its rich soundtrack of oratory, songs, chants, and keening gives us a final entry point into understanding the useable past of feminisms.” To help us tune into the aural dimensions of feminism, Delap created a playlist of global feminist songs, including some discussed . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Believing in South Central”

March 18, 2021
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In Believing in South Central, Pamela J. Prickett takes a close look at the Los Angeles neighborhood of South Central—an area often overshadowed by stereotypes—and illuminates the lives and history of a community of Black Muslims centered around the Masjid al-Quran (MAQ). In this excerpt, she highlights a time during the mosque’s formation, telling the story of its origins in the mid-twentieth century as the Nation of Islam (NOI) expanded beyond Detroit. She discusses how the MAQ fostered the growth of economic, racial, and communal solidarity in South Central and how figures like Malcolm X were integral to the story of the Nation of Islam and to this group of Black Muslim Angelenos. The Rise of a “Ghetto” Counterpublic The Nation of Islam grew rapidly during the late 1950s and early 1960s as a result of the appeal of Elijah Muhammad’s race empowerment ideology. In 1956, it had ten temples, concentrated in the Midwest and along the East Coast. By 1975, that number had increased to more than one hundred throughout the United States, including the one established in 1957 in South Central. As with many NOI temples, MAQ members had little choice but to set up their community in . . .

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A History of Chicago in 10 Books

March 4, 2021
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On March 4, 1837, Chicago was officially incorporated as a city. In the one hundred and eighty-four years since then, the city has grown and changed. On this anniversary of incorporation, we suggest ten books to get to know this complex city a little bit better. Sun Ra’s Chicago: Afrofuturism and the City In Sun Ra’s Chicago, William Sites brings this visionary musician back to earth—specifically to the city’s South Side, where from 1946 to 1961 he lived and relaunched his career. The postwar South Side was a hotbed of unorthodox religious and cultural activism: Afrocentric philosophies flourished, storefront prophets sold “dream-book bibles,” and Elijah Muhammad was building the Nation of Islam. It was also an unruly musical crossroads where the man then known as Sonny Blount drew from an array of intellectual and musical sources—from radical nationalism, revisionist Christianity, and science fiction to jazz, blues, Latin dance music, and pop exotica—to construct a philosophy and performance style that imagined a new identity and future for African Americans. Sun Ra’s Chicago shows that late-twentieth-century Afrofuturism emerged from a deep, utopian engagement with the city—and that by excavating the postwar black experience of Sun Ra’s South Side milieu, we can come to see the . . .

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In Memoriam Kristofer Marinus Schipper

February 24, 2021
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In honor of Press author and scholar Kristofer Marinus Schipper, Franciscus Verellen, coeditor of The Taoist Canon, offers this tribute. The doyen of Daoist studies Kristofer Marinus Schipper (1934-2021), coeditor with Franciscus Verellen of The Taoist Canon: A Historical Companion to the Daozang, passed away in Amsterdam on February 18, 2021, aged 86. A former member of the École Française d’Extrême-Orient (1962-1972), Kristofer Schipper carried out fieldwork on the living liturgical tradition of Daoism in Taiwan that would launch half a century of path-breaking research into “China’s high religion,” transform our understanding of religious life in the Chinese world, and foster new approaches to the study of Chinese society and religion in East Asia and the West. A member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Kristofer Schipper was director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, Collège de France, from 1987 to 1992. As professor of Chinese History at the University of Leiden and professor in the History of Daoism at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, he trained a generation of specialists in Chinese religion, many of whom carry on his legacy today. His unending supply of far-sighted intuitions was at the origin of some of . . .

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Celebrate Wayne Booth’s 100th with an Excerpt from “The Rhetoric of Fiction”

February 22, 2021
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On the occasion of what would have been the 100th birthday of distinguished critic Wayne C. Booth (1921–2005), we invited Press author and University of Chicago professor James Chandler to offer a tribute to Booth to accompany an excerpt from Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction, which transformed the criticism of fiction. Wayne Booth’s was a career famously dedicated to “intellectual community,” a value that organized his energies and marked virtually everything he achieved. His commitment to this value was a matter of constant vigilance on his part, even in relatively casual circumstances. When he attended lectures, he would often position himself in such a way as to be able to watch both to the speaker and the effect the speaker was having—or not having—on an audience. When a member of an audience asked a question whose point was lost on a speaker, Wayne would instinctively jump in to clear things up. It drove him mad to see people talking past one another. In the classroom, the creation of intellectual community was, arguably, the true object of Wayne’s teaching. He had a rare genius for turning a given assortment of students into a group of productive discussants. This, too, was born in part of his diligence. He obsessed . . .

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Read an Excerpt from Rebecca K. Marchiel’s “After Redlining”

February 16, 2021
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Read an Excerpt from Rebecca K. Marchiel’s “After Redlining”

Some of the most quietly pernicious manifestations of American racism can be found in the discriminatory actions of financial and real estate institutions, particularly in the urban segregation policies that came to be labeled “redlining.” In this excerpt from Rebecca K. Marchiel’s After Redlining: The Urban Reinvestment Movement in the Era of Deregulation, we get an inside look at pioneering efforts to recognize these unjust actions and fight them on their own turf. In 1970, in the midst of the ongoing battle with panic peddlers, Shel Trapp led members of the West Side Coalition against Panic Peddling into the offices of Chicago’s second-largest savings and loan association, Bell Federal. The group had a meeting scheduled with the bank president to ask why his institution wasn’t lending in their neighborhood, leaving new homebuyers at the mercy of panic peddlers and contract sales. Several West Siders came to Trapp complaining that the bank had rejected their applications for loans with no explanation. Trapp reasoned the best way to get answers was to confront the president face to face. That afternoon, when the West Siders huddled into the banker’s office, they saw something that changed their understanding of what was going on in . . .

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#AuthorAtHome: Michael Marshall on “The Genesis Quest”

February 4, 2021
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We often think of the New Year as a time for both reflecting on the past and planning new beginnings. So, as we launch into 2021 in earnest, why not ponder one of the most colossal (or rather, microscopic) beginnings in the history of our planet: the origins of life. Some scientists have argued that life began in the chemical-rich seas of the early Earth, the famous primordial soup, while others are convinced that life began in strange vents pumping hot water out of the seafloor, where the chemical reactions that sustain living cells could get started. Or perhaps life began in volcanic ponds on land, or in meteorite impact zones—or even in beds of clay. Each theory has attracted staunch believers who promote it with an almost religious fervor. But our pursuit of life’s origins is more than a tale of bizarre (and sometimes unscientific) investigative zeal: it is a story that takes in some of the greatest discoveries in modern biology, from cells to DNA, and from evolution to life’s family tree. Stretching from 1920s Soviet Russia to the Manhattan Project and the latest discoveries, Michael Marshall’s The Genesis Quest: The Geniuses and Eccentrics on a Journey to . . .

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