Blog Archives

Get Ready for the Movie of “A Naked Singularity” with This Interview and Excerpt

July 30, 2021
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On August 6, the movie Naked Singularity, based on a novel by Sergio De La Pava and starring John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, and Bill Skarsgård, will hit theaters. That’s only the most recent chapter in the wild backstory of this acclaimed novel, which itself reads a bit like something out of Hollywood: A New York public defender writes an incredibly inventive 700-page novel that covers the criminal justice system, our fragmented culture, the fate of the universe, a heist, and more. He sends it to agents. It’s rejected 88 times. So, in 2010, he self-publishes it. Which, let’s be honest, should have been the end of the story. But this book is too good for that fate. It caught the eye of online reviewers, whose praise led our Marketing Director, Levi Stahl, to pick it up. Within 50 pages, he was hooked and convinced that this book deserved a wide audience. We published it in 2012 to praise from Slate, the Chicago Tribune, Toronto Star, London Times, and Wall Street Journal—which named it one of the 10 best works of fiction that year. Months later, PEN awarded it the Robert W. Bingham Prize for the best debut novel. In the . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Climate the Making of Worlds” by Tobias Menely

July 21, 2021
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In his new book, Climate and the Making of Worlds, Tobias Menely explores a long literary history of poetic rewritings and critical readings that continually engage with the climate as a condition of human world-making. Poems, he argues, provide a distinct archive of geohistorical change. We asked Menely to tell us more about how his experience of climate change in the present informed his approach to literary history. Read on for his commentary, followed by an excerpt from the first chapter, in which he shows how Milton’s great epic Paradise Lost was marked by the Little Ice Age. “fire, flood, famine”: Reading Paradise Lost ­­across Geohistory The first chapter in my new book, Climate and the Making of Worlds, lays out a geohistorical reading of Paradise Lost. Milton planned and composed his epic retelling of the Christian creation story during a period of intense historical tumult: the disintegration of the Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy, a visitation of the bubonic plague, and a fire that destroyed much of London. This period of crisis, as climate historians such as Geoffrey Parker have shown, corresponds with one of the most acute phases of the Little Ice Age, which saw unusually . . .

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An Intro to Cosmic Zoom Media: A Watchlist from Zachary Horton

July 13, 2021
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Negotiating differences in scale can be, to say the least, a complex undertaking—from the minuscule and microscopic to the vastness of human populations to the magnificent size of the space beyond our home planet. In his book The Cosmic Zoom: Scale, Knowledge, and Mediation, Zachary Horton considers the “cosmic zoom,” a trope that has influenced media forms for decades, and he uses this as a starting point to develop a cross-disciplinary theory of scale. Here, he gives us an intro to cosmic zoom media through a watchlist of seven films. The cosmic zoom, a media form that aestheticizes continuity across a wide range of scales, is ubiquitous today. It is used to evoke wonder at the cosmos, celebrate scientific knowledge and practice, render radically alien scales accessible to humans, paper over differences between scales, and re-center the human observer in physical and medial environments that seem to be slipping (scaling) out of our control.  Though cosmic zooms are not always visual, their most mesmeric versions have often been in time-based media. Here are seven cosmic zooms that exemplify the form: Eva Szasz, Cosmic Zoom, 1968 Canadian artist Eva Szasz adapted Dutch educator Kees Boeke’s 1957 book, Cosmic View, into this . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Nature Remade: Engineering Life, Envisioning Worlds”

June 23, 2021
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Read an Excerpt from “Nature Remade: Engineering Life, Envisioning Worlds”

For well over a century, the Marine Biological Laboratory has been a nexus of scientific discovery, a site where scientists and students from around the world have convened to innovate, guide, and shape our understanding of biology and its evolutionary and ecological dynamics. As work at the MBL continuously radiates over vast temporal and spatial scales, the very practice of science has also been shaped by the MBL community, which continues to have a transformative impact the world over. The Convening Science series highlights the ongoing role MBL plays in the creation and dissemination of science, in its broader historic context as well as current practice and future potential. Books in the series will be broadly conceived and defined, but each will be anchored to MBL, originating in workshops and conferences, inspired by MBL collections and archives, or influenced by conversations and creativity that MBL fosters in every scientist or student who convenes at the Woods Hole campus. Publishing this July, Nature Remade: Engineering Life, Envisioning Worlds is the fourth installment in Convening Science. In it, fourteen original essays trace material practices of the engineering of biology from the development of field sites for experimentation to the new frontiers of . . .

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Five Questions with Ross A. Slotten, MD, author of “Plague Years”

June 15, 2021
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June 2021 marks a grimly significant anniversary: forty years ago this month, the CDC reported the first US cases of the disease that would come to be known as AIDS. Ross A. Slotten, MD—a Chicago-based family practitioner—has been deeply involved with the fight against HIV/AIDS since the beginning of his medical career in the 1980s. In Plague Years: A Doctor’s Journey through the AIDS Crisis—praised by Nature as a “powerful, humane, and stylish memoir”—Slotten provides an intimate yet comprehensive view of the disease’s spread alongside heartfelt portraits of his patients and his own conflicted feelings as a medical professional, drawn from more than thirty years of personal notebooks. We asked Ross a few questions about the book. The acknowledgments page for Plague Years points out that this book emerged from a memoir writing course at StoryStudio Chicago. How is the finished book different from your initial vision for it, and is there anything from earlier drafts that you were sad to have to cut from the final version? Initially, I intended to write something more academic. When I showed an early version of the book to an editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, she thought that a . . .

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Six Questions with Sujit Sivasundaram, author of “Waves Across the South”

May 27, 2021
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This is a story of tides and coastlines, winds and waves, islands and beaches. In Waves Across the South, Sujit Sivasundaram offers a fresh history of revolution and empire which centers on island nations and ocean-facing communities, turning the familiar narrative of the Age of Revolutions and the origins of the British Empire on its head. Waves Across the South has been praised for the awe-inspiring depth of its research, as well as its captivating storytelling. We asked Sujit Sivasundaram a few questions about his work. To start us off, what is the Age of Revolutions? How does Waves Across the South reconceptualize it? Usually, the Age of Revolutions is an Atlantic story, encompassing for instance the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and other uprisings in the Caribbean and Latin America. These events are taken as a pivotal origin point for our modern condition: for ideas of rights and belonging, a system of nation states as well as the application of reason and reform, for instance with respect to labor or governance. Waves Across the South moves this story to the Indian and Pacific oceans. In this vast oceanic zone, there was a pattern of indigenous creativity, unrest, revolt, and association; this was a first wave. There was then a response . . .

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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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