Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

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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Marvell Marvelled: Katie Kadue on Andrew Marvell’s 400th Birthday

March 31, 2021
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Marvell Marvelled: Katie Kadue on Andrew Marvell’s 400th Birthday

The poet Andrew Marvell was born on this day in 1621 near Hull, England. Marvell’s poetry has inspired readings by some of our finest literary critics, from T. S. Eliot and Cleanth Brooks to Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Christopher Ricks, and Leah S. Marcus. Indeed, it was 300 years ago today that Eliot published his now-classic essay “Andrew Marvell” in the Times Literary Supplement. For Marvell’s quadricentenary, we asked our author Katie Kadue for a brief essay on the poet, touching on the themes of her forthcoming Domestic Georgic: Labors of Preservation from Rabelais to Milton. Kadue illuminates what Marvell’s poetry still preserves for us, and the best literary criticism, too.  Andrew Marvell’s poetry is best known for images of time’s hurtling, inexorable movement toward a spectacular end: the winged chariot hurrying near, warning us of death’s encroachment, in “To His Coy Mistress,” or, less hurtlingly, the annihilation of all that’s made in “The Garden.” Marvell wrote his poems and was active in politics during the English Civil War and its aftermath, when the nation was captivated by providential time; his “Horatian Ode” to Oliver Cromwell is emphatic that the time to act is “now.” But Marvell also took his sweet time . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Wild Thought”

March 29, 2021
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To celebrate the release of our exciting new translation of Claude Lévi-Strauss's iconic work, La Pensée sauvage, we're sharing a sneak peek at the translators' intro. . . .

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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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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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#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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Six Questions with Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb, author of “Epidemic Empire”

January 28, 2021
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Terrorism has often been described as a cancer, an infection, an epidemic, a plague. In her new book, Epidemic Empire, Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb tracks this persistent trope of terrorism as a “social contagion,” from its roots in anti-rebellion colonial rhetoric through to the global war on terror. Raza Kolb’s demonstrates that the metaphor surfaces again and again at moments of crisis—including the current COVID-19 crisis. We asked the author a few questions about her book. Epidemic Empire has turned out to be quite prescient. We began preparing the book for publication in early 2020, just before we entered COVID-19 lockdown. How have the events of this past year sharpened your understanding of the themes in the book? Thank you for asking this question—it’s been on my mind constantly over the last ten months. Also, suddenly, on everyone else’s mind! In the early days of my research, I was getting a lot of pushback on my work’s relationship to what’s casually called “social construct” theory, an effect of deconstruction, which argues that certain seemingly stable ontological categories like gender or race are in fact products of the social. Judith Butler’s monumental Gender Trouble is a good example here, and it’s also . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “White Market Drugs” Our Winter #ReadUCP Book Club Pick

January 20, 2021
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We’re excited to share that our winter Twitter Book Club pick is David Herzberg’s White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and The Hidden History of Addiction in America. To get you started, we’ve included a short excerpt from the Introduction below. Then, order the book for 30% off with the code READUCP on our website, and join us on Twitter for a conversation with David on February 23 at 2:00 PM Central. Follow the hashtag #ReadUCP for updates. Thinking past the medicine-drug divide White markets are an open secret of American history, widely ac- knowledged but rarely examined in depth. This is, in part, because they fall into a scholarly gap between historians who study medicines and historians who study drugs. These are different people, who belong to different scholarly societies, each with their own journals and conferences, and who organize their research around their own distinctive questions. Addictive medicines sit directly in the gap between these groups and fit only awkwardly into either. Not all historians respect this boundary between medicines and drugs; a number of excellent works tell key parts of the story.11 Yet much of the story has not been told. Pharmaceutical opioids do not yet have their . . .

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Six Questions with Rachel Hope Cleves, author of “Unspeakable”

December 8, 2020
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What do we do with the life of a person who was celebrated in their own time, but whose actions, violating what are now seen as firm moral and legal boundaries, appall us today? The life of once-renowned twentieth-century author Norman Douglas raises this question in a particularly stark form. In her new book, Unspeakable: A Life beyond Sexual Morality, Rachel Hope Cleves takes a clear-eyed look at Douglas’s life, what it can tell us how societal standards change with time, and what we can learn from a better understanding of those shifts. We asked her a few questions about the book. Norman Douglas is far less famous now than he was in his lifetime. How did you first learn about him? Believe it or not, this very serious book began with a little light vacation reading. In 2013-2014 I spent a sabbatical year in Paris with my family and we bought discount airline tickets to Naples for the kids’ spring break. A friend recommended that we visit Capri while we were there. I didn’t know anything about the island, so in my typical nerdy fashion I looked for books to read and discovered that there was a 1917 bestseller . . .

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