Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

“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 But by reading historical documents against the grain, it is possible to ‘hear feminism’ even at the distance of several centuries.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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Read an Excerpt from “The Teaching Archive”

December 3, 2020
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As students and teachers look ahead to another semester of remote instruction, many are also thinking back fondly to gathering in classrooms for lively collaborations and discussions. With The Teaching Archive, Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan turn their attention to the classroom, reminding us that the classroom has long been a site of innovation and that the contributions of students themselves are far more intertwined in the history of literary studies than we might imagine. With their innovative new book, Buurma and Heffernan open up “the teaching archive”—the syllabuses, course descriptions, lecture notes, and class assignments—of notable critics and scholars, showing how students helped write foundational works of literary criticism and how English classes at community colleges and HBCUs pioneered the reading methods and expanded canons that came only belatedly to the Ivy League. The Teaching Archive rewrites what we know about the discipline and will be an invaluable resource as we enter a new decade of instruction and scholarship. Read on for an excerpt from the introduction of The Teaching Archive: A New History for Literary Study by Rachel Saagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan or click here to read the introduction in full. A New Syllabus In this . . .

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The Making of a Magazine: A Dialogue with the Team Behind “The Point”

December 1, 2020
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The Making of a Magazine: A Dialogue with the Team Behind “The Point”

Highlighting the first decade of Chicago-based philosophical magazine The Point, The Opening of the American Mind brings together responses to some of the most significant events and issues of the last ten years. We spoke with some of The Point’s team to hear more about the new book, their current work, and how this whole project got started. To learn more about The Point, check out their website: https://thepointmag.com/ First of all, could you each say what your roles are at The Point? Jonny Thakkar: I am one of the editors. This involves a mixture of tasks. Sometimes I’m the lead editor on a piece, in charge of communication with an author, and other times I’m supporting the lead editor of a piece by giving line edits or a second opinion. I have to be on the lookout for potential writers and also for themes and topics that we might want to cover in some way. Finally, I’m also involved in strategic decisions regarding the development of the magazine and its place in the cultural landscape. Anastasia Berg: Like Jonny, I’m also an editor. I solicit and edit pieces for the print magazine and our website and am involved in . . .

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7 Questions with David Sepkoski, author of “Catastrophic Thinking”

November 23, 2020
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7 Questions with David Sepkoski, author of “Catastrophic Thinking”

We live in an age in which we are repeatedly reminded—by scientists, by the media, by popular culture—of the looming threat of mass extinction. Such apocalyptic talk feels familiar to us, but the current fascination with extinction is a relatively recent phenomenon. As David Sepkoski reveals, the way we value biodiversity depends crucially on our sense that it is precarious—that it is something actively threatened, and that its loss could have profound consequences. In his new book, Sepkoski uncovers how and why we learned to value diversity as a precious resource at the same time as we learned to think catastrophically about extinction. We asked him a few questions about it. In the book, you explain how an “extinction imaginary” helps inform the way we see and value the world around us. Can you give us a quick introduction to that term? A central claim of this book is that scientific ideas and cultural values can’t be cleanly separated: science doesn’t “cause” us to believe certain things about society or politics, nor do political or social values “explain” particular scientific theories. Rather, the science and culture of a particular place and time are tightly interwoven and reinforce each other by . . .

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