1917 Ten days that shook the world/ 2017 Ten days that shake the campus

by Harriet Murav (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)


In 2017, Russia has been in the news every day; Russian interference in elections in the US and Europe—remains a pressing issue, not yet fully explained or resolved.

Russia was also in the news one hundred years ago. The Russian Revolution of 1917 profoundly altered the course of history in Russia and around the globe. Scholars have documented the radical economic, social, and political changes and the accompanying upheavals in the organization of knowledge, the structuring of the professions, and individual daily life and self-consciousness. The revolution in society went hand-in-hand with the revolution in art.

As we consider the global landscape today, major questions of labor and capital, economic inequality, and democratic transition have yet to be resolved. Radical visions and radical action are still very much with us. We still have much to learn from 1917 and its global ramifications.

For the past two years, a working group, consisting of faculty from departments and units across LAS and Fine Arts, has been meeting to discuss the meaning of 1917 for today.  Our project, “1917 Ten days that shook the world/ 2017 Ten days that shake the campus” brings together scholars from around the world, the nation, and the campus to analyze the Russian revolution of 1917 in a global context, by examining its immediate impact, elaborating its legacies, and tracing its ripples to the present day –across national boundaries and realms of human endeavor.

We have invited scholars from Russia, as well as scholars who work on India, Italy, and Brazil. Radicalism in the US and its connection to socialist Russia is another important dimension of the anniversary of 1917; we have invited key scholar-activists whose own histories played a central role.

We have created an interdisciplinary undergraduate course, a film festival, a musical performance, a “poetry slam,” a theatrical production, a library exhibit, a Krannert Art Museum exhibit, and a closing faculty and community roundtable.  This series of events constitutes the “the ten days” of our project, which we plan to spread over the Fall 2017 semester, thus facilitating greater intersection between lectures, courses, films, and art and performance.

The first campus event in our series will be a lecture from the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Vijay Prashad, a specialist on global development, labor, and India. He is the author of fifteen books, most recently The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (California, 2016), and the editor of eighteen books, most recently Will The Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change (LeftWord, 2017), which has contributions from Naomi Klein, Amitav Ghosh, Rafia Zakaria, Susan Abulhawa and others. Two of his books – Karma of Brown Folk and Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting – were chosen by the Village Voice as books of the year. He writes regularly for Frontline (India), The Hindu (India), BirGün (Turkey) and Alternet (USA). In addition, he is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books (New Delhi).

The questions that Professor Prashad will address in his September 6 lecture, “The Russian Revolution as the Mirror of Third World Aspirations” refocus attention to parts of the world we typically do not associate with Russia. What did the Russian Revolution look like from India or Egypt or Southern Africa? What aspirations did it carry, what sentiment did it hold for people held in thrall of European colonialism? Why was it that these anti-colonial movements celebrated when Japan defeated the Tsarist forces in 1904 and then when the ordinary Russian people rose up in 1905? Why did Gandhi, sitting in South Africa, praise the rebels of 1905 and see in them something to emulate? What then did ‘1917’ mean to the emergent Third World Project?

The Fall symposium, November 2-3, 2017 will focus on 1917 in its immediate context and also, reflect on the broadest implications of 1917 and a century of protest and revolution. The morning session offers historical perspectives on the revolution in Russia; scholars will address the immediate and global reverberations of the revolution during the first decades after 1917. The afternoon examines the state of radical political action, labor, and protest 100 years later, focusing on questions of work, precarity, and inequality.

Boris Kolonitski, the keynote speaker, is the resident senior research scholar at the St. Petersburg Institute of History at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Professor at the European University in St. Petersburg. Professor Kolonitski has authored numerous scholarly works on 1917, including Interpreting the Russian Revolution: The Language and Symbols of 1917 (with O. Figes,Yale University Press, 1999).

For more, see 19172017.weebly.com.

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Placing Illinois in History

by Clare Crowston (Professor and Chair, History) and Bob Morrissey (Associate Professor, History)

There seems to be no better time to mark the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois than at this paradoxical moment when state support for the university has been radically thrown into question and enrollment hits a record high, in part through the university’s draw to international students. As good humanists, celebration and commemoration take the form of probing questions rather than balloons and high-fives (although we definitely like those, too). As we hail the 150th anniversary of the land grant institution of the state of Illinois, we thus ask: what is a public university? What was it good for in the past and what is it good for now? What vision of higher education did Abraham Lincoln inaugurate when he signed the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act in 1862? Why did the first president of the university, John M. Gregory, believe that an institution devoted to agricultural and industrial education must teach its students history, classics, philosophy, art and literature? How has the very notion of the “public”, one of the central values of the American republic, become so denigrated and devalued and how should universities and colleges respond?

The History Department is devoting the sesquicentennial year to debating these questions in dialogue with faculty, students, staff, alumni and the public of the state of Illinois. Bob Morrissey, associate professor of History and upcoming Mellon Faculty Fellow in the Environmental Humanities, will steward programming in his role as director of the department’s nascent “Center for Historical Interpretation”, (now in the tenth year of its informal existence as the intellectual heartbeat of History). We will kick off the year on September 21 with a happy hour event at the Illini Center in Chicago in honor of a collection of essays edited by Swanlund Professor emeritus Frederick Hoxie. Entitled, Engine of Innovation, the book’s 27 essays celebrate and critically examine the university’s unique legacy of sponsoring innovation across the sciences, arts, and humanities. This event – which reprises an earlier rendition on our own campus in April 2017 – will feature Morrissey and Hoxie alongside some of the book’s authors, who will present their findings on the achievements – and challenges – in transformational research in our campus history. You can read one take on the book at the Big Ten Network website.

The year will continue with a series of guest speakers presenting different aspects of the University, organized by the University Archives in cooperation with History. Visit the University of Illinois Archives website for the schedule of talks and events. We will also host a monthly seminar focused on “Teaching the History of the University of Illinois”, which will rotate meeting venues through the University Archives, the Spurlock Museum, the Prairie Research Institute, and Gregory Hall. The seminar will combine discussions with tours and presentations, all geared to help participants design classes and lessons around aspects of the university’s history. For more information and to sign up, contact Bob Morrissey at: rmorriss@illinois.edu.

To showcase the department’s vision of this pedagogy, in fall 2017 we debut a new 200-level course on the History of the University (developed by Dana Rabin with support from the Ethnography of the University Initiative). This will become a permanent element of our curriculum and allow students to use our exceptional archival and library resources to conduct independent historical research on myriad aspects of our campus. To help bring these lessons to elementary and secondary educators, a professional development workshop each semester for K-12 teachers will offer content coverage, teaching resources, and sample assignments to help area teachers incorporate these histories into their classrooms.

The History Department’s digital documentary publishing unit, SourceLab, led by John Randolph, will provide another venue for us to encourage both students and the larger public to explore Illinois’ role in the history of innovation. One problem the University faces is that many of the transformative contributions we have made—to scholarship, civic life, technology and commerce—are poorly understood, in part because no one has access to materials that document them. To have a living sense of history, people not only need to hear scholars talk about it: they need a window on the past they can look through themselves.  As part of “Placing Illinois in History”, students from SourceLab will work with local and visiting experts to create exciting digital editions of select sources documenting Illinois’ place in history. The result will be a new set of sources the public can read alongside the Engine of Innovation commemorative volume.

All things Illinois do not end at the end of the coming academic year. For 2018-2019, the CHI will shift its focus to the bicentennial of the state of Illinois, broadening our inquiry into the “public” of Illinois to address issues of memory, spatiality and history. On the 200th anniversary of Illinois, how do we understand our state’s past? It is an interesting intellectual problem given our status as a – if not the– quintessentially Midwestern state. While other regions have been the subject of important historical interpretations (the U.S. South carries “the burden of Southern History” while the U.S. West lives with its “Legacy of Conquest”) Midwestern history and memory have received less critical attention. Our program will aim to reexamine burdens and legacies in the past of Illinois, exploring the ways in which the popular image of the state’s and region’s past often obscures historical realities that shape our present. In critically examining history and memory in Illinois, we will reprise the activities of the founding generation of professional historians in Illinois, people like Clarence Alvord, UIUC professor, founder of the Journal of American History, and organizer of the Centennial History of Illinois, which brought Illinois history to light on the occasion of the 100-year anniversary.

We greatly appreciate the generous support of the President’s Office, the Vice-Chancellor for Corporate Relations and Economic Development, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Center for Advanced Study, which has made these two years of exciting programming possible. We urge you all to join us in Placing Illinois in History at our events in the coming years.

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Introducing “The Humanities in the Public Square@Illinois” blog series

Humanities scholars have long had multiple audiences in mind. The turn toward public humanities in the last decade has extended the reach of what we do, fueled in part by a sense of urgency about communicating our work to as broad a set of publics as possible. In the process, we have the opportunity to call some public communities into being and bring others into clearer view. At The Humanities in the Public Square@Illinois we feature posts by faculty and students working in various aspects of the humanities and seeking both to showcase upcoming events and draw new audiences to the many lively, vibrant humanities programs and events that animate the campus and beyond.

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Thank you for Reading!

Thank you for Reading! Reading Matters is ending but the IPRH Blog is not. Check back in the fall for our new series: “Humanities in the Public Square@Illinois”

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Food Studies and M.F.K. Fisher

Marika Christofides is Associate Acquisitions Editor for Anthropology and Food Studies at the University of Illinois Press. 

As a publishing professional, I don’t read outside of work nearly as much as I used to. But every time I do discover a new book or writer that I love, it can feel like discovering the power of literature all over again. That happened to me this past summer with M.F.K. Fisher. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is one of America’s preeminent food writers: the 27-or-so books she authored between 1937 and her passing in 1992 offer meditations on life, love, and hunger which are sometimes compared to and even said to surpass Ernest Hemingway’s writings during the first part of this time period. Not only that, but she is famous as the first writer to use food as a cultural metaphor in an era when food was seen as unworthy of thought or comment, essentially inventing modern food writing and its many sub-genres. Newly minted as the Press’s acquiring editor in food studies, I thought I should learn more about her. So I picked up The Art of Eating, a collection of her five most popular books – “Serve it Forth,” “Consider the Oyster,” “How to Cook a Wolf,” “The Gastronomical Me,” and “An Alphabet for Gourmets” – and took it on vacation with me.

I thought I wouldn’t like this book. I grew up in a food-obsessed household, where my mom kept an impressive collection of fancy cookbooks and Saveurs that I think may have dated from before I was born. I used to read them for fun, so I was no stranger to what I thought I recognized as a particularly stuffy kind of food writing: nostalgic for a European agricultural past, prescriptive about the purity of ingredients and the authenticity of recipes, insistent that *good* food “must” cost a lot of time and money.

Instead, The Art of Eating – and particularly “Serve it Forth” – reminded me of something that it’s easy to forget: food is more than just food. In Serve it Forth, Fisher interpolates essays that capture pivotal moments in her life through food, with essays that use culinary history to reflect on culture at large. A story about trying to impress a new romantic partner by taking him to a favorite Paris haunt after several years absence, only to find that the place has changed hands and her favorite waiter is an old drunk on the verge of being fired, is followed by a (hilarious) narrative of the fall of Rome through culinary excess. Her writing has a melancholy quality combined with a wry, matter-of-fact sense of humor that I really appreciated.

In one of my favorite chapters, “Borderland,” she describes a personal food ritual from her time in Strasbourg: “In the morning in the soft, sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.” At the time that she was writing Serve it Forth, Fisher and her first husband Al had already separated. Fisher uses her share of “must”s, and she gives detailed instructions for how to enjoy a proper dinner party (as it turns out, you can’t invite more than six people). But “Serve if Forth” isn’t so much about The Good Life as it is about food as the stuff that our relationships—to ourselves and to each other—are made of.

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Patty Jones: What I’m Reading

Patty Jones is Associate Director for Research at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

I am always reading three or four books at the same time, usually a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I got a Kindle Paperwhite for a holiday gift, so now I am also starting to read e-books more often. I just finished reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo as an e-book and loved it. I had never read Saunders’ work before, and it was an unexpected treat. The book is an unusual style of fragments from different narrators, but it does tell a story that is elegiac yet sometimes playful. As a parent myself, I also found certain plot elements particularly wrenching. Now I am reading The Book: A Cover to Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of our time by Keith Houston – and this is a book that you must have in a physical hardcopy because that is precisely the point. It is beautifully made with lovely paper and stitching, makes interesting use of color, and is also “meta” – the physical book itself has annotations pointing out its hinge, binding tape, foot, and so on. It is a concise and well-written history of the elements of the book – the invention of paper from papyrus to parchment to wood-based paper; the invention of writing, illustrations, and more. Right now I’m enjoying reading about illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages.

My second book I recently found at the Illini Union bookstore – Seven Words for Wind: Essays and Field Notes from Alaska’s Pribilof Islands by Sumner MacLeish. It is a short and beautifully written account of the author’s move to the Pribilof Islands that includes elements of ethnography, nature, journalism, and history. Each chapter is named after a type of wind in the Aleut language; for example, “Asxi-lix” means roughly “to go against the wind”. The colonialism elements of this history still reverberate with the native Aleuts to this day. The natural world is dynamic, harsh, and beautiful, and its exploitation by fishing and other industries is a fact of life. The people are a wonderful mix of perspectives. It makes you think about your own “village” and why it is the way it is. My third book is one that I purchased a long time ago and finally popped open – the time travel science fiction classic The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. A 1983 everyman English professor gets swept up into a secretive millionaire’s scheme to travel through time – but this is only possible during certain windows of time and space. I am only about 15% of the way through the story so far, and it is very engaging to see nineteenth-century London through the eyes of a somewhat modern American. It is fun, mysterious, and fast-paced, and I can certainly imagine it as a really cool HBO mini-series. Speaking of which, if I was in charge of HBO, here is my slate of books to turn into the next Game of Thrones-style lavish juggernaut series of mystery and adventure:

1. Orphan of Creation by Roger MacBride Allen.

2. The “Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer.

3. The “Hyperion” series by Dan Simmons.

4. The “Pliocene Saga” by Julian May.

5. Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card.

(PS: And, I am really looking forward to “American Gods” later this month on Starz!)

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Books That Changed the World: The Third Annual History Soapbox

Marc Hertzman is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies for History. 

What am I reading right now?  Baby books to my son, class material, and a few primary and secondary sources for research.  Beyond that I’m stuck in a familiar purgatory of seemingly endless, unfinished New Yorker articles, with no good books in sight.  Fortunately, on March 30th the History Department will be holding its Third Annual Soapbox, a raucous event sure to inspire anyone out of the reading doldrums.  During the Soapbox, faculty, students (grad and undergrad), and staff compete to make the best case in six minutes or less for why one single book changed everything. The incomparable Carol Symes won the first competition with a mesmerizing performance punctuated with the literary equivalent of a mic drop—she concluded by slamming her book shut.  What book did she argue changed everything?  The Justinian’s Law Code, a smart choice since most people consider it to be the world’s first, um… book!  Last year, our amazing chair Clare Crowston won with a somewhat more controversial selection, Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom.  This year’s contestants will bring arguments for a new and truly inspiring list of books, some of which you have surely heard of – The Communist Manifesto, presented on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, George Orwell’s 1984, Virgil’s Aeneid – and others that you may well not have: for example, Gustavo Gutierrez’s Teología de liberación (Liberation Theology) and one of our boldest entries yet: The English Football Association’s 1863 Rules of Association Football.


On March 30th, the Soapbox will begin at 7:00 PM in 210 Illini Union (General Lounge) and conclude only once a winner has been declared.  Please join us to be inspired, to debate, and to propel your favorite book to victory in the Audience Favorite category.  Hope to see you there!

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Celebrating Literary Achievement at UIP

Angela Burton is the Rights & Permissions/Awards Manager at the University of Illinois Press.

I am the awards manager at the University of Illinois Press, and it is always a good day at work when I can inform my colleagues that one of our books has won an award. Editors and other press staff are always very excited for the authors who have worked for years on their books, and it is gratifying to find that a book has not only reached its audience of scholars but also been recognized as exceptional in its field.

Nearly 120 UIP titles have won awards since 2011 from numerous organizations–including the American Folklore Society, Association of Black Women Historians, Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Modern Language Association, National Communication Association, Organization of American Historians, and Working-Class History Association. Over the last year, about 20 of our books have won awards, and a handful of titles have been recognized by more than one organization.

Daisy Turner’s Kin: An African American Family Saga by Jane Beck is one of those titles. It won the Chicago Folklore Prize from the American Folklore Association (AFA) and the Wayland D. Hand Prize from the History and Folklore Section of the AFA and was named a Choice 9780252080791Outstanding Academic Title.

Daisy Turner was born in 1883, the daughter of freed slaves. She was the caretaker of her family history, which she had learned from her father, Alexander Turner. He was born in 1845 as a slave in Virginia, escaped slavery during the Civil War, and moved to Vermont, becoming a farmer and marrying and raising a family. Alexander Turner had learned of his family’s story from his father, who had been born in Africa, and Alexander was adamant that his children know this history.

Daisy Turner became the family chronicler, with a narrative of her family going back four generations. Jane Beck, a folklorist for the Vermont State Arts Council, interviewed and filmed Turner in the mid-1980s. Daisy Turner died in 1988, and Beck spent the next thirty years writing a history of the family. A review in the Oral History Review stated, “If you are interested in how oral history can lead to discovery and help chronicle a family legacy, then you will find [this book] a necessary guidebook.” Beck researched the Turner family’s history, using written documents and archival sources, skillfully interweaving Daisy’s narrative with her own research. Describing the importance of the Turner family history, Beck states, “Seldom is an oral family narrative transmitted so fully across the generations. While memory is considered unreliable, it is always meaningful. This book considers how memory and fine storytelling can serve as a signpost to recorded events and enrich historical documents by offering emotional content from an individual perspective.”


Cara Finnegan’s Making Photography Matter: A Viewer’s History from the Civil War to the Great Depression, explores the rhetorical practices of viewers of photography, as it became the primary visual medium in the late nineteenth century. To explore this history, Finnegan provides four fascinating case studies: reactions of Americans to photography during the Civil War (including “spirit photography”); responses to an Abraham Lincoln portrait in the decades after his death; use of photography by opponents of child labor amid a changing view of childhood; and responses of viewers to the Farm Security Administration photography exhibition during the Great Depression.

Finnegan finds rhetorical traces of reactions to photography in the written evidence of the time period, including articles, court testimony, speeches, and comment cards, to show how engagement with photography in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries helped viewers negotiate and address anxieties and crises of U.S. public life, including war, grief, national identity, poverty, and the economy.

Viewers, she concludes, were not passive observers of this medium; they were rhetorically conscious and created sophisticated arguments about photographs. They engaged in discourse using a repertoire of “presence, character, appropriation, and magnitude,” and Finnegan determines that viewership was not identical or fixed but was contextually located in time and place within interpretive communities that helped guide the responses. Making Photography Matter won Outstanding Book of the Year from the Visual Communication Division of the National Communication Association in 2015 and the James A. Winans and Herbert A. Wichelns Memorial Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Rhetoric and Public Address from the NCA in 2016.

Another multiple award winner is Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures by 9780252081101.jpgL. H. Stallings. Describing Funk the Erotic as “part critical theory, part philosophy, and part cultural manifesto,” Stallings argues that scholars should regard funk, a multisensory and multidimensional philosophy, as an alternative methodological tool to Western philosophies for the study of black sexual labor, sexual expressivity, and sexual culture. The book maintains that the use of explicit sexual expression in black literature and culture was a rejection of the Western will to truth, a literary tradition that Stallings terms funky erotixxx. Stallings argues that those who produced in this genre were proposing “a notably different understanding of sexual and erotic labor because they are also exploring new sensoriums and ways of being that cannot and do not align with Western traditions of humanism.”

Stallings uses the idea of transing, drawn from queer theory, to explore black sexuality and culture without the moralizing judgment and stigmatization of Western culture and to show how the use of funk by black communities provides alternative knowledge about imagination and sexuality. She embarks on an enthralling transdisciplinary study of black sexuality within multiple texts and media, incorporating literary theory, affect theory, legal scholarship, dance studies, music and performance criticism and theory, feminist theory, and queer of color critique.

Thoroughly engaging and thought provoking, Funk the Erotic won the Emily Toth Award for Best Single Work in Women’s Studies from the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) and the Alan Bray Memorial Book Award from the GL/Q Caucus of the Modern Language Association. The book was also a finalist in the Lambda Literary Awards in LGBT studies.

More information about award-winning titles from the University of Illinois Press can be found here: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/awards.html.


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A Newly (Re)born Comic Fan

Mara L. Thacker is an assistant professor and the South Asian Studies librarian at Illinois.

I read Archie comics pretty regularly as a kid. They were a special treat that I could sometimes finagle my mom into buying me in the grocery store checkout line. I also religiously read the Sunday comics in the newspaper. Even so, it never would have occurred to me to call myself a comic fan. I also never would have imagined that I’d start a South Asian comic collection that would become core to my professional life and research.

For the most part my relationship with comics as an adult has been attending academic lectures about comics, reading articles and chapters about comics and libraries, and reading comics from India (which have relatively fewer fans in the United States). It’s nice to feel like an authority on South Asian comics but I felt a bit like an outsider here in the US, unable to speak the language of DC, Marvel, Image, and Vertigo. Reading comics and graphic novels from the US felt like a giant “should” hanging over my head. Which of course meant I dragged my feet despite all warm welcome and recommendations I have received from the comic fans in my life.  But then…

A friend lent me a copy of volume one of Brian K. Vaughan’s graphic novel series, Saga. And thus, finally, I began my journey as a voracious devourer of graphic novels. Saga now has a firm place in my list of top books of all time because it is the book that made me fall in love with American graphic novels as an adult. I’m a big reader so this is a high honor because I like so many books that I have very few that I would designate as favorites. My favorites earn that distinction both because of the writing and aesthetics, and because of the emotional impact or transformative power they have had in my life (if you want to know, my other favorites include: Half of a Yellow Sun, The Art of Racing in the Rain, A Fine Balance, and Veronika Decides to Die).

Saga is a love story and it is also story about a war between a planet and its moon, which grows to encompass other universes as the fighting is outsourced to other planets. It’s impossible not to draw parallels between the destruction sowed by racism and hatred in Saga and the current global political climate.

What do I like so much about Saga? First, I love the aesthetics of the art. The colors are vibrant and the artist Fiona Staples captures an extraordinary depth of expression in the characters. And these characters aren’t just human—there are robots, animals, aliens, cyclops, and animal-human hybrids. My favorite is Lying Cat, whose dialogue is minimal but has an often comedic effect when she points out that people are lying.

Beyond the detailed artistic renderings of these characters, I love how complex they are written too. The heroes are not purely good, nor are the villains purely evil. Sometimes the text and art come together in ways that are so evocative that the reading experience leaves one overcome with emotion. Even micro-interactions and practically anonymous characters can move one to tears. For example there is one scene where a field medic mouse from one of the planets conscripted into the outsourced battle explodes because he was not given proper equipment.  He is in the act of saving an injured ally from a more powerful planet when a chemical weapon is deployed. His eyes become large and liquid as he realizes with horror what is about to happen to him and the casual banality of his death, which could have so easily been prevented had his more powerful allies cared to protect the less privileged conscripts is horrifying. Yet equally at fault is the other side which violated a treaty against using those weapons. The resonances with the current global geo-political situation are stark. Illustration of the medic mouse scene

So what’s a newly (re)born comic fan to read next? Here are my post-Saga picks that will accompany me during my morning coffee over the next few weeks. Note, because I am myself, this list does contain an Indian comic. Along with the name and title, I’ll include a small explanation for why they made the list:Photo of the below mentioned comics

  1. Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda: A gorgeous graphic novel with art deco/steampunk influenced art created by women with a female protagonist. (Note this isn’t in the above picture because as soon as I finished it, I lent it to a colleague)
  2. Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire: A dark, post-apocalyptic tale of a young boy who is half human and half deer. The art has a rawer feel than Monstress and Saga, but it fits the tale well and it is beautiful colored by Jose Villarrubia.
  3. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy, and John Jennings: Did you know that Chambana is home to a New York Times bestselling comic author? As of last week, Kindred is the New York Time’s number one bestselling hardcover graphic book and Damian Duffy is a recent PhD graduate of ISchool and a current instructor. A very timely adaptation.
  4. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra: Recommended to me by the same friend who recommended Saga, this series imagines that there is only one man left on earth and follows his travails to discover why he is the only male survivor in a female-only society.
  5. Invincible by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker: A series about the children of superheroes as they begin to develop their own superpowers and contemplate becoming superheroes in their own right.
  6. The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jackie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson: The premise of this series is that every ninety years, twelve gods are incarnated as human pop stars. As someone who studied Religion in undergrad, I can’t wait to see how gods are depicted as pop stars.
  7. Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen: This series has been recommended to me several times as a fun, female-centered series that has women creators as well as the protagonists. The intended audience for this series is good deal younger than the others on this list, but it seems to be enjoyed by adults and kids alike.
  8. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd: Having recently watched the movie and been thoroughly creeped out giving the resonances with today’s political climate, this graphic novel seems like a must-read. Alan Moore is a legend in the comic world and I would be remiss without reading his work. It also helps that one of my favorite colleagues consistently describes this as one of her favorites.
  9. Black Mumba by Ram Venkatesan, Devmalya Pramanik, Rosh, Kishore Mohan, and Aditya Bidikar: This is a noir comic anthology in which the main characters are Dev of the Mumbai Police and the city of Mumbai itself. The art is all in black and white which only serves to highlight the different artists’ styles. It’s gorgeously rendered, and captures well some of Mumbai’s darker idiosyncrasies.

Illustration of Black Mumba

If you have any recommendations to pass along for some of your most beloved comics or would like a tour of the South Asian comic collection at Illinois, please get in touch! You can email me at mthacker@illinois.edu.

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Why I (Used to) Hate Poetry

Jane Desmond is a professor of Anthropology and  Gender and Women’s Studies.

Well, of course that isn’t really true.  I never really “hated” poetry;  I just actively avoided it.  Yes, I appreciated the occasional haiku printed in the newspaper, or the well turned line of a rap song, or a dynamic performance at a poetry slam…but I never sought out books of poetry. I never reached for a poem when it was time to read something other than the densely theoretical, closely argued (and oh so heavily footnoted ) academic texts that are my daily working landscape as both scholarly author and reader.  Leisure reading, for me, was usually a mystery novel, a reliably engaging, narrative piece of genre fiction with enough twists and turns to keep me interested (say, something by Henning Mankell, since I’m partial to Scandinavian writers, and once got to sit at “Mankell’s table” in a restaurant in Malmo, Sweden.) Poetry demanded too much attention, like literary novels. Somehow, I felt I had to “get ready” to read poetry. I had to clear my mind, marshall my resources, and function on all cylinders to enjoy the complex play of dense semiosis. Reading poetry was clearly too much work after a day of working.

This is why I shocked myself on vacation in Maine last summer by buying a book of poetry—totally voluntarily.  Reading it through, dipping in as into a box of chocolates…testing out each poem.  Poking the edges to see if I liked it.  Then, coming home, I went on-line and bought every other book of poems written by my new favorite poet. When they arrived, I read each and every poem in each book, a few each evening, like a dessert at the end of the day.  I fantasized about writing poems myself.  This was another totally out of character event for a person whose last written poem was one she published in her high school literary magazine decades ago.  I even (get this), went on-line to see if my new favorite poet was teaching writing in a summer workshop somewhere so I could study with him. (Unfortunately, no, for he is busy right now being the Poet Laureate of Maine.)

What was it about these poems that turned me into a poetry reader and buyer? There was a combination of bite-sized ness that made them seem alluring, not exhausting. I didn’t have to “get ready” to read say, a sonnet, or a poem of ten pages. These were one, two pages at the most.  And each had a concrete image that grabs the reader, hooks her into a journey of thinking and feeling, and then takes a swift twist at the end , a sort of dancing contre temps that flips the line of thought from the minute detail to the large scale, the concrete to the symbolic. That little mental gymnastic move gave me the great pleasure of surprise and reflection with each poem.

Photo of Stuart Kestenbaum

Stuart Kestenbaum

The poet is Stuart Kestenbaum. It is no accident that for nearly three decades, right up until about a year ago, he directed the Haystack School of Crafts in Maine—one of the leading crafts schools in the country. I found his books when I visited Haystack last summer. It is place of concrete creation united with daring imagination…a mind-opening place perched above a stunning ocean cove, where artists craft beautiful surprising things out of humble everyday materials like cloth or willow or clay. Kestenbaum too starts with the humble, the concrete—the welcomed warmth of a coffee cup in the hand, the whine of the straining engine of an old car trying to start in winter’s 5 below.

I wanted to put a sample poem in here, but copyright probably forbids it.  Still, it is easy to find many samples of his work on line, including at www.thesunmagazine.org,  and at writersalmanac.publicradio.org.   I’m not his only fan of course.  U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser says:  “Stuart Kestenbaum writes the kind of poems I love to read…heartfelt response to the privilege of having been given a life.” And there is a sort of grace in these poems, a deeply felt thanksgiving for that privilege.  The titles of these slim books, published by small independent presses, reflect that: Pilgrimage, House of ThanksgivingOnly Now, and Prayers and Run-on Sentences.  These books about giving thanks and making pilgrimages are not prayers in a religious sense, although Kestenbaum’s Jewish heritage emerges explicitly in some lines.  Rather, they are prayerful in that they speak about large forces moving in the world and beyond.  They capture moments of knitting together the tiny mundanity of daily actions and larger questions of existence that, if we listen as Kestenbaum does, always haunts those actions and gives them meaning, crafting a politics of relationally between people, among communities, and with the material world.

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