The death of Michael Brown and recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, have brought national attention to issues of racism and inequality. Many WUSTL professors have weighed in, including Clarissa Rile Hayward in a recent blog post for the Washington Post. The following podcast from November 2013 features Hayward discussing her book How Americans Make Race: Stories, Institutions, Spaces.
Here in St. Louis and across the country, it has been difficult over the last two weeks to pay attention to anything other than the ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri. The death of teenager Michael Brown and subsequent turmoil in Ferguson have sparked a nationwide conversation on race relations and inequality - a topic that Hold That Thought confronted throughout our series American Identities last fall. Over the next few weeks, we will be re-posting some of these episodes, as well as talking to faculty experts about their reactions to Ferguson.
In her collection Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays, author Eula Biss asserts that "nothing is innocent." Even telephone poles are marked by the country's history of slavery and colonization. Biss pairs the personal and the political in her writing, and in Notes from No Man's Land, she offers candid reflections on the role of race in her own life and in American history. Biss teaches writing at Northwestern University.
Notes from No Man's Land was first posted on September 18, 2013. In the podcast, Biss describes "The Hood," an essay by CJ Harrington. Harrington, a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote the essay for a contest sponsored by the university's First Year Reading Program.
This episode features two experts: Derek Hirst, professor of history, and Steven Zwicker, professor of English, from Washington University in St. Louis. For decades now, the scholars have been researching Andrew Marvell, a 17th century English politician and poet. Marvell presents a challenge because the details of his life are relatively unknown, but what survives are his political texts, his poems, and the works his contemporaries wrote about him. Professors Hirst and Zwicker explain how they used their areas of expertise to bring these two seemingly-disparate versions of Marvell, the politician and the poet, together into one man.
Oskar Kokoschka, an Austrian expressionist painter and playwright in early 20th century Vienna, had a torrid affair with a woman--his muse--named Alma Mahler. When it ended, Oskar was devastated, feeling that he couldn't live or work without her. So, he did what any man would do: he had a life-size doll likeness of Alma made, which he continued to live with to inspire his work. Henry Schvey, a director, playwright, and professor of drama and comparative literature at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote a play based on this period of Kokoschka's life. He tells the story of how he first met the artist and explains how he turned the historical facts into a play.
Today, we consider the memoir. How do authors write about their own histories as well as family and loved ones who might very well read their book? Does time change the way we right about these stories and personal tragedies? Kathleen Finneran, a writer in residence at Washington University in St. Louis, talks about her memoir The Tender Land: A Family Love Story, which focuses on her family and how their lives are altered by the suicide of her younger brother, Sean. She considers how writing the book affected her personal grieving process and chronicles her family's surprising reaction to the book.
So far, we've considered how authors and historians portray lived-lives in their creative or academic works, but what about creative works from the past? Can they too be "reinterpreted" in the present? Poet Paul Legault, co-founder of the small press Telephone Books and a writer in residence at Washington University in St. Louis, tackled questions such as these with his 2012 book, The Emily Dickinson Reader: An English-to-English Translation of Emily Dickinson's Complete Poems. He'll discuss how he sought to connect present readers with these works from the past by translating these beloved poems back into English, and how translation is a broader concept than simply substituting one language for another.
Historical fiction is an ongoing balance between fact and fiction, but what if the story takes place outside of reality? What if much of the story takes place within a dream? How do you keep readers rooted in time and history? Author Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, a Visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, addresses questions such as these in her award-winning novel Madeleine is Sleeping. She explains why her favorite historical novels never feel "historical," and together we examine the role of time in fiction.