Category Archives: Books

PUSSY RIOT’S NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA: ‘YOU CANNOT PLAY NICE WITH PUTIN. HE IS INSANE. HE MIGHT OPEN FIRE ON HIS OWN PEOPLE’ ·

(Zoe Williams’s article appeared in the U.K. Guardian, 3/8; Photo: ‘I’m in a panic, I’m crying every day’ … Nadya Tolokonnikova at a concert in Tennessee earlier this month. Photograph: Paul A Hebert/LiveMusicToday/REX/Shutterstock.)

 The Russian artist – who spent two years in a Siberian jail for singing an anti-Putin ‘punk prayer’ – is using NFTs to fight the dictator, raising $7m in five days. At a time like this, she says, only activism will keep you sane

Nadya Tolokonnikova is in a geographically undisclosed location, speaking to me on Zoom, in a Pussy Riot T-shirt, looking purposeful, driven and singleminded. Her feminist protest art has been deadly serious since its inception, when she founded Pussy Riot in 2011. The watching world may have been entertained by its playful notes, the guerrilla gigs in unauthorised places, culminating in the event for which she was prosecuted, in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, when she sang Punk Prayer: Mother of God, Drive Putin Away.

But the consequences have always been seismic and severe. Tolokonnikova, along with two other members of Pussy Riot, were sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism in 2012, separated from their very young children, went on hunger strike, endured unimaginably harsh conditions and were named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

Tolokonnikova is “nomadic by nature”, she says. “This planet is my home. I’ve always been an anarchist. I’m not really a big fan of borders or nation states.” But beneath those abstracts there are concrete dangers. She was declared a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin in December, as was the independent news outlet she founded upon her release from prison, Mediazone.

 “Putin just signed a law that said you’re going to get 15 years in jail for even discussing the war in Ukraine,” she says matter-of-factly. “You cannot even call it a war, you have to call it a special military operation.” The jeopardy of being a known Russian dissident is greater now than it has been in decades, and nobody understands that more keenly than Tolokonnikova, who was born in 1989, too young to remember Perestroika.

Yet her focus is anything but self-protective. When Putin invaded Ukraine on 24 February, she and various collaborators from the world of cryptocurrency launched the Ukraine DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation). It was a 1/1 non-fungible token (NFT) of the Ukrainian flag, and the group invited people to bid for collective ownership of the image, raising $7.1m in five days.

“We felt, me and my friends in crypto, that we had to react somehow. I’m personally convinced that in situations like this, activism is the only thing that can keep you sane. Just looking at disasters and tragedies and not doing anything about it is really detrimental for the world, but also it slowly destroys you and makes you feel helpless.” The money has already been distributed to the organisation Come Back Alive, which has been mobilising support for the Ukrainian army since 2014 with medical care, ammunition, training and defence analytics.If you fight with a dictator like Putin, you have to show them that you are ready to die – and I was

Tolokonnikova is devastated by the invasion of Ukraine. “I’m in a panic, I’m crying every day. I don’t think it was in any sense necessary, I don’t think it was in any sense logical. It wasn’t something that had to happen, it’s a disaster that will end thousands of people’s lives. I’m freaking out.” Yet she never had the luxury of complacency about what Putin was capable of. “The global community was extremely complacent, and I see two reasons: hypocrisy, based on greed. People would make statements that they did not support Putin’s politics, and his oppression of the political opposition, and the wars that he started – this isn’t the first war by any means. But at the same time they would continue doing business with him.” Nobody was interested in following the money; asking how the oligarchs coming out of Russia, fetching up in Europe and Miami, had come upon their vast wealth.

“Stupidity,” she continues, bluntly. “This is the second reason. People underestimate how dangerous dictators are. In 2014, we spoke to the UK parliament, we spoke at the Senate in the US, we were asked by a lot of people how they should talk to Putin, how they should frame the conversation, and I always advised that they should be as strict as they could. You cannot play nice with Putin.” This wisdom was won, not so much by her arrest for offending the thin-skinned leader but during her time in prison. “Dictators act a lot like prison wardens. They treat kindness as weakness.”

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DIAGHILEV AND ME: DISCOVERY REVEALS BALLETS RUSSES MAESTRO WAS ALSO A MONSTER ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/20; Photo:  Nijinska, right, and her brother Nijinsky in L’Apres-midi d’un Faune, 1912. Photograph: Baron de Meyer. Eakins Press Foundation.)

The dance impresario ‘cruelly’ sabotaged the careers of others in a bid to keep all the glory to himself, according to a new biography

He was the Russian genius who founded the celebrated Ballets Russes in Paris in the early 20th century and whose revolutionary influence on the world of dance and theatre design is still felt today. But, despite his extraordinary talents, Sergei Diaghilev resorted to underhand and even vicious tactics to ensure that the spotlight remained firmly focused on him, according to new research.

Professor Lynn Garafola, an American dance historian, discovered a previously unpublished text in which Bronislava Nijinska, the dancer and one of the most innovative choreographers of the 20th century, wrote of Diaghilev’s attempts to claim credit for the work of fellow artists – even blocking their employment elsewhere.

Nijinska, whose brother was the celebrated dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, had joined the Ballets Russes in 1909. She wrote: “[Diaghilev] victimised the ballet artists when they left his company and tried by all means possible to prevent their employment by other companies… he hindered their receiving an entry visa to England.”

She added: “Everything had to originate with Diaghilev. He considered himself the creator and the ruler of the Russian Ballet, and all had to submit to him.

“To create one’s own and to destroy somebody else’s – this was his principle. But such a principle seemed to me not only dangerous but also unworthy of a great man.”

Diaghilev considered himself the creator and the ruler of the Russian Ballet, and all had to submit to him.–Bronislava Nijinska

She continued: “Diaghilev was beside himself when the new company of Ida Rubinstein was organised. [He] conceived a hatred for us and vowed to destroy us … This great man regarded as a mortal enemy anyone who … encroached on ‘his’ art: I personally was subjected to cruel reprisal: Diaghilev criticised me maliciously and impeded my work in every way.”

Nijinska, who died in 1972 aged 81, had trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg and joined the Mariinsky Theatre company in 1908. She danced with the Ballets Russes, like her brother, and choreographed several ballets for the company, including Les Noces, which was described by the writer HG Wells as “the soul itself of the Russian people in sound and vision”.

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WHY MARLON BRANDO’S STREETCAR CO-STARS COULDN’T STAND HIM ·

(Isaac Butler’s work appeared in Slate, 2/1. Excerpted from The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act. Used with the permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury. Copyright © 2022 by Isaac Butler Photo: Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in A Streetcar Named DesireJohn Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images. Via Pam Green.)

“An impossible, psychopathic bastard,” fumed one.

Marlon Brando was cast in Streetcar almost against his will, and he was not the first choice for the role of Stanley Kowalski. Originally, producer Irene Selznick had wanted John Garfield for the part, but negotiations broke down over Garfield’s demand to be cast in any future film of the play and his refusal to commit to a long stage run. Bill Liebling, an agent whose wife, Audrey Wood, represented Tennessee Williams, thought Brando was perfect for the part of Stanley but couldn’t reach him to tell him to audition. By the summer of 1947, Brando had drifted away from acting after being fired from a Tallulah Bankhead vehicle. He didn’t have a phone or an easy way to be reached.

Liebling had to put the word out on the street, telling everyone he knew that if they happened to run into Brando, they should tell him to call the office. On Aug. 20, Brando finally auditioned for Elia Kazan, who immediately knew he was right for the role. Irene Selznick, however, was still hopeful they could get Garfield or, failing him, someone else famous. Williams’ last play, The Glass Menagerie, had been a hit, but Streetcar was still a risk. A name star would make the show a surer thing. Besides, wasn’t this kid too young for the part? Kazan persisted. Selznick agreed to cast Brando, but only if they could get him to audition for Williams at the playwright’s house in Provincetown. Brando told Kazan he had no money to make the trip. Kazan gave the young actor bus fare and told Williams to expect him.

Brando was always irresponsible, but his irresponsibility reached spectacular heights when he was ambivalent and conflicted, as he was about both acting and the role of Stanley Kowalski. He’d been mistreated by Tallulah Bankhead, mistreated by acting teacher and director Erwin Piscator, who had demanded an obedience from Brando that he was incapable of giving when he was a student, and mistreated by his father, whom Stanley resembled in more ways than one. Did he want to do this? Did the ever-restless Brando want to commit to doing the same thing eight times a week for the foreseeable future? While he tried to figure that out, he spent Kazan’s bus fare on supplies for a party at the apartment of his friend Maureen Stapleton.

When a week went by and Kazan hadn’t heard anything, he phoned Williams, only to learn that Brando had never shown up. At that moment, Marlon was hitchhiking to Provincetown. There, he met up with Ellen Adler—daughter of his acting mentor Stella Adler, and his former lover— and trudged over to Williams’ house. When he arrived, Williams and his friends were sitting in the dark, occasionally getting up to pee in the woods. A fuse had blown, the toilet was broken, and the house was full of artists who had no idea how to fix either. Marlon quickly repaired both toilet and fuse, wowing the assembled guests. “He was just about the best-looking young man I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. That night, Marlon read the role for Tennessee, who could see, moments after Brando started talking, that they had found their Stanley.

Soon all of America would see what Williams saw in Marlon Brando, and would embrace both him and the strange new kind of acting he embodied. This new way of performing was remarkably suited to a style of playwriting that emerged alongside it. As Brooks Atkinson described it, “There had been a latent feeling after World War I that something could be done to solve the problems of human existence rationally.” In the interwar years, dramatists like Clifford Odets, Thornton Wilder, and Robert Sherwood had channeled this optimism into their work, only to watch, aghast, as the problems of the ’30s were “concluded … by the desperate organization of the nation into a war machine to produce goods and armies to kill human beings.”

A new darkness entered American drama in response. During World War I, plays about the military had been, in Atkinson’s formulation, “fond propaganda.” During World War II, however, Americans wrote plays like Arthur Laurents’ Home of the Brave, a difficult drama about a Jewish soldier’s survival guilt, or John Patrick’s The Hasty Heart, about wounded servicemen in Burma. Even John Van Druten’s smash romantic comedy The Voice of the Turtle, about a jilted actress who begins a romance with a soldier on leave, is shot through with melancholy.

There was lighter fare to be found—Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit, Mary Chase’s Harvey, and Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday joined revivals of The Front Page and Lady Windermere’s Fan—but serious American drama had only gotten more pessimistic. It also turned inward, the same direction in which American acting increasingly pointed. The end of World War II did nothing to abate this pirouette toward darker, more introspective territories. Anxiety over what the war had done to the human soul found its way both into film noir and into Arthur Miller’s searing Ibsenian drama All My Sons, which portrayed the ideal small-town American family as a mirage hiding war profiteering and corruption. The 1946–47 season in which All My Sons premiered on Broadway also included Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, a play whose characters fritter their lives away in an alcoholic haze, prisoners of empty lies and pointless dreams.

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THE MANY VISIONS OF LORRAINE HANSBERRY ·

(Blair McClendon’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 1/17/22; Photo:  With “A Raisin in the Sun,” Hansberry became an emblem of American progress. Photograph by David Attie / Getty.)

She’s been canonized as a hero of both mainstream literature and radical politics. Who was she really?

It is a lonely, wild, and often fatal thing to be Black and brook no compromise. Lorraine Hansberry was rigorous and unyielding in her life, but she was gone too soon and claimed too quickly by those who thought they understood her. Like many other Black giants of her time, her image proved pliable in death. She was turned into a saint so that her life could be turned into a moral. Yet she struggled beneath the weight of her own complexities and sorrows. She achieved literary celebrity but called herself a “literary failure,” was supported in a marriage that ultimately collapsed, resisted her family but didn’t denounce it, became an icon of the civil-rights movement that she relentlessly criticized, and wrote a masterpiece only to watch as it was widely misunderstood.

When I first encountered “A Raisin in the Sun,” I treated the play with suspicion. I was in high school, and thought that any Black writer who received such universal praise must have, in some way, sold out. I followed Hansberry’s protagonist, Walter Younger, Jr., as he confronted the future, “a big, looming blank space—full of nothing.” I watched him try to fill that space, begging and plotting and raging and falling into the abyss of deferred dreams that still swallows people whole. Despite my best efforts, I was moved. Perhaps I had succumbed; perhaps I would sell out, too.

But I had misread Hansberry. She knew all about Black success in America—its rewards, its costs, its limits—and her vision of it was murkier and more unsettling than she is given credit for. “A Raisin in the Sun” was the first play written by a Black woman to appear on Broadway—in 1959, when Hansberry was twenty-eight. It was an instant hit, and Hansberry’s age, race, and gender made her an emblem of American progress. “Raisin” follows the rise and fall and rise again of the Youngers, a Black mid-century family trying to turn its loss into a legacy. Walter Younger, Sr., has died, and the payout from his life-insurance policy promises to transform his family: five people across three generations squeezed into a kitchenette on Chicago’s South Side. Walter’s widow, Lena, uses part of the windfall for a down payment on a home in a white neighborhood. Against her better judgment, she entrusts another part to Walter Younger, Jr., to open up a liquor store, instructing him to set aside enough for his sister Beneatha’s medical-school education.

It is very nearly a tragedy. Walter believes so deeply in the American Dream that he cannot see the traps laid in his path. His business partners swindle him, and he loses everything. He is offered a devil’s bargain to gain a small portion of it back: a white man from the Youngers’ new neighborhood offers to pay them to relinquish their house. Things can be set right if they will give in. But Walter, who has considered his whole life a failure, refuses to say “yes, sir” yet again. The curtain closes as the family prepares to move into their new home.

On its surface, “Raisin” was the perfect play for its time. The Youngers are dignified, working-class folk, hemmed in by injustice, demanding nothing more than their fair share of the national bounty. For liberal white audiences, the play suggested an uplifting moral about universal humanity. For liberal Black audiences, it was consistent with the messaging of the civil-rights movement.

But Hansberry was more radical than her broad appeal would suggest. This was the same playwright who would later insist that it was quite reasonable for Black people to “take to the hills if necessary with some guns and fight back.” As Charles J. Shields writes in his new biography, “Lorraine Hansberry: The Life Behind ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ ” (Henry Holt), Hansberry’s ex-husband and longtime collaborator “wept with disappointment” over the early reviews. They struck him, Shields explains, as “too mild, and none of the themes or ideas were touched on about Black family life, the stresses of poverty, the conflict of the generations—nothing.”

In recent years, the puzzling paradox of how a Black lesbian Communist became a darling of mainstream America has been explored in multiple biographies, including Imani Perry’s “Looking for Lorraine” and Soyica Diggs Colbert’s “Radical Vision,” and in Tracy Heather Strain’s documentary “Sighted Eyes / Feeling Heart.” Shields’s portrait is the latest attempt to expand our sense of the personal struggle behind the public figure, and to illuminate the many contradictions that she sought to live and work through.

Hansberry was not raised to be a radical. She was born in Chicago in 1930, the child of an illustrious family that was well regarded in business and academic circles. Lorraine’s father, Carl Augustus Hansberry, was a real-estate speculator and a proud race man. When Lorraine was seven years old, the family bought a house in a mostly white neighborhood. Faced with eviction by the local property owners association, Carl fought against racially restrictive housing covenants in court. Shortly before the case was argued, a crowd of white neighbors gathered outside the Hansberry home. Nannie, Lorraine’s mother, stood watch with a gun. Someone hurled a brick through the window, narrowly missing Lorraine’s head. When the police finally arrived, one officer remarked, “Some people throw a rock through your window and you act like it was a bomb.” It was 1937. The bombing of Black families would come.

Carl Hansberry’s fight wound up before the Supreme Court, where he won his suit; Lorraine, perhaps, learned something about the need to stay and fight for what you deserve. Or at least that’s the neatest version of the story. Shields’s biography lays out a more complex narrative of political inheritance. Carl was not just a warrior against housing segregation. He was also, Shields says, the “king of kitchenettes,” a businessman who spotted an opportunity in Chicago’s rapidly growing Black population. Urban housing was scarce, in part because white landlords refused to rent apartments to Black families. Carl, through a few intermediaries, set about “blockbusting”—getting white families to sell cheaply by moving Black residents into their neighborhoods. He’d buy a building, then erect flimsy, flammable partitions dividing the apartments into cramped kitchenettes—like the one that the Youngers yearn to escape. “When a decent return on rental property was 6 percent, Hansberry was making 40,” Shields writes. This unseemly fact has been glossed over by some biographers, who have described Carl Hansberry as an entrepreneur. The complaints from his renters make clear that “slumlord” is a more accurate description.

For Lorraine, being the daughter of a kitchenette king was a problem from the start. Shields describes her being sent to kindergarten in an expensive white ermine coat, then shoved to the ground by her classmates, leaving the fur stained. As she grew up, she drifted away from the politics of her parents, who remained committed Republicans even as most Black voters were shifting their party allegiance; at the University of Wisconsin, she began campaigning for Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party. After the police turned up at a local protest that Hansberry attended, her parents forbade her to continue supporting the insurgent candidate. “I am quite sick about it,” she wrote to a close friend. “They are afraid Little Lorraine will call up one night from the police station and ask for her pajamas.” She kept volunteering for Wallace.

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PERFECT HOLIDAY BOOKS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY ·

 

Great reads for Christmas and the holidays 2021, represented by Marit Literary Agency:

REAGAN’S COWBOYS: INSIDE THE 1984 REELECTION CAMPAIGN’S SECRET OPERATION AGAINST GERALDINE FERRARO 

by John B. Roberts II

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Reagan’s Cowboys is something of a memoir of Robert’s career with the 40th president, and as such, it’s a time machine back to the days of typewriters, hard-line telephones, and Marlboro cigarettes…be grateful to Roberts for giving us history as it actually happened, uncensored and un-politically corrected. …Roberts gives us glimpses of a huge cast of characters in Reaganworld”―Breitbart

When rumors about Geraldine Ferraro–the first woman vice-presidential nominee by a major party in U.S history–reached First Lady Nancy Reagan during the 1984 presidential election, a secret operation was launched to investigate her. It revealed Ferraro’s ties to organized crime and the extent to which she would have been subject to pressure or blackmail by the Mafia if elected. Written by an insider responsible for running the investigation, this never-before-told story goes behind the scenes as an incumbent president’s campaign works to expose a political opponent’s mob connections. Part detective story, part political thriller, the narrative features all the major players in the Reagan White House and 1984 reelection committee, with revealing anecdotes about Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

NEXT-LEVEL BASS FISHING: INNOVATIVE TECHNIQUES THAT HAVE ELEVATED THE WORLD’S BEST ANGLERS TO THE TOP

by Joe Kinnison

 

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Tips to become a bass fishing pro!

While many people catch fish, even the occasional lunker, few actually acquire bass fishing proficiency. The popular view is that anglers who achieve such prominence do so through a collection of vices. These afflictions range from luck, to fraudulence, to worst of all, patience. Few, however, talk about the true qualities that lead to angling success. That’s what Joe Kinnison, himself a sportsman, gathered in Next-Level Bass Fishing: the tips, options, strategies, and winning methods, to allow those who fish recreationally to employ the knowledge base of a pro.

Five professional anglers work with Joe to identify distinctive characteristics that elevate the best in the field. Bassmaster Elite pro Tyler Carriere illustrates a structured approach to fishing. Six-time Ladies Bass Anglers Association (LBAA) Angler of the Year, Pam Martin- Wells explains versatility as she takes readers on a tour of her favorite waterways. Brandon, Palaniuk, two-time 2020 tournament champion and one of the leading money winners on tour, discusses details such as hormones and sensory ranges of his quarry. Christiana Bradley teaches focus, and Destin Demarion provides an example of productive originality. When qualities are translated into lure selections and lake terrain targets, the results are far superior to those of the average angler reminiscing about how one got away.

Kinnison explores the key relationships, the innovative techniques, and the special places that have elevated the world’s best anglers to the top of their craft. Next-Level Bass Fishing is the next-best thing to touring with the pros.

THE SHERIFF 

by Robert Dwyer & Austin Wright

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Sheriff John Donovan is fighting to maintain his grip on Three Chop, Texas, the town he built and has ruled with an iron fist for twenty years. But as the twentieth century looms, Donovan faces a host of new challenges: powerful business interests, religious schism, and the budding women’s rights and Prohibition movements. As he navigates these changing times, making friends of enemies and enemies of friends, a twist of fate brings to Three Chop a gang of fearsome outlaws looking to wrest new riches and settle old scores. How else could such a struggle end but with bloodshed? A final showdown forces the residents of Three Chops to take sides, to choose between the town’s past and future.

Called “one of those rare modern Western fiction classics” by New York Times best-selling author Jeff GuinnThe Sheriff pays loving homage to the Western genre while brilliantly puncturing the myths of the Old West.

FIELD OF BLOOD: A GRIPPING MODERN WESTERN SET ON THE USA’S SOUTHERN BORDER

by Wayne Allensworth

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A modern Western…

In a small Texas town, the fallout from a globalized world tests the boundaries of loyalty and identity and the deepest attachments of the human heart. Parmer, Texas is a casualty of a clash of cultures and peoples, as the Mexican drug war opens a front in a town that has sent its men to far-flung battlefields. The town’s veterans, “the soldiers”, face a fight for the very existence of the place they call home, while the fate of one man may determine the future of Parmer and the fates of the soldiers themselves.

Field of Blood confronts the human tragedy playing out on America’s southern border.

“Wayne Allensworth provides a powerful and moving meditation on American modernity – part gritty action yarn, part compassionating polemic, part evisceration of spiritual emptiness. Across his grand, boldly-coloured, tragic landscapes, confused prisoners of circumstances kill or are killed, while republics and civilisations bleed in and out of each other, and everyone and everywhere are compromised” Derek Turner, author of Sea Changes

“This is a true, and terribly beautiful, novel by an artist of considerable ability. Wayne Allensworth has written a fine novel worthy of comparison with some of the best American works of fiction in recent times.. . .” Chronicles Magazine

Wayne Allensworth worked as an analyst for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from 1991 to 2002. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernisation and Post-Communist Russia. He lives in Keller, Texas.

EVENINGS WITH CARY GRANT: RECOLLECTIONS IN HIS OWN WORDS AND BY THOSE WHO KNEW HIM BEST 

by Nancy Nelson

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Charming, witty, effortlessly debonair, and elegant, Cary Grant was the ultimate leading man, a silver screen icon who seemed to embody all that a movie star should be. But beneath the glamour was a real and complicated man–a surprisingly vulnerable, unabashedly romantic, and often exacting perfectionist, who rose above a traumatic childhood and failed marriages to become an incomparable Hollywood legend. In this sublimely truthful and candid portrait biographer Nancy Nelson draws on interviews with Grant, as well as material from his personal papers, along with loving revelatory reminiscences from some of his closest friends and loved ones, including Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Quincy Jones, James Stewart, and many more to reveal the vaudevillian, actor, lover, and father. With a treasury of both well-loved and rarely seen photographs–and a foreword by Grant’s wife Barbara and daughter, Jennifer–this is the definitive biography of one of the screen’s greatest stars

THE LONG SHADOW 

by Phyllis Wheeler

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Winner of a 2021 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award!

Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1  (6/4/2021)

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13. 

“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.

“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.

“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild. 

“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author. 

“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable.  A well done and powerful story.  It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.

ANNE CARSON’S OBSESSION WITH HERAKLES ·

 

(Casey Cep’s article appeared in the New Yorker,11/1; Illustration by Lilli Carré’.)

In “H of H Playbook,” the poet considers war, guilt, and the mythological strongman.

“H of H Playbook” imagines a demigod who wears overalls and steals a Corvette.

No woman could get away with it. Murdering her children is all she would ever be known for—ask Medea. Yet Herakles, often called by his Roman name, Hercules, is known for everything else: slaying the man-eating birds of the Stymphalian marsh, the multiheaded Lernaean Hydra, and the Nemean lion, with its Kevlar-strength fur; capturing the wild Erymanthian boar, the golden-antlered deer of Artemis, and the Minotaur’s father; stealing the girdle of Hippolyta, the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides, the flesh-eating mares of Diomedes, and the red cattle of the giant Geryon; mucking the Augean stables in a single day; and kidnapping the three-headed dog Cerberus from Hades.

Those dozen labors have inspired countless playwrights, poets, and philosophers throughout the centuries, not to mention Walt Disney Pictures. In the cartoon version of the tale, from 1997, Hercules’ hardscrabble climb from the lowly farms outside Thebes where he was raised to his rightful place atop Mt. Olympus beside Zeus—who, in the myth, fathered Herakles with a mortal, Alcmene, the wife of a Theban general, Amphitryon—seems like a mashup of “Survivor” and “American Idol.” “Person of the week in every Greek opinion poll,” Disney’s Motown-style muses sing, capturing the contemporary image of the mythical figure. Neither the children’s film nor any of the other pop-culture depictions of Herakles mentions what he was famous for among the ancient Greeks: murdering his wife, Megara, a Theban princess, and their sons.

Almost everyone believed that the gods made Herakles kill his family, but exactly when he did so was the subject of some disagreement. Many people thought that his labors were punishment for his crimes, feats of strength by which the fallen hero could propitiate the gods; others claimed the labors preceded the massacre, suggesting that violence always begets violence. That’s how Euripides told the story in “Herakles,” which was first performed some twenty-four hundred years ago and which has recently been reimagined by the poet Anne Carson, in “H of H Playbook.”

Like Herakles, Carson gets away with everything in this strange and surprisingly timely book. A cross between a dramaturge’s dream journal and a madman’s diary, it features Carson’s transformed version of the Euripides play, rendered in handwritten lines and blocky paragraphs of pasted word-processor text, alongside original illustrations: marked-up maps, smears of blood-red paint, haunting sketches of human figures and tortured faces, pencil and eraser stains that resemble heaps of ash, plus the occasional glacier and lion. A facsimile of Carson’s own personal playbook, “H of H” is a performance of thought, one that speaks not only to the heroic past but to the tragic present.

Only a few dozen of the Greek tragedies remain, among them works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. These plays were the rock concerts of their era, staged not by candlelight inside small rooms but in grand theatres in the bright light of day before some ten thousand people. For a play like “Herakles,” a large chorus would sing and dance in a circular orchestra space near the audience, at the edge of the stage. Meanwhile, on the stage itself, a troupe of three actors performed all the roles: the hero, his wife, his father, his friend, and the usurper of his throne.

Without playbills, the audience relied on dialogue to know who was who, and discerned the plot partly through conventions of staging and posture. Take the opening lines of “Herakles,” which Carson first translated fifteen years ago, publishing it along with three other plays by Euripides in a volume called “Grief Lessons.” The lines are spoken by a man sitting beside an altar, surrounded by a younger woman and her children: “Who does not know the man who shared his marriage bed / with Zeus?” Even if an audience member was too far away to catch every word of that question, the actor’s low-to-the-stage position would convey his humble situation, and the next bit makes clear that it is the cuckold Amphitryon speaking: “son of Alkaios, / grandson of Perseus, / father of Herakles, / me!”

Amphitryon’s sixty lines of woe are followed by another twenty-five or so from his daughter-in-law, Megara. Herakles has left them alone, vulnerable to the whims of the new king of Thebes, Lykos, who has sentenced the hero’s family to death. They have taken refuge at the altar of Zeus, not because he is Herakles’ father but because any mortal at the altar is to be spared harm, though Lykos announces that he is willing to burn the altar down if that’s what it takes to kill them. Herakles is off laboring; as best as anyone knows, he’s still down in the underworld playing dogcatcher with Cerberus. And so these lines establish the play’s first cliffhanger: Will he return in time to rescue his family?

But Euripides is interested not so much in heroic acts as in the origins and limits of heroism. Herakles soon arrives, reassuring his family that he will save them, and when Lykos comes to kill them Herakles kills Lykos instead. As always in Greek tragedy, the violence takes place offstage; the audience learns of the murder from the distant cries of the King, and from the celebratory song of the chorus: “The once great tyrant / turns his life toward death!” Then Iris, a messenger of the gods, and Lyssa, the goddess of madness, appear, supposedly at the behest of Hera, Zeus’ wife, who is still sore at her husband over the affair that produced Herakles. Together, Iris and Lyssa drive Herakles mad, prompting him to kill the family he has just protected. Those murders take place offstage, too, in a confusion of violence that the chorus can hardly describe. (Carson calls it a “berserker furor.”) When Amphitryon orders his son to look at the bodies, Herakles says, “I’ve become the murderer of my own beloveds.” Then, setting up the play’s second cliffhanger, he adds, “Shall I not be their avenger too?”

A family rescued only to be ruined, a hero resurrected only to threaten suicide: “Herakles” hinges on such reversals of fate. The rest of the play considers whether a man who sentences himself to death can be saved, and, if so, by whom. Ultimately, it is his friend Theseus, whom Herakles has recently rescued from Hades, who comes to his aid. Seeing “the ground covered in corpses” and learning, from Amphitryon, that Herakles is responsible, he concludes, “This agony comes from Hera.” Like Herakles, Theseus has both divine and mortal parentage, and he argues that just as the gods transgress against one another, so, too, do they transgress against humanity—but just as the gods are allowed to live despite those transgressions, so should demigods and humans be allowed to live even if they sin.

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JOE KINNISON’S IMPROV—THE WRITER AND ANGLER ON HIS NEW HOW-TO BOOK: ‘NEXT-LEVEL BASS FISHING’–FROM SKYHORSE ·

JOE KINNISON is on the hook for our latest interview, talking with SV’s Bob Shuman about getting started in bass fishing, enjoying the peace, beauty, and intellectual challenge of the sport, and sharing insights from the world’s top Bassmaster anglers:  Christiana Bradley, Tyler Carriere, Destin Demarion, Pam Martin-Wells, and Brandon Palaniuk. 

 

Joe Kinnison “sincerely promotes fishing for everyone.” His previous book is Oh’Fish-Al Innsbrook Fishing Guide, on fishing technique tailored to a lake resort community in Eastern Missouri. Joe is an officer in a St. Louis fishing club, and he has several bass tournament wins. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers Guild and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SOEPA). 

 

What did you hook your first fish with—and what are your first memories of fishing?

When I was in primary school, my parents bought a small farm. The farm was all of the way at the end of a miles long gravel road. A small neighborhood organization took up a collection to maintain the road, along with a well that served water to the community. The well was a short walk up the road from our site, and a roughly two acre, kidney-bean-shaped pond was just downhill from the well on common ground. The pond was difficult to approach. It was surrounded by weeds and generally not well kept. Still, we decided to try fishing in the pond one summer day. After trampling enough weeds to get to the water’s edge, we baited hooks with bobbers and worms and started casting. In what seemed like no time, we were reeling in bass, many of which were good size, at least to a kid. Nearly every cast produced a fish, and I remember getting worn out, more than feeling that we’d caught all we could.

What kind of bait do you use today?

I use artificial baits today, and I change baits depending on the forage of the lake and the season of the year. I have had some of my best fishing days, in terms of volume, fishing a lipless crankbait. A lipless crankbait is a fairly heavy lure which is shaped like a fish. The fishing line ties to about the center of the fish’s back which makes the lure wiggle as it moves. A lipless crankbait can be cast a long distance, and the lure is retrieved at a regular rate. I use the lure to cover flats, which are large, shallow sections of lakes. I have had some of my most prolific fishing days dragging a lipless crankbait up the deep edge of a flat and long distances over the submerged surface of the flat. When the fish bite this moving lure, they tend to bite hard. The long length of fishing line from the long cast gives the hooked fish room run, and surge, and jump.

How has your technique changed over the years—and what crucial insight did you have about it?

When I moved to St. Louis, I started getting together with a small group of anglers. We jokingly called ourselves the Bassin’ Assassins. About once a month, we would travel to a group of ponds on a friend’s farm. We were not a very experienced group, but the ponds were seldom fished. These bass would bite almost anything. I started by throwing an inline spinner, which is really more of a trout lure than a bass lure. The bass bit it anyway. Since the ponds were a forgiving environment for an up-and-coming angler, I started experimenting. What I learned is that I preferred to fish slow, rather than just rip baits along a path and try for a reaction strike. I liked making the bait appear natural and move like a real crayfish or a worm. I later learned that this style of mimicking prey is called finesse fishing. Finesse fishing is the method I most prefer. It is slower, it gives a good feel for the fish, and being able to tempt a fish with what it believes is actual food is rewarding.

Why do you think people give up on fishing—and is there a way to keep them going with the sport?

I have met many people who like catching, but don’t necessarily like fishing. I think most people get excited to have a fish on the line. They get to steer the fish, reel it in, control it, and grab its lip. Although that’s the excitement of the sport, catching does not always happen. Moreover, sometimes when it does happen, the fish do not fight, or they are too small to be challenging. During most fishing trips, there is a period of time when the fish are not biting. Those are the times when most people give up on fishing, finding it boring. Those that stick with the sport seem to be the anglers that start seeking solutions when the fishing is idle. They start changing lures, alternating retrieve cadences, or switching colors. They start to notice changes in water color or wind direction or sun angle. Those that begin to understand the natural elements that impact the catching. These are the ones that keep going with the sport. I think the best way to learn the types of things that matter to fishing success is to spend time on the water with someone who loves fishing, not catching.

You interviewed five professional anglers, affiliated with Bassmaster for this book—were there any commonalities to their experience and stories?  Are most people who fish helpful to the newcomer?

Fishing is a welcoming community, especially to kids. In my experience, anglers are like golfers, in that they are happy to recount the elements that led up to their par, what club, what distance, what line, and so on.  For anglers, it may be what reels and cranks, what location, or what technique. While some anglers protect their secrets, most are quite open in sharing their experiences. As for the professionals, the most common element of their stories is that they each had a mentor. Be it a grandfather, brother, or family friend, each angler had a generous fishing enthusiast take them under their arm and give them experiences on the water. Although fishing is the second most popular outdoor sport, fishing can seem to be a small and not mainstream community. Really, it’s not. You just need to find a friend.

What does a fisherperson do during the off-season?

The off-season for professional fishing may not be what you think, the off-season is actually in the fall. Professional tours start as early as February, and the season ends in July. While that is the professional ranks, I make the point in my book that I am far from a professional caliber angler. For me, the off season is what you might expect, winter. I live in the Midwest, and I am not a big fan of cold. Some of my peers travel to Arkansas each year to fish for trout in the Ozark mountain streams. Personally, I like the heartiness and the fight of bass, so I stick with that type of fishing. I give my boat a good cleaning about Thanksgiving time, and I park it until the Easter season. I spend the winter reading and writing.

Please discuss the issue of releasing fish after they are caught. Why would or wouldn’t you do this—is it ever required?

Choosing to either keep or release a bass is a thorny issue, and there are passionate opinions on both sides. Large and smallmouth bass are not good eating fish. They are edible, but they would not be a first choice among diners. As such, keeping these fish for food is not the norm. For most of my fishing tenure, catch-and-release has been the preferred method. Recently, however, lake management views have been changing. Bass tend to be the apex predators in most lakes. With few adversaries, the fish tend to overpopulate. When a bass population gets too large, sufficient food is not present to support all of those fish. The fish tend to grow to approximately the same size and compete for what nourishment is available. These fish tend to thin. The industry calls such fish stunted. The bulk of the fish population of a lake can be unhealthy, starving. Some of the new thinking is that small bass should be removed from lakes and rivers to try to prevent the stunting problem. With small bass being particularly hard to prepare as food, the question becomes what to do with them. Dead fish are better used for garden fertilizer or even left on the bank to feed birds and raccoons. Some animal rights people believe that culling small fish is inhumane. Other animal rights people believe that starving a population of fish is inhumane. There are good arguments on both sides. I am a believer that catch-and-keep is the best policy.

What is fish body language and how does knowing about it help when fishing?

Even experienced anglers generally do not know that largemouth bass can change color. The fish have the ability to express the green and black pigments in their skin, or they can mask those pigments. It would not be unusual to catch really green-looking bass on one trip, and then catch really white-looking bass on another trip on the same lake. Coloration depends on how deep the bass are swimming and how much vegetation is in the water. Bass express their pigments when they are in the weeds. The green shades make them harder to find. The suppress their pigments when they are in deep or open water. More whiteness makes them harder to see by other fish looking from the bottom toward the surface. The pigment provides information to the angler. If you reel in a white-ish bass, it does not mean the animal is unhealthy. Instead, it means the animal came from a deep, suspended position to bite the lure. In that way, the coloration of the bass tells you at what depth the fish are feeding. This is valuable information for the angler.

How would this book have been written if you worked on it ten years ago—what has changed in the field?

I do not think this book could have been written a decade ago. Like many pursuits, fishing has undergone tremendous technological change in the last ten years. In that period of time, the industry has developed high resolution sonar equipment, invisible fishing lines, and previously unheard of lure presentations like umbrella rigs. Due to the improvements in the technology, most anglers have been focused on trying new gear. The new gear has been effective in improving catch rates, especially for offshore fish. As the technology has been assimilated, in my experience, questions remained unanswered. For example, if we both have all of the greatest gear, what makes an angler on the Bassmaster Elite tour different from me? In looking for that explanation, it became clear to me that soft skills separate anglers who already possess the latest technology. It really comes back to the human elements to determine success. Mentorship is a factor. It is also sensory skills, creativity, and organization that make the true difference.

What do you discuss in the book that isn’t typically covered in fishing books?

This may sound mundane, but one of the things that I discuss is how to get on the water. Some of the nation’s best fishing lakes are overwhelmingly large. It can be a difficult problem just to get started, and no one tells you that perspective. I point readers to where to launch their boat, where to get a guide, where to stay overnight, and where to grab dinner. Such practical things are often omitted in fishing books. Beyond the practical, few other fishing books will inform readers about things like sensory training and improvisation techniques.

How long does it take, on average, for someone to feel confident in fishing?

Getting confident in fishing can take a while. I cannot really identify a precise timetable, but I would say about five years will not be far off. As with any sport, some people have a natural gift for fishing. They may be particularly aware of nature or unusually observant. These folks usually start fast. For the fast starters as for the rest of us, eventually the angler will have an outing where they catch nothing. A reliable bait does not work or no fish reside in a confident “honey hole.” At these times, whatever confidence the beginning angler has fails. What restores confidence is going back out on the water and trying different lures, different techniques, and different locations until one finds and catches the fish. Having to adapt to different conditions and different quirks is what ultimately makes a successful angler. One would have to have experienced several shut-out situations before becoming assured that success could be achieved under most  fishing conditions.  Personally, going onto a lake knowing that I can effectively fish crankbaits, or spinnerbaits, or soft plastics, or swimbaits is what ultimately gave me confidence. That and being able to consistently out-fish my brother-in-law.

Do you honestly believe that both sensory training and improv training really make a difference to an angler?

Both of these disciplines sound “new agey,” and “fluffy,” as in not tangible. I refer people to a scientific study of a baseball team that employed sensory techniques. The results were measurable. In the book, I tried to translate some of the sensory training ideas to outdoors pursuits. I have tried these sensory exercises, and I believe that they have helped my fishing. My most memorable response to suggestions for sensory training was an angry one. A very experienced angler chastised me for trying to teach people what for him was just being “in the zone.” I guess he had some natural abilities, and he was upset that I was teaching people how to make the best of their lesser gifts. Improv is also a tentative conversation for most anglers. People seem to think that I’m trying to get them to try out for Second City Comedy or something of that ilk. No, I’m trying to provide permission and instill a process for experimentation. Sometimes just knowing it’s okay to cast a jig with a purple streamer or a crankbait with a worm weight ahead of it on the line is acceptable as long as it is purposeful.

You really make the sport sound approachable and fun.  How were you able to do that?

Two teachers in particular had an influence on my life. A high school English teacher was a fiend for economy of language. Second, a college professor once lowered a grade on a paper saying that I turned in ten pages because I did not have time to write eight pages. He wanted editing and economy. I brought those sentiments into my professional life, and I became a big advocate for clarity and simplicity. I believe that writing in that fashion makes most topics approachable.

Fishing can get really complex, and the industry is heavy on jargon. I have heard professional anglers take more than a full minute just to tell you the details of their rod, reel, line, and lure combination. I do not think it needs to be that complicated. One of the things that I really liked about the anglers that I worked with is that they too kept it simple. For example, one only used two lure colors, among the hundreds of choices. If the pros can reduce the options to two, so can weekend anglers.

Finally, fishing is fun. Something about the man versus beast situation is primal. Fishing is a rite of passage. Getting proficient at fishing is really just calling upon skills you use in other areas of your life and channeling them productively into this particular pursuit. Most people have the life skills that enable at least some measure of success at fishing. I am hoping to draw these out of people so that they enjoy the peace, beauty, majesty, and intellectual challenge of the sport as I do.

Thanks so much, Joe, for talking with Stage Voices.

View Next-Level Bass Fishing at AMAZON

Photo permissions (from top): Skyhorse; Joe Kinnison; Tyler Carriere 

(c) 2021 by Joe Kinnison (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

PHYLLIS WHEELER SHINES A LIGHT ON HER TEEN NOVEL: ‘THE LONG SHADOW,’ FROM ELK LAKE PUBLISHING, INC. (INTERVIEW) ·

In her second interview for Stage Voices, Phyllis Wheeler talks race in America, during three different time periods; stranger danger and comfort zones; and walking a mile–in someone else’s shoes.

Author Phyllis Wheeler tells stories that encourage us to step outside our comfort zones. She’s done it—she and her husband spent twenty years raising their family in a black neighborhood in segregated St. Louis. She’s been a journalist, an engineer, and a homeschooling mom. Now she’s thrilled to be following her dream of becoming an author for young people. Find out more and get a free short story at phylliswheeler.com .

View The Long Shadow on Amazon

Visit Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.  

 

Photo by Arpit Mehta

Without giving too much away, tell us about your novel.

The Long Shadow is a racial reconciliation novel featuring time travel. Fourteen-year-old Richie, from white suburbia, thinks it is a good idea to run away from his guardian – until he finds himself whisked back 50 years, fighting to survive a freak storm, afraid to accept help from a black man.

As Morris mentors him in woodsman skills, a friendship develops. Richie wants to repay his life-debt to Morris and embarks on another trip in time, to 1923 in Missouri.  Can he prevent the lynching of Morris’s grandfather?

Why do you think The Long Shadow stands out in the youth market?

First of all, it’s on the topic of our times, racial reconciliation. Many people want to know more. Secondly, it faces a hitherto-taboo topic head-on. That topic is lynching. Our nation’s sad history of lynching and terrorism against Black people has been ignored or avoided in the past, but it’s high time we pulled it out and dealt with it, in my opinion. Thirdly, the book carries an emotional punch that’s unusual in middle grade fiction.

What seems to be important in writing for young readers (ages 10-14)?

  • Young people find role models when they read, so it’s important to have characters in your story readers want to emulate.
  • Personally I think a happy or mostly happy ending is important. Who wants to read a book and get depressed by it?
  • Beyond that, kids are looking for the same story elements as everyone else: relatable characters, strong plots that keep moving, a satisfying resolution.

All ages might notice your ability with structuring the novel, which takes place in three different times.  Why did you think you could make that work–and, for writers, how do you think and work with structure?

I worked with the basic three-act structure for starters, and then added a sub plot that has its own three act structure. I guess I thought I could make it work because I got positive responses from people who read the manuscript.

More details, if you are interested:

There’s a story setup in Act 1, present day. At the beginning of Act 2, Richie embarks on a journey to find independence, running off to the woods.  Richie eventually realizes he has been sent back fifty years somehow. Act 2 contains various setbacks and consequences as Richie, in the woods in 1969, interacts with a person of a different race, Morris, whom he fears. They begin to build a friendship.  Richie urges Morris to return to his family in town, but Morris has fears related to his grandfather’s lynching. And now the sub plot: Richie takes off for 1923 to try to prevent the lynching. That story contains three acts as well. After that sub plot finishes, we return to the main story, coming to resolution in 1969 and then the present day.

What kinds of research did the book involve?

I set the present-day sequences in Webster Groves, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where I live, so researching that was easy. The 1969 sequences were mostly set in a wooded area of my state where my husband and I have spent a lot of time, near Farmington, Missouri.  And, in 1969, I was 17 years old. I remember it so clearly. So the part I had to research was 1923 in Columbia, Missouri. I dramatized an actual lynching, that of James T. Scott. This took several days of research in libraries in Columbia.

Now, Columbia happens to be the home of a big university: Mizzou, the University of Missouri.  This had two beneficial effects for me:

  • Grad students over the years analyzed the town history, including Jason Jindrich in 2002 researching how Black people lived in Columbia in the 1920s.
  • Mizzou journalism school student journalist Charles Nutter was present at the mob scene and wrote extensive eyewitness reports.

If the lynching had been in a different town, I wouldn’t have had these resources. I chose that lynching to base my story on not because of that, though. It was simply the most recent one in Missouri on record at the time I checked, and I needed a recent one in order to make the time line work.

The Long Shadow has characters of different races.  As a white writer, what are the traps and issues you faced not being limited by only working with your own race? 

Because I’ve had so many Black friends and neighbors, I think I can walk a mile in their shoes, but I really can’t, I have discovered. I learned to lean heavily on feedback from Black people who read my work. They point out where I am off, and I tear things up if needed and fix it. It’s a humbling experience.

As a homeschooling parent, in the past, what kinds of learning materials did you look for–and how would you envision The Long Shadow being used in homeschooling and schools?

When homeschooling, I looked for materials that I could hand my students and they could do on their own. So I am working on a homeschool “unit study” of at least 20 pages that will serve as a literature study, covering some Missouri history and geography, learning to write haiku, and more. I’m going to put it up on my website at PhyllisWheeler.com/the-long-shadow .

For regular schools, I also have some free classroom discussion questions available. This book should generate some deep discussions on the topic of racism.

What is racism? In my mind, it comes from fear. We are all wired for stranger danger. So we all need to be aware of the negative aspects of that and be willing to reach out, reach beyond our comfort zones.

What did you find yourself learning, as you wrote? 

I learned a lot about the sordid history of the treatment of Black people in Missouri. I was shocked to discover that after emancipation their settlements were sometimes relegated to edges of creeks, which flooded, and without proper sewers, so the water was contaminated.  This happened both in Columbia and in the St. Louis suburb where I live. Even in the nicer Black neighborhoods, there was no paving or street lights.

I also did some introspection about my feelings on the subject of race and racism. That was an eye opener too.

Because of its setting, are you finding Missouri is becoming key to your sales?  To what extent do you think this is a national or international book and why?

Local Missourians seem very interested in a racial reconciliation book, and it’s selling well here. But it’s also doing well online. I believe the book speaks to anyone who has experienced a segregated environment. That’s a lot of people! It’s not just a kids’ book. I am finding that adults are reading the book and recommending it to each other. The reconciliation theme can speak into our divided culture.

How do you think your personal experience prepared you to write this novel?

I lived as a child in Jim Crow Mississippi. There were laws about segregation. There were whites-only bathrooms and water fountains. The schools were separate. The only time I saw Black people was in a store—and in my home. My mother hired a maid to clean our house once a week. The maid lived in a row of shacks just a stone’s throw from our middle class house in a subdivision. Those shacks must have had no plumbing and just some kind of stove for heat. They were primitive. The contrast was so great in my young eyes.

As I grew up I lived in many places. In St. Louis I got married, and we decided to raise our family in a Black neighborhood. We had some wonderful, welcoming neighbors who showed us the warm heart of the Black community, which most white people in St. Louis never see.

View The Long Shadow on Amazon

More about The Long Shadow:

Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable. A well done and powerful story. It is certainly stuck in my head.—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis

I loved this book. I could not stop reading it once I had begun. It is a delightful story, as well as a very painful one, told very well without a wasted word. I gladly recommend it to anyone. —Jerram Barrs, professor at Covenant Theological Seminary and author of Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts

I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author

Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.—Elsie G, age 13.

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

 

TOP 10 BOOKS ABOUT BALLET ·

(Erin Kelley’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/26; Photo: The Bolshoi ballet premieres its production Krakatuk in Moscow in January 2020. Photograph: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Tass.)

From Noel Streatfeild to David Hallberg, this is a literature of passion and madness, ambition and addiction

Two things that make us human are art and sport, and ballet is where those two things converge. When I was writing Watch Her Fall, a thriller about two rival ballerinas, I began with the basics: textbooks to learn the technical stuff; the big biographies. I was greedy for the ballerina’s routine, the rhythm of her day, the shape of her childhood.

More fascinating than the huge physical demands was the ballerina’s psychological steel. She must be tough enough to dance on bleeding toes and survive rejection and rivalry yet remain able to access vulnerability when she performs. The career is a time bomb, with few principals dancing beyond their 30s, and one wrong step can destroy everything. I read stories of passion and madness, ambition and addiction, heartland territory for a psychological thriller. The following are some of the best.

  1. Ballerina by Deirdre Kelly
    This is a comprehensive history of the ballet from its origins in the French courts, when the positions were more etiquette than art, and dancers were as much courtesans as artists. The book’s subtitle is Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, and Kelly expertly blends juicy gossip with an almost academic look at the contradictions of the ballerina: idealised, stylised, sexy but virginal, in constant pain but always, always poised.
  2. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
    This 1936 classic remains a touchstone for balletomane children. Orphans Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are adopted by eccentric Great Uncle Matthew; when the money runs out, they take to the stage to pay the bills. I believe the book’s endurance is down to its depictions of adolescence as much as the dance detail. The characters are complicated, enviable, flawed. Pretty Pauline’s temper tantrum is one of the best meltdowns in any literature, and results in one of the most relatable comeuppances. The writing is suffused with a teenage sensuousness: costumier’s fabrics such as organza and taffeta seem to caress the reader’s skin as well as the characters’.
  3. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
    There are surprisingly few adult novels about ballet, but this exquisitely written book sets the bar. It takes its title from legendary New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine’s command to his dancers, and his ghost is on every page. Joan, a young American dancer, helps Russian ballet star Arslan Ruskov defect from the USSR, then stages a defection of her own, to the Californian suburbs, to teach and raise a family. The book is as powerful on the sacrifices of motherhood as it is when evoking the heady atmosphere of 1970s Manhattan. But her son’s prodigious talent becomes impossible to ignore. She is pulled back to the east coast, and Arslan, with shattering results.

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HOW ACT UP CHANGED AMERICA ·

(Michael Specter’s article appeared in The New Yorkers, 7/7; Photo: In 1988, protesters laid siege to the F.D.A. for a day, one of many interventions designed to capture public attention.Photograph by Catherine McGann / Getty.)

The defiant group of AIDS activists was itself riven by discord. What can the movement’s legacy, of both ferocity and fragility, teach us?

One day in June, 1990, at the height of the aids epidemic, I sat in the auditorium of San Francisco’s Moscone Center and watched as hundreds of activists pelted Louis W. Sullivan, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, with condoms. Sullivan had been attempting to deliver the closing address at the 6th International aids Conference. The protesters, from the aids Coalition to Unleash Power, or act up, were there to stop him. Shouts of “shame, shame, shame” were accompanied by whistles and air horns. Like many people who were in the audience that day—I was there as a Washington Post reporter—I remember everything about the speech except what Sullivan said. Which was exactly what act up wanted. The group had been formed to force a negligent government to take aids seriously. Not every federal official came under attack that day. Just an hour earlier, Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s chief aids scientist, had received a standing ovation after he essentially endorsed the protesters’ agenda, warning his colleagues that they “cannot and should not dismiss activists merely on the basis of the fact that they are not trained scientists.”

It was a triumphant moment for act up, which had become known for its outrageous stunts. Behind what seemed like radical unity, however, the organization had already begun to split into two distinct camps. One believed that the best way to advance the cause was to continue to protest—loudly. The other did not reject public actions but didn’t focus on them; it was known as the Science Club, and had formed a kind of academy within act up.

In “Let the Record Show: A Political History of act up New York, 1987-1993” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Sarah Schulman, a novelist, journalist, and activist, chronicles the early years of a vigorously oppositional group that was itself riven by discord and factionalism. Any history of a movement presents an argument about its identity—about which internal tendencies most faithfully represent its mission and which betray it. Schulman has strong views on this subject. On one point, though, there can be little disagreement. When act up began, its founders could not have guessed how high the group would soar; they would have been even more surprised by the particular conflicts that brought it down to earth.

By the time act up was born, in 1987, tens of thousands of Americans—mostly gay men—had died of aids, and more were dying every day, even as the government remained largely indifferent. Early that March, Larry Kramer, the writer and activist who had helped found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, delivered a speech at New York’s Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, on West Thirteenth Street. “O.K., I want this half of the room to stand up,’’ he later recalled saying. “I looked around at those kids and I said to the people standing up, ‘You are all going to be dead in five years. Every one of you fuckers.’ I was livid. I said, ‘How about doing something about it? Why just line up for the cattle cars?’ ”

The aids Coalition to Unleash Power was formed two days later. Its members met at the Center on Monday nights. They came to plan actions and to socialize but also to get answers. More than anything, it was a safe place for people who had nowhere else to turn. They were, Schulman writes, “a despised group of people, with no rights, facing a terminal disease for which there were no treatments. Abandoned by their families, government, and society.” The New York membership expanded from an initial hardcore cadre of several dozen to several thousand, including many people who were neither infected with H.I.V. nor at much risk of becoming so. Although plenty of other cities started their own chapters, act up ny was always at the center of the movement.

act up members lived by a creed set out by Ann Northrop, one of the organization’s more media-savvy leaders: “Actions are always, always, always planned to be dramatic enough to capture public attention.’’ The activists delivered. They wrapped the home of the North Carolina senator Jesse Helms in a giant yellow condom; invaded St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Mass; laid siege to the Food and Drug Administration (“Hey, hey, F.D.A., how many people have you killed today?”); and dumped the ashes of comrades who had died of aids on the White House lawn. These and many other high-profile interventions raised awareness about aids. But the group’s most important accomplishments were not as easily captured in headlines. Because so many people with aids were forced to live on the streets, act up members founded a philanthropy that evolved into Housing Works, which directed resources (including money raised by a chain of thrift shops) toward aids services and homelessness. act up helped establish the first successful needle-exchange programs in New York City. It also took on insurance practices like the exclusion of single men who lived in predominantly gay neighborhoods.

Nothing the organization did had a more lasting impact, however, than the work of the Science Club, whose members served on act up’s Treatment and Data Committee. They would congregate each week at the East Village apartment of Mark Harrington, who, though he had no formal scientific training, eventually won a MacArthur “genius” grant for his work on aids. Harrington, a wiry man with reddish-blond hair, seemed both constantly in motion and unusually deliberate. As Schulman recounts, the gatherings in his apartment were like a “doctor’s weekly rounds,” where attendees discussed a particular problem and “assigned themselves immunology and virology textbooks.’’

Harrington was hardly averse to public demonstrations: he helped organize act up’s “Seize Control of the F.D.A.” protest, in 1988, and its “Storm the N.I.H.” event, in 1990. But he believed that anger had to be allied with expertise. He and other members of the Science Club came to know the arcane rules and the impenetrable bureaucracy of the F.D.A. better than most of the officials who worked there. They prepared a detailed assessment of N.I.H.-sponsored clinical trials, and argued that people facing almost certain death should have access to experimental drugs that had been shown to be reasonably safe, even if they had not yet demonstrated efficacy. By 1990, the F.D.A. had adopted this approach (known as the “parallel track”), which would make selected drugs available to H.I.V.-positive patients. The slogan “Drugs Into Bodies” moved from placards to policy: act up had forced a fundamental change in the way clinical trials are conducted in the United States. Today, drug candidates for life-threatening conditions are frequently put on a parallel track for “expanded access.”

Eventually, in what Schulman refers to as act up’s period of “distress and desperation,’’ the Science Club broke away from the organization, and, led by Harrington, it formed the Treatment Action Group, to focus on accelerating the pace of research. Although the tag defection involved fewer than two dozen people, it was a painful divorce, with unexpected repercussions. act up’s ferocity concealed a genuine fragility. The group fearlessly hurled itself against the medical bureaucracy, the Catholic Church, even the White House; what proved much harder to weather was its own crisis of identity.

Although “Let the Record Show” bills itself as a history, Schulman maintains that “a chronological history would be impossible and inaccurate.” She does hope to offer contemporary activists “general principles and takeaway ideas,” but her book is best approached as a sort of modified oral history, a curated archive of nearly two hundred interviews conducted over the course of two decades. One can open this seven-hundred-page book at random and find something interesting to read: a mini-biography, firsthand recollections of major events, contentious perspectives on the goals of different groups within act up. (The interviews—which Schulman did along with the filmmaker Jim Hubbard—are available online, as the act up Oral History Project.) Schulman draws, too, on her five years as an act up member, but largely eschews other people’s research, and the book provides scant interstitial narrative; some readers may struggle to put these passages into context. Still, her labors will provide an invaluable resource for the social history of the movement that remains to be written.

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