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Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Patrick Mulcahey has published a passionate, insightful corrective to the movie Dallas Buyers Club on the Huffington Post. Drawing on the larger history of AIDS activism and his own experience working with Project Inform, he writes the work of gay men back into the story. (The fact that a movie about the AIDS crisis needs to have this type of corrective is pretty shocking). I think this is my favorite part: “I’m a writer myself. I get the attraction to the unlikely hero, the conversion story — St. Paul struck by lightning on the road to Damascus. But nobody goes on to claim that St. Paul invented Jesus. Dallas Buyers Club steals our story and tells it like we weren’t even there.”

By the way, Patrick is not only the winner of 6 daytime Emmys, he is also my cousin.

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I spent last weekend at the Society for the Study of Women Writers (SSAWW) conference, which is held every three years.  This was probably one of the best–maybe the best?–conference I have attended.  It is a literature conference, but with a focus on historical context.  Almost every panel I went to was interesting and intellectually stimulating.  And the other attendees, including very well known academics, were friendly and helpful.  Just wonderful.

Closer to home, I am a member of the  Women Writing Women Lives Seminar (WWWL), which is made up of an inspiring group of feminist biographers who meet one a month during the academic year.  Twice a year, the group also sponsors a works-in-progress lecture at the CUNY Graduate Center. This October 29, Diane Jacobs will speak about her The Lives of Abigail Adams and Her Sisters: Threefold Cord.  I’ve always wanted to know more about Adams, who often seems to get reduced to her “Remember the Ladies” comment.  (Not that the quote isn’t great.) 4-6 PM, 365 5th Avenue, Room 9204.

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I have been from this blog for too long.  Hopefully, this post will be the start of more regular updates.
I was excited to read about Jim Down’s forthcoming book Sick from Freedom in the New York Times this week.  The book addresses the health crises which freed people faced after the Civil War.  As press material for the volume explains, “With emancipation, African Americans seized the chance to move, migrating as never before. But in their journey to freedom, they also encountered yellow fever, smallpox, cholera, dysentery, malnutrition, and exposure.”  This book forms an important part of our ever-evolving understanding of Reconstruction.  I may show my students this article in the fall to help them understand historiography. (Another good book which complicates our understanding of this time is Ronald E. Butchart’s Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876, which I reviewed for the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society last year.)

Downs’ interest in this project was inspired in part by his work on the Harriet Jacobs Papers. I joined the HJ team after he had left, so we never crossed paths, except when I used his research reports to write annotation. I do wish the Times had mentioned that the papers had been published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2008, and that the volumes include important annotation about disease in the post-emancipation South.  (Instead, the article links to the kind-of-clunky website I helped put together in 2002, which has my name in the web address.  It looked ok for the time!) But it was still good to see Harriet Jacobs mentioned.

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Marie J. Kuda has written a nice review of Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography on Lambda Literary.  I especially appreciate the fact that Kuda puts the book in the context of the larger historical project of uncovering  “the female enclaves buried under patriarchal scholarship.” And, to be immodest, of course I like this: “Culkin has added a highly readable, well annotated study to the increasing pantheon of creative lesbians supported by networks of friends and lovers.”

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Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography is included in the November edition of  Midwest Book Review’s Biography Shelf.  There are some other books that look fascinating as well, including “Stay By Me, Roses: The Life of American Artist Alice Archer Sewall James, 1870-1955.”  Hopefully now that winter break is almost here, I will have a chance to read a few of them.

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A few weeks ago, Red Fox Books, in Glens Falls, NY, announced the sad news that it would be closing, the victim of a particularly bad local economy and ebooks.  Now St. Marks Bookstore, in NYC’s East Village, is threatened.  I remember going to this store when it was still actually on St. Marks Place when I was visiting NYC in college; it was always a highlight of my trips and seemed like a portal to the world of the city and the life I wanted to live here.  Some books from those trips still sit on my bookshelves.  I’ve never completely cozied up to the store’s (relatively) new space on 3rd Avenue, which is very slick and modern and a little sterile, compared to the funky warmth of the old space.  But the content of the shelves still can not be beat.  There is currently a petition drive to ask Cooper Union, the shop’s landlord, to lower its rent so the store can survive.   Peter Cooper founded Cooper Union–which still has free tuition–specifically to make education accessible; I hope the school will consider helping save a beloved local bookstore a part of that mission. I’ve signed the petition, and now I’m going to buy a book.

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This past weekend, the New York Public Library celebrated the centennial of the magnificent building which houses its research collection with a series of events.  The one I was the most excited about was the tour of the stacks.  As many of you know, the  42nd Street research library is a closed stacks  institution.  Users fill out a form and submit it, and 20 or so minutes later the book appears at desk in the middle of the reading room. The forms until very recently were sent downstairs, to the 7 floors of stacks below the reading room, by pneumatic tubes, but I believe, sadly, that system has at last been made obsolete.  Anyway, the whole process seems very mysterious and slightly magical to someone like me, who has has spent countless hours in the building.  Most people on the tour seemed to feel the same way, especially the woman who had tears in her eyes she was so excited about seeing the stacks.  Perhaps not surprisingly, once we got down to the stacks, I felt like I was in a Wes Anderson movie set, in a charming thicket of  old card catalog cases, shoots and conveyor belts, call slips and (of course) books.

There is also a wonderful exhibition of some of the library’s treasures.  Highlights for me were seeing Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, Jack Kerouac’s diary that served as the basis for On the Road and the first book published by Europeans in the Americas, from the 1500s.  The oddest item might have been Charles Dicken’s letter opener–the handle was the paw of his beloved cat Bob, who had passed away. The exhibition’s curator Thomas Mellis is making a series of videos about some of the artifacts.

Another highlight–models of the library’s famous lions (Patience and Fortitude), made of Legos.

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