As I write this, it’s August, 2012, and sweet corn is beginning to be abundant here in Connecticut, where I live. This is my favorite season, and my favorite summer vegetable too. When I discovered this wonderful book, I picked it up immediately, and began to read it voraciously. I really like this book, and corn is, of course, an evocation of much more for the author and her readers. Atina Diffley has a great story to tell, and she tells it well in this lovely, powerful, evocative book.
Atina’s story is literally grounded by her connection to the earth and to living in community. As she tells us, she has always wanted to farm. As she has worked with the land to grow food, she has learned how farming is a synthesis of land and people. Wherever she is, along with her farmer husband, Martin, she is a sensitized and active member of her the ecosystem, paying close attention to the living world around her. It’s a great lesson for a world that seems alienated from the natural world. Atina tells us about how she came to being a local organic farmer, a story of farming within close range of the Minneapolis/St. Paul urb for more than thirty years. It’s been an incredible struggle, but also, an incredible success, as she shows how a conscious connection between farm and city, between farmer and the food system can create healthy systems that last. There are many practical lessons as well as inspiration, beauty, and sustenance here for anyone interested in building a new food system in America.
And in addition to a brilliant and beautiful story of land and living, Atina also tells the incredible story of the battle she and Martin led against the Koch brothers pipeline across Minnesota. It’s more or less mind boggling to imagine what they went through, and inspiring to see that it is possible for intelligent and organized opposition to powerful corporate forces can in fact be victorious – right over might.
This is a great book and one I am very happy to recommend to friends, family and colleagues. Talking to Atina about her book was a great pleasure for me, and I hope our conversation will be illustrative of how wonderful this book is. And thanks to the courageous and intelligent University of Minnesota Press for publishing this terrific memoir (a terrific publisher!). Having sold the farm to the food cooperatives that supported it for so many years, Atina is now an organic consultant and public speaker on farming and food issues. Her website is here. We had a great interview in which we covered a wide range of subjects related to her book and to the important issues she raises about our connection to the land, to food, to the reason why organic farming is so important, and to the meaning of food to our lives.
You really need to know the subtitle of this book to get the full impact – The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception. It is an incredible story, about a woman who became one of the leaders of the 9/11 survivors movement, who then turned out to be a complete fraud. How she managed to convince so many people of a story that was so much a part of our public experience (and so much a part of the terrible private experiences of other survivors and family members) is what makes this book compelling.
Journalist Robin Gaby Fisher wrote this book with Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr., a documentary film-maker who was very close to the main character of the book and who was part of the story itself.
Tania Head told a dramatic and heart stopping story of survival from an upper floor of the World Trade Center, and quickly rose to a position as leader at an early stage in the development of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network. She became a prominent public figure helping to establish the group, gave a public face to the survivors’ group, and was deeply emotionally involved in the lives of hundreds of people. Until her story unraveled and the truth became known.
It is a tricky thing for a writer to maintain the reader’s interest when the end of her story is already known – Fisher handles this problem successfully by painting an engrossing and detailed picture of Tania Head and all the people around her, and by keeping us waiting for the important details of how her story actually came apart. And while it is impossible for anyone to truly know and understand Tania, who will not speak publicly about anything at all, Fisher paints a deft portrait of a complex psychological being, who joins a long list of famous public frauds who have taken on personae that did not factually belong to them but whose beings were poured into their fantasies in service of deeply felt emotional needs.
It’s also hard not to wonder about the human need for heroes and leaders, which these sorts of confidence men and women prey on. This could happen to any of us, and perhaps especially when we are ourselves emotionally vulnerable and desperate for someone to show us the better side of the human spirit. In many ways, this story illuminates more about the nature of human suffering and stress than it could ever help us to understand the perpetrator of the fraud itself. It’s a very rewarding book to read and my discussion with Robin Gaby Fisher about the book will illuminate some of the important issues raised in her book.
Robin Gaby Fisher is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing and a member of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Newark Star-Ledger. She teaches Journalism at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.
Bill Bradley is one of my favorite contemporary politicians. I felt badly for all of us when he left the national political scene and then went to work in investment banking. Much like another politician I admire, Mario Cuomo, he is smart, well versed in a wide range of subjects, able to communicate complicated ideas without dumbing them down, and above all, he is passionately a humanist, who clearly likes people, and loves what America could and should be, as a leader on the world stage.
While I certainly do not agree with all of his ideas, what he has to say is well worth paying attention to, especially since he is so intelligent, and his arguments are so well reasoned, grounded in ideas and carefully constructed (how novel!) Moreover, he represents what the current political discourse so desperately needs, namely leadership that does not trivialize, demonize or mock those with whom one disagrees.
Bradley believes deeply in the power of citizens to make change, and dispensing with so much of what goes for political discourse these days, in We Can All Do Better Bradley makes a strong case for why America cannot continue on its current deeply divided, politically gridlocked, and ineffectual political, social and foreign policy paths.
Bradley first reviews the current “state of the nation.” He makes clear that, contrary to right wing pronouncements, government is not the cause of our problems. He rightly points out the damaging and dangerous role of money and politics, talks cogently about why and how our existing foreign policy, electoral, and economic paths will lead to a dismal future for America, and sets forth clearly and coherently what needs to be done to for us to make changes for the better.
As the book title says, “we can all do better.” Rather than blaming and scapegoating (groups of other citizens, the other political party, or just government itself) or as so many do, simply ignoring what we don’t like, and disengaging from the political process, Bradley continually and powerfully makes his case we can all—elected officials and private citizens alike—do a better job together. Bradley is a great voice for uniting rather than dividing, for working together, and for allowing ourselves to see more clearly who we are – and can be – as citizens and participants in the modern world.
Bill Bradley, born and raised in Missouri, was a star basketball player at Princeton, a Rhodes scholar, and then had a Hall of Fame career in the NBA. He was a three term senator from New Jersey, and ran for president in 2000. We Can All Do Better is his sixth book. He’s been involved in investment banking and serves as a corporate director for a number of companies. He hosts a radio show called American Voices on Sirius/XM satellite radio.
(“For 40 years, I’ve traveled around America listening to the stories Americans tell about their lives. I was always moved, and so I wanted to create a show where you can hear some of them too.” – Sen. Bill Bradley)
It was a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to speak to Senator Bradley about We Can All Do Better for Writerscast. You can learn more about the book at Sen Bradley’s website.
E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. He is currently the board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Since 1974, he has been the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University. Ethelbert is also the former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. and a former core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College. He’s published more than ten books, in both poetry and prose, has edited a number of anthologies, and his writing is widely anthologized. He’s won all sorts of awards and recognition for his writing and for his longstanding work in support of writing as a community and cultural effort. In addition, for several years he hosted the popular weekly radio program Maiden Voyage on WDCU-FM, as well as Vertigo On The Air on WPFW.
Ethelbert has long been a favorite poet of mine, whom I got to know years ago when I lived in Washington, D.C., where Eth still resides. We’re of a similar age and share various passions, not the least of which is baseball.
So it is no wonder that I jumped at the chance to read his memoir, The Fifth Inning, and then to talk to him about it on Writerscast. This is a terrific book, unusual in its shape and structure, which is both poetically charged and carefully built. Ethelbert allows himself to write honestly and purely about his own life, his insecurities, pain and suffering, but without ever becoming self indulgent or overwrought. There is always hope, and the sense that something good, or even great, will come from all this “stuff” we go through in life.
Thinking of a baseball game, the fifth inning out of nine is, of course, the turning point. After the fifth inning, a game can end early but still be considered an official game – a life lived, though abbreviated. So here he is, in the fifth inning of his imagination, looking back at the beginning of the game, and at the present where it’s about to start the last stretch toward the end and the final score. It’s a good time to take stock and get ready to see what you can do to get past the hitters coming up to bat. When you’re pitching you need to pace yourself, remember what worked and didn’t work in the early innings, and use what you have learned to keep the hitters off stride and getting the outs you need to win the game.
Poets’ memoirs are sometimes brittle and too carefully built to sustain a personal story. Ethelbert is not that kind of poet. He’s active and alive in every moment, and brings his readers right into his head and heart. This is a beautifully constructed and written piece of personal writing that I hope will find a audience far beyond the literary community. What Ethelbert has to say about being human and growing older is important for all of us to hear.
Ethelbert’s website is here, well worth a visit. And I wanted to mention that this is a Busboys & Poets book published by PM Press, a publisher I hope readers will learn about and support. Buy the book direct from the publisher to support independent publishing and alternative culture.
This was an exciting and extraordinary book for me to take on. At the very moment I discovered Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams’ cool new book The New Universe and the Human Future, I was also discovering Big History and working on a book project that relates exactly to the ideas in this book. So it was a lucky coincidence for me to find this book and even better to have the chance to speak with the authors. My first two-author interview also, which was fun, not the least because Joel and Nancy work brilliantly together.
I suspect I learned more about the universe from this book than from anything else I have read in my entire life – and I thought I had been pretty good about keeping up with Big Science over the past thirty years or so.
In The New Universe, Nancy Abrams, a cultural philosopher and Joel Primack, an astrophysicist—combine their knowledge and experience to present the most accurate possible portrayal of our current understanding of the universe in which we live. It’s pretty stunning to realize that we are indeed time travelers, since we are able to see the history of the universe in light as it reaches us. And to understand the scale of time in which humans are so small.
But Abrams and Primack are after more than just telling what scientists know and what cosmologists understand about the universe and our place in it. By showing us the absolute miracle of human life on planet Earth, they infuse a scientifically grounded spirituality into the core of our understanding. While they quickly dispense with any notions of Biblical literalism that are disproven by the physical facts that science has uncovered about space and time, cosmology and biology, what they want to show us is that it is possible for the world now to finally share a scientifically grounded creation story. Whereas today we seem to have highly fragmented and differing worldviews that prevent us from living intelligently on our small planet, by understanding how unique our planet and we as a species are in the universe, and how we got here, we may yet be able to unite to save ourselves from extinction. Knowing that it is likely that this is the the only planet able to foster intelligent life does force us to acknowledge our responsibilities not only to ourselves but to the universe we inhabit.
The book is full of incredible information and insights, brilliantly illustrated, our creation story well told. I find myself going back to it frequently as the richness of information the authors share calls out to be re-read. And there’s a great website for the book that I recommend visiting as well.
Nancy Ellen Abrams is an attorney, cultural philosopher, and lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Joel R. Primack, Distinguished Professor of Physics at the UC Santa Cruz, is one of the principal creators of the modern theory of the universe on the grand scale. Together they have authored several books, including The View From the Center of the Universe. They live in Santa Cruz, California.
If you’re involved in any business or any form of communication arts or entertainment, you already know that social media has rapidly become the buzz term of the new century. Increasing numbers of people all over the world spend hours a day online in some level of engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr and now Pinterest. That the book I am talking about here, The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue, is an updated 2012 edition of a book first published less than two years ago, indicates how dynamic and fast changing online social media have become.
Over the last four or five years, I have voraciously read or skimmed any number of books that cover either specific social media platforms, or more broadly on social media marketing and strategies for businesses and professionals. Quite a few of them were very good and taught me valuable lessons. None, however, was as penetrating and inspiring as this book. Author Kabani deeply understands how social media marketing is so different from traditional marketing – and requires a very different approach from anyone attempting to “use” social media for their business or profession. Zen is the right term.
Shama Kabani started her own marketing business, The Marketing Zen Group, right out of graduate school, and built it into a successful operation, learning as she went. Her company used social media to attract clients; she practices what she preaches. In the book, Shama lays out her basic principles, contrasting the conversational and participatory approach of social media marketing to the megaphone approach of traditional product marketing that worked in the one way world of broadcast and publishing media for so many years. Her core structure is compelling and simple: ACT: Attract followers, Convert them to consumer or customer, Transform your successes into magnetic attraction.
Throughout the book, Shama features anecdotes, guest experts in a wide range of subjects providing useful advice, and a steady stream of really powerful tools and behaviors that will help anyone from beginner to expert become a better social media participant and therefore a marketer. For many businesses, becoming adept at working in social media has been the magic that has helped them succeed and thrive in a challenging and constantly changing environment. I do believe that if you only have time to read one book on social media, this is the one to have. So many of your customers (and potential customers) are so deeply involved with social media, you cannot afford to ignore them.
Talking to Shama was great fun, highly rewarding for me, and I think this interview will be useful and extremely valuable to all. Writers and publishers in particular will find this conversation of particular value. You can reach Shama directly in a variety of ways:
Please post comments and any ideas and suggestions this discussion engenders.
I knew I would be interested in reading Black Flags and Windmills after reading the publisher’s description of this book:
When both levees and governments failed in New Orleans in the Fall of 2005, scott crow headed into the political storm, co-founding a relief effort called the Common Ground Collective. In the absence of local government, FEMA, and the Red Cross, this unusual volunteer organization, based on ‘solidarity not charity,’ built medical clinics, set up food and water distribution, and created community gardens. They also resisted home demolitions, white militias, police brutality and FEMA incompetence side by side with the people of New Orleans.
crow’s vivid memoir maps the intertwining of his radical experience and ideas with Katrina’s reality, and community efforts to translate ideals into action. It is a story of resisting indifference, rebuilding hope amidst collapse, and struggling against the grain. Black Flags and Windmills invites and challenges all of us to learn from our histories, and dream of better worlds. And gives us some of the tools to do so.
This short description made me realize that I had not really thought about what it was like in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast during and after Katrina, beyond the media images of human suffering and devastation we all saw on television and online. And that I really had no idea what was going on there in the weeks and months after this massive dislocation. I think I suspected that things were pretty grim, but I wanted to learn more first hand.
crow is an anarchist organizer who went to New Orleans immediately after the storm hit, mainly to look for a colleague and friend he knew had stayed in the city throughout. His story about the early days there, where he and a few other people tried to assist, outside of all official structures and organizations, is mind blowing and powerful. But the ongoing story of the work that he and others did to help create community based self-help structures is really at the heart of his memoir, and is at once uplifting and inspiring for anyone who is searching for ideas and principles that will help us, not just in times of stress and turmoil, but all of the time and forever, as we try to find better ways to build community and live together on a crowded planet without falling into authoritarian and top down structures and systems.
No doubt that not every reader will agree with everything that scott believes in and does, but this is a valuable story for anyone interested in how human beings can work together for the common good.
Here’s his official bio, for those who want to know more about his background and current work: scott crow is an Austin, TX based anarchist community organizer, writer, and trainer who began working on anti-apartheid, international political prisoner and animal rights issues in the mid 1980s. He is the co-founder and co-organizer of several social justice groups and education projects throughout Texas and the South including Common Ground Collective (with Malik Rahim), Radical Encuentro Camp, UPROAR (United People Resisting Oppression and Racism), Dirty South Earth First!, and North Texas Coalition for a Just Peace. He has trained and organized for Greenpeace, Ruckus Society, Rainforest Action Network, A.C.O.R.N., Forest Ethics, and Ralph Nader, and many smaller grassroots groups. He is currently collaborating on long-term sustainable democratic economic mutual aid projects within Austin.
I have loved the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, and been deeply influenced by her work and life since being introduced to her writing by the great poet and independent literary publisher, Jonathan Williams, just a few years after her untimely death in 1970. His outstanding press, The Jargon Society, published one of the largest collections of her work during her all too brief lifetime (T & G: Collected Poems, 1970). In the years since her death, she has been discovered by many writers, scholars and general readers and her work is available now in several great collections, including Collected Works, edited by Jenny Penberthy, from the University of California Press.
For the many who still do not know of her, Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970) was born, raised, schooled and lived almost her entire life in Wisconsin. She was a poet her entire adult life, mostly self-educated, but always deeply involved in the milieu of modernist poetry and experimental writing. The most famous of her peers were William Carlos Williams (who knew and appreciated her writing), Louis Zukofsky (with whom she had a very deep and complicated relationship), and George Oppen and Carl Rakosi, among many others. But as a woman writer who worked hard for a living during a time when men ruled the literary roost, she wrote mostly in obscurity, known only to a small number of other writers who appreciated the brilliance of her imagination and craft.
My friend tree
I sawed you down
but I must attend
an older friend
Margot Peters’ new biography, Lorine Niedecker, A Poet’s Life, is a wonderful book, reflecting Peters’ own love and appreciation for her subject’s life and writing. Lorine’s life story is important to read about, whether you have read her poetry or not. It’s a powerful introduction to a complicated and unique American life. Lorine never had it easy. Her family life was difficult, her poor eyesight was a difficulty for her entire life, her relationships with men were complicated and often painful for her, and she never received the attention her writing deserved. Peters tells the story of her life in great detail, but is never boring. She interviewed people who knew Lorine where she lived in Wisconsin, and even those who, like me, think they know Lorine and her work will learn a great deal about her. Peters is perceptive and clear eyed about Lorine and aware of the difference between the life as lived and the poetry as written. For the poet, it is always the words that matter. Peters knows this too.
Reading about Lorine Niedecker continually reminded me of the power of her intellect and the depth of her brilliance as a poet. She honed and sharpened constantly, like a jeweler bringing a stone to life. Her reading was vast, her intelligence and clarity of vision virtually unmatched. I do not think it is an understatement to call Niedecker one of the greatest poets America has ever produced.
Learn a trade
to sit at desk
Every poet, every writer, should read and absorb these words.
If it’s not obvious, I have been smitten by this poet’s work for a really long time. This biography is a terrific addition to the Niedecker opus, and is highly recommended. I had a great time talking to Margot Peters, whose knowledge of Niedecker, Wisconsin and poetry is broad, deep and very well put together.
Please visit the Lorine Niedecker website to learn more about her, sample some poetry, and to get a feel for Fort Atkinson, where she lived most of her life. You can visit Margot Peters’ website for more about her book as well. There is now an annual Niedecker Poetry Festival in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin every fall.
Books by and about Niedecker:
New Goose. Prairie City, Ill.: Press of James A. Decker, 1946.
My Friend Tree. Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorne Press, 1961.
North Central. London: Fulcrum Press, 1968.
T & G: Collected Poems 1936-1966. Penland, N.C.: Jargon Society, 1969.
My Life By Water: Collected Poems 1936-1968. London: Fulcrum Press, 1970.
Blue Chicory. Edited by Cid Corman, New Rochelle, N.Y.: The Elizabeth Press, 1976.
From This Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker. Edited by Robert J. Bertholf, Jargon Society/Inland Book Company, 1985.
The Granite Pail: Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. Edited by Cid Corman, North Point Press, 1985.
Collected Works. Edited by Jenny Penberthy, Berkely: University of California Press, 2002.
(note, I owe apologies to LN – in the poem Poet’s Work above, I could not get the spacing to work right here, please read it either on the Niedecker site or in the Collected Works to see it the way the poet meant it to look on the page)
Christina Thompson’s Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All – A New Zealand Story gets one’s immediate attention for its outstanding title, of course. How could one resist? This tightly woven memoir was recommended to me by a writer friend who admires stylish writing and it certainly does offer some very fine writing.
But I was most drawn to it at the outset, because Ms. Thompson is an anthropologist, a field of study I have always loved. Early in her career, she lived and worked in Australia, and traveled to nearby Pacific islands, including New Zealand, where she met and eventually married a Maori, the point where this book really starts to take off.
The title of the book comes from a statement made by Maoris at an early meeting with some European explorers. It perfectly stands for the cultural gulf between the two peoples and the lack of understanding each had for the other’s entirely foreign culture. This theme of misunderstanding, and of culturally determined viewpoints, runs throughout the entire book. Because she is now directly connected to the Maori/Polynesian worldview by dint of marriage, and because she has an anthropologist’s ability to look beyond her own viewpoint, Thompson is able to navigate the intricacies of cross-cultural interaction better than most writers.
Thompson talks about her family, children, American and Maori relations as part of the effort to understand differences, and to explain behavior. It’s inevitable that Maori and Polynesian cultures are poorly understood in either Europe or America, where the author and her family now lives. In this memoir, author Thompson looks at the past and the present through the lens of contact and perception with a powerful incisiveness. Sometimes we are lulled by the commonplace story of the present, and then are shaken awake by its connections to a violent past. The historical Maoris were a violent and warlike people, and their collision with the equally violent (and self-centered) Europeans of the colonial imperial era created a long period of difficulty for the native people of New Zealand and surrounding regions of the Pacific.
This book is one I can recommend to anyone who wants to see beyond her or his own experience, to learn the limits of anyone’s personal perspective as it is part of a cultural construct, and to peek into the different ones that are around us in our now hyper-connected universe. Another fine book I am pleased to recommend. And I do think our conversation expands on the ideas that are present in the book.
Christina Thompson is the editor of Harvard Review. Her essays and articles have appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Vogue, American Scholar, the Journal of Pacific History, Australian Literary Studies, and in the 1999, 2000, and 2006 editions of Best Australian Essays. She lives near Boston with her husband and three sons.You can read excerpts from this book, find some very interesting resources and learn more about the author and her work at www.comeonshore.com.
David Gessner is a sort of post-modernist environmentalist. He’s written a number of books that celebrate the natural world and the wild, and he is a terrific writer capable of transcendent prose and has the keen observer’s eye that anyone writing about nature must have. But he understands the difficulties and contradictions that suffuse contemporary civilization. And he has a sense of humor and irony (which environmentalists are not always known for).
In My Green Manifesto, he addresses a major issue that affects so many of us who feel strongly about the arc of modern civilization, that its inertia is overwhelming, the problems so great, the solutions so elusive, and the efforts of individuals so ineffectual as to make us lose all hope of being able to make meaningful change.
The book takes us through Gessner’s journey from the headwaters of the Charles River to its end in Boston’s urban harbor. His trip is made for the most part in company with a true environmental hero, Dan Driscoll, who almost single-handedly spurred the suburban and urban communities along the once highly polluted river to make significant changes to both restore and protect the river and riverside ecology. They travel in a leaky canoe, drink beer, sleep in tents, and enjoy the pleasures of a “limited-wild” experience.
Gessner takes heart from the work Driscoll has done, and shows us how important his practical efforts have been. “This new picture is that of a man or woman who knows how to get things done, who understands the value of momentum, of focus on a particular project. Not a shrill or dry or particularly flowery environmentalism … Someone willing to get in [a] fight and ‘Sue the bastards.’ Someone willing to stick their nose in there and feel what it’s like to get bruised. And someone willing to stay locked in that fight for years, even if it costs them emotional as well as actual capital.’’
Gessner writes with great humor and joy about the pleasures of being in nature, wherever one lives, and that is the core of his manifesto. His ideas will resonate for many who are not willing, able or equipped to spend significant time in distant wildernesses. And as a “manifesto” this book will be easy for most readers to digest and accept. Gessner’s message is positive and powerful because it is realistic and not preachy and because so many of us can relate to his experiences of the joy of being in nature and at the same time despair over the sheer extent of modern society’s environmental unconsciousness.
Gessner reminds us that it is possible to hold two seemingly contradictory ideas in our minds at the same time, that complexity and contradiction are almost facts of life, but cannot defeat us from taking action to make change. “The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are … But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength.’’
Author website here (you can find a list of all his many fine books there) Gessner’s latest book is one I am interested in reading as well. The Tarball Chronicles: A Journey Beyond the Oiled Pelican and Into the Heart of the Gulf Oil Spill chronicles his visit to the Gulf after it had passed out of the news. Not an uplifting story, I fear.