Robert Caro Will Publish a Reflection on His Writing Career

Caro

It  focuses on his career as a writer and historian.  It will be titled Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing.  Here is a taste of a story by the Associated Press:

Robert Caro’s next book isn’t his fifth and final volume on Lyndon Johnson or like anything he has done before.

“Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing,” to be published by Alfred A. Knopf in April, combines personal reflections and professional guidance as Caro looks back on his singular history as a writer and reporter. The book includes previous lectures and interviews, but also new material. In the introduction, the 83-year-old Caro writes that the 240-page “Working” is not a “full-length memoir,” which he still hopes to write, but a more informal gathering of “thoughts” and “experiences” behind such prize-winning books as his Johnson biography “Master of the Senate” and his classic book on municipal builder Robert Moses, “The Power Broker.”

“Here we have … some scattered, almost random glimpses of a few encounters I’ve had while doing the research on the Moses and Johnson books, encounters both with documents and with witnesses,” he writes. “It includes also a few things I’ve learned or discovered, or think I’ve learned or discovered, about the writing of biography and indeed nonfiction in general which I’d like to share or pass along.”

Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards said this week that Caro had been thinking about the book for a long time and that it “opens a window” into his career.

Read the entire piece here.

Rob Schenck Tells His Story

SchenkReverend Rob Schenck was a Christian Right leader who parted ways with his fellow cultural warriors after studying the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He tells his story in a new memoir: Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope and Love.  

Here is a taste of his interview with Mother Jones magazine:

MJ: So, when you look at the future, what do you think the result of the evangelical embrace of Trump will be?

RS: I say in the book that the Trump phenomenon may portend the total collapse of American evangelicalism, which for me would be sad, but not the saddest thing. We have an old phrase in evangelical parlance built on some biblical texts: “What the devil means for destruction, God means for good.” So, could God use this terrible thing in the end to bring about a better form of evangelicalism in America? We may reach a toxicity level where the patient must succumb, but we believe in resurrection, so out of death can come life…So, maybe this is the demise of what we now know as American evangelicalism, and largely, the Trump phenomenon is a symptom, rather than a cause. We made this terrible deal with Donald Trump because we were already demoralized. He didn’t demoralize us—he is the evidence of our demoralization.

Read the entire interview here.

A Young Confederate is Transformed by the Study of History

DewOver at History News Network, Robin Lindley interviews noted Civil War historian Charles Dew.  (On a personal note, I am using Dew’s Apostle of Disunion in my Civil War America course this semester).

The interview centers on Dew’s 2016 book The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade.

Here is a taste of Lindley’s introduction to the interview:

Professor Dew illustrates how he and generations of white southerners were poisoned by racism as if by osmosis, a word he uses advisedly to describe his own experience growing up with demeaning images of African Americans and rules that penalized and dehumanized them at every turn. He explores the vexing issue of how otherwise seemingly admirable people, including members of his own family, could embrace the odious tenets of white supremacy and the oppression of others.

But Professor Dew also describes his evolution from a “young Confederate” to an outspoken critic of racism, thanks in large part to his education at Williams College, and particularly his study of history. He details how he became a scholar of the South and its deeply conflicted past, and how that study revealed the noxious, insidious influence of white supremacist ideas that has poisoned whites there since the dawn of slavery.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Robin Lindley: I was surprised that your father, with his Jim Crow ideas, encouraged you to go to college at Williams in the far North.

Professor Charles Dew: Looking back on it, it does seem strange, but on the other hand I think he thought, as I say in the book, that the armor in which we were clad as Southerners was impenetrable and we could come to a New England college and, as he would say, we’d learn to speak well and write well and get a good liberal arts education. Then we would come back south with our cultural norms intact. It didn’t work that way. I think he anticipated that what he called “our Southern roots” were so firmly implanted that they weren’t going to be uprooted by four years of college in New England.

Robin Lindley: But your racist beliefs were uprooted, and your evolution—the unmaking of your racism–is a marvelous part of your story. What were a couple of incidents or moments that were particularly eye opening for you?

Professor Charles Dew: The experience of having an African American classmate and having someone I went to the dining halls with. We were in the same freshman vertical entry in the dormitory. You did a lot of things together with the kids in your entry. There were two senior advisors who lived in the entry with us and they planned activities for us together.

I was reacting as a social equal for the first time in my life with a person of color. I mention telling that dialect joke as my classmate walked down the stairs outside the dorm room in which I was telling this. I was so humiliated; I stopped and never told another joke like that in my life. I made a point of introducing myself to him a day or two later. I had to find out if he heard me. I was so upset. As I said, my mother had taught us not to humiliate anybody, and never to humiliate ourselves, and I thought I had done both. He didn’t let on that he had heard. We shook hands. That was the first time I’d shaken hands across the color line. I was 17 years old.

That was a profound experience for me. I started seeing things I hadn’t noticed before about Jim Crow customs in the South. I mention the curtain being pulled across the dining car on the train as it was going south. I had never noticed that before.

Just being in an educational institution in the North where I had classmates who were African American was life altering. I didn’t come out of that culture all that fast. It was a step or two forward, a step or two back. I still am puzzled by how blind I was to a lot.

I evolved with some tardiness, but I did evolve, and by my senior year, I was fully out from under. And that’s where those conversations with Illinois were so important. That’s the final thing that led me to break free from the racism that I had been raised under.

Robin Lindley: How did you come to study history and then to specialize in the history of the South and slavery?

Professor Charles Dew: I was fascinated by the South. Most boys who grew up in the South dream of Civil War battles, but I had some great teachers at Williams—historians who got me hooked on history, first as a major and then as something to study to understand Southern history.

I was fascinated by the region and I also began to ask questions about the South that I had never asked before. How did we come to embrace slavery? What caused the Civil War? How did the Jim Crow South evolve in the period after Reconstruction? I read a lot of C. Vann Woodward as an undergraduate and that made me want to go to Johns Hopkins and study with him, which I did.

So I think it was being fascinated with the South and its culture and history and absorbing that Confederate mythology and having that pretty well smashed to bits when I was studying it in college. So, instead of going to law school like everyone else in the family, I decided I wanted to go to grad school. It was a question of my growing up there and being fascinated by the South and then being educated about it in college in ways that were brand new to me. And just wanting to understand the region, which I still find fascinating and still find challenging.

Read the entire interview here.

A Nice Way to an End an Memoir

Born to RunOnce again in the shadow of the steeple, as I stood feeling the old soul of my tree, my town, weighing upon me, the words and benediction came back to me.  I’d chanted them singsong, unthinkingly, endlessly in the green blazer, ivory shirt and green tie of St. Rose’s unwilling disciples.  Tonight they came to me and flowed differently.  Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed by they name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…all of us, forever and ever, amen.

Bruce Springsteen Talks About His Memoir

Born to RunOver at the blog of E Street Radio, Springsteen chats with Dave Marsh and Jim Rotolo about writing Born to Run.  H

Here is a taste:

If you still had questions about Bruce Springsteen after reading his autobiography Born To Run, Dave Marsh and Jim Rotolo have attempted to get to the bottom of them in an exclusive, in-depth interview with the man himself on E Street Radio.

Named after his iconic 1975 album and song, Born To Run, the autobiography was released on Sept. 27 and has received critical acclaim. With the success of his book thus far, Marsh and Rotolo were curious if Springsteen ever planned to write a follow-up. His answer? Probably not.

“Not really, I think that’s my swan song. I had one story and I told it. But if something else came up, it would need to touch me as deeply [as the first one],” he explained. “Like they say, you write one book, and it’s like your first album. You’ve got 20-something years or 67 years to call upon and look back on. You write a second book or a second record, you’ve got about six months or a year. Yeah, I don’t know if I’d write again, but I wouldn’t discount it. I did enjoy it very much and if something came up, I’d do it.”

Read the whole interview here, including some interview clips.

Springsteen Releases the Foreword to His Memoir

BornIt will be available on September 27, 2016 (I have had it pre-ordered for months) and it is titled Born to Run. Today Bruce Springsteen released the foreword. Here it is:

I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I. By twenty, no race-car-driving rebel, I was a guitar player on the streets of Asbury Park and already a member in good standing amongst those who “lie” in service of the truth . . . artists, with a small “a.” But I held four clean aces. I had youth, almost a decade of hard-core bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians who were attuned to my performance style and a story to tell.

This book is both a continuation of that story and a search into its origins. I’ve taken as my parameters the events in my life I believe shaped that story and my performance work. One of the questions I’m asked over and over again by fans on the street is “How do you do it?” In the following pages I will try to shed a little light on how and, more important, why.

 

Rock ’n’ Roll Survival Kit

 
DNA, natural ability, study of craft, development of and devotion to an aesthetic philosophy, naked desire for . . . fame? . . . love? . . . admiration? . . . attention? . . . women? . . . sex? . . . and oh, yeah . . . a buck. Then . . . if you want to take it all the way out to the end of the night, a furious fire in the hole that just . . . don’t . . . quit . . . burning.
 

These are some of the elements that will come in handy should you come face-to-face with eighty thousand (or eighty) screaming rock ’n’ roll fans who are waiting for you to do your magic trick. Waiting for you to pull something out of your hat, out of thin air, out of this world, something that before the faithful were gathered here today was just a song-fueled rumor.

I am here to provide proof of life to that ever elusive, never completely believable “us.” That is my magic trick. And like all good magic tricks, it begins with a setup. So . . .

The “fire in the hole” line sort of reminds me of Jon Stewart’s introduction to Bruce at the Kennedy Center honors–“he empties the tank.”

See more Bruce stuff at The Way of Improvement Leads Home by clicking here.

A Tubman Biographer on the Historiographical Rise of Tubman

Tubman bookOver at History News Network, historian Catherine Clinton, author of Harriett Tubman: The Road to Freedom, talks about her multi-decade career as a historian of abolitionism, women’s history, and African-American history.

Here is a taste of her piece, “The Long Journey from the Age of Jackson to Harriet Tubman on the Twenty.”

When I proposed a trade biography of Harriet Tubman, I was taken aback when a senior scholar endorsed my idea but suggested that I needed to remind people that Harriet’s first language was Dutch (mixing her up with Sojourner Truth). When I told another mentor that I would be writing a biography of the most famous African American in the 19th century, he only guessed Tubman on the third try: coming up with Frederick Douglass first and then Toussiant L’Ouverture.  I only include these anecdotes to demonstrate that in 1998, I imagined incoming undergraduates (through their History Day competitions and Black History Month reading) were more familiar with Harriet Tubman’s achievements than most of their professors.

But by the time Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom appeared in 2004, scholars seemed ready to include Tubman within the framework of African American freedom struggles, to place her alongside feminist icons within women’s history. As I suggest in my biography, she had an adaptive historical persona: the Black Panthers celebrated her as a gun-toting comrade in arms, while contemporary survivors of domestic violence invoked her while establishing clandestine safe houses to protect women and children escaping abuse. Finally, the academy seemed ready to embrace her as a long, lost hero who had been there all along.

When the Women on the $20s campaign emerged in the spring of 2015, and then the Treasury launched its “New Ten” campaign, I pronounced Tubman a fine candidate, weighing in like many other scholars: Over the summer of 2015, when the “Save Hamilton” campaign was launched, I was grateful to be invited to the Smithsonian for a roundtable with Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew and Treasurer Rosie Rios. I took the opportunity to provide both of them with a copy of Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom.

I also suggested—during our lively debates—that a woman of color must be the first female honored on any redesigned currency. I was not alone in this conviction nor the only one who advocated Tubman as the best woman to fill the bill.  In my forthcoming book, Stepdaughters of History: Southern Women and the Civil War, I argue that dismantling the Mammy is a necessary step for including African American women, particularly women like Harriet Tubman, within the proper context of U.S. freedom struggles.

Read the entire piece here.

Memoirs

Over at Bald Blogger, Phil Sinitiere has posted a very nice list of memoirs written by academics, historians, and other assorted intellectuals.  Here is his introduction to the list:

Over the last decade or so, I have taken a particular liking to memoirs. Intrigued by a few historians’ memoirs during the first few years of Ph.D. work—namely those of William McNeill and Philip Curtin—around the same time I was developing research and teaching fields in world history and African history, interest in the genre stuck. At the same time, as I was attempting to fashion myself into a historian of American religion, I came across John Boles’ edited collection Autobiographical Reflections on Southern Religious History as well as Albert Raboteau’s memoir A Sorrowful Joy, a gripping account of his journey into the Russian Orthodox faith. In the ensuing years, I found Randall Stephens’ recent thoughts (and blog post comments) on historians and memoirs illuminating. An abiding interest in historical memory and the act of commemoration has also oriented me in the direction of memoir. After reading Anthony Pinn’s memoir this weekend and seeing John Fea’s blog post about possibly writing a memoir of his speaking tours (which I really hope he publishes), I decided to put some thoughts in writing.

Richard Rodriguez on Religion, Politics, and Newspapers

Since I first read Hunger of Memory about ten years ago, Richard Rodriguez has been a formative influence on my thinking.  When most people think about this book they think about Rodriguez’s opposition to affirmative action and bilingual education.  These are strong arguments and I hope you will read Hunger of Memory and consider them. But I found this book so important because it told the story of a first-generation college student and how that student struggled to live the tension between his roots and his ambitions.  I would even go as far to say that some of these ideas informed my work in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.


Rodriguez’s latest book, his first since 2002, is Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography.  I can’t wait to read it.  My anticipation has been enhanced by Scott Timberg’s interview with Rodriguez at Salon. Here is a taste:
For admirers of your writing it has been a tough dozen years or so. This is your first book since 2002, I think. Besides writing for Harper’s and recovering from cancer, what else have you been up to?
Well, partly I’ve been brooding and partly I’ve been angry. I stopped writing for the L.A. Times because the L.A. Times stopped asking me to write for them; I stopped writing for the “News Hour” because the “News Hour” decided to have a web page at the end of their program instead of having essays. Nothing happened to me; the world changed. Steve Jobs became the controlling figure of our time. And in some way, you know, what I’m more and more of the opinion of is that the kind of writing that I want to do is really going to be able to be read by fewer and fewer people now. And I’m reconciled to that.
I’m very lucky that I’m still able to publish books. But you know I know what it’s like to publish a book, and go to a book reading and there are five people there and three of those people are friends of yours that you’ve asked to come. So I don’t think people are reading anymore. I think they’re using language a great deal, but not in any kind of deep or meditative sense. It’s all of this chatter of communication. I don’t know what this neurosis is that has taken over our societies, particularly the United States, but not only the United States. These kids walking down streets checking their messages every few minutes. What that neurosis is, what it is going to mean for serious communication I cannot guess.
Until you went on that jag a minute ago, I was wondering why you had a chapter in a book about religion, to call it a spiritual autobiography, about the fading of newspapers; now I have a sense of why that piece fits in there.
You know one of the things about that piece that I think readers might ignore, it ends with a discussion about the death of American cemeteries. Fewer and fewer people are being buried. More and more of my friends now are being cremated and their ashes, I don’t know where their ashes are anymore. They’re somewhere in Idaho, they’re somewhere on Muir Woods in someplace. That revolution, which I think is related to the fact that we don’t want to live on the earth anymore that there is an anxiety about being here, about being in this place at the same time that the cultural left has come up with this idea of green nature. We all have to become green. Well, nature is primarily brown in the world, you know, and the lessons of nature lead to nature, they don’t lead to this perennial spring.
Or to say it another way, you cannot have spring without winter. That this sentimentality about our lives where people are not buried. So a good friend of mine died; he asked two women friends of his to take his ashes, we know not where. And another friend of mine calls up and says, “I’d love to go see. I’d love to pay my respects, I couldn’t come to the funeral, could I go to the cemetery?” I say, well I have no idea where he is. The death of the newspaper is being told in the cemetery, in the fact that we are not writing obituaries, many of my friends have died without obituaries, because it’s no longer a civic event to die — it’s a private event. You understand? And so, you know, that fact that the newspaper was the receptacle not simply of news of our birth, but of our death, that fact is really the reason why an obituary for a newspaper becomes in the last several pages an obituary for a cemetery.
In the simplest way, the failure of the newspaper marks the end of a sense of place. Newspapers and cities, newspapers and a sense of place have been tied up quite intimately for a long time. They’re both fading at about the same time too.
That’s right. We’re living in the America of placeless-ness and increasingly I think of, that’s why you have people walking down the street quite unconcerned with where they are, or who’s walking towards them or who is behind them. They are in their own place, and they have their own sound, their own entertainment, and they have their own text messages and they’re quite content to live in their own little cocoon.
Right. And there are a lot of elements to this. The scene you just described they’re probably walking through a cityscape that could be almost any city in at least the Western world. So we have kind of electronic communication coming together with maybe cultural narcissism with kind of chain store Wal-Marting process, right? The bookstore has been blown out by the web or by Amazon.
And the little coffee shop has become a Starbucks. And everything is institutionalized. That’s true. But, you see, I think it’s more possible to learn in an institutionalized world if you are disconnected, if you’re not breathing, if you’re walking down the street without putting your eyes on the landscape. I think that that’s what so troubles me.
That people are not, it’s not so much that they’re not experiencing the city they’re living in, but they’re not even experiencing their bodies. I go to an Animal Gym in San Francisco and it’s a gay gym, all these guys, these steroid-ed wonders, wander about. And you would think that between sets they would flirt with each other visually, or they would admire each other, but in fact what they do is they pull out their cell phones and look at their messages. I don’t understand what’s going on; I don’t understand how you could be there developing that body and then turn yourself into a text message, you know?
It’s that sort of movement away from body that is really, really troubling. I understand why and I credit some way, you pull out a cell phone and watch a few old episodes of “The Simpsons” because you don’t want to smell the guy sitting next to you. But I also don’t understand it. If you’re in a subway that’s crowded there’s always somebody to look at, there’s always something to see. There’s always something to smell and that’s what we’re not experiencing anymore; we’re not living in our bodies. That’s why we’re not dying in cemeteries, that’s why were not reading the newspaper. That’s why we think that nature is green.
These evasions of place, that theme runs through these chapters. And in some sense what I’m arguing is that the dream in the desert, which was always for the time before the fall, green Eden before Adam and Eve were sent out to the desert, or for the time after our death where we will be in a heaven that is green. That dream is still very much alive in the secular imagination, and when Oprah Winfrey and Bono go on TV to tell us all about the green and they get on their private jets and go on to another location, to tell those people to be green. What we’re watching is a secular dream of Eden. So many of my friends tell me they’re not religious. I’m like, Of course you’re religious. You watch Oprah Winfrey, don’t you?

Looking for a Good Novel or Memoir for Your American Religious History Course?

Over at Religion in American History, Randall Stephens offers some excellent suggestions.  Here are just a few:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)

John Steinbeck, To A God Unknown (1933)

Charles Monroe Sheldon, In His Steps (1897)

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day (1952)


Albert J. Raboteau, A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History (1995)

Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (1927)

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)

Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood (1952)

Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (1925)I would also add Cather’s My Antionia and Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory to the List.

CT Interview with Stanley Hauerwas

Andy Rowell of Christianity Today interviews Stanley Hauerwas about his life, his vocation, and his memoir, Hannah’s Child. Rowell writes:

In 1970, Hauerwas joined the faculty of Notre Dame University, in 1983, he moved to Duke Divinity School, and earlier this year, he published his memoir, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Eerdmans, April 2010). In some ways, he is a professor of professors—widely read by academics for his creative, forceful, and provocative application of Christian thought to a wide range of issues. But he also appeals to blue-collar readers who sense that this son of a bricklayer is one of them—willing to say that many smart-sounding professors are philosophically incoherent.

Here is a snippet from the interview:

Your critics say that you want Christians to retreat from the world and just practice the Eucharist. How do you respond?

If I’m asking people to retreat, why are so many people mad at me? [Laughs]. I wouldn’t mind retreating, but we’re surrounded so there’s no place to retreat to. So Christians have to engage the world in which we find ourselves. We’re in love with the world because God is in love with the world. Therefore, we want the world to know what God has given us. Of course, I’ve never asked Christians to refrain from being politically engaged. I just want them to be there as Christians. What it means to be there as Christians is to be shaped by the body and blood of Christ, which has been done for the world. The closing prayer after our Eucharist celebration includes: Send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart through Christ our Lord, Amen. How could that be a retreat? I can’t imagine how the Eucharist can be self-containing if you’re sent out from it.

Presidents Who Were Best-Selling Authors

With the arrival of George W. Bush’s book Decision Points due out in November, Douglass K. Daniel examines which presidents have had their books make the New York Times best-seller lists.

According to Daniel’s article, Eisenhower and Obama published best-sellers before they became president. Carter and Clinton published best-sellers after they were president. And JFK and Reagan hit the best-seller list after they died. Truman, LBJ, Ford, and Bush Sr. all wrote books that did not reach best-seller status.

Are Memoirs Narcissistic?

Richard A. Kauffman, the book review editor at Christian Century, writes:

Much ink has been spilled over the current popularity of memoirs. It’s too easy to write them off as expressions of American self-infatuation. Many memoirs are self-absorbed, and some expose more about the authors and their loved ones than we need to know. But writing a memoir is not simply an exercise in narcissism. If it was, who would read them?

We humans are aware of our mortality, and we want to know what life is all about. Cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz once observed that “one of the most significant facts about us may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one.” As we get older we think of all the roads taken and not taken and we ponder: why this particular life? Would a different life have more or less purpose?

The best memoirs lead us into these mysteries. Memoirs of redemption give us hope; memoirs of heroic acts inspire us to greater heights. We no doubt read the memoirs of disgraced people to enjoy the schadenfreude. But perhaps we read memoirs mainly because we only get to live one life, and by reading about others we vicariously live 1,000.

Writing memoirs is like planting a marker to one’s own life, an extended epitaph for one’s own gravestone. Memoirs implore us to take notice, to remember the storyteller. Memoirs can also be a legacy to future generations.

While I am not contemplating writing a memoir anytime soon, I do like reading them. This post has been helpful in processing why I like them so much.

Kauffman’s blog post references two books. The first is Scott Russell Sanders’s memoir, A Private History of Awe. I have not read much by Sanders, but I did really enjoy his Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World. The other book is William Zinnser, Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past. Both are on my reading list.

Read Kauffman’s entire post, “Memories and the Mystery of Life,” here.