Monthly Archives: April 2015

Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement

Stars for FreedomEmilie Raymond’s Stars for Freedom turns our understanding of the civil rights movement on its head. Though popular narratives emphasize the movement’s grassroots origins, it’s equally important not to overlook the role that a handful of African American celebrities played in not only helping to fund the movement, but also in serving as ambassadors, liaisons, cheerleaders, and even foot soldiers for the  cause.

I’ve chosen to highlight this particular section from Emilie’s book because it covers a period exactly fifty years ago from this summer—a time that still resonates loudly with current events. Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act was passed; recently, however, the Supreme Court invalidated key parts of it. Similarly, exactly a half century ago this summer, rioting broke out in the Watts district of Los Angeles over police treatment of a black man; today, we see similar incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore as well as widespread outrage through the #BlackLivesMatter social movement.

Along with these similarities, what also stands out to me about the excerpt is Emilie’s ability to simultaneously view the movement from multiple levels:  we see comedian Dick Gregory on the streets of Watts risking life and limb with protesters; we see Harry Belafonte hustling behind the scenes writing letters and organizing last-minute benefits; and we see the grassroots Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) grappling with whether it had sold out by collaborating with glamorous celebrities. 

The result is an excerpt that, I think, demonstrates how deftly Emilie blends civil rights and entertainment histories—and it provides just a small glimpse of the exciting book she has written. I hope you enjoy reading this piece as much as I enjoyed working with Emilie on this amazing book!

Ranjit Arab, senior acquisitions editor, UW Press

On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, and Dick Gregory commemorated the event at the Sumter County Courthouse lawn in Americus, Georgia, with a group of avid African American registrants. Surrounded by a cordon of white state troopers in white helmets who were dispatched to protect them, Gregory observed, “When everybody gets to voting, we are going to get us some black faces under those white helmets. And it ain’t going to be from no suntan neither.” He foretold of the dramatic effect voting rights would have on the daily lives of African Americans.

Only one week later, the comedian rushed to the Watts district in Los Angeles, where a race riot was threatening to destroy the city. Sparked by the arrest of a young black man for drunk driving, the altercation had grown into a widespread armed confrontation with the Los Angeles police and the National Guard. Wanting “to help in any way I could,” Gregory drove into the riot area near a housing project and was shocked by the “stark and horrible expression of raw violence.” He started to walk between law enforcement and the rioters when “the bullets started to fly.” When he was shot in the leg, Gregory rushed into the street, yelling “Alright goddamn, it. You shot me, now go home!” With a burning wound, Gregory was in disbelief that “after all the times I’d been arrested by red neck deputies in the past four years, here I was shot by a black man in California.” He charged forth, believing “somebody had to stop it.” On that street corner at least, the rioters retreated. Across town, Belafonte, already booked at the Greek Theater, continued to perform nightly when most other public venues were closed. Admittedly “apprehensive” about potential problems in an audience of five thousand, he also saw it “as a challenge” to show a capacity for unity in such dreadful circumstances. Belafonte even brought in youngsters from Watts to give them safe haven. The riot lasted six days and resulted in thirty-four deaths and $40 million in property damage. August 1965 foretold of the movement’s impending “crisis of victory” and of the stars’ varying roles in its progression.

Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sammy Davis, Jr. at the “Broadway Answers Selma” benefit show at the Majestic Theatre.

Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sammy Davis, Jr. at the “Broadway Answers Selma” benefit show at the Majestic Theatre.

For the time being, however, the leading civil rights organizations optimistically planned their futures, and celebrities were instrumental in their efforts. In March 1965, the New York [FOS Friends of SNCC] office held a workshop emphasizing their new fund-raiser of choice: the house party. Although such events were admittedly “small, exclusive receptions,” the group still called their efforts “a grassroots public relations program.” They instructed workshop attendees to ask themselves “Is the money there?” before planning a party. “Regardless of their goodwill, a constituency must be people of means or the funds realized will be commensurately small,” the literature explained. The program emphasized cultivating “prominent” and “wealthy” individuals, as well as members of the media, and highlighted obtaining artists for the parties. Another development from the conference included the creation of a contact information sheet (with addresses and phone numbers) for the artists willing to sponsor SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] events. This long-awaited list could be distributed among the FOS groups and made for more streamlined planning. It also reflected the importance of Selma to bringing more celebrities into the movement on a more permanent basis. The list included the regulars from the 1964 house parties, as well as those individuals, such as Tony Bennett and Shelley Winters, who had marched in Selma, and those, such as Alan Arkin and Eli Wallach, who had participated in Davis’s Broadway benefit. FOS groups went on to hold an unprecedented number of star-studded house parties in the coming months.

The successful house parties led to benefit concerts devoted to SNCC alone. With the help of Julie Belafonte and Diahann Carroll, the New York FOS organized an elegant black-tie dinner and dance at the New York Hilton Grand Ballroom on April 25, 1965, to benefit freedom schools and voter registration drives in the South. The program featured Harry Belafonte, Brando, Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr., Streisand, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. Tickets cost $100 per person, and a number of celebrities and wealthy New Yorkers sponsored entire tables at $1,000 each. SNCC netted an estimated $80,000 from the event, and held a similar dinner, again hosted by Julie Belafonte and Carroll, the following year.

The organization also succeeded at having more parties in Los Angeles. Brando headlined one party at a Hollywood home in June 1965. Poitier cohosted a SNCC fund-raiser with Belafonte, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory and Richard Burton, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, and Mike Nichols at a posh Beverly Hills discotheque in August. The event resembled a movie premiere. Such guests as the actors James Garner, Lauren Bacall, and Lee Marvin, and the filmmakers Stanley Kramer, Arthur Penn, and Robert Blumofe arrived wearing tuxedoes, long gowns, and lavish jewelry. The event was held only a few days after the Watts riot, and Poitier used it to plead for funds, arguing the disturbances were “only a symptom of the underlying social diseases eating away at the fabric of society.” The stars shouted their pledges, challenging one another until they reached $50,000. The party was written up in the New York Times for the “surprising number of Hollywood luminaries” willing to publicly support the “most radical and controversial of all the major civil rights organizations.”

Since the parties targeted only a select few, “for the balance of the community,” SNCC used “broadside direct mail appeals for money,” but it employed celebrities for this task as well. Belafonte penned a series of letters in the spring and summer of 1966, alerting recipients of the continued impoverished and terrorized conditions of the rural South and pleading for funds. Ultimately, the organization raised $637,736 in 1965, its highest income to date, and double what it had raised in 1963 before house parties and close collaboration with celebrities became routine.

Despite this impressive fund-raising record, SNCC did not always manage its celebrity supporters effectively. This largely stemmed from a lack of organization outside of the New York office. FOS groups failed to coordinate with the New York staff members, and wealthy supporters complained of being inundated with requests for parties and benefits. Betty Garman, a fund-raiser in the New York office, admitted, “I don’t know they are sending letters off and thus can’t explain that this is not the way to obtain talent for concerts, etc.” She expressed confidence only in the Bay Area (San Francisco), Boston, and New York groups as being “competent” to handle major events; Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington was “where smaller events could be planned.” A Philadelphia FOS volunteer, however, complained, “We cannot understand how it is that New York can easily have a dozen top stars where not one can be available for Philadelphia.” She reported that they had started plans for parties, “but on one condition. We must have top name stars like Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., [opera star] Leontyne Rice, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston” or “big fund raising in Philly is a dead issue.” Meanwhile, a report on fund-raising at the Baltimore FOS office expressed disappointment that despite its proximity to Washington and its potential to obtain “big-name people,” the full-time staffer there “somehow . . . does not follow up.”

Moreover, SNCC bungled some lucrative opportunities. A celebrity billiard tournament to be chaired by James Garner, cochaired by Steve Allen, Milton Berle, and Sammy Davis, Jr., and held in Los Angeles in May 1966 had to be aborted within a week of the event due to disorganization and friction among the Los Angeles FOS activists. One embarrassed SNCC organizer admitted, “I feel very badly about this because I have had contact with all these stars in the past and as you can understand, it can leave a feeling of ill-will.” The event would have brought in a number Hollywood’s white stars, such as James Coburn and Dennis Hopper, and rising black entertainers such as Bill Cosby and Ivan Dixon, who were rather new to the movement, as well as many others who had done little civil rights work since the Prop 14 campaign. Fifty-seven celebrity participants had to be notified of the cancellation. SNCC likewise failed to follow through on a benefit concert with Frank Sinatra and benefit screenings of the short film Ivanhoe Donaldson (1964) about one of its own activists. The film’s distributor offered to screen previews in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, but after seeing little follow-through, complained about “the lack of any action at SNCC.” These lapses resulted largely from SNCC’s unusual makeup as an organization without a membership or a traditional hierarchical structure.

They also perhaps reflected a growing discomfort within SNCC about its connection to wealthy liberals. In a Northern staff meeting in 1965, several activists raised concerns that SNCC was becoming “elitist” due in part to its income stream. Indeed, after the fund-raiser in Beverly Hills, Belafonte acknowledged, “The irony of partying at a discotheque was not lost on anyone.” Stokely Carmichael became SNCC chair that same year. He was openly critical of nonviolence, and Belafonte felt Carmichael and his cohorts had begun to view him as “part of the establishment,” which in the 1960s was tantamount to treason. James Forman denied that guilt-ridden liberals constituted SNCC’s support. “I think they are sophisticated people who understand the importance of what we are doing,” he asserted. “These are people who have been red-baited, who pulled out of politics in the late ’40s, and have been waiting for a new generation of political activists.” He cited Belafonte as an example, saying, “Harry Belafonte, who is wealthy, is more radical than anyone in SNCC. He really understands the social forces involved.” Longtime activist Bob Zellner said, “Most SNCC folks were grateful for all political and financial help from whatever the source.” Betty Garman, another SNCC activist engaged in fund-raising, concurred, saying that the fund-raisers were “helping us to tap resources we could never reach ourselves because of who we are and how we work. On the other hand,” she continued, “there is some concern that the people who give wouldn’t give to us if they knew more about who we are and how we work.”

SNCC attempted to deal with these contradictions and critiques. Under pressure from New York FOS volunteers to hire a salaried professional fund-raiser, Forman repeatedly refused, saying “that would destroy the philosophy of the organization.” When those at the winter 1965 fund-raising conference continued to insist on such a position, Forman took on the responsibilities, but not a pay increase, himself. Meanwhile, Betty Garman encouraged FOS offices to reach out to “all sections of a community” in broader programs. She challenged the advice pushed at the fund-raising conference in terms of pursuing elite donors. Acknowledging that “house parties work,” she also insisted “they work on all levels of a community. Some people think of a house party as a way to raise BIG money—which means a fancy house and a star and expensive food and free drinks and NAME people. But there is no reason to feel,” she continued, “that a house party cannot be successful if it raises $50 or $100 or $200,” as long as SNCC held many such parties. Thus, SNCC could “involve people,” meaning a broad cross-section of average folks. Others in the organization expressed concern that if students wanted to begin direct action in the urban North, they could well find themselves in conflict with the very liberals that supported the Southern projects. This anxiety led SNCC activists to brainstorm how to reach more blacks in Northern ghettoes and in the South, and, ironically given SNCC’s suspicion of the NAACP, the black middle class. This debate would come to naught later in the decade due to radical policy changes within SNCC, but it foreshadowed a growing critique of liberal celebrity activism and its paradoxes.

New Books in Asian American Studies and Literature

graphic for AAS and lit post 4-22-15In honor of this week’s meeting of the Association of Asian American Studies, we present a roundup of some of the wonderful new Asian American studies and literature titles we’ve published in the past year.

If you’re headed to the conference, stop by our booth to check out these new books; meet UW Press Editor in Chief Larin McLaughlin and Senior Acquisitions Editor Ranjit Arab; and learn about new UW Press series such as Decolonizing Feminisms: Antiracist and Transnational Praxis.

Also, attention first-time authors! On Friday, April 24 from 4:45 to 6:16 p.m., Senior Editor Ranjit Arab will participate in the session titled, “Roundtable on the Nuts and Bolts of Publishing.” Join him and editors from other presses as they explain the steps of publishing your book with a university press and address frequent questions and concerns they hear from authors.

The Rising Tide of Color: Race, State Violence, and Radical Movements across the Pacific
Edited by Moon-Ho Jung

From labor and anticolonial activists around World War I and multiracial campaigns by anarchists and communists in the 1930s to the policing of race and sexuality after World War II and transpacific movements against the Vietnam War, The Rising Tide of Color brings to light histories of race, state violence, and radical movements that continue to shape our world in the twenty-first century.

“This brilliant volume is incisive, intellectually generative, and analytically rigorous. The Rising Tide of Color reframes our understanding of race and social movements by centering on the Pacific Coast.” –Diane Fujino, author of Samurai among Panthers: Richard Aoki on Race, Resistance, and a Paradoxical Life.

Cities of Others: Reimagining Urban Spaces in Asian American Literature
By Xiaojing Zhou

Drawing on critical theories on space from urban geography, ecocriticism, and postcolonial studies, Zhou shows how spatial organization shapes identity in the works of Sui Sin Far, Bienvenido Santos, Meena Alexander, Frank Chin, Chang-rae Lee, Karen Tei Yamashita, and others. She also shows how the everyday practices of Asian American communities challenge racial segregation, reshape urban spaces, and redefine the identity of the American city.

“Opens up a new area for discussion in Asian American writing and moves criticism on Asian American literature into a dialogue with the issues germane to contemporary American fiction in general.” –Rocio G. Davis, author of Relative Histories: Mediating History in Asian American Family Memoirs

New in our Classics of Asian American Literature Series:

No-No Boy
By John Okada
Foreword by Ruth Ozeki

The first edition of No-No Boy since 1979 presents this important work to new generations of readers. “No-No Boy has the honor of being the very first Japanese American novel,” writes novelist Ruth Ozeki in her new foreword to John Okada’s classic of Asian American literature. First published in 1956, No-No Boy was virtually ignored by a public eager to put World War II and the Japanese internment behind them. It was not until the mid-1970s that a new generation of Japanese American writers and scholars recognized the novel’s importance and popularized it as one of literature’s most powerful testaments to the Asian American experience.

Yokohama, California
By Toshio Mori
Introduction to the 2015 edition by Xiaojing Zhou
Introductions by William Saroyan and Lawson Fusao Inada

Yokohama, California, originally released in 1949, is the first published collection of short stories by a Japanese American. Set in a fictional community on the West Coast, these linked stories are alive with the people, gossip, humor, and legends of Japanese America in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Mori’s superbly structured short stories are . . . tender, evocative episodes of growing up as a Japanese American prior to World War II.” –San Francisco Chronicle

Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family
By Yoshiko Uchida
Introduction by Traise Yamamoto

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, everything changed for Yoshiko Uchida. Desert Exile is her autobiographical account of life before and during World War II. The book does more than relate the day-to-day experience of living in stalls at the Tanforan Racetrack, the assembly center just south of San Francisco, and in the Topaz, Utah, internment camp. It tells the story of the courage and strength displayed by those who were interned.

“In Desert Exile the happy life of a Japanese American family before [being removed to a] concentration camp makes their surrealist nightmare experience after December 7, 1941, all the more inexplicable and horrifying.” –San Francisco Review of Books

Awards round-up: UW Press books honored

We’re excited to announce that several UW Books have recently garnered awards, have been longlisted, or named as finalists. Two in particular have received recognition for their contributions to both scholarly and general-reader understandings of Pacific Northwest architecture and Western environmental history:

Shaping Seattle Architecture

Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, Second Edition
Edited by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner

Shaping Seattle Architecture has been honored as this year’s Architectural Heritage Publication by Historic Seattle, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the city’s urban heritage. The 7th Annual Preservation Awards will be held on May 12 and tickets are available online.

Now in its second edition, Shaping Seattle Architecture showcases the work of those who were instrumental in creating our region’s built environment, situating developments in Seattle building design within local and global contexts. Four individuals newly included in the second edition include Edwin J. Ivey, a leading residential designer; Fred Bassetti, an important contributor to Northwest regional modernism; L. Jane Hastings, one of the region’s foremost women in architecture; and Richard Haag, founder of the landscape architecture program at the University of Washington and designer of Gas Works Park and the Bloedel Reserve.

VacationlandVacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country
By William Philpott

Vacationland won the International Ski History Association’s Skade Award, which honors an outstanding work on regional ski history or an outstanding book focused in part on ski history. Vacationland was also the winner of the Western Writers of America 2014 Spur Award for best contemporary Western nonfiction.

Philpott shows how the Colorado high country was dramatically transformed into a national vacation destination in the decades following World War Two. This brought a new kind of environmental politics as tourists demanded protection for the aesthetic and recreational qualities that promoters had billed. Those demands energized the American environmental movement–but also created blind spots that still plague Colorado today.

Two other UW Press books have been longlisted for the prestigious International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) award:

TeaPuer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic
By Jinghong Zhang

Longlisted in the social sciences category, Puer Tea tells the story of how the ancient leaf’s noble lineage and unique process of aging and fermentation was rediscovered in the 1990s, helping it achieve cult status both in China and internationally. The tea became a favorite among urban connoisseurs who analyzed it in language comparable to that used in wine appreciation and paid skyrocketing prices.

In 2007, however, local events and the international economic crisis caused the Puer market to collapse. Anthropologist Jinghong Zhang traces the rise, climax, and crash of this phenomenon. With ethnographic attention to the spaces in which Puer tea is harvested, processed, traded, and consumed, she constructs a vivid account of the transformation of a cottage handicraft into a major industry–with predictable risks and unexpected consequences.

Bodies in the BalanceBodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine
Edited by Theresia Hofer

Longlisted in the humanities category, Bodies in Balance is the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration of the triangular relationship among the Tibetan art and science of healing (Sowa Rigpa), Buddhism, and arts and crafts. This book is dedicated to the history, theory, and practice of Tibetan medicine, a unique and complex system of understanding body and mind, treating illness, and fostering health and well-being.

Developed within the context of Buddhism, Tibetan medicine was adapted over centuries to different health needs and climates across the region encompassing the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas, and Mongolia. Generously illustrated with more than 200 images, Bodies in Balance includes essays on contemporary practice, pharmacology and compounding medicines, astrology and divination, history and foundational treatises. The volume brings to life the theory and practice of this ancient healing art.

Finally, we’re excited to also announce that two additional books have been named as finalists for awards:

BurbsWilderburbs: Communities on Nature’s Edge
By Lincoln Bramwell

A finalist for the Western Writers of America 2015 Spur Award in contemporary Nonfiction, Wilderburbs explores how roads, houses, and water development transformed the Western rural landscape. Bramwell introduces readers to developers, homeowners, and government regulators, all of whom have faced unexpected environmental problems in designing and building wilderburb communities, including unpredictable water supplies, threats from wildfires, and encounters with wildlife.

By looking at wilderburbs in the West, especially in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, Bramwell uncovers the profound environmental consequences of Americans’ desire to live in the wilderness.

MCAGREGreat Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest
By Ian McAllister

A finalist for the BC Book Prize/Roderick Haig-Brown Regional PrizeGreat Bear Wild is a journey from the headwaters of the Great Bear Rainforest’s unexplored river valleys to where the ocean meets the rainforest and, finally, to the hidden depths of the offshore world.

Rich with full-color photographs of the wolves, whales, and other creatures who make the rainforest their home, Great Bear Wild is a stunning celebration of this legendary place. Ian McAllister is a cofounder of the wildlife conservation organization Pacific Wild and the award-winning photographer and author of  The Last Wild Wolves. Time magazine named him one of the “Leaders of the 21st Century.”

Gas Works Park: A Brief History of a Seattle Landmark

Seattle-based landscape architect Richard Haag has reshaped his city and his profession as a designer, teacher, and activist. In the new book, The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design, Thaisa Way deftly guides readers through Haag’s major influences, design philosophy, and his numerous works, both public and private. The photos and text excerpted below provide a brief history of one of Haag’s best know public works, the rehabilitation of Gas Works Park in Seattle.

*Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn about upcoming opportunities to meet Richard Haag and author Thaisa Way.

[A] significant  event in Haag’s career was the 1956 closing of the gasification plant that lay on the northern shore of Lake Union. Sitting on a small promontory once known as Browns Point, the plant had manufactured the gas that supplied the city for fifty years. It had also been the source of immense pollution in the soil, water, and, most visibly, air. When it closed due to new sources of gas and energy, it was a toxic wasteland, and yet, because of its central position in the city, many considered it potential park space. Money was available for such a transformation, but the question was how to address such a disturbed and toxic site. From these conditions, Gas Works Park evolved as one of the first postindustrial landscapes to be transformed into public place. …

Ever since his arrival in Seattle, Haag had been dreaming of what to do with the abandoned site. It would take until 1975 to open the park to the public. Today it includes 20.5 acres of land projecting 400 feet into Lake Union with 1,900 feet of shoreline. It features the 45-foot-high Kite Hill, preserved gasification towers called “cracking” towers, a boiler house converted to a picnic shelter complete with tables and grills,and a former exhauster-compressor building transformed into the open-air Play Barn housing a maze of brightly painted machinery for children. It inspired projects across the nation and around the globe, from the work of Julie Bargman in Vintondale, Pennsylvania, to the work of Peter and Annelise Latz at Duisburg Nord, Germany.

Haag saw the dramatic site for the first time by rowboat on an autumn night and was immediately drawn to the somber black towers of the gas plant, set on the promontory surrounded by water on three sides and the Olympic Mountains visible in the far distance. He continued to explore the place and over time developed an attitude toward the remains of the gas plant. As he described it:

“When I get a new site, I always want to know, figure out, what is the most sacred thing about this site? Well, this site, without the buildings, there was nothing sacred about it. It did have a shoreline, but it would have a shoreline with or without the buildings. So I decided that this big tower, the one right behind me, was the most sacred, the most iconic thing on this site, and that I would go down to the wire to save that structure. Then as I got into it more, I thought, that’s kind of silly. Why wouldn’t you save the one behind it? You know, husband and wife? And then you start thinking, wait a minute, there’s four more: those are the kids. So it would break up a family. So I began to think bigger and bigger about saving more of these structures.”

As Haag explored the site, he would become increasingly enamored of its character and its potential as a new type of public park, specifically, a new kind of historic preservation effort, this one focused on an industrial past. As he later recalled:

“I haunted the buildings and let the spirit of the place enjoin me. I began seeing what I liked, then I liked what I saw—new eyes for old. Permanent oil slicks became plain without croppings of concrete, industrial middens were drumlins, the towers were ferro-forests and the brooding presence became the most sacred of symbols. I accepted these gifts, and decided to absolve the community’s vindictive feel towards the gas plant.”

9.2.aerial by naramore.revised..00454w12 (2)

Gas plant, Seattle, c. 1950. Aerial photo by Floyd Naramore. CBE Visual Resources Collection.

Gas Works Park master plan, 1971.

Gas Works Park master plan, 1971. Richard Haag Associates records.

Gas Works Park as a concept, 1971. Rendering by Dale Jorgensen.

Gas Works Park as a concept, 1971. Rendering by Dale Jorgensen. Collections of Richard Haag.

Maylor Uhlman surveying the site while Haag explains his plans, Seattle, 1974.

Maylor Uhlman surveying the site while Haag explains his plans, Seattle, 1974. Collection of Richard Haag.

9.11.GWPoil slick.haag (2)

Oil slick as art, gasworks site, Seattle 1970. Collection of Richard Haag.

Aerial view of Gas Works Park soon after it opened, c. 1975.

Aerial view of Gas Works Park soon after it opened, c. 1975. CBE Visual Resources Collection.

Barn and machinery with dancers and filmmaker, Gas Works Park, Seattle, c. 1975,

Barn and machinery with dancers and filmmaker, Gas Works Park, Seattle, c. 1975. Collection of Richard Haag.


Gas Works Park, Seattle, 2014. Tighe Photography.

Gas Works Park, Seattle, 2014.

Gas Works Park, Seattle, 2014. Tighe Photography.

Thaisa Way is associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Washington. She is the author of Unbounded Practices: Women, Landscape Architecture, and Early Twentieth Century Design.

See more images and learn about Haag and the making of this iconic Seattle landmark in The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design. Watch a trailer for the book here.

Meet Richard and Thaisa and pick up a signed copy of the book at these upcoming events:

The Writing Process: Ana Maria Spagna

reclaimers coverAna Maria Spagna is busy at work on her forthcoming book, Reclaimers, which the University of Washington Press will publish in Fall 2015. Spagna recently participated in a Writing Process Blog Tour and shared insights about her current project, work habits, writing influences, and more. We hope Spagna’s responses provide an opportunity to reflect on your own creative process and get you as excited about her forthcoming book as we are!

What are you working on?

AMS: I am working on a big sprawling book called Reclaimers that tells stories of people reclaiming things that have, in some way, been lost or stolen or damaged. Like sacred lands, wild rivers, and endangered species. Like culture and identity. The project dips into environmental history and cultural history, and includes a series of profiles: of three elders, two of them California Indians, of bureaucrats, activists, and fish biologists.

In this book, I’m trying to make sense of this instinct we have to make things better. So often when we try, especially in nature, we make things worse. So what to do? I kept coming back to this word “reclaim,” which has at least three definitions: to take back, to make right, and to make useful. I thought, well, aren’t at least two of those definitions (to make right and to make useful) at odds? Maybe they’re not. That’s where I started.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

AMS: My work is about nature, but about people, too. It’s not about me, but it has a strong “I” presence. Me as voice, me as a character, me as researcher and, in this book especially, as traveler. I spent a lot of time driving long miles, camping alone. It’s not memoir or travel writing, but has a lot of that in it. Not that any of this is new in nonfiction, of course. I take cues from Joan Didion and Anne Fadiman, from Rebecca Skloot and Rebecca Solnit, and then I try to make the style my own.

Why do you write what you do?

AMS: Because the question seems so crucial: How do we live in the natural world, which is, after all, the entire world, without screwing it up? And when we do screw it up, how do we fix it? Where are the role models for this? Turns out they’re everywhere, but we don’t hear about them. I want people to hear about them.

What’s your writing process?

AMS: In a book like this, half the battle is the research, and usually I try to go into that without expectations. But I had an interesting experience when I was just starting this project. I had planned to take a long research trip to visit the Maidu and Timbisha tribes in California, then settle in at a writing retreat to write down all I’d seen and heard. But timing changed, and I ended up at the retreat before I did a single interview. What was I supposed to do for two weeks? Well, I read and read and read. By the time I talked to the elders, I knew their stories backwards and forwards. They could see this, and they took it, I think, as respect. At the very least, it made our conversations more productive. I knew where and when to delve for more. I plan to do it that way, no matter what, from now on.