Author Archives: UWP Publicity

What Prisoners Tell Us: The Making of Concrete Mama

Concrete Mama: Prison Profiles from Walla Walla, by Ethan Hoffman and John McCoy, won the Washington State Book Award in 1981 for its stark, sympathetic portrayal of life inside the maximum-security prison. The University of Washington Press is publishing a new edition of the book, long out of print but as relevant as ever.

McCoy was recently interviewed by prison scholar Dan Berger, who wrote the book’s new introduction, in Berger’s class at the University of Washington Bothell. For University Press Week, here are some edited highlights from the interview about our neighbors behind bars.


DAN BERGER: Why did you decide to write about the prison?

JOHN MCCOY: My first glimpse of the penitentiary was as a cub newspaper reporter at the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. At that time—this was 1977—the State Penitentiary was ending a reform experiment in which prisoners were allowed a fair amount of autonomy inside the walls and allowed outside furloughs. The theory was that the more contact that prisoners have with the outside world, the better the chances are that they can be safely returned to society. But this reform project was failing. I wondered why.

So you and Ethan Hoffman, a photographer at the paper, quit your newspaper jobs to do a book on the penitentiary?

The guard in 9-tower, his rifle ready, watches as new prisoners arrive “on the chain,” a bus that carries them shackled from the state corrections reception center in Shelton.

Yes. Ethan and I spent four months in the fall and winter of 1978-79 inside the prison. We were allowed to come in as early as 5:00 in the morning and stay as late as 10:00 p.m. We were unescorted, which was absolutely crucial. If we walked around with a guard, we were not going to get any information from prisoners. Then, towards the end of our time there, we spent some time with guards, which was interesting, because some prisoners who had talked to us earlier ceased talking to us. It’s a very polarized world inside prison.

How did you approach doing the book?

As journalists. Ethan and I were not prison experts. We simply wanted to photograph and report on what we saw inside the walls. Here’s what prisoners tell us. Here’s what their day-to-day life is like depending on whether they’re tough or vulnerable, men or women, black, white, or brown. Here’s what the Parole Board members say. Here’s what the warden says. Here’s the guards.

Besides the warden, did you have to talk to others to get access?

Not to get access—but politically, I had to talk to the head of the guards’ union and the prisoners who served on the Resident Council, the elected representatives of the general population.

One thing that helped pave our way with prisoners was Ethan’s decision to give anyone who asked a nice 8-by-10-inch black-and-white portrait photo of themselves. So Ethan had guys posing with weights, stripped to the waist, displaying all their tattoos. He took pictures of whatever they wanted, but one picture only. And in return, they signed a release form that said we could use these pictures in the book. Ethan spent a lot of nights in the darkroom because prisoners wanted quick results. Nonetheless, the decision created a lot of goodwill and gave us great access.

Kim, right, spends time with Leomy, his “inside lady” and a member of Men Against Sexism, a club popular with prison gays and queens.

At this time, there were all kinds of areas that were off limits to guards. So, in order to enter these areas, we had to have either the president of the Lifers’ Club, or the Chicano Club, or the Meditation Group, or Men Against Sexism, or some other prison leader, either accompany or approve us. We had to tread cautiously. If we got crosswise with any particular group, we would be out of there, or we could have caused harm to ourselves. There were certainly some tense situations with both prisoners and guards.

Could you describe an average day in those four months you were there?

Prisoners were locked in their cells overnight. The day began with morning chow, about 7:00, for the general population—those not confined in the segregation unit or in protective custody.

Prisoners were released by tiers and walked to the chow hall—an ugly, cold brick building with a lot of cold metal tables and metal serving trays. Sometimes there were fights in the chow hall, or food was thrown, and guards intervened.

Some prisoners spend hours playing dominoes in the black prisoners’ club room.

After chow, most prisoners had nothing to do. There were certainly not enough jobs to employ even a minority of the 1,400 prisoners. So they were free to go back to their cells or wander the breezeways. There was recreation time in the gym, the weight room, and the Big Yard, where prisoners played baseball, card games, and smoked weed. On occasion, the bikers were permitted to race their motorcycles around the inside perimeter. There was also a limited education program—which soon ended when the Legislature withdrew funding—in which prisoners could complete their GED or get community college credits or university credits. Occasionally, there were movies or shows in the auditorium.

Some prisoners hung out at their private club rooms. Although you could get an infraction for smoking weed, it was basically tolerated. And there was heroin and other drugs smuggled in from outside.

You could work if you could find a job in the kitchen, chow hall, laundry, license plate shop, or elsewhere. Pay was pitiful—a few cents an hour. The primary advantage of a job was access to things you could steal and then exchange or sell.

Lockup in the evening came early, right after dinner, unless you had a permit to be out for work or prison business.

Because most of the population spent most of their time in four-man, 10-by-12-foot cells, your cellmates were very important. The Resident Council ostensibly helped prisoners find compatible cellmates. But there were powerful guys in the prison who really controlled the cells. Often, you had to buy a cell. Sometimes you’d get a cell equipped with a television, a nice mattress, and so on, but you paid for that. And you paid for that with money, drugs, sex, cigarettes, pruno—which is prison-brewed liquor—or other things.

What did you expect to find at the prison and did you find it?

First of all, we knew it was a good and unexpected story. Look, these guys are in motorcycle gangs, and they’re in prison, and they’re racing their Harleys? We knew Ethan could get fabulous pictures. I mean, a sweat lodge—I’d never been to a sweat lodge before, and certainly not one inside a prison. A casino night at the Chicano Club. There were transgender or cross-dressing dancers. There was sex, there was drugs. So, without making a judgment call, we had to ask: What’s happening here? And why?

“Nert,” left, and “Kickstand” are bikers, cellmates and tattoo enthusiasts.

Our hope was to do a fair, balanced, and accurate account of life inside a state penitentiary—a notorious state penitentiary, perhaps—at a time in which hard questions continued to be asked about the purpose of prison.

How do you know you got at the truth?

Ethan had it easier, because photos don’t lie. I had to pursue multiple sources. Sometimes I heard prisoners explain their crimes and protest their innocence in ways that were preposterous. Fortunately, a helpful prison trustee was willing to share confidential records with me. And a prison attorney was quietly willing to access court records for me. I was able to verify prison stories and eventually developed a pretty good BS detector.

How did the experience of those four months in the prison affect you?

I went away humbled by the experience. I left with the strong feeling that this is really a destructive place. It’s destructive for those who are there, both keepers and the kept. It’s dangerous. It does little to help people adjust to the real world. In fact, it destroys a lot of prisoners’ chances of having a successful transition.

And it picks on the poor, the less educated, and the mentally ill. Incarcerated people are disproportionally poor and minorities. They have unaddressed behavioral issues; learning issues; addiction issues. Their keepers, at Walla Walla and prisons elsewhere, tend to be disproportionally white, rural, with a high school education, often veterans, and with limited understanding of those they are charged with “correcting.”

Why is Concrete Mama relevant 40 years later?

Ed Mead, a founder of the radical George Jackson Brigade and a Marxist revolutionary serving time for armed assault on a bank, is confined to the “intensive segregation unit” commonly known as “the hole.”

For two reasons: First, prison life doesn’t change much. Prisoners spend most of their time caged. They have little to do. They band together for protection and personal gain. And they generally leave prison more alienated and damaged than when they came in. As a result, two-thirds of them return.

Secondly, starting in the early 1970s, Washington State had tried to reform its prisons by emphasizing rehabilitation rather than punishment. That meant giving prisoners a good deal of autonomy with the expectation that if they could make something of themselves inside, they could be successful on the outside. For a variety reasons, it was a failure. Ethan and I were there as the experiment finally fell apart. But you have to ask, what have we done since?


John A. McCoy is the author of A Still and Quiet Conscience, a biography of Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen. He was a reporter and editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and has taught writing courses at the University of Washington-Tacoma and Seattle University.

Dan Berger is associate professor at the University of Washington Bothell, and an interdisciplinary historian focusing on critical prison studies. He is the author of several books, including Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, and coauthor most recently of Rethinking the American Prison Movement.

To learn more about Concrete Mama: Prison Profiles from Walla Walla or to buy your copy of the book, click here.

2018 PubWest Book Design Award Winners

PubWest imageThe University of Washington Press has the pleasure of announcing that three of our titles received 2018 PubWest Book Design Awards. The program was developed 34 years ago to recognize the superior design and outstanding production quality of books. Our talented Art Director, Katrina Noble, will be presented with custom-engraved medallions and certificates to honor her incredible work.

And the winners are…

Dudley_AmericanSabor_cov_rev3American Sabor: Latinos and Latinas in US Popular Music / Latinos y Latinas en la musica popular estadounidense
by Marisol Berríos-Miranda, Shannon Dudley, and Michelle Habell-Pallán

Silver Award, Historical / Biographical Book

American Sabor presented a unique design challenge: it was in both Spanish and English, and the two languages ran concurrently with only one set of images, which meant that I had to find a balance on every spread that kept both languages roughly in sync while spreading the many images, quotes, sidebars, and icons throughout. I wanted to find a way to set the Spanish-language pages off from the English while also making it feel like a cohesive reading experience. The book also had to feel immersive and lively, as it was based on an exhibit that appeared at MoPOP (formerly EMP) and the authors wanted the book to feel like an evolution of the experience of the museum exhibit.” —Katrina Noble


ArtofResistance-HawksThe Art of Resistance: Painting by Candlelight in Mao’s China
by Shelley Drake Hawks

Bronze Award, Historical / Biographical Book

The Art of Resistance, in comparison to American Sabor, is a relatively straightforward book with a slightly subversive topic. The book design grew out of the cover design, which uses a painting from one of the artists featured in the book. The cover has a subtle tension that I wanted to carry through the whole book, so I brought the diagonal red line into the interior design as a theme reflecting the artists’ subtle resistance to the strict constraints placed on them by Mao’s regime.” —Katrina Noble


Decker_North_cov3North: Finding Place in Alaska
by Julie Decker
Co-published with Anchorage Museum

Bronze Award, Art Book

North was designed by Laura Shaw Book Design.

Exhibitions on View: ‘Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride’

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Ella McBride, Untitled (self-portrait with camera shadow), circa 1921. Gelatin silver print, 9¾ × 7⅜ inches. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Janet Anderson Collection UW38940.

We are delighted to distribute the catalog, Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride, to accompany the exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum. The exhibition is on view through July 22, 2018.

Internationally acclaimed fine-art photographer Ella McBride (1862–1965) played an important role in the Northwest’s photography community and served as a key figure in the national and international pictorialist photography movements. Despite her many accomplishments, which included managing the photography studio of Edward S. Curtis and being an early member of the Seattle Camera Club, McBride is little known today. Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride reconsiders her career and the larger pictorialist movement in the Northwest.

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Edward S. Curtis, Untitled, 1897. A party of Mazamas on the summit of Pinnacle Peak. Mount Rainier 1897 Collection, Mazamas Library and Historical Collections, VM1993-016 print03. [McBride is the woman in the center in the striped shirt, bow tie, and high crowned hat. Curtis is to her left, holding a camera, wearing glasses and a white neckerchief.]

An avid mountain climber, McBride was a member of the Mazamas, a Portland, Oregon mountaineering organization. She met Edward S. Curtis in 1897 when he was leading an ascent of Mt. Rainier. They became friends and Curtis convinced her to leave her teaching position to relocate to Seattle and assist him in his studio. She accepted, and by 1907, she was the manager of his studio. In 1916, she opened her own commercial studio, which she operated for more than thirty years.

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Ella McBride, ‘A Shirley Poppy,’ 1925. Gelatin silver print on Textura tissue, 9½ × 7¼ inches. Private collection. Photo © TAM, photo by Lou Cuevas. [‘A Shirley Poppy’ was shown in nineteen national and international salons.]

McBride embraced the painterly qualities of Pictorialist photography enthusiastically. In 1921, she participated in her first exhibition. During the 1920s, she was listed as one of the most exhibited Pictorialist photographers in the world. She was a prominent member of the Seattle Camera Club (active 1924–1929). She also worked as an advocate for the environment and cofounded the Seattle branch of the Soroptimist Club, an organization for business and professional women.

Unfortunately, her artistic ambitions were cut short by the realities of the Great Depression. Most of McBride’s photographs and negatives have been destroyed, but you can see some of her studio photos here.

Captive Light: The Life and Photography of Ella E. McBride surveys McBride’s development as an artist and her role in Washington’s early photography community through a selection of over sixty of her images of flowers, still lifes, portraits, and landscapes. This exhibition was organized by Tacoma Art Museum and is part of the museum’s Northwest Perspective Series. 

All images photo © TAM.

 

LGBT Pride

GaySeattle-Atkins (2)Happy Pride Month! With the Seattle Pride Parade right around the corner, we’re bringing Gary L. Atkins’s award-winning Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging back into the spotlight.

In 1893, the Washington State legislature quietly began passing a set of laws that essentially made homosexuality, and eventually even the discussion of homosexuality, a crime. A century later Mike Lowry became the first governor of the state to address the annual lesbian and gay pride rally in Seattle. Gay Seattle traces the evolution of Seattle’s gay community during those one hundred turbulent years, telling through a century of stories how gays and lesbians have sought to achieve a sense of belonging in Seattle.

These stories of exile and belonging draw on numerous original interviews as well as case studies of individuals and organizations that played important roles in the history of Seattle’s gay and lesbian community. Collectively, they are a powerful testament to the endurance and fortitude of this minority community, revealing the ways a previously hidden sexual minority “comes out” as a people and establishes a public presence in the face of challenges from within and without.

Gary L. Atkins is professor of women and gender studies at Seattle University. His most recent book is Imagining Gay Paradise: Bali, Bangkok and Cyber-Singapore.

Today, we talk with Professor Atkins about the process of writing Gay Seattle and its contribution to the community.



What inspired you to get into your field?

GA: Ever since I was in third grade, I’ve been compelled by writing as well as by understanding the history of how different places, people and imaginations came to be. That gradually translated into an interest in journalism, especially in nonfiction creative writing.

Why did you want to write this book?

GA: I moved to Seattle in 1978 and, of course, I immediately wanted to know more about both the geography and the history of the Northwest. Over the years I kept reading—but the customary history books all left out any stories of lesbians and gay men. I didn’t find anything that reflected who I was . . . or who the generations of lesbians and gay men who had come before me were.

Describe the process of writing this book.

GA: Because I am very interested in geography and architecture and how both influence people’s imaginations, I actually began by just walking around. Even though I had already lived in Seattle for fifteen years by the time I began the book, I wanted to deliberately see what were both the existing spaces in which gay men and lesbians had settled and created their public gathering spots, as well as spaces I had heard about. Then came the usual journalistic research approaches: sweeping city and university libraries for any information; digging through microfilm of criminal cases to turn up who had been arrested for crimes like sodomy; visiting county, state and federal archives for reports on things like treatments at mental hospitals. Intermixed with that were interviews with any of the “old-timers” I could find. I conducted many of these, but I also involved students in my Seattle U classes.  After all the reporting came draft after draft after draft of the book. The whole process took about ten years from its start in 1993 until publication in 2003. Although, of course, I was still teaching fulltime.

What do you think is this book’s most important contribution?

GA: It reports and describes a saga that had been overlooked in other stories of the Northwest at the time of publication: the efforts of those who had been criminalized and treated as sick for their sexual desires and their loves to instead create their own community and to establish themselves publicly.  

What is the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book?

GA: Although the general histories of Seattle documented the old police payoff system that existed for decades until the 1970s, no one had really tracked how that affected the development of the lesbian and gay bars—and so the development of the gay community—in the city. As I worked through archives, grand jury reports, and newspaper stories, it gradually became apparent that the payoff system had fostered the community, but ironically, I also found out that it was a particular gay bar owner who had eventually helped bring the whole system down. By then, for all practical purposes, he had disappeared from the city. So one of the most fantastic experiences I had was simply seeing an old phone number on a document, and it was actually still his number. I was able to track him down on Camano Island and then conduct interviews with him.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing the book?

GA: One of the most surprising things was that students at my own university, Seattle U, helped launch the LGBTQ civil rights effort in Seattle back in the 1960s, although in a rather negative way. From the oral history interviews that one of my students conducted, we discovered that SU students had harassed gay men who were living next to the university and who sometimes dressed in drag. The students threw rocks at their home, which prompted the men to race after them in drag, causing the police to intervene and the drag queens to tell their stories to a radio station. Out of that came organizing efforts for the old Dorian Society, which was the first really long-lasting gay rights group in Seattle.  The gay men met with the SU president at the time and were apparently told they should move. Resolutely, they responded that he should instead tell his students to stop throwing rocks. I guess you could consider that one of many little “stonewalls” that started happening in Seattle well before the big one back in New York.


This year’s Pride Parade will take place on Sunday, June 24th in downtown Seattle. Learn more here.

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Check out more books like Gay Seattle in our Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies catalog.

Announcing the 2018–2019 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellows

SEATTLE, WA — The University of Washington Press, the MIT Press, Duke University Press, the University of Georgia Press, and the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) today announce the recipients of the 2018–2019 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowships.

The Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship was established in 2016 by the four university presses and the AUPresses as the first cross-press initiative of its kind in the United States to address the marked lack of diversity in the academic publishing industry. The initiative seeks to create a pipeline program of academic publishing professionals with significant personal experience and engagement with diverse communities and a demonstrated ability to bring the understanding gleaned from such engagement to bear on their daily work.

The program provides professional and financial support to cohorts of four fellows per year for three years. The yearlong appointments offer each fellow immersive, on-the-job training along with one-on-one mentoring and opportunities for networking and professional development. Fellows are given the opportunity to connect with one another and meet industry colleagues at two AUPresses annual meetings. Please join us in welcoming the 2018–2019 fellows!

The 2018–2019 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellows:

Caitlin Tyler-Richards joins the University of Washington Press from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is a PhD candidate in African history. Her research focuses on recentering Africa in book history, world literature, and popular fiction scholarship. Towards that end, her dissertation is a born-digital project on the shape of local and transnational fiction networks in Nigeria from 1945 to the present. She also enjoys speculative fiction from the global South, action movies featuring impossible white men, and defining “digital humanities.” Until recently, she lived in Missoula, Montana, with her partner and two dogs.

Jenny Tan joins Duke University Press from the University of California, Berkeley, where she is currently completing her PhD in comparative literature and medieval studies. Her scholarly work focuses on French medieval narratives and their reception in other language traditions. At Berkeley she has actively worked to challenge some of the disciplinary and institutional barriers that have reinforced the exclusion of questions of race and gender from medieval studies (and have made the field notably hostile to women and people of color). She also recently helped to organize an event on “Decolonizing Medieval Studies.”

Lea Johnson joins the University of Georgia Press from the University of California, San Diego, where she is a digital curator and PhD candidate in ethnic studies. Growing up between Los Angeles and Natchitoches, Louisiana, Lea developed an interest in circuits of culture and how black women negotiate space. Her interests include African American literature, the transnational South, and black feminist literary criticism. Currently, her dissertation explores race, gender, and the speculative literary imagination in the US South. She has also taught classes on the intersection of culture, art, and technology, helping students develop and experiment with creative projects across digital mediums. Her favorite books are Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

Nhora Lucía Serrano joins MIT Press from Hamilton College, where she has been a visiting assistant professor of comparative literature teaching interdisciplinary courses in visual narratives, virtual realities, cartography, and Latin America. Her recent professional experience and awards also include visiting scholar of comparative literature at Harvard University, 2018 Eisner Comic Industry Award judge, treasurer of the Comics Studies Society, Smithsonian National Postal Museum fellowship, and NEH Summer Institute on Modernism in Chicago. Originally from Colombia, she received her BA from Amherst College, MA from New York University, and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her scholarly work and editorial experience focus on visual studies and graphic arts books, comparative early modern and Latin American studies, digital humanities and technology, transnationalism, US Latinx studies, and immigration.

The fellowship program is generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with a four-year $682,000 grant.