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A Q&A with Poet David Biespiel

For National Poetry Month, we are pleased to share a conversation with poet David Biespiel, author of Republic Cafe.


It’s Monday, 10am. Would you tell us your motto for writing poems?

My motto would be, writing poems is impossible. That’s my motto. It’s impossible for me to do anything else, first of all, but to write poems. But, to write a poem? What is that? What is a poem? Every effort to write a poem is as much a soaring success as it is a terrible flub. It’s impossible to write in the direction I want to write, because as soon as I get close to that point on the horizon I’ve been aiming toward, what I’ve been trying to write appears different to me. Everything I’ve been doing, therefore, is wrong. A failure. In a catalogue essay from the 1960s of a MOMA exhibition of Alberto Giacometti’s work, there’s this opening paragraph in Peter Selz’s introduction:

‘To render what the eye sees is impossible,’ Giacometti repeated one evening while we were seated at dinner at the inn at Stampa. He explained that he could really not see me as I sat next to him—I was a conglomeration of vague and disconnected details—but that each member of the family sitting across the room was clearly visible, though diminutive, thin, surrounded by enormous slices of space. Everyone before him in the whole history of art, he continued, had always represented the figure as it is; his task now was to break down tradition and come to grips with the optical phenomenon of reality. What is the relationship of the figure to the enveloping space, of man to the void, even of being to nothingness?

That about covers it—for writing. It’s impossible. And, that’s exactly what makes it so freeing, so enticing.

What led you to become a writer? And, specifically a poet?

I recently published a book on this subject, The Education of a Young Poet. I think I became a writer because I liked messing around with words, with sentences. I liked the feel of moving a verb from the front of a sentence to the end. I liked feeling curious about whether I should end a sentence on a noun, or start with a noun. I liked seeing the figure of ideas and images form, from one word to the next, one phrase and one clause to the next, one sentence and one paragraph to the next. That’s what I liked and what I still like at the most tactile/DNA level of writing. Writing a poem is all of that on steroids. Now, with a poem, too, you have lines to enhance even more new relationships between adjective and noun, for instance. It’s mind-blowing.

As for why I became a poet? Writing poems, for me—because I write poems and nonfiction—I find that poetry offers greater velocity than prose and also poetry dwells more deeply in metaphor. Speed plus associative feeling. That’s two things that draw me to write poems. Underneath all that is an interest in asking questions that, perhaps, poetry can reflect upon. Writing Republic Cafe I was interested in the importance of forgetting, as opposed to the more traditional interest in the importance of remembering. So I was writing the poem—the long poem that’s the centerpiece of the book—to reflect upon that question. And yet, that’s the paradox. The close I got to dramatizing what I was forgotten, I began to see it, or remember  it, differently. So the book is trying to figure out what to make of that enigma.

Did you write the book in Portland?

Mostly, yes. In late 2012, during the production period for Charming Gardeners, which UW Press published in 2014, I began taking notes and studying the patterns of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour in Portland. Then, in the fall of 2014, I went to West Texas and wrote for a month without interruption. That’s where I drafted the book. I worked on it for several years after that, and then, in late 2017, I put the book through a big revision after Linda Bierds read it. I did that revision in my house here in Portland over several weeks.

Many writers begin their career with teachers and models. Republic Cafe is your sixth book of poems since 1996. Did you have a model when you first started to write? Do you now?

When I first started to write, I was mostly alone. Not alone in the world—well, not entirely alone in the world, I mean—but alone with my books, with paper and pen. No teachers. I had no guidance. Later I studied with several wonderful poets. At the University of Maryland I studied with Stanley Plumly, Michael Collier, and Phillis Levin. At Stanford, when I was a Stegner fellow, I studied with W.S. Di Piero and Ken Fields. Because Stan Plumly introduced my first book, I suppose I’m most identified with him, and I’m extremely grateful to have studied with him. Truth be told I still learn things from him. From him personally—we’ve remained close for thirty years. And especially through his poems, which are remarkable for their warmth and tenderness. Before those teachers came along, and ever since, I would say Walt Whitman has been a model for me. I don’t mean the man so much—not to dismiss the man, that is, but I mean the writing. His engagement as a poet with language and life. The nexus of self and society that is the hallmark of his poetry. I’ve learned from Whitman that while images never become out-of-fashion or obsolete, blow-hardedness does. Commentaries do. Explaining or psychoanalyzing kills invention. Kills metaphor. Kills freshness. What’s so great about Whitman is he still feels contemporary. It’s the 200th anniversary of his birth this year, and he still feels in touch with our own time. Whitman doesn’t try to explain his motivations. Instead he conveys a consciousness. That’s the thing I’ve most tried to learn from Whitman. To write a poem is to invent a consciousness. But, of course, it’s impossible.


Biespiel photo 2David Biespiel is a poet, critic, memoirist, and contributing to writer to American Poetry Review, New Republic, the New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate. He is poet-in-residence at Oregon State University, faculty member in the Rainier Writers Workshop, and president of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters. He has received NEA and Lannan fellowships and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Balakian Award. He has previously published The Education of a Young Poet, Wild Civility, The Book of Men and Women, and Charming Gardeners. You can buy his most recent collection, Republic Cafe by clicking here.

In Memoriam: Leroy (Lee) Soper

Lee-Soper

Leroy Soper, photograph by Mary Randlett.

Leroy (Lee) Soper, a longtime member of the University of Washington Press advisory board, passed away on Tuesday, February 2, 2016, the eve of his ninety-second birthday.

University of Washington Press director Nicole Mitchell notes, “Lee was an ardent supporter of books generally and the University of Washington Press in particular. We were incredibly fortunate to have Lee’s support over the decades, and his presence will be greatly missed not only by the press and Seattle’s literary community, but also by book buyers and readers throughout the region.”

Lee began his career at the Walla Walla Bookshop in 1952 and worked for the University Book Store from 1959 to 1969. He left to establish the Raymar Northwest Book Company, the first large-scale regional book wholesaler in the Pacific Northwest. By offering timely access to stock, Lee’s wholesale business was key to helping bookstores across the region expand and flourish.

Lee returned to the University Book Store in 1977 as general book manager, and he remained there until he retired in 1993. He founded the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, still a dynamic resource for bookstores, booksellers, librarians, and media around the region, and he was a member of the American Booksellers Association. Lee helped judge the Governor’s Writers Award (now the Washington State Book Award), and he served on the University of Washington Press advisory board for twenty-six years, from its founding in 1988, helping the press earn its worldwide reputation as a leading publisher of high-quality academic and regional trade books.

Former University of Washington Press director Pat Soden writes, “Leroy Soper was Seattle’s ‘Mr. Books.’ He was an extraordinary bookman and dear friend to the generation of publishers and booksellers he trained and mentored. The general book department of the University Book Store is the monument Lee built, but his lasting legacy is the great book town Seattle has become. I will miss him beyond words.”

The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City

Burke-PortlandBlackPanthersFrom Ferguson, Missouri to Flint, Michigan, African American communities across the nation continue to struggle for the same basic rights, protections, and social services demanded by the civil rights movement exactly a half century ago. In their timely new book, The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City, authors Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson Jeffries remind us of an earlier case of concerned citizens, in a similarly overlooked black community, who took matters into their own hands when they felt they weren’t being heard by local leaders. While most of us easily associate the Black Panthers with berets and bullet belts, Burke and Jeffries show us that the Portland branch, which was much smaller than its more infamous counterparts in the Bay area, was more concerned with taking care of neighborhood kids and opening a free health clinic for the community.

Though there definitely are stories of violence, angry protests, police brutality, and other more dramatic episodes in their book, the excerpt I’ve chosen focuses on the group’s early attempts (before it was an official Black Panther branch) to start a free breakfast program for kids in the Albina district. I chose this passage for several reasons. For starters, it’s a warm, “feel good” moment that demonstrates the Portland Panthers’ ability to build community, countering the stereotype that portrays them only as angry and combative. Instead, we see Kent Ford and other Portland Panthers working to secure food donations, and organizing early morning schedules for cooks and servers, actions that clearly take a great deal of planning and effort. Secondly, we see through the press coverage how the Portland branch challenged those very preconceived notions about the Black Panthers. Reporters came in expecting militant ideology and instead found pancakes and syrup.

Finally, I chose this particular excerpt because it also speaks to the vision of the Panthers. Providing free breakfast to school kids might seem like a minor thing, but, as they argued, the idea that everyone is entitled to a healthy diet is truly a revolutionary concept. These days that concept is known as the “food justice” movement, but, as the authors show, it was being fought for in Portland long before it had an official name. Though the Portland Black Panthers branch dissolved by the 1980s, its legacy lives on in the city through the various activist groups fighting for fair housing, living wages, environmental justice, and an end to police brutality, among other issues. By shining the spotlight on the little known Portland Black Panther branch, Burke and Jeffries show us how even the smallest group—in the unlikeliest of places—can affect major change by building up its community and relentlessly pushing back against the powers that be.

Ranjit Arab, Senior Editor

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Portland Black Panthers: Empowering Albina and Remaking a City, by Lucas N. N. Burke and Judson Jeffries:

Even though they were not yet card-carrying members of the Black Panther Party, NCCF (National Committee to Combat Fascism) members in Portland worked diligently in the fall of 1969 to establish a free breakfast program for school kids. “The government had money to fight a war thousands and thousands of miles away . . . and send astronauts to the moon,” Kent Ford said, “but ensuring that kids received a well-balanced meal before heading off to school was not a priority . . . so the Panthers made it a priority.” In 1967, the US government spent a mere $600,000 on breakfast programs nationwide. But as more and more Panther branches started their own free breakfast programs, government-sponsored breakfast initiatives proliferated. By 1972, government-sponsored breakfast programs were feeding more than a million children of the approximately five million who qualified for such aid.

Doing the work of a Panther without being acknowledged as a Panther frustrated some of the Portland members. Their community survival initiatives, among other things, were indicative of the NCCF’s burning desire and commitment to be recognized as full-fledged Panthers. Becoming an official Panther came with a tremendous amount of responsibility, but to some it was not significantly different from what they had become accustomed to doing as members of the NCCF. Oscar Johnson remembers how he structured his days around Panther activities: “My work as a Panther was not all that different than what I was doing as a member of the NCCF. I worked nights, so I was the driver. I’d finish my shift and pick up kids who needed a ride to breakfast. Go home and sleep. We solicited cash and food from neighborhood businesses in the afternoon and attended political education classes at night. It felt good. . . . We were doing something. We had the respect of the community.” Drawing on a small but diverse group of young working-class and student activists, these African American men and women used a variety of networks and connections to build a robust breakfast program. The Portland NCCF made the announcement that it was going to start a free breakfast program at a community meeting. “From the outset, people were receptive to the program,” said Black Panther Patty (Hampton) Carter. Believing the program to be a worthwhile endeavor, Rev. Samuel L. Johnson, head pastor of the Highland United Church of Christ, offered his church as the venue for the program. The church, located at 4635 NE Ninth Ave, was ideal, as it was spacious, met building and health code inspections, and was in close proximity to Martin Luther King Elementary School, which was located at 4906 NE Sixth Avenue. One week into the 1969–70 school year, NCCF members distributed leaflets (outlining the schedule, goals, and objective of the free breakfast program) to various community groups and passed them out to kids as they walked to and from school. Ford remembered that “people were so supportive of the program. . . . Rev. Johnson didn’t charge us a dime . . . neither did the Wonder Bread company that gave us fifty loaves of bread each week, no questions asked . . . then there was this one nice lady who (within a month of starting the breakfast program) came in one day with seventy-five cartons of eggs. When I attempted to pay her for her trouble, she turned me down flat saying, ‘You guys are doing good work.’ ”

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Q&A with ‘Living Together, Living Apart’ co-editor April Schueths

Immigration reform remains one of the most contentious issues in the United States today. For mixed status families–families that include both citizens and noncitizens–this is more than a political issue: it’s a deeply personal one. Undocumented family members and legal residents lack the rights and benefits of their family members who are US citizens, while family members and legal residents sometimes have their rights compromised by punitive immigration policies based on a strict “citizen/noncitizen” dichotomy.

The personal narratives and academic essays in Living Together, Living Apart: Mixed Status Families and US Immigration Policy are among the first to focus on the daily lives and experiences, as well as the broader social contexts, for mixed status families in the contemporary United States. Threats of raids, deportation, incarceration, and detention loom large over these families. At the same time, their lives are characterized by the resilience, perseverance, and resourcefulness necessary to maintain strong family bonds, both within the United States and across national boundaries.

April Schueths is associate professor of sociology at Georgia Southern University, a licensed social worker, and co-editor with Jodie Lawston of this important forthcoming volume. In this first of two planned Q&As with the co-editors, April Schueths discusses how she came to study mixed-status families and how Living Together, Living Apart came to be.

Q: What inspired you to get into sociology?

April Schueths: Growing up I constantly asked questions and my family always said I cared ‘too much’ about others. Being raised in a traditional working class family I was able to see how socio-economic status, gender, and race impacted peoples’ life chances. This understanding, along with my desire to help others, led me to a career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker where I worked with individuals, families, communities, and policy. While working on my PhD in sociology at the University of Nebraska I had the privilege of joining the Latino Research Initiative (LRI), a university-community partnership focused on meeting the needs of the Latino community. This supportive group is where I started my research with mixed-status families.

Q: What would you have been if not an academic?

April Schueths: If I hadn’t become an academic I would have probably worked in student affairs, public policy, or a non-profit advocacy group like Appleseed. It’s always been important for me to find ways to challenge unequal power structures with the goal of improving peoples’ lives, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Q: What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about your field and what you do?

April Schueths: Immigration policy is inherently complex. Unfortunately the public often relies on incorrect (and often hateful) media stereotypes that stigmatize immigrants, especially individuals without legal status. Many people don’t realize that harsh immigration policy impacts US citizens. In reality deportation policies have negative consequences for both immigrants and citizens. Mixed-status families often live in fear, face separation, or are forced to live transnationally. Another misconception is that if a person who is undocumented marries a citizen, their legal status will automatically be adjusted and that all of their immigration problems will be resolved. However, immigrants who’ve lived in the US without legal status are automatically barred from living here for a certain amount of time–sometimes life–even when married to a citizen or when they are parents to citizen children.

Q: Why did you want to put together Living Together, Living Apart?

April Schueths: In my social work practice and research I learned just how many families were impacted by punitive immigration policies. I felt compelled to make their experiences known. Thus it was especially important to include the narratives written by individuals in mixed-status families, along with the academic chapters. Most people not connected to these issues have very little understanding of the hardships mixed-status families face, and in many cases their positions are based on incorrect stereotypes. After reading this collection, I hope that readers understand how complex the issues of immigration and family are, but most importantly I want people to empathize with families and to see that their human rights are often violated. I want people to care.

Q: What are you reading right now?

April Schueths: Recently I’ve read Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families by Joanna Dreby, and Forgotten Citizens: Deportation, Children, and the Making of American Exiles and Orphans by Luis Zaya, both of which I highly recommend. For fun I’m also reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg.

Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village

Ruth Kirk’s Ozette: Excavating a Makah Whaling Village presents a detailed account of a world-famous archaeological site on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Full-scale excavations from 1966 to 1981 revealed houses and their contents—including ordinarily perishable wood and basketry objects that had been buried in a mudflow well before the arrival of Europeans in the region. Led by Richard Daugherty, with a team of graduate and undergraduate students and Makah tribal members, the work culminated in the creation of the Makah Museum in Neah Bay, where more than 55,000 Ozette artifacts are curated and displayed. Ruth Kirk was present—documenting the archaeological work from its beginning—and her firsthand knowledge of the people and efforts involved enrich her compelling story of discovery and fieldwork, and deepen our understanding of a complex and storied culture.

Here, we feature an excerpt from Ozette in which Ruth Kirk describes the location of the long-occupied coastal village and the earliest stages of the world-famous archaeological excavation of the site.

(Scroll to the bottom of this post to learn about upcoming opportunities to hear Ruth Kirk discuss Ozette).

The year was 1947. Richard Daugherty, a student at the University of Washington, was hiking the state’s wilderness Pacific coast, recording archaeological sites. World War II had ended, and with it his service as a navy blimp pilot flying patrols on the lookout for submarines. He had returned to his studies and in connection with them was making this survey of more than two hundred miles of coastline, from the mouth of the Columbia River to Cape Flattery. Not far from the cape, he had reached Ozette, the site of a Makah whaling village. A broad terrace bordered the beach for a half mile or more, and on it the walls of a few houses lay fallen into the grass and nettles, along with rotten roof boards covered with moss. Families had lived there until the 1920s, when they moved to Neah Bay, sixteen miles north.The federal government had ordered their children to be in school, yet had provided none at Ozette. They had no choice but to move.

Kirk-fig-1.01_alt

The main Ozette village stretched for about three-quarters of a mile along the beach, connected to Ch’kknow acht Island by a low-tide sandspit.

That exodus accounted for the end of the long human continuity at Ozette, but what were the beginnings? Midden—refuse—exposed in the sea bank edging the beach belonged to those earlier chapters. Lots of midden, and deep. Daugherty noted layer on layer of broken mussel and clam shells, whale bones, charcoal, and rocks cracked and split by the heat of a fire. This clearly was the premier site of the more than fifty he had recorded along the entire coast. He was seeing archaeological material that amounted to a cultural jigsaw puzzle belonging to the Makah people—and although he could not know it at the time, he was also looking at what eventually would provide the high point of his professional career.

Now the year was 1966. Daugherty had completed his PhD and joined the faculty at Washington State University, in Pullman. He had worked with other archaeologists in Egypt and Sudan, gathering evidence of the human past along the Nile River before it would be lost owing to construction of the Aswan Dam. He had consulted on Peace River archaeology in British Columbia and directed investigations in eastern Washington along the Snake and Columbia Rivers. But he kept wanting to get back to Ozette, and he found a way to do it. The National Science Foundation approved funds for research, and Daugherty recruited thirty archaeology students from across the United States and Canada to come and learn field techniques while helping unlock the story of Ozette’s past. The Makah Tribal Council had approved the undertaking.

Richard Daugherty (left) and Ed Claplanhoo assessed the sea-bank erosion caused by winter's storm-driven waves.

Richard Daugherty (left) and Ed Claplanhoo assessed the sea-bank erosion caused by winter’s storm-driven waves.

Ed Claplanhoo, a young councilman at the time, was a graduate of Washington State College (now University), and he knew Professor Daugherty. Consequently the council asked his opinion of Daugherty’s proposal. Years earlier they had declined a University of Washington request for permission to excavate at Ozette, but they could see merit in the current proposal as a way of strengthening the tribe’s tie to Ozette and they trusted Claplanhoo’s assessment. The federal government was considering “surplusing” the land at Ozette as vacant and no longer eligible for status as an Indian reservation. However, several Neah Bay elders had lived there as children, and they cared deeply about those roots.

Hamilton Greene, one of the elders, remembered “a solid line of houses facing the water, and canoes on the beach. My grandfather used to say that Ozette had been a big village. The word he used to describe it means ‘a whole bunch.’ More [houses] than you’d care to count.” Daugherty’s proposal seemed like a way to augment such memories with a new kind of knowledge. The tribe and the professor would work together.

The beach served as lunchroom for the 1966 archaeology crew.

The beach served as lunchroom for the 1966 archaeology crew.

The archaeology camp was set up just back from the beach, where a splashing creek furnished water for drinking and for icy showers. On days when it was not raining, the crew ate out on the beach, sitting on drift logs. On drizzly days, they gathered in a large, floorless tent designated as mess hall and classroom. A Coast Guard helicopter had brought in the big tent and smaller sleeping tents, a cookstove, groceries, shovels, surveyor’s transits, and field notebooks and laboratory catalogs with blank pages to be filled with information day-by-day as the excavation progressed. It was a onetime delivery. From then on, supplies had to be backpacked four miles through the forest and along the beach or flown in by a small plane twenty-four miles from the logging town of Forks. Often it was too foggy for the plane to land, and, for the same reason, travel often was unsafe by boat from Neah Bay, sixteen miles north, or La Push, eighteen miles south.

A trail through the forest leads from road's end to the beach.

A trail through the forest leads from road’s end to the beach.

By modern standards Ozette is isolated and remote, but it was quite the contrary during its long years as a village approached from the sea. Sixteen houses stood there in 1834, according to the report of three shipwrecked Japanese seamen who had drifted for more than a year across the Pacific Ocean before finally being washed ashore and captured by Ozette Indians. They were subsequently rescued by the Hudson’s Bay Company and eventually taken to Macao, a trade center on the southeast coast of China. A half century later, the 1889 Pacific Coast Pilot also mentioned Ozette, with a reporter stating: “Passed close outside [Ozette] and had a fine view of it. The village has over 20 houses and is not bulkheaded to prevent the inroads of the sea.”

There could scarcely have been a better setting for Northwest Coast human life. Several offshore islands and a wide rocky reef at the village doorstep broke the force of swells and incoming waves, thereby easing the landing of canoes. The reef, exposed at low tide, hosted year-round edibles such as mussels, clams, sea urchins, snails, chitons, limpets, crabs, and octopus. About twelve miles west, nutrient-rich water welled up from the edge of the continental shelf and concentrated the plankton; fish fed on the plankton, and fur seals fed on the fish. That abundance of food brought migrating seals closer to shore at Ozette than anywhere else along the entire coast from Northern California to Alaska. Sea lions hauled out on the rocky points and beaches of the islands. Kelp beds furnished ideal habitat for sea otters. Red snapper and lingcod—bottom fish—thrived close to the village. Halibut banks were a short paddle away, and salmon came to the Ozette River a little over a mile to the north. Red cedars in the forest behind the village supplied planks for houses and bark for baskets, and they also could be made into dugout canoes. Deer and elk roamed the forest, which was interspersed by treeless prairies where villagers could gather a variety of plant foods and medicines.

Kirk, Ruth_credit Mary Randlett

Ruth Kirk, photo by Mary Randlett.

Ruth Kirk, writer and photographer, is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Archaeology in Washington, with her husband Richard D. Daugherty; Sunrise to Paradise: The Story of Mount Rainier National Park; and Exploring Washington’s Past: A Road Guide to History, with Carmela Alexander. Her writing has earned her many accolades, including the John Burroughs Medal for Natural History Writing and a National Book Award nomination. Kirk also has received recognition for her writing from both the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Library Association.

Meet Ruth Kirk and pick up a signed copy of Ozette at these upcoming events:

American Society for Environmental History Conference Preview

The American Society for Environmental History convenes in Washington, D.C. this week and we’re looking forward to participating in what promises to be another excellent and thought-provoking conference. Senior Acquisitions Editor Regan Huff, Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series editor Paul Sutter, and Marketing and Sales Director Rachael Levay will be representing the Press—be sure to stop by our booth to say hello and to check out our latest environmental history offerings.

We include here our book signing schedule as well as recent praise these titles have received.

Thursday, March 19 at 10:00 a.m.

Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats
Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books / New in Paperback
By Dawn Day Biehler

“[This] exemplary work of interdisciplinary history . . . demonstrates how the ecologies of these pests and the efforts to eliminate them were intertwined with social tensions and political struggles throughout the twentieth century.” —Joanna Dyl, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“In her meticulous and thoughtful analysis of urban environmental injustice, Biehler deftly illustrates how these pests continue to undermine aspirations for modern and healthy living conditions for all.” —Frederick R. Davis, Science

Wilderburbs: Communities on Nature’s Edge
Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
By Lincoln Bramwell
Finalist for the Western Writers of America 2015 Spur Award for Best Contemporary Western Nonfiction

“A cautionary tale of the ecological challenges in transplanting urban sensibilities in the American West.” —Choice

Wilderburbs builds on the idea that human culture inherently shaped residents’ interactions with their environment. Examining this phenomena and communities in detail uncovers the profound environmental consequences for our desire to live in the wilderness.” —USDA Blog

Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics
Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books / New in Paperback
By Sarah Mittlefehldt

“Essential reading for anyone seeking to create public designation for hiking or biking trails, or waterways…the book [also] offers a primer on U.S. environmental politics from Progressive Era conservation to 1960s environmentalism and to conservative backlash in the 1980s. It would work for an environmental studies or environmental history or environmental policy class that hopes to decipher these politics.” –Margaret L. Brown, Environmental History, January 2015

“Tangled Roots is a singular achievement—a work of layered, engaging depth likely to stand as the definitive treatment of the Appalachian Trail, one of the most important and overlooked stories in the history of U.S. environmental politics.” –Jerry J. Frank, Journal of American History, January 2015

“Deftly avoiding the traps of both ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ history, Sarah Mittlefehldt’s study of the decades-long struggle to create the Appalachian Trail explores the intersection of private activism with public policy at local, regional, and national levels…a welcome addition to the history of U.S. environmental policy and politics.” –Sarah T. Phillips, American Historical Review, October 2014

 Friday, March 20 at 10:00 a.m.

Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road
By James Longhurst

Bike Battles offers a significant contribution to both the growing literature on the history of American bicycling and the immense, well-established literature on urban policymaking. It is scholarship written by a sophisticated historian who draws on sources ranging from the traditional to the wonderfully unusual in order to shed light on the changing history of bicycling’s place in American cities.”–Christopher Wells, author of Car Country

“James Longhurst gives us a whole range of new ways to look at those moments of confusion, uncertainty, and rage experienced by anyone who has spent much time on roads shared by cars and bicycles. Bike Battles is academically rigorous but easy and fun to read. This is really my kind of nerdiness. I recommend it for anyone who feels stuck in polarized conversations about how we use our roads.” –Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics

Saturday, March 21 at 10:00 a.m.

Vacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country
Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books / New in Paperback
By William Philpott
Winner of the Western Writers of America 2014 Spur Award for Best Contemporary Western Nonfiction

“The best book yet published on an array of critical topics in Colorado history. . . . what’s more, Vacationland is far and away the most illuminating book yet written on postwar Colorado. Philpott’s research is exhaustive, his prose is elegant but crystal-clear, and his interpretations are almost uniformly persuasive. Vacationland seems bound to earn vociferous praise from scholars. Yet this is also a book that merits widespread attention from general readers. If I were asked to recommend just one work to citizens or visitors seeking to orient themselves to the origins of the contemporary Colorado landscape, this would be it.” –Thomas Andrews, Center for Colorado and the West

Car Country: An Environmental History
Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books / New in Paperback
By Christopher W. Wells

“Relatively few academic geographers have focused their research and publishing directly on the automobile and its geographical implications for life in the United States. Yet nothing over the past century has had a greater effect on America’s geography than the public’s evolving dependence on the motor car, and, as well, the motor truck. . . . Christopher Wells’ opus will excite more geographers to focus on automobility as a fundamental factor underlying the American experience.”–John A. Jackle, The AAG Review of Books

“For students and inhabitants of car country, Wells offers a terrific excavation of the sprawlscape that still drives our days.”–Human Ecology

Bill Holm’s Northwest Coast Indian Art

PrintBill Holm, Professor Emeritus of Art History, and Curator Emeritus of Northwest Coast Indian Art at the Burke Museum, is recognized internationally as one of the most knowledgeable experts in the field of Northwest Coast Native art history. His groundbreaking book, Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, was originally published in 1965 and is credited with having drawn numerous artists into their own practice of Northwest Coast art. The 50th anniversary edition of this classic work offers color illustrations for a new generation of readers along with reflections from contemporary Northwest Coast artists about the impact of this book.

In this excerpt from the preface, Holm reflects on the book’s legacy and adds a note about its formation:

Holm's original cover with his correction.

Holm’s original cover with his correction.

As I look back on five decades of Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form there really isn’t much that I would change today. I suppose that if I had guessed that it would become a kind of hand book for Northwest Coast Native artists, rather than a somewhat technical analysis of the characteristics of Northern Northwest Coast art, I might have written it differently. Probably the first thing I would have changed would be the title, adding the word “Northern” before “Northwest Coast.” Although the geographical limits of the tradition are stated a number of times in the text, artists and some others using it have often skipped the words in favor of the pictures. The result has been that many have assumed that the art tradition described was pan-coastal.

I probably would change a few terms too, and perhaps correct a few questionable statements. My goal in inventing terminology was always to try for really descriptive words. That I sometimes failed to succeed, I regret today. For example, the term “salmon-trout’s head” was lifted bodily from George Emmons’s list of terms given him by Tlingit weavers. I tend now to call this and related design elements “elaborated inner ovoids,” since they almost never represent a fish’s head.  Similarly the design representing a wide, frontal face with long, narrow nostrils, that I referred to as a “double eye structure,” I now call a “two step structure,” referring to the unique arrangement of the formlines delineating the corners of the mouth and nostrils of the face. And its related term, the former “single eye structure” is now the “one step structure.” On the other hand, I still hold to the descriptive terms “tertiary line” and “T-shaped” relief over the terms often used by contemporary Northwest Coast artists, “fine line” and “trigon,” believing that the old terms are more descriptive of the figures’ functions.

Wooden bowl, Haida. The interrelation of two-dimensional design with sculptural form is well illustrated in this frog bowl by the master Haida carver, Charles Edensaw. University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology A7054.

Wooden bowl, Haida. The interrelation of two-dimensional design with sculptural form is well illustrated in this frog bowl by the master Haida carver, Charles Edensaw. University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology A7054.

As the characteristic shapes and arrangements of the elements of northern Northwest Coast two-dimensional art began to become familiar to me I came to the realization that there was a sort of grammar or syntax to it that was not unlike that of a written language.  There were “rules” that transcended tribal and linguistic boundaries on the northern coast and that were followed in remarkable uniformity by artists of all the tribes of the area. Like a written language, it allowed individual variation while still conforming to the rules. Just as a proper and proficient use of writing doesn’t guarantee a great poem or gripping novel, the “rules” of the northern Northwest Coast “formline” don’t automatically result in great art. That is left to the artist.

A short history of the genesis of Analysis of Form is included in the preface. Here I would like to elaborate just a bit. After having completed the work for a Fine Arts Master’s Degree in Painting under the GI Bill, I cast about for a job.  I liked teaching so went back to school to qualify for a teaching certificate. A requirement at that time was that I return to class after a year of teaching. By that time I had a pretty good understanding of the characteristics of the formline system, so I approached my longtime friend, Dr. Erna Gunther, then Chairman of the Anthropology Department and Director of the Washington State Museum (now the Burke Museum) with the proposal that I take a Graduate Research Course from her and write a paper, the subject being “The structure of Northwest Coast Indian two-dimensional art.”

Woven spruce root hat, Haida. A configurative design of a split wolf is painted around the hat in black, red, and blue-green. Private collection.

Woven spruce root hat, Haida. A configurative design of a split wolf is painted around the hat in black, red, and blue-green. Private collection.

Dr. Gunther readily agreed, and the result was the basis for “An Analysis of Form.” The paper lay fallow for half a dozen years, when I was urged by friends to try to publish it. It sounded like a good idea, but I began to realize that it was incomplete, lacking any kind of documentation. It was all in my head. Again I went to Dr. Gunther for advice. This was in the days before personal computers, and she suggested that I try Keysort Cards  to record characteristics and organize the results. I recorded characteristics of 392 specimens on 400 cards and used the results to fine-tune my conclusions.  Then, what to do?

I had no idea of how to proceed toward publishing the study.  One day I was in a laboratory in the Burke Museum, visiting a friend who had generously let me use a picture of a contemporary silver bracelet he owned as an illustration of how the design system had broken down.  Dr. Walter Fairservis, then the director of the Burke, was in the room and heard our conversation.

He came over and asked me what we were talking about.  Dr. Fairservis, an Asian and Near Eastern specialist, was being unfairly criticized by some members of the public for not exhibiting more of the museum’s Northwest Coast collections. I briefly described my study to him. He turned, picked up the phone and dialed it. He spoke — “Hello Don (Don Ellegood, Director of the University of Washington Press), we have a great manuscript here on the art of the Indians of the Northwest Coast.”

And the rest is history…

Upcoming Symposium
March 27-29, 2015

ArtTalk—Conversations with Northwest Native Art is organized by the Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art and will bring together leading scholars and Native American/First Nations artists to present and discuss current trends and recent research on the distinctive art traditions of our region, both to examine the last fifty years of Northwest Coast art, as marked by the 50th anniversary volume of Bill Holm’s Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, and to look forward to the next fifty years.

The symposium will accompany the exhibition Here & Now: Native Artists Inspired which marks the tenth anniversary of the Bill Holm Center. This symposium will feature artists and scholars from the U.S. and Canada and highlight current research in the field of Northwest Coast art history. It will focus in particular on Native American/First Nations Canadian artists whose art is rooted in deep understanding of their respective cultural and visual heritage yet is clearly contemporary in its expression. Speakers will include distinguished scholars, as well as young artists who are pushing the boundaries of their traditions.

Learn more about the Bill Holm Center via its website and Facebook page, and about the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture.