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Archive for August, 2014

Sheldon Hackney remembered by Dixie Redux essayists and Chilmark Author Series

Friday, August 29th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney

Friends and contributors to Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney came together at a July 31 program to remember Hackney, as part of the Chilmark Author Lecture Series at Martha’s Vineyard.

The panel discussion, lead by journalist and friend of Hackney’s Charlayne Hunter-Gault, included a selection of the Dixie Redux contributors (each authors and scholars in their own right) Vernon Burton, Ray Arsenault, Steven Hahn, and Patricia Sullivan.

Hackney was born in Birmingham, Alabama. During his long career he served as provost of Princeton, as president of the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University, and as chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Burton and Arsenault conceived Dixie Redux — a festschrift, or book written in honor of a mentor — prior to Hackney’s recent diagnosis with ALS and death in 2013 at age 79; NewSouth Books published it just weeks after his passing. Hackney had been Burton’s Ph.D. advisor at Princeton and Arsenault worked as Hackney’s research assistant at Princeton. Burton told the Vineyard Gazette in March 2014 that they “wanted to show [Hackney]’s intellectual ideas, and how he influenced others in terms of their ideas and writings of the American South. … [Hackney] was foremost one of the great historians of the American South.”

In response to a Vineyard Gazette obituary of Hackney, Hunter-Gault wrote, “Sheldon Hackney showed the world how to be a great human being, a fine Southern gentleman, and a dear friend who never said no when asked a favor — large or small. He will always be a presence in my soul as one of our greatest teachers of all things good. from great and unpedantic scholarship to the love of a double gin martini.”

The essays in Dixie Redux deal with issues of interest to Hackney and his students, including slavery, the Civil War, Emancipation, the African American experience, and the Civil Rights Movement. The book includes an essay by Hackney himself about his own mentor, southern historian C. Vann Woodward.

Chilmark Author Series Program in honor of Sheldon Hackney

Pictured: From left, at the Chilmark Author Lecture Series event, Lucy Hackney (Hackney’s widow), Susan Wishingrad, Patricia Sullivan, Vernon Burton, Steven Hahn, Waldo Martin, Ray Arsenault, and Declan McBride (Hackney’s grandson).

Four Generations of C. Vann Woodward Scholarship

Four Generations of C. Vann Woodward Scholarship. Pictured: Sheldon Hackney, student of C. Vann Woodward, third from left; Vernon Burton, student of Sheldon Hackney, fifth from left; Woodward, sixth from left; and a half-dozen of Burton’s graduate students.

Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackney is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Huffington Post blog spotlights Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th CenturyA Huffington Post blog entry by Erika DeSimone spotlights Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century, co-edited by DeSimone and Fidel Louis and recently released by NewSouth Books. In the blog post, “The Literary Movement America Forgot,” DeSimone shares her insights into “history-through-omission,” which developed while she and Louis were researching the book.

She writes:

As we groped through countless reels of microfiche and exhumed hundreds of poems, we came to more fully understand the rich cultural and literary heritages of African Americans, heritages that have largely been subsumed in popular history by the horrific reality of slavery in America and our shameful race-based human chattel bondage system.

Omission-history tells us that slavery was the only identity of African Americans in the 19th century, but this is not the case. Relatively sizable populations of free African Americans existed in cities like New York and Boston, while smaller communities dotted the landscapes of Border States, the northeast, and America’s territories. And, of course, not all southern African Americans were enslaved. But while these people were sadly, inarguably marginalized, often wholly invisible to society at large and for the most part completely segregated from Anglo society, they were not universally without resources or voice.

In 1827 the efforts of three freeborn New York City African American clergymen — Samuel E. Cornish, John B. Russwurm, and Peter Williams Jr. — birthed the nation’s first black-owned and operated newspaper. When Freedom’s Journal hit the newsstands, it marked the first moments of an unprecedented revolution in American media. As the sole black-controlled publication in the nation, this four-page weekly was the first to focus on content of interest to African American communities (something woefully absent from mainstream media) and was refreshingly, blissfully, free of the usual clutter of socially demeaning ads. Although initial circulation was small, the Journal was lauded by the abolitionist/liberal media for its fine reporting and touched off what would become a veritable maelstrom of black-owned presses to follow.

Perhaps what is most surprising about Freedom’s Journal is not merely its existence in an era of such segregation, but that the paper — which had no shortage of topics to cover — reserved in every issue an open-call column for poetry, thereby creating and nurturing a creative space for African Americans, making the Journal truly the voice of its readership.

Read Erika DeSimone’s full essay in the Huffington Post.

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Crooked Letter I LGBT Essayists Respond to Human Rights Campaign Alabama Survey, Part 3: Elizabeth Craven

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie GriffinCrooked Letter I, an anthology of Southern-themed LGBT coming out stories, will be published by NewSouth Books in 2015. This week we’ve been posting thoughts by some of the anthology contributors about a recent survey of LGBT Alabamians conducted by the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama. Read the first and second parts of this series, with thoughts from Susan Benton and B. Andrew Plant. The third and final submission is from Elizabeth Craven:

Kith and kin, faith and family, loyalty to the land, the culture and the lifestyle marks a Southerner. Yet all the institutions that defines a life: home, work, worship, these are the very places where Southern gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people feel most threatened. Fear of rejection feeds a the narrative that the South is a closed culture.

This survey of the LGBT community in Alabama paints a more complex picture. Perhaps not one of the urban gay life the media loves. Perhaps not a land of all happy endings … but a place where people with roots fight for another definition of family, an expansion of community, a challenge in and out of the church. One weapon in this fight is one of the most cherished in Southern life — the story. The coming out story of gay men in overalls, Grandmothers loving transsexual grandchildren, people in porch swings learning to accept another kind of difference. Sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully people in the South open their eyes to their “other” children, their “other” coworkers, their “other” choir members.

The South changes in a very Southern way The survey shows much work needs to be done. Yet, one by one, people in the South are speaking out. These changes can be forced by law but they are solidified by relationship. Gay culture needs some Southern spice, but the South needs her gay children, and their gay stories. After all, these are stories of home. The survey makes one thing very clear. More and more LGBT people are choosing to live, to love, and to raise their children openly in the South. Change is coming.

Crooked Letter I will be available direct from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore in 2015.

Crooked Letter I LGBT Essayists Respond to Human Rights Campaign Alabama Survey, Part 2: B. Andrew Plant

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie GriffinCrooked Letter I, an anthology of Southern-themed LGBT coming out stories, will be published by NewSouth Books in 2015. This week we’re posting thoughts by some of the anthology contributors about a recent survey of LGBT Alabamians conducted by the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama. Read the first part of this series, featuring thoughts from Susan Benton. The second submission is from B. Andrew Plant:

Surveys like this are important because they underscore that, no matter how far we have come in terms of LGBTQ acceptance, many people live every day with discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Itís crucial for non-LGBTQ people to read that, in general, those in our community want the same things they do, like a home, family and to live and work without fear.

Too often, LGBTQ people have left their homes, whether it is the family home or their home state, so that they can be who they are and live openly. Obviously, the goal should be not just to realize that we are everywhere, but to work for a time when we will be able to live openly anywhere, without fear of harassment, job loss, denial of fundamental services like healthcare, or worse.

Particularly for us Southerners, itís important to see that many LGBTQ people are indeed people of faith. Weíre not outside those communities; we are part of them. Or many of us want to be. Maybe until those communities of faith welcome us on equal footing we need to redirect our time and dollars to organizations that do support us and which work to educate others.

Itís easy to compartmentalize organizations like HRC as being by and for gays of privilege or just for those of us in more urban areas. Surveys like this underscore broad outreach and the need for more of the same. After all, much of the South is not urban; we should be able to embrace that and be who we are where we are.

Crooked Letter I will be available direct from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore in 2015. Come back tomorrow for another response to the survey from a Crooked Letter I contributor.

Crooked Letter I LGBT Essayists Respond to Human Rights Campaign Alabama Survey, Part 1: Susan Benton

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie Griffin

According to a recent survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Alabamians conducted by the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama, most of those surveyed have lived in Alabama “for more than 20 years, donate to charitable groups and non-profits, want to have children one day, and many consider faith an important part of their lives, but large percentages of respondents also reported harassment throughout their lives, from school to work to church,” according to an article about the survey from AL.com.

In 2015, Alabama-based NewSouth Books plans to release a book of Southern-themed LGBT coming-out stories, tentatively titled Crooked Letter I and edited by University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Dr. Connie Griffin. Three of the essay contributors — Susan Benton, B. Andrew Plant, and Elizabeth Craven — sent their thoughts on the survey. Today’s submission is from Susan Benton.

The results show that LGBT Alabamians are just like their friends and family members — living, working, volunteering, and going to church within their communities.

These words resonated with me more than any others in the HRC LGBT Alabamians survey. I often tell people that “I escaped from Alabama in 1981.” My college years were not happy ones for a young lesbian due to blatant discrimination. As an active church member, and church employee, I was always acutely aware of the danger I might be in should someone find out I was gay.

The USA has come a long way since I was a fifteen-year-old and finally finding a word to describe what I was feeling. The Supreme Court decision to overturn Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013 has led to rapid change in many peopleís way of thinking. While Iím not holding my breath that Alabama joins the Marriage Equality bandwagon any time soon, I do know that time will eventually bring Alabama into the fold.

We have made great progress, but in Alabama, I still have reason to be afraid. I am married to an Australian. When we visit my parents in Alabama, my spouse must always carry her documentation showing she has a right to be in the country. We must have copies of our marriage certificate, and our Medical Power of Attorney in case she must be admitted to a hospital, so that I am considered next-of-kin. Since Alabama does not recognize our marriage, we cannot and will not consider moving to Alabama.

The survey proves that we are human beings — no more and no less — than the people in our communities. We love our country, we love our families, we love our children, and many of us still try to find homes in religious organizations. I applaud the efforts of HRC Alabama to bring human rights to ALL people, and fervently hope that one day, I might be able to come home.

Crooked Letter I will be available direct from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore in 2015. Come back tomorrow for another response to the survey from a Crooked Letter I contributor.