The Legacies of Blanche Knopf


Biographer Laura Claridge gives well-deserved center stage to publis9781625340931her Blanche Knopf in The Lady with the Borzoi, released last month—a century after Blanche Wolf married Alfred Abraham Knopf and cofounded a house that many consider to be the crown jewel of American publishing. Bringing to life an enigmatic tastemaker who introduced an international roster of award-winning authors to American audiences, Claridge delivers a portrait of a shrewd, driven, elegant luminary who transformed the literary landscape but was continually denied full credit for her achievements because of sexism. As late as 1965, a year before her death, Blanche Knopf was still barred from the all-male Publishers’ Lunch Club despite the multiple Nobel Prize–winning authors she had published.
In researching my history of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., The Art of Prestige: The Formative Years at Knopf, 1915–1929 (UMass Press, 2014), I read hundreds of documents written by Blanche, evidence of countless hours she spent competing for important acquisitions, negotiating contracts, requesting editorial revisions, making design choices, overseeing advertising plans, and every other minute facet in the life of a book, yet the letterhead omitted her name; Alfred named the firm for himself, emblazoning his identity on all correspondence.

In 1922, the company trademarked the term Borzoi Books, along with the emblem of a Russian wolfhound. Some readers notice the phrase “This is a Borzoi Book” on copyright pages and think it refers to a special Knopf imprint, but in fact every Knopf book is a Borzoi Book, and the term was used heavily in marketing promotions throughout the company’s early yBorzois in Colorears. Alfred always attributed the choice of a borzoi colophon to Blanche, and it’s my opinion that she hoped the firm would become known as Borzoi Books so that the branding would reflect a neutral partnership, putting the spotlight on the flair of the authors, not the ego of her husband. In one of the rare advertisements that features Blanche’s name, appearing in the New York Times in 1922, she omits Alfred’s name altogether to proclaim that “my first catalog of first editions of (for the most part) younger English and American writers is now ready and will be sent on request post free. . . . A few desirable French titles are also listed. Blanche W. Knopf/The Borzoi/220 West 42nd St., New York.”

Claridge’s book left me with a tantalizing what-if. What if Blanche had used the sizable inheritance from her mother to strike out on her own? Would her firm have become the favored crown jewel, outpacing Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in revenue, prizes, and laudatory reviews? Blanche lacked a college education, while Alfred’s first literary alliances were the result of his coursework at Columbia. Yet perhaps that was one of Blanche’s advantages: he was steeped in an old-world canon of male European authors, mirroring the priorities of the faculty, while she enthusiastically embraced modernism. Neither was she at a disadvantage in terms of professionalization. Alfred was fortunate enough to learn the ropes through apprenticeships with Frank Nelson Doubleday and Mitchell Kennerley, but Blanche soon caught up, rapidly completing her phase as Alfred’s apprentice. She easily learned the systematic details while mastering the aspects of successful publishing that can’t be taught (how to be fiercely competitive yet financially rational; how to manage talent; how to influence cultural tastes, not just react to them).

Of course, this is a decidedly twenty-first-century question; in American book publishing today, a majority of the professionals are women. Blanche Knopf would surely have excelled as a digital media magnate.

Cropped Amy ClementsAmy Clements is the author of The Art of Prestige: The Formative Years at Knopf, 1915–1929 (UMass Press, 2014) and associate professor of English at St. Edward’s University.



For a review of Clements’s book along with Claridge’s, please see the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Book Trailer for The Art of Prestige


Mentor/Mentee Relationships Embody Process

“He ate the entire apple—core, seeds, and all,” said the young man in red pants and black high tops. “I do that, too. I knew he could become my mentor.”

GathLiontas updatesered in a nook of the Johnson Library at Hampshire College, March 7, an audience of people eager to hear about writing mentorship listened as Polina Barskova, Sabina Murray, Rachel Conrad, and Jeff Parker talked about the book co-edited by Parker and novelist Annie Liontas: A Manner of Being: Writers on their Mentors.

Parker opened the conversation by sharing that the idea for this collection of more than seventy essays by writers on their mentors came from the notion that mentoring young writers is only in part about passing down wisdom and knowledge and that another part, perhaps the most important part, is apprenticeship in a certain “manner of being.”

To explain this “manner of being,” Parker shared a story from George Saunders‘s contribution. Standing at a reception, a young writer shared a personal story with Saunders that was so grueling that he wanted to run away. He observed, however, that his mentor, Douglas Unger, listened with rapt attention and obvious concern. Unger let the person have full say of the disturbing incident without interruption and then offered affirmation and support. And Saunders did what he had so often done in his apprenticeship under Unger, did his best to emulate him.

Murray elaborated on what “support” can mean. She said, “Apple guy knew he could trust his mentor because they ate apples the same way. So he could believe his mentor when he said, ‘Look, this is not an apple. This is an orange. And you need to peel an orange in order to eat it.’” A mentor, she said, sometimes needs to care enough to say—kindly—this section is not helping your story, you need to change it.

When asked if a mentor needs to be a good writer, Barskova told us about her teacher, “the bald, well-wrinkled man with the alcoholic nose and the lively eyes of a raccoon.” She knew he was a poet, she said, but he was not a particularly compelling poet. “His real gift,” she said, “was to find the gifts in others, like geologists do with their minerals—hidden in the deep dark soil.”

And that is how mentorship becomes a reciprocal relationship, the speakers agreed, each participant growing and learning from the other. Parker told us that George Saunders’s mentors “helped Saunders grow into a better version of himself, more dignified and less selfish.” In his turn, Parker hopes he too has begun to model a manner of being.

Chosen as one of the Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Manner of Being: Writers on their Mentors, edited by Annie Liontas and Jeff Parker is available from the University of Massachusetts Press.

New study credits Howe for launching “the story of autism”


“No person familiar with these cases would be likely to mistake them for idiots; they look differently, walk differently, and have different developments of body and mind.”—Samuel Woodward


In 1943, the psychiatrist Leo Kanner created the label, autism, to identify unusual behavior that he h9781558499584ad observed in some children. These behaviors included no speech or sometimes repetitive speech, the avoidance of social contact and the failure to learn social skills, and a propensity for obsessive interests. Since that time, autism has become a condition. Conditions, of course, influence labels and, in turn, labels affect conditions. In the case of autism, this process of constructing difference has created controversy. Is autism a set of nominal conditions, or is it a spectrum of the same condition? Is it increasing in the general population? If so, is the increase the result of childhood immunizations? Should behaviors associated with autism be altered and adjusted, or should autism be accepted as an alternative neurological variation? Basic to these questions is a prior question that takes us back to Leo Kanner’s 1943 label: When did autism begin?

In The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform (2012), James Trent argues that Samuel Howe identified autism nearly a century before Kanner gave a name to the condition. He did so beginning in 1844 in conjunction with his advocacy for the first Massachusetts school for “idiots” that eventually opened in 1848. In 1844 and 1845 he also exchanged letters with Samuel Woodward, the medical superintendent of the Worcester Lunatic Asylum, which Howe expanded and published in the Boston Advertiser. In these published letters, Howe maintained that there were intellectually disabled children who were not classically “idiotic.” In a 13 February 1845 letter to Woodward, for example, Howe wrote, “I have discovered two very singular & interesting cases in this city, of children under ten years of age who have been insane, & dumb from infancy, who are now nearly unmanageable by their parents, but who I am sure, in a proper establishment, might be taught many useful things, & perhaps trained to habits of simple labor, such as would [be] profitable in several ways.” Two weeks later in the Advertiser Howe quoted Woodward, “Their movements are free, easy and graceful, many of them are sprightly, even handsome; they are generally restless, irritable and extremely mischievous, and are rarely able to speak. . .  No person familiar with these cases would be likely to mistake them for idiots; they look differently, walk differently, and have different developments of body and mind. Like other insane persons, there is difficulty in fixing the attention, they move with great rapidity from one thing to another, and are impatient of restraint. In some such persons particular faculties seem much more active than others.  One lad had never learned to read, but was observing of many things, particularly of mechanical operations, drawing, &c.”

In The Manliest Man argues, Trent contends that “although autism would be a century away from Leo Kanner’s creation of the label, Woodward’s and Howe’s descriptions of the children suggest the condition. ‘Insanity’ had almost always been associated with adults; Howe in the Advertiser, however, argued that children too can have a particular form of mental illness.”

In their article, “The Early History of Autism in America,” in the January–February 2016 edition of the Smithsonian, John Donvan and Caren Zucker note Trent’s claim and expand upon it by crediting Howe for launching “the story of autism.” They call Trent’s biography of Howe “superb” and use it in their forthcoming book, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism to identify Howe’s place in the earliest history of the condition. As Trent asserts in The Manliest Man, Howe’s primacy in the American development of services for the blind and intellectually disabled now expands to his importance in our understanding of autism.

The Manliest Man: Samuel G. Howe and the Contours of Nineteenth-Century American Reform by James Trent is available for purchase at

Reason Connects Pope Francis, Jonathan Edwards, and Climate Change

“The reason why almost all people, even those that seem very miserable, love life is because they cannot bear to lose sight of such a beautiful and lovely world.”—Jonathan Edwards


Background of green fern leaves

In his climate Encyclical Pope Francis points to the looming possibility of environmental collapse. Our environment is in crisis, says Francis, because we have lost our conviction that the earth belongs to us all and to God rather than to those who act as though the earth belongs to them. We have lost our sense of the common good.

We have instead, says Francis, a culture of selfness—of self-centeredness, instant gratification, and rampant individualism. We have a cult of unlimited progress, competition and consumerism.

We need an ecological approach, the pope urges a sense that we are ecological citizens who have responsibilities to others. We need to make a new commitment to the common good rather than to our own individual interests.

Jonathan Edwards lived, preached and wrote three centuries before Pope Francis, and many generations before there was any sense of the ecosystem at risk. Before 1950 Pope Francis’s encyclical could not even have been imagined, let alone written. The science was not there, or the crescendo of environmental disasters, or the vocabulary of ecology. What could Jonathan Edwards possibly say to us that would matter?

Actually, quite a lot. For starters, Edwards was one of the great preachers of his or any time on the wonder, beauty, and significance of the natural world.

He was an avid student of nature. He observed how woodland spiders “fly” by floating through the air as they change the length of their filament, and how you can see their webs from a distance if the sun is behind them–an effect he understood from reading Isaac Newton. He studied rainbows, why bubbles burst, why lightning bolts zigzag, why sunlight is warmer at sea level, how light shifts during an eclipse. He urged people to study the Bible, but he also urged them to study the “Book of Nature.”

Above all, Edwards found in nature what he called “images or shadows of Things Divine.” The whole of nature was an image, shadow, or type of God. The “immense magnificence of the visible world,” he wrote, “its inconceivable vastness, the incomprehensible height of the heavens,” was a representation of the “infinite magnificence, height and glory of God’s work in the spiritual world; the most incomprehensible ex
pression of his power, wisdom, holiness and love, in what he has wrought and brought to pass.” To see nature was to see the Divine.

Would the prospect of climate change alarm Edwards? How could it not? Rising seas, the devastation of the land, nightmarish weather all pose a threat to the wonder and beauty of nature that he held dear, and, just as important, to our ability to glimpse God and the divine through nature.

Separated by three centuries and different creeds, Jonathan Edwards and Pope Francis do not use quite the same language or concepts or assume the same intellectual or spiritual tools or address identical problems. Yet they have much in common.

For both Edwards and Francis, all human beings are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters and hold the earth in common on behalf of its true owner, God.

Both urge us to remember the plight of the poor and do what we can to assist them, and to seek the common good rather than private interests.

Both believe the world is and must remain a place of beauty and renewal and spiritual discernment.

Both distrust mere economic or technological responses to the problems of human society. For both, complete economic freedom should be restrained, if necessary by governments.

Both are willing to speak truth to powerful interests. This, at least in part, cost Edwards his job. We do not yet know what it will cost Francis.

For both, reason and science are indispensable to understanding humanity and its troubles. For Edwards, reason is what separates us from beasts. The pope’s encyclical is crammed with climate science. Reason, for both Edwards and Francis, is a vital common trait of humanity, whether Christian or non-Christian, believers or non-believers.  We need reason to help us transcend our differences, and to facilitate shared understanding and action.

For both men, faith and grace also matter. Faith and grace offer a time-tested means to transcend the sin of self and foster affection for God and God’s world and the people and creatures God has created. Politics and reason matter. But in the end what matter most are values. The crisis of the environment is a crisis of values. In this sense, what matters most in the end for Edwards and Francis is the Gospel of Love: to love God and God’s creation with all our hearts, and to love others as ourselves.

Ron Story is the author of Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love and co-editor with 9781625341518Gerald McDermott of The Other Jonathan Edwards: Selected Writings on Society, Love, and Justice


Muaddi Darraj on RateYourProfessor

9781625341877A blog post from our Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction author Susan Muaddi Darraj, whose book A Curious Land: Stories from Home includes the wonderful story “Christmas in Palestine.”

Nobody in academia will admit to checking RateMyProfessors, but we all do, secretly, at night, on our smartphones.

I’ve read my reviews, and I can quote some of the lines verbatim, the way I used to memorize poetry in grade school.  My personal favorite is a flippant comment by one student: “Does she like teaching?” (This has actually become a punchline among my friends. When I am cooking, for example, my friends will whisper to each other in my kitchen, “What an attitude. Does she even like cooking?” Or at the playground, when I am reprimanding my kids for throwing sand, my colleague and fellow mom will sarcastically wonder aloud, “Does she even like children?”) One student wrote that I am a terrific professor because I don’t care when people walk in late to my class, which astounds me to have been misread like this. One review stated bluntly, “Buyer beware. Her moods seem to swing.” (I kinda love that one.)

Another student wrote that I “go out of my way” to help students, which makes me feel – honestly – fantastic.  And I’m going to do it now.

Here’s the deal: Negative reviews frustrate me, not because they are attacks on my teaching or that they hurt my feelings.

My real problem is that they’re just not written well.

As a teacher I feel compelled – even at this point, post-semester – to “go out of my way” and to give those students, who are considering writing a negative review, some advice.

So, to my students, here’s a rubric (since you’re always asking for one):

Writing Your Negative RateMyProfessors Review

Your review will be assessed according to the following standards.

The writer has a clear purpose. (worth 10 points)

The RateMyProfessors website tells you straight up: “the fate of future students lies in your hands.” You have been to the battlefield and returned alive, and it’s your job to persuade the rest of the troops to march on or retreat. All of your comments should focus on this goal: In a negative review, you must ensure that no student would willingly enroll in this professor’s class. Stick to that purpose – forget it not. You only have 350 characters to use in your review, so include straight-forward comments right at the beginning, such as DONT TAKE THIS PROFESSOR! (The caps will convey authority.) Or If youre in this class, drop it now! Dont wait drop it! The sense of urgency can be persuasive.

The writer successfully conceals his or her identity. (worth 10 points)

What’s the point of writing a negative review that gives away your identity? What if you have to take that professor’s class again, especially considering that you didn’t do so well the first time? (No, your D won’t transfer to the state university, so guess what? You’re back in my class.) Keep your identity secret. Think carefully about the way you speak or write: Are there certain phrases you repeat? Her empathy is lacking. Don’t you remember that you wrote that in your paper on whaling, that the “empathy of the whale hunters is lacking”? You don’t remember? I do.

In this vein, don’t mention anything exceptional that happened with that professor. Prof is totally unfair accused me of plagiarism on my Virginia Wolf paper. Me!  It’s not my fault that I still think “borrowing text” from is plagiarism: Don’t  forget that I’m old. But don’t you see how this line gives you away? Because I didn’t catch anyone else using a website meant for high schoolers. This professor thinks like Virginia Wolf is God. Yes, I do. That part is quite true. Virginia Woolf is God.

The writer makes sure to mention something blistering about the professor unrelated to his or her teaching. (worth 10 points)

Does your professor dress like a cougar? Or a gypsy? Or like your grandpa?  This is why they don’t get your writing because you are attired in Hollister’s fall line, your feet stuffed in your Ugg boots, and your professor looks like he shops in Goodwill. Mention it. Professor dresses like a weirdo whats up with the blazers? Shoulder pads are sooooo 90s. (Actually, they’re from the 80s.) Hello — the 70s called and they want their Birkenstocks back. RateMyProfessors advises you, in its list of tips, to “keep it profesh,” but you can still throw in something like Teacher is a dork who talks about Jane Austen EVERY SINGLE CLASS — that chick died without a husband too! That’ll get her. Let her have it – don’t feel bad… she failed you! You!

The writer thoroughly reviews all previous RateMyProfessors postings and has successfully refuted the positive ones. (worth 15 points)

Do your research. Your goal is to paint a thoroughly horrible portrait of this professor, so make sure nobody has made a claim that could sway the unsuspecting freshman. For example, I don’t know wtf everyone is talking about. She’s the worst. I emailed her 4 times on Saturday night and by Monday morning she still hadn’t gotten back to me. Or how about this: Not sure why everyone says hes fair. NOT TRUE! He refused to even accept my paper! How was I supposed to know it has to be typed?  It might take time to review all previous posts, but it will be worth it.

The writer ensures, after convincing his or her friends to also post negatively about this professor, that they all post on different dates, preferably one week apart. (worth 5 points)

Your friends have never had my class, but they’re loyal. Make sure you are strategic in exploiting their enthusiasm. Nothing gives you away more than having 10 negative reviews posted on the same date as yours, which might also be one day after grades come out. Offer a timeline to your friends. Carrington, you post on Monday, and then Bryce, you wait until Thursday. Got it? Take charge of the situation and make a schedule.

Also, make sure they don’t repeat the same complaints – vary them slightly. If everyone uses the same wording, as in Professor has a bit of an attitude, that indicates that all ten reviews had the same author. Not everyone uses the phrase “a bit of an attitude” – see? (Refer to #2 on the rubric, about concealing your identity.)

The writer successfully pretends that he or she was very interested in the class.(worth 20 points)

This is essential. Nothing speaks more about bad teaching than a teacher who completely ruined and destroyed a student’s genuine enthusiasm for a course. I was so excited to take this class because I love reading Shakespeare. But this professor ruined me forever for English lit. I swear I now suffer PTSD when I open any book at all. Just don’t take this one too far, or you’ll give yourself away. Nobody will believe that you were excited about English 101 or Intro to Physics.

The writer successfully and regularly uses slang and emoticons to express ideas that can also be better and perhaps more simply expressed in actual words.(worth 5 points)

Show that you know and understand your audience. UGH!!!! Hes horrible!!!!!!

The writer reveals information selectively. (worth 5 points)

Mention several times that the professor was not helpful to you. So unhelpful she doesnt even care about her students and wants us all to fail. Do not mention that you only came to class every other week, and that when you did approach the professor for help the week of finals, she did not know who you were.

The writer clarifies that no student can realistically achieve an A in this class. (worth 10 points)

It’s true, right? You didn’t take a survey or anything, but nobody who sat in the back row with you got an A, so you know for a fact that the prof doesn’t give them out. The kid with the glasses, who sat in the front and wears Old Navy probably did, but he’s a geek anyway. He’s wearing Old Navy.

The writer suggests that the professor should retire. (worth 10 points)

That’ll really burn them up.

Susan Muaddi DarrajSusan Muaddi Darraj is a college English professor who genuinely loves her students (well, 99.5% of them). Her book, A Curious Land, won the AWP Grace Paley Award for Short Fiction (University of Massachusetts Press, October 2015). She is proud to have two separate RateMyProfessor ratings because students cannot seem to spell her last name.




‘Tis the Time of the Year for Dickens

WGBH reports that Charles Dickens made his American stage debut with a reading of his beloved holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” in Boston 149 years ago this week. And that wonderful story about redemption through generosity of spirit makes many think of Dickens at this time of year.

Diane Archibald, co-author of Dickens and Massachusetts:The Lasting Legacy of the Commonwealth Visitsthinks of Dickens far more often than in December. An expert on his life and his work, her new book with Joel Brattin explores Dickens’s visits to America and the influence Massachusetts had on his life and work. Interviewed for this WGBH story, Archibald shared that Dickens found the the U.S. dirty and violent. But he liked Boston, especially he liked Lowell.

“Dickens is famous for having said about America that it was not the republic of his imagination,” Archibald said. “He had thought it was going to be some great land and he was disappointed. But in fact Massachusetts was the republic of his imagination. It was all and more than he had hoped for.”

You can read all about Dickens’s time in Massachusetts in  Dickens and Massachusetts:The Lasting Legacy of the 9781625341358Commonwealth Visits, The collection begins with a broad biographical and historical overview taken from the full-length narrative of the award-winning exhibition Dickens and Massachusetts: A Tale of Power and Transformation, which attracted thousands of visitors while on display in Lowell. Abundant images from the exhibition, many of them difficult to find elsewhere, enhance the story of Dickens’s relationship with the vibrant cultural and intellectual life of Massachusetts. The second section includes essays that consider the importance of Dickens’s many connections to the commonwealth.


Carla Panciera, author of “Bewildered,” Contemplates Buried Memories on Eve of Amherst Talk

This week, I travel to Amherst, MA, to read from my new book in the town where it was published. On my walk this overcast morning with Bella, my border collie, I plan what to read, how to introduce things. A fox darts across a long driveway. A droplight still burns inside a carved giant pumpkin. Overnight, the leaves have fallen so everything underfoot is orange and gold beneath a gray sky. The flea market enjoys its final weekend. Bella and I detour through it, the dog sniffing at every post, me on the lookout for some cast-off I had no idea I needed.

I decide to read a couple poems, a section from a story I feel particularly indebted to. My husband has asked me before if I get nervous to read (Anticipating an acceptance speech he had to give at his high school’s athletic hall oheadshot Panciera 2013f fame dinner, he once lost his voice. Once the speech was over, his voice returned full force.). But I don’t get nervous. Instead, I’m excited to make the trip, especially excited to meet the people who brought my book to life.

Maybe I was nervous the first time I read. I try to remember when that was. Meanwhile, Bella greets a lab puppy beside a collection of empty frames and chairs that need re-caning. I think for a moment that it might have been with a lovely group of poets I worked with for a few years when my girls were babies.

But then, I remember: I was nervous all right. The first time I read my work in public was at Boston University. No excitement there: just mind-numbing anxiety and a healthy dose of dread.

Our graduate student reading took place in some dark academic room. We had been given a time limit that I knew would be impossible for me to fill, unless I wanted (once again in front of this not-so-forgiving crowd) to read crap. Let’s summarize by saying: It had not been a good year. But my mother was excited to hear me, and she would’ve been proud if I’d stood up and read recipes for chicken pot pie. Also, this requirement was nowhere near as terrifying as some of the other things we’d had to do to fulfill Derek Walcott’s assignments. So, despite a throat nearly closed shut with terror, I read two poems, then sat down and clasped my trembling hands in my lap.

When the reading was over and we stood in a narrow hallway for the obligatory social hour with juice and store bought cookies, George Starbuck told me I’d won the award for the briefest presentation. This was the kind of feedback I was used to receiving from George. Non-committal and not particularly helpful. Derek Walcott praised a revision I’d made (Yes, I said praised.). This opened up my breathing passages a little.

However, I had no choice but to introduce him to my mother. He told her she had a very conscientious daughter. My mother said she already knew that. Then she added, “So you’re Derek. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Um. Okay, so I thought the reading would have been the most awkward part of the evening, but you never know when my mom is around.

Somehow, I escorted her safely away from the gathering and we left shortly afterward, me relieved to be leaving the literary scene in the rearview, my mother insisting I’d exaggerated my accounts of Derek Walcott. “He didn’t seem very scary at all,” she said.

I didn’t think about reading again in public. Instead, I was relieved to escort my mother onto the Green Line and think I’d never again venture into that mythical room 222 where I had certainly not done service to Plath, Sexton, Lowell, and its other illustrious occupants.

Is it just a coincidence that the memory has stayed buried for three decades, only to return on Halloween? But it’s good to be haunted by certain reminders. I’d like to say I’m not that person anymore. I can fill the time allotted to me. I don’t cringe with mortification at what I am forced to utter aloud. But there’s no such thing as a completely shed skin for this particular individual of the species. A scale or two of the old stuff always hangs around.

I write, in part, to keep those insecurities at bay.

As for my mother, she won’t be making the trip to Amherst. But her lessons always accompany me: when you have the opportunity to meet people who also love what you love — stories, poems, the power of language — embrace it. And if the most intimidating person you’ve ever met in your life, star of your anxiety dreams, happens to be in the audience, smoking like a fiend? Just wave the smoke away and introduce yourself.

Carla Panciera will read from her Grace Paley Prize winning collection of short stories, Bewildered, at the Jones Library, November 3, at 7 p.m. 


Cape Cod Keeps Changing: Social Diversity Is Latest Shift

Although cooler fall weather sees a decrease in Cape Cod’s crowds, summer visitors confronted space congested with the peoples of the world. Tourists great-beach-cape-cod-1from England, Germany, Canada, and Scandinavia rubbed shoulders with doctors and lawyers from cities across the nation, while locals complained about offshore recreators upon whom many depend for their economy.  The peoples of Cape Cod have changed significantly over the last 350 years and the diversity of its population has also shifted with time.

The arrival of European settlers on the Cape in the middle of the seventeenth century proved disastrous for the local population of Native Americans. But during the period between 1630 and 1690 Cape Cod was a place of diverse peoples and cultures. Sadly war, disease, and shifting control of natural resources from Native people to whites ended this diversity of peoples. Increasingly for the next hundred years Cape Cod became a place of whites of moderate means. That population slowly began to change at the end of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century. The labor needs of the whaling and fishing industry brought a new diversity to many Cape towns, particularly Falmouth and Provincetown, as sailors and whalers from Spain, Italy, the Azores, and the South Pacific came to call Cape towns their home and brought over other family members.

The Cape’s population and its diversity declined in the second half of the nineteenth century with the shrinking of its economy as fishing, farming, and related industries fell on hard times. At the turn of the twentieth century newcomers looked to the Cape as a place to recreate. These visitors to the Cape came mostly from the world of privilege and reflected the racial and ethnic background of that world: white, mostly protestant, of Western European stock. Ethnically they differed little from most Cape Codders, but socially and economically they were very different.

The automobile, state highways, and the increased prosperity of the post-war period brought a new wave of visitors and settlers to the Cape. These were mostly of the middle classes, and they reflected the general ethnic mix of the middle-class of mid-century America. It was during this period when Cape Cod became the iconic American beach vacation spot, as well as a home for retirees. It was a mostly white and ethnically and socially diverse population of vacationers mixing with permanent residents of retirees, fishermen, and those who worked within or supporting the tourist industry.

The Cape’s success as a vacation destination has increasingly put pressure on the social diversity of its population. Land values and subsequently housing prices have soared beyond the means of the middle class. Those working on the Cape are having a harder and harder time finding housing.  Middle and working class retirees can no longer find affordable retirement cottages. The Cape’s population is shifting again. This time it is shifting away not from ethnic diversity, but rather from social diversity. How the Cape deals with this is a major concern for towns across Cape Cod.

John T. Cumbler is professor of history at the University of Louisville and spends half of the year in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He is the author of numerous books, including Cape Cod: An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem (UMass Press, 2014).

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Labor Day: What is Labor Studies?

Established as a way to recognize “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” Labor Day is a tribute to the social and economic achievements of workers across the country. Celebrated each September in the United States, this important holiday contributes to our understanding of the American worker and their contributions to the production and strength of the nation.

As an interdisciplinary field, labor studies combines the work of political science, sociology, economics, and history, in order to analyze issues of the historic and contemporary workforce. Work is a central feature of today’s lives, and labor issues have long been of significant importance. Practitioners and scholars of labor studies review historic controversies of the labor movement and its history. In addition, they analyze the strategic barriers and challenges to organizational change in place today to effectively assist workers in national and international contexts.

9781625341150_0Labor studies scholarship is an active subject heading for UMass Press, particularly for its interdisciplinary nature. Last December, we published For Jobs and Freedom, a collection of writings by the tireless civil rights activist and union leader A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979). Known for leading the struggle for black freedom and organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Randolph was a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement and the American labor movement from the 1930s to 1960s. For Jobs and Freedom, edited by Andrew Kerstein and David Lucander, highlights Randolph’s essential writings over a five-decade career. Combining more than seventy published and unpublished pieces, the editors organized his writings thematically in order to situate speeches within Randolph’s major interests – dismantling workplace inequality, expanding civil rights, confronting racial segregation, and building international coalitions. John Bracey Jr., coeditor of SOS – Calling All Black People, says “this book will go a long way in making easily accessible . . . the leading figure among Blacks in the trade union movement from the 1930s until his death . . . I give it my strongest endorsement.” For more information on For Jobs and Freedom, please visit our website or view our subject heading on labor studies.

We here at UMass Press would like to wish everyone a relaxing Labor Day.

V-J Day: The End of an Era & Return to Normal

creadick_300When World War II ended in August 1945, Americans entered a period of readjustment. After decades of depression and war, the country had to cope with the emotional, physical, and economic wounds of war. As a sort of post-traumatic stress response to World War II, a political and social discourse centered on the return to “normal” swept through the American population. This idea of “normality” was a keyword in postwar American culture, to the point of near obsession. Anna Creadick’s Perfectly Average charts this pursuit of “normality” through scientific studies, literary texts, and mass media among other materials, and shows that “normal” was a standard Americans actively and impossibly pursued.

Perfectly Average focuses on the period between 1945 to 1963, when the United States struggled with the massive demobilization of troops, reintegration of veterans into the workforce, and massive reorganization of society’s ideals and values. In its analysis of the aftermath of World War II, In particular, it demonstrates the complexities and contradictions in this drive to “normality” in hopes to create uniformly average citizens. What exactly was “normality” in the postwar decades? Why did the population endlessly pursue these impossible ideals? What forces, political and otherwise, were at play in shaping the culture and behavior of the period? In Perfectly Average, Creadick analyzes the nationalistic undertones of “American exceptionalism” that infiltrated everything from postwar scholarship to middle class apparel. Normality went from being a concept to a system of organization for minds, bodies, sexualities, and communities.

A graduate of UMass Amherst, author Anna Creadick is currently an associate professor of English at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. For more information on her book or other volumes in the Culture, Politics, and Cold War series, please review our website page.




Emily Esten is an Editorial Intern at UMass Press. She is a junior History/Digital Humanities major at UMass Amherst.