Saturday, October 24, 2009

Our November Author: Helene Cooper

Helene Cooper introduces herself and our November book, The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood:

I listened to this book in audiobook format, read by Helene Cooper, which gave me the opportunity to hear her Liberian English. In this NPR interview, the author reads briefly from the book including a passage in Liberian English. Here's a little more on the subject: Dictionary for Liberian English. Another interview with Tavis Smiley is available here and the Q&A section of this ForaTV presentation contains some interesting responses to questions about the book including the response to the book from Liberians and Liberian-Americans.

The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African ChildhoodYou can read Helene Cooper nearly every day in the New York Times, but of course, little of that writing reflects on her biography. This piece from last summer about the new African-Americans elite is of a more personal nature. She shares a recipe for Liberian Peanut Soup with the NYT's food blog.

The NYT showcases a new collection of photographs from the civil war and its aftermath.

The Library of Congress has a collection of American Colonization Society documents. Highlights here. Handy timeline here. More multimedia history and background on the civil war available from PBS here and here.

For more on Liberia I'm looking forward to the release of Pray the Devil Back to Hell on PBS next year as part of a series on women and war. Bill Moyers interview about the film here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rights Readers Round-up

Brother, I'm Dying (Vintage Contemporaries)Prize winners corner:
  • Greg Mortenson has a new book coming out for your holiday gift list.
  • Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International (and Nicolas Kristof) talk about the current state of the human rights movement at NPR's On Point. A very interesting discussion, though we don't learn much about Khan's new book, (The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights).

On the issues:
  • Bill Moyers interviews Dr. Jim Yong Kim (see Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains) about the connections between our current national healthcare debate and global health issues.
  • Ted Conover (Newjack)is interviewed by On the Media about the ethics of his undercover reporting at Sing Sing prison.

For February: The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller

For February we have selected The Land of Green Plums by 2009 Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller.
Like the narrator of her novel The Land of Green Plums, Herta Muller grew up a German minority in Ceausescu's Romania, which she eventually left to settle in Germany. Her own experience lends credibility to the voice of her young narrator, who inhabits a deprived police state in which minorities such as the ethnic Germans suffer persecution beyond the quotidian oppressions of Ceausescu's regime. The title refers to the young woman's observations of the swaggering policemen who wolf down plums from the city trees, even while they're still green; the act serves as a symbol of greed, arbitrary power, and stupidity. Although an element of the story is survival, achieved by clinging to the German culture and language, the novel also confronts the older characters' sympathy with the Nazis. Nevertheless, Muller's fictional heroine finds salvation, as she herself did, in modern Germany.
For additional information about this book and author see this post.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our October Author: Junot Diaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoOur October author, Junot Diaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) is not media shy. Here are just a few interviews to consider.

This Poets & Writers profile includes details of his friendship with another Rights Readers author, Francisco Goldman (The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?).


Slate: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao isn't just about Oscar Wao's life; it spans the course of many decades and tells the stories of several people related to Oscar. The effect is of fragmentation rather than linear progression. Why did you choose to structure the story like this?
Díaz: I'm a product of a fragmented world. Take a brief look at Dominican or Caribbean history and you'll see that the structure of the book is more in keeping with the reality of this history than with its most popular myth: that of unity and continuity. In my mind the book was supposed to take the shape of an archipelago; it was supposed to be a textual Caribbean. Shattered and yet somehow holding together, somehow incredibly vibrant and compelling.
Guernica (I can never pass up a good rabbit reference).

Guernica: [What is your] favorite character from a book.

Junot Diaz: Fiver from Watership Down

Guernica: Why?

Junot Diaz: He’s kind of like a little nerd rabbit. But even though he’s very tiny he’s very brave.
Of course one cannot go wrong with NPR's Fresh Air. NPR also catches him sharing Thanksgiving memories, reflecting on the immigrant experience, and the 2008 election.


In a sort of summit of nerdishness, Junot Diaz meets Stephen Colbert:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Junot Diaz
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

The book has been made into a play and a film is in development.

Finally, last month Amnesty International issued press releases regarding proposed changes to the Dominican constitution which will affect access to safe abortion. See also current actions concerning the Dominican Republic here.
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