Thursday, July 19, 2012

Podcast Pick: Pete Seeger in His Own Words

Here's the Podcast Pick of the Week from WNYC, an interview with Pete Seeger, a Rights Readers favorite (see The Protest Singer).

Pete plugs a new collection of his published articles, letters, drafts and notes edited by Rob and Sam Rosenthal, Pete Seeger: His Life in His Own Words and once he gets warmed up he has some stories to tell. You've probably heard about the centennial of Woody Guthrie's birth a few days back and of course interviewer Brian Lehrer asks about working with Guthrie. Pete also recommends a favorite magazine, Orion which reminded me that I had not checked in with this great source of inspiration for the environmental movement in a while. A sampler of things I enjoyed at the site: a visual ode to meaningful trees, Draw me a Tree, a poem Cherries, Luis Alberto Urrea (an author we should explore together) reading an eloquent column on respecting migrations from all directions, a critique of the current state of environmental education. And just to bring things back around, Alec Wilkinson, author of The Protest Singer has a piece in Orion about an Iranian scientist who is helping to diversify the fruit farms of Idaho and writes in The New Yorker about Pete Seeger: His Life in His Own Words and singing with Pete today,
Then the microphones broke down. Seeger managed to have everyone sing a song with him by repeating the words to the people in the front row who could hear him, then having them repeat them for the people in the back. His voice was wobbly and not very loud but passionate. The halting quality of the lines, passed from one group of people to another, made them seem as if they were part of a protest song that was too dangerous to sing all at once. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Negotiating to a Strong Conclusion

arms trade infographic
click to enlarge
Two back-to-back headlines popped up in my RSS feed recently and gave me a chuckle:

The Millions : 47 New Ways to Bid Arms Goodbye
Historic Arms Trade Treaty in the Balance

So the first is actually about the release of a new edition of Ernest Hemingway's classic novel of love and war in World War I, A Farewell to Arms, which includes 47 alternative endings. And the second is from Amnesty International and concerns world leaders now meeting in New York to negotiate the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty which will prevent weapons from ending up in the hands of tyrants and child soldiers,
But if the $60 billion arms trade industry has its way, the Treaty will be watered down and ineffective.  Detractors, like the NRA, are drawing false connection between the arms trade treaty and the 2nd Amendment to protect the lucrative weapons industry have even taken to the Internet spreading misinformation to stop the treaty.  Don't let powerful lobbyists stop the US from supporting a strong Arms Trade Treaty.  
After you've taken action towards a favorable conclusion to the treaty  negotiations, if you're still curious about those other endings there is more here. I think Hemingway negotiated the right ending to his novel. It's going to take a lot of pressure from all of us to get a strong agreement that will stop the arming of human rights abusers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Revisiting Pramoedya Ananta Toer

One of the very first novels we read together was Pramoedya Ananta Toer's This Earth of Mankind. The book is the first in the 'Buru Quartet', an amazing feat of storytelling as the narrative was first recited orally to cellmates while the Indonesian author was imprisoned by the Suharto regime.  If you weren't reading along with us at that time we read This Earth, you can sample the writer's work via Warscapes which is currently hosting a short story "In Twilight Born" from the collection All That Is Gone. The tale is told from a child's perspective and relates a tale of idealism, struggle, and disappointment which will resonate with any activist. There is also a helpful introduction to the author's life.

And can I just add that I have always loved the vibrant artwork that Penguin chose for this series. The cover art is by Montreal-based artist Stephan Daigle. You can explore a gallery of his work at

Monday, July 16, 2012

For November- Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

We have selected Anna Funder's Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall for November,
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterward the two Germanys reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. Anna Funder’s bestselling Stasiland brings us extraordinary tales of real lives in the former East Germany. She meets Miriam, who tried to escape to West Berlin as a sixteen-year-old; hears the heartbreaking story of Frau Paul, who was separated from her baby by the Berlin Wall; and gets drunk with the legendary “Mik Jegger of the East,” once declared by the authorities—to his face—“no longer to exist.” And she meets the Stasi men themselves, still proud of their surveillance methods. Funder’s powerful account of that brutal world has become a contemporary classic.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Our July Author: Avi Steinberg

This month we are discussing Avi Steinberg's Running the Books, a memoir about the adventures of a prison librarian. Although I had some concern about being 'trapped' in a book about prisons in July, a month when I usually try to propose travel books, I really enjoyed this journey.  We've got a few links to get things rolling, starting with his personal website:  Because the book contains quite a bit of the author's backstory, the usual interviews don't reveal a whole lot more than you learn in the book, but if you haven't read it yet and need a shortcut to prepare for the meeting, start here. I learned of the book from this NPR interview.  This profile from Harvard magazine is also a good introduction,
Any assumptions about the ease of book learning quickly disappeared. “As a prison librarian, you need to fight for the space, fight to purchase the books, fight to keep books on the shelves, fight for people to be able to come to the library, fight to keep people coming back to the library,” Steinberg says of his daily struggles. “It takes a lot of effort to bring books alive for people. To me, this was not obvious before.”
For those that have read the book and want more, Steinberg has been writing on a variety of (often amusing) subjects for publications like the Paris Review and The New Yorker. Check out this video if you want a preview of his next book. And you definitely want to check out this piece from Huffpo: Conversations with a Young Islamist in the Prison Library,
I can honestly say that if Akh did become a radical Islamist in prison it was despite the education he received in the prison library. It is just as likely that our conversations--simply the example of an open and respectful dialogue--planted a seed. It was, after all, a kind of tolerance that kept him coming back enthusiastically to the prison library and that kept our conversations honest and alive. In prison, and even in the balkanized world at large, this alone is a rare achievement.
Of course, we've covered some of this territory before. I was happy to see that Ted Conover's Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing got a nod from the author. We read the book a while back (along with two others by the author, making Conover Rights Readers' all-time favorite author) and recommend it if you enjoyed Running. You may be interested to learn that New Jack is still contraband in the New York prison system, but the author wrote recently about his first return visit to Sing Sing to see an inmate-produced play and he testifies to the role of theater in envisioning alternative roles as a part of rehabilitation. Huffpo also has a good interview with Conover. By the way, Ted Conover is not the only author we've read whose books have been banned behind bars. I linked to this once before, but I recommend this video of Toni Morrison and Angela Davis discussing the value of prison libraries and problems with censors.  The Austin Statesman has a fascinating report on books and authors banned in Texas prisons, including Edwidge Danticat. I also liked this article about a lawsuit filed by the always inspiring Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative on behalf of an Alabama inmate who was banned from reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book Slavery by Another Name

Take a look at this birds-eye view of the U.S. prison-industrial complex. There's a prison near you. If you've got some books you'd like to donate to a prison, this looks like a good place to start. If you want to learn more about prison issues, Slate has a round-up of some excellent investigative journalism on the subject. If you're in favor of more books, more dialog, better libraries, and better rehabilitation programs, you'll want to join the growing campaign to rethink the practice of solitary confinement.  Take action on behalf of the "Angola 3' here. See also the recent action against conditions at TAMMS Supermax prison in Illinois. More info/action from Solitary Watch. There's a lot of work to be done!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Your Life for a Love Poem

Learn about landai, a two line poetic form (perfect for Twitter!) practiced by the women of Afghanistan and about the risks they take for the right to self-expression. Eliza Griswold (The Tenth Parallel, Wideawake Field) has a great piece about Afghan women's poetry in The New York Times Magazine, Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry,
Like most folk literature, landai can be sorrowful or bawdy. Imagine the Wife of Bath riding through the Himalayan foothills and uttering landai so ribald that they curled the toes of her fellow travelers. She might tease her rival: “Say hello to my sweetheart/If you are a farter [tizan, one who farts a lot], then I can fart louder than you.” She might make a cutting political joke: “Your black eyelashes are Israel/and my heart is Palestine under your attack.” She might utter an elegiac couplet: “My beloved gave his head for our country/I will sew his shroud with my hair.”
“A poem is a sword,” Saheera Sharif, Mirman Baheer’s founder, said. Sharif is not a poet but a member of Parliament from the province of Khost. Literature, she says, is a more effective battle for women’s rights than shouting at political rallies. “This is a different kind of struggle.”
There's more, including a slideshow, at the Pulitzer Center website. More in this form can be found collected in Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women's Poetry. Samples from the book here. Also of interest, there is a new collection of poetry by Taliban authors, Poetry of the Taliban. The editors were interviewed in The Atlantic recently, 
The average reader in the West probably regards the Taliban as being profoundly hostile to culture. How do we reconcile incidents like the destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamiyan with the outpouring of poetic sentiment documented in your book?
There is a difference between the formal pronouncements or edicts of the Taliban's leadership and the fighters on the ground. That is as true for the Taliban as it is true for the British Army. In our introduction we also note the contradiction between the formal edicts issued by Mullah  Mohammad Omar (banning most kinds of music) and his private consumption of those same songs that he had banned. This is to be expected. The Taliban are not a monolithic movement, with fixed and unchanging attitudes. In many ways, our difficulties understanding the movement say more about us than it does about the Taliban.
Sounds like what we need is an Afghan poetry slam.

Monday, July 02, 2012

On Air with Alarcón

Welcome to Radio Ambulante from Radio Ambulante on Vimeo.

Daniel Alarcón, author of Rights Readers selection Lost City Radio, has a new project, Radio Ambulante, an audio/podcast series that's a kind of This American Life for Spanish speakers. The goal of the program is to create a community of storytellers and listeners from around Latin America and the United States. The program is the first of its kind in Spanish. Of course, Peruvian radio figures in the plot of Lost City, but Alarcón explained his longtime affinity for radio to KPCC
Daniel Alarcón grew up in Alabama. "We had to speak Spanish at home, in the house, and my father heard my sisters speaking English with a Southern twang and was sort of horrified," he said. "And then we started listening to NPR."

But Daniel's connection to radio came years before that--from his father. "His first job as a kid was as an announcer, calling soccer games in Arequipa, Peru," said Alarcón. "My sisters and I would gather on Sunday mornings in our parents bedroom and we would do these basically, now I think of them as radio programs, recorded onto cassettes where my dad would interview us and my mom would ask us what we've been doing in school and we would record our answers and we would mail them to Lima and our cousins in Lima would do the same thing."
Alarcón spoke recently at the Los Angeles Public Library and shared some of the program's first stories. You can listen to the presentation here. Don't worry if your Spanish is weak, enough of the program is in English to be enjoyable and it's not surprising to learn that Spanish language teachers have already latched onto the pedagogic potential of these stories

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Up for a Little Twist?

I just finished reading Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh's novel set right before the outbreak of the Opium Wars. I highly recommend it if you are looking for an engrossing read this summer. It has a range of human rights themes that would satisfy our Loyal Readers interests, including of race, class, economic justice, imperialism, drugs, crime and punishment.  Plus a fair bit of action, romance, and a chuckle or three. The book has a large cast of Dickensian characters and I must commend the audiobook performance of Phil Gigante, who single-handedly provides the unique voices for a very large and multicultural cast and handles the novel's challenging vocabulary with aplomb.  Unfortunately, the book is really too long for our discussion purposes, but I plan to move right along to the second book in this planned trilogy, River of Smoke, and eagerly await the release of the third volume.

Thinking of Dickens while I read this, I'm willing to bet that many of our Loyal Readers developed a taste for combining storytelling and social critique from reading Dickens as children. This year marks the 200 year anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth so it's not a bad time to revisit some of those books and see how much they still resonate.  Many events and exhibitions are being staged in honor of Dickens this year. For browsing fun check out the Victoria and Albert Museum's collection of Dickens illustrations and manuscripts.  Here's a video clip from another from the Free Word Centre exploring the political and social themes in Oliver Twist.

(See  Part 2 and Part 3 for more.) These videos support the Conversations with a Twist: Dickens, Oliver and Social Justice exhibition and include teaching resources on such issues as crime, prison, poverty and child labor. Also of interest is the recent discovery of the workhouse that inspired Oliver Twist as detailed in the new book Dickens and the Workhouse: Oliver Twist and the London Poor. The author was interviewed recently on NPR and you can get a peek at the building in this video or zoom in for a Google street view here.  These look like great resources to bring to a fresh reading of a childhood favorite!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...