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Stealing Third

An Interview with E. Ethelbert Miller
By Shonda Buchanan
The Writer's Chronicle
December, 2009

E. Ethelbert Miller is a well-known chronicler of black literary life in Washington, DC and across the country. He is a consummate documenter, as well as a writer of poetry and nonfiction. Eight years ago, Miller published a ground-breaking memoir, Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer, that captured the voice of a college-bound youth and his working-class father. As a literary activist, Miller is the board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). He is a board member of The Writer’s Center and editor of Poet Lore magazine. Since 1974, he has been the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University. Miller is the former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, DC and a former core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College. He is the advisory editor of the African American Review, founder of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series, and winner of the 1994 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for his poetry anthology In Search of Color Everywhere. Miller has edited several anthologies, and is author of five collections of verse. His new memoir, The 5th Inning, a 165 page book, was published in March 2009 by Busboys & Poets.

E. Ethelbert Miller has found himself in the role of storyteller for his father, brother, and several friends simply by outliving them. In essence, writing The 5th Inning is tantamount to stealing third base, and entering certain moments and people into the record books for good.

Shonda Buchanan: Why use baseball as a motif?

E. Ethelbert Miller: When I look back on my life, I find that baseball was very important to me. It was the one thing that I was very passionate about from an early age. You had to actually stop me from playing and stop me from spending all my money on baseball cards. I grew up when many of the people whom I liked in terms of heroes—Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, and Clete Boyer—were baseball players. I lived not far from Yankee Stadium. Oftentimes, one gravitates toward a sport, and that sport is something you live with your entire life. For me it’s baseball. When I was writing this second memoir, I said, okay, what is it that I really know? I think I know baseball best.

Buchanan: Why the fifth inning?

Miller: The fifth inning is an official complete game. It goes into the record books, and I’ve always looked at that as a metaphor for our lives. I look at so many of my friends, and people whom I don’t know, dying before they reach the age of sixty. Cancer, suicide, heart attack. So that became something I began to look at as I wrote The 5th Inning. Many games end because of rain or darkness. When I look at things I struggle against—depression, marriage, raising children—I see this sort of overcast. No matter how much people might see your life as being a beacon of light or you as being happy, you’re on your own on the mound. You’re in the batter’s box. You know the score.

Buchanan: How does this correlate with your work as a writer?

Miller: I think, right now, there is a certain sense of completion. What I’ve been doing for the last two years is boxing up my personal papers and giving them to the Givens Collection at the University of Minnesota and to George Washington University. I’m very conscious of what I’ve done and the importance of making material available to future scholars. I can go back and say, okay, these are all the things that went into Hoodoo Magazine, or these are what I used when I was editing In Search of Color Everywhere or Fathering Words. Here are documents, a tremendous amount of correspondence with people that I think are important for literary scholars. Going back and making sense out of what I saw as a very important period, especially in terms of Washington, DC history, and in terms of black literary history. National and international. When I look at what was taking place on the campus of Howard University that I was witness to—I look at the era, the early ’70s, as a golden era. Here I am, a young person in the early 1970s, and I’m meeting people like C.L.R. James, Haki Madhubuti, and Walter Rodney.

Buchanan: You talked about being a purveyor of art, and being a father, and ushering in the work of others. What about your own work as a writer?

Miller: I’m writing more. For a good part of my life, I was organizing. Some people don’t know that I wrote a memoir, and they aren’t familiar with my nonfiction work. At this particular point in my life, I feel it is time to really bring my work together, and make it available to the public. I’m writing better than ever before. And this goes back to baseball. You’re not going to hit the ball every time you get up. But there are times in your literary career when you know you can get on base with what you’ve written.

Buchanan: What is the book about for you?

Miller: This is a book that I felt I needed to write because of all the things I’ve experienced over the last few decades. Things that coincide with raising children and being in a second marriage. I needed to be honest. Many times people will say, “Oh, Ethelbert, you don’t seem happy, why don’t you change your life?” What I did when writing this book was to realize, okay, these were the pitches that I threw or the pitches that I faced. Baseball is very exact. The records are there. That’s how the influence of steroids taints these records, but when you look at baseball, you look at that box score. That tells you what happened. And the other thing about baseball is, you have to see the game. Similarly, you have to see my life on a daily basis because there are a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score. That’s something that I feel is there in this book—that level or degree of honesty. That’s why very early on I tell the reader, you won’t know if I’m throwing balls or strikes because it’s going to change. Some things will shock people. Sometimes I go off on a tangent, and that’s how this book is put together.

Buchanan: Did you realize anything differently in this second memoir than in the first? Fathering WordsThe 5th Inning feels more confining and even a bit sad. seems more like you trying to connect with your father, but there’s still a bit more optimism. You were at the beginning of your life even though it’s retrospective, while

Miller: I was very conscious of writing the first memoir. I knew I was telling someone about my beginnings. I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. So there’s a chronology there you can follow, even though I’m going back and forth. It does cover South Bronx, to college, to becoming a writer.

Buchanan: Was Fathering Words about black men and depression, or fatherhood?

Miller: More family. I didn’t start out writing a book about depression. I wrote this book because I wanted to give praise and testimony to my father’s and brother’s lives. I felt that when they died, they had a lot remaining to offer life. For them to disappear without leaving anything behind—I felt that this is where I come in as a storyteller. What I can do is create the story. I can elevate their lives. I can take my father, who was a working class man in a post office, and elevate his life and make it much more heroic. The highest compliment to my having that skill is the success in keeping the memories of my father and brother alive. This is the power of the word. This is the power of creating myths. Whenever I go into a classroom and see young students reading about my brother and father, I know that I’ve achieved what I set out to do. Many people write books that come out but are never read. Every year, the audience for Fathering Words increases.

Buchanan: You write in The 5th Inning, “I need the strength to continue and the feeling that I’m writing what needs to find its air.” It feels as if sometimes in the narrative you are suffocating in your life. What are you trying to set free with this memoir?

Miller: As a person who is always dealing with documenting, I think what I’ve done, for good or bad, is document my life. I would not want someone to look at my books of poetry and come to a certain conclusion. I think if you read my poetry and my memoirs, you begin to find certain links. This is, I feel, pushing aside the silences that exist inside our relationships and the silences that many times exist within a home. In Fathering Words, I wrote about the dual sounds of music in a household. I grew up with that, but when I look at my own home, there is a certain level of silence. Everyone comes in and goes to their separate rooms. Sometimes, if it’s not a holiday, we take our meals in ones and twos, but not the four of us. Also, this is a book in which, by the time I’m finished, the family I’m writing about has changed. My son is off to college—he doesn’t come back that often. My daughter—it’s just a question of time before she transitions out. So it’s a different house than the one that I was reflecting back on. A memoir is always looking back.

Buchanan: How does your family view the memoir?

Miller: I sent each one a copy, and no one said anything. I sent the first copy to my sister. The second to my biographer, Julia Galbus, in Indiana. Those were the first people who got copies. My sister was very saddened by it. She felt it was very painful and said, “I want to know more.” I didn’t send her the entire thing. I incorporated what Julia Galbus said into the memoir because it was a whole thing about darkness. That was very helpful for me to realize that I don’t have to write against this. If it proceeds in this direction, then it’s just going to be a dark book.

Buchanan: It’s a nonlinear structure, much like the first book.

Miller: It’s nonlinear, even though it reads in such a way you get a sense of what I’m processing. You get a sense of some of the things happening while I’m at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). I included my friend Kay Ruane, who is a painter. She’s the person who survived an airplane crash. What I did was no different than what a visual artist would do in terms of finding objects and assembling them. That’s how this memoir was written. I think it makes it very rich for someone who can come back and read it in such a way that he or she sees the jokes I’m playing. For instance, there are places where I’m lifting lines from Bob Dylan. If they know Dylan, they know the line. I consciously added a lot of baseball, which I wouldn’t have had time to do if I had not gone to VCCA. I’m talking about specific players. That’s where I wanted to go deeper into the metaphor.

Buchanan: Your favorite players representing certain aspects of your life?

Miller: Exactly, or they become players that play against my life. I look at Pumpsie Green, the first black player for the Red Sox. No one remembers Pumpsie Green or Tony Conigliaro, whose life was tragically interrupted by getting hit in the face. By bringing those names to the forefront, a person who is really into baseball and giving it a serious critical read will realize, “Oh, Ethelbert is talking about Carl Yastrzemski or Bill Monbouquette. Why is he referring to those names?” If someone comes along and wants to look at my life or poems now, they would have to look at my blog. Some of my best writing is caught up in there. And what holds it together is my admiration for the baseball player Ichiro Suzuki. He’s there throughout my entire blog. It’s not different than being influenced by Ezra Pound or Whitman. So we see these connections. In a close reading, someone will ask what does this person represent here?

Buchanan: You don’t answer all the questions you raise for the reader. Why?

Miller: I think, for both memoirs, if you took a marker and circle the questions marks, there are quite a few. I’m conscious of that because I don’t know the answers, and sometimes it’s a riff on life. I want the reader not to just think about my life, but to think about their own lives. “Well, why did you do that?” Well, what would you do? If I’ve done my job, you as the reader reflect and make these connections. The fifth inning now for my sister has become a part of her vocabulary when someone dies. Oh, the fifth inning. What happens is it begins to resonate outside of baseball, and I think if I can do that as a writer then I’ve done a good job.

Buchanan: Do you feel that when you reflect back on your life and work, you have become your father?

Miller: I think so. But I think I’ve done some things that he would be proud of. I’ve been able to get my children to where they are today. But I’ve never worked as hard as my father. I’ve never pushed my body physically.

Buchanan: But writing is a physical act.

Miller: Writing is physical. You’ve got to really sit there and keep your body going, and if you’re not disciplined, it doesn’t happen. Writing isn’t easy. Re-writing isn’t easy. You’ve got to make your free throws, you’ve got to practice. You look at a line, and you’ve got to look at that line over and over again. If you’re going to give up, then you’re not the writer.

Buchanan: Give me an example.

Miller: This summer, I went to VCCA and I realized that many of my friends were living the writer’s life. I saw this when I was working up at Bennington. The residency would be ending, and my fellow colleagues were going off to Italy to write. It’s no wonder they have a book every two years. I could go off to France to write, to Italy to write. Have some bread and wine. But you look at yourself—you’re in your fifties, and you realize you’re not living the writer’s life. You’re not taking advantage of some of these things. I look at my long-term relationship with Howard, and when I look at how some schools have never embraced writers, I see how that’s continued with me. If I look at how Sterling Brown was treated, or especially Julian Mayfield—these people are given no institutional support. Or as I remember Stephen Henderson used to say, “Léon Damas is walking across the campus of Howard University. No one knows he’s one of the founders of Negritude.” And if they did, they wouldn’t care. That tells you something about the campus. A part of me says, “I’m going to write myself out of Howard.” And another part of me says, “I’m going to stay there until I get my due.” See, that’s my father: “The longest day hasn’t ended.”

Buchanan: Is what happened, and is happening to you, indicative of the role of the artist in academia?

Miller: No. I’m a literary activist. I don’t take that nonsense. I’ve looked at writers. I’ll begin with Sterling Brown. People used to say, “Oh, he’s the poet laureate of Washington, DC.” He wasn’t. We went down and made him the poet laureate. I remember when he had his proclamation, and he was getting in his car, he was a happy guy. We had it on Capitol Hill. We had to bribe him to get him out of his house, but he was happy. It was official.

Buchanan: Unlike Langston Hughes being the unofficial poet laureate of Harlem.

Miller: Right. What I feel is important to do—I have all these people’s papers—is to make sure these papers get into the hands of scholars. This is what I get angry about. The people running historically black colleges don’t protect the stuff. They don’t have the funds or the staff. Or they want to sell someone’s paintings. They don’t appreciate what they have.

Buchanan: How long have you been at Howard?

Miller: I’ve been at Howard as a full employee since 1974.

Buchanan: Have you taught at Howard?

Miller: I’ve never been a professor there. I’ve never taught at Howard. I’ve run the African American Resource Center. I’ve taught at University of Nevada Las Vegas, American University, George Mason, Emory, Henry College, and Bennington.

Buchanan: Why never at Howard?

Miller: Because I didn’t go on to get all those degrees, and the reason for that is I knew what I wanted to do. There was a point when I came back from UNLV where I was treated very well, and came back to Howard. They were trying to phase out my position because there was this push to get me to go back to school. That’s for their own interest. I told the dean, “This may sound arrogant, but you guys study literature; I make it.” To me, I try to advance the field of literature. I’m not looking at some footnotes. I look at the things I’ve done that I don’t even take credit for. When I went to UNLV, I had to put together a resume for the first time. I’ve never packaged myself as a media person even though I do radio shows and NPR. For example, the Humanities Council now runs almost all of my shows that I recorded when I worked for them at UDC Station.

Buchanan: You said in the book, “I once wrote an essay in a magazine in which I mentioned that my deepest fear was to be a survivor. I don’t want to be the person discovered after being underground and trapped for fourteen hours. I don’t want to be the person lost in the mountains and freezing for days. I’m just a guy in a second marriage.” Aren’t you surviving?

Miller: That’s a good read of that.

Buchanan: What are you surviving?

Miller: Everything. Relationships, Howard. I look at the climate change. I look at New Orleans, and I’ve been telling people that the concept of home has become almost obsolete. That we almost have to give that up. That many of us are going to be on the move, or you can’t assume that everything here is going to stay.

Buchanan: Scott Russell Sanders might have something to say about that, too.

Miller: As writers, for example, the expression “I’m going to call home” makes no sense because you call your mother and she’s on a mobile phone. We’re always recreating new spaces or claiming space to call our home, but it’s not permanent.

Buchanan: So what is your home? Where is it?

Miller: Here. Maybe this will be a place where a visiting writer will stay one day. That would be the ideal thing.

Buchanan: You wrote in The 5th Inning that you’ve spoken and written so much about love that you now need to begin to love yourself and your aloneness. When will that happen?

Miller: It’s always a process. Each day I struggle with that.

Buchanan: What would you tell budding writers now, after a lifetime of writing? And what would you tell budding memoirists?

Miller: It’s important to keep tradition alive. Try and document as much as possible. This will help to reclaim memory in the future. I’m afraid we have become a people who no longer value the book. I see reading books as being fundamental to the soul’s well-being. To read alone or read aloud is as important as meditation or prayer. It is also why we write. I would remind all budding writers to “always be closing.” ABC. That was the mantra my friend Liam Rector echoed throughout my tenure, teaching in the Bennington Writing Seminars. Finally, it’s important for all young writers to understand that they have the capability to shape history and not simply be shaped by it. I would remind writers to see themselves as witnesses, and to always speak the truth to the people, as well as truth to power. A love of language should be as strong as the love for life.

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Galileo's Dream

A Q & A with Kim Stanley Robinson
By Terry Bisson
Shareable: Life & Art 

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of America’s most important science fiction authors—and an underappreciated utopian visionary.
He grew up in Southern California ‘s Orange County (a Republican stronghold credited with launching the “Reagan Revolution”) and earned a PhD in literature from the University of California, San Diego, in 1982. Starting with the publication of The Wild Shore in 1984, Robinson embarked upon creating an ambitious body of work that tackles themes of ecological sustainability, economic and social justice, and the relationships between science, politics, and values—and in the process, he has won every major science fiction award. Robinson is most famous for the Mars trilogy, published from 1992 to ’96, which imagines wonderfully flawed human colonists building a terraformed utopia on the red planet.
Next month, Spectra will publish Robinson’s new novel, Galileo’s Dream, which envisions the founder of modern science as a bridge between Renaissance Italy and a distant future on the Jovian moons. Last month, PM Press published a special edition of Robinson’s classic novelette The Lucky Strike. In the following excerpt from that book, award-winning science fiction author Terry Bisson (editor of PM Press’s Outspoken Authors series, of which The Lucky Strike is part) interviews Robinson about real and imaginary shareable communities, global warming, capitalism, and what science fiction can teach us about living in the future.—Jeremy Adam Smith, Editor of
Terry Bisson: Your first big trilogy was the Orange County series. Did you feel you owed that to your birthplace or was it because Orange County, California, somehow concentrates all the tendencies good and bad in modern America?
Kim Stanley Robinson: That trilogy is actually called "Three Californias," as the handsome Tor trade paperbacks say. I guess it was a little of both. I wanted to ground some of my science fiction in my actual home town, and I also felt like I was the beneficiary of a lucky coincidence, in that my home town seemed to me to represent some kind of end case for America, some kind of future already here for the rest of the country to witness and hopefully avoid following. I’m not sure that was a true perception, but it had to do with the westward movement in American history, and the fact that when people reached the Pacific there was no where else to go, so the leading edge of malcontents and dreamers was stuck there and had to make something of it. Los Angeles is the big exemplar of how that can go wrong, San Francisco how it can go right, and Orange County is like the purest expression of LA. And in my time it was so beautiful, then it was so destroyed, and it was so drugged out; it seemed a good spot to talk about America, so I used it. It still feels like a lucky thing, and I think it was fundamental to me becoming a science fiction writer in the first place. When I ran into science fiction at age eighteen, I said, Oh I recognize this, this is home, this is Orange County.
TB: My favorite of that series is Pacific Edge, the utopia of the series. What’s yours? Are there any particular problems in writing a utopia?
KSR: My favorite is The Gold Coast, for personal reasons, but I think Pacific Edge is more important to us now. Anyone can do a dystopia these days just by making a collage of newspaper headlines, but utopias are hard, and important, because we need to imagine what it might be like if we did things well enough to say to our kids, we did our best, this is about as good as it was when it was handed to us, take care of it and do better. Some kind of narrative vision of what we’re trying for as a civilization.
It’s a slim tradition since [Sir Thomas] More invented the word, but a very interesting one, and at certain points important: the Bellamy clubs after Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward had a big impact on the Progressive movement in American politics, and H.G. Wells’s stubborn persistence in writing utopias over about fifty years (not his big sellers) conveyed the vision that got turned into the postwar order of social security and some kind of government-by-meritocracy.
So utopias have had effects in the real world. More recently I think Ecotopia by [Ernest] Callenbach had a big impact on how the hippie generation tried to live in the years after, building families and communities.
There are a lot of problems in writing utopias, but they can be opportunities. The usual objection—that they must be boring—are often political attacks, or ignorant repeating of a line, or another way of saying “No expository lumps please, it has to be about me.” The political attacks are interesting to parse. “Utopia would be boring because there would be no conflicts, history would stop, there would be no great art, no drama, no magnificence.” This is always said by white people with a full belly. My feeling is that if they were hungry and sick and living in a cardboard shack they would be more willing to give utopia a try.
And if we did achieve a just and sustainable world civilization, I’m confident there would still be enough drama, as I tried to show in Pacific Edge. There would still be love lost, there would still be death. That would be enough. The horribleness of unnecessary tragedy may be lessened and the people who like that kind of thing would have to deal with a reduction in their supply of drama.
So, the writing of utopia comes down to figuring out ways of talking about just these issues in an interesting way; how tenuous it would be, how fragile, how much a tightrope walk and a work in progress. That along with the usual science fiction problem of handling exposition. It could be done, and I wish it were being done more often.
TB: Your recent “Global Warming” trilogy (40 Signs of Rain; 50 Degrees Below; 60 Days and Counting) was about global warming—which leads to a deep freeze! What do you think of Obama’s “green” agenda? Is it headed in the right directions?
KSR: Climate change will mostly be warming, but that will add such energy to the world system that the turbulence will lead to areas of greater cold in winter, as well as more severe storms, etc. So I followed a scenario that describes the “abrupt climate change” that the scientists have found in the historical record, that results when the Gulf Stream is shut down at its north end by too much fresh water flooding the far north Atlantic.
That could happen with Greenland melting, though now they think it is lower probability than when I wrote (oh well). I like Obama’s green agenda and hope his whole team and everyone jumps on board and pushes it as hard as possible.
One thing happening is that the Republican Party in the USA has decided to fight the idea of climate change (polls and studies show the shift over the first decade of this century, in terms of the leadership turning against it and the rank and file following), which is like the Catholic Church denying the Earth went around the sun in Galileo’s time; a big mistake they are going to crawl away from later and pretend never happened. And here the damage could be worse, because we need to act now.
What’s been set up and is playing out now is a huge world historical battle between science and capitalism. Science is insisting more emphatically every day that this is a real and present danger. Capitalism is saying it isn’t, because if it were true it would mean more government control of economies, more social justice (as a climate stabilization technique) and so on. These are the two big players in our civilization, so I say, be aware, watch the heavyweights go at it, and back science every chance you get. I speak to all fellow leftists around the world: science is now a leftism, and thank God; but capitalism is very, very strong. So it’s a dangerous moment. People who like their history dramatic and non-utopian should be pleased.
TB: Your latest work, to be published next month, is about Galileo. Or about the relationship between science and politics. Or is it ambition and religion? Or work and age?
KSR: A bit of all those things, but mostly I was thinking science and history; what science is, how it has affected history, how it could in the future. And also about Galileo’s actual work, which is ever so interesting. He was a great character.
TB: You gave one of the Google talks. Was that cool or what? What did you tell them?
KSR: It was a lot of fun. The Google people were great, and their free cafeteria is out of this world. They put the talk online so you can find it on YouTube. It was my first Power Point talk ever, so that was a bit clunky, but fun. It was configured as a talk to the Googlers, telling Google what it could do to fight climate change and enact utopia. I’m not sure the folks at (their charitable/activist foundation) were listening, but it was worth a try, and basically a way to frame my usual talk about what we all should do. Mostly I say, go outdoors and sit and talk to a friend: this is our primate utopia and very easy on the planet.

TB: I understand that you live in a utopian community [called Village Homes, pictured above and below; images by Michael Corbett]. How does that work? Is it pre- or post-modern?
KSR: A little of both, I guess. The model is an English village really; about eighty acres, a lot of it owned in common, so there is a “commons” and no fences, except around little courtyards. There are a lot of vegetable gardens, and the landscaping is edible, meaning lots of fruits, grapes and nuts. 
It’s really just a tweaking of suburban design, but a really good one. Energy mattered to the designers and we burn about 40 percent the energy of an ordinary suburban neighborhood of the same size. That’s still a lot, but it’s an improvement. Village Homes was built in 1980 or so; if every suburb since then had followed its lead, we would have much less craziness in America, because the standard suburb is bad for sanity. But that didn’t happen, so for the 1,000 people who live here it’s a kind of pocket utopia. Not the solution, but a nice place to live right now, and it could suggest aspects of a long-term solution. It’s been a real blessing to live here.
TB: I hear you and [the novelist] Karen Joy Fowler like to write together in cafes. What’s that about?
KSR: I wrote in cafes for many years; I liked seeing the faces, which often became characters’ faces, and I liked hearing the voices around me, I think it helped with dialogue, and made my writing even more a matter of channeling a community. Fowler joined me in this at several cafes downtown, all of which died, we hope not from our presence, although we may have killed three.
It was good to meet with someone going through the same issues, it was a kind of solidarity and also a bit of policing, in that there was someone to meet at a certain time, who would then be watching in a way. It was a great addition to a friendship. But now Karen has moved, and on my own I’m finding I like my courtyard better than any of the cafes left in town.
I thought I was getting tired of writing, before, but now I realize I was only tired of spending so much time indoors sitting around. When it’s outdoors it feels completely different.
TB: You are firmly ensconced in the science fiction genre. Many writers regard that as a trap, and others as an opportunity. How do you see it? Is working in a field with a developed, opinionated and rambunctious “fandom” a blessing or a curse?
KSR: It’s the hometown. It’s a floor and a ceiling, in some respects. I love the genre and the community, but want readers who don’t usually think of themselves as SF readers to give me a try, as they have in the past for Bradbury, Asimov, Frank Herbert, Ursula Le Guin, and so on.
These days there seems to be a lot of permeability. [Michael] Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union was a great SF novel, an alternative history, and it was widely read and enjoyed by people. Maybe Philip K. Dick’s takeover of the movies helped break down part of the barriers.
Anyway, there is no reason to pretend it’s a ghetto and we are oppressed artists that the world won’t give a break. In the 1950s that was true and drove many writers mad. Now to hold that position (which some do) would be only a confession that you’d rather be a big fish in a little pond than swim in the big ocean. I like the ocean, but I love SF too. And really, to have a literary community as a kind of feedback amp on stage, loudly talking back to you and ready to talk at any moment— any writer is lucky to have that. The solitude and alienation of many writers from their audiences strikes me as sad. It’s solitary enough as it is, in the daily work.
TB: Science fiction writers are always complaining about the state of publishing. What do you think would be the proper role of science fiction in a proper publishing world? Would there be genres or categories at all?
KSR: I don’t know! That’s a real alternative history. If there were no genres or categories, people might be more open to trying new things. That would be good. I’d love to try it. But it’s not the world we have. Going forward from now, I guess I think every science fiction section in every bookstore should have a sign saying “Science Fiction—You Live Here, Why Not Read About It?” or “Science Fiction, the Most Real Part of This Store” or something like that. Something to remind people of reality, which is that we are all stuck in a big SF novel now, and there’s no escape; might as well accept it and dive in.

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Poets at the Crossroads

The 5th Inning by E. Ethelbert Miller and Something Like Beautiful by asha bandele
By Peter Aaron

By Brenda M. Greene
Neworld Review

Two poets, E.Ethelbert Miller and asha bandele (spelled with lower case letters) have new memoirs out, both examining the suffering that comes with the need for love. In both cases these are followup stories to earlier memoirs. Now Miller, in The 5th Inning (PM Press) and bandele, in Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Story (HarperCollins) each explore a sort of Phase 2 of their lives.

For Miller, his new memoir is a reflection on middle age, marriage, fatherhood, career choices, death and failures as he approaches 60. His first memoir, Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer (St. Martins Griffin) was published in 2001. In 2003 it was selected by the DC We Read for its one book, one city program. It presents a frank portrayal of his early life beginning with his childhood in the South Bronx and continuing with his days as a college student at Howard and his evolution into a poet, father and husband.

Miller is the author of nine collections of poems. His 2004 collection How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love was an Independent Publisher Award Finalist. He is also the editor of four anthologies of poetry, including In Search of Color Everywhere (1994) which was awarded the 1994 PEN Oakland, Josephine Miles Award, and was a Book of the Month Club selection. A member of many literary boards and organizations and known for his commentaries on poetry and literature, Miller can often be heard on NPR.

In bandele’s case, Something Like Beautiful is about her journey from student to prisoner’s wife and single mother. A journalist, poet and novelist, bandele first gained recognition with her award-winning memoir The Prisoner’s Wife (Scribner, 1999), a deeply moving work that reveals the gripping tale of her decision to marry Rashid, the father of her daughter, and her struggle to hold on to a dream of a “normal marriage” upon his release from prison. Her novel Daughter (Scribner, 2003) depicts the consequences of the silences and secrets in our lives and presents a sensitively told narrative of the fragile and complexities of mother daughter relationships. bandele is also a former feature editor for Essence Magazine and the author of two collections of poems.

In The 5th Inning Miller expresses some beliefs about what it means to be a memoirist. The writer, he says, should not write to harm and should keep healing and the transformation of the self at the center of the narrative. The memoirist must decide what to include and what to leave out, for if not done carefully, he can bring harm to his loved ones, friends and supporters. Thus, the memoirist must be sensitive and committed to truth and to the courageous act of capturing those special or life transforming moments that present an authentic portrayal of his/her life.

Miller sees life in baseball metaphors, with the fifth inning possibly his last. “Everything comes down to balls and strikes,” he says. “You don’t need religion to understand this. One can keep a scorecard just like God” .

Although many youthful baby boomers may beg to differ, Miller believes that life begins a trajectory toward the end at around 50. On aging, he reflects that: ”Someone might ask about your diet or mention how you don’t look your age. But you know your age. You’re more aware of it each year when you complete an application. There are fewer boxes to check where it says ‘list age.’" And he ponders, “When do you stop reading horoscopes or simply accept the cards handed to you? How many times can you avoid death?”

He also says that as he gets older “the poems appear less and less. The personal is prose.” And he riffs on the lyrical nature of his memoir: “This memoir has a jazz feel to it. Is it BeBob? Parker and Diz? I like the energy that flows from one chapter into another.”

Central to his memoir is a quest for love. He asks which is the inning in which husbands stop talking to their wives. What happens when the passion leaves the marriage and one’s vows become “autumn” or the “fall? What is “. . . that moment when a man moves beyond desire? When he no longer needs to turn around to look at a woman?”

Miller is not afraid to display his frailties, his misgivings about the time spent with his son and daughter, and his own strained relationships with his mother, father, and brother. He is open about his failures and asks how do we cope with failure in career, marriage and life and how do we look at ourselves when we believe that we have failed as lovers, parents and friends.

Miller’s words to his son: are apt symbols for his life. He informs his son, who has kicked a basketball out of the park one day. “You don’t kick the ball! You never kick the ball! The ball is your friend!” As he sees it, wives, partners, sons, daughters and friends are our own “balls” that we should never kick away.

Still, it is bandele’s memoir that is the more despairing of the two, right from the opening line: “This is a book about love and this is a book about rage. This is a book about those opposing emotions and what happens to a woman, a mother, when, with equal weight, they occupy the seat of your heart.”

bandele paints a haunting picture of her evolution from a young woman who grew up in a middle-class environment and survived sexual and emotional abuse and the challenges of having a husband who was incarcerated, to one who learned how to love and heal herself and to establish a relationship with her daughter. Adopted as a baby, bandele harbors feelings of rejection from her biological mother and searches for love in the relationships she experiences. A victim of sexual abuse at a young age, she carries these traumatic memories into her adulthood, shaping her responses to men and perhaps affecting the men she chooses.

At times, you may wonder whether bandele is going to be able to achieve the balance she so desperately seeks. She describes depression as a drawn-out process that keeps pulling her in deeper: “At some point, it no longer seems strange to wake up each day and wonder how you will get through the first hour, the second. In the beginning it was wine every night and cigarettes that were my morphine. Eventually it was sleep. I could barely get out of bed, see friends. . . I went into what I can only describe as hiding.”

As her narrative deepens, bandele moves beyond herself and reflects on her role in her community and the larger global world, and how helping children in various villages and communities helped to save her. “The cliché is that children have as much to teach us as we do them,” she writes. “And like most clichés, those words rang empty to me until I lived them. I lived them all the way out. And now I know that they are true” She cautions the reader against self-medication in the form of drugs, alcohol and sex emphasizes the need to be fully present in the face of adversity, to accept that our lives will be filled with pain, loss, disappointment and to recognize that these elements are a natural part of our everyday existence.

Her memoir closes with a view into her mind’s eye of the reasons we have for living and of what must be done to address the mental, emotional, spiritual and educational problems in our communities. In her words:

“Renewal. Children, if life is fairly good to them, will not have to learn. This while they are still small. Adults, if we live any measure of time and with any measure of energy, will most certainly run headlong into it, that challenge to come back or not. Many of us will have to learn it over and over. We will have to figure out how to renew ourselves after the loss of a love or a job or a friend or a parent------or ourselves.”

"Brenda M. Greene is Professor of English and Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.

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Dallas Mom Reviews My Baby Rides the Short Bus

By Nancy Churnin
Dallas Moms blog
The Dallas Morning News
October 28, 2009

Here's one book I wish I'd had during the dark days after learning my daughter has autism.

My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities (PM Press, $20) is an anthology of first-person stories from parents about children facing an array of physical and intellectual challenges. Edited by Yantra Bertelli, Jennifer Silverman and Sarah Talbot, the book features real voices--mostly moms--about everything from the heartbreak of the diagnosis to the triumph in watching a child master a seemingly simple task to pragmatic advice like how to set up a Special Needs Trust.

At its best, the book reads like a conversation with a loyal friend. Like a confidant, My Baby Rides the Short Bus made me wince and ache with its honest take on difficult situations. You want to throw your arms around some of these moms. With others, you'll decide to borrow their playbook. Quite honestly, a few of these mothers have handled certain situations a lot better than I did.

Meet an editor and one of the contributors this Friday. On Oct. 30 at 7 p.m., Jennifer Silverman will appear with writer Robert Rummel-Hudson at Legacy Books, 7300 Dallas Parkway, Suite A120 in Plano (972-398-9888 or
For more on the book, visit

Buy this book now | Download ebook now | Back to Jennifer Silverman's page | Back to Sarah Talbot page | Back to Yantra Bertelli's page

Dismantling the Self-Constructed Barrier:

A Conversation on Anarchism and Marxism
By Max Ajl
NACLA: North American Congress on Latin America

The World Social Forum, in its near decade of existence, has popularized the slogan “Another World Is Possible.” Although many on the left may agree, and there is broad agreement about the nature of the world we live in and the shape of the one we wish to create, there is less agreement on how to create that new world. Wobblies and Zapatistas, a conversation of sorts between longtime anarchist activist Andrej Grubacic and Staughton Lynd, who for the last 40 years has been one of the iconic figures of the U.S. left, is a contribution to resolving that argument—or at least turning it into a productive discussion.

The book suggests that for too long, anarchists and Marxists have been glaring hostilely at one another over a self-constructed barrier. When professedly Marxist governments were in power, Marxism’s proponents denounced anarchism as “infantile leftism.” Now, with anarchism central to the global justice movement—“its soul” and “the source of most of what’s new and hopeful about it,” according to anthropologist David Graeber—Marxism is derided as a relic, obsessed with taking state power. Indeed, that derision has by now been turned into formal theory in John Holloway’s pithy construction, “change the world without taking power.”

The book’s authors are less aggressive, more modest. As Lynd writes, “It is clear that during the last century neither Marxism nor anarchism has been able to carry out the transformative task alone.” Their thinking is also more supple. They view Marxism as an analytical tool for understanding society and capitalism, and anarchism as a practice-based ideal for changing society and capitalism. While making this point, the book returns, again and again, to Zapatismo.

Lynd begins by recounting the three sources of Zapatismo: (1) liberation theology; (2) the desire for land following the passage of NAFTA, which attempted to undo the Mexican constitution’s guarantee for communal property in land, or ejidos; and (3) the movement’s ethic of leadership, mandar obediciendo, to rule by obeying. The influence of the third, he suggests, inoculated Zapatismo against the vanguardism that has plagued leftist movements for the past century.

In this story, Zapatismo emerged when Marxist-Leninist university professors from Mexico City went off to indigenous communities in the Lacandón jungle, intent on making revolution. A decade later, set off by the ignition point of NAFTA, they returned, mounting an armed offensive in southern Mexico.

At first, the military rebellion seemed like a spectacular success, but it quickly emerged as a failure. Politically, though, the Zapatista movement took a different course. Its communiqués, espousing a radical egalitarianism, jolted Mexican society, much of which quickly came to support the Zapatistas. Around the same time, several weeks after the military sally stalled, Subcomandante Marcos carried out an internal coup within the EZLN, and everything changed. The Zapatistas changed their rhetoric, which remained revolutionary but recalled classic anarchism—the EZLN no longer had any interest in taking state power, and it had no desire to be a vanguard of any kind. It’s easy to forget in 2009 that in 1994, this was fresh stuff.

The Zapatistas disavowed vanguardism, that siren of the Marxist-Leninist left, partly because the urban intelligentsia, having traipsed off to Lacandón, ended up learning more from the Mayans than vice versa. They came to understand local traditions of mandar obediciendo, learning to recognize that if the movement leaderships strays from the popular will, “the heart that commands should be changed for another that obeys,” as an EZLN letter from February 1994 put it.

Lynd suggests that the Zapatista uprising offers an answer to the question that had preoccupied him his entire adult life: how to make the transition from capitalism to socialism. Capitalism, he notes, arose within the “interstices of a decentralized feudal society,” as he puts it in an earlier essay, wherein an enterprising individual could “run away to a free city, print the Bible in the vernacular, drop stones from a leaning tower, or organize a corporation, all actions requiring few persons and modest amounts of capital.” How, then, could socialism arise within the interstices of capitalist society? Lynd did not find answers where he sought them, in the classics of Marxist scholarship.

But then he found in Zapatismo not the Answer, but an intriguing and suggestive “hypothesis.” According to Lynd, the socialist transition that Zapatismo seeks may yet work, but “we don’t know yet.” Later on, he suggests that leftists should work to create horizontal networks of “self-governing institutions,” to which whoever holds state power should be accountable—a gradualist vision, decentralizing effective power until the state itself withers away.

The re-reading of radical history occasioned by the synthesis of Marxism and anarchism symbolized by the Zapatistas is the idea upon which this book rests. And that re-reading, as Lynd and Grubacic continue their discussion, serves as a stupendous primer on the history of anti-capitalist struggle. It starts with the “Haymarket synthesis” of socialism and anarchism, embodied by the militant labor activists Albert and Lucy Parsons and August Spies, raconteurs in 1880s Chicago, and their attempt to build central unions as independent bodies within a new decentralized social order.

The narrative then moves on to the Wobblies, the “Zapatistas of yesteryear,” who have been claimed by both the socialist and anarchist traditions. Working through direct action, horizontally organized, viciously repressed by the state, barely surviving the Palmer raids of 1919–21 and the post-war repression, the International Workers of the World lived on largely as a memory, their ideals upheld over the years by the likes of Murray Bookchin and Paul Goodman until they could be reborn in the movements of the 1960s.

Long-run movement building and resistance to the Vietnam War, according to Lynd and Grubacic, formed the core around which left-wing activity in the 1960s could focus, along with the civil rights struggle. Lynd emphasizes that the simplicity of those goals prevented any need for “theory,” but that this in turn contributed to the movements’ downfall. They underestimated capitalism’s power as an enduring system and had little sense of the scale of time within which the transition from feudalism to capitalism took place. And Lynd notes that it is Marxism that provides an excellent explanation of these problems.

Lynd and Grubacic also devote considerable space to “accompaniment,” which here means offering a service to the poor, with no illusions about quickly achieving educational or social equality, but merely as an honest service offered from one person to another. This is a radical vision, which Lynd describes as something he took from the liberation theology of Nicaragua and El Salvador. It does not privilege those with education or power. It is the type of relationship that a non-hierarchical network demands, and is built upon. It clashes with vanguardism, which puts the intellectual on a pedestal, in cahoots with state-socialist bureaucrats, such as in the Marxist deviation that Lynd condemns as part of the self-constructed barrier the book takes as its goal to destroy.

As Lynd repeatedly emphasizes, the success of this model for social change is unclear. The Zapatista communities endure in Chiapas, but have not spread; the experience in Bolivia, to which Lynd favorably alludes, differs from that of Mexico in that social movements initially acted autonomously, but also brought Evo Morales to power. And, although Lynd doesn’t discuss it, the Zapatista story runs into a vigorous counter-example in the case of Bolivarian Venezuela.

One story of the scintillating Bolivarian Revolution, told in leftist circles, is a mirror-image of the one told on the right—a volubly charismatic army colonel, Hugo Chávez, storming the state, gathering power, redirecting oil spending through a developmental state, swiftly bettering social indicators, pushing Bolivarian radicalism deeper, nationalizing industries—reminding us of a decidedly 20th-century socialism. There is truth to that story.

But there’s another story—about a slow, continuous ferment of autonomous organization in the 23 de Enero barrio in Caracas, of land invasions by autonomous peasant groupings like the National Peasant Front Ezequiel Zamora, self-organization by independent radicals like the Simón Bolívar National Communal Front, and the independent mobilization of huge numbers of people who cascaded down from the Caracas foothills during the April 2002 coup d’état to return Chávez to the Miraflores presidential palace.

Many of these radicals understand that Chávez is not the revolution. But they have a remarkably unblinkered view of the Venezuelan state: as a weapon in a war. Control of that weapon can be weakened by the loss of strategic positions within the state apparatus, like the mayoralties of greater Caracas or governorships in the oil-rich state of Zulia. Their movement learned in the crucible of April 2002 that control over violence in society in part belongs to the state, and so state power must be protected so it can nurture the process of building socialism, even as it promotes the new neighborhood-based communal councils—perhaps the seeds of a future society. This is an overtly anarchist vision.

This second story about Chavismo does not collide so hard with Lynd and Grubacic’s account of Zapatismo. It merely complicates it. Left-wing groups within Bolivarian Venezuela look favorably upon the Zapatistas. Caracas hosted the fifth World Social Forum, an organ of the movement of movements of which the Zapatista uprising was a pillar, and the authors praise this.

Lynd also attaches, here and in other work—for example, his talk in 2005 at the IWW centenary—much importance to the Bolivian experience, which adds a further subtlety to the fusion that the book advocates. In Bolivia, before the election of Morales, great segments of civil society, in the Water War and in the El Alto uprisings, exercised enormous power from below. Their threat to continue doing so is part of Morales’s discourse, which is why he constantly genuflects to their potential power.

So is this so far from Bolivarian Venezuela, where the thesis of taking state power is undergoing its latest trial? I am not so sure that it is, once, along with Lynd, we move beyond a romantic fetishization of “changing the world without taking power,” as though power were unimportant, as though power could be wished away by ignoring it.

This debate, between the conquest of state power versus its immediate destruction, constructed theoretically as the anarchist-Marxist debate, lies at the core of the book. The rest of it is an excavation of radical history, much of which seems to suggest that an anarchist—or socialist—society is just beneath the surface, beneath stultifying, oppressive institutions, beneath all wars, social hierarchies, prisons.

Lynd and Grubacic’s considerations of these institutions, and their ideas for transcending the society that creates them, are excellent. Their conception of Marxism and anarchism as two hands working together, one devoted to analysis, the other to practice, is terse and elegant. In short, Wobblies and Zapatistas is a great addition to intellectual-activist literature.

Buy this book now | Download eBook now | Back to Staughton Lynd's page | Back to Andrej Grubacic's page


Max Ajl is a Brooklyn-based writer and activist whose work has appeared in the U.K. Guardian and The New Statesman. He writes about Latin America and the Middle East at

Alternative Action

By Stefan Christoff

Wobblies and Zapatistas recounts a radical history and connects activist political movements and generations

Global capitalism has suffered a major blow in the past year, the largest economic turmoil since the 1930s fuelling political discussions on possible alternatives to the current economic model. For those seeking alternatives to mainstream historical narratives, Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History is an important read. Spanning from the Cold War to the 1990s expansion of market-driven free-trade policies, this engaging book offers critical historical reflections on events that have shaped contemporary politics.

Based on expansive conversations between Staughton Lynd, a celebrated American activist and author, and Andrej Grubacic, a Serbian anarchist scholar currently living in the U.S., the book bridges disconnected grassroots political generations to present a discussion between the old left in North America, defined by the Civil Rights struggle and the movement against the war in Vietnam, and the young, often anarchist-inspired generation of political activists shaped by major protests against corporate globalization, such as those seen in Quebec City in 2001.

Uniting these generations is a tall challenge, especially as many '60s radicals in North America now walk the halls of power, but Wobblies and Zapatistas steps away from doctrine or dogma to focus on human stories of struggle and communication through conversation.

The U.S. civil rights struggle is presented here through Lynd's fascinating reflections on his involvement in the grassroots efforts that reshaped race relations. Lynd, a living contemporary of Martin Luther King, directed the Mississippi Freedom Schools, and was integrally involved in the anti-Vietnam War effort in the U.S., speaking at the first March on Washington in 1965 and travelling to Hanoi that same year for a fact-finding mission in defiance of U.S. travel restrictions.

Equally fascinating is the conversation on solidarity movements and networks that emerged in the U.S. during the Cold War as U.S. President Ronald Regan funnelled billions of dollars into proxy wars in Central America that resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives lost in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Parallels are drawn in Wobblies and Zapatistas between the solidarity delegations to Central America in the '80s and present-day activists participating in visits to the West Bank through networks such as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) or delivering aid to the besieged population in Gaza.

A radical publication in substance and format, Wobblies and Zapatistas presents an alternative history of social movements in North America that makes historical events come alive on the page and connect to today's activist efforts for change.

Buy this book now | Download eBook now | Back to Staughton Lynd's page | Back to Andrej Grubacic's page

Books We Like

Cook Food by Lisa Jervis
By Mark
Organic Nation

Salt early and taste for adjustments along the way. Use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables. Cut vegetables evenly so they cook evenly. These instructions could probably be found in the Culinary Institute of America standard-issue textbook The Professional Chef, but I pulled them from a different source, Lisa Jervis’ Cook Food: A Manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating. The skinny, 130-page “manualfesto” is a training manual for beginning home cooks with an an organic and activist bent.

I worked as a line cook during college, and although I know my way around the kitchen pretty comfortably, I found Cook Food to be a good refresher on some useful techniques (deglazing pans, pressing tofu), and it also has some great recipes.

Jervis starts by listing all of the necessary kitchen-building tools and ingredients, from the pantry to the spice rack, offering tips for the thrifty shopper on what pans and tools should and shouldn’t be bought used. Along the way, she offers some useful tips on technique, including some basic instructions on how to cook grains, the various ways to cook vegetables, and some tips on seasoning. Veteran cooks can ignore much of this, but for rookies, most of Jervis' explanations will be invaluable. The back end of the book includes 20 of Jervis’ original recipes, and a handful of “nonrecipe recipes” (tips for snacks and other easy-to-make foods).

Jervis isn’t a chef by trade; she’s a prominent feminist who founded BITCH magazine. Her activist side shines through occasionally in Cook Food, when she writes about food politics, advocating for organic, unprocessed foods, but she steers clear of proselytizing. The book is most useful when Jervis addresses some of the more pragmatic issues facing home cooks, like how to eat organic, ethically-produced food on a tight budget.

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Dr. Cowan on the Vegetarian Myth

The Vegetarian Myth
Dr. Thomas Cowan
Holistic Family Medicine

Very occasionally powerful, life-changing books are written that give one the palpable sense that “if people would only listen” the world might be a different place. The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith is one such book. In this book Lierre essentially tells two intertwined stories. One is the story of the deterioration of her own health as a direct result of adopting a vegan diet. The second is the related tale of the destruction of our planet essentially as a result of the widespread adoption of agriculture, specifically agriculture based on the growing of grains. Her central premise is that, unlike what we are all led to believe, the absolute worst thing that could ever befall humans or the earth is if we all adopted a vegetarian or, worse yet, a vegan diet. To many, this is such an unbelievable head spinner that they simply will not even be able to entertain the ideas that are presented by Lierre. The ideas, the argument she presents to make her case are powerful, coherent and irrefutable – grains and in fact a grain-based (i.e. vegetarian) diet are literally killing us all.

First, the ecological argument. We are told that the biggest users of fresh water and the most wasteful, ecologically speaking, food we can eat is meat. We are told that if instead of feeding grains to cows to get meat, which is anyway poison for us to eat, we should feed that grain to people thereby feeding at least 30 people with a grain-based diet for every one person we can feed on a meat-based diet. We are told to eat low on the food chain to conserve resources and be ecologically friendly. And, finally and crucially we hear people proudly announce they don’t eat anything with faces as a sign that they are living out their deeply held convictions about social justice. The facts actually tell a completely different story.

Imagine the Middle East 10,000 years ago when the only people living in what we now call Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, etc., were nomadic hunter-gatherer types. This area was referred to as a paradise; it was lush, fecund; Lebanon was the land of the cedar forests. The area between the Tigris and Euphrates was literally paradise on earth. Then came agriculture, specifically the growing of grains. As happens where grains are grown and irrigation is used, the soil began to lose its vitality, the humous layer was lost. The irrigation and the converting of perennial grasses and the animals that live on these grasses to annual crops is akin to mining the nutrients and the fertility out of the soil. Without sufficient animal manure and animal bodies to put nutrients back into the soil, without the annual flooding of the plains that is stopped when irrigation systems are used, the land loses its nutrients, the soil becomes more salty and, as evidenced in the Middle East, eventually, inevitably the land becomes a desert. Lierre describes this process in intimate detail so the reader is left with no doubt that in human history, whenever the transition from perennial grass-based land – alongside naturally flowing lakes and rivers, co-existing with verdant forests – is converted into grain based agriculture, the inevitable result is everything dies. Everything – the plants, the insects, the wild animals and eventually the people.

Think of our own Great Plains. A brief 300 years ago this was a vast territory of perennial grass-based prairie, supporting millions of diverse forms of animals, plants and people for thousands of years. In fact over those thousands of years, the soil, the land that is our only home, was getting healthier and healthier. Estimates show that the topsoil layer of the unspoiled Great Plains was in some places more than 12 feet deep, a vast reservoir of fertility, of health of possibility for seemingly endless life on earth for a multitude of plants and animal beings. Along came grains and their “evil” cousin soya beans (the vegan diet and food processors’ darling). By this time agriculture had become more sophisticated, no more planting grains with sticks and burying fish in the soil, the green revolution. A blink of an eye later in terms of earth time, the Great Plains have become a literal wasteland. The only tall grass prairie left is confined to a few museums, the topsoil is in many places just a few inches thick; the animal and plant species extinctions are estimated between 20 to 40 percent. The human community is impoverished, the rivers are poisoned and the food is not worth eating. A few years of drought and we have a literal dustbowl as the few inches of topsoil left blows out towards California. Some would say this unspeakable tragedy is a result of commercial (chemical) agriculture and that what we need is a return to organics. They are wrong. In fact the first great dustbowl on the plains happened before there even was such a thing as chemical agriculture. No, as Lierre shows, this is the inevitable result of grain-based agriculture. It happens in every circumstance, at different speeds for sure, but in every instance where perennial grasses are converted to annual food crops, particularly grains.

If this wasn’t reason enough for conscientious people to shun a grain-based diet, Lierre spends the second half of the book detailing the negative health repercussions from adopting a grain-based, vegetarian or vegan diet. For those familiar with the work of the Weston A. Price foundation or The Four Fold Path to Healing, this will come as no surprise. What will be eye-opening for many is a detailed chart that compares the physiology of meat eaters with that of herbivores. If you still have any doubts that humans are literally physiologically required to live on mostly an animal food diet, I recommend checking out this enlightening chart. Lierre has done her homework. She references many studies that have been done in the last 100 years documenting the superior health outcomes, the absence of chronic disease, and the total absence of cancer and heart disease in people who eat the food that comes naturally out of a perennially based grass and forest system. What do these people eat? What is the “human” diet, the diet that works back to heal the land? Conveniently it is one diet, called the GAPS diet. As probably more than a hundred of my patients can attest, those who have literally regained their health as a result of the GAPS diet, it is no surprise that the very diet that can heal so many sick people is the very diet that,when applied to agriculture, can heal a “sick” earth.

Get this book, read it, pass it to your friends, especially your vegetarian friends, for as Lierre often says in our current situation, it is not enough any more to just have good intentions. You also have to be informed about what it is you are fighting for.

Buy this book now | Download eBook now | Back to Lierre Keith's Page

Torturing Women Prisoners

An interview with Victoria Law
By Angola 3 News

Victoria Law is a longtime prison activist and the author of the new book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press), which was recently reviewed at Alternet. "This book is the result of seven and a half years of reading, writing, listening, and supporting women in prison," Law says about Resistance Behind Bars, noting that each chapter in her book "focuses on an issue that women themselves have identified as important." The chapters include topics as diverse as health care, the relationship between mothers and daughters, sexual abuse, education, and resistance among women in immigration detention. Resistance Behind Bars paints a picture of women prisoners resisting a deeply flawed prison system, which Law hopes will help to empower both the women held in cages and those on the outside working to support them.

In this interview, Law talks specifically about how women are affected by solitary confinement and other forms of torture in US prisons, and what women are doing to fight back. Exposing solitary confinement as torture has been the focus of recent campaigns in Maine, Pennsylvania, and around the US. This is also a central issue in the campaign to free the Angola 3, who are a trio of Black Panther political prisoners: Robert King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace. King was released in 2001 after 29 years in continuous solitary confinement. Woodfox and Wallace remain imprisoned and have spent over 36 years in solitary confinement, where they remain today.

Angola 3 News: What do you think of the case of the Angola 3?

Victoria Law: The case of the Angola 3 is one of the most visible (and damning) indictments of the U.S. prison system.

As broadcasted by NBC Nightly News, the widow of slain prison guard Brent Miller has even stated that she wants justice and that, if Woodfox and Wallace did not kill her husband (and there is so much evidence that they did not), they should be freed. It’s interesting to note how the voices of victims and their family are used to whip up pro-imprisonment hysteria, but when they speak out against railroading people, they are ignored. For example, the widow of Daniel Faulkner publicly condemns Mumia and urges people not to let out her husband’s alleged killer. The media loves this and uses her to play on public opinion against freeing Mumia. However, when Brent Miller’s widow Leontine Verrett says, “If these two men did not do this, I think they need to be out,” her words are ignored.

Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace should be released. The fact that they have not been released clearly demonstrates the racism that is rife in the prison system and how “justice” isn’t really a factor in who goes to prison and why.

A3N: Do you consider the use of solitary confinement in US prisons to be torture?

VL: I most definitely consider solitary confinement a form of torture. Solitary confinement is used not only to break the woman (or person) who is resisting, but also to scare others around them into not only complying but ostracizing the person who is challenging prison rules or conditions. And, unfortunately, it often does.

A3N: What other practices in US prisons would you consider to be torture?

VL: I consider the whole prison system to be torture. But to narrow it down to actual practices: I would consider the use of strip status, in which all of a person’s clothes and belongings are removed from the cell, as a form of torture. You have to remember that over half of incarcerated women have suffered past abuse and trauma. To strip them of all of their clothing and place them in a bare cell with guards watching them retraumatizes them. I recently reread an account from Lisa Savage, a woman who was placed on strip status for talking to the other women on her unit about the psychological reprogramming of the Close Management unit (a unit where women are held in their separate cells 23 ½ hours a day). Being on strip status meant that everything was taken from her—clothes, toothbrush, bedding, and sanitary napkins. She wrote, “As bad luck would have it, I just started my monthly. Now, I must beg for a pad for hours before receiving it.”

Other practices that I would consider to be torture are:

• The use of male guards in female prisons
• The shackling of pregnant women while they are in labor
• Loss of access and custody to their children simply because they are incarcerated
• The denial of health care and the life-threatening slow health care in prisons

A3N: How is solitary confinement used against women prisoners? How does it effect women in ways that are different from male prisoners?

VL: Solitary confinement makes women more vulnerable to staff sexual assault since no one can see what is happening. In my book, I write about the experience of Christina Madrazo, a transsexual immigrant who was placed in INS detention. Originally, the INS (now called ICE) did not know what to do with her since her assigned gender at birth was male, but she identified (and was seeking asylum status) as a transgendered female. Madrazo was placed in solitary confinement where she was raped twice by a prison guard.

Even when they are not being physically assaulted, the women have no privacy—toilets are in full view of the cell door windows, guards can look through those windows at any time and, in many prisons, male guards can watch the women in the showers, on the toilet or when they are trying to dress or undress.

In addition, solitary confinement is used to punish women who have either reported being sexually assaulted by staff, or who have been discovered to have “consensual relationships” with staff members. I put “consensual” in quotation marks because, given the power dynamics in prison, especially the ability of guards and staff members to withhold services and/or provide small amenities, the relationship can never truly be consensual. I recently received a letter from a woman incarcerated in Colorado whose cellmate was accused of having a “consensual” relationship with a staff member. While the accusation was being investigated, the staff member was allowed to continue working in the prison. The woman was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the investigation and only released once the charge was found to be unwarranted.

Also, with women, there’s the prevailing notion that women need to be “good girls” and “to behave.” Thus, women are punished for behaviors that violate gender norms, behaviors such as spitting or cursing or not following orders, behaviors that men are not punished for. This is also why women are sent to segregation when they report sexual misconduct or engage in sexual activity; they’re violating what we, as a society, see as “good girl behavior.”

A3N: Do you believe activist prisoners are disproportionately targeted with solitary confinement?

VL: Yes! This is obvious in the case of the Angola 3. This has also been true among women who have been challenging prison conditions. Most female facilities have some form of solitary confinement. At California’s Valley State Prison for Women, the Special Housing Unit consists of eight-foot by six-foot cells with blacked-out windows where women are confined for 23 hours a day. Even in their cells, the women have no privacy — toilets are in full view of the cell door windows, guards can look through those windows at any time and male guards often watch the women in the showers. If the women complain, the guards turn off the water.

In 1986, the Bureau of Prisons opened a control unit specifically for women political prisoners in the federal prison at Lexington, Kentucky. It was built underground and entirely white. Women were prohibited from hanging anything on the white walls, cauisng them to begin hallucinating black spots and strings on the walls and floors. Their sole contact with prison staff came in the form of voices addressing them over loudspeakers. The unit was shut down in 1988 following an outside campaign and a court decision that determined their placement unconstitutional, but the solitary confinement is still used to punish and silence jailhouse lawyers and other incarcerated activists (of all genders, I should add).

A3N: How have women prisoners resisted the use of solitary confinement?

VL: In 1974, a woman incarcerated in Bedford Hills (the maximum-security prison for women in New York) filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of placing women in solitary confinement without 24 hours notice and a hearing (basically any sort of due process). She won a court injunction prohibiting this practice. In response, she was beaten by male guards and placed in solitary confinement (again with no due process). Other women in the prison protested by rioting.

More recent ways in which women have resisted solitary confinement aren’t as visible. While she was in the Close Management unit in Florida, Lisa Savage joined the StopMax campaign and became part of the Steering Committee. Her participation added gender to the way that people were viewing (and organizing around) the use of solitary confinement. She also wrote a long (16 pages!) piece about the Close Management unit for Tenacious, the zine that I publish of women prisoners’ art and writings. Writing about that reality is, in and of itself, a form of resistance, but she also included ways in which she, as an individual woman being held in the Close Management unit, was resisting:

I’ve finally gained a firm sense of self by holding fast to my beliefs in equality, liberty and life without threats or coercion. Each accomplishment, may it be emotional, psychological, or mental “growth,” is a form of resistance.

Every time I teach someone geometry or basic reading or tell them of their own intrinsic ability to be autonomous and secure with themselves, I resist the mentacide, and hopefully arm the women with ways to combat their own mental slow death sentence here in CM SHU…

Every time I get mail from you or Anthony of the South Chicago ABC Zine Distro or Abigail of Burning River or the meeting notes from StopMax (I am on the Steering Committee for the National Campaign to End Solitary Confinement and Torture in U.S. prisons), it confirms that I am part of this resistance movement.

As I conclude this piece, I have been informed of an increase in my custody to CM Level I. I know this is only a label, not who I truly am. DOC may have condemned me for my actions, but I know in my heart that for the past 7 months, I have taken the measures necessary to ensure my beliefs and integrity remain intact within a corrupt system. I have done my best to stand up for my CM sisters and myself. Yes, I have been DR’ed [issued disciplinary reports”] and “gave up” my privileges to take up for women who would spit on me if given a chance. I’ve asked nothing from them, I’ve only tried to show them that they must fight for their beliefs and happiness. I’ve wanted to show them that they do not have to be the label placed upon them—dumb ho, loser, etc—that they can achieve positive healthy goals even while locked in a cell 24/7. I wanted them to have a piece of my courage until they could find their own. Yes, I shouted about the unjustifiable psychological abuse they suffer—I shouted so that they could at least whisper of their own hurts in their own hearts…For this I have no regrets, and I will not apologize.

These aren’t ways that are clearly visible to those on the outside looking for instances of prisoner resistance. Still, her actions are forms of resistance to solitary confinement.

--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, like this interview with Victoria Law, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our online video series has now released interviews with author J. Patrick O’Connor titled “Kevin Cooper: Will California Execute An Innocent Man,” author Dan Berger titled “Political Prisoners in the United States,” and Colonel Nyati Bolt titled “The Assassination of George Jackson.”

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Geek Mafia shout out from Anarchist

Technology and Anarchism
Anarchist News dot com

This article is inspired by the Geek Mafia series, thanks for giving us hope. It is dedicated to the anarchist hackers who have faced or will face the cold steel bars.

A few years ago a simple book came out by the name of "Recipes for Disaster" came out. It had everything in it from how to paint billboards to sexual consent and more. By the end you felt you had a new tool belt to combat the forces of capitalism and the state.

But not once in the hundreds of pages did it seriously consider technology and its impacts on the anarchist movement. and how could they? no good anarchist tactics text has. it seems that anarchists as a whole have a great grasp of how to riot but when it comes to technology and electronics we are as silly as a baby with a fork near a socket.

This is more than security culture

The modern anarchist movement has highly benefited from technology and the Internet, being able to disseminate information and has also the privileged of not facing strong oppression from the state in the medium, but i fear that this time is coming to an end. For too long the anarchist movement and related movements have enjoyed a freedom normally reserved for mainstream computer users, especially in western nations. Freedom of Speech as the states call it, but we see a common thread from the state following from more repressive nations of confiscation of technological devices such as cell phones, laptops and storage media. Once this information is in the eyes of the state, it is copied and used against us.

what this means for modern anarchists

If anarchists are to stay a fighting force within the political spectrum a serious consideration of technology and it's impacts on our movement. This writing hopes to start the conversation.

A serious Security Audit: Defensive Technology

Businesses do this all the time, they hire outside firms to analyze their networks for weak spots. As an observer and a participant i have taken it upon myself to preform this audit on the anarchist movement. You can boil down technological faults to 3 things. we will call them the 3Es:

Email: The most commonly used form of communication on the Internet, including anarchists. Email lists predate many of the "social networking" we know now and is still a main use of organizing. Yet email is weak because of it's nature. Email is a postcard, not secure in anyway from prying eyes.

Encryption: Encryption is the only way of safety when using technology, although not an end all be all (it takes the National Security Agency 2 weeks to crack strong encryption), it can help us. Everything of importance should be encrypted from emails and chat logs to full hard drive encryption. If we encrypt everything, even the stuff that doesn't matter we make it that much harder for them to access any of our information.

Erasure: It is very important to know how to get rid of information. Many people think that dragging a file to your trash bin means bye bye, but this is simply not true. The only true way of getting information off of a media is destroying it. This also should be considered when posting things online, as logs are kept for a really long time. Are you sure you want to post about that action on facebook? once you delete it you can be guaranteed that someone will have a copy of it.

By using these 3 faults, you can analyze how your organization is (or is not) using them. By making your communications secure, you can put up a more defensive wall against the state. But what if we want to go further.

Getting Serious: Considering Offensive Technology

For what is out there, Defense is the card most anarchists play when considering technology. When you have a good grasp of defensive technology, it's time to play offense. What does this mean? it means a lot more than reading 2600 and watching "Live Free or Die Hard" and masturbating about how "cool" it would be to bring down the system through hacking. Offensive technology is not only about hacking the gibson, it's about skills building and practice. Do you know how to build a transmitter? Can you write code? Do you know which wire to clip, the red or white? Do you know the concepts behind EMP? what's a diode? what is "rooting a box"? packet injection? cold boot attacks? logic gates?

If most of that you could understand, great! if not, then why not? The state is doing it's part in learning and building all kinds of new technologies, why aren't you? The government has teams of the best hackers on earth to protect itself, when there is a insurrection, it will be important to find their weak spots and use them. We can't expect underground hackers to help us when the time is right. We need to learn these skills now, before the robot armies takes over. I challenge you this weekend to learn a technological skill that you always wanted to.

What this means for us

It means we have a lot of work to do. Education is the first step, those among us must throw energy to get less techie anarchists on the same page about the importance of technology in the anarchist movement. It also requires a great deal of time to skills sharing and building. A technology conference that involves questioning the state is long over due. The feds have Defcon, we need Anarchycon!

An increase in the use and utilization of technology does not come without it's faults. In 2009 Elliot Madison, who used twitter during the g20, was arrested and his house raided for reporting police movements. In 2006 Jeremy Hammond was charged with hacking the conservative site "Protest Warrior" and served a little under 2 years in jail. We will see these raids and arrests becoming more common in the years to come. It's important to learn from the mistakes of others and realize their contributions.

To a Technological Conscious Insurrection!

Cyberpunks Rise Against Civilization!

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