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Revolution At the Witching Hour: The Legacy of Midnight Notes

by James Lindenschmidt
Gods & Radicals Journal
September 2015

It is no great surprise to me that Silvia Federici‘s book Caliban & The Witch has gained so much traction in the Pagan community in recent years. When I first read the book more than a decade ago, I knew it would be important for Pagans, simply because it told our story, our history, from the most complete and insightful historical and theoretical perspective I had ever seen. I am on record as saying it is the most important political book yet written in the 21st century, since it deals with the story of the transition to capitalism, with all the violence, blood, fire, and greed that accompanied and forced the transition. But since I have been a Pagan for nearly 30 years, I tended to see the subject matter less in terms of the transition to capitalism, but rather more in terms of the final transition away from Paganism, in the multitude and myriad of ways various paganisms were expressed before they were crushed and assimilated into the new mechanistic worldview of capitalism.

But Silvia Federici is not a ‘Pagan,’ despite the great service her work has been to our community. The context of her work, however, can be just as valuable to us as Caliban itself has been. Three or four decades before that book was published, a few groups of thinkers, writers, students, and teachers began working together. Two of them were the feminist Wages For Housework movement, as well as the Zerowork Collective. Both are worthy of investigation and further study. But by the end of the 1970s, a new group had emerged, which will be the focus of this piece.

A Brief History

midnight_notes_sloganHistory tells us that the Midnight Notes Collective began in the late 1970s with discussions between Monty Neill, Hans Widmer (aka p.m.), and George Caffentzis, with John WiIlshire Carrerra and Peter Linebaugh getting involved early on. Indeed, the membership of the Collective has been quite fluid over the years, both because people naturally tend to come and go over the years, and also because there were years when they intentionally remained anonymous to avoid overt harassment and repression form the establishment, an important strategy of self-preservation for a group demonstrating a “commitment to revolutionary possibilities.” They also wanted to avoid the “rock star” cult of personality, which was common in academia at the time. In addition to the people directly involved with Midnight Notes (including the above as well as Silvia Federici, Dan Coughlin, David Riker, Vasilis Passas, Johnny Machete, and Michaela Brennan, among others ), there were also various friends & associates over the years, including Steven Colatrella, John Roosa, Harry Cleaver, and Massimo de Angelis.

Despite the fluidity of the group, there was an important coherence to their ideas, expressed in a variety of publications over the years, starting in 1979 and running through the Reagan Years into the Bush era, all of which are now available online:

  1. Strange Victories (1979)
  2. No Future Notes: The Work/Energy Crisis & The Anti-Nuclear Movement (1979)
  3. The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse (1980)
  4. Space Notes (1981)
  5. Computer State Notes (1982)
  6. Posthumous Notes (1983)
  7. Lemming Notes (1984)
  8. Outlaw Notes (1985)
  9. Wages — Mexico — India — Libya (1988)
  10. The New Enclosures (1990)

These earliest publications from Midnight Notes are worth checking out, as a great glimpse into the political climate of the Reagan/Bush years, as the transition of capitalism from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism was cemented.

After these original issues, there were several more publications, some of them book-length, from the group:

Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992 (1992, Autonomedia)
This anthology is an analysis of the “energy crisis” of the 1970s, which they framed as a “work/energy crisis,” as well as a look at the evolution of capitalism in the 1980s. It contains several of their previous writings from earlier publications, namely The New Enclosures and The Work/Energy Crisis And The Apocalypse, with other articles written to fill in some of the theoretical gaps, additional analysis, and history. This book might be the best overall introduction to the thought of Midnight Notes in general. While in some ways it is dated from the 2015 point of view, it is my personal favorite analysis of the transition from Keynesianism to Neoliberalism, and broadened my understanding of today’s capitalism.

Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local & Global Struggles of the Fourth World War (2001, Autonomedia)
This book is an anthology of writing, using the Zapatista uprising in Mexico as the focal point for anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal, and anti-globalization theory and history. Midnight Notes saw that this uprising was “a luminous crack in a clouded sky,” the first “movement that consciously pitted itself against global capital and at the same time was rooted in a territorial reality.”

Promissory Notes: From Crisis To Commons (2009)
This much shorter piece, published in 2009, is an analysis of the 2007-2008 “Great Recession” or global financial crisis. It also showed that the crisis was largely yet another “apocalypse” or evolution of capital from the neoliberalism from the 1970s through the early 2000s, and represented neoliberal “capital’s flight into financialization,” or the “attempt to ‘make money from money’ at the most abstract level of the system once making money from production no longer sufficed.”

After barraging you with so many links to their writings over the years, I will now attempt to distill their writing into a few of what I perceive to be their key ideas over nearly 40 years of writing.

3 Key Ideas

I remember when my own political outlook begin to evolve away from mainstream partisan politics in the US and toward a more radical outlook, I felt a dearth of information. Most of this was getting used to where information comes from: learning how to disengage from the received dialogues and worldview propagated by the capitalist media and the prevailing cultural outlook I grew up with in suburbia, and toward more obscure, alternative sources was a challenge. To this day, I think that truth discernment is arguably the biggest challenge facing alternative thinkers in the information age. In some ways it’s even more challenging these days, since you can encounter just about every possible viewpoint articulated somewhere on the Internet.

In the late 90s, I was lucky enough to begin studying philosophy at the University of Southern Maine, where George Caffentzis was a teacher. It was a small department, so if you hung out at the philosophy house it was easy to get to know some of the folks who taught there. I was intrigued by George’s ideas and thoughts right from the beginning. There are a lot of great teachers there, but I knew right away that I had a lot to learn from George. I remember early in my freshman year, he did a senior seminar on the philosophy of money, and being really bummed that I was nowhere near far enough along in my philosophy study to be able to take it. So I began to poke around for some of George’s writings, and before long I discovered Midnight Notes. This was in the early days of the Internet, before the writings were available online. I began to read them, and they were definitely challenging. I hadn’t yet read Marx or really any other radical political writings, and in retrospect Midnight Notes served as not only a fabulous introduction, but also an enduring foundation for my radical political thinking. I am grateful for this bit of serendipity that brought me to Maine at this point in spacetime.

Having studied Midnight Notes over the past 15 years, I think these are the most important ideas to glean from their writings:

1. Capitalist Crisis/Apocalypse Is Always About Class Struggle

Automobiles lining up for fuel at a service station in the U.S. state of Maryland in the United States, in June 1979.

Automobiles lining up for fuel at a service station in the U.S. state of Maryland in the United States, in June 1979.

This idea was first articulated in their 3rd issue: The Work/Energy Crisis & The Apocalypse, written in 1980 after the so-called “energy crisis” of the 1970s had been underway for the better part of a decade, peaking in both 1973 and 1979. I was a child in the 1970s, and I remember seeing the long lines for gasoline, complaints about OPEC and Jimmy Carter, but very little about class struggle. Interestingly, this was also the last decade where labor strikes were common, since strikes were more or less wiped out by the Reagan administration starting in 1981 when he fired the air traffic controllers who had unionized under PATCO and voted to strike. Their argument is quite detailed, but the essence of it is that

Capitalist crises stem from a refusal of work…. The term “energy crisis” is a misnomer. Energy is conserved and quantitatively immense, there can be no lack of it. The true cause of capital’s crisis in the last decade is work, or more precisely, the struggle against it. The proper name for the crisis then is the “work crisis” or, better, the “work/energy crisis.” For the problem capital faces is not the quantity of work per se, but the ratio of that work to the energy (or labor power) that creates it…. Through the noise of the apocalypse, we must see in the oil caverns, in the wisps of natural gas curling in subterranean abysses, something more familiar: the class struggle (Midnight Notes, The Work/Energy Crisis & The Apocalypse).

2. The New Enclosures

Arguably the most important insight that came from Midnight Notes’ writings is the notion of the New Enclosures. Before this insight, enclosure, or “primitive accumulation” in Marxist terminology, was largely seen as a historical artifact from the beginning of capitalist society. Midnight Notes showed that enclosures

“are not a one time process exhausted at the dawn of capitalism. They are a regular return on the path of accumulation and a structural component of class struggle. Any leap in proletarian power demands a dynamic capitalist response: both the expanded appropriation of new resources and new labor power and the extension of capitalist relations, or else capitalism is threatened with extinction.” (Midnight Oil, 318)

Midnight Notes then argued that the New Enclosures took five forms:

  1. Ending communal control of the means of subsistence
  2. Seizing land for debt
  3. Make mobile & migrant labor the dominant form of labor
  4. The collapse of socialism
  5. Attack on our reproduction

They — both the collective itself, and several of the writers working outside the collective — have continued to develop these ideas of enclosure since then.

3. Commons & Commoning

The last idea I think is the most important to come from Midnight Notes is reclaiming the notion of the Commons and Commoning. This idea is the logical extension of their insights about Enclosure, since the Commons is the very thing that is being enclosed. These insights came later in the Midnight Notes, particularly through their admiration and analysis of the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico beginning on January 1, 1994, the day that NAFTA went into effect. Midnight Notes argues that these struggles represent

on one side, capital’s attempt to form a new level of global superstate and economy and, on the other, an anti-capitalist struggle moving from a multiplicity of localities to large-scale confrontations like the “Battle of Seattle” in late 1999. The Zapatistas have aptly named this struggle “the Fourth World War.”

Commoning is at the center of this struggle, since the commons provides subsistence for resistance, and “this power to subsist/resist is exactly what capital wants to eliminate throughout the world.” In general, and to some degree, capital is always enclosing, whereas the working class is always commoning, and commoning is central to resistance against capital.

Caffentzis, Federici, Linebaugh: 3 Contemporary Thinkers

After this all-too-brief look at the Midnight Notes Collective itself, I now want to turn to 3 new books, published by PM Press, from three of the most important voices within Midnight Notes. While George Caffentzis and Peter Linebaugh have been involved with Midnight Notes from its earliest days, it is important to note that Silvia Federici has remained a bit more aloof from the collective over the years. While she was part of the collective for a few of the later original Midnight Notes publications (namely The New Enclosures), and her writings appear in Midnight Oil and Auroras of the Zapatistas, she is not listed as a member of the collective in either of those books. While I do not pretend to be privy to the undercurrents of interpersonal dynamics and ideological differences within the group, I suspect that Silvia’s unwavering commitment to feminism is at the root of the aloofness. And I should also point out that George Caffentzis conveyed to me in a conversation that for the most part it was Midnight Notes responding to Federici’s work rather than vice versa. All three of these books are anthologies of writing from the careers of each writer, to which I now turn.

In Letters Of Blood & Fire: Work, Machines, & the Crisis Of Capitalism

George Caffentzis, In Letters Of Blood & Fire: Work, Machines, & the Crisis of Capitalism

George Caffentzis, In Letters Of Blood & Fire: Work, Machines, & the Crisis of Capitalism

Of the three, George Caffentzis is the most traditional, albeit radical, “philosopher of the anticapitalist movement.” In Letters Of Blood & Fire is divided into three sections. Part 1 is Work/Refusal, Part 2 is Machines, and Part 3 is Money, War, & Crisis. Part 1 begins with the aforementioned “The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse,” which remains foundational to much of Caffentzis’ subsequent work. These analyses contain wonderful insights, such as this analysis of the relationship between capital’s production, value, and prices:

The hand of capital is different than its mouth and its asshole. The transformation of value into prices is real, but it also causes illusions in the brains of both capitalists and workers (including you and me!). It all revolves around “mineness,” the deepest pettiness in the Maya of the system: capital appears as little machines, packets of materials, little incidents of work, all connected to us — its little agents of complaint, excuse, and hassle. Each individual capitalist complains about “my” money, each individual worker cries about “my” job, each union official complains about “my” industry; tears flow everywhere, apparently about different things, so that capitalism’s house is an eternal soap opera. “Mineness” is an essential illusion, though illusion all the same. Capital is social, as is work, and it is also as pitiless as Shiva to the complainers, whose blindness capital needs to feed itself. It no more rewards capitalists to the extent that they exploit than it rewards workers to the extent that they are exploited. There is no justice for anyone but itself.

Part 2, on Machines, is a more technical analysis of the place of machines within capitalism, and particularly within the Marxist analysis of capital. Central to his arguments is the piece from 1997, “Why Machines Cannot Create Value: Marx’s Theory of Machines,” whose argument is self-contained in the title.

Part 3 contains a very short and succinct piece, which I recommend as the briefest and most coherent introduction to Caffentzis’ work overall. “The Power of Money: Debt & Enclosure” is a very brief look at money in the human experience:

For most of human history, money either did not exist (before roughly the seventh century BC) or it was of marginal importance for most people on the planet (until roughly the nineteenth century AD). Why is it so important now?

He then articulates the “economist’s fairy tale,” which is the received story about the function of money simplifying exchange as compared to barter, as well as “lowering costs” of trade. He points out that money, too, has its transaction costs that mostly go overlooked by capitalist economists.

All in all, these writings convey Marx’s image that the story of the origins of capitalism, and its reproduction, are written “in the letters of blood and fire used to drive workers form the common lands, forests, and waters in the sixteenth century.” I highly recommend this book for readers interested in the most technical analysis of capitalism, from a detailed philosophical perspective.

Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, & Feminist Struggle

Silvia Federici, Revolution At Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle

Silvia Federici, Revolution At Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle

As previously stated, Silvia Federici is the feminist of these three thinkers. Revolution at Point Zero, an anthology of her work over the past 40 years, all of which explore the “zero point of revolution” which is where “new social relations first burst forth, from which countless waves ripple outward into other domains.” It, too, is divided into three parts. Part 1 is Theorizing and Politicizing Housework, containing her earlier, foundational work such as “Wages Against Housework” from 1975, as well as “Why Sexuality Is Work” and “Putting Feminism Back on Its Feet.” Part 2 is Globalization and Social Reproduction, and contains 4 essays including “Women, Globalization, and the International Women’s Movement.”

Part 3, Reproducing Commons, has her most recent work including “Feminism and the Politics of the Common in an Era of Primitive Accumulation” from 2010, which contains the powerful argument that there is an “oblivion” in “our blindness to the blood in the food we eat, the petroleum we use, the clothes we wear, the computers with which we communicate.” For Federici,

Overcoming this oblivion is where a feminist perspective teaches us to start in our reconstruction of the commons. No common is possible unless we refuse to base our life, our reproduction on the suffering of others, unless we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them. Indeed if “commoning” has any meaning, it must be the production of ourselves as a common subject. This is how we must understand the slogan “no commons without community…. community as a quality of relations, a principle of cooperation and responsibility: to each other, the earth, the forests, the seas, the animals.

Federici’s writings here concentrate on “social reproduction,” which is the ways in which society and the people in it reproduce themselves. It is the food we eat, the social relations we share outside the work environment, our basic needs down to clean water & air, shelter and clothing. All of these things are “the most labor-intensive work on earth, and to a large extent it is work that is irreducible to mechanization.” It is also work that is largely unwaged, and exists in the context of capitalist enclosure. I highly recommend this book for those interested in not only a feminist perspective, but also in very practical, day-to-day ideas about how we can be commoning and resist capital.

Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, & Resistance

Peter Linebaugh. Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance

Peter Linebaugh. Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance

Finally, Peter Linebaugh is the historian and storyteller of the three. He is an engaging writer, and the stories he tells need to be heard and retold. Stop, Thief! is divided into five sections. Section 1, The Commons, is the best primer I know of to exploring what Commons & Commoning is. Start with “Some Principles of the Commons,” which is a very short introduction, showing us that the commons “is best understood as a verb,” and then “Stop, Thief! A Primer on the Commons & Commoning” fills in one’s understanding that the commons “is not a thing but a relationship” as it applies to various modes of living & knowing.

Part 2, “Charles Marks,” are some of Linebaugh’s contributions to Marxism in history. Part 3, The “UK”, are looks at English History including “Ned Ludd & Queen Mab,” which shows us that the Luddites were not technophobes but rather were cross-dressing warriors, “anonymous, avenging avatars who meted out justice that was otherwise denied.” Part 4, The “USA,” contains “Introduction to Thomas Paine” and “Meandering at the Crossroads of Communism and the Commons,” which take a look at the vast commons that existed in pre-colonialist North America. This analysis is continued in Part 5, “First Nations,” with its three essays, “The Red-Crested Bird and Black Duck”, “The Commons, the Castle, the Witch, and the Lynx,” and “The Invisibility of the Commons.”

Of the three, Linebaugh’s writing might be the most readable. I agree with Robin Kelley, who wrote about an earlier book from Linebaugh that there is “not a more important historian living today. Period.” I highly recommend this book for people who want to broaden their understanding of the Commons and Commoning, through the voice of a master storyteller, an engaging and agile writer.

The Witching Hour Legacy

These three thinkers, as well as The Midnight Notes Collective and all who have participated in it over the years, represent a vast treasure trove for anyone wishing to broaden their understanding of capitalism, crisis, resistance & class struggle, enclosure, commons/commoning, and revolutionary possibilities in the 21st century. These writers and ideas were foundational to my own development as a radical thinker and writer, and I remain grateful for their work.

About James Lindenschmidt

Moving between Animist & Panentheist, Druid & Heathen, Bard & Philosopher, Anarchist & Autonomist, James Lindenschmidt has embraced the word “Pagan” for more than twenty years. He feeds his spirit by bonding with his ecosystem, and learning to work with it in better and better relationship. He views fermentation as a devotional practice, with mead being the highest alchemical expression of an ecosystem. Read more at

Buy In Letters of Blood and Fire | Download e-Book now | Back to George Caffentzis's Page
Buy Stop, Thief! | Download e-Book now | Back to Peter Linebaugh's Page
Buy Revolution at Point Zero | Download e-Book now | Back to Silvia Federici's Page

Close encounters with feminist science fiction in ‘Sisters of the Revolution’

By Elizabeth Hand
LA Times
August 6th, 2015

Mary Shelley usually gets mad props as the progenitor of feminist science fiction for her 1818 "Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus." But pride of place arguably goes to Mary Cavendish, who in 1668 penned a feminist utopian novel, "The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World," in response to Robert Hooke's "Micrographia," which in 1665 put microscopes on the map and coined the biological term "cell." Cavendish delved into speculation as to what might exist beneath and within the world we know, or think we know (alien life forms played a role). She was given the sobriquet "Mad Madge" for her pains.

Nearly 300 years later, things had improved … barely. "Women are writing SCIENCE FICTION!" trumpeted the flap copy for Margaret St. Clair's 1963 novel "Sign of the Labrys." Women, it went on to say, "are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel."

Those who don't possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past are condemned to repeat it. So thank the Goddess for "Sisters of the Revolution," a superlative new anthology of previously published feminist science fiction by female writers, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Noted editors of numerous anthologies of speculative fiction, the VanderMeers have compiled one of the best volumes of feminist — or any other — science fiction in years. "Sisters of the Revolution" reaches back to the late 1960s and extends to 2012, with the lioness' share of tales originally published between 1980 and 2000.

There are classic, much-anthologized stories by well-known writers here. "The Screwfly Solution," a brilliant, terrifying tale of global femicide by James M. Tiptree Jr. [pseudonym for Alice Sheldon], carries even more impact in our own age of rampant violence against women than when it first appeared in 1977. An off-world feminist utopia confronts its own destruction in "When It Changed" by Joanna Russ, whose "How to Suppress Women's Writing" was a touchstone for second-wave feminists. Ursula Le Guin is represented by "Sur," in which a group of bluestockings mount an early 20th century expedition to Antarctica. "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" by Octavia Butler explores the global effect of a fictional neurovirus, and "how much of what we do is encouraged, discouraged, or otherwise guarded by what we are genetically," as she states in her short afterword to this poignant tale. Angela Carter's "The Fall River Axe Murders" follows Lizzie Borden on the sultry August morning of the day that her "Sargasso calm" notoriously erupts, suggesting motives that were ignored at the time.

But much of the pleasure in "Sisters of the Revolution" derives from encountering work by writers who aren't household names. The stories are arranged as to how they "speak to one another rather than chronological order". So Anne Richter's "The Sleep of Plants," deftly translated from the Belgian by Edward Gauvin, segues into Kelly Barnhill's dreamy and dark magical realist tale, "The Men Who Live in Trees," which slides into Hiromi Goto's "Tales From the Breast" ("You want to yell down the hall that you have a name and it isn't Breast Milk").

Readers can also compare depictions of maternal love in Kit Reed's viciously funny "The Mothers of Shark Island" and Nnedi Okorafor's "The Palm Tree Bandit," whose narrator tells her young daughter of her namesake great-grandmother's daring nocturnal exploits, and delight in riffs on such oft-told tales as Kelley Eskridge's gender-bending "And Salome Danced" and Nalo Hopkinson's creepy Bluebeard story, "The Glass Bottle Trick." And these are just a handful of the stories contained in this distaff treasure chest: Every single one is a gem.

Forty years ago, in her essay "American SF and the Other," Le Guin wryly observed: "The women's movement has made most of us conscious of the fact that SF has either totally ignored women, or presented them as squeaking dolls subject to instant rape by monsters — or old-maid scientists desexed by hypertrophy of the intellectual organs — or, at best, loyal little wives or mistresses of accomplished heroes."

There are no squeaking dolls or loyal little wives here, no old maid scientists — and if there were, woe betide anyone who took them at face value.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Ann VanderMeer's homepage | Back to Jeff VanderMeer's homepage

Midsummer Shorts: The Last of the Hippies: A Review (and more!)

By Ron Jacobs
June 26th, 2015

Midsummer Shorts

It’s almost the middle of summer and the days are getting hotter and shorter. Vacations are beginning in earnest. The brief list below includes some reading possibilities for the beach, the woods, or even a hot and humid apartment in the middle of Manhattan.

Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know—Miquel Tinker Salas. This is not just a reference book; it is an easily accessible history of the country of Venezuela. Formatted into questions and answers, Salas has written a fair-minded text for the reader interested in knowing more about the country’s history and politics or the researcher looking for an up-to-date reference work. Every popular movement, every coup, and every major economic influence important to the nation of Venezuela is discussed here. The political perspective is representative of the popular will in Venezuela, with equal treatment provided to the various opposition forces in it society throughout history. In light of current realities, the author’s emphasis is on the role the oil industry has played in the economics and politics of Venezuela.

Armageddon Rag—George RR Martin. I have never watched an episode of Game of Thrones, nor read any of the books. However, this novel from Martin piqued my interest. I discovered it while researching my latest book and finally read it last month. When a retired rock promoter is grotesquely murdered in his Maine home, the novel’s protagonist (a journalist and novelist) goes on a search for his killer. His pursuit leads him to a bizarre plot to stage an Armageddon-like battle between good and evil by reuniting a revolutionary rock band and its dead lead singer. More importantly, this search is for the meaning of the 1960s and a query into why they ended the way they did. Martin’s writing keeps one turning the pages and, if one cares too, joining in on his fuzzily psychedelic ruminations over the lost potential that decade held.

Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century—Steven Conn. Having lived most of my life now in small cities, but still having an affinity for the bigger ones, I found this treatise by Conn to be an interesting cultural exploration of the love-hate relationship US residents have with their large urban areas. Traditionally the entry points for many immigrants and the gathering place for arts and money, the social fabric of the city is a complex and occasionally divisive one. Likewise, as Conn makes clear, is the fear many denizens of the United States have of cities. It is a fear played out all too often in the l battleground of domestic politics and representative of several different elements of US culture–from religion to work and from debates over big government to decisions about transportation funding. This text focuses primarily on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries but provides a comprehensive history of the decades preceding 1900.

Nazis in the Metro—Didier Daeninckx. This 1997 novel was recently translated from the French.
Like all good noir, its characters reside on the fringes of society, respectable and otherwise. An aging, not-very-popular-anymore novelist is attacked, that’s how the story begins. A fan and acquaintance who also freelances as a private investigator starts looking into the assault, unwilling to accept the police’s story. He uncovers neo-nazis and their opposite in the squats and streets of Paris. Gritty and fast-paced, this novel is like a good bebop jazz album, where the spaces that aren’t filled with sound are as important as the spaces that are.

The Last of the Hippies—Penny Rimbaud. Rimbaud helped found the British punk band CRASS. This book is a re-published tribute to Phil Russell (aka Wally Hope), who was a key inspiration for the Free Festival movement of 1970s Britain, a look at the anarchist movement of that time and a revolutionary call to battle. Hope was arrested on his way to the second free festival at Stonehenge and “found to be in possession” of three hits of LSD. He was committed to a mental institution, subjected to pharmaceutical “remedies,” and eventually killed himself. The book represents the counterculture beginnings of what would inform the anarchist/autonomen movement throughout the West from the 1980s on. Rimbaud and the publisher PM Press have included a new introduction for this edition. That introduction is quite a contrast to the naive and utopian hopes of the original text, which was published at the very beginning of the Thatcher/Reagan years. Alternately hopeful and depressing, this is an enlightening read.

Boo—Neil Smith. One of those modern novels that occupy a space between Young Adult fiction and Adult fiction, this well-written tale takes place in a heaven populated only by thirteen year olds and overseen by a god named Zig. This heaven is built somewhat along the lines of a public housing project with names of fictional characters such as Phoebe Caulfield and Sal Paradise given to the buildings. Simultaneously a novel about friendship and depression, youth and growing old, it is a coming-of-age story with a unique and unnerving twist.

Boston ‘78–Easy Skanking—Bob Marley and the Wailers. This recently released recording of the 1978 Boston Music Hall Bob Marley concert is not only an almost perfect reproduction of the Wailers’ sound, it also captures the excitement and energy present in every one of Marley’s performances. Fire one up (or not) and play it loud. Irie.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at:

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Penny Rimbaud's homepage

Philly photographer releases 10 years of LGBTQ youth portraits Rachelle Lee Smith

By Ernest Owens
Philadelphia Metro
July 7th, 2015

A local photographer who has specialized in portraits of LGBT youths for more than a decade was reunited with several of her subjects during a talk about her recently published collection at the Free Library.

“I just wanted to create a book that was for us, by us,” Philly photographer Rachelle Lee Smith, 34, told attendees Monday night during the talk at the Independence Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Smith was there to speak about Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus. A photographic and personal narrative of 65 LGBTQ youths between the ages of 14 to 24, Speaking OUT originated as a personal project that was not initially intended to be published, Smith said.

“It sparked from a growing curiosity of the different coming out experiences of those LGBTQ around me,” said Smith, who openly identifies as a lesbian. “I was fortunate to have an accepting and loving family…but I knew that unfortunately this wasn’t the same result for many when I came to college.”

At age 21, the University of the Arts graduate began photographing and archiving the volunteer youth images of those lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and of queer identity around her. She would reach out to personal friends until word of mouth got the project recognition around Philadelphia.

“I later went to the Attic Youth Center, and then local campus groups reached out to me to share their stories as a way to volunteer themselves for the project. … We photographed each one, authentically hand printed, at my UArts studio behind a white background,” Smith said of the project, which started in 2002. “It was fascinating to me what images they would choose to describe themselves from the photoshoot…what personal stories they would write on them as a result.”

During the duration of the project, Smith would take time off to travel across the country and interview other youths.
After being one of the first exhibiting artists at the Human Rights Campaign’s headquarters and later being commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, Smith realized that she “couldn’t just let these stories only be temporarily displayed.”

“People would often see these images and feel as though they wanted to take them home,” Smith said of her reasoning behind publishing them. “I felt as though this was a very important time to preserve these stories for various generations afterwards.”

Speaking OUT was published in November. After raising $25,000 in donations to help offset costs, Smith is now on a national book tour across the country showcasing the experiences of the LGBTQ youth that inspired her work.

But the tour has not come without a few hurdles along the way.

Earlier this year, while her collection was on display at the University of Connecticut, a protester vandalized the exhibit and inscribed “God hates the gays” on promotional material. To Smith’s fortune, the physical work was not damaged due to the protective framing over it.

Overall, she found the campus community’s response to it “the most empowering statement of all.”

“The incident brought spiritual groups and students together to respond in love and understanding to something more individually hateful than religious,” Smith said.

Since the memorable photo shoot, Smith has still kept in touch with many of the individuals featured in the text. She has even invited some of them to speak at events with her along the way.

“I was 21 when I was photographed. How I felt about myself was very different,” says Matty Lehman, now 35. Lehman, who then identified as “Beth” in the original photo, has since “become more reflective” of herself.

“To be photographed as a queer woman of color allowed me to feel as though I was entitled to those experiences,” said Alyssa Hargrove. Now a photographer for Getty Images and The Associated Press, Hargrove, now 24, still recalls “the big smile” she gave in the image taken of her at age 18.

“I was then expressing the joy I felt of my first kiss with a girl … Being a lesbian for me now has been about proving that we’re not just institutions but people who deserve love just like anyone else … That’s what this project was all about.”

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Rachelle Lee Smith Author's Page

John King: Book synopsises from London Books

From London Books:

John King is the author of seven novels – The Football Factory, HeadhuntersEngland AwayHuman PunkWhite TrashThe Prison House and Skinheads.

The Football Factory tells the stories of Chelsea boy Tommy Johnson and British tommy Bill Farrell, a World War II hero, and is set against a background of contemporary England, dipping into a series of related lives. Inspired by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its power-of-the-proles message, the book has been adapted as a play by Brighton Theatre Events and as a film by Vertigo Films. It has also appeared on the stage in Germany and Holland.

Headhunters focuses on the lives of five men who form a light-hearted Sex Division, a league dedicated to female conquest. Carter is a charmer, Balti and Harry more dedicated to drink and curries than women, Will a thinker happy to settle down, while Mango is a wide boy in a smart car, an angry character traumatised by the loss of his missing brother. The Sex Division soon fades away, the so-called sex war meaningless when matched to the on-going class war, a tit-for-tat argument and prophetic dreams leading to a final explosion on the streets of London.

England Away is the third part of The Football Factory Trilogy, and in this novel characters from The Football Factory and Headhunters come together as they head into Europe for a football match against Germany in Berlin. Tommy Johnson narrates their passage through Amsterdam to Berlin, while back in London Bill Farrell retraces his war-time route to confront a horrific war memory, both men confronting their own demons, with very different results.

Human Punk is the first instalment of The Satellite Cycle and charts the life and times of Joe Martin, a Slough scruff who is changed forever by the arrival of punk rock in his school playground. Set in 1977, 1988 and 2000, the book follows his life through the eras of fading Old Labour, rampant New Tory, and emerging New Labour governments. With a soundtrack that features everything from The Clash to Argy Bargy via King Tubbys and The Ruts, Human Punk is about the importance of informal education and the power of friendship.

White Trash records the world as seen through the eyes of Ruby James and Jonathan Jefferies, at the same time dipping into the lives of a succession or men and women who are full of wisdom yet considered worthless by the money-motivated elite. Ruby is a hard-working nurse, while Jefferies is a mysterious time-and-motions expert, a sinister presence in the corridors of the hospital where she works. White Trash reflects the clash of two opposing mentalities and is essentially a celebration of everyday life and a defence of the NHS.

The Prison House is set in a foreign prison, Seven Towers, and is split into seven sections, each dealing with a deadly sin. Inmate Jimmy Ramone is a drifter, running from a truth he has yet to face, though it isn’t until the end of the novel that the reader learns the nature of his secret – and the crime he has committed. The Prison House deals with love and imagination and the will to survive, moving into split personalities and reality-splitting road trips across America and India, Jimmy finally able to confront the the nightmares lurking in the shadows.

Skinheads completes the loose The Satellite Cycle (which includes Human Punk and White Trash) and focuses on Terry English (original ska-loving skinhead), his nutter-nephew Nutty Ray (Oi skin and Orwell fanatic) and Terry’s son Lol (a fifteen-year-old ska-punk more than happy to embrace his family heritage). The futures of Terry and Ray are threatened by dark clouds, stories from their late-60s and early-80s youths weaving into the main narrative as they seek salvation. Skinheads is rooted in honour, decency and pride in self, family and culture.

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Putting solidarity back into Pride

The Socialist Review
By Nicola Field, Gethin Roberts
June 2015

Nicola Field and Gethin Roberts of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners spoke to Socialist Review about politicising this year's Pride season.

We’ve just seen a majority Tory government elected. How will this shape the context of the Pride marches this year and the wider work you are doing through the re-launched Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM)?

Nicola: The Tories, who were seen before the election by the bourgeois gay movement as heroes because they brought in gay marriage, have now shown their true colours. The cabinet is full of homophobes, such as the new equalities minister, Caroline Dinenage, who voted against equal marriage.

It exposes what they were doing as opportunistic, a kind of pink-washing, a way of appealing to liberals while carrying through a vicious assault on the working class through cuts.

Now they’re appeasing the right by kicking LGBT people in the teeth. It opens the door to us to reconnect the issues of class and sexuality. The cuts to welfare, especially housing benefit, will affect young LGBT people.

If you’re stuck at home with parents who don’t understand or you are in a rural situation or in a place where you feel isolated or unable to be yourself, you’re not going to be able to move away.

Cuts in health services mean that LGBT people won’t be able to access the help they need — maybe HIV services or mental health services. We know that LGBT people suffer particularly with depression, anxiety and isolation. Not being able to access services is life threatening.

With LGSM we want to put the politics back into Pride and march with trade unionists, regardless of their sexuality. It gives us a chance to connect the rights and needs of LGBT people with the class issue of opposing cuts and austerity.

Right wingers are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the homophobes being in charge and we’ve got to show that we understand who our real friends are and who our potential allies are — and it’s certainly not the Tories.

Gethin: For me the most frightening thing is the contempt which is now really obvious and naked from the Tory party. Cameron has put the view that “we’ve been far too tolerant for too long”. It is terrifying that he can think that privately, let alone say it publicly.

We need to remind ourselves constantly that the majority of the population did not and would not vote for these people.

In stark contrast to what they’re proposing for trade union balloting, which is 40 percent of eligible voters, the Tories got less than 24 percent. In their own terms, therefore, they have no mandate.

What are your priorities for LGSM?

Gethin: The next few months will be very much focused upon how we can use the interest in the film Pride during the Pride march season.

We are there to encourage trade unionists and other activists, regardless of sexuality, to join us in putting forward the argument that sexuality is not something that divides us from each other; we have so much more in common.

We need to build solidarity with other groups — disabled people, people in receipt of benefits who’ve been victimised and targeted, Muslim communities and a whole range of other communities who will see for themselves very clearly that they are now in the sights of the Tories in the same way that the LGBT community used to be, and I think no longer is.

What Nicola said about pink-washing is absolutely right, but the battle for LGBT rights has moved forward so substantially in the last 30 years that our responsibility now is not to fight for our rights but to see that our rights are indivisible from the rights of all those others under attack. It’s about building solidarity. The connections we built 30 years ago are still there and still producing amazing things.

Some of us were in Istanbul, Turkey, recently and visited a picket line of electrical workers who had been on strike for 241 days, picketing the sites that they’d been employed at before they were sacked for raising health and safety concerns. We were very nervous, but we could not have had a warmer or more positive reception.

When we show solidarity with other people it is reciprocated, and that’s the way we will build a majority for change.

Nicola: We collected for the Barnet care workers when they were on strike, the bus workers and the Doncaster care workers.

We visited the National Gallery strikers and held a solidarity event with them on May Day, and we met the Kellingley coal miners who are fighting the closure of one of the last deep mines in the UK.

Gethin: During the Bafta Awards we were pleased to be outside picketing along with the cleaners and porters at the Royal Opera House in support of union recognition and the London living wage.

Nicola: Stephen Beresford [who wrote Pride] was inside collecting the award for the film while we were outside with our banner picketing!

Gethin: Stephen, to be fair, did express solidarity from the stage.

Nicola: When the film came out we found that young people in their teens and 20s were so inspired by the idea of solidarity, of changing the world and fighting a common enemy together.

Young people today have no sense of the political context of the 1980s. In the atmosphere of the time, setting up a support group was the obvious thing to do; it wasn’t any great revelation.

You could live on the dole, you could squat somewhere, and you didn’t have to work for benefits. Young people today need to understand that you should not have to qualify to survive.

Young people have been inspired by the political message of the film, and we’ve been able to connect that with what we want to do with the Pride marches.

We’ve already had support from several branches of the National Union of Teachers, Unison, the Royal Society of Radiographers, the Fire Brigades Union, Kellingley National Union of Miners and the Tredegar Town Band, who are currently performing at Sadler’s Wells with the Rambert dance company in a piece called Dark Arteries about the Miners’ Strike.

There’s also a group of sixth formers from Pontefract who have raised money from trade unions to organise a coach down to Pride, and they’re actually selling tickets to trade unionists!

The film made them want to march with us and has taught them how you make solidarity links in order to make it happen —– like in the film when Dai Donovan says this is what solidarity is: you shake hands and say I support you, you support me, wherever you are, wherever you come from.

And they have found that to be true — they had to go and speak at meetings and they learnt how to speak politically.

It’s crucial that LGSM uses the opportunity of the Pride season to unite everyone we can against austerity; this is the central message of what we are doing now.

Gethin: The other important message, especially in terms of London Pride, is that we do not want anything to do with the kind of people that the board have brought on board as sponsors.

We certainly don’t think that companies that don’t pay taxes in the UK should be given a platform at our event.

These companies are deliberately trying to associate themselves with what is seen as a progressive, right-on event, to deflect attention from the fact that they treat their employees appallingly.

There will be companies supporting Pride who use zero-hour contracts, who don’t pay the London living wage, even companies that don’t have trade union agreements. It’s completely unacceptable.

Very early on in our discussions with the Pride board it became very clear that they have no screening process whatsoever for donors.

The TUC ought to consider whether it should continue to sponsor Pride when that’s the basis on which they’re accepting sponsorship.

Is there resistance to Pride’s commercialisation within the wider LGBT movement?

Gethin: Over the last 30 years our minds have been colonised by the neoliberals and people think there is no alternative to the way things are. Many LGBT people think the battle is over because we have legal equality, but what is the point of that if we don’t have other basic human rights? If you’re unemployed and have no access to benefits, and now the Tories even want to abolish the Human Rights Act!

Nicola: Or if you’re being beaten up by a partner or family member and can’t afford to leave. Legal equality means little if these rights are taken away.

What do you think are the challenges for young LGBT people today?

Nicola: There is a contradiction between the outward appearance of the rights that have been won across Western Europe and North America and the reality for many young people, whatever their sexuality, who feel constrained, restricted, that there are lots of rules governing them, lots of disapproval, that there’s lots of misunderstanding.

I wrote a book 20 years ago called Over the Rainbow: Money, Class and Homophobia, looking at the way in which identity politics was colonising the LGBT movement.

It was pulling the movement away from a class analysis of sexual oppression into a set of hierarchies of oppression in which we were competing over who was most oppressed and challenging it through internal consciousness raising.

It was an incredibly paralysing approach which played right into the hands of the bourgeois gay movement, who were able to get on with making money out of the movement and commercialising it.

Looking at the LGBT movement now on the campuses we can see the modern version of identity politics in intersectionality and privilege theory. Queer theory is really the left wing of it, the best of the activists who we want to relate to.

But you get this notion of “you can’t say anything about this because you haven’t experienced it yourself”. If that’s the case then we will be a very beleaguered set of people! If you can only talk about your own experiences then you can’t reach out to support others.

We must remember that Pastor Niemöller poem where if you don’t speak out for others there’ll be no one left to speak out for you.

I think those young people who’ve been inspired by the film are fed up with being told they can’t understand or they can’t speak out.

They’ve found a place in LGSM where we say we don’t care who you are or where you come from or what your experiences are — you support us and we’ll support you.

Going back to your point Gethin about neoliberalism, it relates to the general election and why Labour lost — because they never challenged the notion that austerity is necessary and that the economic crisis was a result of Labour’s overspending. If there is no challenge to the neoliberal agenda then many people will accept it.

Gethin: Yes, and the result in Scotland confirms that — where an alternative argument was put by the SNP they won a resounding victory.

Nicola: I hope that isn’t a case of “poor-washing” by the SNP. I hope Sturgeon and the other new MPs prioritise an anti-austerity agenda that becomes a focus for political debate in this country.

I have just been commissioned by PM Press to write a book looking at class and sexuality today, about how sexual liberation is absolutely bound up with the question of class struggle.

That’s why it’s vital that we defend trade union rights and oppose austerity — and build a movement that’s capable of building another world, because it’s in that other world altogether that we’ll be able to find out who we really are.

Facebook: LGSM Pride 2014
Twitter: @LGSMpride
Pints and Perverts socials are held monthly at the London Welsh Centre on Gray’s Inn Road, King’s Cross.
For a list of Pride marches around the country go to

Back to Nicola Field's Page

Gabriel Kuhn's Playing as if the World Mattered reviewed in the New York Journal of Books

By Russell P. Gantos
The New York Journal of Books
June 2015

Author Gabriel Kuhn’s Playing As If The World Mattered: An Illustrated History of Activism in Sports is a thoughtful and easy to digest compilation of one-page commentaries with supporting full-color images, tracking examples of activism within the changing influence of the role of sports as integral parts of all societies.

Covering a period of more than 120 years, Kuhn begins with the advent of sports clubs and sports associations in Europe in the 1890s and carries it through the role of sports as it collides with the Civil Rights movement right through today’s period of mega-professional sports teams and world-wide sporting events like the World Cup of Soccer and the Olympic games.

His 160 pages covers a great deal of ground with example after example of activism threading its way throughout a pantheon of sports, from cycling to something known as radical cheerleading. It is an impressive pulling together of well-known and heretofore generally unknown to the general public, events, and individuals who played roles in the arena of sports activism.

While the book is definitely not for the average pro sports fan, those who have a keen interest in the role of sports as an influencer within past and future societies, particularly those who share Kuhn’s leftist viewpoint, will certainly find observations that should reinforce his belief that viewing and participating in various sports can and does have an important place in shaping the world in which we live.

The author concludes however, there should be a more enlightened goal for the role of sports within society, and that is to return to the ideal where everyone competes on a level playing field with no highly-compensated superstars, greedy owners or politicians who use sports for their own personal or political gains. What is lost is that despite its warts, mega-sports and world-wide sporting events do bring people of all races, income levels, and ages together in a shared passion for a beloved sports team. That too is a noble accomplishment.

Unfortunately, like a lot of great causes intended to help build a more perfect society, once people actually get involved, it pretty much all goes to hell, as Kuhn so aptly reveals.

Russell P. Gantos Jr. has been a researcher for more than 40 years as well as a journalist and newspaper sports editor and columnist. He has a degree in journalism from Ohio University.
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Waging Peace receives 2015 Skipping Stones Book Award!

By Daemion Lee, and Paulette Ansari
Skipping Stones Magazine
June 2015

David Hartsough has been a peace activist all of his life, and this book tells his story. Born in 1940, he par- ticipated in many of the major peace movements in the U.S. and around the world. His recounting of various nonviolent protests make this book more than his personal story. It also chronicles a his- tory of peace activism that Mr. Hartsough witnessed.

Both of his parents were activists, and the childhood memories he includes in the book present an interesting per- spective on the early makings of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s and 1950s. He remembers challenging his teacher over a patri- otic march around the flag to support the military draft when he was in fifth grade. He also met Dr. Martin Luther King briefly as a teenager, which proved to be a influential experience.

He recalls, when he was only twenty, sitting at a segregated lunch counter all day in Arlington,Virginia with other black and white college students. He heard a voice behind him say, “Get out of this store in two seconds, or I’m going to stab this through your heart.” An evil looking man was holding a switchblade about an inch from his heart. David was grateful for his many hours of nonviolent role playing just days before. Still, it took all the courage he could muster to put a smile on his face, turn and say, “Friend, do what you believe is right, and I will still try to love you.”The man lowered his arm, turned and walked out of the store.This single event proved the awesome power of God’s love.

Hartsough’s work took him from Cuba to Yugoslavia to Germany and back to America. He also went to Kosovo, El Salvador, Palestine, Iran and else- where. He continues to protest against war, racism, and militarization in nonviolent ways.

Hartsough is a Quaker and his sense of faith clearly sustains his work. He has witnessed much injustice —most chilling is his descriptions of the accident his friend Brian Wilson suffered in 1987 during a peace- ful blockade of a military train carrying weapons.Yet Hartsough has maintained a deep sense of compassion and a reverence for life that is evident in his writing.
This book shows what made Hartsough into a peace activist, and it chronicles the major achievments, as well as setbacks, in his life’s work. All together, this book is an excellent resource to help inspire those who will come after him.

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Positive Force: More Than A Witness reviewed on SLUG

By Nick Kuzmack
Salt Lake Under Ground (SLUG)

It’s always good to see what is preached in song lyrics, then practiced through example. Director Robin Bell takes the viewer through the extensive history of DC based punk-activist group Positive Force. Bell explores the origins during the Reagan era, the establishment of their communal headquarters, the beginnings of Riot Grrrl, the modern-day controversial affiliation with the mainstream and what it means to be an underground movement. Supporters like Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) and Ian F. Svenonius (Nation of Ulysses) lend narratives of their varied experiences with Positive Force. This DVD is also packed with cool bonus features that look into Positive Force’s involvement with groups like the “We Are Family” senior service advocacy group. It also contains sweet music videos from groups like Chumbawamba’s “Rappaport’s Testament: I Never Gave Up” and Anti-Flag’s “You’ve Got to Die for the Government.” There are a lot of films on the gritty, rock n’ roll–inspired lifestyles of punk rockers, but not nearly enough idealize it. It is punk movements like these that inspire viable alternatives and the possibilities of creating a whole new world. So dig this, and be inspired to create something new.

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Chin Wag At the Slaughterhouse: Interview with Kenneth Wishnia
June 10th, 2015

Kenneth Wishnia is the author of numerous highly acclaimed novels, among them 23 Shades of Black. His work is imbued with the hybrid knowledge of Noir. An articulate narrator, he is at once both ancient and modern. Kenneth met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about identity and his fictions.

To what extent is identity important in your fictions?

Identity is tremendously important in my work. My protagonists are almost always marginalized outsiders, members of ethnic and/or religious minorities, or hanging by a thread economically. Some of this likely stems from the ancient tribal prophetic drive to “give voice to the voiceless,” a tradition going back to one of the earliest people’s prophet, Amos, an 8th century BCE “sheepbreeder from Tekoa” who is called upon by God to take on those “who defraud the poor, who rob the needy” (4:1).

Some of it is a reaction against a certain kind of contemporary “thriller” protagonist. You know the type—she or he is always a junior partner in some high-powered law firm who’s desperately trying to make senior partner; an intrepid investigative journalist or police detective whose job is in jeopardy; or a mid-level military or special agent, something like that. I think the idea behind such protagonists is that middle class readers will identify with them more than with a working class protagonist, especially since, in U.S. culture anyway, such professionals are seen as having more at stake, as having something to lose. As if working people don’t risk losing everything they’ve got if they dare to step out of line or miss a day of work.

In fact, I’ve found that once people reach a certain level of professional and economic stability, they are often far less likely to rock the boat, while those who have a much smaller stake in the economic system are often the ones who are willing to risk their livelihoods to take on the big bad guys.

Do you think there is a sub-genre of Noir that may be identified as the Noir of alienation, particularly when applied to the Jewish experience?

The theme of Jewish alienation goes back at least as far as the patriarchal era of the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1900 BCE) when God tells Abraham to leave his home city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, with the warning: “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs” (Genesis 15:13). Even the word Hebrews conveys our wandering nomadic origins: the root letters of this ancient tribal name, e-b-r, can be found in the words ebra and ever, which mean cross over and other side, respectively. In other words, the Hebrews have been transgressive border crossers since way back.

This legacy has bred prejudices and superstitions that have followed us into the modern era:

Think of all those absurd conspiracy theories about the Jewish plot to take over global media and finances, which along with other hate-filled stereotypes contributed to the deadly assaults on the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC (where the victim was an African-American security guard) and the recent attacks on Jews, police and representatives of free speech in Paris and Denmark.

That’s some pretty dark stuff.

It’s no accident that so many of the directors and screenwriters who explored the dark side of the American experience in the classic films noir of the 1940s-50s (many of whom were blacklisted as a result) were Jewish émigrés from Fascist Europe. But many of them were the U.S.-born children of immigrants, whose experiences clearly parallel those of the contributors to Jewish Noir, the anthology I am currently editing for PM Press (pub date: Oct. 1, 2015), who have endured more subtle forms of discrimination, exclusion, identity and/or uniquely Jewish moral crises.

I’ll close with a (generalized, oversimplified) statement about the (simplistic, triumphalist) Christian view of the world–e.g., the Hebrew God is distant and terrifying, while Jesus loves you–and especially the idea that, for Christians, if you follow the right path, everything will turn out great for you, whereas in Judaism, you can follow the right path and still get fucked (cf. Job). THAT’S noir.

How do you convey this in your novel 23 Shades of Black?

It’s central to the main character’s experience. The novel takes place in New York City in the early 1980s, when my character, Ecuadorian-American female detective Filomena Buscarsela, would have been one of the first Latinas on the NYPD. So not only is she a woman in a man’s world, she’s a woman of color in a white man’s world. And they put her through hell for it, which makes it very difficult for her to live up to the ideals she has set for herself.

She’s also something of an outcast within her own “community” as well: immigrants from Ecuador were still a very small group at the time, and she’s also a cop, so she is not fully accepted by the Latino community, either, which makes her a minority within a minority. (This phrase also describes the protagonist of my Jewish-themed historical novel, The Fifth Servant, and my current novel-in-progress, so it’s clearly a motif that I revisit again and again.)
So she’s alienated from her job, her community, and from American society in a general way as well. I guess that covers everything. So what’s left?

One idea I was working with while writing 23 Shades of Black was to invert a cherished Hollywood type: the righteous individual who, through sheer grit and determination, kicks open the doors to his or her group’s participation in some wider aspect of the culture that had previously been closed off. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, is a perfect example of this type of individual, single-handedly breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and his place in baseball history is unassailable.

Hollywood just loves that kind of story.

But what if he had failed? What if the taunts finally got to him? Or, perhaps worse, what if he simply hadn’t been a very good baseball player? What might that have been like?

Rather than write about an untarnished superwoman who takes on all comers, beats the odds, and ends up triumphant, I wanted to explore the human reality of someone who simply can’t take the weight of the entire world on her shoulders, who shows incredible personal strength—but it isn’t enough. (I guess my Marxist upbringing is showing: collective action is the only way to go, people!)

That’s my idea of drama. And yes, when a righteous person tries their best and still ends up getting chewed up by the system, you’re in the realm of noir.

What event has changed your life?

That’s easy: Getting nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel for 23 Shades of Black. I went from a nobody to a somebody overnight. I went from pressing my face up against the glass looking through the bulletproof glass window at the party to being inside at the party. The only thing that could top that would be getting a call from Hollywood. (Hello, Hollywood. Hello? Hello? Anybody there…?)

How important is legacy to you as a Jewish man living in America?

I’ve certainly never been interested in writing something trendy that will sell tons of copies in a single season but will disappear and be forgotten within a few years. Books are supposed to have a longer shelf life than a carton of milk, after all. My goal has always been to write something that will still be readable—and still be read—in a hundred years (at the very least).

One example: A couple of years ago, I read the Ace Books paperback edition of Harlan Ellison’s MEMOS FROM PURGATORY, about his experiences going undercover and joining a street gang in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood in the mid-1950s. First published in 1961, it was 50 years old when I picked it up—and Ellison’s voice was as engaging as anything written today. In terms of emotional realism, it didn’t feel dated at all. I even wrote to Harlan Ellison to tell him my reaction, saying that this book was still fresh after 50 years, which meant that it would still be fresh after 100 years. (And so on, until the language changes so much they’ll need footnotes to understand the references.) That’s definitely taking the long view, but really, what writer doesn’t fantasize—even a little bit—about still being read centuries later?

I think this attitude has less to do with my Jewish roots than my general goals as an artist, but perhaps the fact that Judaism is a text-based culture with a written legacy dating back thousands of years could have something to do with it.

Graham Greene wrote, ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.’ What do you make of his observation?

Any artist, good or great, has to be a bit driven.

One thing that distinguishes writing from many other professions is the requirement for a certain level of analytical and observational distance—the separation that comes with the need to step outside a situation to observe or record it, while others seem to be able to live in the moment with no need to preserve something of the event (except as a digital photo) in order to use it as material for creative development, expansion, or significant alteration. We are the ones who look past the glitz in order to spot the staples holding up the chintzy curtains that seem to dazzle so many regular folks. This spoils some of the fun, of course. But we’re also less likely to be taken in by scams, especially if they involve written documents or email communication. I suppose we’re a bit like lawyers in that regard, trained to spot the inherent weaknesses and contradictions of a given text.

I think ALL writers have a bit of that “It’s great meeting you, but could you all please leave me the hell alone so I can go home and write?” going on. I know I do. The average shmuck thinks that being a writer means that they pay you millions of dollars, the book writes itself, and you spend the rest of the day drinking in a bar surrounded by admirers. They have no clue that it’s damn hard work and it takes a long time to get something to come out right. And when you’re working on something you end up resenting interruptions—dentist appointments, wedding receptions, phone calls from anyone who isn’t offering you paid work—and I think that a lot of people can’t relate to the fact that one has to cultivate a level of indifference to many distractions that seem to enthrall other people.

You also need to be ruthless when you edit, and many people cannot manage this level of rethinking about any type of problem, much less one that calls for serious self-analysis and criticism.

And of course, the best stories never end with an unequivocal triumph. There’s always a “Yeah, but…”

What do you make of the e-book revolution?

E-books are both good and bad for authors. They’re good for two principal reasons: easy access and no returns. I was once on a panel at Left Coast Crime, and after the panel an audience member came up to me and said, “Your book sounded really interesting, so I just bought it.”

She held up her smart phone and showed me that she had just purchased the e-book version of my novel The Fifth Servant. What’s not to like about that? Also, in terms of plain dollars and cents (or pounds and pence if you prefer), ask any author about their royalty statements, and they will usually complain about the large amounts kept in reserve against returns, or the large number of returns of physical books that this system allows. No one returns e-books. That sale is final.

On the down side, e-books can divert a lot of traffic away from independent bookstores, which are often our biggest supporters, so that’s not so good for us.

What are you working on at the moment?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m editing an anthology of all-new stories for PM Press called Jewish Noir, which is launching on Oct. 1 at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, followed by events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere. Anyone in the UK care to invite us all over for an event? The roster of contributors includes Marge Piercy, S.J. Rozan, Eddie Muller, David Liss, Charles Ardai, Gary Phillips, Heywood Gould, Jason Starr, and many more. For more info, go to:

I’m also working on an extremely ambitious Jewish-themed historical novel with parallel storylines set in the modern era and the 6th century BCE. I had to do a TON of research for this one, since I’m taking on the biblical era–and believe it or not, one or two people have written about the Bible before me, so I’d better know what I’m talking about. In any case, my take on the subject is sure to outrage all kinds of people. Ha ha ha.

What advice would you give to yourself as a younger man?
Spend a lot more time and money on publicity and promotion. (A lamentable state of affairs, but that’s how it is, folks.) Oh, and don’t forget to write The DaVinci Code.

What do you find to be effective methods of promoting your work and do you think publishing is in crisis?

Argh. I fucking hate the fact that we’re supposed to spend thousands of hours promoting ourselves. When the fuck am I supposed to do the actual writing? I have a full-time day job, an autistic son, and I’m supposed to write a piece for the Huffington Post for free? KRAK!

WANGGG! I did a piece for AlterNet last year called “Five Reasons Why Committed Activists Should Read Crime Fiction.” It’s a nice little piece and I’m reasonably proud of it, but it took me eight hours to do the work and I didn’t get paid one cent for it. GDDZZZZT! SISSS! BOOOM!

The people who set up and run the site don’t do it for free, but I’m supposed to put in eight hours of unpaid labor for them? KSSSHHHH! For the exposure, they say. I’m too old for that crap. When I was in my 20s, I routinely put in seventy-hour weeks for no money just to get experience. BADABOOM! STOMP! KSSHH! Even when I was in my 30s, and married with two children, I spent six months translating a novel from Spanish in order to get the experience, get a line on my resume, and maybe, just maybe, get some karma points for helping out a fellow author. I got $500 for six months’ work, so I sure didn’t do it for the money. YANNNGGGGG!

WEEEE-OOOO-EEEE-EEE! I also taught a bunch of college courses for no money at all while I was in graduate school just to get the experience that led to my full-time teaching job. But that was twenty years ago, and I’m sick of this new dynamic. KLANNGG! ANNGGG! ANNGGGG! All the big places have the money to pay for office space, electricity, equipment, and of course, administration costs. So fuck them. Pay me for my work, assholes. ZINNGGG! ANNNGGGG!

WEEEEEEEE! And if you want to read my work for free, go get one of my books out of the library. KSSSHHHH! BOOOM! KRNCHH! KRKRNCH! WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-OOOOOOOOOOOOOO-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! KONNNNNNNnnnnnnnggggggggggggggggg….
Guess I should mention that I’m currently reading Pete Townshend’s autobiography, Who I Am.
Does it show?

Thank you Kenneth for a great interview.

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