Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > News > Additional Stories

We the Children of Cats in Junbungaku

by Will E
Junbungaku: Japanese Literary News and More
September 7, 2012

In “Paper Woman,” the first story of Hoshino’s debut collection We, the Children of Cats, the narrator (also named Tomoyuki Hoshino) ends the story by proclaiming the death of literature:

Paper’s absence taught me that novels are already meaningless, that their meaning has always been illusory. There is no one left who craves words like she did, who wants to absorb them completely and be read herself in turn.

And she wanted me to do the same to her, to absorb her and let her read herself off me. I responded as well as I could, imperfect as I am. But I was all she had. She wanted so much to connect with so many more, but only I ever made the attempt. And it was too much for me to bear alone.

This is the first of many instances while reading We, the Children of Cats that illustrates Hoshino’s obsession with the power and meaning of literature, and if anything, the collection proves Hoshino (the character/narrator)’s antithesis: literature will not only live on, but thrive, if authors like Hoshino continue to write and be read.

In Tomoyuki Hoshino I see Kenzaburo Oe’s first true successor: a daringly intelligent, political writer capable of beauty and darkness, one that sees the power that is still capable of the written word. But Hoshino, roughly thirty years Oe’s junior, is also a product of a more contemporary, fractured Japan, a citizen who grew up surrounded by the creeping shadows of postmodernism and magical realism.

But Hoshino, who would also compare favorably to the post-modernist proclivities of Kobo Abe, feels fresh in the current landscape of Japanese novelists. Surreality is certainly no stranger to contemporary Japanese literature and it’s certainly the kind of literature that often is translated into English, hoping to strike that Murakami goldmine, but in Hoshino there is a certain amount of control that many others either lack or eschew. Each moment is crafted, specifically engineered for meaning. Which is not meant to say that Hoshino is an easy writer, or that his stories feel artificial. Hoshino’s prose always exudes a confidence, a message that what you’re reading is important and meaningful, even when the outlandish, or otherworldly, obfuscates that meaning you know lies beneath the surface.

The difference between Hoshino’s “surreal” and the rest of Japan’s “surreal” most likely is a product of Hoshino’s clear influence from Latin American literature, specifically Borges and Garcia Marquez. It colors his work, even when the stories aren’t taking place in Latin America or reference Latin American culture. I hesitate to call it a rhythm (what is more clichéd than when talking about Latin American culture), but it is a feeling, and in “Milonga for the Melted Moon,” the Marquez-ian influences are overwhelming; it’s like taking the short punch of “Eyes of a Blue Dog” and drawing it out for far too long. There are moments of transcendent beauty in “Milonga,” but unlike the rest of the stories in the collection, it borders on the tedious.

The other stories in We, the Children of Cats are intense, meticulously crafted stories imbued with a sense of controlled chaos, whether it’s about a Japanese man who tries to become a resistance fighter in a nameless Latin American nation, or a boy who imagines his absent father so intensely he becomes almost real again, or a couple who mysteriously grow new invisible sex organs. Even the title story, in which a married couple argues about having children, is defined by the two natural disasters that frame the couple’s lives. Whether working in a realist or surrealist mode, Hoshino writes with an intensity and clarity that makes the beautiful magnificent or the darkness terrifying.

In his afterword, translator Brian Bergstrom discusses at length the idea of transformation as a theme throughout Hoshino’s work, which is certainly compelling, but what struck me as Hoshino’s bone to pick, that itch that as a writer he just has to scratch until his skin cracks and bleeds, is the problem of identity in contemporary society. He explores variations of this theme in each story almost like a checklist, leaving no manifestation of it unturned. In “Air,” it’s gender identification, “Chino”: ethnicity and class, “We, The Children of Cats”: nationality re: societal values, “Sand Planet”: nationality re: colonialism and globalization. But the question at heart always boils down to: “Who am I, and with whom do I belong?” and/or “Am I alone?”

It’s a powerful question, a universal one, and so whether his stories take place in Japan or in Latin America or in a dreamland, Hoshino is adept at striking that raw nerve. Hoshino offers no pat answers, but the way he explores the question has led me to believe he is one of the best authors writing in Japan today. His work demands to be translated and read. Let’s provide the audience for Hoshino that the Paper Woman so desperately craved.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomuyuki Hoshino 's Author Page

Reflections of a Weather Underground Veteran

by Kim Moody
New Socialist Webzine
August 25, 2012

This is the fiftieth anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, the "founding" document of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and as one would expect there are conferences and reflections galore. Most of these will focus on the early SDS, but in reality there were at least two SDSs, the Port Huron Statement SDS from 1962 to about 1966 and the SDS that followed until its split and explosion in 1969. David Gilbert's Love and Struggle concerns the second SDS taking shape in 1966 just before much of the student movement took a new direction and I left SDS for more explicitly socialist politics. Despite only a slight overlap in SDS, much of what Gilbert writes about in this memoir is deeply familiar to me.

In fact, for the first seventy pages I felt a strong identification with Gilbert as his radical, then revolutionary politics evolved. What moved him to the left was what moved me and many others. First, he mentions the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins by Black students heroically confronting segregation. I remember well the very day I heard of these on the radio, how it affected me emotionally, and later sent me to seek out the Civil Rights movement in Baltimore. Then the explosive phase of the Civil Rights movement that followed with Birmingham and Selma. A little later it was the U.S. escalation of the war in Vietnam. 

These were among the things that moved a generation of white, mostly middle-class youth to see the realities of US society and to draw radical, even revolutionary conclusions. National liberation movements were on the rise in the Third World and soon Europe would explode in student and class conflict. The world, it seemed, was moving toward dramatic change.

How would this change taking shape across the world come about? With the U.S rulers at the centre of oppression at home and abroad an enormous responsibility rested on the shoulders of this New Left. Debate about how to accomplish change at home was intense. Somewhere in the mid-1960s a fork in the road appeared for this emerging radicalism. I took one road, Gilbert took the other.

Allure of "Marxism-Leninism"

In the broadest sense this other road was defined by "Marxism-Leninism," drawn mainly from Maoism but widely practiced in the Third World liberation movements. In the United States, it would call itself the "New Communist" movement and would be the dominant trend on the revolutionary left for a decade or so. Though this trend as a whole did not necessarily reject the working class as the major agent of change, the particular variant Gilbert embraced did [1]. The path I took Gilbert derisively dismissed as the traditional Old Left path that sees the working class as the central agent of change. The path he took we derisively dismissed as "Third Worldism." Before looking in more depth at the theory and practice involved, it is worth summarizing Gilbert's development as he describes it.

The first thing to be said is that although Gilbert still— after thirty years in prison for the famous 1981 "Brinks job" (discussed below)—holds the politics he developed in the second half of the 1960s he is no hack. Much of the book involves his reflections of what went right and wrong in the organizations he embraced or supported. Some might dismiss this simply as Maoist "criticism, self-criticism," which is,  in fact, his way of putting it (though he is critical of the practice). However, the reflections seem sincere and real.
He readily admits when he doubted positions he acted on or simply made a mistake, even if this is all done in a very particular ideological framework.

As he describes his evolution, he moved from liberalism to social democracy to radicalism and finally to becoming a revolutionary. He studied Marx, even reading three volumes of Capital, more than I had managed by the mid-1960s, and Lenin. The types of actions he participated in were those many of us experienced. He was in the 1968 student strike at Columbia and helped occupy buildings. Two years later I would help occupy the New School for Social Research in New York. When the Panthers became the leading organization in the Black Power movement Gilbert saw supporting them as important. The political tendency I belonged to, which later became the International Socialists (not connected to today's Canadian group of the same name), also saw supporting the Panthers as important, in fact well before the "Marxist-Leninists" did. Yet there were fundamental differences in the political frameworks in which these similar actions took place.

In 1966, the Progressive Labor Party (PL), a tightly organized "vanguardist" group, invaded SDS. A few of us fought for an alternative working-class direction, but the main response was what became the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) tendency, which soon split into RYM I and RYM II. 

Central to the politics of RYM was the conviction that the white working class of the United States was so thoroughly racist and privileged by imperialism that it could not play any role in the revolutionary process. Blacks and other oppressed people would be at the centre of revolution in the United States, perhaps even able to make the revolution on their own. White youth, however, were somewhat of an exception both because their age made them supposedly less integrated into racist structures and ideology and because the new youth culture separated them from the mainstream.

Weather Underground

From this set of ideas came the Weather Underground in 1970 after the 1969 split in SDS. As Gilbert describes it, their analysis saw the Black, Latino and Native American people of the US as part of the worldwide national liberation movements that began with the Chinese revolution, the Cuban revolution, the long-standing struggle of the Vietnamese, and the guerrilla movements in Latin America. These movements were seen as the force for world revolution. In this scenario the role of sympathizing whites in the United States was to act as support for Black organizations at home and national liberation movements abroad. This was to be the function of the Weather Underground Organization (WUO).

The nature of this support was based on the correct observation that the United States, with its military, CIA, etc. was the major roadblock to national liberation and revolution throughout the Third World as well as at home where repression against the Panthers and others had become extensive, deep and violent. However, the Weather analysis argued, the increasingly obvious defeat in Vietnam showed that U.S. imperialism was not invulnerable. It could not be everywhere at once. The more national liberation movements there were the more difficult it would be for the United States to repress and defeat them all. In this context, the role of white revolutionaries in supporting liberation movements was to add to the "armed struggles" and as much as possible distract U.S. imperialism from repressing the Panthers at home and murdering the peoples of Third World. 

This the Weather Underground attempted to do for six years with a series of twenty bombings of government, corporate and defence-related installations. Gilbert emphasizes that they were careful to avoid hurting anyone, so the bombings were timed when the facilities were empty. The infamous "Townhouse" explosion that killed three WUO activists in 1970 was accidentally set off by the activists themselves. Of course, the subsequent bombings did not stop the repression at home. Nor can the bombings take credit for the US defeat in Vietnam or the "Vietnam Syndrome" that kept US military adventures to a minimum for a period after the defeat—credit for that goes to the Vietnamese and the massive anti-war movement in the United States and around the world. 

As is often the case in left-wing organizations, failure or limited impact led to internal fights and the eventual dismantling of the Weather Underground in 1976. Gilbert went "above ground" for a while in Denver, but, clinging to the politics of white support for national liberation, by 1979 he was underground again, this time in support of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), a splinter from the Panthers that was supposedly engaged in "armed struggle." Support for the BLA involved fund-raising via "expropriations." It was in this capacity that he and several others, including his partner Kathy Boudin, were busted for the botched Brinks job in 1981 in which two policemen and a Brinks guard were killed. Despite the fact that he was not a "shooter,", this would send Gilbert to prison for the rest of his life.

Political blind spots

While most of those in the 1960s who accepted the RYM/Weather analysis did not go underground or bomb anything, they, nevertheless, faced the dilemma that analysis posed. In effect, the idea that the white working class, still a majority of the U.S. population, was to be completely written off due to the reality of racism, led to a number of problems. The revolution would have to be carried out by a minority of the population—not the 99 percent, but the 12 percent?

Additionally, the racism of the white working class would remain unaddressed as they had been written off as hopeless and this huge part of the population left outside the revolutionary process, perhaps to be "re-educated" after the revolution. Obviously this raises the question of just what such a  "revolution" would be  like assuming it had any chance of victory.

There was a major blind spot in this approach. The "Marxist-Leninist" parties seen as leading these revolutions were highly authoritarian, as were the societies created where they triumphed. One-party dictatorships were the norm. None of this enters into Gilbert's discussion until toward the end and then only in passing. His only explanation for the top-down state of these movements and the more recent capitalist direction of their regimes is to blame this on the pressures of imperialism. As real as those pressures may have been, it is, nonetheless, the case that the parties and movements that rule in countries like China, Vietnam or Cuba chose the direction of their formative policies based on the Stalinist model of the USSR or China and their ruling parties [2]. So it was that those who took the fork in the road followed by Gilbert were unable to have any critical analysis of the movements they supported, indeed, viewed such criticism as racist. Their vision of revolution was simply the taking of power by a single vanguard party following a "people's war."

Another blind spot was that of class. Occasionally class is mentioned positively, as in the case of the Prairie Fire Organization that followed RYM, but class exploitation and working-class struggle never really became part of the analysis of U.S. society for most of the groups that followed this orientation. This meant not only writing off the majority, but misunderstanding the Civil Rights movement and even the Black Power phase that followed. 

As the late Manning Marable and others have pointed out, the Civil Rights movement, first in the South then in the North, owed much of its power to the fact that it was primarily an urban working class-based movement, albeit with a largely middle-class leadership. Similarly, though the base of the Panthers was often characterized as "lumpenproletarian," it was, in fact, in working-class communities in Oakland and Brooklyn that the Black Panthers were most successful. Indeed, the Panthers even had a caucus in a local of the United Auto Workers union in the Bay Area.

In looking at the Black movements of the 1960s, Gilbert doesn't even mention such things as the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, the scores of Black union caucuses that spread across industry as the general labour upsurge took off in the second half of the 1960s or the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968 where Martin Luther King was assassinated. Nor can he see that the urban uprisings of that era were working-class-based as well. African Americans in motion somehow lose their class position. Despite the Weather Underground's focus on white youth culture in the early 1970s, Gilbert never mentions one of the best know examples of the youth rebellion's expression in the working class, the  1972 Lordstown GM strike, "the Woodstock of the working man," as one of the strike leaders put it.

In effect, the analysis put forward by RYM, Weather Underground, and others in that period analytically detached the African American population from the U.S. social formation, despite the fact that that is where their oppression is rooted, and re-conceptualized it as an organic part of the Third World national liberation movements. It was a faulty  method made easier by a focus almost entirely on the radical Black organizations of the era, rather than on the realities and potential power of the African American population. So, the social power of Black America was reduced to the nationalist politics of ever shrinking and more desperate organizations such as New Afrika and the BLA. It was a cul-de-sac.

Of course, no one succeeded in building a viable revolutionary socialist movement with significant roots in the working class in that era. Indeed, today the Left is in dire straits in most of the developed capitalist world. But the situation we now face is a new one. Capitalism is clearly in global crisis (not collapse), even if worse in some places than others. New types of resistance have arisen: the Arab Spring, mass strikes in China, new immigrant organizations in the US and the Occupy movement, just to mention the most obvious ones. It is essential that socialists support and help build these movements—not as vanguardist know-it-alls, nor obedient servants, but as participants with some good ideas of our own.

For some people new to social activism, however, the romanticism and dedication of the Weather Underground may have appeal. The "politics of the deed" may be more rewarding in the short term. They may even seem like a short cut to social change. After all, the perspective of building a socialist movement rooted in social movements and the working- class struggles of the day is a long range, difficult, if sometimes exciting, one. As tempting as a short cut might seem, however, the militancy, actions, and daring a revolutionary movement needs to bring about "another world" will not be found "underground," but in the workplaces and streets for all to see.

[1] For a more balanced history and analysis of the New Communist movement see Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (2002).

[2] For a Marxist analysis of this in Cuba see Sam Farber, Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment (2012).

Kim Moody is the author of U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition (Verso, 2007) and is currently a Senior Research Fellow with the Work and Employment Research Unit at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. He was present at the Port Huron SDS Convention in 1962.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to David Gilbert's Page

Sending Signals about Political Graphics

by Rick Poynor
August 9, 2012

Signal no. 2, 2012, published by PM Press. Design: Alec Dunn & Josh MacPhee. Illustration: Røde Mor 

If you are interested in the use of graphic art and communication in political struggles, don’t miss the latest issue of Signal, which has just come out. The first issue appeared in 2010, and for the last few months Amazon has been sending status updates saying that the new issue would be later than expected. The publishers must have unjammed the logs, though, and in the end it arrived early.

I can’t think of any other design or visual arts publication quite like Signal in form and content. “Journal” is exactly the right word here because Signal, published by PM Press in Oakland, California, is half way between a magazine and a book in appearance and tone. Its dinky size, combined with astutely pitched, matt-laminated cover designs, make it immediately intriguing and attractive. The page design is poised between scholarly seriousness and newsstand techniques of appeal. Signal is generously illustrated and would be rewarding merely to browse, but everything about it says: read this (because it will be a pleasure).

The journal is edited and designed by Alec Dunn and Josh MacPhee, who are both members of the Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative. Dunn is an illustrator and printmaker now studying at a nursing school in Pittsburgh. MacPhee is an artist, activist and curator based in Brooklyn. “We are internationalists,” they write. “We are curious about the different graphic traditions and visual languages that exist throughout the world.” Signal benefits greatly from the breadth of their non-American interests, which seem unusual to me in an American publication. Here’s MacPhee in an interview with the British radical magazine Red Pepper last year:

Over here in the States when you see any political graphics or artwork used at all, a lot of it is the same set of images, which have been used over and over again. But there is an incredibly rich amount of artwork and aesthetics that have been used in left/anti-authoritarian/liberation struggles all over the world, and I think we are in some ways hoping to expand the base of what people here think is possible.

It’s easy for a lot of political graphics to blend into our sensory landscape. For example, you see a poorly copied poster with a fist or a peace sign or an anarchy symbol and it’s an easy thing to ignore, because it’s boring! And often those uncreative, ineffective, posters are tied to uncreative and ineffective protests. Obviously, it’s not quite as simple as that, but I think we’re looking for ways that cultural work can help clarify political movements and work with them to feel more urgent or effective.

Opening spread

Opening spread

Spread from an article about Oaxacan street art considered in the Mexican context

The new issue has stories from Mozambique, Portugal, Mexico, Japan, Denmark, and early 20th-century London, as well as an American piece about the lost legacy of Gestetner art — an expanded version of a text first published online by the AIGA’s Voice (I’d prefer the space to have gone to an all-new essay). For me, the stand-out article in this issue is Kasper Opstrup Frederiksen’s illuminating reassessment of the graphic output of the Danish radical collective Røde Mor (Red Mother) from 1969 to 1978—they also had a band. This gives the flavor of their fire-breathing 1974 manifesto:

. . . the [highbrow art] culture monopoly works as a means to consolidate bourgeois power and the spread of bourgeois ideology in the working class. The bourgeois artist participates whether he likes it or not and whether he is conscious of it or not—in this repression. Contrary to this, we will make our art available to the working class and help to create a political, proletarian art.

Even in 1974, this kind of thinking was dated as both political analysis and communication strategy, and the article is clear-sighted about its shortcomings. But Red Mother’s socialist realist art inspired by Mayakovsky’s Rosta Windows and Frans Masereel still possessed graphic power. And, as Frederiksen writes, “the collective still serves as a reminder that by sharing information and pooling resources, artists can generate new exit routes from everyday life under capitalism as well as actively change people’s perspectives and values.” Clearly, new methods will need to be found now, and Signal’s commitment to visual communication could help to sharpen thinking about the task.

Page from an article about the Røde Mor radical collective

It has to be said that there are some moments of shaky editing, and the caption style is inconsistent, with figure numbers used in the text in one case but not elsewhere. It would be good to have information about contributors, making it easier to follow up interesting trails. In outline, though, Signal is already in vigorous shape, with a strong vision of what it wants to know and what it exists to do. To become fully established, it needs to appear regularly once a year; the last gap was too long. I also hope they will update their website with some new material. Take a look at the journal and support an excellent cause.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to author's page | Back to artists page

Byzantium Endures: A Review in NewCity Lit

by Greg Baldino
NewCity Lit
August 20, 2012

History is written by the winners, but more and more we are finding the winners to be unreliable narrators of their own victory. Nowhere in the history of the twentieth century is this more prominent than in regards to the horrors of the Holocaust. The writings of historians can give us an ever-evolving version of how, who, when and where, but they can only do so much with the question of why. In that regard, fiction is perhaps better equipped to make sense of the dark confusing turns of our past.

Enter Michael Moorcock. Known best in the United States for his series of transgressive sword-and-sorcery novels, his literary reputation in the United Kingdom was for his literary works and his new-wave speculative-fiction novels about the metatemporal harlequin Jerry Cornelius. In the early eighties, Moorock took one of the supporting characters from the Cornelius cast, one Colonel Maxim Arturovich Pyat, and began a four-volume saga of historical fiction, recently brought back into print by PM Press.

In the first volume, Pyat is a Ukrainian teenager at the time of the October Revolution with ambitious notions that he is a technological genius and the son of a brave Cossack soldier.

Journeying from city to city in a shifting Eastern Europe awash in both bohemian excess and wartime devastation, he’s as unreliable as any narrator could possibly be. As he changes roles from engineering student to black marketeer and back again, Pyat is revealed as a cocaine-addicted half-Jewish naif, in almost comic contrast with his adamant racism. “Byzantium Endures” is in essence two novels, in the Swiftian tradition of satire. On one level, it is the story of Pyat’s pursuit of recognition in the mad modern world of the twentieth century. But reading between the lines, the unconscious evils of Pyat’s ignorance reveal dark truths about himself as both a character, and as an allegorical stand-in for Western civilization’s compliance with the ultimate culmination of millennia of antisemitism.

It is a comic novel, though not a comedic one, utilizing the tropes and techniques of both modern farce and classical Commedia dell’Arte. One such scene that exemplifies Moorcock’s use of comic misdirection for emotional impact is the scene mid-novel where a triumphant sexual romp reveals itself through Pyat’s obliviousness as a drug-fueled rape. For all his selfishness, ignorance and hate, there is a charismatic energy to the man that is found in all the truly terrible ideologues in history. Reflected in Pyat, we see not the man who sent millions to the gas chamber, but the millions who let him under the delusional guise of profit and progress.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michael Moorcock's Author Page

London Peculiar in City Book Review

by Jamais Jochim
City Book Review
June 21, 2012

Michael Moorcock always makes for fascinating reading. London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction is a self-exploration, with a number of his previously unpublished essays, articles, and opinions. He ranges far afield here, from Christmas in World War II to looking at why Conan is an American phenomenon. There is a lot of material on a wide variety of subjects, making for an interesting read. There is a reason that he has helped define the fantasy genre, and this book explores that.

From a fan’s perspective there is a lot here. Most authors would merely release a biography of some sort and let the fans be happy with that. As Moorcock has always been a brilliant author, it would have been a let-down; instead, he has put together a book that gives the reader a personal insight into his world, with not only his history looked at but also his opinion. Although the book does occasionally get into some dry material, and the amount of detail in some areas can bog things down a little, such as the detailing of his army miniatures, the book does give some valuable insight into the author, making it a valuable read.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michael Moorcock's Author Page

What Modern America Is All About: On the Ground, A Review

by Laura Tanna
Jamaica Gleaner
August 26, 2012

A Jamaican's take on the United States at one of its most stimulating periods of political and social growth

This book, edited by a scion of the Jamaican Kennedy clan—though he prefers to be acknowledged on his individual credits—was given to me by a media colleague who knew that I had graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969, hotbed of student radicalism in the '60s, after meeting my future husband upon my arrival there in 1965.

Yes, can you imagine Dhiru Tanna giving a rousing speech on behalf of the movement against colonialism on the steps of Sproul Hall? But he did, and we both took the student movement at Berkeley in our strides as part of our education. We were global before most people knew what was entailed in that term.

But what my colleague here didn't know was that although I started high school in a segregated town in Indiana, and then became the first American to ever attend the Shia Imami Ismailia Secondary School in Kampala, Uganda—a Muslim school for those of you who aren't up on your Islamic terminology—I also ended my secondary school education at Friends Seminary—a private Quaker New York school where most of the students were Jewish or Episcopalian - while living in Greenwich Village, so that between Berkeley and the Village, while helping to edit The Journal of New African Literature and the Arts (JONALA) while in California.

I can probably appreciate Sean Stewart's book better than most people in Jamaica or, for that matter, in the United States of America. Now, normally, I take a very low profile, usually eliminating myself from interviews to the extent that most people don't even realise those which I have done. But in this case, I want you to know that I am qualified to tell you that this is a brilliant book.

One of my Jamaican friends in Miami picked it up and was mesmerised by the posters and magazine covers from the '60s' underground press reproduced in On The Ground.

Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, we can't reproduce them for you here, but what Sean has done is to research the publications which were instrumental in fomenting the fight for human rights, whether they be against the war in Vietnam, or discrimination against people of colour, or discrimination against women or those whose sexual orientation is not that of most others. The underground press started on the former, but over the years, showed the way towards the liberation of all others.

Now Sean Stewart, born and raised in Kingston, then having migrated to North America, appreciated that in these small local presses, in some cases no more than mimeographed handouts on street corners, herein lay what press freedom and social progress is all about.


His editing takes a little time to grow on the reader, but it is useful. He selects excerpts from interviews with, or writings by, various underground editors or authors—whether they be Jewish high-school students, middle-class Midwesterners or members of the Black Panther movement—and isolates them into subjects within chapters.

After a while, you get to know the different personalities and move with the times and the themes that Stewart has selected. In so doing, he creates a superb history of America at one of its most stimulating periods of political and social growth. Anybody wanting to understand what modern America is all about should read this volume.

It's not always easy. Some of it is disconcerting, discombobulating for those not familiar with this decade, but persevere. You will start to grasp what motivates the baby-boomer generation that now holds sway in positions of power, or that motivates those who resent the potential liberalism represented by the ideas put forth in the underground press.

Paul Buhle in his preface proclaims: "We changed journalism, battled repressive laws" and they had fun in the process. Jamaicans should especially appreciate this book because it speaks to individuality, neither conformist nor non-conformist. It deals with the sacredness of human life, examines the moral courage of direct action during the civil rights movement, and illustrates how journalism became a lifestyle of total immersion, both political and cultural.


I have pages of quotations of relevance from this volume, too many to share with you here. For example, this quote from Ben Morea, of Black Mask, The Family, which illustrates the power of music, something Jamaicans understand, and these were free concerts.

"There was a certain cultural antagonism between the ghetto-dweller and the youth, the hippie. They didn't quite have the same background, so our role was always to try and ease that tension . . . We'd have black bands or steel drum bands, rock bands, and Latin bands all playing together so the audience would be all three. I mean that was our goal, it was conscious. We would try to bring together art and politics or ghetto and hippie—we were always trying to bridge gaps."

On The Ground, available on, is probably going to be difficult for you to find in a local bookstore, but look for it, read it, and appreciate how Jamaicans of all backgrounds contribute to understanding our global culture and how it has evolved.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Sean Stewart's Author Page

Asia's unknown uprisings: v.1 in CHOICE

by H. T. Wong
October 2012

Katsiaficas's latest book is consistent with his radical Marxist politics. The Eros effect will pave the way for a worldwide revolution from below and create a world based on human love. He demonizes the US and Japan: "Korea was so ravaged that a literal sea of blood was spilled in the twentieth century at the hands of both Japan and the United States ... South Korea's economy remains ruled by the dictatorship of the neoliberal market." He also chastises the European and US dismissal of Asian influence on recent popular global uprisings. Anyone who identifies with Katsiaficas will love this book; however, Katsiaficas (Wentworth Institute of Technology) remains an ideologue well short on objectivity.

His 160-plus interviews include only citizen activists. Korea's deep authoritarian political and social roots were not created by the US. The US military has shielded South Korea from hostile totalitarian North Korea. Thirteen chapters explore major Korean uprisings from the 1894 Rice War to the 2008 Candlelight Protest, Jeju and Yeosun Insurrections, and the overthrow, assassination, and incarceration of Korean presidents. There are thirty-four tables and eleven charts, graphs, and maps.

Summing Up: Recommended. For general readers and undergraduates, because it fills a void in English-language studies on Korea.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to George Katsiaficas 's Author Page

Three Reviewed in Lambda Literary

by Sarah Burghauser
Lambda Literary
September 2012

One morning, a seventeen year-old girl opens her high school English textbook to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and reads her favorite lines aloud:

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? 
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. 
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

She lifts a peach from the fruit bowl in her kitchen and considers it: “Do I dare eat a peach?”  Three possible answers to this simple question spur a trinity of parallel lives in Monahan’s sparkling new novel.

Twenty-four years later, on one path, that girl is Katherine, a physician who contacts an old lover who had left her for Catholicism.  On a second, she is Kitty, a married woman who falls for her female English professor.  On a third, she calls herself Antonia, a lesbian separatist who helps found an all-women’s commune built on a renovated oil rig.

What unfolds will delight, surprise, and challenge readers to ask hard questions about faith, identity, fate, and choice.

While the premise may sound overcooked to some (al la Gwenyth Paltrow’s Sliding Doors), the superb writing in Three (Flashpoint Press) far offsets any reservations skeptics may have about plot.

Even though all three characters have a different set of details and circumstances, the same symbols, tropes, and metaphors shadow each character’s plot line–like ghosts of their alternate selves; they are three versions of the same story.  Reference to the ocean, for instance, is a strand consistently pulled through the life of each character.

Likewise, all three share the same sense of humor and deal with health and illness in similar ways: in one scene, Katherine mocks her patient’s choice to “honor the pain” in her shoulder rather than accepting medical advice from her physician.

In another scene, Antonia scorns her separatist comrades for renouncing any kind of western medicine in favor of chanting, which has severe consequences.  Kitty also copes with pain and health when her father falls ill.

In each instance, despite the trio’s snarky critique of a New Age dilettante’s approach to healing, they all have an intuitive inclination toward the spiritual, and a deep belief that “the universe” has a way of interceding in our lives.

With an air of myth, an acute sense of irony, a climactic sex scene you’ll never forget, and a nod to Jeanette Winterson (Oranges are Not the Only Fruit), this savory book will keep a smirk of pleasure smeared across your face at every pithy dialogue, sharp observation, and lyrical turn of phrase.

Succulent, charming, and sexy, Three is a book you’ll want to come back to.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Annemarie Monahan's Author Page

From South-Central to Noir Cool: Gary Phillips

By Wendy Werris
Publishers Weekly

August 24, 2012

Gary Phillips, 57, is the epitome of the noir cool he writes about in his mysteries, looking like a linebacker with an attitude—until something makes him laugh, and the big grin on his face reveals the genial guy inside.

His latest book and fourteenth mystery novel, The Warlords of Willow Ridge (Kensington, October), brings a new character, an outcast named O'Conner, to a literary lineup that already includes two noir series. Warlords takes place in the Los Angeles desert suburb of Hemet, hard hit by the economic downturn, its houses emptied by foreclosures, one of which O'Conner moves into as a squatter. An antihero figure, O'Conner becomes involved in two levels of criminal activity in Hemet-white-collar crime and gang warfare-and is forced, in middle age, to chose between continuing his violent past and reforming his life. "I don't tell you overtly if O'Conner is black or white," Phillips says. "I leave it to the reader to determine."

The Los Angeles riots in 1992-sparked by the not-guilty verdicts in the trial of four LAPD officers following the beating of Rodney King-inspired Phillips's first mystery, Violent Spring (Point Blank Books, 1994), published two years after the civil uprisings and the first of what would become the Ivan Monk mystery series. Violent Spring provides literary insight into the riots and introduced the black private eye Ivan Monk.

"I wrote [Violent Spring] because I was working for the Liberty Hill Foundation, which funded community organizing work in that area," says Phillips. "As the outreach director, my work took me to various parts of the city to meet with community groups and gang members."

"I got started as an activist growing up in South-Central, my introduction being around police abuse issues." His work with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles led him to write the novella The Underbelly (PM Press, 2010), about a homeless Vietnam vet who's been denied benefits from the VA.

"My activism has informed my fiction to the extent that, particularly with the Monk books, political or social issues have been part of the fabric of the books," says Phillips. "But I'm also influenced by hard-boiled material and the noir school. I write about things that interest me, but invariably about race or politics." He's unsure about how to categorize his work. "I go into bookstores and want to see my books in the mystery section, but also in the African-American section if there is one. I've been in both, and it's an interesting dilemma because it could affect your sales," Phillips says. "Does being in the mystery ghetto prevent me from getting black readers? If I'm in the other section, do I miss out on the mystery readers? I don't know. It's a bifurcated situation."

But one that Phillips can live with. He's the current president of the Southwest chapter of Mystery Writers of America and has ingratiated himself into the mystery writing community, remaining one of its most popular figures for more than 20 years. "There is a raw energy in what Gary writes," says Michael Connelly. "His work is almost as physically imposing as he is because he's a no-holds-barred sort of writer." Besides several stand-alone titles, Phillips, who describes his style as "hard-boiled tales with dashes of Chester Himes and Ashley Montague," is also known for the Martha Chainey series, featuring a shadowy ex-showgirl and her exploits with the Vegas mob as a crime solver.

Phillips is also a successful comic book author. Both D.C. Comics' Vertigo imprint and Dark Horse have published him, partnering Phillips with various illustrators. His op-ed pieces appear in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and other national periodicals, and he's currently working on an e-book novella about "an adventure character that's a cross between Batman and Shaft." He contributes to the blogs Dr. Pop, FourStory, and two others. "I still go to demonstrations, but I'm writing full-time now," he says. "This doesn't mean that the writing goes here, and the activism goes here. In the best of both worlds, they come together."

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Gary Phillips Author Page

Let Freedom Ring in Earth First! Online Journal

By Sasha, Earth First! Newswire
September 2012

The Dialectics of Incarceration: Let Freedom Ring Shows the Way

Let Freedom Ring (PM Press 2008) is a much anticipated and life-changing compilation. Spanning nearly half a century, this anthology holds much more than documents from the prisoner support. Editor Matt Meyer pieces together crucial reports and primary sources with artful delicacy to lead the reader through what many understandably consider the most pressing issue of our time: the growth of the prison industrial complex and its terrible agency in the repression of democracy.

With an entire chapter devoted to John Brown, as well as material from Assata Shakur and other liberationists, this book is a brick in many ways. I talked to one EF!er last night about Let Freedom Ring, and after seeing its size, he declared it’d be the last thing he threw at the cops if they came banging down his door (after he ran out of ammo).  Of course, I suggest reading it rather than throwing it. If it is rather like a large brick, it will provide a fundamental piece to build the foundation your knowledge of the state, on which your activism will be reliably grounded.

From its gripping forward from Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Let Freedom Ring lets you know that the subject is as serious as it is heart wrenching, but beyond that, it places its hand on your shoulder, puts the light of hope in your soul, and, with a tearful eye, promises to lead you through the obfuscated labyrinth. As the work proceeds, the reader meets the cobweb-covered and occulted details of federal case after federal case, as Meyer dusts off the intricate web of deceit and treachery to expose the back-handed methods of law enforcement efforts in subverting and “neutralizing” civil rights, womens’, GLBT, earth and animal liberation, and many other movements.

Although it has taken us four years to review Let Freedom Ring, the 800-page book flies past. I read it in less than a week. It absorbed me. It moved me to a place in time where I was beside myself. Anger, grief, empathy—your nerves are lit, and any sense of confusion turns into a feeling of ecstatic clarity. There is something existential that moves beneath these pages: it is the revolution, which forces you to reckon with it, and in-so-doing, it becomes you. You cannot move forward until you understand the reality that dwells in Let Freedom Ring.

As an article by Brendan Story and Margie Lincita shows, the earth and animal liberation movements have been suffering from the clampdown of the PATRIOT Act security state for over a decade. However, it is impossible to fully grasp what the Green Scare means until greater connections are made to US repression of political and social movements of the past. Naji Mujahid and Ryme Kathouda show in their insightful article, “Once Upon a Time, They Called Me a Terrorist Too”, that the PATRIOT Act is merely an extension of COINTELPRO.

Earth First! fell victim to COINTELPRO in 1990, when Judi Bari was targeted by the FBI’s San Francisco office under the FBI agent, Richard Held, but what many don’t realize is that Held had performed as an agent for the FBI in campaigns against the independentistas in Puerto Rico, as well as against the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers. Besides this immediate and intimate connection between the repression of Earth First! and the repression of other anti-imperialist struggles, Let Freedom Ring also illuminates the specifics of human rights violations by the US government while exposing the history of peoples’ attempts to obtain justice for prisoners.

The manifold of crucial documents that provide the basis of a history of prisoner support work provides perhaps the most important function of Let Freedom Ring. Laying out transcripts from various international peoples’ tribunals that have attempted to call the US to account for its violation of international human rights treaties, Meyer reveals the extent and strategic intent of international organizing surrounding the hope-filled movement for justice. The reader also encounters original documents from and about vibrant movements like the Jericho Movement and Critical Resistance which seek to bring amnesty for political prisoners and abolish the prison industrial complex, respectively.

Included as well are several poems written by political prisoners, which serve to provide a direct connection the feelings underlying the movement. A poem by Emmanuel Ortiz, for instance, proclaims: “So if you want a moment of silence/ Turn off the oil pumps/ Turn off the engines, the televisions/ Sink the cruise ships/ Crash the stock markets/ Unplug the marquee lights/ Delete the e-mails and instant messages/ Deral the trains, ground the planes… Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime./ And we, Tonight,/ We Will keep right on singing/ For our dead.”

The further the reader delves into the struggles of the women activists, Puerto Rican independentistas, the Mexican@ and Chican@ activists, the Black Liberationists, queer and trans activists, and others who have become subjects of the prison industry, the more Let Freedom Rings opens the floodgates for thought and theory to create inroads and connect the dots. Brilliant works by thinkers like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jalil Muntaqim, Sundiata Acoli, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Susan Rosenberg, Luis Falcón, and more, show how repression is not confined to politics, the prison industry can also be seen as a broad mechanism of social and racial, imperialist oppression—one that, indeed, needs to be abolished. As Ashante Alston puts it in the postscript: “We must join together as revolutionaries who still believe in the dreams of our peoples . . . We will create on the ashes of imperial evil. The story continues . . . We will win!”

Buy this book now | Return to Matt Meyer's Author Page now


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases


Human Punk