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Soccer vs. The State Book Launch: Freedom

Freedom: Anarchist News and Views
April 23, 2011

Freedom is very pleased to present anarchist, writer and ex-footballer Gabriel Kuhn for the launch of his new book Soccer Vs. The State. Join the author in a presentation followed by a discussion and of course a few beers…

Sunday 8th May
3pm-5pm
Freedom Bookshop
Angel Alley
84b Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
Map

Phone: 020 7247 9249
Email: shop@freedompress.org.uk

Where the beautiful game meets the Beautiful Idea!

Soccer has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry. Professionalism and commercialization dominate its global image. Yet the game retains a rebellious side, maybe more so than any other sport co-opted by money makers and corrupt politicians. From its roots in working-class England to political protests by players and fans, and a current radical soccer underground, the notion of football as the “people’s game” has been kept alive by numerous individuals, teams, and communities.

This book not only traces this history, but also reflects on common criticisms: soccer ferments nationalism, serves right-wing powers, fosters competitiveness. Acknowledging these concerns, alternative perspectives on the game are explored, down to practical examples of egalitarian DIY soccer!

Soccer vs. the State serves both as an orientation for the politically conscious football supporter and as an inspiration for those who try to pursue the love of the game away from television sets and big stadiums, bringing it to back alleys and muddy pastures.

Praise:
“There is no sport that reflects the place where sports and politics collide quite like soccer. Athlete-activist Gabriel Kuhn has captured that by going to a place where other sports writers fear to tread. Here is the book that will tell you how soccer explains the world while offering means to improve it.”
—Dave Zirin, author Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love

“In an era when football appears captured by the forces of money and power,
straitjacketed by the needs of corporations and international bureaucracies, Gabriel Kuhn’s Soccer vs. The State is a wonderous reminder of all the times and ways and places where football has slipped its chains and offers what it always promised: new solidarities and identities, a site of resistance, a celebration of spontaneity and play”.
- David Goldblatt, author of The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer

“Gabriel Kuhn has written the program notes for the most important match of all, The Peoples Game vs. Modern Football”.
- Mark Perryman, co-founder of Philosophy Football

About the Author:
Gabriel Kuhn was born in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1972. He was deeply immersed in soccer culture as a teenager, and became one of the country’s youngest semi-professional players. Tired of both the demands and the politics, he abandoned his career for studies, travels, and activism, but still joins pick-up games whenever he gets the chance.

Gabriel has published widely on underground culture and politics, and founded the DIY publishing outfit Alpine Anarchist Productions in 2000. Previous publications with PM Press include Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy (author, 2010), Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics (editor, 2010), and Gustav Landauer: Revolution and Other Writings (editor/translator, 2010).

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Caged Heat

by Jedidiah_Ayres
Ransom Notes: Barnes & Noble Blog

Morgan is the central character of Sin Soracco's Low Bite (the most memorable ensemble cast I've read since last year's Late Rain by Lynn Kostoff). She works in the prison law library where she's incarcerated for breaking and entering. Her job is to help other cons explore their legal position, but mostly she brews dangerous jailhouse moonshine and finds other distracting ways to pass the time, including participating in a plot to embezzle funds from another inmate's murdered husband.
 
That's more or less the plot. But plot-schmlot. It's more a collection of anecdotes converging on repeating themes than a straight narrative, but it is such a great collection of low-rent, high-drama characters struggling to hold on to or create a small patch of dignity in an otherwise utterly oppressed and debased atmosphere that I'd have been happy to keep reading another hundred pages without a central story line. These are women pushed to the brink of human experience and rendered with such obvious affection (yet nothing is precious) - they're impossible not to get behind.
 
The dialogue alone drips with the effortless, affectationless authenticity of someone in the know, (Soracco does know of what she speaks), and it's a true pleasure to listen. In the interview with the former convict and inmate that is included in the re-issue of her novel, Soracco recalls conversations with editors and publishers and their questions about where the ideas for her characters came from, "These are bits and pieces of my friends. Even the villains."
 
They've got to be.
 
And, not that I don't enjoy a good exploitation flick or book, and not that my pulpy bases don't need covering often and generously, (in fact I'm chomping at the bit for Anthony Neil Smith's third Billy Laffitte book - yes, it's in the works), but I do need a good dose of the real thing now and then. And when was the last time I got a straight forward dose of women's prison?
 
Which is not to say it's humorless. Far from it. The humor and the horror go hand in hand here and the faster the reader and inmate understand that, the better their chance of survival and sanity. It's angry and fierce, but you'd better believe it's not humorless. The scams and angles played are as dumb, doomed, effective, brilliant and entertaining as any.
 
Combine the flavors of Jim Nisbet, Barry Gifford and Edward Bunker all you like, but Soracco's is a unique voice and one I'm going to listen for from here on out. Low Bite has also stoked my anticipation of Notes From the American Gulag from Prison Stories author Seth Ferranti.
 
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.

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Sober Living for the Revolution in Interface

by John L. Murphy
Interface: A Journal For and About Social Movements
Volume 3(1): 266-291 (May 2011)
 
Ian MacKaye of Washington D.C.’s Minor Threat sang in 1981’s “Straight Edge”: “Never want to use a crutch/ I’ve got the straight edge.” This assertion turned an admonition: abstaining from not only intoxicants but from harmful sex and a non-vegan diet that fuelled a capitalist dependence upon a destructive system.

Anarchist-activist Gabriel Kuhn’s anthology gathers sXe (I will employ this shorthand for “straight edge”) international contributors from bands, scenes, and labels. He interviews participants, includes manifestoes, and compiles an introduction situating this movement emerging from 1980s hardcore punk. 

Five sections comprise this collection. This review will follow Kuhn’s presentation of these chapters. 
 
Introduction

Kuhn notes his decision to expand sXe coverage beyond white, male, American contexts which dominate conventional media. Radicals tend to dismiss the movement as dogmatic, exclusive, and privileged. Kuhn emphasizes the “politically conscious” challenges within sXe, defining radical as those who actively pursue social change for free and egalitarian communities, and who “maintain a clear distance to politically ambiguous ideologies” (p.14). These include “religious groups or belief systems.” He omits sXe members from Christian, Hare Krishna, or Islamic communities, although a few contributors allude to these outside Kuhn’s self-imposed frame. The total absence of Buddhist contexts disappoints, given American advocates and authors “hardcore Zen” Brad Warner and “dharma punx” Noah Levine have earned prominence among dharma-practitioners who grew up alongside sXe. However, Kuhn acknowledges his focus aims at politics, not sobriety or culture.
 
Bands

Ian MacKaye logically begins the interviews. He tells how his lyrics to “Out of Step” set the scene: “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t fuck, at least I can fucking think,” were not directives,  but “anti-obsession,” while they were followed by “But at least I can fucking think” (pp.34-35). That is, the choice remains for the punk to think through the ramifications of this pledge. The second line’s subtlety may have been lost on many, yet MacKaye’s example remains a guiding force through his inspired, “all access” approach to overcome barriers of age, income, and expenses for concerts with his band Fugazi and through Dischord Records. He defends a “free space” for unconventional ideas as a “constant, ever-flowing river” that persists as a river channels its energy endlessly (p.24). 

MacKaye’s distrust of dangerous sex matches his disdain for alcohol and drug abuse. These encourage selfishness, blurring awareness of the present moment.

They also diminish willpower, break down defences, and weaken potential for positive change. But, as a movement, sXe contained its own dogmatic danger.

MacKaye analyzes how movements falter by creating a “higher calling” which mimics the pursuit of power and the imposition of violence upon dissenters.

These “triggers” ignite nationalism and persecution; as more of a “Minor Threat” they foment prejudice between punks. This intolerance within sXe sparked a backlash from the hardcore scene, as violence among supporters and deniers led to sensationalist treatment from political activists and the mainstream media.  Articulating sXe as “straight” for MacKaye builds a basis for a life, not a lifestyle.

The straight line equals common equality. Food, water, air remain, with sex as the imperative for survival. Converting these needs with wants, advertising sells out the communal, organic solidarity formed by sXe, with its slogan “Live as you desire the world to be!” (p.43) Such idealism compels others to follow MacKaye.

Liner notes to the Swedish band Refused’s 1998 album The Shape of Punk to Come remind the listener: “It’s never been safe to live in a world that teaches us to respect property and disregard human life” (p.66). ManLiftingBanner, a Dutch communist band, presents here the clearest allegiance to a standard political philosophy. Many contributors cite them as a major influence. Frederico Freitas of Brazil’s Point of No Return agrees with Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén: the European and Third World traditions of resistance impel many sXe supporters outside America to connect with established progressive forces. While the U.S. by WWII lost its radical mass, Freitas and Lyxzén by their thoughtful if idealized manifestoes hearken back to a proletariat integrating contemporary working-class and communally organized opposition struggles. 
 
Scenes

This evolution offers a counter-reaction to three earlier sXe stages. The 1980s individually-centered reaction which Minor Threat jumpstarted, the “wolfpack” street crews of Boston and New York City, and the VeganStraightEdge 1990s trend all, for Freitas, lack militancy. Bruno “Break” Teixiera from Portugal’s New Winds seeks a similarly leftist link to class-based politics now, while Robert Matusiak from Poland’s Refused Records contrasts the Russian and German tendencies among a sXe minority reverting to race-based extremism with a community situated in co-operative enterprises and non-profit employment. This internal shift for the committed activist has led to charges by radicals and punks of sXe elitism. Jonathan Pollack’s pro-Palestinian direct action involvement in Against the wall ensures him, as an Israeli, a prominent position of opposition. 

As a political idea, the Straight Edge of ebullient refusal to the decadence of our times is not that of an ascetic anchorite in the badlands of western civilization or of religious purity. The need to extract oneself from society, so prevalent in Straight Edge, is fuelled by the desire to see and live in a different reality; a desire that can’t subsist in the clubs, cafés and drug culture of mainstream society. Both my Straight Edge and my activism are strongly rooted in this passion, and neither is dependent on whether we will reach this different reality or not (p.112). 

As this anthology progresses, interviewees and contributors seek to stand apart from the commodification which, as punk became marketed as fashion, weakened its oppositional stance. Pollock muses how “the farther you get from cleancut looks and fancy clothes,” the more interesting the movement becomes. That is, sXe itself may represent conformity amidst punk’s supposedly purer (non-)conformists, so the move away from puritanical commitment may signal the imminent realization of values which transcend music or style: to transform. 

Catalyst Records’ Kurt Schroeder speaks from another confrontational stance, the vegan aspiration. He admits many adherents come from America’s middle class.

This context may weaken vegan sXe acceptance by European or Latin American radical fellow-travellers drawn to socialist or leftist aspects. Yet, all two dozen contributors appear to thrive on vegan diets and radical ideologies. This skews the political message in Kuhn’s edition to the already converted. However, this affirmation of connections between sXe and radicalism provides an encouraging collection for those seeking exactly this compendium. 
 
Manifestos

While Refused and Point of No Return in their extensive liner notes produced manifestoes in all but name reprinted earlier in this anthology, a separate section matches three lengthy pamphlets with their authors, who reflect years later upon the impact of their messages. Under the aegis of Alpine Anarchist Productions, XsraquelX repels conservative punk reactions to veganism with DIY ethics grounded in personal choice rather than ideological duty. By its exclusivity, xSe risked reduction into a “fascist mentality” constrained by moral codes which refused any deviation. She argues for an “antifa[scist]” decision of absention as “an actual and symbolic mode of promoting a life of responsibility and shunning dependency” on capitalism (p.158). Feminism, minority and animal rights, and environmentalism accompany “like-minded social action” for Antifa sXe communities. 

For the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers’ Collective, an “intoxication culture” looms as the class enemy. Yet, Kuhn wisely prefaces this entry with the collective’s explanation that it originally had added a “hypertrophied appendix,” which was “a sort of sendup of primitivist historical revisionism, though based on kernels of truth.”

They left it out of this reprinting “for fear it could be taken too seriously outside its original context”(p.164). A sense of humor too often lurks far outside this edition.

While many entries remain worthy for their unstintingly committed determination, the moral tone at such an elevated register, over hundreds of pages of similar-sounding justifications, may weary the less ardent.

Therefore, “Wasted Indeed: Anarchy and Alcohol” manages to convince more than its stolid comrades by its lightly self-deprecating narrative. “Like the tourism of the worker, drink is a pressure valve that releases tension while maintaining the system that creates it” (p.166). Pithier and wittier than previous entries, this statement argues for abstinence as a fulfilling, truly engaged response to life’s possibilities. “No war but the class war—no cocktail but the molotov cocktail! Let us brew nothing but trouble!” It does so as a slight caricature of leftist sobriety, to highlight its self-righteous dangers of insecurity (“they cannot rest until everyone in the world sees that world exactly as they do”). It concludes amidst gentle satire with sincere encouragement, “as a reminder for all who choose to concern themselves that another world is possible” (pp.170-71).
 
Reflections

Nick Riotfag’s queer advocacy gains in-depth coverage; he narrates the difficulty of creating safe spaces for non-drinkers within environmental gatherings, co-op meetings, and anarchist settings. He supports “Take the straight out of straight edge” campaigns, as gays confront homophobes and reactionary punk enclaves.

Similarly, Jenni Ramme from Poland’s Emancypunx sets herself apart from mainstream feminists who work within capitalist and corporate settings. She rejects integration. She seeks utopian space beyond the state or the conventional network of the firm, the market, the press, or the broadcast.  

Mainstream media will never see underground culture as anything but new, fresh meat to make profits. They are part of a capitalist and consumerist culture of blood-sucking zombies. They take without giving anything back. This is not a base to build radical movements on (p.226). 

While Andy Hurley now drums for Fall Out Boy, a successful American “emo” band adopted by the mainstream, he retains his credibility with anarcho-primitivist advocacy influenced by Kevin Tucker’s “feral edge” post-civilized and John Zerzan’s anti-leftist, pro-wilderness perspectives (Marshall 2010). Hurley rejects leftist participation in politics and power. Kuhn gently prods Hurley, the most mainstream of those included by his current band’s allegiance, but the most radical by his drift away from communal solidarity in the pursuit of self-reliance.

This interview sidles towards thoughtful, if admittedly incomplete, explanations of Hurley’s responses to a set of complicated compromises. For all its open-endedness, this concludes this section with a relevant portrayal of how an activist works towards his own truth.
 
Reflections

Global networking within the social margins, prominent in this cross-cultural sub-cultural anthology, flows through Argentinian-Israeli Swedish resident Santiago Gomez’ punk and anarchist-vegan efforts. His footnoted, lively essay interprets sXe as “intuitive resistance.” He moves from Melville and Turgenev to Tolstoy and Lenin within the context of hardcore; he cites Zapatista liberated zones which have banished alcohol—without appearing pedantic. His ironic sense shows as he quotes Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (the scene when followers pick up and immediately imitate, and then debate, the accidental discarding of Brian’s single shoe, or is it a sandal?) to illustrate how Minor Threat’s two lines from their lyric for “Out of Step” became adopted as a creed. 

Tellingly, Gomez segues into a reminder of how the “X” on the back of the hand used as a signifier of sXe started not out of a devotion to sobriety, but a nightclub’s stamp that the patron was simply too young to legally drink. He sketches out a nuanced position, that sXe has faltered by its anti-intoxicant and animal rights definition while neglecting the larger struggle against all capitalist exploitation.  Gomez does not retreat from his own ideological agreement with abstinence, but he reminds his audience that the imperative fight against oppression endures.

Three veteran activists end this collection with their own rallying cries. Mark Andersen brings the entries back to their Washington D.C. origins with his own account of inner-city community organizing at Positive Force House. He champions collectives as a logical foundation for incremental change. He rejects superior attitudes formed by snobbish sXe members, and sets out revolutionary progress as coming from not only the process—“profoundly aided by the clarity and health that drug-free, meat-free lifestyles can bring,” but the victory. This triumph waits, Andersen wraps up this volume, by reaching out beyond sXe. 

This anthology does preach to the choir. Those outside the sXe community will find no explanation of how the music sounds compared to hardcore (a “crust” punk’s recollections comprise a bit of variety, albeit marginal), even if sXe lyrics urge a nobler practice. Kuhn gathers those with whom he agrees; the book’s main intention is to reinforce leftist and radical ties to sXe. Within these parameters, the collection succeeds, for what will likely remain a small, but committed audience seeking social and political change by principled transformation of their own appetites and desires and by communal solidarity.

References


Levine, Noah. Dharma Punx: A Memoir. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2004).
Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. (Oakland: PM Press, 2010).
Murphy, John L. “’Sex, sin, and Zen’: 25 years hardcore as
punk bassist, sexual seeker, and Zen student.”  PopMatters.
http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/129943-sex-sin-and-zen-by-brad-
warner/ (accessed 2.5.2011) 
Murphy, John L.  “Noah Levine’s ‘The heart of the revolution.’” New
York Journal of Books
. http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/heart-
revolution (accessed 2.5.2011)
Warner, Brad. Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth about
Reality
. (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003).
 
About the reviewer

John L. Murphy coordinates the Humanities sequence at DeVry University's
Long Beach, California campus. He earned a Ph.D. from UCLA in British and Irish
literature. His research interests include religious, literary, and musical currents
in cultures of resistance and reinvention. He can be contacted at jmurphy2 AT
devry.edu.

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Sober Living for the Revolution in Peace News

by Sareena Rai
Peace News
Page 22, June 2011

At first I thought that Sober Living for the Revolution was about historical, successful "sober" anarchist collectives and how they organized. The first part of the title misled me. Then I read the rest of the title, which went on as "Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics." Second thoughts: "Oh no! Interviews with a bunch of straight-edgers!" To be honest, being into hardcore punk, I never got into the whole straight edge scene in the same way that Ian Mackaye didn't (whose song the whole thing started from), because it always seemed like a macho, merchandised religious cult.

Thankfully, most of the people interviewed have distanced themselves from that particular self-righteous, conservative strand of being sober in the music/activism world and often stray from the straight edge question altogether, confessing that activism is more important than this personal issue—to the point where even Kuhn has to get his questions back to his title and say "Since this is a book about Straight Edge, we have to start talking about that..."

Nick Riotfag is the most coherent in the book and writes an excellent critique on how often social action groups can totally ignore the feelings of sober folks, and offers practical suggestions for safe organization. His was the only piece that came close to causing me to say to my partner: "See, you should quit drinking."

There is a strong theme that suggests less substance abuse equals less oppression, however one womyn states: "Some, like me, long ago stopped going to typical straightedge gigs since they had nothing to offer that one couldn't get from a violent mugging by an anti-abortionist."

Clearly, you can take the alcohol out of the man, but you can't take out "man," period.

Roughly 65 percent are male, hetero voices (the back photo is also misleading), however the need for more sober, all-age, non-sexist spaces in the scene is highlighted and this issue needs support! We need a queer, third world revival. Hey ho, let's go!

By Sareena, the boring punk womyn who doesn't get drunk.

P.S. For anyone who wants to use this book to tell their nearest and dearest: "See, you should quit drinking," or smoking, or whatever, this isn't the book to do so. That's going to take a revolution.

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Anarchy for Everyone on the PowellsBooks

by Chris Faatz

PowellsBooks.Blog
May 28th, 2011

Lots of anarchist writing is pretty thin going. The constant reiteration of the same mantra-like assertions, the same insights, and the same proposed solutions, all confined to a given community, a holding tank of acceptable ideas, with the whole dedicated to knocking down straw men of the polemicist's construction. Unceasingly. It gets old fast.

Imagine, then, how excited I was to find a book of essays that addresses subjects outside the narrow confines of accepted anarchist orthodoxy, a book that further investigates the work of major writers from a distinctly libertarian perspective and holds forth from an unfailingly utopian point of view on broad issues germane to the past 40 years, such as nuclear disarmament and the role of freedom of thought in a free society. Such a book is Nicolas Walter's Damned Fools in Utopia: And Other Writings on Anarchism and War Resistance.

Walter was a mainstay of the British anarchist movement for most of his life, and these beautifully crafted essays and reflections cover the years from about 1960 to 2000, when he died. The core of this book embraces the early years of his engagement and loosely focuses on the British movement for unilateral nuclear disarmament. Its radical wing, the Committee of 100 (of which Bertrand Russell was a member), garners special attention, with its decentralist and libertarian thrust.

The Committee's purpose was to sponsor acts of mass civil disobedience. What, though, did they stand for? Walter writes (in 1962):

Our end is familiar now. Most people who support the Committee of 100 also support the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, because the two wings of the unilateralist movement have no quarrel about ends, and in general we accept the decisions of CND annual conferences. We want Britain to ban the Bomb and leave NATO, to disengage from the Cold War and adopt positive neutralism, to reject colonialism abroad and racialism at home. Many of us go further than this. Because of our sympathy with friends in America we favor American as well as British unilateralism, and because of our left-wing political affiliations we favor radical or revolutionary solutions to the problems of our society.

This is a radical formulation designed to speak to a much broader audience than does a sectarian political polemic. It offers up a vision and a hope to motivate broad swathes of people and does so without putting one group or set of ideas forward as the one true path to freedom. How refreshing!

The mainstay of the book is the title essay, a history of war resistance and of radical and unequivocal pacifism and nonviolence in the face of the war-making state. It's a wonderful essay, full of stories, anecdotes, and quotes—from and about sources as diverse as Alex Comfort, George Fox, and Henry David Thoreau—and is divided into such sections as anti-militarism, conscientious objection, and satyagraha ("soul force," as developed by Mohandas Gandhi).

The gist of this essay—indeed, the gist of the whole collection—is that the only way to remain truly human in an age of mass conformity and brutal violence is to take a stand on the side of conscience, to refuse to be complicit in the brazen, insane, and ultimately dehumanizing thrust of the modern warfare state and its tendency to wriggle its tentacles into all spheres of our lives. There is an alternative, asserts Walter; there is another way of living and being that embraces our mutual humanness and raises high the banner of unqualified solidarity in confronting the agents of fear, oppression, and hatred in a world gone mad.

The sheer number of essays on literary, political, and publishing figures, both well- and unknown, makes this volume all the more compelling. A long essay on Orwell is here, examining him in connection with his relationship with the anarchist movement. Dorothy Day's here, too, the great Catholic anarchist of inner city New York, and her life of "poverty, chastity, and disobedience." Also represented are Herbert Read and author Allan Sillitoe (who Walter loved). Some of the most interesting pieces are those addressing the more bizarre and fringe activists in the British anarchist movement, such as Guy Aldred and C. W. Daniel. The Greek-French post-Marxist and libertarian socialist theorist Cornelius Castoriadis makes an appearance, as does Bertrand Russell and even Lady Di.

There's plenty here to feed the hunger of even the most committed student of sectarian minutiae, though I want to make it perfectly clear that Walter does not write primarily for that audience. His essays are brilliant and scintillating because they're crafted with skill and beauty and because they're sympathetic to the human reality that lies behind even the most bizarre, outre, or strange.

Interestingly enough, Walter was also a long-time habitue of the British Freethought and Humanist movements. I, personally, think it's a shame that there's virtually nothing in this collection that relates to his labors at those tasks, although the book does include a remarkably thoughtful short essay on "Anarchism and Religion."

Damned Fools in Utopia
is full of grand ideas and formulations. In the end, though, it's a book of vision, an assertion that another world is possible. Walter was pessimistic as to the probability of that world's coming about; he was, however, insistent on its necessity, on the obligation of its iteration. Damned fools in utopia: may we all have the courage to stand up and proclaim ourselves such.

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The Prose, Poetry, and Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin

by Alison Hallett
The Portland Mercury
May 12th, 2011

In 2002, Ursula K. Le Guin published the short story The Wild Girls, a brief, powerful parable about a city in which some people are born to be slaves, and others to be gods; in which certain social structures are so institutionalized that most slaves aren't capable of recognizing that there exists a "space in which there is room for justice." The Wild Girls won several awards—the Portland author and sci-fi legend has collected six Nebulas, five Hugos, a National Book Award, and plenty more honors during her lengthy, prolific career.

The Wild Girls is a slim volume published as part of PM Press' "Outspoken Authors" series, which offers a shorthand look at the breadth and depth of material Le Guin produced over the years. In addition to The Wild Girls, which opens the book, the volume collects "Staying Awake While We Read," a 2008 Harper's article about the state of the publishing industry; "The Conversation of the Modest," an original essay about the virtue of modesty in the age of advertising; a handful of poems; and a Q&A conducted by fellow sci-fi writer Terry Bisson.

Most relevant is the Harper's article, which challenges the idea that publishing can or should function as a growth-oriented industry. "I keep hoping that corporations will realize that publishing is not, in fact, a sane or normal business with a nice healthy relationship to capitalism," she writes. It's not idle musing: A basic skepticism of corporate motives was certainly a factor in Le Guin's recent, vocal opposition to the proposed Google Books settlement.

The only disappointment here is the Q&A that concludes the volume. Terry Bisson's questions are glib ("What have you got against Amazon?" "Have you ever been attacked by lions?") and most of Le Guin's answers are correspondingly terse. She does, however, deliver quite the stern rebuke to those "literary fiction" fans who laud her writing while snubbing genre fiction as a whole:

"The only means I have to stop ignorant snobs from behaving toward genre fiction with snobbish ignorance is to not reinforce their ignorance and snobbery by lying and saying that when I write sci-fi it isn't sci-fi, but to tell them more or less patiently for 40 or 50 years that they are wrong to exclude sci-fi and fantasy from literature, and proving my argument by writing well." And that's why she's a legend.

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Kicker Conspiracy: How Football Fell Foul of the State

Freedom: Anarchist News and Views
April 23, 2011

Interview with anarchist footballer and author about the beautiful game: The Austrian-born anarchist author and former semi-professional football player, Gabriel Kuhn, recently released his newest book with PM Press, Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics. We talked to Kuhn about football, anarchism, and sports in a better world.

    •    Is there anything intrinsically ‘anarchistic’ about football?

I’m tempted to say that there isn’t anything intrinsically anarchistic about anything. If anarchy was that easy, we’d have more of it. However, I think that almost everything has anarchistic potential, and it is this potential that anarchists have to tease out. This is also true in football. If you are able to tame the game’s competitive character, football can be a wonderful exercise in community building. If you focus on football’s role as the game of the masses, it can serve as a vehicle to challenge the powerful. If you embrace the beauty and the joy of the game, you reject it as an industry. I would say that it is in this sense that Soccer vs. the State is trying to strengthen the radical—or anarchistic—dimensions of the sport.

    •    How was football received by anarchism? How could we characterize the relationship between the two historically?

Early on, there was a lot of scepticism within the anarchist movement. The opium-for-the-masses argument was strong, both in Europe and in Latin America. It remained that way well into the 1930s. There is a text in Soccer vs. the State that was published in the 1920s by German anarcho-syndicalists. It basically blames football for distracting the workers from political organizing. Things were never that clear-cut, though. One of the pioneers of soccer in the United States was a Dutch-born IWW activist by the name of Nicolaas Steelink. And during the Spanish Revolution, soccer games were regularly arranged by anarchists in Barcelona.

Today, soccer might still be eyed sceptically in some anarchist circles, but overall I think the reception has changed. Particularly in North America, soccer has become really popular among anarchists. I guess it is mainly the internationalism that is appealing. We must not forget that conservative U.S. talk show hosts like Glenn Beck still blasted soccer as un-American during the 2010 Men’s World Cup. Also in Europe and Latin America, increasing numbers of closet anarchist football fans have come out into the open. The FC St. Pauli phenomenon certainly had a huge impact. Since a bunch of squatting punks and anarchists took over the St. Pauli stands in the mid-1990s it has become significantly easier for anarchists worldwide to relate positively to the game. I welcome this development, of course. Football plays a huge role in communities across the world, and it’s important that anarchist voices have a presence.

    •    Where did the perception of football as twenty-two cretins chasing a lump of leather come from? Was it always thus? How did it become the preserve of the working class?

Since football has always been popular with the masses, it has always had to endure the ridicule of the cultural elite. This is true for every pop cultural phenomenon. There also exists an intellectual arrogance, often expressed in the form of a general disdain for physical exercise and play. Needless to say, such attitudes are rather silly. We must not let them bother us. Who cares what self-appointed cultural and intellectual elites think? The reason why football is so popular with the working class is probably simple.

Football is a straightforward game that doesn’t require much equipment. It can practically be played anywhere and under all circumstances. This also gives it a distinctively democratic character. For more than a hundred years, football has been one of the few social fields in which class differences haven’t necessarily translated into a disadvantage for the poor and underprivileged. The development of a football player is far less dependent on economic resources than the development of, say, a tennis player or a golfer. Nor does a lack of formal education give you less authority in discussing the line-up and the tactics of, say, the English national team. It is largely these aspects that give football its unrivalled global role as the people’s game.

    •    How did capitalism take over football…was it inevitable?

Perhaps it was inevitable in the sense that capitalism is taking over everything that promises profit. However, capitalism has never been completely distinguished from football. If we look at the origins of many of the leading clubs in the late nineteenth century, they were already exploited by companies and factory owners, at least for prestige. So the ever increasing commercialization we have witnessed in the twentieth century was not the result of an outside force but of an intrinsic logic, if you will.

Over the last twenty years, the commercialization has taken on a particular momentum. Football has turned into a spectacle that people could have hardly foreseen when World Cup Willie was sold as the first official World Cup mascot in England in 1966. Champions Leagues, a 32-team Men’s World Cup roster, multi-billion dollar TV contracts, celebrity players, and a ruthless merchandise industry that doesn’t even stop short of selling corporate-sponsored jerseys to the average football supporter are all expressions of this. Hardly any of it can be encouraging for a radical football fan.

For me, the response has to be two-fold. Within the professional game, we have to campaign against the exploitation of both spectators and players—and I’m not talking about the obscenely rich top 0.5% of professional players, but about the tens of thousands of football professionals who live under precarious conditions, particularly migrant players from Africa. Within the world of football in general, it is important to support grassroots initiatives that do not only promise all the fun in a politically sound and non-commercial environment but also create opportunities for effective community organizing and everyday political activism.

    •    Can you give examples?

I think you find one of the best in the UK with the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls Sports Club hailing from Bristol. The Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls have managed to form local alliances that many political organizations can only dream of and to establish worldwide connections that translate directly into international solidarity work. There is an excellent article about the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls included in Soccer vs. the State, written by Roger Wilson—I really encourage everyone to read it!

    •    Why did football become so macho . . . was it always so?

Especially in the UK, women’s football became really popular during World War I. In 1920, the best women’s team at the time, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, played their main rivals, St. Helen’s Ladies, at a legendary game at Liverpool’s Goodison Park in front of a crowd of 53,000. Soon after, the English FA officially banned women’s football. Many other national FA’s followed suit. A great number of these bans weren’t lifted before the 1970s. This halted the development of the women’s game for fifty years and effectively turned football into a men’s only affair. These bans marked perhaps the single most scandalous chapter of football history and reflected the deeply rooted patriarchal structures that have haunted the game from its beginnings. Luckily, things have changed in the last twenty years—slowly but steadily. There remains a lot to be done, though, both in strengthening the women’s game and in erasing sexist attitudes from the men’s game. In terms of heteronormativity, the struggle has only just begun. It will be a long but terribly important fight to rid football of homophobia!

    •    Where have the changes come from?

Social movements have been a big factor, as always. Groups that had long been excluded from football started demanding their place: women, people of color, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, and others. Another factor is that forms of oppression have become more flexible. Traditionally excluded social groups are increasingly wooed as consumers. The trend to turn football stadiums into shopping malls reflects this. It is a development that does have certain progressive dimensions as it allows a number of people to feel comfortable in a space that didn’t feel very welcoming before. However, these forms of increased inclusion are offset by new forms of exclusion, mainly economic ones. What we really need is social change apart from corporate interest.

    •    Are there any major ‘left-wing’ teams today?

The way professional football works today, I don’t think you can be major and left-wing at the same time. There are some big clubs—the FC Barcelona probably being the most prominent example—that stand for values such as independence, social awareness, and participatory democracy. However, the money and the power involved, the demands of success, the unsettling notions of loyalty and rivalry—none of this sits well with what I see as the core values of left-wing politics, namely justice and solidarity. But this doesn’t make the progressive elements less valuable, nor does it mean that anarchists can’t enjoy football on the highest level. The challenge is to bolster the left-wing dimensions that exist and to oppose those that reflect and perpetuate an unjust political and economic system.

    •    How can we as anarchists develop football?

On the professional level, we can campaign for more democracy within the football associations, for more supporter influence, for a more inclusive environment, for less corporate control, for players’ unions, and for a just division of resources, including equitable salaries. On the grassroots level, we can strengthen the communal aspect of the game, keep the competitiveness at bay, and meet all players with respect. At the risk of sounding moralistic, I also believe that notions of fair play are important: so-called tactical fouls, diving, trash talking, etc. have no place in radical football, no matter the level.

    •    Which team do you support? How do you justify it?

I guess I’m in the lucky position that the Nick Hornby model of never-ending devotion to your childhood team doesn’t apply to me. There really isn’t any particular team I support; it’s more of a game-to-game decision. This also means that I’m fairly flexible with my justifications. As for many people, rooting for the underdog is a common choice. Other choices are supporting a team that represents a community I sympathize with or that has players, managers, or fans I like. The only irrational obsessions I keep concern teams I have always disliked: Bayern Munich and the German national team. I seem to have a hard time getting over that.

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Sensation on Boing Boing

Sensation: Acerbic Novel about Pop Culture and Popular Madness as Functions of Parasitic Manipulation

By Cory Doctrow
Boing Boing
May 30th, 2011

Nick Mamatas's novel Sensation is the story of Julia Hernandez, a mild Brooklyn semi-hipster who is stung by a mutant wasp and colonized by its parasitic eggs, who warp her neurochemistry to turn her into a catalyst for chaotic destruction. Hernandez leaves her husband, Raymond, at gunpoint, and proceeds to assassinate a gentrifying real-estate baron. This turns her into a Brooklyn folk-hero, as blogging hipsters from the midwest found a kind of situationist political movement with no name (you discuss it by ironically waggling your hand back and forth).

The wasps who have taken over Julia have an ancient enemy: a race of spiders who are normally a prey animal for the wasps (the wasps lay their eggs in the spiders, who are then compelled to spin a kind of nursery for the larvae, who eat the spiders on the way out). These spiders are an ancient, collective intelligence, and they use their power to spin facsimile humans ("men of indeterminate ethnicity") who form a spy network that oversees the human race and invisibly fights off the wasps' influence, in an ancient battle that has been waged for the whole history of our three species.

Sensation is told from the spiders' collective point of view, as they attempt rescue Julia from the wasps' clutches and stash her in the Simulacrum, a network of places, retailers, and lifestyles that don't ever mesh with the real world. It recounts Raymond's fraught relationship with the movement and its non-founders who refuse to plan, or take on any sort of authority structure.

Mamatas is a powerfully acerbic writer, both in fiction and online. His acid wit is infamous, and it is on splendid display in Sensation, which is alive with scornful insight about pop culture, the net, and politics. Sensation is a kind of bastard love-child of GG Allin and Kurt Vonnegut, a science fiction story that is funny but always discomfiting. I recommend it highly.

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For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target

May 28th, 2011
New York Times
by Colin Moynihan and Scott Shane

AUSTIN, Tex. — A fat sheaf of F.B.I. reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Mr. Crow, 44, a self-described anarchist and veteran organizer of anticorporate demonstrations, is among dozens of political activists across the country known to have come under scrutiny from the F.B.I.’s increased counterterrorism operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly.

But Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a recycling center, is one of several Austin activists who asked the F.B.I. for their files, citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing the rubric “Domestic Terrorism,” provide a revealing window on the efforts of the bureau, backed by other federal, state and local police agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.

In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a dozen times during demonstrations but has never been convicted of anything more serious than trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive array of tools, the documents show.

The agents watched from their cars for hours at a time—Mr. Crow recalls one regular as “a fat guy in an S.U.V. with the engine running and the air-conditioning on” —and watched gatherings at a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock coverage, they attached a video camera to the phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue.

They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls and e-mails and combed through his trash, identifying his bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have been served with subpoenas. They visited gun stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly in one document that a vegan animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.)

They asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine his tax returns, but backed off after an I.R.S. employee suggested that Mr. Crow’s modest earnings would not impress a jury even if his returns were flawed. (He earns $32,000 a year at Ecology Action of Texas, he said.)

They infiltrated political meetings with undercover police officers and informers. Mr. Crow counts five supposed fellow activists who were reporting to the F.B.I.

Mr. Crow seems alternately astonished, angered and flattered by the government’s attention. “I’ve had times of intense paranoia,” he said, especially when he discovered that some trusted allies were actually spies.

“But first, it makes me laugh,” he said. “It’s just a big farce that the government’s created such paper tigers. Al Qaeda and real terrorists are hard to find. We’re easy to find. It’s outrageous that they would spend so much money surveilling civil activists, and anarchists in particular, and equating our actions with Al Qaeda.”

The investigation of political activists is an old story for the F.B.I., most infamously in the Cointel program, which scrutinized and sometimes harassed civil rights and antiwar advocates from the 1950s to the 1970s. Such activities were reined in after they were exposed by the Senate’s Church Committee, and F.B.I. surveillance has been governed by an evolving set of guidelines set by attorneys general since 1976.

But the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 demonstrated the lethal danger of domestic terrorism, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, the F.B.I. vowed never again to overlook terrorists hiding in plain sight. The Qaeda sleeper cells many Americans feared, though, turned out to be rare or nonexistent.

The result, said Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent now at the American Civil Liberties Union, has been a zeal to investigate political activists who pose no realistic threat of terrorism.

“You have a bunch of guys and women all over the country sent out to find terrorism. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of terrorism in many communities,” Mr. German said. “So they end up pursuing people who are critical of the government.”

Complaints from the A.C.L.U. prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to assess the F.B.I.’s forays into domestic surveillance. The resulting report last September absolved the bureau of investigating dissenters based purely on their expression of political views. But the inspector general also found skimpy justification for some investigations, uncertainty about whether any federal crime was even plausible in others and a mislabeling of nonviolent civil disobedience as “terrorism.”

Asked about the surveillance of Mr. Crow, an F.B.I. spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss an individual case. But he said that investigations are conducted only after the bureau receives information about possible crimes.

“We do not open investigations based on individuals who exercise the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment,” Mr. Bresson said. “In fact, the Department of Justice and the bureau’s own guidelines for conducting domestic operations strictly forbid such actions.”

It is not hard to understand why Mr. Crow attracted the bureau’s attention. He has deliberately confronted skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members at their gatherings, relishing the resulting scuffles. He claims to have forced corporate executives to move with noisy nighttime protests.

He says he took particular pleasure in a 2003 demonstration for Greenpeace in which activists stormed the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Irving, Tex., to protest its environmental record. Dressed in tiger outfits, protesters carried banners to the roof of the company’s offices, while others wearing business suits arrived in chauffeured Jaguars, forcing frustrated police officers to sort real executives from faux ones.

“It was super fun,” said Mr. Crow, one of the suits, who escaped while thirty-six other protesters were arrested. “They had ignored us and ignored us. But that one got their attention.”

It got the attention of the F.B.I. as well, evidently, leading to the three-year investigation that focused specifically on Mr. Crow. The surveillance documents show that he also turned up in several other investigations of activism in Texas and beyond, from 2001 to at least 2008.

For an aficionado of civil disobedience, Mr. Crow comes across as more amiable than combative. He dropped out of college, toured with an electronic-rock band and ran a successful Dallas antiques business while dabbling in animal rights advocacy. In 2001, captivated by the philosophy of anarchism, he sold his share of the business and decided to become a full-time activist.

Since then, he has led a half-dozen groups and run an annual training camp for protesters. (The camps invariably attracted police infiltrators who were often not hard to spot. “We had a rule,” he said. “If you were burly, you didn’t belong.”) He also helped to found Common Ground Relief, a network of nonprofit organizations created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th century. But Mr. Crow, whose e-mail address contains the phrase “quixotic dreaming,” describes anarchism as a kind of locally oriented self-help movement, a variety of “social libertarianism.”

“I don’t like the state,” he said. “I don’t want to overthrow it, but I want to create alternatives to it.”

This kind of talk appears to have baffled some of the agents assigned to watch him, whose reports to F.B.I. bosses occasionally seem petulant. One agent calls “nonviolent direct action,” a phrase in activists’ materials, “an oxymoron.” Another agent comments, oddly, on Mr. Crow and his wife, Ann Harkness, who have been together for twenty-four years, writing that “outwardly they did not appear to look right for each other.” At a training session, “most attendees dressed like hippies.”

Such comments stand out amid detailed accounts of the banal: mail in the recycling bin included “a number of catalogs from retail outlets such as Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn.”

Mr. Crow said he hoped the airing of such F.B.I. busywork might deter further efforts to keep watch over him. The last documents he has seen mentioning him date from 2008. But the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure any investigations that are still open.

“I still occasionally see people sitting in cars across the street,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve given up.”

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Riding the Avalanche

By Ursula K. Le Guin
Northwest Booksellers Association
May 18th, 2011

Just a couple of years ago I wrote that I thought the next big step in publishing would be print-on-demand. My prophecy failure rate continues to be perfect. We’re going direct to e-publication. And we’re going there very fast, in great disorder, riding an electronic avalanche.

I thought p.o.d. would dominate, because e-reading devices didn’t seem to be making much headway. Some people do use p.o.d., some are willing to read on their computers, some even practice palm-reading with Blackberries and such, but the leap over p.o.d must be largely due to the fact that usable e-readers are at last being widely produced. Now they need to be improved in quality and to come way down in price.

I don’t think print on paper will vanish any more than the pencil vanished when we started typing. The physical document is irreplaceably useful and durable. To think electronic storage can replace it is mere techno-hubris. But it looks as if, within a few years, most popular and ephemeral works, maybe most books of all kinds, will be published electronically and not on paper.

My personal reactions to this prospect:

As a reader, anything longer than a letter or a poem is tiresome for me to read on the screen. I read fast, carelessly, superficially on the screen, and don’t enjoy it. I don’t know why. I’ve composed on the computer for years now; I can edit on it fine; I can write on it for pleasure. Why can’t I read on it for pleasure?

For one thing, I like to read lying down.

Maybe if I had a nice, light reader that didn’t have multiple functions for every button, didn’t do a damn thing but show me clear text on two facing full-sized pages, I’d soon be able to lie down with it and “sink into” it as I do into print on paper. We are an adaptable species, and habit changes everything.
But at this point, I’ll read what I can on paper, and make do with text on screen only if I have to.

As a professional writer making my living from my work, I’m a bit spooked. Once they saw faster profit in e-books than in print, big corporation-owned publishers started making grabs for e-rights, such as claiming that a book contract that didn’t explicitly mention rights for which the technology didn’t yet exist gave them, retrospectively, to the publisher. Now the contractual terms, advances, and royalties for e-books are all being worked out ad hoc and in a rush. At the moment, royalties, from the author point of view, look very good. But nobody seems entirely clear about how it will work. Publishers, agents, authors, we’re all riding the avalanche.

As for copyright, I am very worried. At this point the Web crawls with pirates offering copyrighted work for sale as e-publications, usually in badly degraded form; threatening them with copyright violation is just playing Whack-a-Mole, and nobody’s even trying to invoke the law on them.  The Copyright Office has a huge job just keeping up with paper publication, and no clout in Congress. We saw Google’s success in shortcircuiting copyright  (by getting some libraries to provide them copyrighted books to copy, by treating “orphaned” books as if they were books out of copyright, by claiming to release only “snippets,” a term even less definable than “fair use” is, and so on.)  Judge Chin’s ruling against the Google Settlement does not, I fear, keep Google from leading the pirate fleet. Does copyright law end where the Web begins? Who will enforce it? Or what will replace it, enabling writers to live by their work?

As an author sharing responsibility for the state of my art, I fear control of availability (and of course content) by the corporations. Amazon’s offering only Amazon-owned books for their Kindle reader was an example. Books are not commodities, and readers are not consumers, but the corporations, cultureless, with no ethical guidelines, nothing but their own profit growth in view, will treat them as such so long as they are allowed to. A public kept in ignorance isn’t likely to even notice.

I welcome e-publication, so long as it works like an immense new-and-used bookstore network including bookstores selling both paper and e-books—and so long as it is fully and freely hooked up with the public libraries. The almost total failure of our schools to teach literature is causing a disastrous break in cultural continuity; many young people have read nothing written before 1990 or even 2000. E-publication offers vast availability and accessibility to older texts via our libraries.

Finally, as a very old author, I’m glad to see some of my longtime commercial publishers riding out the avalanche—battered, yes, but so far so good. And I rejoice in linking up when I can with smaller publishing houses on the West Coast, paper or electronic or both—about as far away from the corporations as you can get, these days. It’s like buying local produce. A bit gritty around the roots, maybe, but it tastes like it used to.

Le Guin credits her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, for his ideas and suggestions for this essay. “Anyone my age needs a native informant from the computer generation,” she says. Le Guin’s latest book, The Wild Girls, is available in paperback from the small independent publisher PM Press. The book packages Nebula winner The Wild Girls, newly revised and presented in book form for the first time, with Le Guin’s scorching Harper’s essay, “Staying Awake While We Read.”

Le Guin needs no introduction here. She has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, three collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award (in 1986 for Always Coming Home and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001) and many others. Her recent publications include a volume of poetry, Incredible Good Fortune, the novel Lavinia, and an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl. She lives in Portland.  

 

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