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An Interview with Norman Nawrocki about His New Album, CAZZAROLA!

By Norman Nawrocki
Les Pages Noires
Montreal, September 2013

1. What kind of music is on CAZZAROLA!, the album?

It ranges from traditional Italian folk – kind of world beat, but updated – to contemporary Italian-themed compositions of my own that are folkloric, ambient, electroacoustic and somewhat ‘indie.’ The songs are arranged chronologically following the story in the book (CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Anarchy: A Novel), spanning 130 years of Italian history from 1880 to today. There are waltzes, folk dances, love ballads, prisoner songs, a marching band, and different kinds of soundscapes, from a 1920 auto factory and 1920s street noise, to Rome street music today. You will hear traditional Italian instruments on some songs: large tambourine hand drums, hurdy gurdy, bagpipes, bass mandolin, etc., and sampled/looped beat creations on others. Thirty tracks total.

2. Can you give some examples of the songs?

The album opens with a traditional, lone, Italian shepherd bagpipe piece, followed by a waltz by one of my bands which includes a harp and steel drums. There is an acapella love song by a friend I recorded recently in a 15th century Italian abbey, then a 1894 theatrical soundscape we assembled in Montreal. There are well known Italian singalong favorites like ‘Bella Ciao,’ in Italian and English – one a solo folksinger; the other, full band; a 1960s jazz duo; a Romanian Roma refugee accordionist playing on the streets of Rome; a Rome ‘noise’ band, a 1950s swing song with another band of mine, and more. One-third of the songs are in Italian; one-third in English; the rest, instrumentals.

3. Are these adaptations or new compositions?

Both. The album is a mix of interpretations of older Italian songs dating to the 1880s, newer ones, and original compositions by myself and friends. Some sound like they were recorded in 1910, others are clearly contemporary.

4. Why did you make CAZZAROLA! the album?

I’m a writer but I'm also a musician, so I wanted a musical soundtrack for my new novel – CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy (PM Press, Oakland, 2013). I imagined an album with period songs and soundscapes reflecting, based on, and inspired by the book. A reader could listen to the album before, during or after they read the book. Or potential readers might hear the album first, then be curious about the book.
The album is very much an invitation to read the book. It offers another entry point into the novel, and complements the story with real period sounds and songs. It also stands on its own as a audio document: a brief musical survey of Italy from the last 130 years that covers historical events in song. It allows a listener to travel in time through music.

5. How did you choose the tracks for the CD?

I wanted the music to cover the same period in the book, from 1880 to today, so I consulted ethnomusicologists I know, Italian musician friends and others for suggestions. I also did a lot of research, online and in person, through interviews and scouring the Montreal library’s Italian music collection. In the end I chose some traditional period songs, composed new ones, and asked for contributions from Italian friends. I visited Italy twice this year to do field recordings and meet and work with local musicians. This resulted in a few amazing collaborations.

6. Where did you record CAZZAROLA!?

Everywhere! I recorded at home, in a Montreal studio, and in different regions of Italy, in cities in studios and on the street, in villages and mountain meadows. Collaborators recorded in their own studios here and abroad and sent me pieces.

7. How did you meet and work with your collaborators?

I met Italian musicians during previous book and album tours of Italy, and more recently online. They invited me to return to Italy to work directly with them. I met other musicians there and invited them to contribute to the album. Otherwise, I asked local friends and bandmates to play on it.

8. How many artists besides yourself are on the album?

Two incredible bands (DisCanto and Obsolescenza Programmata ) plus two separate singer/songwriters from Italy. One band is folkloric from Abruzzo, the other, an underground ‘noise’ band from Rome.
There are three of my bands from Montreal (Crocodile, DaZoque! and SANN), and an assortment of other local and Italian musicians.

9. You have 30 tracks on this album?

Yes, running from 30 seconds to 6 minutes long. They range from full band instrumentals to single folk singers with guitar, a few spoken word pieces set in soundscapes, including recited extracts from the novel.

10. Who co-produced the album?

David Sturton, a renowned Montreal sound engineer/friend with unlimited talent and a track record of working wonders with everyone’s music, from Jean LeLoup to Bran Van 3000 among others. He also engineered two of my earlier albums, with one of my bands, DaZoque!, and my solo cd, Duck Work.

11. What was your last album?

“Letters from Poland/Lettres de la pologne” (Les Pages Noires, 2008), a bilingual collection of letters set to music from my short story collection, The Anarchist & The Devil Do Cabaret’ (Black Rose Books, 2003).

12. What are your current music projects?

I have a new band, Crocodile, from Montreal. A bar owner once said we sounded like The Ex from Holland. We will record a first album later in 2013. I am also working towards another cd based on the Quebec student strike of 2012, setting my poems to music. I continue to perform many solo violin shows, sampled and looped, with and without spoken word.

13. Other stories about making CAZZAROLA!, the album?

In Italy, we drove through the mountains of Abruzzo one day looking for a shepherd with his flock. We found one, and with the permission of the shepherd and his 7 sheep dogs, I walked through the herd recording them live. Musician friends in Italy introduced me to other musicians, colleagues at work for example, and I invited them to play on the album and recorded them after work the same day. One night, I discovered a marching band in a mountain village and recorded them and fireworks on the spot. In another village, I recorded the sounds from a metal sculpture dedicated to emigrants, and gave the recording to some friends and asked if they could compose a piece based on them. I was incredibly fortunate to meet generous, creative, talented musicians all over Italy. I am deeply grateful to them for their contributions.

14. Is it true that you actually sing on this album?

Ha! I am not a singer, everyone knows this, and I would never pretend to call myself one, but for the first time since I started recording albums, in 1986 – and that’s 24 albums and about 35 compilations – I actually do sing a few songs, sort of. Mostly I do the vocals and play violin, some keyboards, accordion and a wee bit of percussion.

15. Will the Italian song lyrics be translated and included with the CD?

They will be translated very soon and available online from my website.

THE ALBUM, “CAZZAROLA!by Norman Nawrocki & amici,”
OCT 24 – DEC 3RD, 2013, or online from Les Pages Noires
or from his publisher, PM PRESS:

Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page

Maroon the Implacable: A Review in Solidarity

By Steve Bloom
July/August 2013

RUSSELL MAROON SHOATZ is not a household name. Even within the milieu of those who are engaged in work to free the many political prisoners in the United States there are some who have not heard about his case — though a new political campaign that was launched in early 2013 is actively changing that reality as these lines are written. Go to to find out more.
In brief: Shoatz is a political prisoner, a former Black Panther and revolutionary activist from Philadelphia. He has been behind bars continuously since 1972 — except for two brief periods in which he escaped, thus earning the nickname “Maroon.” More than 30 of his years in prison have been served in solitary confinement. That he has been able to remain so much in touch with what is happening in the world, to discourse intelligently on popular culture and political events, is testimony to an individual with an intense intellect and profound perseverance.

This book is a collection of essays, composed mostly for the education of fellow prisoners. It is written, therefore, in a popular style that’s easy to read. But it is also filled with deep and profound insights. That is a rare combination.

Most of the material — except for one essay written explicitly for the book — previously existed only in the form of scattered small pamphlets or manuscripts (in the literal sense of being hand-written) in the files of family and friends. The editors, for the sake of completeness, have included everything that was available to them.

Different essays will, therefore, have different weight or interest for different readers. But even a piece like “Respect Our Mothers, Stop Hating Women” (2010), with conclusions that might seem obvious to those who went through discussions in both activist and academic circles in the wake of the feminist rebirth during the 1970s, takes on a qualitatively different meaning if we understand the context of macho culture that predominates in a prison where men are incarcerated.

Masculinism was also a prominent feature of the Black revolutionary milieu that Maroon himself comes from. This piece thus represents a significant personal testament by a human being who successfully challenged both himself and the culture which surrounds him.

Resistance and Deep Critique

The subject matter of these essays ranges from the fraud perpetrated by the U.S. prison system, in the name of “law and order,” to the theory of revolutionary organization. It includes, in particular, a deep critique by an active participant of the Black liberation movement as it developed in the 1960s and ’70s.

Shoatz’s assessment is particularly striking in light of the wave of nostalgia which has emerged in recent years for the Black Panthers and similar formations. Maroon does not fail to salute the important advances in consciousness that were made during this period and embodied in such organizations. But he undertakes a serious critical balance sheet that considers their weaknesses and flaws as well.

He is critical, for example, of the Panthers for their top-down organizational style that restricted the possibility of initiatives at the local level. Also, while asserting that attention to the development of armed struggle was an obvious necessity during this time, he expresses the view that “Panthers ‘shooting it out’ with more heavily armed police from fixed positions was downright ludicrous! Even if they survived, it still left them in jail or hospitalized, causing everybody else to have to drop important work to bail them out or raise money for their legal defense.” He also talks about ways in which the Panthers in Oakland, under Huey Newton’s leadership, essentially became corrupt and abandoned their original vision, while the East Coast wing was too weak and inexperienced to forge a genuine alternative.

One key historical insight is contained in Maroon’s essay titled “The Real Resistance to Slavery in North America” (2005).

The focus is not on the conventional challenges to slavery that we all know about — the northern bourgeoisie whose hesitant opposition was embodied in the Republican Party, or the hard-core abolitionists who were far more resolute than the Republican Party (John Brown, the underground railroad, the abolitionist press, etc.), or even the Black slaves and ex-slaves who took more decisive action and whose contributions have come down to us as part of the established history (even if a lesser-known part of that history) such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Nat Turner.

Instead this essay focuses on an element most readers will be aware of only dimly, if at all — the maroon communities created primarily by escaped slaves but also including native peoples who refused to adapt to a white settler-colonial society, along with disaffected whites who dropped out.

Creating an independent, self-sufficient culture within the context of territories considered by others to be unsuitable for human habitation — such as the Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina — these maroon communities successfully battled for decades against all attempts to wipe them out, providing first a refuge for escaping slaves and then a fighting force that was among the decisive elements that led to a Northern victory in the Civil War.

One important distinction made in the book is between what Shoatz calls “treaty maroons,” who first won their own independence but then attempted to institutionalize what they had won in collaboration with their former oppressors — often agreeing to sell out the interests of other slaves or native peoples in the process — and those he labels “fighting maroons,” who never compromised or gave up the struggle for a genuine independence.

Based on this assessment, Shoatz offers an interesting challenge to conventional revolutionary Marxist thinking in his essay “The Dragon and the Hydra: A Historical Study of Organizational Methods” (2006).

Here, too, he focuses on the resistance of maroon communities in North America and the Caribbean, considering in particular how those who refused to subordinate themselves to any centralized authority were able to survive and continue to struggle for decades as “fighting maroons,” whereas those which attempted to establish more conventional forms of political or state structures were consistently beheaded, or co-opted, or disarmed by the imperial authorities — or else transformed into new kinds of repressive instruments as in Haiti.

Shoatz’s conclusion is that the proper organizational model for genuine revolutionary struggle should be the multi-headed “hydra,” rather than the centralized “dragon” — an idea which constitutes a particular challenge for those, such as the author of this review, who have lived our lives and consistently built organizations based on one or another version of the “Leninist” paradigm.

In grappling with this question we do have to acknowledge Shoatz’s insights. Yet there is something that he does not consider in this chapter: the fact that even if the decentralized maroon struggles were able to survive on their own terms for decades, continuing a genuine battle for independence, they were not able to stop the global advance of the imperial project which, today, threatens the destruction of our planet.

Something else needs to be factored into the equation, therefore, if we are going to actually disarm and dismantle the machinery of patriarchal white supremacy and imperial conquest. I have personally begun a correspondence with Maroon on this all-important question. From our exchange so far it becomes clear to me again (as was already obvious from the book itself) that Shoatz is an honest and creative revolutionary who will think about and consider every serious question that is raised with him, even (especially) those which challenge his own previous modes of thought. I am hopeful, therefore, that our exchange will lead to some further development of a collective synthesis. I’ll keep readers of ATC informed if I can as our conversation develops further.

The Question of “Matriarchy”

The concept of “patriarchy,” just mentioned, leads us to another theme that is central to the book. Shoatz is straightforward about the influence on his thinking that others have had over the years. One of the individuals named most prominently is Fred Ho, also an editor of this volume, whose proposal to embrace “matriarchy” as an alternative to patriarchy and “manifest destiny Marxism” Shoatz openly embraces.

It is not quite clear from the book itself just what is meant by the term “matriarchy.” But it is obvious that for both Ho and Shoatz this represents something more than “feminism,” or even “radical feminism” — which still suggests an equality of women with men in the context of our present-day industrial culture. The concept of “matriarchy” being embraced here is tied in with a vision of “ecosocialism” which would constitute a sharp break from our present-day industrial culture.

Shoatz calls directly for the development of a “subsistence economy” — a term used not in the sense that most will probably instinctively understand it, an economy which produces a bare minimum necessary for survival and nothing by way of a social surplus, but in the sense used by writers like Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva from whom Shoatz quotes extensively: an economy where local production for local use begins to replace a reliance on industrial production in general, and on globalized industrial production in particular.

Given the ecological challenges posed by 21st century technology this is an idea that at least deserves a serious conversation within the revolutionary movement today.
 Finally, a list of those individuals to whom Shoatz expresses his deep gratitude would not be complete without a mention of Stan Goff, another whose writings are quoted extensively in the book.

Appendices include a “Manifesto for Scientific Soul Sessions” (SSS is a group founded several years ago by Fred Ho and others), also available at, and a statement by a relatively new organization called “Ecosocialist Horizons,” which was created initially by members of SSS but has begun to establish a fairly broad national and international network. [Fred Ho’s article on the revolutionary content of jazz music appeared in ATC 159 and is online at For more information on Ecosocialist Horizons, go to]

The book also includes a foreword by rap artist Chuck D. (who characterizes Shoatz as “one of the most brilliant thinkers on the subject of Black liberation, as well as freedom, justice, and social transformation for all who want a planet free of abuse, oppression, and exploitation toward humans and Earth itself”), an introduction by Quincy Saul, one of the editors, and a “prelude” by Fred Ho.

If you are interested in a book which will challenge you in creative and intelligent ways, read this one.

Buy Maroon the Implacable now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Matt Meyer's Author Page now
Return to Quincy Saul's page

In Letters of Blood and Fire in The New Yorker

The New Yorker
July 5th 2013

What We're Reading: Summer Edition Volume II

Summer reading plans and aspirations from the New Yorker staff. This second installment follows part one.

...George Caffentzis has been writing as part of what is sometimes called the “anti-capitalist” movement for roughly thirty years. In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism is the best available collection of his work. Rooted in Marxist fundamentals, Caffentzis examines how capital has turned forces like “information technology” into newer and more efficient modes of labor exploitation. His tone is less stringent than that of some academics (thought this isn’t a book for anyone scared of theory), and he pokes around into more historical badger holes than other writers in his cohort (the Turing machine pops up).

Calm but furious and meticulously researched, this collection is required reading for anyone other than the Koch Brothers.

—Sasha Frere-Jones

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

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here reviewed on Jadaliyya

By Asmaa Abdallah
June 23rd, 2013

Beau Beausoleil and Deema Shehabi, editors. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5, 2007 Bombing of Baghdad's "Street of Booksellers."

You can bomb a bookstore or ban a book,
but it will not die
You cannot kill a poem like you can a man.
Al-Mutanabbi Street will rise again.
(Sam Hamill, To Salah al-Hamdani, November 2008)

At the heart of a new anthology is the idea that the written word is invincible. The sentiment may not be altogether new, but that does not mean it has been exhausted. Far from it, as shown in the new collection, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Poets and Writers Respond to the March 5, 2007, Bombing of Baghdad’s “Street of the Booksellers,” edited by Beau Beausoleil, poet and owner of the Great Overland Book Company, along with Palestinian-American poet and editor Deema Shehabi. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here features a diversity of voices unified in their commitment to a shared project of literary activism, a shared assertion that books—and literature and knowledge—must triumph in the face of blind ignorance and fundamentalism.

To appreciate this anthology’s value, we need to remind ourselves of a disturbing fact: there is nothing inherently liberatory about literary culture. In the service of state power, literature has often been little more than a tool of propaganda. Not so long ago, writers and intellectuals from across the Arab world were conscripted—and duly rewarded—for singing the praises of the Iraqi regime, hailing Saddam Hussein as a hero. Saddam himself was heavily interested in the power of literature, penning numerous novels during his time as ruler. Nor should we forget the annual Mirbid Poetry Festival, where poets and critics, including major figures of the Arab literary left, were awarded the dubious “Saddam Hussein Medal for the Arts.” In this way, the official celebration of literature in Iraq rested on a system where writers and journalists were commissioned to produce novels, poems, and films about the dictator’s life story, the bravery of Iraqi soldiers, and more.

But alongside the official literary culture of Baathist Iraq, there were other literary cultures, some independent, some dissident, some radical. And this is one of the central meanings of Mutanabbi Street as an actual place. For besides being the greatest book market in the entire Arab world, Mutanabbi Street was (and is) a place for independent readers, poets, critics and activists to meet and argue. Its existence was proof of Iraq’s lively public sphere in spite of the wars, the sanctions, and the occupation.

The history of Mutanabbi Street shows how fragile the public sphere can be. Indeed, the bloody attack on the space was, in so many ways, an attack on the very proposition that Iraqis deserve a public forum, a place where people can meet to debate ideas. And thus, we arrive at the enduring necessity for the motivating force behind this collection: if writers believe that literature can play a liberatory role they must not only assert and reassert that proposition in words, they must sustain it by actions as well. Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here comes from precisely this understanding, it is a book of deeds as much as of words. Here is a group of writers engaged in a political cause, responding to an event that has touched them deeply and, in some cases, personally. Some of the contributors had a direct relationship with the famed cultural street, and so their pieces either tell a personal account of their experience with the street or are dedicated to one of its victims. The others that have never been to Baghdad are able to relate to Al-Mutanabbi Street nonetheless. They do so by drawing parallels between the attack on Al-Mutanabbi Street and other acts of violence targeting places that may stand for culture, freedom of expression or exchange of ideas.

The variety in the choice of the anthology’s contributors is also telling. By including voices from countries outside the Middle East, the anthology not only becomes richer and more diverse, but it also communicates accurately the sense of solidarity over a cause that is able to pull in people from different backgrounds, and reiterates the main theme of the project, namely that Al-Mutanabbi Street is in places other than Baghdad. It is in every place where people can pick up a book and read, exchange ideas or learn. It is in the black market of books in Pansodan, Burma and even in Alexandria’s Al-Nabi Danial Street, which was ransacked last year by the Egyptian authorities but has also risen again just like Al-Mutanabbi Street.

The same diversity in the contributors’ backgrounds means that the fight is closer to home for some writers than others. While it is easier for those writing from the comfort of a context where there are less life-threatening constraints on freedom of expression, this is not the case for others living under oppressive regimes, and risking their very lives to simply write what they feel or think. Nonetheless, both types of contributors come together in this anthology to join forces in speaking out against a common enemy for all. Knowing that there are others around the world – who have no direct gain – are sharing the concern and making their voices heard is a meaningful and much needed token of solidarity with the cultural community in Iraq.
The anthology is divided into three sections: The River Turned Black with Ink, Knowledge is Light, and Gathering the Silences, all titles that refer to the importance of writing and books.

The project itself, much like the stories told within the anthology, bear testimony to how much value is attached to books and artistic culture. This global project has transformed the geographical location of Al-Mutanabbi Street, even for those who have never been there or heard of it, into a metaphor for freedom of expression. It has been able to unite voices from across the universe, to show people that even though violence is loud, literature has means of confronting it. As a counterpoint to arms, the anthology offers the arts.

The street in question is named after the famous tenth century Iraqi poet, and so it seems fit for Sinan Antoon to address Al-Mutanabbi in his contribution “Letter to Al-Mutanabbi.” In the poem, Antoon complains to the famed poet that people have yet to find a future world where they do not devour one another. Although Antoon is admittedly not very optimistic, his awareness of the power of words almost trumps his pessimism when he says that he dreams to “weave an ocean out of ink / for our myths / and out of words a sail / or a shroud / vast enough for us all.”

In “The River Turned Black with Ink,” Iraqi filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi recounts her trip back to Baghdad in 2004 after a long absence. Her visit to Al-Mutanabbi Street to shoot her documentary reveals the importance the street held in the hearts and lives of Baghdad’s population, describing books as “food of life” for Iraqis and saying that Al-Mutanabbi Street was where they went for nourishment. Three years later, when the bombing took place, she is comforted by the idea that Iraqi history follows a plotline of classical Arabic poetry where “the opening lines … are a lament over ruins. Once the lament is over, however, the poem gets on with the rest of its work.”

San Francisco-based author Lewis Buzbee tells the story of how Al-Mutanabbi Street gradually evolved from a place where travelling booksellers often passed to Baghdad’s cultural hub. In “Crossroads,” Buzbee describes what had happened the day of the bombing, “the sky rained pages and the ashes of pages. Fragments of words fell quietly to the earth…. The market had a black hole in it, where the booksellers had been; the city had a black hole, the world had a black hole.” But Buzbee is quick to note that despite the great loss, the legacy of the street and of the books themselves was far too great to be overcome by the bombers. Booksellers came back to the street and so did readers, “and the readers came to believe that their reading might be the only way to heal the black hole in the world’s heart.”

Some of the entries do not refer to the victims of Al-Mutanabbi Street alone, but also hail lesser-known soldiers of culture and knowledge in the bereaved country as heroes and heroines. For example, ‘Hearing of Alia Mohamed Baker’s Stroke’ by Philip Metres tells of a brave Basra librarian who saves the contents of a library – more than thirty thousand books – by sneaking them out in her car bit by bit, against the threat of being discovered by the occupation forces. Another poem “311 and Counting” by Lamees al-Ethari introduces the reader to some of the Iraqi academics who disappeared or were killed since the US invasion of Iraq. The official count is at 311, but she believes the real number to be even greater. In her three short stanzas numbered with the number of the victims, who remain nameless, she provides a brief description of what they did for the field of knowledge and what happened to them:

No. 313
A desk piled with last week’s essays.
19th century British Poetry.
Dark rimmed glasses silently folded
Kidnapped and still missing.

The anthology is only one installment of the larger project Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. While most were rendered speechless and stood helpless by the scale of destruction, the loss of life, and the elusiveness of the enemy of the street of culture, and of freedom of expression and exchange of ideas in general, Beau Beausoleil spearheaded the effort Al-Mutanabbi Starts Here. It started with a project of 130 letterpress broadsides by 130 individual printers, which ultimately made their way into the collection of the Iraqi National Library and Archives in April 2013. In another attempt to bring the broadsides to the region, an exhibition will be held at the American University in Cairo in Spring 2014. The broadsides contain artwork and/or short prose or poems that somehow respond to the attack. The project members simultaneously worked on a parallel product for the project: an anthology containing the responses of scores of poets and writers to the same bombing of 2007. Even years after Al-Mutanabbi Street has officially been reopened, and after the broadside project and the anthology have been completed, the indefatigable project members continue to muster support and ideas to keep the memory of Al-Mutanabbi Street legacy alive. In a new attempt to honor Al-Mutanabbi Street and its victims, the project has a launched a call for book artists, whereby 260 artists would create three books over the course of one year as “an inventory of Al-Mutanabbi street.”

Of course this artistic project, large and far-reaching as it is, has not stopped the bombings and killings in Iraq: over 700 people lost their lives there last April, making it the deadliest month over the last five years.The contributors, whether publishers, writers or book artists, have all expressed their unequivocal support and solidarity with the Iraqi community. Their words and images are powerful, moving and have gone from one place to the next to be heard and seen, and although they cannot stop the bullets and bombs, they can do a lot more, according to contributor Fred Norman whose bio describes him as hoping “that he might someday write the words that will make the human beast humane.” Norman dedicates his entry to the famed Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika who died a few months after the bombing in 2007. His poem contains a clear reference to her important status as the first Arab poet to use free verse. It laments that destruction, bids Malaika to come back to Baghdad, which she left for Egypt, and laments the status of female writers in Iraq after extremism gained a stronghold in the aftermath of the US-led invasion. But it also reveals his belief that she can, through her poetry, “teach al-Mutanabbi’s cruel destroyer to play the oud, to love both night and day, both sun and moonlight, peace, to love a woman’s world.”

Until the destroyer of Al-Mutanabbi learns to play the oud, and to love peace and a woman’s world, writers and intellectuals from across the world will continue to unite and make themselves heard in every way possible. As Beausoleil says about the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project, “What is happening in Iraq hasn’t stopped, and so this shouldn’t either.”

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Beau Beausoleil's Author Page

Fire and Flames reviewed in Counterpunch

By Ron Jacobs
Weekend Edition July 5-7, 2013

Inside the Street Movements

Spontis, Squats and West Germany

My latest novel is situated in Frankfurt am Main in what was then West Germany (or the Bundesrepublik Deutschland for you German speakers).  The time period is 1971-1972 and two of the main protagonists live in a squatted building across from the US military’s Post Exchange.  This squat really existed.  In fact, there were several squatted buildings in Frankfurt, especially in the part of the city known as the Westend.  The squats served as living spaces and community meeting places.  By 1973, they would become the site of some of the fiercest street battles ever seen in postwar Frankfurt.  The battles took place because the police had been instructed to take the buildings back by the banks that owned them and the politicians that served those banks.

I mention this because I just finished reading a testament of the movement that grew up in the wake of the early 1970s squatting movement, the demise of the German New Left, and the rise of the West German terror groups like the Red Armee Fraktion.  This testament, written by a participant in this movement who goes by the name Geronimo, is titled Fire and Flames. 

Originally published in Germany in 1990, it was translated from the original German in 2012 and published by the left/anarcho press PM Press out of Oakland, CA.  The book is a brief survey of the numerous left and anarchist movements that characterized extraparliamentary West German politics in the 1970s until the end of East Germany in 1989. 

The squats, the red cell groups, the antinuclear movement, the Spontis, the Red Armee Fraktion and the alternative movement are presented and briefly discussed.  In addition to relating stories of actions and events, Geronimo also discusses the politics of the different groups from what can best be termed a libertarian left perspective.

Unlike in the United States, the left libertarian and anarchist groups in Europe tend to have a clear understanding of how capitalism works.  Instead of identifying as anti-capitalist without the theory to back that position up, the groups discussed in Fire and Flames (who would become known as Autonomen) usually professed their anti-capitalism in clear Marxist terms. 

The areas where the Autonomen differed the most with Marxist organization, whether they were small and cadre-oriented like the Rote Zellen and the Rote Zora, or larger party organization bearing the term Kommunistische somewhere in their name, was in how they organized.  In short, the Autonomen were against leaders and against cooperation with the authorities.  They expressed their politics through protest, lifestyle and attitude.  Naturally, this frustrated those with more long term goals.

Fire and Flames is introduced by George Katsiaficas, author of The Global Imagination of 1968 and several other books examining various protest movements around the globe, including his look at the European squatters’ movement of the 1980s.  The choice of Katsiaificas is an intelligent one.  His approach to modern social movements extends well beyond a traditional Marxist-Leninist or anarchist understanding.  The phenomenon he calls the “eros effect” is similar to what Immanuel Wallerstein calls “antisystemic movements.”  While incorporating a Marxian analysis of capitalism and its history and its mechanics, both reject the approach to systemic change experienced in previous modern revolutions.  In other words, for these men the vanguardist model is dead.  Meanwhile, both consider the changes in consciousness and culture brought on by the events of 1968 (and in Wallerstein’s thesis, 1848 as well) to be intrinsically revolutionary in a perhaps even greater sense than the bourgeois revolutions of the late 18th century and the Leninist ones of the 20th.

One of the most intense protests I ever attended was in spring of 1973.  A German-American friend of mine had introduced me to a squatted set of apartments in the Westend of Frankfurt am Main.  The main attraction for me was a small Gasthaus and meeting room on the ground floor of one of the buildings. I would occasionally visit the place to listen to music, drink beer, smoke hash and maybe talk to a German girl. That spring there was an impending sense that a showdown with the authorities was coming. The speculators who had purchased the buildings were tired of letting squatters live in them. They wanted to tear them down to build much more profitable office buildings. The Social Democratic city council was ready to cave and the Polizei were ready to kick ass. I convinced myself that I was ready for whatever happened and took the streetcar to a stop near the protest that April weekend. The fight was already underway when I got off the tram. I lasted perhaps four hours and left when a couple hundred more cops arrived.

This protest was an early part of the movement described by Geronimo.  From the squats to protests against nuclear power; from struggles against prison terror to rallies against abortion laws and more.  This quick catalog of the West German street movements of 1968-1989 suffers from only one thing: its brevity.  Thanks to PM Press for introducing it to the English speaking audience.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at:

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All Power to the Councils!: A Review

By Matthew S. Adams
Anarchist Studies
Volume 2 Number 1
pp. 110-112

The motif of the guns falling silent is a popular one in studies of the First World War. The idea of an unreal calm makes the absurdity of the foregoing years starker, and marks the start of a period of uneasy mourning in Europe, complete with a patched-up peace that left many of the pressing political issues unresolved, and created many fresh ones. The tragedy of the experience of war is therefore mirrored by a deeper historical tragedy. In spite of the carnage, these unanswered questions and makeshift solutions set the scene for an even more sanguinary conflict to come, and gave fascism political purchase in the tumultuous 1930s.

Gabriel Kuhn’s documentary collection All Power to the Councils! unintentionally complicates both of these interpretations, by exploring a period of European radical history that is often ignored. For one, the idea that the guns fell silent in 1918 overlooks the fact that many of the regional conflicts sparked by the First World War continued well beyond the Armistice. The Russian Civil War for instance, emerging directly from the political and economic instability intensified by the war, rumbled on into the 1920s. And secondly, as the Russian example suggests, the road to fascism in Europe was by no means a predestined one, as a number of political traditions vied for supremacy in the social dislocation that characterised the post-war continent.

This is particularly apparent in the German case, and a revolution that started in
October 1918, as the war was reaching its denouement in Flanders.

As Kuhn notes at the outset of his collection, the history of the failed German
Revolution is partly of interest in a ‘What would have happened if?’ sense (p.xi).
How, for instance, would the history of Europe have been different if industrialised Germany had emerged as a socialist ally of Russia? While raising these questions in his introduction, Kuhn admits that All Power to the Councils! is not an exercise in ‘what if’ history, but suggests that understanding the history of the German Revolution might help ‘strategizing for the future’ (p.xi). With the manuscript completed against the backdrop of the ‘Arab Spring’, he notes a fitting historical resonance: ‘It was ... apparent that many of the Arab revolutionaries faced questions that were essentially the same that German revolutionaries ... faced almost a hundred years earlier – or, for that matter ... all revolutionaries throughout history’ (p.xiv).

Instead of a straightforward history, or a polemical analysis of the Revolution,
however, Kuhn’s book offers an overview of events in Germany through its primary
documents, many of which appear in English for the first time. A central theme of All Power to the Councils! is that a number of revolutionary groups with a variety of political commitments defined the German Revolution, a fact that the historiographical focus on Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacus League has tended to obscure. While prominent, and enduringly influential given Luxemburg’s modest criticism of Bolshevik high-handedness, Kuhn emphasises in his introduction that both anarchists and the Revolutionary Stewards movement played an important role in the Revolution, and are in need of rescuing from historical obscurity.

This is reflected in the subtly subversive structure of the book, stressing as it does
the efforts of these traditionally sidelined political actors, but also the geographically
contingent nature of events in 1918 and 1919. The seven substantive chapters therefore focus on key political documents by region, starting with the mutiny of sailors in October 1918 in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel that is seen as the spark of the Revolution, before shifting to Berlin where the actions of Revolutionary Stewards and Spartacists were especially important. These chapters are followed by a document from the workers’ and soldiers’ council that assumed power in the state of Brunswick in November 1918, and proclamations from, and reflections on, the council in Bremen, where syndicalism was strong. The fifth, lengthy section, which will be of particular interest to readers of Anarchist Studies, focuses on events in Bavaria. Although a traditionally conservative state, Munich was, as Kuhn notes, home to ‘both radical workers and bohemian artists’, while Bavaria more broadly was a ‘center of federalist sentiments’ (p.169). This synthesis also meant that it was home to an important anarchist faction, with both Erich Mühsam and Gustav Landauer active in the state.

The documents collated in this section are varied. They include a rich collection of letters from Landauer, that give both a personal and political reflection on events at the end of 1918, and a more formal pamphlet from Landauer’s pen, translated here for the first time. There is also a reflection by Mühsam on the Revolution, written during his imprisonment in Ansbach in 1920, and addressed to Lenin, with the hope of influencing his policy during the Russian Civil War then in progress. Finally, two appendices collect documents from the Red Ruhr Armya, spurred into action fighting the Kapp Putsch in 1920, and the memoirs of the ‘Robin Hood-like’ Max Hoelz, leader of a band of communist rebels in the Vogtland (p.279).

Through judicious footnoting and brief contextual overviews at the beginning of
each section, All Power to the Councils! deftly conveys the complex, and often overlapping political allegiances that characterised post-war radicalism in Germany. That Landauer and Mühsam are the subject of particular attention shows that this book is a companion volume to Kuhn’s other two edited collections published by PM Press, Revolution and Other Writings comprising selections from Landauer’s work, and Liberating Society from the State and Other Writings formed from Mühsam’s texts.

Nevertheless, the book stands alone. Its stress on the multiple strands of political
dissent that defined the radical terrain in Germany is an important challenge to the
dominant historical treatments, and it makes an important contribution by making
the words of those involved in the Revolution, whatever their stripe, available in
English for the first time.

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Anarchist Pedagogies Reviewed in The Anarchist Journal

By Petar Jandric
Anarchist Studies
Volume 2 Number 1
pp. 106-108

Anarchist education is an unusual battlefield. Most social struggles have clearly defined sides – for and against this or that policy, ideology or practice – but anarchist education is often positioned in and against highly hierarchical and authoritative traditional educational systems. It is therefore hardly a surprise that Robert H.
Haworth, editor of this important and timely volume, kicks off the introduction by describing his frustration as an anarchist working in the heart of academia. Although most anarchists do not feel ‘sell-outs’ because of their engagement within superstructures, many of us have at least sometimes felt exactly that. Written predominantly by past and present academics, most chapters directly or indirectly explore the positions of anarchists within the traditional educational systems. This focus dominates the whole book, and is reflected notably in chapters such as ‘Inside, Outside and on the Edge of the Academy: Experiments in Radical Pedagogies’, ‘Anarchy in the Academy: Staying True to Anarchism as an Academic-Activist’ and ‘Against the Grain of the Status Quo: Anarchism behind Enemy Lines’.

The book is conveniently divided into three sections. According to the editor, the
first section ‘Anarchism & Education: Learning from Historical Experimentations’
is inspired by Judith Suissa’s recent assertion that the relationship between anarchism
and education has been ‘undertheorized’. Modest in size (contains only four out of seventeen chapters), it provides some food for thought about Suissa’s assertion. The first section appropriately starts with Justin Mueller’s insight into general concepts
such as anarchism, values of anarchist education, human nature and the relationships between the State and the classroom. In the best tradition of Proudhon and
Goldman, David Gabbard re-examines the question of compulsory schooling. Based
on the historical practices of Work People’s Colleges, Saku Pinta draws important conclusions for contemporary working-class education. Finally, Joseph Todd
reconceptualises nowadays extremely relevant ideas developed by Ivan Illich such as
learning webs and deschooling.

The second section, ‘Anarchist Pedagogies in the “Here and Now”’, is much
more extensive. It starts with Matthew Weinstein’s excellent study of street medics
organised to support protesters. Isabelle Fremeaux and John Jordan provide a critical
overview of ‘probably the only anarchist school left in Spain: Paideia’. Jeffery Shantz presents two contributions: a study of the Anarchist Free Space and Free Skool in Toronto, and ‘attempts by anarchist workers to restore, revive and maintain spaces of learning and infrastructures of resistance’. Sara C. Motta describes the systematisation of the praxis of the Nottingham Free School. Elsa Noterman and Andre Pusey
look into various experimental educational projects in Leeds. Finally, Caroline K.
Kaltefleiter and Anthony J. Nocella II analyse the oxymoronic position of anarchist
academics and develop very useful principles that could be followed ‘in pursuit of
staying true to being an activist in and out of the academy’.

The third section, ‘Philosophical Perspectives and Theoretical Frameworks’, kicks off with Alex Khasnabish’s inspiring analysis of Zapatismo as radicalised imagination which opens political possibilities through critical engagement in liberatory pedagogies. Lucy Nicholas explores the relationships between anarchism, poststructuralism and queer theory. Building on Joe Kincheloe’s postformal psychology, Curry Stephenson Malott investigates opportunities for postformal, anarcho-feminist critical pedagogy. Nathan Jun explores philosophy and pedagogy as practices of liberation, with the particular accent on the role of anarchists as academics and intellectuals. Alejandro de Acosta offers a poetic yet very serious insight into our pedagogical practices and their relationships to activism, organising and movements. Finally, Abraham P. DeLeon challenges the status quo and concludes the book with an attempt to build radical pedagogies in the context of
dominant power relationships.

In his short but powerful afterword, ‘Let the Riots Begin', Allan Antliff recognises the importance of academic anarchism. However, he warns that the marriage between anarchism and academia should not result in the domestication of anarchist activism into the dominant academic discourse. Antliff appropriately stresses that the goal of anarchist education is much deeper than mere critique of the present state of affairs, and insists that it should aim directly at social transformation. In this way he reminds readers about the importance of keeping the radical edge, and links diverse educational praxis presented in the book with the very foundations of anarchist thought.

In the best anarchist tradition, the book supports more than one way of articulating thoughts about anarchist pedagogies. In the beginning of each section Alejandro de Acosta kicks off the discussion with short dialogues, which offer warm, friendly and poetic reflections about the key presented topics. The dialogues send the clear message that this collection of essays is not conceived as the one and only scientific truth or an academic Babylon. Instead, they present an invitation to a dialogue across sections and chapters, between the book and its readers, between its readers and their surroundings, and between science and arts. On this basis, de Acosta’s dialogues serve as powerful reminders of the fact that the discourse of science is not and should not be the only way of approaching the world around us.

This book has been written predominantly by past and present academics. It is therefore hardly a surprise that more than a few contributors refer to important radical or critical figures that are usually not directly linked to anarchism, such as Paulo Freire and A.S. Neill. This consequence of the authors’ academic background offers plenty of opportunity for broadening horizons, and should be warmly welcomed. Furthermore, most chapters are written to a high academic standard and achieve adequate levels of balance between breadth and depth. However, some practical studies would benefit from deeper theoretical underpinning and/or situating their conclusions in wider contexts, while one or two chapters could almost be categorised as opinion papers. Such variety, which can be put down to the traditional openness of anarchist discourse, makes the volume somewhat unusual in the typical academic context, but enriches it with various voices and perspectives. In my humble opinion, this trade-off between academic vigour and anarchist inclusiveness is fully appropriate and does the book more good than harm.

All in all, Haworth’s Anarchist Pedagogies is a more than welcome addition to the undertheorised field of anarchist education. The book clearly displays the richness of anarchist educational thought, and builds decent foundations for future research.

The presented studies and theories are more than academic exercises in anarchist
education: they present true survival kits for anarchists who work in and against
the traditional educational systems. We can just hope that the editor and authors of
Anarchist Pedagogies will continue their valuable work in the field.

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Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change in In These Times

The former Dempsey Steel Property in Youngstown, Ohio—the city where Alperovitz and Lynd once worked together to keep a threatened steel mill open. (Ohio Office of Redevelopment / Flickr / Creative Commons)

By David Moberg
In These Times
June 12th, 2013

New Visions from the New Left

Gar Alperovitz and Staughton Lynd have blueprints for an ‘America beyond capitalism.’

Both Staughton Lynd and Gar Alperovitz imagine that their new America would evolve through a painstaking process in which the virtues of democratic socialism would be prefigured.

From their inception, most New Left movements of the Sixties offered a radically democratic vision of America’s future—critical not only of capitalism, then in its supposed golden age, but also of much about the Old Left, “real existing socialism,” and Cold War liberalism.

As both scholars and activists, Staughton Lynd and Gar Alperovitz were two leading proponents of that democratic critique and of a decentralized alternative directly controlled by citizens and workers. They collaborated at times, each writing half of a 1973 manifesto on strategies for a new American socialism, and in 1977 helping steelworkers in Youngstown, Ohio, try to keep open a threatened steel mill through community ownership.

In two new books that draw on lifetimes of experience, Lynd and Alperovitz present refined statements of strategic visions rooted in their earlier work for a much-changed present-day America. Both still believe that democracy can only thrive in a less centralized system that Lynd terms “libertarian socialism” and Alperovitz calls “a Pluralist Commonwealth.” Government would play an expanded role, but people would exercise more direct power at work and in their communities, thus checking potential abuses of bureaucracies and the state.

Both men imagine that their new America would evolve through a painstaking process in which the virtues of democratic socialism would be prefigured. People could experience proto-socialist alternatives within a capitalist society, much as free cities, guilds and commercial agriculture provided glimpses of capitalism within European feudalism.

As even their 1973 book illustrates, however, each has focused over the decades on slightly different aspects of transforming American capitalism.

Alperovitz has written extensively on policies and institutions for an “America beyond capitalism.” In his new book, What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution (Chelsea Green), he argues that worker and community ownership is increasingly relevant as systemic failures of capitalism promise continued economic pain for most Americans. Traditional liberalism, focused on regulating capitalism, no longer provides solutions and is losing its political base as the labor movement shrinks, he writes.

With an economy working only for the rich, Alperovitz says that now, even more than in the ’60s, communities and workers need democratic control over wealth to provide a sustainable, just economy. After many years of expansion and experience, he argues, an increasingly sophisticated “New Economy Movement” has produced a “checkerboard” pattern of innovations in group ownership of wealth, including cooperatives, land trusts, worker- or community-owned enterprises, employee stock ownership plans, municipal utilities, financial institutions (including some pension funds, credit unions, and a state bank), and municipal investments in land and businesses. Eventually, this new economy could include a single-payer health system, and nationalized banks and corporations, as many Left analysts have proposed during the Great Recession for the failures of the banking, health care and auto industries.

As this new cooperative economy grows, Alperovitz thinks two things will happen. Many more participants will gain confidence that an alternative to capitalism can work. And as their experiences lead them to challenge reigning notions of individualism, property and wealth, they will become the base of a new political movement for economic democracy.

But will capitalists tolerate democratized ownership if it goes beyond filling marginal economic niches? Can the movement for this new egalitarian and cooperative economy flourish without gaining control of the economy’s “Commanding Heights,” such as the financial markets?

To counter the ways that the larger political and economic environment may undermine its goals, Alperovitz writes that the movement for democratic wealth needs to link local enterprises together to share knowledge, initiate new projects and gain customers and support through local governments and institutions like universities, as Cleveland’s worker-owned businesses have done. But even isolated democratic ownership projects can be worthwhile and compatible with other progressive strategies, as unions such as the Steelworkers have realized.

Lynd, a historian punished in the late ’60s by academia for his early leadership in the civil rights and anti-war movements, retooled as a lawyer and moved to Youngstown, where he and his wife, Alice, used their legal, organizing and writing skills on behalf of workers and then prisoners, as jails replaced factories in the area.

More than Alperovitz, Lynd emphasizes how workers and citizens can gain experiences of solidarity and power that also prefigure libertarian socialism through democratic movements that challenge dominant economic institutions, often through direct actions like strikes and occupations. But for Lynd the internal organization of movements and the human relationships they create are as critical in building a new society as their professed goals.

In Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change (PM), Lynd argues that the Left should stop organizing as unions, community groups and civil rights organizations have done in the past—sending outsiders into communities to pull people together on behalf of a project, then move on. Instead, he recommends a model of “accompanying,” in which an individual spends an extended time with a community and commits to “equality, listening, seeking consensus and exemplary action.”

Lynd first learned about the idea of “accompanying” from the writings of slain El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. But he realized that Alice had followed a similar path in her ‘60s-era counseling of draft resisters. Unlike religious or political missionaries bringing the true religion, an individual “accompanying” others treats them as equal collaborators and fellow “experts,” learning from them while sharing his own views honestly.

As they challenge entrenched institutions, Lynd says, people need to experience the direct democratic exercise of power, such as through the rank-and-file oriented “Solidarity Unionism” that he contrasts with typical union hierarchies. “There’s a question of power, changing the nature of capitalism,” Lynd tells In These Times. “Gar and I have very similar goals, a participative society. But I am much more concerned than he appears to be with the taking of power, and by that I don’t mean taking over the state as much as challenging basic capitalist institutions that hold this society together.”

While Lynd still sees a role for labor unions, especially with more democratic control and worker initiative (like the UFCW’s OUR Walmart campaign), neither he nor Alperovitz devotes much attention to conventional, electoral politics. But democratizing power and wealth on a large scale will require major changes in government, and a large-scale political effort may require additional strategies (such as, Lynd writes, going beyond consensus decision-making in small groups to representative democracy). Lynd advocates a mass labor or socialist party, but he gives higher priority to building movements that can pressure politicians, as the Left, he says, has failed to do with Obama. “Obama is a liberal, a good human being,” he said in our interview, “and we have failed him.”

Lynd’s and Alperovitz’s strategic visions differ, but they complement each other. Together they offer an important component of the answer to what a new New Left must do. A spirit of democracy and egalitarianism animates both visions, but neither fully imagines how the Left might gain and use state power or how to change the national or global economic rules to support their decentralized future.

Yet progressives would do well to incorporate their deep moral vision, whatever the scale of action. “Our most urgent priority is not to give someone else the authority to act on our behalf [or] the responsibility to remake the world,” Lynd writes. “No, we need to remake the world ourselves, right now, from below and to the Left.”

As “the sum of my best wisdom and counsel as an elder,” he proposes that “100,000 young radicals spread evenly across the United States”  beyond the hipdoms of major metropolitan areas to live in the country’s many Youngstowns, accompanying their neighbors on a journey to a new America. “Then see what happens in 25 years.”

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at

More information about David Moberg

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Snitch World Reviewed in Counterpunch

by Ben Terrall
Weekend Edition July 5-7, 2013

A Warped Valentine From a Vanishing San Francisco:

Life and Death in Snitch World

When you read crime novelist Jim Nisbet, don’t expect plot-driven mysteries involving square jawed detectives or damsels in distress (or the time-tested, and by now tiresome, hookers with hearts of gold). But unless you’re wedded to predictability, don’t complain about the dearth of traditional genre tropes, as that would be like criticizing Flann O’Brien for not following the model laid out by Charles Dickens. Instead prepare yourself for a world of hurt where good guys not only don’t win but often don’t even enter the picture. It’s a universe where, as crime writer James Ellroy described film noir narratives, “You are fucked!”

Nisbet, author of such sublime novels of all-embracing evil as Dark Companion and the stag-geringly dark Lethal Injection, is not well known outside genre circles in the U.S. but has been writing for more than four decades, publishing twelve novels which have earned him a considerable following in France. Aside from French, his novels have been translated into German, Japanese, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Greek, Russian, and Romanian.

Nisbet’s just published (by the adventurous Green Arcade, an imprint from PM Press) Snitch World is a warped valentine to an all too quickly disappearing San Francisco where working class stiffs share stories of longshore union actions and class-consciousness dominates everyday life. Nisbet infuses this book with contrasts between the old school, bumbling street hustler Klinger, denizen of the deliriously lowlife Tenderloin dive the Hawse Hole, and the hi-tech smooth operator Marci, obsessed with getting rich quick from the development of bizarre new aps for portable gadgets.

Klinger can barely get from one day to another, living with no fixed address or phone on robberies and small time cons, while Marci resides in lavish digs and is seemingly unable to unplug herself from her state of the art phone that keeps her on the internet 24/7 (not that such mental illness is all that uncommon these days). The intersection of the worlds these characters inhabit is the meat of this novel.

Nisbet’s writing is both meticulous and anarchic, and given his mastery of English it’s no surprise that his published output includes five volumes of poetry. He is an incredibly erudite prose powerhouse who seems to know something about every-thing. He loves to fly off on tangents that take the reader in unexpected directions.

In Snitch World, a cabbie makes mathematical calculations of how many SUVs it would take to pave the planet and Klinger tells a stranger leaning out a window about the lack of water pressure that resulted in San Francisco burning down after the 1906 earthquake (“The hell you talking about?” responds the citizen).

More accessible than some of his other work, Snitch World is a fun, twisted book, and if as widely read as it should be, will further solidify Nisbet’s reputation as a writer’s writer.

Ben Terrall is a Bay Area journalist. He can be reached at:

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Drawn to New York reviewed in The New York Journal of Books

by Mark Squirek
New York Journal of Books
July 2013

“. . . a story of home, life, people and ideas that you will return to often.”

Working in a variety of formats from watercolor to ink to paint, collage and pencils, Peter Kuper creates a deep, brilliant, beautiful, and colorful history of his time in New York City. The stories ring with humor, insight and tragedy.

On one page he speaks of both the abandoned and the well-off while on the next page addresses a dancing and a street fair. The wide variety of the city is perfectly captured on every page.

As an artist and writer Mr. Kuper’s ability to shift shapes and perspective, often within the same story, is amazing. His work can bring you to a sudden stop of self-awareness and then leave you laughing your bottom off. Anchoring this look at NYC is the way he moves so effortlessly between watercolors to pencils or collage and then into a comic-style short story.

His approach to his art is as varied as the people and buildings he writes and draws.

Adapting Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal into the modern era he illustrates the century’s old essay on society’s inability to care for it’s young in inks that hold deep and threatening shadows. The style resembles aged woodcut drawings.

In one two-page story he access multiple ideas and multiple styles making each part of the equation as relevant and modern as it originally was in Swift’s day. 
This isn’t the only time that he is able to utilize seemingly conflicting ideas or styles and bring them into a wonderfully coherent whole. Using simple, inked lines Mr. Kuper shows us the upper third of a man who stands equal to the towering rooftops around him.

The shortness of the lines gives the impression that both he and his environment are almost made of wicker. His head clearly sits apart from the buildings around him while at the same time his body seems to be part of those very buildings.

The combination subtly reminds us that the city, as much brick mortar and cement as anything else, is also built of the people who live there. To the right of the body, in an area where the heart would normally sit, is an open window. The blind is raised to reveal a man sitting with his hands under his chin. Like the wicker man, there is a duality to this image.

The appearance of the man in the window suggests that he looking out over the city in front of him. There is also the idea that he is staring straight out at the reader as if you are on display as much as he is.

There is a yellow light behind him. This is the only color beside the darkness of the lines. It seems to silhouette the loneliness that exists while surrounded by eight million other people.

In another piece the motif of incorporating buildings and human beings into one appears with a different point of reference.

This time the perspective pulls back from the island of Manhattan. We see the skyline and a couple of bridges on the right.

At the very top of the buildings are block-type humans. They each bear straight, square jaws while wearing much smaller buildings or chimneys as hats. One smokes a cigar as he reaches down toward a bridge. The others are obviously having fun as they rearrange the skyline below them.

These are the giants of industry, the leaders of the city at work. The drawing also illustrates Mr. Kuper's skills as the colorist of his own work. The orange of the sky both frames and magnifies the fiery hubris the giants below them as the calm blue of the water that surrounds the port anchors the scene. It is as if the blue of heaven has switched with the pits of hell.

In the previously mentioned narrative "Off the Beaten Path" he creates shadows and uses darkness in such a way that you begin to feel as intoxicated as the folks in the story.

There is brilliance in the way he uses silence to tell many of his stories. In “One Dollar” he brings us the life of a single piece of currency. We watch that single bill moving from birth at the paper mill to its final resting place in a sewer. Without a word passing over the course of eight pages we see more of the city than you can possibly imagine.

In “Stars and Stripes,” possibly the most heartbreaking piece in the book, he begins with the image a plane approaching the twin towers. In brilliant red he shows the after effect of the explosion.

Across four exact panels in a line and seven lines total, he travels from the towers to the eye of a person half way across the world cradling a dead child. Inside his eye the original image of the towers appears. The final panel duplicates the exact same one that started the story.

The circular aspect of the story reminds us that no matter what we want to believe, the war at the root of the story is an age old one that will come back around again. The implication is also that we may a lot more responsible for what happened than we care to admit. A heretical idea to some, but one that needs to be acknowledged and addressed just the same.

The great artists entertain us and they amaze us with their gifted and studied skills, but they also challenge us and make us think. Mr. Kuper has given us biography, history, life, art, and just such a challenge inside this stunning thank you to the city that he calls home.

Don’t mistake this for a coffee table art book. It is a story of home, life, people and ideas that you will return to often.

Mark Squirek has written for Comic Book Marketplace, Comics and Games Weekly, Hogan’s Alley, and other magazines, including book reviews for the weekly email newsletter Scoop. He has also published several short stories in the pulp fiction genre for Pro-Se Press. In 2006 Broadway World named him Playwright of the Year for his one-act play, SOD.

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