Amy L. Howard
In the popular imagination, public housing tenants are considered, at best, victims of intractable poverty and, at worst, criminals. More Than Shelter makes clear that such limited perspectives do not capture the rich reality of tenants’ active engagement in shaping public housing into communities. By looking closely at three public housing projects in San Francisco, Amy L. Howard brings to light the dramatic measures tenants have taken to create—and sustain and strengthen—communities that mattered to them.
More Than Shelter opens with the tumultuous institutional history of the San Francisco Housing Authority, from its inception during the New Deal era, through its repeated leadership failures, to its attempts to boost its credibility in the 1990s. Howard then turns to Valencia Gardens in the Mission District; built in 1943, the project became a perpetually contested and embattled space. Within that space, tenants came together in what Howard calls affective activism—activism focused on intentional relationships and community building that served to fortify residents in the face of shared challenges. Such activism also fueled cross-sector coalition building at Ping Yuen in Chinatown, bringing tenants and organizations together to advocate for and improve public housing. The account of their experience breaks new ground in highlighting the diversity of public housing in more ways than one. The experience of North Beach Place in turn raises questions about the politics of development and redevelopment. In this case, Howard examines activism across generations—first by African Americans seeking to desegregate public housing, then by cross-racial and cross-ethnic tenant groups mobilizing to maintain public housing in the shadow of gentrification.
Taken together, the stories Howard tells challenge assumptions about public housing and its tenants—and make way for a broader, more productive and inclusive vision of the public housing program in the United States.
Laura Browder and Sascha Pflaeging
While women are officially barred from combat in the American armed services, in the current war, where there are no front lines, the ban on combat is virtually meaningless. More than in any previous conflict in our history, American women are engaging with the enemy, suffering injuries, and even sacrificing their lives in the line of duty.
When Janey Comes Marching Home juxtaposes forty-eight photographs by Sascha Pflaeging with oral histories collected by Laura Browder to provide a dramatic portrait of women at war. Women from all five branches of the military share their stories here--stories that are by turns moving, comic, thought-provoking, and profound. Seeing their faces in stunning color photographic portraits and reading what they have to say about loss, comradeship, conflict, and hard choices will change the ways we think about women and war.
Serving in a combat zone is an all-encompassing experience that is transformative, life-defining, and difficult to leave behind. By coming face-to-face with women veterans, we who are outside that world can begin to get a sense of how the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shaped their lives and how their stories may ripple out and influence the experiences of all American women.
The book accompanies a photography exhibit of the same name opening May 1, 2010, at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, and continuing to travel around the country through 2011.
Susan Stern and Laura Browder
Drugs. Sex. Revolutionary violence. From its first pages, Susan Stern's memoir With the Weathermen provides a candid, first-hand look at the radical politics and the social and cultural environment of the New Left during the late 1960s.
The Weathermen--a U.S.-based, revolutionary splinter group of Students for a Democratic Society--advocated the overthrow of the government and capitalism, and toward that end, carried out a campaign of bombings, jailbreaks, and riots throughout the United States. In With the Weathermen Stern traces her involvement with this group, and her transformation from a shy, married graduate student into a go-go dancing, street-fighting "macho mama." In vivid and emotional language, she describes the attractions and difficulties of joining a collective radical group and in maintaining a position within it.
Stern's memoir offers a rich description of the raw and rough social dynamics of this community, from its strict demands to "smash monogamy," to its sometimes enforced orgies, and to the demeaning character assassination that was led by the group's top members. She provides a distinctly personal and female perspective on the destructive social functionality and frequently contradictory attitudes toward gender roles and women's rights within the New Left.
Laura Browder's masterful introduction situates Stern's memoir in its historical context, examines the circumstances of its writing and publication, and describes the book's somewhat controversial reception by the public and critics alike.
The gun-toting woman holds enormous symbolic significance in American culture. For over two centuries, women who pick up guns have disrupted the popular association of guns and masculinity, spurring debates about women's capabilities for violence as well as their capacity for full citizenship. In Her Best Shot, Laura Browder examines the relationship between women and guns and the ways in which the figure of the armed woman has served as a lightning rod for cultural issues.
Utilizing autobiographies, advertising, journalism, novels, and political tracts, among other sources, Browder traces appearances of the armed woman across a chronological spectrum from the American Revolution to the present and an ideological spectrum ranging from the Black Panthers to right-wing militias. Among the colorful characters presented here are Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the American Revolution; Pauline Cushman, who posed as a Confederate to spy for Union forces during the Civil War; Wild West sure-shot Annie Oakley; African explorer Osa Johnson; 1930s gangsters Ma Barker and Bonnie Parker; and Patty Hearst, the hostage-turned-revolutionary-turned-victim. With her entertaining and provocative analysis, Browder demonstrates that armed women both challenge and reinforce the easy equation that links guns, manhood, and American identity.
Bertram D. Ashe
The book explores the written representation of African-American oral storytelling from Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison to James Alan McPherson, Toni Cade Bambara and John Edgar Wideman. At its core, the book compares the relationship of the "frame tale" - an inside-the-text storyteller telling a tale to an inside-the-text listener - with the relationship between the outside-the-text writer and reader. The progression is from Chesnutt's 1899 frame texts, in which the black spoken voice is contained by a white narrator/listener, to Bambara's sixties-era example of a "frameless" spoken voice text, to Wideman's neo-frame text of the late 20th century.
In the 1920s, black janitor Sylvester Long reinvented himself as Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, and Elizabeth Stern, the native-born daughter of a German Lutheran and a Welsh Baptist, authored the immigrant's narrative I Am a Woman--and a Jew; in the 1990s, Asa Carter, George Wallace's former speechwriter, produced the fake Cherokee autobiography, The Education of Little Tree. While striking, these examples of what Laura Browder calls ethnic impersonator autobiographies are by no means singular. Over the past 150 years, a number of American authors have left behind unwanted identities by writing themselves into new ethnicities.
Significantly, notes Browder, these ersatz autobiographies have tended to appear at flashpoints in American history: in the decades before the Civil War, when immigration laws and laws regarding Native Americans were changing in the 1920s, and during the civil rights era, for example. Examining the creation and reception of such works from the 1830s through the 1990s--against a background ranging from the abolition movement and Wild West shows to more recent controversies surrounding blackface performance and jazz music--Browder uncovers their surprising influence in shaping American notions of identity.