Tag Archives: Books

  • Before the Country: The Native Renaissance and Our Search for a National Mythology

    With the recent reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, we asked author Stephanie McKenzie to share how her book is still resonating with scholars interested in the study of the Native Renaissance in Canada.


    I’m not sure how others might understand what I hope is the continued significance of Before the Country, a study of the literary, political, and social context of the Native Renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s and non-Indigenous mythologizing that followed on the heels of this movement. I hope my monograph has increased interest in this body of literature.

    The study is still very relevant to me and has spurred on further scholarship. Building on theories surrounding the study of oral literatures, I have now immersed myself in a consideration of the aesthetic markers in written literatures that grow out of oral traditions. This focus was at the heart of Before the Country when I turned to the theories of Milman Parry and Albert Lord to help make sense of writing produced by mature Indigenous voices during this Native Renaissance.

    There was little-to-no criticism during the time I was writing to help understand why the poetry of Chief Dan George, to offer one noteworthy example, carried such distinct markings of an aesthetic that was fresh in Canadian poetry when post-modernism was beginning to take hold. Recently, I have turned to Parry and Lord’s fieldwork in former Yugoslavia where they studied the gusle and guslar traditions and tried to define the formulaic characteristics of oral literatures. Living in Serbia for three months in 2017, I took gusle lessons and also produced my fourth book of poetry, Bow’s Haunt: The Gusle’s Lessons. I thought that, perhaps, pragmatic study of this instrument and immersion in a culture might grow my theoretical insights.

    I am belabouring an explanation of my own scholarly growth to highlight how Before the Country is still relevant to me and how I hope its assertions might still be examined by others. When I was writing Before the Country I was largely digging through boxes in the library of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Many Indigenous texts of the late 1960s and 1970s lay buried in boxes with the exception of seminal works like Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed and Lee Maracle’s Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel.

    I believe that when Indigenous literature could no longer be ignored in the late 1980s and early 1990s and when academic units in Canada were scrambling to create courses and programmes for the study of Indigenous literatures, they immediately embraced what was before them – the writings of Tomson Highway, Jeannette Armstong, and Beatrice Culleton Mosionier, for example. They did not turn back to what I think is the most important body of Indigenous literature in Canada: the building blocks of what has become the most exciting creative writing in this country today.

    Perhaps the academy’s omissions were due to a lack of time. Most certainly, the omissions had to have a lot to do with the fact that a significant amount of Indigenous writing of the 1960s/1970s was out of print. This is still true today.

    I hope that a belief in the continued relevance of Before the Country leads to the following: the re-issuing of Indigenous texts from this time period; a serious revisioning of the Canadian literary canon, which needs to include these voices; a continued challenging of greatness in the study of poetry that still does not really account for notable aesthetics of Indigenous literatures during a foundational stage.

    I also hope that the greatest fault of Before the Country – the lack of fieldwork – will prompt scholars to reconsider the essential role of ethnography and anthropology in literary analysis. When I was writing this study, I simply spread books in front of me, read and critically responded to texts in isolation. On the one hand, I think this was healthy as it solidified the fact that Indigenous literatures do not have to be handled with kid gloves. They grow from ancient traditions (albeit arrested during the residential school period) which can hold their own. They deserve intricate criticism.

    On the other hand, though an understandable, if not virulent, avoidance of ethnographical research during the 1980s and 1990s, commensurate with the desire to efface a longstanding objectification of “the Indigenous,” is explicable, I don’t think this is healthy. It is important to understand what shapes voices and from where voices emerge. This is what the gusle has taught me and what Before the Country inevitably pointed to.

    With the reprinting of Before the Country, published over a decade ago now, I would hope that people would still consider this scholarship relevant, even if that means to challenge, refute, or reveal weaknesses in the book. There are many. However, I would hope that the book’s existence underscores the relevance of Indigenous literature of the late 1960s and 1970s and the reason behind my commitments.

     

    Stephanie McKenzie teaches in the Department of English at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Corner Brook. Listen in on Dr. McKenzie's recent podcast, Poetry and the Gusle, in which she discusses her recent book and shares her research on the gusle, a musical instrument that accompanies epic poetry in Southeastern Europe. For more information see www.stephaniemaymckenzie.com.


    Looking for more on the subject? You might also be interested in Cheryl Suzack's Indigenous Women's Writing and the Cultural Study of Law.

  • How to be a Man: If Beale Street Could Talk brings a new generation to James Baldwin

    “We were all men, all fragile and broken in some way, in need of love and grace and the salve of a mother or father or estranged lover. We were all Baldwin’s children. The fact of this lineage and the generosity of our father confirmed that we, his readers, were worthy of love.”

    —Barry Jenkins, Esquire, December 2018

    Barry Jenkins, director of 2016’s Academy Award-winning Moonlight, admits a feeling of kinship with James Baldwin’s readers, but also his characters: the exuberant Giovanni, the tortured David. Baldwin, the father, offers an emotional tutelage, guides boys into manhood, so that they too can offer a path forward for a new generation. And so: Jenkins’ new film, based on Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.

    Fittingly, Jenkins’ talk of fragile men and Baldwin-the-Father is written for Esquire, a magazine with a long relationship to Baldwin. It was in Esquire that Baldwin published some of his most famous essays, such as “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy” and “Fifth Avenue, Uptown.” While tackling what was then called “the Negro Problem,” the always shrewd Baldwin tied his writing on race to issues of masculinity, seeking a common understanding with the presumably white, middle- or upper-class readers of a magazine subtitle “The Magazine for Men.” So it is that in “Black Boy,” Baldwin writes:

    I think that I know something about American masculinity which most men of my generation do not know because they have not been menaced by it in the way that I have been. It is still true, alas, that to be an American Negro male is also to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one’s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others. The relationship, therefore, of a black boy to a white boy is a very complex thing.

    The lengthiest and most compelling of Baldwin’s Esquire pieces is a 1968 interview, published shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in which Baldwin addresses social unrest, Stokely Carmichael, and the ideas of whiteness and Blackness. Central to the interview is Baldwin’s appeal that white men acknowledge and confront their history.

    Esquire may give Baldwin space to make his appeal, but the magazine does much to undermine it. For example, the cover of the magazine reads “James Baldwin tells us how to cool it this summer.” The image is of seven stylishly dressed, cool Black men lounging on ice blocks. “Cool it” is immediately associated with its demotic or vernacular use—perhaps Baldwin is going to tell readers about his favourite nightclubs or albums. Within the magazine, however, the interviewer uses some version of the phrase “cool it” six times. In the context of the interview, “cooling it” refers to relaxing racial tensions; the cover, and the rest of the magazine, diminishes the seriousness of this situation. One need only flip a few pages to discover a feature offering “Advice for Summer Drinkers: Cool It!” Here, the idea of “cooling it” is not about riots, but a suggestion for how to prepare drinks. Altogether, this single issue offers Baldwin’s compelling critique of masculinity and whiteness to the exact audience who needs to hear it … and then seemingly takes steps to dismantle that critique. The magazine offers contemporary readers a glimpse into the push-and-pull of the cultural politics of race, class, and manhood.

    And now, 50 years later, Esquire offers up space to Jenkins to promote his own film, based on Baldwin’s work, and to discuss the author’s influence on his own life and career. In so doing, Jenkins is able to reach out to a similar audience (not identical, but similar enough) to the one Baldwin addressed decades ago, and offer them his own take on the intersection of race and masculinity, his own take on how to be a man.

     

     

    Brad Congdon received his PhD from Dalhousie University, where he is an Instructor in Gender & Women’s Studies and English. He is the author of Leading with the Chin: Writing American Masculinities in Esquire, 1960-1989.

     

  • Strategic, Agile, People-Powered Change – The New Growth Imperative

    By Ellen R. Auster and Lisa Hillenbrand

    Now more than ever, businesses require Stragility: Strategic, Agile, People-Powered Change. And yet silos, hierarchies, and politics get in the way. Careers stagnate, growth stalls, and organizations fall short on delivering their mission. We know people need to be both empowered and agile but we don’t know how to skill up our organization to deliver it. From our book Stragility, here are three actions you can take and recent examples of firms that have put them into practice.

    Sense and Shift Instead of Lock and Load

    So often in today’s business world, we lock and load on the first feasible solution and sell it up the hierarchy. American Express' Chief Marketing Officer, Elizabeth Rutledge, is embracing a new model. Her team recognized the need to re-skill the organization and created an agility training and a certification program. They have developed agile methodologies and work processes and they are creating shared ownership enabling people to make decisions on the spot, without the need to send them up the hierarchy.

    Marketers are collaborating like never before and finding “human connection moments” with each other and customers. The changes are enabling AMEX’s 55,000 employees to deliver their new promise of “Don’t live life without it” and meet growth objectives. (Source: Keynote talk by Elizabeth Rutledge, Association of National Advertisers, October 26, 2018)

    Inspire and Engage Instead of Tell and Sell

    Telling and selling ideas is tempting but without strong purpose and compelling stories and programs, real change will never happen. Disney continues to create passionate “cast members” who delight their customers year after year by encouraging them to exemplify the Disney magic. Take for example a recent story of a deaf child who was able to sign with Mickey and Minnie Mouse cast members that was shared widely inspiring both cast members and customers.

    And their #Dream Big Princess campaign is inspiring girls everywhere to be brave and intelligent and to lead, instead of waiting for their prince to come.

    Change Fitness Instead of Change Fatigue

    Faced with a barrage of change, it’s easy for people to get overwhelmed. CIGNA decided to do something about it. They are tackling the three biggest causes of illness (and lost productivity): opioid addiction, loneliness, and stress. And they have begun each program with their employees. Already 96% of employees have gotten an annual health assessment. Here’s CIGNA’s opiod announcement from May.

    Lisa Bacus, their Chief Marketing Officer, explains the program at the ANA meeting in Orlando, October 25, 2018.

    For more ideas on how your organization can be more agile and more effective, pick up a copy of Stragility at Amazon.com or contact the authors at stragilitychangemanagement.com to request a customized workshop or consultation.

    BIOS

    Lisa Hillenbrand is the founder of Lisa Hillenbrand & Associates. She previously served as Global Marketing Director at Procter & Gamble. She specializes in marketing, strategy and organization change interventions that return brands to growth. She led the team that “re-engineered” Procter & Gamble’s company-wide brand building approach. Hillenbrand has delivered keynotes for the AMA, Marketing Science Institute, and Thomas Edison Foundation, and has consulted with and led top rated workshops for Google, Facebook, Estée Lauder, ConAgra, and many others.

    Ellen R. Auster is Professor of Strategic Management and Executive Director of York Change Leadership at the Schulich School of Business at York University. She has more than 25 years of experience as an academic and consultant specializing in shared leadership, stakeholder inclusive, value creating approaches to change that cultivate the capabilities needed for continuous reinvention and ongoing success. She has published widely in journals including The Academy of Management Review, Management Science, Sloan Management Review, The Journal of Business Ethics, Organization Studies, Human Resource Management, Research Policy, and written four books.

  • Talking Back to the Indian Act

    Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is a comprehensive "how-to" guide for engaging with primary source documents. But more than that, the book explores the Indian Act itself, and gives readers a much better understanding of this vital piece of legislation. We asked authors Mary-Ellen Kelm and Keith D. Smith to discuss their book, and why learning this information and history is important.

    You can read an exclusive excerpt from the book here.

    “We find the Indian Act of 1876 are [sic] not calculated to promote our welfare if we accept it because it empowers the Superintendent General of Indian affairs to manage, govern, and control our lands, moneys, and properties without first obtaining the consent of the chiefs…”

    Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is being published at a key moment in our history. Not only do we live in an age of twenty-four-hour news outlets broadcasting sharply divergent and politically motivated narratives, and where the nature of evidence is questioned in overtly public ways – we are also poised to begin a process of reconciling with Indigenous people in this country. Talking Back addresses both these critical issues.

    The book provides a set of lessons in reading documents through a historical and critical lens that takes into account Indigenous and intersectional perspectives. In so doing, it demonstrates the historians’ craft as it can be reconceived so that alongside context, contingency, causation, change over time, and complexity (the five “Cs” of historical thinking), we also consider relationship, responsibility, respect, and reciprocity (the four “Rs” of Indigenous methodologies). It shows the value of thinking deeply about the role in historical experience played by gender, sexuality, ability, and other ways of being. As such, it introduces readers to an expansive approach to critically engaging with the written word that addresses key questions about the nature of evidence, how it is made, and how it can be used. Readers of Talking Back to the Indian Act will never again feel that they lack the tools to truly interrogate historical or other documents.

    At the same time, Talking Back to the Indian Act introduces the reader to one of the most important pieces of legislation in Canadian history and – sadly – one that many Canadians know very little about. For nearly a century and a half, the Indian Act has dominated the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples living within its borders. As it sought to erase individual and collective identities, the Indian Act operated to extinguish Indigenous political structures, regulate familial relationships and gender roles, degrade kinship networks, circumscribe economic undertakings, reduce the land base available to Indigenous communities, and prohibit practices central to the maintenance of Indigenous cultures. Even those Indigenous people who Canada did not choose to classify as “Indian” have been impacted by the Act as they struggled to assert their own distinct identities and legal rights.

    The provisions of the Indian Act, the surveillance required for its maintenance, and Indigenous responses to its intentions and effects have created a massive archive. It is from this prodigious body of material that Talking Back to the Indian Act draws the documents it uses to teach critical historical reading methods. Included here are: the original 1876 Act and the many amendments made to it, queries and clarifications from Canadian officials, law enforcement documents, legal opinions, court records, and reports from various commissions and inquiries. Importantly, here too are Indigenous people’s letters of protest, oral testimony, meeting transcripts of Indigenous organizations and inquiries, radio addresses, and creative works all talking back to the Indian Act from Indigenous perspectives. Readers who may have heard very little about the Indian Act will come away from this text with a better understanding of how the Act worked to constrain Indigenous lives and how Indigenous people persistently worked to overcome those constraints.

    Talking Back to the Indian Act provides a set of lessons that shine light on several critical aspects of the Act and Indigenous responses to them in historical context. It encourages students to move beyond simply reading historical documents and to engage with them in more refined and effective ways. To that end, readers of this text are given an introduction to the interpretative tools traditionally available to historians and how these might be utilized in concert with Indigenous methodologies and intersectional analyses. Students will come away from this book with a much better understanding of this pivotal piece of legislation as well as the dynamics involved in its creation, its maintenance, and the resistance it engendered.

    Talking Back to the Indian Act is not a definitive study of the Indian Act but includes a range of important topics that resonate across time and into the present. Each of these topics has stimulated an intriguing array of voices and document types available to researchers. This range of material has allowed the documents provided in this collection to be selected with variety of source type and perspective in mind. Readers will have the opportunity to not only interrogate individual letters, transcripts of oral accounts and testimony, official reports, reminiscences, legislation, creative writing, and other materials but also to consider the relative value of different kinds of sources to different sorts of projects that a researcher might undertake. In addition to the focus on issues that are significant in their own right, there are also a number of overarching themes represented here. For example, Canada’s goals of acquiring land and resources and assimilating Indigenous people are evident throughout this text, as is Indigenous resistance in its many forms.

    Exploring the contours and development of the Indian Act through the documents provided in this text will help students in all disciplines – as well as popular audiences – navigate the headlines of today. It is our hope that Talking Back to the Indian Act makes a contribution to historical understanding while at the same time enhancing the skills necessary to analyse our present situation and the most appropriate paths to the future.

    Mary-Ellen Kelm is Canada Research Chair and Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, and Keith D. Smith teaches in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and History at Vancouver Island University.

  • Witches, Charms & Rituals: Top Titles With Spirit For Your Halloween List

    Trick or treat? That depends on your reading list...

    This week, we’re counting down to Halloween with spirited titles on everything from ghosts to witchcraft to Canadian horror films. We've rounded up some of our favourites – just in case you want a couple of treats for your shelf.

    Ghostly Landscapes: Film, Photography, and the Aesthetics of Haunting in Contemporary Spanish Culture

    “To speak of ghosts is to always speak of a loss that returns. Loss can tell us something not only about the distant past but also how we live in the present and imagine the future.”

    Revisit twentieth-century Spanish history through the camera lens. Ghostly Landscapes reveals how haunting serves to mourn loss, redefine space and history, and confirm the significance of lives and stories previously hidden or erased. A significant re-evaluation of fascist and post-fascist Spanish visual culture from Patricia Keller.

    The Canadian Horror Film: Terrors of the Soul

    Welcome to a wasteland of docile damnation and prosaic pestilence where savage beasts and mad scientists rub elbows with pasty suburbanites, grumpy seamen, and baby-faced porn stars.

    Highlighting more than a century of Canadian horror filmmaking, The Canadian Horror Film offers a series of thought-provoking reflections that promises to guide both scholars and enthusiasts alike. Unearth the terrors hidden in the recesses of the Canadian psyche from editors Gina Freitag and André Loiselle.

    Magic in Medieval Manuscripts

    Exploring the place of magic in the medieval world through an exploration of images and texts in British Library manuscripts, Sophie Page reveals a fascination with the points of contact between this and the celestial and infernal realms. Find magicians, wisewomen, witches, charms, and rituals in Magic in Medieval Manuscripts.

    Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism

    “The spiritualist trend played a significant role in the ideological and social life of the realist age. The reality of the soul was a major issue of the time. Physicists, physiologists, theologians, mystics, and, of course, writers all took part in this debate.”

    Surprisingly, nineteenth-century Russia was consumed with a passion for activities such as séances and summoning the spirits. Ghostly Paradoxes examines the relationship between spiritualist beliefs and the mindset of the Russian Age of Realism. Newly released in paperback – now that’s a treat!

    Awful Parenthesis: Suspension and the Sublime in Romantic and Victorian Poetry

    “Suspension rejects the impulse to cling to the known and the knowable.”

    Whether the rapt trances of Romanticism or the corpse-like figures that confounded Victorian science and religion, Awful Parenthesis reveals that depictions of bodies in suspended animation are a response to an expanding, incoherent world in crisis. Examining various aesthetics of suspension in the works of poets such as Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, and Christina Rossetti, Anne McCarthy shares important insights into the nineteenth-century fascination with the sublime.

    European Magic and Witchcraft: A Reader

    “Those who have picked up this book are about to fly through a mirror, back through time, and look down upon an unfamiliar terrain.”

    What’s really behind our fascination with magic and witchcraft? Editor Martha Rampton demonstrates how understandings of magic changed over time, and how these were influenced by factors such as religion, science, and law. By engaging with a full spectrum of source types, learn how magic was understood through the medieval and early modern eras.

    Astrology in Medieval Manuscripts 

    Medieval astrologers, though sometimes feared to be magicians in league with demons, were usually revered by scholars whose ideas and practices were widely respected. Explore the dazzling complexity of western astrology and its place in society, as revealed by a wealth of illustrated manuscripts from the British Library’s rich medieval collections.

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