An Interview with Jeffrey Ostler

Jeffrey Ostler is Beekman Professor of Northwest and Pacific History at the University of Oregon, where he specializes in the history of the American West and American Indian history. He has a PhD from the University of Iowa and his books include Prairie Populism: The Fate of Agrarian Radicalism in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, 1880-1892 (University Press of Kansas, 1993), The Plains Sioux and U.S. Colonialism from Lewis and Clark to Wounded Knee (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and The Lakotas and The Black Hills (Viking, 2010). His most recent book is Surviving Genocide: Native Nations and the United States from the American Revolution to Bleeding Kansas (Yale University Press, 2019)

Ed Battistella: What drove policy toward Native Americans in the period from George Washington to Andrew Jackson? Are there some key rhetorical and sociopolitical themes?

Jeffrey Ostler: The basic driver of policy was the imperative to take land from Native Americans so that it could be converted into private property for the benefit of settlers, speculators, and capitalist economic development more generally. But how to take Indigenous lands? The preference of U.S. political leaders was that Native nations give up their lands “voluntarily” through treaties and then eventually be Christianized and assimilated into the dominant society. But Native nations did not want to do this and so the U.S. had to use deceitful practices, including the threat of exermination, to coerce some Native leaders to “consent” to treaties. When this happened, other Native leaders with good reason regarded the treaties as illegitimate and claimed a right of self-defense against settlers who they saw as invaders. As a matter of policy, the U.S. then waged war against Nations resisting American expansion. And, this was not just any kind of war, but rather, as U.S. officials often said, it was “exterminatory” warfare, meaning the targeting of Native communities including non-combatants (women, old men, children), or, in other words, genocidal war.

In 1830, a year after Andrew Jackson became president, the U.S. was sufficiently powerful to formally enact a policy of Indian removal—forcing Native nations with homelands east of the Mississippi to new territories in the West. Although U.S. officials justified this policy in humanitarian terms as necessary to save Indians from an otherwise certain fate to vanish, the policy had horrific consequences as it unfolded from 1830 into the 1850s. Thousands of people (Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Creeks, Potawatomis, Sauks, Mesquakies, Ottawas, Senecas, Ho-Chunks, and others) died on multiple trails of tears and in the years after their relocation. In my view, the loss of life was sufficiently severe to justify concluding that the policy of Indian removal had genocidal consequences.

EB: Were there influential dissenting voices in that period?

JO: I assume you’re thinking here of dissenting white Americans and that we’ll get to Native voices in a minute. At times, there were influential dissenting voices within the United States. Probably the best example is the opposition by missionaries and northern political leaders to the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. But it is possible to overstate the significance of these dissenting voices. Those who opposed the Indian Removal Act did not ultimately believe that Native people should be allowed to retain their homelands east of the Mississippi. What they objected to was the coercive process by which the Jackson administration was pursuing removal. They wanted a process that would be “voluntary.” All Americans during this period of time shared core beliefs that their way of life was superior and that it was their God-given right to have Native lands. To the extent that Americans disagreed about Indian policy, their disagreements were limited to the process for obtaining Native lands, not the ultimate goal.

EB: What were the perspectives of Native leaders during this period? Did they fear extinction?

JO: One of the things I discovered during my research was that Native leaders frequently voiced the belief that colonists (before 1776) and U.S. Americans (after 1776) intended not only to take their lands, but to kill them all. In fact, in the first written treaty between the United States and an Indian nation (negotiated with the Delawares in 1778), the United States explicitly addressed Native fears that it was the design of the United States to “extirpate the Indians and take possession of the country.” So, yes, they did fear extinction and understood that what they had to survive was not just hardship, loss of land, and some loss of life, but the very real possibility of complete and total annihilation. I think it’s also important to realize that when the United States adopted its policy of Indian removal, Native leaders explained to U.S. leaders that they were deeply concerned that the policy would result in terrible suffering and death. U.S. leaders paid no heed to these concerns, even though they proved to be accurate.

EB: Surviving Genocide balances analysis of the documentary record of indigenous and US leaders with attention to demographic data. How do those two threads come together in the book?

JO: In writing the book, I tried to balance three things: to tell stories, to analyze what was happening, and to assess the impact of U.S. policies and actions by documenting the number of people killed through violence and removal and the demographic impact over time. What I discovered surprised me. When I started my research, I would have thought that the Native population east of the Mississippi River would have declined from 1776 to 1830. In fact, however, despite periods of destructive warfare and significant dispossession, the population of most Native nations either remained stable or increased. This, I think, is a testament to the adaptability and resilience of Native communities. But I was also surprised by how catastrophic the demographic impact of the policy of removal actually was. Historians have documented some of this through looking at the removals of specific nations, but no one had tried to come up with a picture of the total impact. And, by the total impact I mean not just the impact on the eastern nations that were removed to the west, but on the nations with homelands in the west such as the Osages and the Kanzas. They, too, were adversely affected by the policy, as they were squeezed onto smaller and smaller reservations to make room for the relocated eastern nations. The results was that these western nations were increasingly subject to impoverishment, hunger, and multiple diseases.

EB: Was the impact of removal different regionally? In the North and the South?

JO: Another very interesting question. It turns out that the southern nations suffered greater loss of life than the northern nations on the trails of tears themselves. One reason for this is that as they journeyed west the southern nations were exposed to a more deadly form of malaria (which thrives in warmer environments). Northern nations were also exposed to malaria during their journeys, but the type of malaria present in areas they traveled through is less deadly. But, the northern nations had a harder time once they were in the west than the southern nations. The relocated southern nations (removed to what would eventually become Oklahoma) had more land and weren’t forced to move more than once. Some of them continued to see their populations fall, but not as much as for the relocated northern nations. Many of the northern nations (removed to what would eventually become Kansas) were removed more than once, because settlers kept coming west and the government had to find new reservations for them. Because of this, conditions were worse for the northern nations, and some saw losses of life of 40% or more over a period of several years.

EB: As a linguist, I was intrigued by your discussion of the term genocide. What went into your decision to adopt that term rather than any of the possible alternatives?

JO: Using “genocide” to describe U.S. policies and actions toward Native Americans is, of course, likely to provoke lively debate and opposition. One objection might be that it is anachronistic to apply a term coined in 1944 to earlier history. In my view, though, the terms U.S. officials regularly used, “extirpation” and “extermination,” are synonyms for genocide. That said, though, is genocide an appropriate category, and if so, why use it as opposed to a category like “ethnic cleansing,” which some historians have proposed as a more appropriate term than genocide? Ethnic cleansing is a serious charge (it’s a war crime under current international law), but it can also be euphemistic and it leaves open the question of what kind of ethnic cleansing. In theory, people can be deported without massive loss of life, though forced deportations often are accompanied by violence and population decline. So, when I looked at what happened and saw not only massacres of entire communities but the horrific loss of life resulting from the U.S. policy of removal, I felt that it would be less than fully truthful not to use the term genocide. As I wrote in the book, genocide was not happening all the time, and so to write the history I’ve written as if it was a story of genocide, genocide, and nothing but genocide, would be simplistic and miss a great deal. On the other hand, though, to write the history I’ve written as if it was a story without genocide would miss much, too.

EB: When I was growing up, much of the history was of the manifest destiny nature. But it seems to me that today’s readers—and students—are much more open to considering the complexity of the nation’s history. Do you have any thoughts about what changed? Have we just grown up?

JO: I agree that today’s readers and students are much more open to considering the complexity of the nation’s history. In an earlier book I wrote (The Lakotas and the Black Hills), I dated this shift in consciousness to the 1960s and 1970s when we saw opposition to U.S. foreign policy (especially the Vietnam War) and the Civil Rights movement. Prior to that time, the U.S. political and judicial system had been unwilling to consider the possibility that the U.S. taking of the Lakotas’ sacred Black Hills in the 1870s had been unjust, but in the 1970s, courts began ruling in favor of the Lakotas, and I think the reason is that many Americans were willing to recognize injustices in U.S. history. That said, I think part of what we’re experiencing in 2019 is a huge push back against considering the complexity of the nation’s history. A substantial minority, but an empowered one, would like to have us worship the Founding Fathers and embrace the vision of a nation in which whites are understood to be racially superior. And, there are also many liberals who want to write stories about American greatness that neglect to take Indigenous histories very seriously. I’m thinking here of David McCullough’s The Pioneers, but there are many others. I’d like to see the day when most Americans are ready to fully reckon with the fact that the U.S. was built on stolen lands—I really do believe this—but we’re a long way from that.

EB: Surviving Genocide is the first of two related books. Can you give us a preview of the second book?

JO: The second book will look at the impact of the United States on Native people in the west from the 1770s to around 1900 (I’ll also look at the many communities that remained in the east despite the policy of removal). Right now, I’m writing a chapter about the Pacific Northwest and learning many new things. For one, I didn’t realize how much violence U.S. commercial ships inflicted on Native people along the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia from the 1780s into the 1810s as they sought to gain advantages in trading for sea otter pelts. And, of course, I’ll eventually need to write about the so-called Rogue River War in the early 1850s when militias and vigilantes carried out a war of extermination against the Indigenous peoples of southwestern Oregon. I’ll also want to write about the survival of those people in the aftermath of genocidal violence. Native people are still here in Oregon!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

JO: Thanks very much for your interest in the book and the great questions. I enjoyed the conversation.

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Robert Arellano Interviews Stanley Crawford, author of The Garlic Testament

Stanley Crawford is an award-winning author whose modern classic Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico received the Western States Book Award and earned him comparisons to Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Terry Tempest Williams. He is also a New Mexico garlic farmer who recently gained international attention by filing a petition with the US Department of Commerce asking it to review the trade practices of Harmoni International Spice, the American branch of a large Chinese garlic producer and importer. He argues that the corporation is flooding the American market with cheap garlic through an anti-dumping loophole, undercutting small farms like his.

In Crawford’s new book, The Garlic Papers: A Small Garlic Farm In The Age Of Global Vampires, the farmer chronicles his attempt to challenge the corporation and its team of international lawyers. He is featured in the new Netflix series Rotten (season 1, episode 3: “Garlic Breath”), about small farmers fighting corporate agriculture.

A conversation with Crawford on November 13 will invite audience participation and address this year’s SOU campus theme: Uncertainty. It is presented by the Oregon Center for the Arts in partnership with the Office of the Provost, the Division of Humanities and Culture, and the Environmental Studies & Policy Program.

Robert Arellano: Your Western States Book Award-winning Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico was my literary introduction to becoming a landowner and (accidental) micro-farmer in the Rio Grande Valley. (I had the good fortune of living next-door to you one summer, so I read it with expert caveats and knew what I was getting into.) Do you ever have a stranger come up to you at a farmer’s market and thank you (or blame you) for making them “buy the farm”? Any anecdotes? 

Stanley Crawford:  A couple of friends have moved to Dixon because of the first garlic book, or so they claim, notably John Gray, former director of the Autry-SW Museum in LA, former director of the American History section of the Smithsonian. Said he read A Garlic Testament, decided to move here, build a house, etc., well before we even met.  

Robert Arellano: Your early novels have made you a favorite among some prominent post-postmodernists. Derek White calls Travel Notes “a boot-strapping map to your own brain, projecting psychotherapeutic color on the otherwise gray matter of real-world events,” and Ben Marcus is such a fan of Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine that he wrote the afterword to a recent Dalkey Archive reissue. What do you think it is it about your first forays into fiction that resonate so much still? Do you consider yourself an experimentalist, a postmodernist, or something else? 

Stanley Crawford: Why people like books probably has to do with why they got written in the first place. The Log was written in ‘68 in San Francisco, a time of both personal and political turmoil, one of those end-of-the-world times. The nature of the end of the world has changed, but not the sense. So: it’s probably the strange combination of the post-apocalyptic and the sensual that keeps it alive. As for Travel Notes, that came out of an ecstatic time in Greece—and I have no idea why it still now and then appeals. To others. Category? Some of my work is mildly experimental, some quite conventional (the nonfiction, The Canyon). If anything, I consider myself “a stylist,” though what does that say? That I try to write well?

Robert Arellano: At your SOU Campus Theme presentation in Ashland on November 13, we will discuss the (uncertain) territory around your US Department of Commerce petition to review the “dumping” practices of Harmoni International Spice. What is one aspect of this ongoing fight (which several newspapers have dubbed a “global garlic war”) that you’re awaiting news on in November?

Stanley Crawford: There’s a Federal Circuit Court (in DC) hearing on Nov 4 though we don’t expect a decision then–we’re contesting Commerce’s various decisions against us.  The RICO suit against all US defendants has been dropped, and we’re hoping that the Chinese defendants will also soon be released. And, of course, we’re hoping someday, someday Commerce will review Harmoni–which we have been asking for the past 5 years.

Robert Arellano: As you and I conduct this interview for Literary Ashland, it’s been one week since The Garlic Papers was published, and you have already had major signing events as well as garnered reviews from Modern Farmer, several big-city dailies, and the Associated Press. Is the attention this book is getting at all different from what you expected?

Stanley Crawford: It’s always surprising where a book takes and where it doesn’t.  A surprise has been the syndication of the Albuquerque Journal North review to papers all over the country.  Meanwhile an important local arts supplement, Pasatiempo, is now only taking reviews from the New York Times and Washington Post—which haven’t picked up my book. Edible may also take it national. But in all, it’s a crap shoot. I’ve never had a book go national in a big way, though everything is still in print, which is something. With five different publishers…..  A surprise is also how much interest the book has generated with friends—long commentaries on it vs the more usual phrase or two. Not sure what might be resonating here, though the title usually gets a smile. Probably the David and Goliath aspects.  

Robert Arellano: Will you be bringing any garlic to Oregon on November 13?

Stanley Crawford: Yes, will be bringing garlic to Ashland.  

A Conversation with Stanley Crawford

Western States Book Award winner and garlic farmer

Wednesday, November 13, 7pm-8pm

Meese Auditorium (Art Building 101),

corner Siskiyou Boulevard & Ashland Street

Southern Oregon University, Ashland

FREE and open to the public

Robert Arellano is a professor in the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU. He lived for 7 years in Dixon, New Mexico.

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Robert Arellano Interviews Stanley Crawford, author of The Garlic Testament

What Kind of a Teacher Am I This Time? A guest post by Benjamin Lucas Garcia

Benjamin Lucas Garcia is the Education Coordinator & PBS Teacher Ambassador for Southern Oregon Public Television. In 2017, SOPTV became one of five stations in rural areas across the U.S. to become part of the PBS Teacher Community Program, which seeks to connect local media arts educators.

My world has been turned upside down. I’m now teaching a video class at North Medford High School as an industry instructor. It has put me back in a role that I once inhabited for six years.

Being the proclaimed “permanent teacher” in a classroom with 30 plus teenager students used to having substitutes changes the dynamics of a learning environment immensely. I quickly rediscovered that cooped-up students do what comes naturally to an improvising new teacher: test them. After the first class I looked in vain for an employee bathroom to cry in, but in all my trips to this school the previous year, I’d somehow never used one. I found a quiet place in the library, fought back my tears, and wrote two pages of questions any new teacher might think of, starting the list with “Teacher facilities?”

I’ve been working alongside teachers and students as a “Teacher Ambassador” the last 2.5 years. I was hired by NMHS a few weeks into the fall semester 2019. On my first day at the school, I was given keys, an employee handbook and sent to a classroom where none of the essential software worked — such as the attendance software. A teacher named Mike watched me start to introduce myself to students, a student interrupted asking if I was a substitute teacher, I backtracked to explain that I was the permanent teacher. Mike walked out of the classroom as I began my PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs elevator pitch again, but it was interrupted again by another student wanting to know if he could use the bathroom. Then the side conversations started, then the phones came out, and by the time I was done with my 30 second spiel one of 31 students was paying attention to me. A day later, the IT guy and a front office lady began to help me gain access to crucial systems I needed to do my job. A week later, a vice principal had time to cram the orientation teachers get during “in-service” week into an hour. I began to feel better. Two weeks later, about two thirds of the students looked at me when I spoke. Three weeks later no one slept in class anymore.

“Teacher Ambassador” I wish I had one of those

Midway through the first semester I’m somewhat in the rhythm of solo teaching mode, but I occasionally find myself wishing I had my own PBS Teacher Ambassador to co-plan my lessons with, or to take the lead with advanced students during class so I can focus on the bottom of the to-do list tasks like: “differentiate for struggling learners in the class.”

Also it would be nice just to have someone to confide in when crazy things happen, which seem to happen daily, and they pile up contributing to a sense of “how isolated it can feel to be an educator” — especially when all the adults around you are too busy to listen. For example, the first week we undertook a class exercise where students wrote the most important news issue to them on sticky notes and posted their top three on a class poster. Privately, one kid shared his top three with me: “damn liberals,” “church bombings” and “mass shootings.”

After class, in a state of shock, I went to talk to an educator further up the chain of command about this. This person was busy with another student and so I said “It’s about one of your students; I can come back later; do you have availability after school?”

This person bluntly said, ”No.”

Then I asked, “Do you have availability any time this week or the next?’’

“Sorry I’m booked solid.”

And so lastly I said, “I’ll email you about it.”

“I’m so behind with those; it could be awhile.”

I had a follow up talk with the student myself, and our short chat convinced me that he is just fascinated by deeply controversial issues, which he emphatically and emotionally explained to me were “tragic and should be prevented by any means necessary.” I still emailed the educator I spoke with earlier.

The case of the adjustable table feet heist

In a few short months on the job, I can already tell a few more stories like the aforementioned — the case of the adjustable table feet heist, for example. One day we were setting up cameras and tripods, and to create more space in the classroom for 30 students to set up we stacked tables on top of each other. The tables stacked on top had their legs upright, and by the end of the “block” (period) five tiny adjustable feet were missing from the ends of the table legs. I didn’t notice until the tables were upright and the next teacher who uses the room pointed out that some of them weren’t quite level. The feet weren’t the only items to go missing in Term 1.

Anyhow, within the last month a very sweet teacher on special assignment, Bonnie, has been helping me figure out the grading software, and also a teacher friend, Jamie, with whom I’d participated in Coffee EDU meet-ups last year, stopped by my classroom to let me know she’s right around the corner and that the monthly meet-ups would be starting again soon. Both helped me understand how the gradebook works the day after mid quarter grades were due.

Recently, I met up with Tisha Richmond, who I co-planned and co-facilitated a teacher conference with last year, “Make Learning Magical!” She’s going to pop in to help me with a Google Classroom issue soon — ah, how good it feels that a teacher community is being felt so quickly in my new role. Teaching this one class underscores how important my media teacher support and mentorship work is. After I leave this classroom I very much look forward to the synergetic TCP work I do alongside hard-working media arts teachers at Hedrick and Central High. I hope these two teachers consider continuing their PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs next school year, but for now I look forward to lightening their load and helping students learn the fundamentals of video production and journalism.

Where it all started

Shortly after the PBS Teacher Community Program (TCP) adventure began, April 2017, all five of us “Teacher Ambassadors” worked together to craft our individual elevator pitches for the educator support work we were embarking upon in rural areas where our TV stations are located: Iowa, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Southern Oregon:

As a Teacher Ambassador, I am the bridge between Southern Oregon Public Television (SOPTV) and local educators. I support our shared goal of improving learning outcomes for Southern Oregon’s students. From my experience teaching for the past six years, I know first-hand how isolated it can feel to be an educator. In SOPTV’s Teacher Ambassador role, I am working to address educator needs in our community in ways that are authentic and effective. My goal is to connect local educators with each other and with SOPTV, which is a resource for teachers to network, access peer-to-peer professional learning opportunities and enhance their teaching practice.

This message still rings true for my local support of educators, although I’ve since added the descriptor “media arts” before “educator” and “students”. The original mission was too broad for a one-person education program at our local station to tackle in a meaningful way, so my efforts are currently focused on supporting video teachers who are interested in piloting PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) sites. The NMHS video teacher stepped down, and they needed a video teacher, so I thought I’d pilot my own lab. I also have another SRL site up and running at Hedrick Middle School, which is going much better because we didn’t start late, and also we have industry standard equipment–oh, and having only nine students helps too. Lastly, there’s a possibility of a third site at Central Medford High starting the second term, but so far there is just one student signed up for it. Thus, at these two sites is probably where it will all end for this short lived SRL experiment as the Teacher Community Program grant runs its course June of 2020.

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An Interview with Irv Lubliner, editor of Only Hope: A Survivor’s Stories of the Holocaust

Educator and musician Irv Lubliner of Ashland retired from Southern Oregon University in 2014 after teaching mathematics for forty years, working with every grade from kindergarten through graduate school. He recently edited and published his mother’s writing and oral presentation transcripts about her experiences living through the ghettos and concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Born in 1922 in Poland, Felicia Bornstein Lubliner was deported from the Lodz Ghetto to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944, and later to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. After liberation from the camps, she married Abram Lubliner, who she met at a camp for displaced persons, and the couple made their way to Oakland, California. She died in 1974.

The book, for which Irv wrote the foreword and afterword, is Only Hope: A Survivor’s Stories of the Holocaust, published by Felabra Press.

Ed Battistella: Tell us about your mother.

Felicia Bornstein Lubliner

Irv Lubliner: My mother was one of eight children and grew up in a household that also included her grandmother. She was the only member of that large family to survive the Holocaust. While we might refer to her as “the lucky one,” she felt tremendous guilt about being the only survivor, always wondering what she might have differently to help the others stay alive.

Once in the United States, she began to study English (probably at Laney College in Oakland, though I was too young to have paid attention). I don’t know what compelled her to start writing about her Holocaust experiences, but it may be that she felt a moral obligation to see to it that the horrors she survived were not “swept under the rug,” that the world would come to grips with what had taken place, and that no such thing would ever happen again.

Though my parents, in keeping with Jewish tradition, lit memorial candles for their lost loved ones, the names of those deceased relatives were never spoken in my home, and there was no talk of what they had experienced. My mom and dad seemed determined to give me a “normal” American upbringing, without my fearing that my life, my education, and my sense of security would be disrupted as theirs had been. She wrote the stories that I compiled in the book and spoke each year to a class studying the Holocaust at San Francisco State University, but she and I never had an adult conversation about her life prior to coming to the U.S. At the time of her death, she was only 51, and I was 21.

EB: Given that your mother passed away in the 1970s, I’m wondering why you chose this moment to put her remembrances and speeches together as a book.

IL: For about thirty years, I’ve been visiting school classrooms (from middle school on up) to share my mother’s writing, reading the stories aloud and engaging students in conversation about them. I would often have parents contact me afterwards, telling me that their children had spoken of the stories at home and asking if they, the parents, could read them. I received tremendous encouragement—from students, teachers, and parents—to get the stories published, and have lived with that goal in mind for a very long time. I wanted to contribute something to the work, reflecting on my own experience as the child of two Holocaust survivors. It wasn’t until 2014 and my retirement from SOU that I, with the help of two writing coaches, finally wrote something that lived up to my own standards and that said what I felt needed to be said. Within the last year, I created my own publishing company, Felabra Press (honoring my parents by using a juxtaposition of their names, Felicia and Abram), and the book became available in May of this year.

A few days ago, I received an unsolicited testimonial comment from an Emeritus Professor of European History, Edward Gosselin, which read: “This is the most moving book I have ever read about the Holocaust and about Auschwitz.” This reflects my mother’s effectiveness as a writer and demonstrates that her stories have something to offer to all, those who have studied the Holocaust extensively and those who know little or nothing about it.

EB: All of the narratives were very heart-rending but I was especially horrified at the “Concert at Auschwitz,” which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Had you read any of your mother’s writings as you were growing up?

IL: No, I have no recollection of reading that story (which appeared in a Sunday supplement to the SF Chronicle in 1961) or any of the others while I was growing up. By the time I was old enough to read and appreciate them, I was a rebellious teenager, constantly trying to keep my distance from my parents and do “my own thing,” and I passed on the opportunity. When we got word of my mother’s terminal cancer in 1974, I was a senior at U.C. Berkeley, no longer living at home. That would have been a good time for a conversation with my mother about her experiences, but I knew that would be a painful conversation, and it was not one that I chose to initiate.

Getting back to “Concert at Auschwitz,” I think it’s worth noting that its publication came within twelve years of my mother’s arrival in this country and is written in English, which was, for her, a new language. All of the stories in Only Hope are written in English and readers often comment about how skillfully she wrote.

EB: Your father also survived imprisonment in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. But he responded much differently—you said he only spit when the topic came up. What did you make of his reactions?

IL: In the foreword, I mention a specific incident in which my father spit on a German postage stamp from the time of the Nazi regime, one that bore Hitler’s picture and a swastika. It made an indelible impression on me because it was so rare to see my father show any emotional response or share information about what he had endured, what he had lost, or how his experiences had scarred him. I only saw my father spit on that one occasion, but it was powerful. It saddens me that he never found a way to release the grief and bitterness that he must have felt.

EB: What was it like to edit your mother’s stories?

IL: Though my mother wrote in English, not in her native language, Polish, her stories did not require any editing. My role as editor was really limited to deciding in what order the stories should appear in the book and choosing which of two drafts of a given story would be used. While I was a child, she took classes to learn English, mastering not only the language, but also the craft of writing a short story. One more thing I’ll mention: She was a force to be reckoned with if you played Scrabble with her. Her vocabulary was much more extensive than the typical person raised in this country and speaking English since childhood.

EB: How can people get a copy of Only Hope?

IL: I have chosen not to turn the book over to the big-name booksellers such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Instead, it is being sold through my website,, various Holocaust museums and education centers, and at a number of independent bookstores (including Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, Rebel Heart Books in Jacksonville, and Oregon Books in Grants Pass).

I hope that the book will find its way into school classrooms, and I am offering a 25% discount to educators ordering twelve or more copies.

EB: Besides the website mentioned above, is there any other place people can get more information about the book?

IL: I was recently interviewed on our local NPR radio station on the Jefferson Exchange program. Anyone interested in hearing the interview can do so by visiting this site:

EB: Oregon recently passed legislation requiring school districts to provide instruction specifically about the Holocaust. What other books or resources on the Holocaust would you recommended?

IL: I am very pleased that Holocaust- and genocide-related instruction is now a mandated part of the curriculum here in Oregon. What people might not realize is that the push for that legislation came from a high school student in Lake Oswego, Claire Sarnowski, who was inspired to contact her district’s state Senator after a Holocaust survivor visited her school back when she was in 4th grade. This illustrates how impacting stories such as those my mother wrote can be on younger learners. By the way, I sent Claire an inscribed copy of Only Hope, thanking her for her efforts to see to it that the stories of the Holocaust would be passed on to her generation and those that will follow.

In recent years I have been immersing myself in Holocaust-related books, articles, and films, so I could easily compile a long list, and it is difficult to narrow it down. Here is an attempt to do so, focusing on titles that your readers may have missed:

    Maus 1: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus 2: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
    The Cap: The Price of a Life,,, by Roman Frister
    Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, The End of Civilization, by Nicholson Baker
    Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky
    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne (both the book and the film)
    Sarah’s Key, by by Tatiana de Rosnay (both the book and the film)
    Shoah, by Claude Lanzmann (both the book and the film)

I’m sure I’ll soon remember something else that deserved to be on that list!

EB: Thanks for talking with us and thanks for what you are doing.

IL: I appreciate this opportunity to share information about Only Hope: A Survivor’s Stories of the Holocaust. Thank you very much, Ed.

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An Interview with David A. Oas

David A. Oas is Professor Emeritus of psychology at Southern Oregon University, having retired in 1997 to continue private practice as a clinical and forensic psychologist. In the 1970s he attended the University of Southern California Film School and wrote, produced and directed the film Raspberry Heaven now available as an Amazon Instant Video.

He is the author of the books Blurred Realities (2018), Non-Official Cover Confessions, Book One (2019) and Non-Official Cover Confessions, Book Two (2019, in press). You can follow his work at

Ed Battistella: You’ve had an interesting career as clinical psychologist, screenwriter and a professor at Southern Oregon University. What inspired you to become a novelist?

David Oas: I wouldn’t call myself a novelist. I decided I would do an experiment in storytelling by expanding upon the limitations of screenplay writing to reveal character development through action, dialogue, and character reflections by the three main protagonists. I used the omniscient voice to give the storytelling breadth, depth and brevity. I chose to cut out physical descriptions of characters, and instead leveraged the ways characters acted so the readers could tap into my fictional world.

EB: How is writing a screenplay is different than writing a novel?

DO: Screenplays are written where setting, action, character name and dialogue move the story forward from one scene to the next. In directing my first feature film (Raspberry Heaven), each actor after selection by gender, age range, and informal interviews from a pool of actors, would take the script home overnight and come back the next day to do video-taped readings from selected scenes. Each actor chosen to play their part in the movie during production is then a part of my modified imagination as writer and director—often ending with contextual changes in the story I originally crafted. In collaboration with the cinematographer, scenes changed, new sides (script changes) were written revising actor’s dialogue, action sequences, and even settings (locations) based on time, weather and money. Movie making is a collaborative process unless you are writing only to sell screenplays.

I realized when writing my expanded story (somewhere between screenplay and historical fiction), my imagined characters kept changing with the environment on hand, i.e., much like a screenplay written for movie production. When writing historical fiction, my struggles with character interactions based on my emotions while writing were much the same as when writing screenplays. However, now I had the freedom (option) to write the actors (characters) reflections or escapes to the God upstairs, to complete a scene. This left me feeling less restricted in storytelling.

EB: What inspired you to write about the Vietnam War in Non-Official Cover Confessions?

DO: The real inspiration was to write a much longer story that begins with the Free Speech Movement at UC/Berkeley December 2, 1964 and ending with the Iran/Contra Affair in 1987.

Non-Official Cover Confessions includes the Secret War in Laos, the Fall of Saigon, the

Disappearances of subversives in Argentina, the Dirty War and death squads in Nicaragua, and the Hostage Crisis in Lebanon.

Specifically, about the Vietnam War: I was a Navy pilot in training in 1957 which ended two years later when I refused to accept my wings and commission. I had a quarrel with the Admiral of the base. Enough said. Some of my pilot friends ended up in Vietnam.

When I began my career as a psychology professor at Southern Oregon University and as a licensed clinical psychologist, many Vietnam veterans and their families became my counselees and patients.

EB: Explain the book’s title. What is a “Non-Official Cover Agent?”

DO: In my story, Non-Official Cover Agents are CIA-hired operatives with no guidance from the CIA. The chain of command is vertical. All operatives live by code names or false identities only known to the individual who passes on the orders to the agent. All actions are classified with identities essentially erased after completion of the mission. Historically speaking, President Eisenhower began the Non-Official Cover classified secret program with a special group in 1957 (later identified as the 303 and 40 Committee) that has continued with all U.S. presidents through 1987, the year these two books end.

EB: How much of the books are drawn from personal experience?

DO: My best answer is that I lived through the period from 1964-1987. There was a hot war that ended and a cold war still going on.

EB: Does being a psychologist help inform your writing?

DO: Yes. I’m wedded to character development. Early in writing screenplays and books, I recognized I could not escape my life as a psychologist. I have lived my life in the midst of conscious and unconscious contradictions of others and myself. I have observed and experienced how the verities of love, sex, friendship and belonging get twisted by fears of intimacy, inadequacy, rejection, estrangement and finally loss of control over our lives.

If the reader is seeking psychological realism and truthfulness in human action, I hope they find that experience in reading Non-Official Cover Confessions: Books One and Two.

EB: The novel presents many different political opinions of the Vietnam war. Was it important for you to present a moral dilemma of sorts?

DO: Let’s include human rights violations with moral dilemmas. That’s the spine of both books. The historical events spanning the time between 1964-1987 remain divisive to this day. Some still say, “we should never have sent soldiers to Vietnam.” Others, “we should have the won the war in 1964 or 1968.”

Another question, “What was Reagan doing without congressional support by sending in the CIA to support dictatorships in South and Central America?” And quoting President Reagan, “We can’t have communism south of the U.S. border.”

The three protagonists play out their roles in taking different sides in the moral dilemmas presented as the story unfolds. The main protagonist is frozen in the middle: Is he a patriot or victim? Their stories and interactions with each other are told throughout the books with the emphasis on character development through dialogue, action and internal reflections.

Selectively chosen historical events to elucidate the divisive U.S. foreign policy decisions made over the two decades are identified in the books.

EB: What was the research process like?

DO: I was in love with the research process for the two books. An abundance of resource material was on line for the divisive historical events taking place between 1964-1987. I have had a lifelong attraction to human dilemmas. During the above-stated time period, the United States, China and Russia defied the Non-Aggression Geneva Convention Accords of 1962 by fighting a secret war in Laos.

In South and Central America, was the Cold War worth the loss of life of ideologically left- leaning citizens who were redefined as revolutionaries, Marxists and Communists? Was buying arms from Iran paid for by unknown classified sources to support the Contras an attempt to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua? There were CIA-supported death squads in Nicaragua and Honduras targeted to neutralize so-called left leaning Marxists. Did the assassinations without a trial constitute human rights violations?

EB: What do you want readers to think about after reading Non-Official Cover Confessions?

DO: First, did the story work for the reader. Second, can the reader envision the two books adapted to screenplay formats for feature length movie production or a television series?

In the foreword of both books my last quote is my wish. “If there is a book you want to write,
write what should not be forgotten.” Isabel Allende.

EB: Non-Official Cover Confessions is the first of a series. Can you give us an idea of what is yet to come?

DO: Yes. The main protagonist pilots aircraft for secret missions throughout South America. He carries national security officials, regime officers, soldiers, mercenaries, prisoners and code-named CIA agents to and from what is called the Southern Cone that comprises five countries. With his paramilitary skills he then leads missions where he is part of the action. While in the war zones, many of the main protagonist’s actions become humanitarian efforts as his personal life becomes convoluted with loyalties, friendships and lovers.

The protagonist is later transferred to Central America to fly more missions into war zones. By this time, the code-named vertical command station has the protagonist leading death squads.

By 1983, the conflicted protagonist becomes a “hit man” in Lebanon to assassinate terrorists who are holding hostages for ransom. In the midst of all this action, a love story ebbs and flows beneath the radar.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

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An Interview with Les AuCoin, author of Catch and Release

Les AuCoin was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives for two terms beginning in 1971 and was selected majority leader in 1973 at the age of thirty-one. He represented Oregon in the US House of Representatives for 18 years, from 1975 to 1993. The dean of the Oregon delegation and member of the House Appropriations Committee, he was described by the Oregonian as “the most powerful congressman in Oregon.” He helped create the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, the Seafood Consumer Research Center in Astoria, the Oregon Trail Center at Baker City, and the Lewis & Clark Visitors’ Center at Fort Clatsop. In 1992, he gave up his seat to run for the Senate.

AuCoin grew up in Redmond, attended Pacific University and Portland State University and served in the U.S. Army as a public information specialist. Trained as a journalist, he is award-winning magazine editor and public radio commentator, and his articles have appeared in major newspapers throughout the country. Today, he and his wife, Sue live in Portland.

His memoir, Catch and Release, has been published by Oregon State University Press.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed Catch and Release. Can you tell us a bit about the title?

Les AuCoin: Many will recognize the fly-fishing term, of course. I became an addicted fly-fisherman once I put Congress and politics behind me. As the years passed, I came to see catching and releasing as an allegory for my life. I “caught” a blissful early childhood until I had to release it when my dad turned out to be an addicted gambler who blew the family savings and abandoned us in the late 1940s, leaving my mom with two boys to raise on a waitress’ wage. In manhood, I “caught” a life someone with my background wasn’t expected to catch when I climbed to one of the top rungs of national politics. Although it ended with one of the most controversial and painful losses in modern Senate history, I like to think I let go of it with dignity and equanimity. If anything, I think the ethos of “catching and releasing” works better in life than in fishing. Besides, all we can ever do is toss out the best cast we can, the one thing we can control. What comes next is entirely up to the fish.

EB: I was impressed with your ability to find a dramatic moment in each of the vignettes you present—your father abandonment, the JFK assassination, your romance with your wife Sue, and much more.

LA: I’m glad you do. I didn’t set out to create drama. I wanted to share important memories from a life that turned out to be eventful. My good luck and bad seemed to heighten my capacity to observe. And not knowing what would happen next as a kid made me inquisitive. Inquisitiveness helped me find a way to stop James Watt from opening up the earthquake-prone western oceanic shelf to oil drilling. In a similar way, studied observation helped me identify the often unspoken but deeper desires of politicians. That, for example, is how I figured out how to get Jessie Helms’ right-wing Senate allies to drop their attempt to destroy the National Endowment for the Arts.

EB: A lot of political issues you dealt with, gay rights, legalization of marijuana, consumer rights issues, the environment are still in the news today. Where do you see progress as having been made since the seventies and eighties?

LA: Some issues that were venomous in my early career have become non-issues today. Guaranteeing LBGTQ citizens access to public accommodations was radioactive in 1973, when I was House Majority Leader in the Oregon Legislature. Today, gay marriage is legal in every state. Marijuana possession was a felony at the outset of my political career. I’m proud to have worked to make it a minor misdemeanor in Oregon in the mid-Seventies; today, ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use and 23 more allow it for medical use. As progress, that’s a sea change.

I wish I could say the same for the environment and consumer rights. Greed and its disciples are magnifying wealth disparity, and Trump and his acolytes are working to undo decades of progress on forest ecology, clean air and water, and protection for endangered and threatened species. That doesn’t even begin to describe Trump’s knuckle-dragging indifference to climate change, an existential threat to the earth and all its living things. The elections of 2020 may be our last best hope to reverse the destruction.

EB: You started your career as a journalist. What do you think of the state of journalism today?

LA: Once upon a time, it wasn’t hard to find news that was impartial, deep-digging, informative and fearlessly run by professional editors and program directors. Today, what’s left of newspapers is mostly run by the business office. Business values are not news values. We’re being entertained or titillated rather than informed. I’ve seen local TV coverage that devoted 10 to 15 minutes to a helicopter’s live coverage of an armed standoff at a warehouse where nothing happens. The station could have used the time to report on what it means if Northwest salmon go extinct. We risk becoming a nation of civic illiterates at a time when democracy faces an existential threat and economic, environmental, and scientific issues demand more sophistication than ever for their solution. Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter channeled Thomas Jefferson when he said, “An ignorant people can never be free.” It shouldn’t have surprised us that someone like Donald Trump could find his way into the presidency. I pray that Americans don’t let that stand.

EB: What convinced you to move on from electoral politics? You mentioned at one point that you felt like a telemarketer.

LA: In 1974, I won my seat in the US House for the first time. Back then, my opponent and I were limited by state law to $75,000 in our primary election and the same amount in our general election—for a total of $150,000. That law was struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court. Subsequent US Supreme Court decisions chipped away at post-Watergate federal laws until in my last reelection race, I had to raise more than $1 million to keep that same seat. Then, in 2010, the high court deemed political donations as “free speech.” Eight years later, my friend and First Congressional District successor, Suzanne Bonamici found it necessary to raise $939,392.52 for a reelection that initially cost me $150,000. House leaders of both parties now expect their members to spend 30 hours a week in “call centers”—buildings near the Capitol configured with small desks and telephones. Thirty hours! There, incumbents telephone total strangers to solicit campaign donations. I was long gone from the Congress at this point, but I distinctly remember having a goal of $3,500 a day in contributions. If I fell short and, say, raised $2,500, my next day’s goal would be $4,500. I’m told that nowadays, if you want to sit on a major committee, like the appropriations committee I served on, party leaders judge your bid in large part on how much in additional money you’ve raised for the party.

In the book, I state that today you have to raise money like hell to go to Congress to raise money like hell. I can’t stand the thought. I will fight for any constitutional proposal that will stop the money chase.

EB: What was the most important lesson you learned as a Congressman—something you might want to pass along to today’s aspiring leaders?

LA: Know what you believe and vote it. Nothing could be worse, Wayne Morse told me, than voting against your values but losing an election anyway.

EB: What did you miss the most after you left Washington?

LA: Well, it certainly wasn’t summer’s humidity, which at times felt like swimming in a bowl of boiling chicken broth. The capital, though, is a gathering spot for some of the most stimulating and knowledgeable people I ever encountered in one place. Hemingway called Paris “a movable feast,” but in DC, the diplomats, authors, statesmen, scientists, actors, scholars, and journalists I knew fed me copious servings of brain food all through my 18 years there. Where else could a fatherless boy from Central Oregon befriend the likes of George Plimpton; Dr. Spock; Mary McGrory; Hans Bethe, a Manhattan Project scientist; Elizabeth Drew; Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador, Christopher Reeve; Neil Sheehan; or Mark Shields?

EB: I was taken by your description of mentoring your son’s basketball team and also by the time he borrowed George H. W. Bush’s sneakers. Is it still the case that the Congressional gym lockers don’t have locks? I’m curious when that might have changed.

LA: (Laughter.) It’s a rare father who watches his son fill the shoes of the vice president of the United States. Members and former members who are current on their dues may keep their gym membership and locker. Yes, it is hard to believe this age of hyper-partisanship, the custom of leaving your locker unlocked endures. So does the understanding that you can borrow something you need so long as you return it. Kelly and I would use the gym on Saturdays to work on his jump shot and free throws when I was in town. One Saturday, Kelly absent-mindedly forgot his tennis shoes. Teenagers! We went from locker to locker to find a pair that fit. Finally, we reached the Veep’s locker. Size 10-and-a-half—perfect! What the hell, I thought, Bush is a former member and he knows the rules. Fortunately, Kelly replaced the shoes a few minutes before three congressmen, Bush, and his Secret Service detail barged through the gym door.

Here’s a side story. That morning, Kelly watched Bush and his friends play paddle ball when a dispute arose over one of the Veep’s shots that landed in front of my son, close to the line. After a lot of shouting, Bush swung around for an independent verdict. He yelled at Kelly, “Hey, kid! In or out?” Without hesitation, Kelly said, “Out.” Bush turned carmine red and, jumping so that he knees virtually hit his chin, he screamed, “Noooooo!!!” That’s when I knew my son had chops.

EB: I understand that your papers are part of the Oregon Historical Society collection. Did you keep a journal as a Congressional Representative? I was impressed with the level of detail in your book—and also with the terrific photos.

LA: I kept journals on and off throughout the years. Never consistently. But I was grateful to find so many of them stored in boxes. Some of them I had not opened in 30 years. We have kept hundreds of family photos. Political photos, too. Politics was a big part of our family’s life.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with Catch and Release.

LA: Thanks. It was a three-year effort and I loved working with the talented team at the Oregon State University Press.

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Summer Reading 2019

Years ago, a friend complained that everyone was so busy writing books that they had no time to read books. She was talking about people with no time to read her books, but you get the idea. I still don’t have time to post to Goodreads or Amazon, but I did commit to a lot of summer reading and to some mini-reviews. Here they are.

Last Days by Brain Everson– A bizarre but compelling tale of a cop kidnapped by a mutilation cult. Rod Serling meets Stephen King.


Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunker–I’ve been wanting to read this for a while but kept putting it off (no incentive, I guess). It was excellent—informative and stylistic. It would be fun to do a course using this, Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge.,204,203,200_.jpg

The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler –Almost all of Chandler’s notebook were destroyed at his death. This included some of the material from the two black loose-leaf notebooks that escaped including lists of similes (a face like a collapsed lung), Chandlerisms (She threw her arms around my neck and nicked my ear with the gunsight), slang, and drafts of sketches of scenes and characters.


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles–Towles’s meditation on how to live a meaningful, even exemplary, life in difficult circumstances. Plus a lot of great Soviet-era history and spycraft. Top notch.


Exhalation by Ted Chiang –A great collection of speculative fiction – time travel, artificial life, free will, memory and more –by the writer who gave us The Story of Your Life. Chiang’s work is thoughtful and thought-provoking and optimistic. Linguists will especially like The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling and The Great Silence.

How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco

How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco—Richard Blanco visited Ashland this summer for a series of workshops and reading which gave me the opportunity to delve into his latest poetry collection. Evocative, accessible writing about place, justice, belonging, exile, love and family, with a spectacular landscape piece in the epic “American Wandersong.”

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The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language by Peter Martin— I reviewed this for Choice so I won’t repeat that, but suffice it to say it’s a compelling addition to the story of American lexicography with Noah Webster at the center.

An American Language: The History of Spanish in the United States

An American Language: The History of Spanish in the United States by Rosina Lazano—This is a detailed and thought-provoking history of Spanish from the times of westward expansion through World War II covering of legal, political, and social issues as arising in keys states (New Mexico, Arizona, California, and more), and more all of which informs present-day debates. Great insights. The main drawback is that the book still read like a dissertation.

Image result for Southern Oregon Beer: A Pioneering History Phil Busse

Southern Oregon Beer by Phil Busse—The story of the Jacksonville origins of southern Oregon beer, the impact of prohibition and the sustainability of the hops industry and the re-emergence of Southern Oregon as a brewing destination in the late twentieth century. Engagingly written, well documented and illustrated with both historical and contemporary photos.

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The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman—This is the first book I’ve read by Fesperman. It seemed to start slowly, but once I got used to the characters and figured out who was who, I was hooked. There was plenty of unpredictability and enough cynicism to capture the intelligence community milieu. I’m ready for more Fesperman.,204,203,200_.jpg

Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography by Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan— I had been wanting to read this Seuss bio for some time and it didn’t disappoint.
Engaging and packed with both information and insights about Seuss, the publishing industry, and sweep of the twentieth century.

The Crossword Century: 100 Years of Witty Wordplay, Ingenious Puzzles, and Linguistic Mischief by Alan Connor–Some interesting information but it felt like the author ran out of material quickly and had to fill the book crossword trivia. Ho hum.,204,203,200_.jpg

Real Tigers by Mick Herron–I started reading Mick Herron last year–Slough House around Thanksgiving, Dead Lions at Spring Break, and now Real Tigers. Herron is darkly funny and the intriguing concept involves what happens to intelligence agents who screw up or become unreliable. They are assigned to Jackson Lamb’s Slough House, where they are given busy work in hopes that they will resign or quietly fade away. But the slow horses of Slough House manage to continually stay in the game thwarting the designs of the careerists at Regent’s Park.

Apex Hides The Hurt, by Colson Whitehead.jpg

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead– A hilarious sendup of American culture, following in the footsteps of John Henry Days. A town with an identity crisis based in racial history and, best of all, the protagonist is a nomenclature consultant without a name. But with an inflected toe. What name will he choose?


Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny Kate Manne–Insightful treatment of the distinction between “misogyny” and “sexism.” As she notes, the argument extendible to racism and other form of prejudice and injustice). It was interesting to read this in conjuction with Zerubavel’s Taken for Granted.

Manne writes well (and has a knack for terminology like “himpathy” and “misogynoir” and gritty real world examples) however, I thought at times the writing was still too dense.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch—Filled with clever examples and histroical insight, McCullogh’s book shows nicely that internet language is written speech, which its own conventions and, yes rules. BTW, there’re emojis, memes, and more! A good gift for prescriptivists, if you are included to gift them. And I’m thinking about how to incorporate this and Lynne Murphy’s The Prodigal Tongue in the history of English class.

Hardcover Born to Run Book

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen–I started this last summer, but didn’t have time to finish. This summer I did, to the background of Western Stars and Blinded by the Light. Born to Run has Springsteen’s voice and imagery. And like the stories he tells in concerns, there are moral tales and wacky adventures throughout. Springsteen presents himself as determined and tough but vulnerable and striving, which seems about right for a guy from New Jersey.

Taken for Granted by Evitar Zerubavel–Taken for Granted is about the theory of markedness—asymmetry in language and culture—a topic that I have a long standing interest in. Zerubavel’s book brings together the social and cultural aspects of asymmetry. A solid non-academic style, but the examples are sometimes dated and some terms could have been defined more sharply.

Things Too Big to Name by Molly Tinsley—A literary thriller seamlessly weaving together of three stories covering in different time frames and themes, ultimately centered the realities love, goodness, fidelity, justice, and sacrifice. Oh, and the protagonist is a retired English professor living in the mountains near the fictional town of Pine Springs, Oregon.

Catch and Release by Les AuCoin—A political memoir that sparkles with heart and humanity and tells us all what democracy and leadership are about. AuCoin went into political in the “Ask not what your country can do for you” era and his witty, well-crafted memoir tells us not just about how things were in the past but what is missing today.

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An Interview with Molly Best Tinsley–author of Things Too Big to Name

In a fit of sanity, award-winning writer Molly Best Tinsley resigned from the civilian faculty of the US Naval Academy and moved west to write full-time. She is the author of My Life with Darwin (Houghton Mifflin) and Throwing Knives (Ohio State University Press), she also co-authored Satan’s Chamber (Fuze Publishing) and the textbook, The Creative Process (St. Martin’s). Her more recent books are the memoir Entering the Blue Stone and another Victoria Pierce spy thriller, Broken Angels, the sequel to Satan’s Chamber. She is also the cofounder of Fuze Publishing.

Tinsley’s fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award. Her most recent book is the literary thriller Things Too Big to Name.

Ed Battistella: Where did the idea for this novel come from?

Molly Best Tinsley: The short answer is I don’t really know. I do know the incident that got it started: I was driving home at twilight, minding my own business, when a stag with impressive antlers jumped out of the woods and hit my car. The animal disappeared, and my car was totaled, though I managed to drive it the rest of the way home without power steering.

The event left me shaken and whiplashed and feeling terrible that somewhere in the woods on the other side of the road, a large, stately creature was dying a slow death. I turned to writing about what had happened as a way of managing the traumatic effect. I thought it would become a short story, but it just wouldn’t settle into the confines of that genre.

Then during one writing session, the car’s driver, Margaret Torrens, staggered into her kitchen to find the ghost of her deceased husband waiting to engage her in conversation. Neither I nor Margaret believes in ghosts. But for some reason, we both realized we should accept this one. For one thing, he arrived bearing a pretty detailed backstory about the seven years of their young marriage that ended with his early death.

At that point, I began trailing my intuition, often reluctantly, as it suggested what would happen next.

EB: Can you say a bit about the title?

MBT: I’m pretty uninspired when it comes to titles and the file name for this narrative was deerstory for the longest time. By the time I’d completed a zero draft, though, the deer had become a minor player, and I actually had a braid of three different stories covering three different time frames and thematic territories. I went through the manuscript looking for a phrase that might apply to all of the above and landed on a message Margaret receives from her own heart: “Trust in things too big to name.”

I realized that I’d been working with all sorts of “big names” in my text and finding they didn’t come close to encompassing reality. Words like soul and death, love and evil, fidelity, justice, sacrifice–these are crude simplifications of the agonies and ecstasies life puts us through. The more I revised, the more I played on that note, and I’m satisfied now with how the title works.

EB: Your protagonist Margaret Torrens is a retired English professor living in the mountains near Pine Springs, Oregon. And you are a retired English professor living outside of Ashland, Oregon. How much of Molly is there in Margaret?

MBT: Initially, Margaret and I were the same person; I invented her in order to process my own difficult “deerstory” by telling it through her. I fleshed out her past as an academic with my own anecdotes. And I understand her cultural despair and her craving for solitude. But as the story began to grow, Margaret became more and more autonomous.

Our separation became absolute maybe halfway through the zero draft. In the process of reading an article about the interrogation of Edward Snowden, I was taken with the tension of his situation, the cat-and-mouse game, the hovering possibility of an unreliable narrator surrounded by “helpers” he can’t really trust. I wanted to capture all that with Margaret, and so I cut her loose. Faced with a decision-point in the action, I could no longer ask myself, “What would I do?” I had to check with Margaret, who was more innocent than I and also, I think, more brave.

EB: Who was the easiest character to write? And the most difficult?

MBT: The psychologist, a man in his late 30’s, came to life most slowly. His immediate job is to evaluate Margaret’s sanity after an act of violence, but I had no idea when I started who he was beyond a “Qualified Mental Health Professional” working for the criminal justice system. His official title itself invites irony, and it was tempting to consider him Margaret’s antagonist, and set her up to get the better of him. But the world isn’t that simple, even when it’s a fictional one. The psychologist seemed to be taking sides, but his position kept shifting. I had to wait until the end to find out where he would come down.

Jane, Margaret’s former student, was also slow to become herself. Still beautiful in middle age, this former California girl, with her blond hair and blue eyes, had outgrown one stereotype by the time she’d graduated from college, thanks in part to Margaret’s chilly mentoring. But it took constant nudges and shoves to keep her from slipping into some other one.

Meanwhile Victor’s appearance well into the story began a hostile take-over of the antagonist role. He was probably the easiest character to write because he was unpredictable, tactless, and he made things happen.

EB: I was taken with the wonderful writing and some of the turns of phrase you use—like referring to one character’s “stay thither look.” I wonder if, as a writer, you have an inventory of turns of phrase that you’re waiting to deploy.

MBT: I like your choice of the word “deploy” because writing a story is so much a matter of conscious strategy—how best to hook your reader in then keep her turning the pages to find out what happens next. And at those times when propulsion lags, you need to offer different surprises, of diction, imagery, wordplays, to hold attention.

I used to keep a Writer’s Notebook to catch phrases, metaphors, bits of dialogue, character studies that a day would offer. It’s a good idea, and I’m not sure why I stopped, maybe because I realized my process took a different route. Whatever I’m working on, I tend to channel into it the material that arises in real time. I bump into people whom, I decide, certain characters can look like or sound like. I notice things in my own setting to fill out a fictional one. I come across something in the paper that provides a key incident in a story. As for turns of phrase, my greatest pleasure in writing is playing with style, finding original ways to connect words. I can get absorbed for an hour with finding the right phrase when I should be building and making alterations to structure.

EB: I’m also curious about how you decide what to write. You’ve crafted plays, literary fiction, spy thrillers, a memoir, a middle-grade novel, and a creative writing textbook. What motivates you to take up a particular project or form?

MBT: I suppose that if my first novel (My Life with Darwin, Houghton Mifflin), a work of literary fiction, had been a blockbusting success, I might have stuck with that sub-genre and built my career around it. But it didn’t, and my mainstream publisher lost interest in a collection of short stories I’d put together. Thus after I found a home for that volume myself with Ohio State University Press, I turned to playwriting, where I’d had some surprising success. The collaboration involved in staging a play was new, stimulating, expansive. It taught the importance of structure and propulsion, and though I wound up setting aside narrative for many years, when I returned to it, it was with a stronger grasp of storytelling.

In a way, I shifted literary genres in a search for both technical growth and an audience. But it’s also true that certain ideas come with genre attached. The middle-grade novel, Behind the Waterfall, conceived in collaboration with my twin grandsons, could only be a middle-grade novel. Some topics seemed to lend themselves to drama, others to narrative, and the plots that became spy thrillers didn’t leave room for the more leisurely pace of literary fiction. As I mentioned, Things Too Big to Name refused the constraints of a short story and insisted on becoming a novel.

EB: Your narrative technique involved a number of flashbacks. How did you manage to maintain order?

MBT: Though Things is a first-person novel, the narrator, Margaret, is actually braiding three different stories. One took place in the distant past; another in the recent past; and the third in the present. As each strand unspooled, I began to realize I also had three different narrative voices, determined by who the audience for the story was and what Margaret’s purpose was in delivering it. In the immediate present, she keeps a hidden journal for herself to keep track of her sessions with a psychologist she cannot trust. He has requested that she compose an account of the recent past, and carefully, strategically, she does so. More spontaneously, she writes letters to the ghost of her husband and in the process comes to terms with their brief, flawed relationship and his death.

This might sound confusing, but it was the distinctness of each voice that helped me sort out the way they fit together and what information was available to each.

EB: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a writer in crafting this book?

MBT: I fought a lot of inner resistance in following where this story was taking me. It felt like too dark a place, and it required research I didn’t want to be identified with. So it was tough to keep going. I’m content that I did because the book wound up representing the times I fear we’re living in now.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

MBT: Thank you.

Posted in Interviews, What People Are Reading | Comments Off on An Interview with Molly Best Tinsley–author of Things Too Big to Name

Researching Lesbian Separatism, a guest post by Mary Gently

Mary Gently is an aspiring historian based in the Rogue Valley. She recently graduated from Southern Oregon University with a Bachelor’s degree in History and a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with Departmental Honors and is the recipient of the Arthur S. Taylor Award for Outstanding Student in History 2018-2019. She intends to begin a Ph.D. program in History in the fall of 2020. Mary enjoys traveling, watching classic movies, and drinking craft beer.

This spring, I had the privilege of conducting an oral history with nine Southern Oregon lesbian separatists and land lesbians. This demographic was brought to my attention by SOU researcher Maureen Battistella as I was nearing the completion of my undergraduate degree in History at Southern Oregon University. Before 2019, I had little awareness of either of these movements, let alone the fact that the area I live in is home, or home away from home, to over a hundred of these women, the majority of whom are now in their 70s or 80s. During my research, I learned that lesbian separatism was a movement that emerged out of radical feminism in the early 1970s and called for women to remove themselves from the world that men have made and pour all of their sexual, economic, and political energies into other women as a means of achieving the goals of feminism. At the same time, land lesbians, many of whom did not resonate with some of the militant and anti-men extremities of separatism, were inspired by the Back-to-the-land Movement and were similarly dedicated to rural, women-only land.

Getting in touch with these women was not easy, as many are understandably quite protective of their privacy. When I was finally able to make contact through email addresses listed in a 2011 Curve Magazine article, I was thrilled. During this exploratory period I also submitted paperwork and received SOU Institutional Review Board approval. Over the next two weeks, I spoke to several land lesbians over the phone as they sought to ascertain if I was someone with whom it was safe to share their stories and beliefs. As a woman married to another woman, I had an immediate relatability that undoubtedly helped to set them at ease. Soon I began to schedule interview appointments, ultimately visiting three women’s lands. Of the nine women interviewed, five were video record, one was audio recorded, and three were sent a dozen or so questions via email.

I went into this project with a variety of possible points of focus concerning these women’s ideologies and legacy, but was surprised when my research was led in an entirely new direction after several women initially brought up concerns around the transgender rights movement, a point of contention of which I was only minimally aware. I found that while this is far from the only issue that these women are passionate about, many are deeply concerned about what they describe as the mounting pressure from the queer community for butch women to transition to male, the violent demands for trans-women’s inclusion in “womyn-born womyn” spaces, and other similar concerns.

To be clear, those who live on or frequent women’s land hold a diversity of opinions regarding the inclusion of trans-women. The spectrum varies from fully embracing trans-women as women and welcoming them onto women’s land to excluding them from these spaces for a mixture of deeply held reasons. Though trans activists are not currently knocking on the doors of Southern Oregon lesbian land communities, each of the nine women I interviewed has thought at length about this issue and each believes that they are justified in maintaining spaces that include only women who were assigned female at birth and have lived their entire life as a woman. My work, “Lesbian Nation: Separatism, Women’s Land, and Trans-inclusion,” traces the history of lesbian separatism and women’s land while documenting the reasons these particular advocates for women-only space do not believe trans-women are a fit for either some or all of their spaces and events.

Undoubtedly, several of the views recorded in my work are controversial and offensive to segments of society. Yet, I believe this historical record is extremely important and valuable, both to those of like mind and those in opposition. However, we unfortunately find ourselves in an increasingly intellectually segregated society in which the norm is to avoid discomfort, suppress what is offensive to us, and practice selective listening and selective study. This means that it is becoming more and more common to only research and read perspectives that align with one’s own. Because of this gradual societal shift, it is often assumed that if you are reading a particular book, taking a particular class, or listening to a particular commentator, you are of that ideological persuasion. I encountered this on two separate occasions when telling a close family member and then later an acquaintance about my research. They both immediately expressed concern that I was holding what they believed to be radical beliefs. They instantly assumed that by undertaking this project and choosing to study this demographic, I must be in ideological alignment with my subjects. In fact, aside from the constant quest to be aware of and transparent about my own implicit and explicit biases, my personal beliefs and to what extent I agree or disagree with the theory and aspirations of “womyn-born womyn” spaces, are largely irrelevant to my research. My job as an aspiring historian is to work toward impartially recording and relating the events and beliefs of the past and present, not only those that align with my personal worldview.

But what of those historical realities that some label the dark side of human thought? I would go so far as to say that there is no viewpoint that is too dangerous to be recorded and accessible. Perhaps that is a somewhat uniquely American value, but I hold it quite dear. Everything that has happened in the past and all the ideas behind the events, have value of a kind because it is all precious knowledge and can do much to illuminate the present. Conversely, when portions of history are excluded from study, certain historical beliefs and realities are minimized, and sometimes nearly erased, leading to dangers of naiveté, shortsightedness, and ignorance. The oft-quoted Edmund Burke’s assertion that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it” is in fact devastatingly true.

While undoubtedly all ideological positions past and present do not possess equal merit and certainly all positions do not deserve the same time, platform, and visibility, every feature of the past should be recorded for posterity and accessible for research and understanding. This is the job of the journalist, historian, sociologist, and anthropologist. Additionally, historians do well to avoid moral commentary in their work. I aspire to trust the intelligence of my future students and readers and to allow them to determine for themselves shades of right and wrong, good and bad, without interpolating my own moralizing judgments.

One effective means of giving voice to disparate historical memories is oral history. From the lips of the people themselves, oral history provides a glimpse into the why behind the beliefs and actions of those in question, providing vital insight into human nature for the religious leader, policymaker, philosopher, activist, psychologist, or voter. In a sense, oral history is really just the practice of empathy, listening to diverse views and life experiences in order to understand what has led a person to think and act as they do. Rarely do beliefs arise out of thin air. Rather it is life experiences and context that propels people forward into disparate belief systems and ways of living. Accessing oral history gives the listener or reader the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of another.

In the specific instance of the debate over trans inclusion, much of the rhetoric on both sides is characterized by caricature and a lack of empathy. My aspiration is that this work, written by someone who has is neither a trans activist, nor a champion of women-only spaces, could provide useful insight into the motivations and convictions of separatists and land lesbians. I believe that an oral history of trans-women seeking inclusion in these communities is also in order.

Truly listening to one’s ideological counterpart is increasingly rare in America today and consequently the “other” is easily dehumanized and villainized. Without hearing opposing positions, positions that may feel offensive, one can never understand those who think differently and no two sides will ever be able to hear each other speak. Listening does not mean that one will or should change their beliefs, but it does enable them to begin to disagree well, to present a compassionate and informed disagreement, devoid of caricatures.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions | Comments Off on Researching Lesbian Separatism, a guest post by Mary Gently

Sentence Diagramming, a guest post by Maggie Alvarez

Maggie Alvarez

Maggie Alvarez recently completed her second-year studying English and Spanish at Southern Oregon University. Originally from Sacramento, California, she found a love for writing through a series of creative writing and stage performance classes at her high school. Those classes gave her the courage and opportunity to publish original work within her community. Some of her pieces even placed second and third in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards in 2015 and 2016. Alvarez plans on teaching English at the high school level after she finishes school.

Grammar is a difficult concept for many individuals to understand, and it is even more difficult to teach. One common teaching technique that was popular at the start of the 20th century is sentence diagramming, which is a visual representation of the grammatical structures within sentences. Sentence diagrams influenced grammar education for decades; however, most students today have never even seen or heard of a sentence diagram. What happened to this form of grammar instruction? This paper will observe the process and history of sentence diagramming to discover when and why the technique was phased out of the American school system and identify if the process should be reestablished in curriculum.

In its most basic form (identified in Image A), a traditional sentence diagram divides a sentence into two parts: the subject phrase and the predicate phrase. All elements of the subject phrase sit on the left side, and all elements of the predicate phrase are located on the right; separating the subject and predicate is a short, straight line. In this section, we[1] will examine three different but common formats for sentence diagrams (Vitto 50).

Let us examine the sentence: The cat is outside. The first step before diagramming is to identify the subject and predicate. In this case, subject equals “cat” and predicate equals “is.” Image B places the subject and predicate into their proper places. However, the diagram is not complete as it lacks the words “the” and “outside.” In any and all sentence diagrams, articles, adjectives, adverbs, and modifying pronouns are placed below the word they modify on a slanted line. Since “the” is a part of the subject phrase and modifies “cat,” it will be placed on the left side beneath “cat.” Furthermore, “outside” needs to be placed on the diagram. In this context, “outside” is being used as an adverb to identify location. Therefore, the adverb will be placed on a slanted line below the verb it modifies. “Outside” is a part of the predicate phrase, so it will be placed on the right side below “is.” The sentence diagram in Image Ba[2] reflects the final product of the sentence: The cat is outside. Next, we will investigate how to diagram a sentence which includes either a predicate adjective or predicate noun (Vitto 50).

Predicate adjectives and nouns are diagrammed similarly. As they are a part of the predicate phrase, they are located on the right side of the diagram. Unlike articles, adjectives, and adverbs, which are located below the word they modify, predicate adjectives and nouns remain on the same line as the predicate. It is separated from the predicate with a backslash. To show this, we will use the sentences: The cat is crazy and The cat is my pet. Since we already diagrammed a version of this sentence earlier, we know what the subject and predicate are and how they should be formatted. It is also known that “the” modifies “cat,” so the article should be placed beneath the subject on a slanted line. Now, however, the predicate adjective “crazy” needs to be added, which is illustrated in Image C. Since we know predicate adjectives and predicate nouns are diagrammed in the same fashion, the sentence The cat is my pet would look similar to Image C. The only difference is “my” which modifies “pet” would need to be placed beneath the word it modifies on a slanted line as shown in Image Ca. Since the overall format of the diagram does not change with the variations of the sentence, it is a beneficial grammar teaching tool. New elements can be added, and once a student recognizes the basic idea of a diagram, it is not difficult to bring in those new grammatical constructions (Vitto 51).
Now, we will add one more new piece to the diagram: prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases, in general, are also located below the main line as they often function as adjectives and adverbs. The prepositional word itself belongs on a slanted line just as the words “the” and “my” do. The object of the preposition is on a connecting horizontal line which may have modifiers beneath it. For example, let us look at the sentence: My cat is a lover of smelly tuna, which Image D reflects. Notice how the predicate noun “lover” has both “a” and the prepositional phrase “of smelly tuna” beneath it. There is no limit to how many modifiers a word can have. While it may make for a complicated looking diagram, it is all correct. There are some situations where the predicate adjective is in the form of a prepositional phrase. In these cases, the phrase is put on a pedestal which floats above the main line as identified in Image Da with the sentence: My cat is in a good mood.
Examples B, C, and D show only a few of the various structures one could make with sentence diagrams. With the many different parts of speech and ways to structure sentences, the possibilities are almost endless. In fact, there are many teachers who may present a different style of formatting just for preference.

Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg are recognized as the pioneers of sentence diagramming; however, the concept was actually first created by a lifelong educator named S.W. Clark. The sentence diagrams that most people are familiar with today are an evolved version of Clark’s original work. The practice of sentence diagramming was established in 1860 when Clark published his book A Practical Grammar: In which Words, Phrases, and Sentences Are Classified According to their Offices and Their Various Relations to One Another where he compared “grammar to both geometry (‘an abstract truth made tangible’) and architecture (‘like the foundation of a building’)” (Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog 20). The original sentence diagram was formed by a series of balloons, as seen in Image E. Clark thoroughly and confidently believed his method was the best way to teach grammar as “the diagrams are made to render the Analysis of Sentences more perspicuous” (21). While Clark did have a solid understanding of sentence diagramming, his approach with balloons made the sentences difficult to understand and look at. Therefore, in 1877, Reed and Kellogg published their book Higher Lessons in English which introduced an improved version of sentence diagrams to the world. Their diagrams follow the same ideas as Clark, but their approach was better recognized by society as the straight, organized lines made for easy instruction. Both Reed and Kellogg were dedicated educators and were fascinated by the nuances of English grammar. Their attraction (and the amount of unenthusiastic students who struggled with grammatical concepts) led to the evolution of the sentence diagram which became a part of the American public school curriculum…to a point (Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog 19-33).

Sentence diagramming was a national phenomenon throughout America from the moment Reed and Kellogg’s work was published. However, sometime during the 1960s, new research was produced by the Encyclopedia of Educational Research which criticized Reed and Kellogg’s technique stating, “Diagramming sentences … teaches nothing beyond the ability to diagram” (Summers). Furthermore, around that time, teachers began encouraging students to express themselves through writing rather than expressing themselves accurately (Burns Florey, Interview). With no actual educational purpose and a need for expression, the sentence diagram began to die off. The technique was still taught regularly within schools; however, in 1985, the National Council of Teachers of English decided “repetitive grammar drills and exercises [are] a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing” (Summers). From that consensus, sentence diagramming became a mostly forgotten teaching technique. There are some teachers today who will integrate sentence diagramming into lesson plans, but those reasons are really only for nostalgia’s sake. There is a more modern style of sentence diagramming, presented in Image F, which is called the sentence tree and is easier to decipher than the traditional form (Vitto 46). Again, however, only a select few of educators across America actually integrate sentence diagramming into their curriculum. The majority of the current generation of students has no idea what sentence diagrams are or how to produce them as it has become a forgotten teaching technique.

Image F: The Sentence Tree (Vitto 46)

However, what would be so harmful in bringing the sentence diagram back? Yes, the process is tedious and the structures can get fairly complicated, but the technique is much more intriguing than a normal lecture on grammar. One of the most difficult concepts teachers have noticed when trying to teach their students about grammar is the process of engagement. As examined in the article, “Student Engagement in the Teaching and Learning of Grammar,” researchers examine the benefits of implementing engaging lesson plans into the curriculum and techniques for creating them. During their study, they realize, “traditional grammar instruction is the only [method] that has a negative impact on students’ writing, and to a compellingly significant degree” (Smagorinsky, et al. 78).

Simply identifying the different parts of speech and having students use them within sentences may not be the most engaging practice for students. Sentence diagrams, on the other hand, “is logical and especially helpful for visual learners, who can see the sentence in non-linear fashion…in addition, kinetic learners, puzzle lovers, and those with a penchant for putting things in their place typically find diagramming simultaneously challenging and satisfying” (Vitto 46). Sentence diagrams can be seen as one huge game for children, so they could be extremely effective for grammar instruction. Also, the clear, concrete ideas are much more effective than the abstract way grammar is currently taught. This teaching technique could have a place in the classroom once again. However, since Smagorinsky et al’s research found that traditional grammar negatively affects student learning, perhaps educators should shift to the more modern approach to diagramming reflected in Image F. The simplicity of the sentence tree would make for easier instruction but would still maintain the puzzling thrill of traditional diagrams. So, perhaps there is still a place for sentence diagrams within American curriculum after all.

Works Cited

Burns Florey, Kitty. Interview with Scott Simon. “Writer’s Subject? Diagramming Sentences.” NPR, 2006.

Burns Florey, Kitty. Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog. Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, 2006.

Smagorinsky, Peter, et al. “Student Engagement in the Teaching and Learning of Grammar.” Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 58, no. 1, 2007, pp. 76-90.

Summers, Juana. “A Picture of Language: The Fading Art of Diagramming Sentences.” NPR, 22 August 2014. Accessed 15 May 2019.

Vitto, Cindy. Grammar by Diagram. 2nd ed., Broadview Press, 2006.

  1. As this is an educational paper, the author is purposefully writing in the first person for some sections in order to engage readers in the teaching technique.

  2. It is recommended that all capitalization remains the same when placed within a diagram. Perhaps a teacher may challenge their students to work backwards from a sentence diagram and create the full sentence just by looking at where the words are formatted. By maintaining proper capitalization, the un-diagrammed sentence is much easier to comprehend.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Language | Comments Off on Sentence Diagramming, a guest post by Maggie Alvarez