An Interview with Dennis Baron, author of What’s Your Pronoun?

Dennis Baron is an emeritus professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois and the author of eight books, including Grammar and Good Taste: Reforming the American Language (Yale University Press, 1982); Grammar and Gender (Yale University Press, 1986); The English-Only Question: An Official Language for Americans? (Yale University Press, 1990); and A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2009).

His most recent book is What’s Your Pronoun? Beyond He and She (Liveright, 2020), which Publishers Weekly called “entertaining and thoroughly documented.”

A former Guggenheim Fellow, Baron, who tweets as @DrGrammar, is a regular media commentator on the English language.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed reading What’s Your Pronoun?—and several of my students are reading it as well. Tell us about the “missing word” of the English pronoun system. What’s missing?

Dennis Baron: What’s missing is a third-person singular pronoun that is gender-neutral and nonbinary. The pronoun it is neuter, to be sure, but it typically refers to things, or maybe also animals. We used to use it for babies, but I think that’s not very common any more. In 1808, Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested it as a common-gender pronoun (today we’d call it ‘gender neutral’), but using it for people is generally insulting—both desexing and dehumanizing. In the 19th century, American politicians sometimes called their opponents it. And it’s still common for political rivals to insult one another’s sexuality.

EB: I was fascinated to read about the legal wrangling surrounding women’s rights and the selectivity of the law when it came to rights versus responsibilities. Can you tell our readers a bit about that?

DB: The masculine pronoun could be ambiguous when it appeared in statutes: does he mean ‘he or she’ or ‘only men’? To try to clarify the law, England (1850), Canada (1867) and the US (1871) passed statutes which declared that in any law, a masculine word (words like he and man) referred to women as well. Suffragists seized on that inclusivity, arguing that if he in penal statutes meant that women could be punished for a crime, then he in the voting law meant women could vote. Unfortunately, judges and legislators—at the time, all of them men—disagreed. In their view, he included ‘she’ when it came to penalties like going to jail or obligations like paying taxes, but when it came to privileges like voting or becoming a doctor or lawyer, each right had to be conferred specifically to women or they were excluded.

EB: You note that top-down directives about language invariable fail in the face of usefulness. Why has singular they proved so useful?

DB: Singular they works because it is not a top-down regulation. The form has been acceptable in English speech and writing since the 14th century, appearing regularly and without comment in the works of well-respected writers like Shakespeare and Austen. It wasn’t till the 18th century that grammarians and usage critics began labeling singular they as ungrammatical. But even then, most people, including well-educated, careful writers, used the form. Today most of the major language “authorities”—dictionaries, grammars, usage guides, and publishers’ style books, accept singular they for an indefinite: Everybody forgets their passwords. Or for a member of a class: The writer should always revise their work. And more and more of them accept nonbinary they as well: Alex likes their burger medium well. Singular they is used by people who don’t give the current debates over gender any thought at all. It’s used by people deeply concerned with gender rights and inclusivity. And even people who still object to singular they use it when they’re not paying attention. Singular they comes close to being the one-size-fits-all pronoun, and it arose naturally, in popular usage, rather than being imposed by a grammarian, a law-giver, or a well-intentioned person in HR.

EB: Has there been a turning point in public acceptance of singular their?

DB: The public has accepted singular they for centuries—probably ever since English borrowed th- pronouns from Old Norse, a borrowing that occurred because the Old English third person pronouns, which began with h-, had all started to sound alike. It’s the “experts” who are now accepting it as well.

EB: I was fascinated by the number of gender-neutral pronouns you have documented, which must have taken years of research. Why do people feel compelled to invent new pronoun?

DB: People are constantly coining words and expressions. It’s part of the creativeness of language. The fact that so many people over the past couple of centuries, whether amateurs and crackpots or well-educated writers and public figures, tried their hand at inventing pronouns, suggests that there is a serious need for such a word. Only singular they has been successful, overall, but there are still a significant number of people using one or more of the coined pronouns like ze and hir, which suggests that at least in the near term, we will be dealing with multiple answers to the question, what’s your pronoun? And that’s great, since English has many ways of saying the same thing.

Remember too, though, that some people don’t want to be asked their pronouns, and others prefer no pronoun at all—just say their name.

EB: What’s been the response to your study? Have you heard from prescriptivists?

DB: Response has been favorable. Yes, a couple of prescriptivists/purists remind me that singular they is wrong, even though it’s not wrong. Others object that their freedom of speech is at stake. Both of these objections are easily answered.

Singular they no less grammatical than singular you. In fact, singular they is actually much older than singular you. Starting in the 17th century, plural you began to appear as a singular as well, pushing out the long-established singular thou, thee, and thy. When that started to happen, purists objected to singular you, calling it ungrammatical, illiterate, and ambiguous. And grammar books through the 19th century insisted that thou is singular, you, plural, long after standard English speakers and writers had abandoned thou. (Though not considered standard, the th- second person and h- third person forms persist in some British varieties of English.) Today, just as no one wants to revive thou, no one wants to go back to the days of generic he.

As for the free-speech issue, in terms of personal interactions you are free to say whatever you like, but the First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of your speech. As for official requirements to use inclusive language, they are designed to create a non-hostile environment in classrooms, offices, and places of public accommodation, where the regulation of behavior, including language, has long been accepted as legal and useful to ensure effective human interaction. More and more businesses have discovered that pronouns are good business, and that kind of public acceptance goes a long way toward making singular they and coined pronouns a part of everyday English.

EB: What advice have you got for writers and students about using singular they?

DB: Use singular they if you feel it sounds right, and be prepared to explain it if you are questioned. Editors will accept singular they if their style guides do (the new edition of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual is the latest of the major publication guides to approve singular they both for gender-nonspecific and nonbinary referents in both scholarly writing and when dealing with clients and patients).

If your pronoun is they, your employer or your teacher should respect that. As for general “tips for writers,” many teachers may still reject singular they, though they themselves use the form all the time. Students generally give the teacher what they want (see what I did there?). They is not a hill to die on—and of course not every sentence can be recast in the plural to avoid the singular they problem. But even if a teacher suggests it, don’t go with he or she, which is a form that everybody always hated for being too long, too awkward, too repetitive, and today, too binary.

EB: What other things are you working on?

DB: I am going back to “Unprotected Speech,” a project on language and law that I interrupted to write the pronoun book.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Best of luck with What’s Your Pronoun?

DB: Thanks.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions | Tagged | Comments Off on An Interview with Dennis Baron, author of What’s Your Pronoun?

An Interview with Melissa Matthewson, author of Tracing the Desire Line

Melissa Matthewson lives in southwestern Oregon. She is the author of a collaborative chapbook, (un)learning, with Andrea Beltran from Artifact Press (2016). Her essays have been published in numerous places including DIAGRAM, Mid-American Review, Guernica, River Teeth, and Bellingham Review among other publications. Her first book of nonfiction, Tracing the Desire Line, is out now from Split Lip Press.
Melissa Matthewson holds a BA in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz and an MS in Environmental Studies and Writing from the University of Montana, and she also holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

She currently teaches at Southern Oregon University.

Tell us about your book Tracing the Desire Line? And what is hybrid nonfiction?

Tracing the Desire Line is a memoir-in-essays, 42 chapters, in which the narrator, myself, explores questions of freedom, identity, place, motherhood, non-monogamy, and marriage. It is possible to read each chapter on its own, but read together, the fragments create a whole story. There are a number of narrative layers including the exploration of non-monogamy within the context of a traditional marriage, female desire and sexuality, music, and place. It’s my first book! (Well, I hope there will be a second…). Hybrid nonfiction, to me, is the meeting place between poetry and prose—the writer uses the techniques from both genres to create exciting new texts that blur boundaries.

How do the various aspects of your work intersect—writing, teaching?

This is an interesting question! I’ve been teaching so many different courses, so it’s intersected in electic ways over the last five years of teaching college. When I was teaching English courses, I was designing 200-level courses around topics of interest: women and autobiography, the literature of environmental justice, nonfiction writing, nature writing, and all of these classes intertwined with my own writing in that the readings inspired me and the writing and reading I was doing with students informed my own craft and art. Since I’ve been teaching Communication courses, the intersections are different, though I’ve been teaching multimedia writing, which is an entirely different type of content and in the spring, I’ll be teaching environmental journalism. I think that teaching, in general, gets me excited to write my own work because I’m often discovering new ideas alongside students.

How did you become a creative nonfiction writer? Were you always interested in writing?

I fell in love with the essay when I was at the University of Montana. I credit Robert Michael Pyle for helping me to pay attention to the world and then encouraging me to transcribe that to the page. Also, I spent a semester working with Annick Smith, a Montana writer who wrote Homestead, and I knew I wanted to write a similar book to her. It’s still one of my favorite books. It’s a memoir of her buying a piece of land in the Blackfoot Valley of Montana with her husband and sons. She’s a beautiful writer and her attention to the land inspired me to write memoir. I continued to develop my essay writing as I went on to the Vermont College of Fine Arts and many of my mentors there also inspired me to keep writing nonfiction. I’m not very good at making stuff up, though I really want to write a novel. I think I’m a confused poet. And yes, I’ve been writing forever. I still have some of the really bad poems I used to write at ten.

Who do you read? For inspiration? Craft?

Virginia Woolf. Annie Dillard. Those two are my go-to if I need to remember why I love words and language. And when I need to remember how to write again. I actually just moved all of my books out of storage and Woolf and Dillard have been hiding for many months in boxes, and I’ve freed them on to my living room bookshelf, which I think will help me as I think about a next book.

You have students who are writers. What sort of advice have you got for them?

My advice is to be determined. If you love to write, keep writing. Ignore the voices in your head telling you that you shouldn’t write. Read what you love and figure out how those writers craft stories. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t write. And do the work. It really does come down to writing, and writing, then writing more, and revision. I think so much magic happens in revision. That’s my favorite part of writing: when I’ve got the ideas and the images and the play comes with finding the right rhythms and syntax. And also, to be okay with not writing. To pay attention to the things happening around you and record them if you can. And remember that all voices matter and everyone has a story to tell. We are all natural storytellers. Live. If you live, you also can write.

Posted in Interviews | Comments Off on An Interview with Melissa Matthewson, author of Tracing the Desire Line

Literary Ashland Author Interviews 2011-2018

Check out our author and publisher interviews 2011 through 2018

2018 author interviews

Clive Rosengren and Sharon Dean Interview Each Other

An Interview with Wallace Stroby

An Interview with Kit and Cat Seaton about The Black Bull of Norroway

An Interview with Vince Clemente and Adam Cornelius on THE PALINDROMISTS

An Interview with Amira Makansi, author of Literary Libations

An Interview with Tod Davies, author of Report to Megalopolis

An Interview with Morgan Hunt, author of Bad Moon Rising

An Interview with Sandra Scofield, author of THE LAST DRAFT: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision

An Interview with Ceil Lucas, author of How I Got Here

An Interview with Roger Thompson, author of No Word for Wilderness

An Interview with Malcolm Terence

An Interview with Lynne Murphy, author of THE PRODIGAL TONGUE


An Interview with Kory Stamper, author of WORD BY WORD

An Interview with George Dohrmann, author of SUPERFANS

An Interview with Asya Pereltsvaig, co-author of The Indo-European Controversy

An Interview with Harley Patrick of Hellgate Press

2017 author interviews

An Interview with Robert Arellano, author of Havana Libre

An Interview with David D. Horowitz of Rose Alley Press

An Interview with Vyvyan Evans

An Interview with Sarah E. Stevens, author of Waxing Moon

An Interview with Abbey Gaterud of Ooligan Press

An Interview with Bruce Rutledge, publisher of Chin Music Press

An Interview with Jessica Powers of Catalyst Press

An Interview with Kirsten Johanna Allen of Torrey House Press

An Interview with Laura Stanfill, publisher of Forest Avenue Press

An Interview with John McWhorter, author of Talking Back, Talking Black

An Interview with Sandra Scofield

An Interview with Michael Copperman, author of Teacher: Two Years in the Mississippi Delta by Allie Sipe

An Interview with Jan Wright

An Interview with Allison Brennan, a guest post by Kelly Brennan

An Interview with Lance Olsen, author of Dreamlives of Debris

An Interview with John Enders

An Interview with Victor Lodato

An Interview with Sarah E. Stevens, author of Dark Moon Rising

An Interview with Peter Mitham, editor of Amphora

An Interview with Peter R. Field, founding publisher of the Timberline Review

An Interview with James Anderson

2016 author interviews

An Interview with Floyd Skloot

An Interview with Susan DeFrietas

An Interview with Alisa Bowman

An Interview with Vinnie Kinsella

An Interview with L L Templar, author of Rafer Thorne

An Interview with Carole T. Beers

An Interview with Jason Gurley, author of Eleanor

An Interview with Louis Sahagun, author of Master of the Mysteries

An interview with Molly Best Tinsley, author of BEHIND THE WATERFALL

An Interview with Josh Gross, author of THE FUNERAL PAPERS

An Interview with Mari Gayatri Stein, author of Out of the Blue Valise

An Interview with Midge Raymond, author of MY LAST CONTINENT

An Interview with Morgan Hunt, author of WE THE PEEPS

An Interview with Nils Nilsson

2015 author interviews

An Interview with Lisa Sandlin

An Interview with Tod Davies, author of The Lizard Princess

An Interview with Chris Scofield

An Interview with Gary DePaul

An Interview with Alicia von Stamwitz

An Interview with Louisa Burns-Bisogno and Saundra Shohen

An Interview with Ellie Alexander

An Interview with Mary Norris

An Interview with Jennifer Margulis

An Interview with John Hough, Jr.

An Interview with Ray Rhamey

An interview with Amy MacLennan, poetry editor of the Cascadia Review

An Interview with Rudy Greene

An Interview with Christine Dupres

An Interview with Precious Yamaguchi

2014 author interviews

An Interview with Nicole Howard, author of The Book: The Life Story of a Technology

An Interview with Debra Gordon Zaslow

An Interview with Kit and Cat Seaton

An Interview with Alice Hardesty

An interview with M. J. Daspit

An Interview with Mary Z. Maher and Alan Armstrong

An Interview with Michael Baughman

An Interview with Diana Maltz

An interview with Tod Davies, author of Jam Today Too

An Interview with Robert Antoni, author of As Flies to Whatless Boys

An Interview with Kate Lebo, author of A Commonplace Book of Pie

An Interview with E R Brown, author of Almost Criminal

Who Needs Newspapers? An Interview with Paul Steinle and Sara Brown

An Interview with Molly Best Tinsley

An Interview with Ben H. Winters, author of The Last Policeman and Countdown City

2013 author interviews

An Interview with Heather Arndt Anderson

An Interview with Peter Laufer

An Interview with Kimberly Jensen

An Interview with Mike Madrid

An Interview with Rich Wandschneider

An Interview with Margalit Fox

An Interview with Gail Fiorini-Jenner

An Interview with Sophia Bogle of Save Your Books

Diane L. Goeres-Gardner on Inside Oregon State Hospital: A History of Tragedy and Triumph


An Interview with Hester Kaplan, author of THE TELL

An Interview with Ann Parker

An Interview with Jennifer Margulis

An Interview with Sharan Newman

An Interview with Diane Goeres-Gardner

An Interview with Virginia Morell

2012 author interviews

An Interview with Siobhan Kelly

An Interview with Alena Amato Ruggerio

An Interview with Ken Lewis of Krill Press

An Interview with Kristy Athens

An Interview with Clive Rosengren

An Interview With Molly Best Tinsley

An Interview with Vince Wixon

An Interview with Patty Wixon

An Interview with Jonah Bornstein

An Interview with Angela Decker

An Interview with Amy MacLennan

An Interview with Amy Miller

An Interview with Karen Clarke

An Interview with Michael Niemann

An Interview with Amy Richard and Kit Leary

2011 author interviews

An Interview with Dennis Powers

An Interview with Lisa Brackmann

An Interview with Carola Dunn

An Interview with Katharine Beutner

Interview with Steve Scholl of White Cloud Press

Epic Interview With David Lau

Interview with Dr. John Kalb

Posted in Ideas and Opinions | Comments Off on Literary Ashland Author Interviews 2011-2018

2019 Author Interviews

Check out our 2019 Author interviews

An Interview with Curt Colbert

An Interview with Jeffrey Ostler

Robert Arellano Interviews Stanley Crawford, author of The Garlic Testament

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

An Interview with David A. Oas

An Interview with Les AuCoin, author of Catch and Release

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

An Interview with Sophia S. W. Bogle, author of Book Restoration Unveiled

An Interview with Michael Niemann, author of No Right Way

An Interview with John Yunker, author of Where the Oceans Hide Their Dead

An Interview with Abbigail N. Rosewood, author of If I Had Two Lives

An Interview with poet and translator Martha Darr

An Interview with Tim Applegate

An Interview with Joe Biel, author of A People’s Guide to Publishing

An Interview with Christina Ward, author of American Advertising Cookbooks

An Interview with Sam Anderson, author of Boom Town

Posted in Interviews | Comments Off on 2019 Author Interviews

Index to Literary Ashland, KSKQ Radio 89.5 FM

Check out the KSKQ Radio interviews that Michael Niemann and Ed Battistella do on Literary Ashland Radio, KSKQ. On the fourth Friday of each month.

Literary Ashland with Sonya Daw

Literary Ashland with Phil Busse

Literary Ashland with Molly Best Tinsley

Literary Ashland with Haris Orkin

Literary Ashland with Alma Rosa Alvarez

Literary Ashland with Michael Niemann

Literary Ashland with Sophia Bogle

Literary Ashland with Tim Wohlforth

Literary Ashland with Clive Rosengren

Literary Ashland with Steve Dieffenbacher

Literary Ashland with Melissa Matthewson

Literary Ashland with Erik Palmer and Caroline Cabral

Literary Ashland with Sean McEnroe

Literary Ashland with Tod Davies

Literary Ashland with Carole Beers

Literary Ashland with Brook Colley

Literary Ashland with Jackie Apodaca

Literary Ashland with Karen McClintock

Literary Ashland with Pepper Trail

Literary Ashland with James Anderson

Literary Ashland with Michael Niemann

Literary Ashland with Bert Etling

Literary Ashland with Bobby Arellano

Literary Ashland with Clive Rosengren

Literary Ashland — Ashland Literary Arts Festival

Literary Ashland with Paul Fattig

Literary Ashland with Amy Miller

Literary Ashland with Victor Lodato

Literary Ashland with Amy Blossom

Literary Ashland with Amy MacLennan

Literary Ashland with Steve Scholl

Literary Ashland with Michael Niemann

Literary Ashland with John Yunker

Literary Ashland with SOU’s Honors Students, Pt. 2

Literary Ashland with SOU’s Honors Students

Literary Ashland with Louis Sahagun

Literary Ashland with Betty LaDuke

Literary Ashland with Carole T. Beers

Literary Ashland with Dennis Powers

Literary Ashland with Bill Gholson

Literary Ashland – Conversation

Literary Ashland with Sharon Dean

Literary Ashland with Jim Risser

Literary Ashland with Rick Bleiweiss

Literary Ashland with Sara Brown and Paul Steinle

Literary Ashland with Jim Phillips

Literary Ashland with Jeffrey Gayton

Literary Ashland with Angela Howe-Decker

Literary Ashland with Sharan Newman

Literary Ashland with Darrell James

Literary Ashland with Michael Baughman

Literary Ashland with Midge Raymond

Literary Ashland with Precious Yamaguchi

Literary Ashland with Tim Wohlforth

Literary Ashland with Molly Best Tinsley

Literary Ashland with MJ Daspit

Literary Ashland with Clive Rosengren

Literary Ashland – Pledge Drive Edition

Literary Ashland with Mary Z Maher

Literary Ashland with Tod Davies

Literary Ashland with Bobby Arellano

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Interviews | Comments Off on Index to Literary Ashland, KSKQ Radio 89.5 FM

An Interview with Curt Colbert

Curt Colbert is a Seattle native, a history buff, an avid fisherman, a Vietnam veteran and the author the Jake Rossiter series of hardboiled private eye novels set in 1940s Seattle.

Curt Colbert has written five humorous mystery novels in the Barking Detective series under the pen-name Waverly Curtis, with his co-author, Waverly Fitzgerald: Dial C for Chihuahua, Chihuahua Confidential, The Big Chihuahua, The Chihuahua Always Sniffs Twice, and The Silence of the Chihuahuas. He was also the editor of Seattle Noir, published by Akashic Books in 2008.

His book All Along the Watchtower, featuring Vietnam Veteran and private eye Matt Rossiter appeared in 2019.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed All Along the Watchtower. It’s set in 1999 and I know you’ve been thinking about this story for a long time. Why is the story appearing now?

Curt Colbert: The Vietnam war has been kind of “been there, done that” with publishers for a lot of years. For instance, the superb, award-winning Vietnam novel, Matterhorn, was turned down by scads of publishers, with one saying that it was great but asking the author, “could you change the setting to the Iraq war?” LOL I believe any well written novel about war is relevant at any time. Accordingly, it took time to find a publisher who had faith in my book. Aside from that, it was a tough novel for me to write as it’s partly autobiographical and partly based on other vets I have known. In addition, I wanted to show that the casualties of war often linger long after a war is over.

EB: Can you tell us about the Jimi Hendrix-related title?

CC: I think Hendrix is emblematic of the 1960’s, along with Buffalo Springfield, and Country Joe and the Fish, among others. An irony in using All Along the Watchtower as a title attracted me – in Vietnam’s case, it suggests the futility of trying to guard against an ongoing calamity (which ultimately cost the lives of almost 60,000 Americans).

EB: How did you come up with the plot?

CC: In a dream. My protagonist, Matt Rossiter, was and is a huge Hendrix fan and played Jimi’s music throughout his time in Nam. In my dream, Hendrix tunes were set against the fear and carnage Matt experienced during the war. Upon waking, I thought it would be ironically wicked if the music that gave Matt so much pleasure turned into the calling card of the villain who is killing his old platoon members. In the end, Jimi’s music and Matt’s past and present seem to merge into one as he finally identifies and confronts the killer. In doing so, he has resolution to the mystery, but no absolution for his past and present.

EB: Matt Rossiter also makes an appearance in Waverly Fitzgerald’s Hard Rain. What’s the story there?

CC: As I was working on the book, Waverly and I decided it would be quite unique for us to write parallel novels that share characters and events. In Waverly’s Hard Rain, also set in 1999, Seattle PI Rachel Stern focuses on the anti-war movement of the 60’s and early 70’s. In Curt’s All Along the Watchtower, Seattle PI Matt Rossiter, a Vietnam vet with PTSD, hunts for the killer attacking his old platoon members. Certain conversations, dramatic events and colorful characters appear in both novels, but each can be read as a satisfying stand-alone mystery.

EB: I enjoyed the 1940s series: Rat City, Sayonaraville and Queer Street with Matt Rossiter’s father Jake. Can we expect him to turn up in this series?

CC: Yes. Although Jake barely appears In Watchtower, he will have more of a role in later books. He’s gotten up in years but is still kicking and quite hard-boiled. I thought it would be interesting to have generational interplay between the father and son as the series continues. I have high hopes for their interactions in future books.

EB: How would you compare Matt and his father?

CC: Jake was in the last “good” war, while Matt was in anything but a “good” war. Service members were cheered and celebrated when they came home from WWII. Service members were often spat upon and demeaned when they returned from Vietnam. Both Jake and Matt are tough customers, but Matt doesn’t have the veneer of having “fought the good fight” like his dad does.

EB: You are working on a second Matt Rossiter novel called Strawberry Fields Forever. I sense a theme in the titles. Can you give us a preview?

CC: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ is a song that Matt always played when things got too tough in Vietnam, and in his present postwar condition. In this second novel featuring Matt, he is dealing with a new mystery and still trying to deal with his wartime memories. He is also dealing with his aged and cantankerous father, as well as a perjury charge hanging over him, plus the fallout from his actions against Vietnamese gang leader, Benny Luc.

EB: There is a lot going on in All Along the Watchtower—character development, action, pathos, flashbacks and period details. What was the biggest challenge for you as a writer?

CC: Trying to paint the tragedy of the war in Vietnam by focusing on only one veteran and his old platoon, while keeping it entertaining.

EB: What was the most fun?

CC: The research, the writing itself, particularly when it worked. The re-writing, which is always an opportunity rather than a drudge. And gaining more clarity about my own past through hindsight – the old “no pain, no gain” cliché.

EB: Who are some of your must -read crime writers?

CC: Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, the old masters Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the English author, G. M. Ford, Colin Dexter, Swedish authors, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and Scottish author, Val McDermid.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

CC: You bet. My pleasure and my thanks!

Posted in Interviews | Comments Off on An Interview with Curt Colbert

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.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Interviews | Comments Off on An Interview with Jeffrey Ostler

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.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Interviews | Comments Off on

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.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions | Comments Off on What Kind of a Teacher Am I This Time? A guest post by Benjamin Lucas Garcia

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.

Posted in Interviews | Comments Off on An Interview with Irv Lubliner, editor of Only Hope: A Survivor’s Stories of the Holocaust