James Baldwin: Author, Teacher, Truth Seeker

Born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York, James Baldwin grew up in one of the most famous cultural hubs in America at the time, known for the Harlem Renaissance. He developed a love for reading at a young age and carried that love into high school where he worked on the school’s magazine. His career started there when he began publishing poems, short stories, and plays in the magazine.

After working various odd jobs to support his family, Baldwin decided to seriously pursue his writing career and moved to Greenwich Village, a popular neighborhood for New York artists and writers. With hard work, dedication, and a fellowship with writer Richard Wright, he was able to cover his living expenses through the essays and short stories published in periodicals like The Nation. In his pieces, Baldwin discusses race and religion, and while he wrote well on these topics, Baldwin felt confined by the prejudices in America. He then accepted another fellowship, this time in Paris; this trans-Atlantic move is when Baldwin truly came into his own as a writer.

In Paris, Baldwin did not feel limited in the topics that he chose to pursue in his writing.  He explored his race, sexuality, and religion and used writing to navigate those murky waters. Many of these themes can be seen in both his novels and his short stories, where he fearlessly wrote about being black in America and how sexuality is not limited to the binary that society has made the norm. Some of his most famous short stories are “Sonny’s Blues,” “Going to Meet the Man,” and “The Man Child,” which can all be found in the collection titled Going to Meet the Man.

In his lifetime, James Baldwin had experienced ample violence and prejudice, but also freedom and fearlessness—all of which he channeled into his work. In his later years, Baldwin shared his experiences in the college classroom at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hampshire College before passing away on December 1,1987. Baldwin never wanted to be a spokesperson for a cause, but a person who bears witness to truth, and he truly accomplishes this through his literary legacy.

Over the Top

War has changed radically over the last century, and it all started with the first modern war, World War I. In April, the Press released the first in a series of publications, The Doughboy Series, commemorating this world-changing time.

WWI enthusiasts know that it can be a challenge to find something written during the war, about the war, by a WWI veteran. Over the Top is a wonderful exception. Guy Empey released his book only a few weeks after America declared war on Germany, making it an immediate hit. Little boys wanted to hear about the glories of battle, soldiers wanted to know what to expect from someone who had been there, and families everywhere wanted to find out more about what the men in their lives would be walking into.

Now we have live news and interviews from the center of any conflict around the world, and the average person can discover anything they might like to know with just a few taps on a keyboard. Every time I watch the news, I am amazed by how destructive humanity has become. Wars around the world kill two people every minute with their machine guns and bombs (BBC News). Over the Top is perceived differently than it was when it first came out a century ago. War was an overwhelming presence for Americans in the early twentieth century. It was unavoidable and looming on the horizon for years before America officially joined the conflict.

Whereas the American people then knew a fear of war, now we know a fear of terror. We now fear a senseless death that could be avoided if only we choose not to go to the mall, the supermarket, or even school. The times are different, and Over the Top can give readers a first-hand account of a time and culture that they may never be able to understand from personal experience.

When Over the Top came out, it was poignant and readable, but now it’s showing its age. David Scott Stieghan, the United States Army Infantry Branch Historian at Fort Benning, GA, has revisited this book to make it more accessible to the average present-day reader. He clarifies some outdated language, explains more about Empey’s life and his reasons for writing, and contextualizes the history and environment that surrounded soldiers at all times.

We at the Press know that you will love this 100th anniversary edition of Over the Top as much as we do, and we look forward to commemorating World War I together.

Turn Back Before Baghdad

ISIS’s use of social media and other avenues to facilitate their terrorism is a relatively recent development in the preexisting conflict in the Middle East, and Iraq in particular. Conflict with this region of the world and the U.S. can be pinpointed to the 1990s with the First Gulf War.

In August of 1990, Saddam Hussein marched the Iraqi army on the oil province of Kuwait. The U.S. and the U.N. rushed to defend Kuwait with Operation Desert Shield, declaring that Hussein was to withdraw by January 15, 1991 or face repercussions. Hussein refused to surrender and, on January 16, 1991, Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm.

Unlike today, with entire news outlets dedicated to wartime media, many of the military leaders during Desert Shield/Storm held the media at arm’s length due to the lingering reactions against the Vietnam war’s media coverage. With Turn Back Before Baghdad, Laurence Jolidon collected firsthand dispatches from American and British correspondents, providing readers with intimate insight into the conversations, the snap decisions, and the moments that changed history.

While the media may now have the advantage of releasing their content nearly instantaneously, getting information straight from dispatches, letters, and more, can be thrilling. These primary sources can help readers begin to understand not simply what decision was made, but why a certain option was chosen over another. Jolidon was one of the first modern journalists to utilize this.

The upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary of the end of the First Persian Gulf War provides a timely context for acknowledging Jolidon’s legacy with the University of North Georgia Press’s publication of Turn Back Before Baghdad and its original frontline dispatches.

Mark Twain and his Short Stories: Classic American Literature

When one thinks of classic American literature, Mark Twain is one of the first names to come to mind. Samuel Longhorne Clemens, the man behind the pseudonym, was born on November 30, 1835 in Hannibal, Missouri. After applying for and receiving an apprenticeship with a local printing shop, Twain found a love for wit and sarcasm. The money he received from his apprenticeship was able to pay for family expenses, and he was able to save money to start writing and publishing humorous articles and witty newspaper sketches, which introduced him to the world of an author. With this experience and inspiration, he went on to avidly pursue a writing career. While most know him as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s portfolio expands into short stories as well.

Twain’s short stories are wrought with wit and sarcasm. He really shows his expertise in being able to implement so much humor in a story only seven pages long. When an author is working within such a short page range, every word counts, and Twain fully understands this. Upon publication, his works and collections garnered international attention, and were even translated into different languages during his lifetime. In his stories like “Luck” and “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Twain uses alliteration, repetition, and colloquial language to engage and entertain his readers. Plus, his stories all have value for both entertainment and academic purposes. There is always something new to be found his stories every time they are reread.

While Twain was a well-versed humorist, he was also able to create more serious pieces like “The War Prayer,” a scathing critique of war and its religious elements. Written closer to the end of his life, it remained unpublished until after Twain passed away due to his family’s fear that it would appear sacrilegious. Twain is quoted saying, “I have told the truth in that, and only dead men can tell the truth in this world. It can be published after I am dead.” And “The War Prayer” was finally published in 1923, thirteen years after his death.

Mark Twain is a wonderfully hilarious author with a lot of imagination and relatable content. He is a master wordsmith whose works will be read for generations to come. He will forever be remembered as one of the most iconic American authors and constantly reminds us to never take ourselves too seriously, but also to think before we speak.

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is here. It’s time to break out your best card, grab some pretty flowers, and maybe even make your mom breakfast if you feel like really going the distance.Despite it being celebrated at different times—and in different ways—around the world, Mother’s Day in the U.S. is traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday of May. Mother’s Day as we know it here in America was founded by Ann Jarvis in 1908, although it wasn’t until 1914 that it became an official U.S. holiday.

My own mother has a literature-infused heart, much like myself. So, in honor of her, on a day that was formed to honor her and others who have taken on the joys and challenges of motherhood, I decided to ask her for a few of her favorite titles. Here are some of the titles she decided to share with the world and why she loves them:

1) Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Via Barnes & Noble

“I enjoyed it so much and immediately knew it was a keeper, read it over and over. I loved the rich detail of the fictional Camelot history mixed with the amazing story telling. I fondly remembering reading this and experiencing love and heartache with sprinkles of intriguing history.”

 

Via Barnes & Noble

2) Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

“One of the first non-teen books my daughter (me) and I both got into. Loved seeing her get to parts that were disturbing or heartbreaking and how the crafted world affected her. We would get lost in conversations discussing the story and share our love or dislike of the characters. When I think of this book, I think of the bonding between us that was sparked by the amazing story.”

 

3) City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Via Barnes & Noble

“My daughter and I fell in love with this series. The thought of half-human half-Angels here to protect mankind was thrilling to me. I enjoyed the youthful interactions between the eclectic casts of the human and supernatural characters. I always thought a little teenage angst is good for a 50-year-old’s soul—gotta stay young!”

My mother and I felt joy together within the pages of these books, and many more. They helped us form a friendship that has lasted into my adult life. Growing up, our moms may have yelled at us, grounded us, and more. Just try and remember, especially today, that most of the time it was out of pure love. And just because we grow up, doesn’t mean they stop being our moms.

Happy Mother’s Day!