5 Books Before the Fireworks

Fireworks burst into brilliant arcs of light overhead, a parade of bellowing trains leave candy in their wake, and the Star-Spangled Banner waves proudly from every homestead. It’s the Fourth of July! To celebrate this occasion, we’ve put together a reading list for the season. Ever wanted to learn more about our founding fathers? How about the unsung men and women who contributed to the Revolution? Whatever your area of interest may be, you’re sure to find an engaging and educational title on this list. Curl up in a nice and cozy spot under the glow of the fireworks, pick up one of these books, and celebrate the birth of America with a great new read!

1. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

From Penguin Random House, 2002

In this landmark work of history, the National Book Award-winning author of American Sphinx explores how a group of greatly gifted but deeply flawed individuals–Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Madison–confronted the overwhelming challenges before them to set the course for our nation.

The United States was more a fragile hope than a reality in 1790. During the decade that followed, the Founding Fathers–re-examined here as Founding Brothers–combined the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the content of the Constitution to create the practical workings of our government. Through an analysis of six fascinating episodes–Hamilton and Burr’s deadly duel, Washington’s precedent-setting Farewell Address, Adams’ administration and political partnership with his wife, the debate about where to place the capital, Franklin’s attempt to force Congress to confront the issue of slavery and Madison’s attempts to block him, and Jefferson and Adams’ famous correspondence–Founding Brothers brings to life the vital issues and personalities from the most important decade in our nation’s history.

2. The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States by Gordon S. Wood

From Penguin Random House, 2012

The preeminent historian of the Founding Era reflects on the birth of American nationhood and explains why the American Revolution remains so essential.

For Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood, the American Revolution is the most important event in our history, bar none. Since American identity is so fluid, we have had to continually return to our nation’s founding to understand who we are. In a series of illuminating essays, he explores the ideological origins of the Revolution—from Ancient Rome to the European Enlightenment—and the founders’ attempts to forge a democracy. He reflects on the origins of American exceptionalism, the radicalism and failed hopes of the founding generation, and the “terrifying gap” between us and the men who created the democratic state we take for granted. This is a profoundly revealing look at the event that forged the United States and its enduring power to define us.

3. Black Americans in the Revolutionary Era: A Brief History with Documents by Woody Holton

From Macmillan, 2009

In this fresh look at liberty and freedom in the Revolutionary era from the perspective of black Americans, Woody Holton recounts the experiences of slaves who seized freedom by joining the British as well as those— lave and free—who served in Patriot military forces. Holton’s introduction examines the conditions of black American life on the eve of colonial independence and the ways in which Revolutionary rhetoric about liberty provided African Americans with the language and inspiration for advancing their cause. Despite the rhetoric, however, most black Americans remained enslaved after the Revolution. The introduction outlines ways African Americans influenced the course of the Revolution and continued to be affected by its aftermath. Amplifying these themes are nearly forty documents—including personal narratives, petitions, letters, poems, advertisements, pension applications, and images—that testify to the diverse goals and actions of African Americans during the Revolutionary era. Document headnotes and annotations, a chronology, questions for consideration, a selected bibliography, and index offer additional pedagogical support.

4. Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin

From Penguin Random House, 2006

The American Revolution was a home-front war that brought scarcity, bloodshed, and danger into the life of every American. In this groundbreaking history, Carol Berkin shows us how women played a vital role throughout the conflict.
The women of the Revolution were most active at home, organizing boycotts of British goods, raising funds for the fledgling nation, and managing the family business while struggling to maintain a modicum of normalcy as husbands, brothers and fathers died. Yet Berkin also reveals that it was not just the men who fought on the front lines, as in the story of Margaret Corbin, who was crippled for life when she took her husband’s place beside a cannon at Fort Monmouth. This incisive and comprehensive history illuminates a fascinating and unknown side of the struggle for American independence.

5. Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution by Joseph T. Glatthar and James Kirby Martin

From Macmillan, 2007

Combining compelling narrative and grand historical sweep, Forgotten Allies offers a vivid account of the Oneida Indians, forgotten heroes of the American Revolution who risked their homeland, their culture, and their lives to join in a war that gave birth to a new nation at the expense of their own. Revealing for the first time the full sacrifice of the Oneidas in securing independence, Forgotten Allies offers poignant insights about Oneida culture and how it changed and adjusted in the wake of nearly two centuries of contact with European-American colonists. It depicts the resolve of an Indian nation that fought alongside the revolutionaries as their valuable allies, only to be erased from America’s collective historical memory. Beautifully written, Forgotten Allies recaptures these lost memories and makes certain that the Oneidas’ incredible story is finally told in its entirety, thereby deepening and enriching our understanding of the American experience.

 

Literary Analysis and Discovery

Many of us are familiar with literary analysis. Maybe some of us even loath writing literary analysis. I can sympathize with that feeling. After all, literary analysis seems to be an ephemeral exercise in asserting a personal opinion which most likely doesn’t align with the reason for an author writing a work. I was on this side of the fence for a long time. At this point, you may be asking why I’m an English major if I feel this way, but that’s a story for another time. People change, and my feelings for literary analysis have shifted. Writing literary analysis has become a personal journey of discovery, but how did I come to this way of thinking?

First, I think it is necessary to examine how I approached writing literary analysis before I thought of it as a journey of discovery. If this was before. I would simply read a work and immediately have a conclusion about the meaning of the story. Then, I would write a paper based on my assumption of what the story means by finding passages which coincided with what I believed. And after finding a million passages, my paper would be complete with me not having learned much or really feeling all that accomplished.

Compare this to my approach to literary analysis now. The first difference would be my initial assumption after finishing a work. I try not to have a knee jerk reaction to the meaning of a work. This forces me to go back through the work and find common themes, motifs, symbols, and other literary techniques the author employed and examine them. By examining these techniques, a pattern is revealed. This is much different than my previous technique were I was attempting to force my own, knee jerk reaction onto the work. Doing this, you can look at literary analysis as a journey of discovery where little bits of a path are revealed until you come to the end.

I think this approach to literary analysis has given me a new appreciation for it, and honestly, it makes literary analysis so much more enjoyable. Before approaching literary analysis in this way, I would loath writing papers. Those papers almost seem combative or argumentative, trying to force the reader into believing me. Now, my papers act as a guide to the reader. I think using this method for literary analysis is much more true to the purpose of an author as well. Most authors purposely leave little remnants and literary techniques scattered throughout their works. Going back after an author and discovering these remnants makes for not only a more interesting process for writing, but also a way for you to discover what a work means to you personally. And while I think literary analysis is academically important, it can also reveal your thoughts and opinions on important subjects, which is why books are so vital in a society where it is hard to find who you are.

Zora Neale Hurston and Barracoon: The Importance of Preserving Dialect in Literature

Book cover of "Barracoon" by Zoea Neale Hurston
From HarperCollins, 2018.

Barracoon is a heretofore unpublished series of interviews between Zora Neale Hurston and a man named Cudjo Lewis who was the last survivor of the Atlantic Slave Trade. It has recently come into the public eye with the announcement of its upcoming release.

 Born in West Africa, Lewis (whose original name is Kossula) relates his harrowing story to Hurston: His abduction from his village as a young man; his trauma at witnessing the deaths of his kinsmen; his forced journey aboard the Clotilda; his time as a slave; and the creation of his own small community after he gained his freedom.

In keeping with Hurston’s preference for authentic dialogue, Lewis’ story is laid out in his own words and voice. For years, she struggled to find a publisher as they pressured her to present his story in “language rather than dialect” (Alter, New York Times). She strongly refused to give in to this demand and as a result, we now have an invaluable document of history. A firsthand account of the horrors of the slave trade and the efforts of African Americans to rebuild their lives in a new land once released from their bonds.

For the reader, this collection of interviews is an important addition to the growing body of work produced by African American artists in all genres. As a group whose voices have been oppressed and silenced throughout our country’s history, it is essential that every effort is made for their stories to be told authentically.

To this end, Barracoon represents an important and positive shift in the publishing industry, as there is now a concentrated effort to rediscover and present the words of those who have suffered in the past—without censorship or alteration.

Photograph of Cudjo Lewis, using his given name Kossula. From the book "Barracoon".
Photograph of Cudjo Lewis, using his given name Kossula.

We very sorry to be parted from one ’nother. We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one ’nother. Derefore we cry. Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama. (Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo, quoted in The New York Times article of the same name.)

Our Favorite Summer Reading Spot

My favorite summer reading place now only exists in my memory. I grew up in Miami, and we had a medium-sized cabin cruiser we dry docked in Key Largo, where storage facilities cost a lot less than in Miami. Most weekends, we’d drive down to Key Largo and take Robinson Crusoe past Blackwater Sound, past John Pennekamp Coral Reef, out to the shipping lanes. Sometimes the water was so clear, you could see small, colorful fish swimming through the coral. In the shipping lanes, the water changed rhythm, into deeper rolls. Through all of this, I would sit in the bow, feeling a bit like the Winged Victory of Samothrace flying over the water. And while my parents fished, I would stay in the bow reading. That’s still my favorite reading spot, especially in the summer.

—B. J. Robinson, Director

As a mother, I find myself grabbing five or ten minutes here or there to read. My children, you see, have a sixth sense. As soon as I start reading, their spidey senses tingle and they immediately stop their independent play to come find me and ask me for something. Anything. That said, my favorite summer reading spot is inside in my comfy chair next to a window while we are having one of our wonderful summer storms. Extra points if the power is out.

—Corey Parson, Managing Editor

My favorite summer reading spot is inside. Is that bad? I love the outdoors, but I hate how bugs will swarm around me if I try to read. Plus, I’m allergic to pollen and bushes and pollen and trees and, did I mention, pollen. 5 minutes outdoors and I’m sneezing. Instead of killing myself, I stay inside and read by the window. (Like a cat, only better because I have thumbs.) I get to see the greenery and admire my flowers, all without sacrificing myself for a mosquito’s dinner.

—Jillian Murphy, Assistant Managing Editor

My favorite summer reading spot is Yahoola Creek Park in Dahlonega, Georgia. Yahoola has a mountainous backdrop, and there is a calm creek winding through the park with many shade trees lining its path. Sometimes, I like to pack a hammock and set it up between two trees next to the creek. The creek, along with the soft murmur of other people at the park, gives a nice white noise while reading. If it gets too hot, you can always take a step into the cold water and see a hiding crawfish or a sunbathing turtle. I think that is the biggest perk of reading here. A lot of outdoors places don’t have any way to beat the heat. And if you need a break from reading entirely, there is always something to watch: birds, squirrels, people fishing or playing sports.

—Josh Vaughn, Summer Intern

From a very young age, the small creek located behind my house has always been my favorite place to visit with a book in hand. I am a strong believer that nature is one of the great stimulators of the imagination, whether one is creating a work of art or consuming it voraciously. The cool breeze blowing on one’s face, the rustling of the tree branches overhead, and the occasional glimpse of one’s reflection in the rippling water nearby. What better place could there possibly be to detach from the noise of the world around us and properly visualize what is within the printed pages of a book?

—Brooke Caine, Summer Intern

Year of the Books

Snuggle up with a blanket and a good drink because the time has come. On Monday, May 7, the UNG Press is launching its very own reading challenge! This reading challenge consists of 52 book prompts; one book for every week of the year. Instead of assigning specific titles, the prompts are open-ended, so you get to choose what book you want to read.

We have prompts celebrating summer, the back-to-school season, and holidays, like the Fourth of July and Halloween. This challenge allows you to read whatever you’d like at your own pace. It’s all fair game.

Think you’re up for the challenge? Come back on May 7 for the full list of prompts. Tweet us at @TheUNGPress using the hashtag #YearoftheBooks to share your progress. We can’t wait to see what books you’re reading!

Good luck, and happy reading!

Writing Ekphrasis Poetry

Do you ever see a painting or photograph that speaks to you? An entire story that unfolds in your mind and begs you to write it?

Odds are you haven’t heard of ekphrasis poetry—not the technical name, anyway. Most of us don’t even know what the word ekphrasis means, but it’s likely you’ve read or written some ekphrastic poems in your life. Ekphrasis poetry is the vivid description of a scene or work of art. It’s not only description though. You often amplify and interpret the meaning of the artwork so much that a brand new world is created for the subject.

Photo by Alvaro Serrano on Unsplash

John Keats did it with “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which he created a life of dancing and music for a couple frozen in time on an urn. W.H. Auden’s “The Shield of Achilles” is ekphrastic as well. He reimagined the events of Homer’s description of the shield in The Iliad.  Countless others feel an overwhelming sense of inspiration to speak for and through works of art.

Writing an ekphrastic poem can be an easy start. Sometimes, it’s as simple as feeling inspired from any piece of art and putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). If you want to write your own ekphrastic poems, here are some prompts to help inspire you:

  1. Visit an art gallery or museum. Check out different exhibits and write about a specific work that catches your attention.
  2. Do you follow your favorite artist on social media? Write a poem inspired by one of their Instagram photos.
  3. Imagine van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Kahlo—anyone!—have “lost works.” Write a poem about what you think their unseen paintings would look like. There could be a story there!
  4. Pick a painting or photograph special to you and write different poems about it. Create a different scenario each time—the possibilities are endless.

Ekphrasis poetry is all about being inspired by other forms of art. Writing ekphrastic poems can help us elicit inspiration, overcome writer’s block, and simply have fun while writing. We don’t all have to write an ode to an urn like Keats did, but we should have just as much fun challenging our writing and creative processes. So, go on! Find a picture on Instagram and write about it. Write about a very Starry Night. Just write!

The Center for the Book

There are many crucial programs and administrations that are vital to our nation and its literacy growth that we may not even know existed. A prime example of this is the Center for the Book. I had never heard of this administration until I dove into research for Library Lovers’ Month and discovered the significance of the Center for the Book. If you are like me, you probably have no idea what the Center for the Book is or what it does, but no worries! Let’s the face the unknown and uncover what the Center for the Book truly is.

The Center for the Book is an administration that is under the Library of Congress. It promotes reading, literacy, literature, and literacy growth. It was established by public law in 1977 by Dr. Daniel J. Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, and there are affiliate centers established in all fifty states. The Center for the Book’s goal is to be carried out internationally, so in order to complete this goal, more than eighty programs have been deemed as partners to promote the Center for the Book in the United States and globally.

There are also various ways the Center for the Book promotes reading and literacy. The Center for the Book has created various programs, such as events, contests, lectures, and festivals as motivation for others to read and write and be more involved in literature. The Georgia Literary Festival is held in various cities across the state of Georgia, such as Blue Ridge and Augusta. These festivals celebrate the local authors and hold various activities for guests to participate in.

The contests that the Center for the Book administer usually have cash prizes, which is pure genius on their part. Nothing gathers people quite like money! It’s also genius because cash prizes draw in students, especially college students. When college students hear the word “cash,” they’ll likely listen to whatever is being promoted, and the students are more willing to participate in order to win the cash prize (especially if it’s a contest that is free to partake in) because, let’s face it, almost all college students are broke. That’s why it’s genius to hold contests with prizes because people are more likely to participate in them, which promotes reading and writing at the same time, so it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.

It’s surprising that a lot of people, including myself, don’t know what the Center for the Book is or that it even existed! If it weren’t for the Center for the Book, our libraries wouldn’t be like they are today. I shudder at the thought of what they would be if it weren’t for the Center for the Book and the programs they have established and partnered with to help promote literacy growth throughout the nation and overseas. This month for Library Lovers’ Month, let’s show some love for the administrations that helped shape our beloved libraries!