Harvest Pilgrims: Photography of Migrant Workers in Canada

Mexican and Caribbean Migrant Farm Workers in Canada

Vincenzo Pietropaolo’s work reminds me of the photography of Sebastiao Salgado and of Milton Rogovin, which is to say he makes clear the extraordinary that dwells within the ordinary.  His photography is the visual equivalent of Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. His documentation of the migrant workers of Canada illustrates the extremes to which people must go to feed their families and themselves in a global economy.   His images raise powerful questions about  an age when capital is global, and labor becomes global as well. The material that follows comes from the text of the publisher, Between The Lines.  — Lew Rosenbaum

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Harvest Pilgrims, by Vincenzo Pietropaolo (Between the Lines, 2009)

Like migratory birds, most of Canada’s 20,000 “guest” farm workers arrive in the spring and leave in the autumn. Hailing primarily from Mexico, Jamaica, and smaller countries of the Caribbean, these temporary workers have become entrenched in the Canadian labour force and are the mainstay of many traditional family farms in Canada. Many of them make the trip year after year after year.

Vincenzo Pietropaolo has been photographing guest workers and recording their stories since 1984 – in the process travelling to forty locations throughout Ontario and to their homes in Mexico, Jamaica, and Montserrat. The resulting photographs have been highly acclaimed internationally through many publications and exhibitions, including a travelling show curated by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography that opened in Mexico City.

With a foreword by Naomi Rosenblum, this beautiful and timely book of photography and exposition aims to shed light on a subject about which many Canadians know all too little.


“The tomatoes are local, all right—but we’ve flown whole villages of Mexicans here to pick them for us, for low pay and in bleak conditions. Those labourers look out of Pietropaolo’s honest black and white photographs, their hands full of fruit, as though posing us a question. Is this the right way?”
—Michele Landsberg, author and activist

“In the supermarket, everything looks poster-perfect. But Vince’s camera opens our eyes to the bruises, skill, and humanity too often left out of the picture. As we strive for food that is more honest, real, local, healthy, and responsible, this fresh look at our food system shows us an important place where the fruits of labour need to be properly shared.”
—Wayne Roberts, manager, Toronto Food Policy Council and board member, Food Secure Canada

“Vincenzo Pietropaolo’s genius in these photographs is to suggest whole histories and whole worlds in the simplest of images. He takes a phenomenon most of us are hardly aware of and makes us see in it the story of a continent.”
—Nino Ricci, author

“Vincenzo Pietropaolo’s photographs have the intensity found in Jean Mohr’s and John Berger’s seminal book, A Seventh Man. Pietropaolo’s engagement with the dignity and forebearance the workers show in their seasonal exile allows us to return, through these very fine photographs, to early notions of the honesty of documentary work.”
—Meeka Walsh, editor, Border Crossings

“Pietropaolo’s portraits of migrant farm workers and their lives shows them the very respect he says they deserve for the service they give us: they grow our food and without them we couldn’t do it.”
—Rick Salutin, writer and columnist

“Vince’s photos suggest that the old phrase `If you ate well today, thank a farmer,’ should read, `thank a guest worker’—or a seasonal worker, impermanent resident, or permanently temporary immigrant. Whatever the descriptive term, these men and women are the backbone of today’s farming industry in Canada.”
—John Sewell, political activist, recipient of the Order of Canada

New Book Reprints the best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual

Due out in 2010, this annual periodical, a labor of love edited by Chicago Beau (Lincoln Beauchamp), was very popular among those who sought books on the blues. I’m glad to see that some of the best writing from that journal will be available again.

Cover for : BluesSpeak: The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual. Click for larger image




The Best of the Original Chicago Blues Annual

Author: Edited by Lincoln T. Beauchamp Jr.

Pub Date: 2010
Pages: 192 pages
Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 in.
Illustrations: 61 black & white photographs

Greatest hits from Chicago’s essential guide to the global blues scene

This incomparable anthology collects articles, interviews, fiction, and poetry from the Original Chicago Blues Annual, one of music history’s most significant periodical blues publications. Founded and operated from 1989 to 1995 by African American musician and entrepreneur Lincoln T. Beauchamp Jr., OCBA gave voice to the blues community and often frankly addressed contentious issues within the blues such as race, identity, prejudice, wealth, gender, and inequity.

OCBA often expressed an explicitly black perspective, but its contributors were a mix of black and white, American and international. Likewise, although OCBA‘s roots and main focus were in Chicago, Beauchamp’s vision for the publication (and his own activities as a blues performer and promoter) embraced an international dimension, reflecting a broad diversity of blues audiences and activities in locations as farflung as Iceland, Poland, France, Italy, and South Africa.

BluesSpeak includes key selections from OCBA‘s seven issues and features candid interviews with Koko Taylor, Eddie Boyd, Famoudou Don Moye, Big Daddy Kinsey, Lester Bowie, Junior Wells, Billy Boy Arnold, Herb Kent, Barry Dolins, and many more. The volume collects work from literary artists such as Eugene B. Redmond, Quincy Troupe, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Julie Parson Nesbitt, and Hart Leroy Bibbs. Also featured are heartfelt memorials to bygone blues artists, insightful observations on the state of the blues in Chicago and beyond, and dozens of photographs of performers, promoters, and other participants in the worldwide blues scene.

“This collection strikes an excellent balance between interview, blues reportage, and literary work and will be of interest to blues fans, scholars of black literature, and anyone interested in community arts.”–Barry Lee Pearson, coauthor of Robert Johnson: Lost and Found

Lincoln T. Beauchamp Jr. is a Chicago-based musician, writer, publisher, record producer and promoter. Muddy Waters gave him the name “Chicago Beau,” and he has recorded and performed with some of the most respected names in music, including Memphis Slim, Archie Shepp, Pinetop Perkins, Fontella Bass, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the African choir Amakhono We Sinto, and Frank Zappa.

Land is the Common Thread

Land is the common thread.

I’ve been working with denim.
Recycled, worn out, discarded blue jeans.
I did what little Polish Catholic girls do
When I was growing up.
I tied quilts for my aunts
Learned to sew, to embroider.
It has stayed with me in the city,
Many years, many miles from the farm.

I started painting landscapes.
Other painters told me
My paintings look like quilts
The plowed land folding back and forth
The furrows standing out as grids from the paint
And so I began to in-corporate
The history of our land, our people on the land,
In the body of my work.

There are two paintings: one where you see
Images of indigenous Americans
Emerging from the landscape,
Shadowy figures.
The history of Chicagou begins with their landscape.
In the other, you see
Images of slaves and cotton.
Intertwined, cotton slavery
Defines our history, our people.

But always working toward abstraction
I’ve been working with denim.
With discarded worn-out blue jeans.
These are the fabrics of work, of the land.
I tear them apart, cut them up,
Piece them together like a quilt
Taut on stretcher bars to make a canvas,
A landscape of our past
Our working class,
How we carved out our history,
As we built, as we plowed.

So you see we’ve come full circle.
And I’ve been painting circles too.
In the center of these circles is a door
To the past
To the future
A different landscape

Work in Denim: Fiber and Landscape

We Are All One People

The Stitched in Time and Place and the Landquilt series express the lived experience of class as expressed in fiber art and craft in a global economy of abundant availability of commercially produced consumer goods.  In some ways the denim “paintings” refer to/remind one of traditional landscapes like “We Are All One People” to the right, or “Border Line” at the bottom of this page.

These paintings use denim both as a pigment and as a canvas.

Stitched to the Earth #8: Migrant Labor

Stitched to the Earth #9: Grandmother's Garden

Stitched to the Earth #10: Day labor

Landquilt Series: The Plains Before Invasion

Landquilt Series: Yellow Horizon Line #2 (The Gold Rush of 1849)

Stitched to the Earth #2: In Memory of the Family Farm Lost to Foreclosure

Stitched to the Earth #1: In Joy and Sorrow

Stitched to the Earth #11: (Sharecropper) 26"H x 18"w x 1" D 2008

Stitched To the Earth 12: 20"H x 16"W x 1"D 2008

Landquilt Series: Black Horizon Line, Denim, Fabric, Oil, 28"W x 24"H'04 Pieced denim, painted & raw canvas 26"W x 22"H

Stitched To the Earth# 4: We Leave Traces of Our Lives 36"H x 48"W x 2"D, 2005

Stitched To the Earth # 7 : Miner's Blues 16"H x 18"W x 1"D 2006 (In the collection of Barry & Joan Cotter)

Stitched To the Earth #6: Crossroads, 30"H x 24"W x 1"D 2006

Stitched To the Earth #5: Migrations 2005 (Donation to the Roger Park Health Center 2/08)

Stitched to the Earth #3: Sky, Earth. Water (alternate subtitle: Laundry Hung out to Dry) 40"W x 32"H x 2"D, 2005

Artist Statement

Miner’s Blues and Migrant Labor are constructed from fragments of blue jeans which have been thrown away.  Often I have rescued them from dumpsters.  Sometime they are give to me by friends who know my work. These used jeans have a beautiful patina in the heavily worn and torn sections.

Miners Blues  is a landscape.  At the top is a blackened sky, dark with clouds and harsh weather or polluted air.  Below the horfizon line we see a cross-section of the scarred and excavated seams of minerals below the earth’s surface. It is mined by men whose work is dangerous, unhealthy and difficult, but necessary to them and their families’ survival.  “Blues” has a double meaning, referring both to the jeans they wear and to the hardships endured to earn their daily bread.

Migrant Labor is about the roads travelled in search of work.  These fragments are from the bottom of the pant leg, literally where the foot

Landquilt Series: Yellow Horizon Line (Fabric, Denim and Oil)

leaves and re-connects to the ground.  The opened hems of pant legs have faded to beautiful patterns suggestive of aerial views of railroad ties, roadways, and crop furrows. The impact of the migrant’s footsteps leave behind an imprint of use as a tactile x-ray of the workers’ labor and migrations.

Border LIne

6th International Conference on Teacher Education and Social Justice


Reframing Race, Gender, and Teacher-Education Policy

Dates: 5-6 December 2009
Location: University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), U.S.A.

Center for Anti-Oppressive Education
Department of Educational Policy Studies, UIC
Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, UIC

Conference Overview

What does it mean to prepare teachers to teach toward social justice? Across the United States and around the world, educators face many challenges. Especially troublesome are the economic, social, and political contexts that make difficult our attempts to address differences and oppressions in schools and society. Yet, in the face of these challenges, teacher educators are continuing to produce significant theories, practices, and coalitions. The largest conference to date, the 6th International Conference on Teacher Education and Social Justice will offer rare opportunities to discuss cutting-edge research, develop innovative resources, build networks, and explore possibilities for new directions in teacher preparation. The Conference will draw together over five-hundred educators from around the world with diverse experiences but with shared commitments and priorities, including scholars from Australia, Canada, Chad, Chile, India, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Palestine, Uganda, and across the United States.

** Special Note** The Conference Organizers are pleased to announce that registration is free for the 6th International Conference on Teacher Education and Social Justice. All participants must pre-register for the conference by November 20th. Space is limited, and on-site registration will not be available, so please pre-register early. Participants are responsible for their own transportation, lodging, and meals. CAOE does not issue letters of invitation to participants from outside of the United States.

Conference Theme

Reframing Race, Gender, and Teacher-Education Policy: The Conference will highlight cutting-edge research and theory on race, gender, and teacher-education policy, particularly regarding new and innovative ways to conceptualize policy and politics of teacher preparation at the intersections of race and gender.

Special Features of the Conference

Workshop on Publishing for Emerging Scholars: Designed for emerging scholars (graduate students and recent graduates) in the field of teacher education and social justice, this three-hour workshop offers invaluable tips and unravels the “unspoken rules” for publishing books and journal articles. Facilitated by the Director of CAOE, this popular workshop is free with conference pre-registration and is scheduled to be held at the end of the conference.

Booksale: Bring an extra bag with you to carry home new books and resources that you are sure to want from our impressive booksale and resource tables.

Networking Reception: A highlight of previous conferences, the Networking Reception provides an opportunity to meet other conference participants in an informal setting with light refreshments.

Registration Information
** Pre-Registration is required, and ends on November 20th **

All educators, researchers, and educational leaders and advocates throughout the United States and the world and from all levels and disciplines are invited to attend and participate in this conference. This conference is free and open to the public; however, all participants must pre-register for the conference by November 20th.

To pre-register, please download the Pre-Registration Form either in MSWord or in PDF.

Space is limited, and on-site registration will not be available, so please pre-register early. Refreshments will be provided throughout the conference. Participants are responsible for their own transportation, lodging, and meals. CAOE does not issue letters of invitation to participants from outside of the United States.

The Conference will be held on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago in the EPASW (Education, Performing Arts, and Social Work) building, 1040 W. Harrison Street, Chicago, Illinois 60607. Maps of the campus, as well as parking information, can be downloaded at http://www.uic.edu/index.html/maps.shtml.

The University of Illinois at Chicago is conveniently located near downtown Chicago and adjacent to the UIC/Halsted station of Chicago’s rapid transit, the “L”.


Conference participants are responsible for their own transportation, lodging, and meals.

The Conference Organizers are once again pleased to announce that the nearby Marriott Chicago Medical District/UIC has a special conference rate of $109/night (single or double) for conference participants. The hotel provides Complimentary Shuttle Service between the hotel and UIC every half hour from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. To take advantage of this special rate, please contact Norma Badal, Senior Sales Manager, at nbadal@marriottchicagomd.com, and mention the “International Conference on Teacher Education and Social Justice.”

News from Teachers for Social Justice and the TSJ Curriculum Fair

TSJ curriculum fair - Association of Raza Educators keynote the meeting - photo by pidge

Chris Drew demonstrates his free speech art silk screening project - photo by pidge

Thanks from the Curriculum Fair and Next Steps – Get involved!
Thanks everyone for coming to the Teaching for Justice Curriculum  Fair and adding to the vibrancy of the TSJ community. The energy, conversation, passion, and commitment were really inspiring. Thank you!!! We are so grateful to all of the event organizers, educators, presenters, youth workers, administrators, cultural workers, activists, parents, students, and young folks who came out. The conference was put on completely by dozens of amazing volunteers with no paid staff or foun

Ron Towns discusses how math can be learned using social justice models - photo by pidge

dation funding. This is a grassroots project and the critical mass of volunteers and activists is truly inspiring. It felt like the education movement we are building.

There were over 700 attendees, 30 Teacher curriculum exhibitors, 38 resource tables, 9 workshops, art, t-shirts, books, and more.

• Keynote speakers, the Association of Raza Educators (ARE) from California emphasized the struggle to remake the world is a collective one, not about individuals. It takes organization, analysis, courage, and humility.
• TSJ delegates to Honduras shared the stories of the Honduran people’s struggle for democracy and the leading role of teachers.
• CORE gave us the lowdown on building a social justice teachers union.
• CYIC inspired and challenged us to stand up with them for education justice.

• The Committee for Safe Passage to School, mothers of Fenger students living in Altgeld Gardens, made us all aware of

Teachers for Social Justice table at entrance to Curriculum Fair – photo by pidge

their righteous struggle to reclaim their neighborhood school.
• Kevin Coval and Young Chicago Authors closed it out with words and rhymes to move us forward.

Get involved and help bring this energy to your school, community, students and youth, and into the struggles we are waging for education justice in the city.

Help evaluate the curriculum fair, ideas for next steps and how everyone can be involved:   4:00-5:30
Honduras Delegation Report Back  5:30-7:00

Decima Musa, 19th & Loomis

Planning next steps, committees, activities
11:00 – 1:00
UIC College of Education, 1040 W. Harrison (Harrison & Morgan), 3rd floor



Teachers for Social Justice (Chicago)


Call for papers for Working Class Studies Conference

A Conference at SUNY Stony Brook
June 3-5, 2010

The Center for Study of Working Class Life is pleased to announce the How Class Works – 2010 Conference, to be held at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, June 3 – 5, 2010. Proposals for papers, presentations, and sessions are welcome until December 14, 2009 according to the guidelines below.

Purpose and orientation: The conference seeks to explore ways in which an explicit recognition of class helps to understand the social world in which we live, and ways in which analysis of society can deepen our understanding of class as a social relationship. Presentations should take as their point of reference the lived experience of class; proposed theoretical contributions should be rooted in and illuminate social realities. Presentations are welcome from people outside academic life when they sum up social experience in a way that contributes to the themes of the conference.  Formal papers will be welcome but are not required. All presentations should be accessible to an interdisciplinary audience.

Conference themes: The conference welcomes proposals for presentations that advance our understanding of any of the following themes.

The mosaic of class, race, and gender. To explore how class shapes racial, gender, and ethnic experience and how different racial, gender, and ethnic experiences within various classes shape the meaning of class.

Class, power, and social structure. To explore the social content of working, middle, and capitalist classes in terms of various aspects of power; to explore ways in which class and structures of power interact, at the workplace and in the broader society.

Class and community. To explore ways in which class operates outside the workplace in the communities where people of various classes live.

Class in a global economy. To explore how class identity and class dynamics are influenced by globalization, including experience of cross-border organizing, capitalist class dynamics, international labor standards.

Middle class? Working class? What’s the difference and why does it matter? To explore the claim that the U.S. is a middle class society and contrast it with the notion that the working class is the majority; to explore the relationships between the middle class and the working class, and between the middle class and the capitalist class.

Class, public policy, and electoral politics. To explore how class affects public policy, with special attention to health care, the criminal justice system, labor law, poverty, tax and other economic policy, housing, and education; to explore the place of electoral politics in the arrangement of class forces on policy matters.

Class and culture: To explore ways in which culture transmits and transforms class dynamics.

Pedagogy of class. To explore techniques and materials useful for teaching about class, at K-12 levels, in college and university courses, and in labor studies and adult education courses.

How to submit proposals for How Class Works – 2010 Conference

Proposals for presentations must include the following information: a) title; b) which of the eight conference themes will be addressed; c) a maximum 250 word summary of the main points, methodology, and slice of experience that will be summed up; d) relevant personal information indicating institutional affiliation (if any) and what training or experience the presenter brings to the proposal; e) presenter’s name, address, telephone, fax, and e-mail address. A person may present in at most two conference sessions. To allow time for discussion, sessions will be limited to three twenty-minute or four fifteen-minute principal presentations. Sessions will not include official discussants.  Proposals for poster sessions are welcome.  Presentations may be assigned to a poster session.

Proposals for sessions are welcome. A single session proposal must include proposal information for all presentations expected to be part of it, as detailed above, with some indication of willingness to participate from each proposed session member.

Submit proposals as hard copy by mail to the How Class Works  – 2010 Conference, Center for Study of Working Class Life, Department of Economics, SUNY, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4384 or as an e-mail attachment to <michael.zweig@stonybrook.edu>.

Timetable:  Proposals must be received by December 14, 2009. Notifications will be mailed on January 19, 2010. The conference will be at SUNY Stony Brook June 3- 5, 2010.  Conference registration and housing reservations will be possible after February 15, 2010. Details and updates will be posted at <http://www.workingclass.sunysb.edu/>http://www.workingclass.sunysb.edu.

Conference coordinator:
Michael Zweig
Director, Center for Study of Working Class Life
Department of Economics
State University of New York
Stony Brook, NY 11794-4384

10 Questions: Interview with Barbara Kingsolver

The following interview is reprinted from Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/376.Barbara_Kingsolver?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Nov_newsletter

10 Questions with Barbara Kingsolver

November, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver Barbara Kingsolver
As a master’s student in evolutionary biology, Barbara Kingsolver struggled to complete her thesis on the social life of termites. Thankfully, Kingsolver dropped the bugs and took up the pen—writing books with strong political motifs. The Poisonwood Bible, her best-known work, analyzes post-colonial inequity in Africa, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an autobiographical tome about planting and eating locally grown food. Her latest book, The Lacuna, follows the son of a Mexican mother and American father. Harrison Shepherd stumbles into Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky as he witnesses history take shape in the United States and Mexico, from pre-World War II turmoil to McCarthyism. We asked Kingsolver why she believes that literature will always be political.

Goodreads: It has been nine years since your last work of fiction, Prodigal Summer. When did you begin work on The Lacuna and what inspired you to canvas midcentury Mexico and the United States?

Barbara Kingsolver: I’ve always wondered about the uneasy relationship between art and politics in the U.S. In most other places I’ve been, the two are completely intertwined. Mexico, particularly, has historically celebrated its most political artists as national heroes.

I began writing The Lacuna in February 2002. The previous autumn, after the terrorist attacks on the U.S., I had expected that we might use that challenging time to examine our role in the world. But that was not the national mood. Patriotism is strongly identified with the notion of our country as a perfect finished product—as in, “love it or leave it.” Mexico is so different; their revolution is always a work in progress. I wanted to write about that.

I went poking into history, hoping to find a formative era when these modern political identities took shape, soon after World War II. And what a surprise, I found a thrilling seven-year project.

GR: The story is told through protagonist Harrison Shepherd’s diaries and letters, but also through other devices, such as newspaper clippings. What kind of research did you conduct, and how much historical source material did you incorporate?

BK: The research was daunting: It felt, in the beginning, that I was undertaking to move a mountain with a teaspoon. But I like doing research, I told myself, spoon in hand. Beyond the historical and political sleuthing, a novel is made of details. Characters have to wear clothes, use transportation, cook, listen to radio programs, and speak in the particular jargon of an era. In this case, “the era” involved dozens of different locations in two countries, crossing nearly thirty years. I traveled in Mexico, of course, visiting settings from the coastal jungles to Mexico City’s art museums, the homes of Rivera and Kahlo, Trotsky’s personal archives, the amazing pyramids at Teotihuacán, every place I would have to translate for the reader using all my senses. I also studied the U.S. settings, particularly Asheville, North Carolina.

That was the fun, adventurous part. But the lion’s share of the work happened here in my study. I sat and read for years. Everything written by Trotsky, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo, and everything written about them. Thousands of newspaper and magazine articles documenting everyday life in the U.S. during World War II, and then the postwar freeze-up. Old photo collections. Many newspapers now have electronic archives, but the best material is not online. I had to get my nose into a lot of dusty places. But I loved the surprises. For example, I learned that contrary to popular belief, the continental U.S. was attacked during WWII. The New York Times ran photos of the aftermath. The Japanese sent a submarine up the Columbia River and deployed a floatplane bomber, with the goal of setting the Oregon forests on fire and throwing the country into a panic. But the plan was rained out. History hinges on things like this, events that get forgotten—this is the soul of the story I wanted to tell. First I had to learn it myself. My heart was in my throat more or less the whole time.

GR: You are noted for your skill with dialogue, often using vernacular speech. This book includes many historical figures, such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Is it more difficult to find the voice of these real characters compared to your own fictional characters?

BK: Dialogue is my favorite thing to write. It can be an elegant way to package some of a novel’s most crucial information. But you do have to work hard to keep it vernacular and well paced. I construct the fictional conversations in my head and listen carefully. It might seem easier to put words in the mouths of my own invented characters than the historical figures who also appear in the story—Frida and Diego, for example. But really there was little difference. By the time I’d read their personal diaries and everything else, their voices were coming through loud and clear. Sometimes their words came straight from the record. The conversations with my protagonist, Harrison Shepherd, are all invented, of course, but it was engaging to fit everything together.

When I went into the studio to record the audio book, I realized I was hearing these characters plainly in my mind, so I did my best to replicate those accents and intonations. This meant acting out conversations between characters who were Mexican, Russian, French, Mexican American, Ashevillean, and so forth, in various combinations. If I thought too much about it, my brain might blow a fuse. So I just channeled the voices as I heard them.

GR: You are the founder of the biennial Bellwether Prize, which celebrates socially responsible literature by awarding (and guaranteeing publication of) a work of fiction that includes an element of social change. Over the ten years of the prize’s history, the United States has witnessed the 9/11 attacks, a country at war on multiple fronts, a sea change in political power, and now the economic recession. Have you observed any trends in the sociopolitical topics being tackled by authors? What role will literature play in the political landscape as we move further into the 21st century? (Readers: Vote here for your favorite books that include an element of social change!)

BK: It’s an interesting question, which I can’t answer. We get hundreds of submissions for each cycle of the Bellwether Prize, and I don’t see any manuscripts until our energetic panels of readers and judges winnow the pile down to a few finalists. So I don’t know whether the submissions reflect any trends in the political landscape. But I have noticed that new writers are often tackling the novel form rather bravely, both in terms of craft and content. Twenty years ago the cool thing in writing workshops was minimalism: a conversation between a cashier and a bored lady buying cigarettes, posited as a story, heaven forbid it should have any noticeable beginning or end. Now you see more writing in the “maximalist” line, with extremely unusual devices and thematic material. I love the courage of these efforts, and sometimes they succeed.

Literature will always be political: It cultivates empathy for a theoretical stranger by putting you inside his head, allowing you to experience life from his point of view. It can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place and time, power and vulnerability, all the elements that influence social interaction. What could be more political than that?

GR: We asked for questions from your readers, got a huge response, and selected a few for you. Goodreads member Elizabeth says, “In the preface of The Poisonwood Bible you wrote that you waited nearly 30 years for the wisdom and maturity to write that book. As an active writer with that sort of ethic, do you ever find it difficult to have enough material for which you feel ready to write? What else do you do, when the wisdom and maturity are still cooking?”

BK: Excellent question, Elizabeth. When a project feels compelling but too scary, for practical or moral reasons, I keep it on the back burner but don’t give up on it. I pondered The Poisonwood Bible for ten years before I felt ready to tackle it. During that time I collected clippings, books, and jotted down thoughts I hoped would someday help me frame the big questions I wanted to ask. In the meantime, I wrote novels and nonfiction books that were more modest in scope, with more familiar settings and fairly linear, manageable story arcs. The most important part of this paragraph is: “but don’t give up on it.” The most daunting ideas turn into the best books.

Backing up a few more years, I can tell you that long before I felt ready to write my first whole book, at around age 30, I wrote short stories, poems, articles, reviews, anything. Writing is writing, it all adds up. Freelance journalism was the best training for becoming a novelist. Every day I had to pull on my boots and go make myself an “expert” in whatever an editor had assigned me to write about. The essential ingredient of authorship is authority. You hunt it out in a library, you chase it down the street, or you knit it from the fiber of your own will. From somewhere, you get it. You begin.

GR: In reference to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Goodreads member Amy asks, “I’d love to know if you are still gardening and eating all local foods. Did the experiment stick?”

BK: Yes, we’re still eating locally. Our garden expands every year, and our local farmers’ market also keeps growing. How could we turn our backs on that bounty? It feels great to be an active part of one’s own food chain. Given the worrisome state of globalized, fossil-fueled infrastructures, we all seem to be headed in a more localized direction, and I recommend embracing the change. Where food is concerned, it’s overwhelmingly a change for the better.

GR: What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?

BK: Now that I’ve finished reading hundreds of arcane books about the Mexican Revolution, Life magazines from the 1940s, et cetera, I’m thrilled to be digging into my backed-up personal-reading pile that has been waiting. My last five books devoured and loved: Milan Kundera‘s The Joke, Margot Livesey‘s The House on Fortune Street, Annie Dillard‘s The Maytrees, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray, and Eaarth by Bill McKibben.

Letter on the Honduras Coup and proposed “Elections”

[The following letter went to the new U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Velenzuela, on Wednesday from a group of 55 Central America scholars.]

Dr. Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
United States Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Arturo:

As a group of scholars of Central America we ask that you seek to change the ill advised position taken by Mr. Thomas Shannon that would recognize the results of the Honduran election even though Pres Zelaya is not restored to office. This sets a terrible precedent that undermines the wave of democratization that has swept the region because it in essence legitimizes a coup. It is at odds with the other Latin American nations.

We ask also that the Department of State not fund election observation missions by the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, as announced by Senator Richard Lugar. This would legitimize a patently illegitimate poll. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, said he would not send observers to monitor the November 29th elections, while many of the OAS’s member countries said they would not recognize the election winner unless Zelaya was reinstated. Will you push for reconsideration of the decision to send U.S. observers?

The issue is not whether technical election procedures are carried out, or if the ballots are counted accurately, but rather the effects on the election of the coup. Several candidates have withdrawn because they do not wish to legitimize an election sponsored by a coup government, including Carlos H. Reyes of the Independent Party and leader of the resistance movement against the coup. It is highly unlikely that the forces behind the coup would have allowed him to take office were he to win. The broad-based national resistance movement has called for a total boycott of the elections and a number of candidates have withdrawn. Press reports note that as many as 110 mayoral and 55 congressional candidates have withdrawn because they do not believe the elections will be free and fair.

We are concerned that there appear to be powerful forces (beyond the individual efforts of Senator Jim DeMint) pushing the United States in the direction of acceptance of efforts to roll back the democratic gains in Latin America because of the election of some or all candidates of the left. Could you tell us if you perceive these rollback efforts as a threat and, if so, what your plans are to minimize them?

Human rights violations continue. The Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH) notes, in its second report since the coup, that the de facto government relies on:

“the use of excessive force on the part of military and police, control of the media and closure of media outlets that are not allies of the regime, use of paramilitaries to intimidate, threaten and kidnap those opposed to the coup, and the emission of illegal decrees that suspend the exercise of fundamental rights…. It is clear that a repressive apparatus is being mounted to intimidate and annihilate resistance to the coup. In the 115 days since the coup, thousands of human rights violations have been registered that reflect the evolution of state violence and the rupture of institutionality.”

The United States should forcefully condemn these human rights violations. We ask that it announce that the U.S. will not fund observers to the Nov. 29 elections, and that it not recognize the election results, and that we will work with other members of the Inter-American community to resolve this crisis in a way that reflects democratic processes and respects human rights.


Jack Spence, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Aaron Schneider, Tulane University

David Close, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Marc Zimmerman, University of Houston

Nora Hamilton, University of Southern California

Francisco J. Barbosa, University of Colorado, Boulder

Karen Kampwirth, Knox College

Ellen Moodie, University of Illinois

Gary Prevost, St. John’s University

Thomas W. Walker, Ohio University

Irene B. Hodgson, Xavier University

Julie Stewart, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Marc Edelman, Hunter College, CUNY

Lisa Kowalchuk, University of Guelph, Ontario

Sylvia Tesh, University of Arizona

Eliza Willis, Grinnell College

Lena Mortensen, University of Toronto Scarborough

Abigail E. Adams, Central Connecticut State University

Robin Maria DeLugan, University of California-Merced

Susanne Jonas, University of California, Santa Cruz

Mary Finley-Brook, University of Richmond

Aviva Chomsky, Salem State College

Mayo C. Toruño, California State University, San Bernardino
Miguel Gonzalez, York University

Richard Grossman, Northeastern Illinois University

Carol A. Smith, University of California, Davis

William S. Stewart, California State University, Chico

Katherine Borland, The Ohio State University

Hector Perla, University of California, Santa Cruz

Jefferson Boyer, Appalachian State University

Rose Spalding, De Paul University

Bruce Calder, University of Illinois, Chicago

Sheila R. Tully, San Francisco State University

LaDawn Haglund, Arizona State University

Suyapa Portillo, Pomona College

Arturo Arias, University of Texas

Laura Enriquez, University of California, Berkeley
Chris Chiappari, St. Olaf College

Dana Frank, University of California, Santa Cruz

Katherine Hoyt, Nicaragua Network

Gilbert G. Gonzalez, University of California, Irvine

Celia Simonds, California State University Northridge
Beatriz Cortez, California State University, Northridge

Ana Patricia Rodriguez, University of Maryland, College Park

Justin Wolfe, Tulane Univesrity

Gloria Rudolf, University of Pittsburgh

Elizabeth Dore, University of Southampton, UK

Richard Stahler-Sholk, Eastern Michigan University

Leisy Abrego, University of California, Irvine

Craig Auchter, Butler University

Bill Barnes, City College of San Francisco

Linda J. Craft, North Park University, Chicago

Lois Ann Lorentzen, University of San Francisco

Juliana Martinez Franzoni, University of Costa Rica

Breny Mendoza, California State University, Northridge

Teaching for a New America



The context of the fight for public education is the growing militarization and corporatization of public services.  How do we understand the world we are in and the ways to achieve the goal of quality education for all?  Please join the Chicago LRNA Education Committee and the Rally Comrades editor Brooke Heaggerty when we look at how corporate developments influence

Teaching for a New America

In a number of social spheres we are seeing services long considered the right of the public turned over to private investors.  Prisons and schools are prime examples, two of the largest employers in the country.  At the same time, large industries long considered the foundation of the private sector are seeing large amounts of government investment that is sometimes called “government ownership” or even “socialism.”  These issues, that seem to express contradictory motions, have raised  questions about what appears to be a crossroads in our history.

We’ve asked the editor of Rally Comrades to discuss with us this crossroads in the light of two articles that recently appeared in the journal (links below):  What do fascism and socialism look like in the perspective of 21st century US experience?

brooke_heagerty-colorBrooke Heagerty, Ph.D. is co-author of Moving Onward: From Racial Division to Class Unity. She is working on a new book on Celia, the slave, that will look at how the history of slavery affects us today. She writes and speaks on women, racism, the police state, global repression and the new poverty. She is a founding member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America, and editor of it’s newspaper, Rally Comrades!

See: “The Changing Form of the State” : http://www.lrna.org/2-pt/v16ed4art5.html

“Fascist Movement Gaining Force” : http://www.lrna.org/2-pt/v19ed3art5.html

Join us in conversation

Sunday, November 15

1628 N. California (just north of North Ave.)

11 AM to 1 PM

Bagels and Cream Cheese Brunch

hosted by

Chicago Education Committee of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America