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In preparation for his forthcoming title Teaching in the Now: John Dewey on the Educational Present, we briefly talked to author Jeff Frank about the book, what motivated him to write it, and the reason for advocating for John Dewey’s work in the modern educational landscape.

 


 

Q: Could you briefly explain your book, for those who are not familiar?

Jeff Frank: I wrote this book out of appreciation for John Dewey’s thinking on how to create a meaningful educational present for students. Too often, we treat the present as mere preparation to do something rewarding or interesting in the future. When we do this, we lose student interest and engagement. Dewey argues that the best preparation for a meaningful future is learning to live meaningfully in the present.

 

Q: What prompted you to write Teaching in the Now, and what do you hope to accomplish with the book?

Frank: I wrote this book for two main reasons. First, I worry that we don’t do enough to value the present moment. Schooling can be tremendously interesting, but it loses its interest when we defer meaningful work to the future. Second, I wrote this book for students new to Dewey’s work in the hopes of showing them why they should take him seriously. Though his work may initially appear difficult, I wrote this book in the hopes that it might make it easier to stick with Dewey.

Jeff Frank

 

Q: What is it that motivates you to advocate for Dewey’s work in such a purposeful way?

Frank: A major motivation for this project is a sense of hope. John Dewey believed that each one of us harbor deep potential, and he also believed that activating that potential was one way to ensure the future of a strong democracy in the United States. My belief, one I share with Dewey, is that we need to do everything we can to make each moment in the classroom as engaging and rewarding as possible for students. Doing this is not only good for students, it is also good for our democracy. By helping students realize their potential in the present moment, we are helping to bring about a better future. My book is meant to aid teachers as they create these types of experiences for their students.

 

Q: You mention some treating the present as “mere preparation to do something rewarding or interesting in the future”. How do you feel this mentality come about? How have you seen it manifest?

Frank: In many ways, this is the key point. Dewey believes in the importance of thinking about how we acquire habits and what these habits make possible or foreclose. When it comes to “mere preparation,” Dewey might think about the habit many of us get into where we think things like: Once I have X job I will be happy, or Once I have X amount of money I will be happy, or Once I have tenure, or my own classroom I will begin doing the things I truly want to do. For Dewey, we should begin living the life we aspire to, as much as possible, in the present moment. For a teacher, this means trying to create the most engaging environment for students we can, in the present moment, not deferring until ideal conditions are met.

This brings up a related point. Someone may wonder: But aren’t there just some things we just have to learn? To this, I have two responses. First, I coached three sports in addition to teaching high school English, and there are indeed things one must learn before doing more advanced work. For example, if you don’t know how to spin correctly in the discus circle, there is no way to throw as effectively as possible. But there are ways to make the learning how to spin more or less engaging. The same holds true in the classroom Robert Frost, an excellent teacher himself, noted that explaining a joke doesn’t make it funny. The same is true with a poem. Spending time explaining why a poem is interesting in preparation for helping a student enjoy a poem is often counterproductive. A teacher should look for poems that are appropriately challenging and that they think students will actually find interesting, thereby giving students the most meaningful experience of learning in the present.

My second point is this. When we are learning how to do things outside of a school setting, how do we learn best? How do we prepare to cook or ski or develop a passion for music or movies? While some people may spend hours reading about skiing or testing skis out off of the slopes, more often than not we try things out. This experimenting allows us to see what we need to learn in order to improve, and this leads us to develop a passion for figuring things out so that we can make progress.  Or to ask another question, when you want to share your passion with a friend, how do you do it? Do you make them do a lot of preparatory work, or do you try to use your pedagogical creativity so that the first experience your friend has with what you are passionate about makes them want to learn more and engage more deeply with that passion? Dewey would argue that we can approach teaching this way, seeing the goal of teaching as creating the type of present that makes students want to learn more. Far from leaving students unprepared, these are the experiences that instill habits of thinking and acting that make students more able to engage more deeply with their learning in the future.

 

Q: How would you explain the importance of your book, and your field as a whole, to a lay audience?

Frank: This book is important because it helps teachers and future teachers think about how to create an engaging and educative present for their students. It also makes Dewey’s work more accessible. Anyone who teaches Dewey’s Experience and Education or anyone reading Dewey’s educational philosophy for the first time will—I hope—find something of interest in my book.

 


 

Get 30% off your own copy of Teaching in the Now by ordering it from our website with the discount code PURDUE30.

Purdue University Press is proud to publish books that highlight the numerous important relationships between humans and animals.

Published in collaboration with Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and series editors Alan Beck and Maggie O’Haire, our New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond series, seeks to expand our knowledge of the human-animal bond. The series welcomes submissions covering all aspects of human-animal interaction and welfare, including therapy applications, public policy, and the application of humane ethics in managing our living resources.

You can access the series in its entirety on our website. Below is a selection of some of our recent titles.

 


 

Transforming Trauma: Resilience and Healing Through Our Connections with Animals

 

Edited by Philip Tedeschi and Molly Anne Jenkins

 

International experts in the fields of trauma and human-animal connection examine how our relationships with animals can help build resiliency and foster healing to transform trauma. A myriad of animal species and roles, including companion, therapy, and service animals are discussed.

“Tedeschi and Jenkins have produced the go-to sourcebook on the role of animal-assisted interventions for children and adults coping with the debilitating effects of psychological trauma. With diverse and engaging contributions from international experts in the field, Transforming Trauma fills an important gap in the AAI/anthrozoology literature, and it does so with considerable insight and compassion, not only for the human victims of trauma, but also for the animals who help them on the road to recovery.”

— James A Serpell, Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine

 

Check out a free preview of the book.

 

A Reason to Live: HIV and Animal Companions

 

by Vicki Hutton

 

A Reason to Live explores the human-animal relationship through the narratives of eleven people living with HIV and their animal companions. The narratives, based on a series of interviews with HIV-positive individuals and their animal companions in Australia, span the entirety of the HIV epidemic, from public awareness and discrimination in the 1980s and 1990s to survival and hope in the twenty-first century.

“Vicki Hutton captures the healing power of human-animal bond through personal stories of survivors of the AIDS pandemic. During a time of stigma and self-hatred, and before effective therapies, animal companionship was the most powerful medicine available and is still effective today. Furry, feathered and scaled creatures saved many lives and brought a positive face to the pandemic. The author captures the historical threads of a darker time and brings light to the importance of animals in our lives.”

— Ken Gorczyca, DVM, Founding Veterinarian of Pets Are Wonderful Support, San Francisco

 

Check out a free preview of the book and an interview with the author.

 

 

That Sheep May Safely Graze: Rebuilding Animal Health Care in War-Torn Afghanistan

 

by David Sherman

 

Author David Sherman details a determined effort, in the midst of war, to bring essential veterinary services to an agrarian society that depends day in and day out on the well-being and productivity of its animals, but which, because of decades of war and the disintegration of civil society, had no reliable access to even the most basic animal health care.

“There are literally billions of animals (cows, sheep, goats, etc.) that often represent the only assets extremely poor rural families depend on for income, nutrition, status, power, fiber, fertilizer, fuel, and more. One of the major challenges facing these farmers and herders is the health of their animals. Paraveterinary (extension and clinical service) networks are often discussed but rarely well-established on any kind of sustainable and self-reliant basis. That Sheep May Safely Graze is an extraordinary story of success in building community-led, community-supported, and accountable networks of paravets who are protecting and enhancing the value of the livestock in Afghanistan. Their lessons learned are relevant to all of us engaged in livestock management, and it makes for a captivating and engrossing book on how things can get done when it matters to people.”

— Pierre Ferrari, President and Chief Executive Officer, Heifer International

 

Check out a free preview of the book and an interview with the author.

 

 

Animal-Assisted Interventions in Health Care Settings: A Best Practices
Manual for Establishing New Programs

 

by Sandra B. Barker, Rebecca A. Vokes, and Randolph T. Barker

 

Animal-Assisted Interventions in Health Care Settings: A Best Practices Manual for Establishing New Programs succinctly outlines how best to develop, implement, run, and evaluate AAI programs. The text explores benefits from a variety of perspectives, including how AAI can improve patient experience, provide additional career development for staff, and contribute favorably to organizational culture as well as to the reputation of the facility in the surrounding community.

“Barker, Vokes, and Barker’s book is a true gem! As a leading researcher and practitioner in the field of AAI, Barker and her colleagues have assembled a book that is rich in theory and practice. The pages are filled with best practice advice from seasoned practitioners who are not only aware of how to develop reliable and safe AA interventions for patients, but also strategies to preserve animal welfare. This is a must-read book for all professionals working in health care settings!”

— Aubrey H. Fine, Professor Emeritus- California Polytechnic University, and author of Afternoons with Puppy and the Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy

Check out a free preview of the book.

 

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Use discount code PURDUE30 to get 30% any book in this series on our website.

 

From July 18-20, Purdue University will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing with a variety of campus events, including a talk by Apollo 11 flight director Gene Kranz, a showing of a new “Armstrong” documentary, and a book signing/meet and greet with Purdue University Press authors.

Purdue University Press is proud to publish in space and flight with our book series, Purdue Studies in Aeronautics and Astronautics edited by James R. Hansen. Our books build on Purdue’s leadership in aeronautic and astronautic engineering, as well as the historic accomplishments of many of Purdue’s luminary alums.

The stories that can be told in connection with Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon are innumerable. Stories of those who sacrificed it all for us to get there, stories of the men and women working behind the scenes, and stories of the men and women inspired by the moon landing, continuing to their own “giant leaps”. Read on to hear more about these stories.

 


 

Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom

by George Leopold

On January 27, 1967, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives in a fire during a launch pad test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft.

Gus Grissom, a Purdue University alumnus and one of the “Mercury Seven”, was a fixture of the early Space Race. There was a point in time when many thought NASA would eventually select Grissom as the first man to walk on the moon. Most now remember him for the tragedy that took his life.

“One of the cruel ironies, the central paradox of the Space Race, was that a launch pad fire actually saved the Apollo program,” notes George Leopold, Gus Grissom’s biographer, in a blog post earlier this year. “The reason was the evidence of what had been overlooked in Grissom’s ship—the faulty wiring, the leaking coolant, the lack of flame-retardant materials in the spacecraft, the clumsy, inward-opening hatch, and most important of all, NASA’s misguided engineering decision to use pure oxygen under pressure on the launch pad—all of it was there for the investigators to sift through.”

What NASA was able to learn from this tragedy helped lay the groundwork for the missions that put men on the moon.

 

 

Piercing the Horizon: The Story of Visionary NASA Chief Tom Paine

cover of Piercing the Horizon, a rocket during takeoffby Sunny Tsiao

Tom Paine was the administrator of NASA when man took their first steps on the lunar surface on the Apollo 11 mission.

Named acting administrator on October 8, 1968, and confirmed by the Senate as administrator on March 20, 1969, he was tasked with getting the program back on track following the Apollo 1 disaster, and stewarded the program through the first seven manned Apollo missions.

In the Foreword of Piercing the Horizon, James R. Hansen calls Paine “one of America’s greatest spaceflight visionaries”.

 

 

 

Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA’s Record-Setting Frequent Flyer

by Jerry L. Ross with John Norberg

“On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched toward the Moon to attempt the first manned lunar landing. I read everything I could get my hands on about the mission. Any time there was information about the mission on TV, and I wasn’t working, I was there. I didn’t care if the coverage was just a shot of Mission control in Houston with no one talking. I loved what they were doing, how they were doing it, the suspense, and the technology.”

Jerry Ross, a Purdue University alumnus and Indiana native, shares the record for most spaceflights. Ross spent 1,393 hours in space, including 58 hours and 18 minutes on nine space walks.

Ross was a student at Purdue when he was inspired by Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Ross collaborated with Susan G. Gunderson to write an illustrated children’s version of his biography called Becoming a Spacewalker: My Journey to the Stars.

 

 

Wings of Their Dreams: Purdue in Flight, Second Edition

by John Norberg

“Every day you’re reminded that not only did Neil Armstrong walk these paths around Purdue, going to class every day, but so did Gus (Grissom), and so did a whole lot of others.”

Often referred to as “the cradle of astronauts”, Purdue University is inseparable with the history of manned spaceflight.

Wings of Their Dreams is the story of the human spirit taking flight, entwined with Purdue’s legacy in aviation’s history and its horizons. Author John Norberg reminds readers that the first and last men to land on the moon first trekked across the West Lafayette, Indiana campus on their journeys into the heavens and history.

Second Edition out October 15, 2019

 

 

Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind

by James R. Hansen

Today, some 75,000 letters written to Neil Armstrong are preserved in the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.

Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind publishes a careful sampling of these letters—roughly 400—reflecting the various kinds of correspondence that Armstrong received along with representative samples of his replies.

Out October 15, 2019

 

 

 


Get 30% off any of these books when you order through the Purdue University Press website with the discount code PURDUE30.

In an interview with Vicki Hutton, the author of A Reason to Live: HIV and Animal Companions, we discuss the new book and relevant subjects, including the public perception of HIV/AIDS and the universality of the human-animal bond. A Reason to Live is the newest book in the popular New Directions in the Human-Animal Bond book series, edited by Dr. Alan M. Beck and Dr. Marguerite O’Haire.


 

Q: Could you briefly explain your book, for those who are not familiar?

Vicki Hutton: A Reason to Live provides a testament to the power of the human-animal relationship for eleven men living with HIV in Australia. In the 1980s HIV changed the lives of thousands of people in a way that could never have been predicted. For many people living with HIV, their animal companions followed them into this new and unexpected life and by doing so, provided some semblance of normality in a world turned upside down.

A book with a Cat on the front sitting on a ledge

A Reason to Live was released by Purdue University Press June 2019

For others with HIV, their animal companions joined them further down the track, and provided the consistent and unconditional support that was not always forthcoming from other humans and the medical world. For this reason, animal companions are part of the narrative history of HIV, and part of the meaning-making around an epidemic that changed the world.

This collection of narratives spans the entirety of the HIV epidemic in Australia, from public awareness and discrimination in the 1980s and 1990s, to survival and hope in the twenty-first century. Each narrative is explored within the context of the latest human-animal research and theory in order to understand the unique bond between human and animal during an ‘epidemic of stigma’. A consistent theme is that these animals provided ‘a reason to live’: both for the long-term survivors and their past animal companions who offered unconditional love and support during this tumultuous period; and the current generation of HIV-positive narrators whose animal companions form part of the ‘wellness narrative’ of living and ageing with HIV.

 

Q: What compelled you to research and write about these stories?

Hutton: I could say that this was a logical outcome of my main areas of research interest: the human-animal relationship and stigmatized medical conditions, but it was far more than that. From the moment I visited a local HIV/AIDS support organization to check out the feasibility of conducting some research into stigma and the human-animal relationship, there was no going back. I was amazed by the willingness of so many people who jumped at the opportunity to describe the wonder and gratitude they felt towards their animal companions. The horrors of living with HIV, including the reactions of other humans, became almost incidental to the latest antics of their beloved animals. That first visit reshaped my research project, and I will always be grateful to the individuals who shared their time and their stories so openly and modestly. A Reason to Live is more than a cultural memory: it is a thank you to those individuals and a celebration of the human-animal relationship.

 

Q: What do you think are some of the most prevalent public misunderstandings surrounding HIV/AIDS?

Hutton: The first thing to remember is that there is not one HIV epidemic. It is experienced in different ways within and between countries, and according to race, gender, sexuality, age, income and decade. For example, a young woman living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa faces different challenges and public misconceptions to an older gay man living in US. Over the decades it has also attracted social meanings beyond the medical meanings, making any public misconceptions surrounding HIV and AIDS dependent on a range of factors.

With this in mind, I’ve noticed a common misconception that seems to straddle many of these groups is the tendency to assign ‘blame’ and ‘innocence’ to those with HIV. In the early years, the concept of blame and innocence saw those who contracted the virus as a result of lifestyle choices – such as unprotected sex or intravenous drug use – deemed less worthy of care and support than those who contracted it through circumstances that were perceived as out of their control – such as blood transfusions or childbirth. Fast forward several decades and blame may still emerge where a person is perceived as contracting HIV because they took avoidable lifestyle risks or failed to adequately protect themselves by adopting all the modern (medical) ways of avoiding HIV.

According to the men I spoke to, there can also be misconceptions around what it means to live and age with this stigmatized and incurable condition. They described how the medications can keep them physically healthy, but there are still challenges such as forming and maintaining relationships, and fears for the future. They described how the public perception in developed nations at least had moved towards HIV being a chronic but manageable condition – as long as a person maintains their medication regime. This perception that HIV and AIDS ares ‘over’ sometimes left them feeling ungrateful, isolated and unable to articulate the ongoing niggling anxieties that HIV can evoke (especially around ageing and cognitive decline).

And finally, I’d like to think that early public misconceptions about the ease of transmission of HIV have abated but according to some of the people I spoke to, this may not always be the case. They described how rules of physical contact were sometimes overtly or covertly reconstructed, leaving them feeling rejected and isolated. They acknowledged that negative experiences had definitely reduced over the years, but this sometimes made it all the more distressing when something unexpected happened. It seems that globally HIV still struggles to divest its misunderstood and demonized reputation.

 

Q: How do you feel these misunderstandings could be remedied?

Hutton: I’m not sure I’m in a position to make a meaningful response to this, given the diversity of the lived experience of HIV. I think if I make suggestions as someone who isn’t living with HIV, my response or suggestions could be perceived as trite and generic.

However, based on the stories I heard, perhaps learning from the actions of our non-judgmental animal companions could be a good starting place.

 

Q: Many are aware of the unconditional love that animals provide, but don’t quite grasp how much these animals can help. What are some of the most profound ways you feel these animals helped their humans or carers?

Hutton: Where do I start? These animal companions were lifelines for some of the men, providing a tangible anchor to the good parts of life that had been eroded following their diagnosis with HIV. Animals are without guile, and they can effortlessly cushion the fundamental human fears of separation and abandonment. They ask for nothing more than love and security, something all the men were delighted to give. In return, their affection remained predictable, and unaffected by their human’s circumstances or appearances.

An animal’s love can’t be faked – a tail wag, a purr, a nibble or affectionate head butt comes straight from the heart. If an animal is looking at you with love and anticipation, it’s easy to believe you are needed and still the same person you always had been. One man described being incontinent and bed-ridden, and how his animal companion lay on the bed and loved him regardless.

If an animal is expecting to be loved and fed, what better incentive to remain alive? One man acknowledged that with a non-existent social network following his diagnosis, his death by suicide would inevitably doom his young cat to starvation before anyone thought to check his apartment. The cat was his reason to live during those dark times.

And if you’re constantly having to care for, clean up after, and exercise an animal, what better way to keep fit? Many of the men described having to drag themselves out of bed in the morning to walk their dog, or feed the chickens, or just let the dog or cat outside to urinate. All acknowledged they probably would have just stayed in bed without this incentive – and felt so much worse for it.

 

Q: How do you feel traveling around Australia interviewing these eleven men most impacted you?

Hutton: This whole experience impacted me in a way that I had not expected. On many occasions I desperately missed the emotional support that my own animal friends would normally offer, especially after some of the more emotion-laden interviews. I longed to go home and cuddle my own animal friends, but this was impossible when thousands of miles away in a different state. I soon learned that no matter where I was, the emotion behind the stories was similar, and it was only the differences in weather and venues that differed – and the distance from my own animal support network.

But there were many fun times too. Whether I was in Sydney, Melbourne or any other state, I’d have to carry the same treats and goodies in my bag for those animal companions who came along to supervise the interviews. Many of the animals, especially the dogs, soon worked out where the treats were stored, and my travel bag became increasingly scratched and nibbled.

Some of these men are no longer alive. Where they lived interstate, sometimes I learned of their death accidentally or well after the event. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to hear their story, and it’s a timely reminder that even with twenty-first century medications, living and ageing with HIV still carries uncertainty and risk.

 

Q: Where there any interesting stories that came from the interviews that did not make it into the book?

Hutton: Some of the most interesting stories came out of our more informal discussions once the recording equipment was off. We shared stories of cat vomit and hairballs, anal glands and chewing habits, urination, defecation, muddy paw prints, scratched furniture and inequitable sharing of bed space – all the day-to-day minutiae that is so riveting for anyone who shares their living space with animal companions.

There were also some personal stories not related to the animal companions that were too harrowing to include in this book. Sometimes I was entrusted with information that a person had never shared before, and it would have been a violation of that trust to include these events. Each man’s story could have been a book in itself as they described their lived experience of HIV in a sometimes harsh and judgmental world. I’ve tried to do justice to those stories through the animals, while acknowledging that this was only one part of navigating life with HIV.

 


 

Receive 30% off you own copy of A Reason to Live by entering the promo code PURDUE30 at checkout on our website.

This blog post takes part in a blog tour hosted by the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) in recognition and respect of the sudden passing of the University of Virginia Press director Mark Saunders. As our professional organization gathered this week in Detroit for our annual meeting, search on Twitter with #WeAreUP to read more posts about our sorely missed colleague, Mark, and continue to follow @AUPresses and engage with #ReadUP.

I know who Mark Saunders was, but I did not know him.

That seems weird to say since I have been employed by Purdue University Press in various capacities for 22 years as of next month (hey, I’m not that old – the first three and a half years were as a student worker!). I never met Mark but saw him often from afar at one conference or another. Seeing the impact that Mark had on the publishing industry, specifically the university press industry, is awe-inspiring and makes me wish I had stepped out of my box to introduce myself to him; or asked a colleague to make the introduction. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. But why should it be? The outpouring of grief, love, and admiration for Mark and the wonderful stories celebrating him as a leader, colleague, mentor, and friend from our community of AUPresses has caught me examining my own hindsight and asking the question, why do we wait to do so?

A little more than 11 years ago my colleague and at the time our managing editor, Margaret, lost her war with cancer. She won the first battle a couple years before that, but the evil disease finally won. She did not pass suddenly, like Mark, so we in the office knew this day would come but the shock was similar when we finally received the news. Stupidly, I did not take the opportunity to go and say goodbye. I grieved in my own way, I keep some things in a box like that for better or for worse. One part of grieving was that I volunteered to clean out her office and pack up her personal items in order to get them back to her family. In doing so, I came across a section of her file cabinet that was bursting with notes, cards, and letters sent to her by a plethora of authors, editors, and colleagues. These items were thanking her for the excellent job on a manuscript, sending good wishes at holidays, or sharing cute and cuddly cat pictures (like many publishers, Margaret was a huge cat person and an expert gardener). I knew that Margaret was good at her job. I respected and admired her, but in reading through these items my hindsight suddenly came into focus and became 20/20. I also realized, I should have picked Margaret’s brain more, asked her all the little questions I had about the industry. I thought they were silly, little questions that would waste her time. I missed the opportunity to receive a different perspective. More importantly, I missed the opportunity to express my admiration and respect to her through words; I missed the opportunity to wish her enough. Hindsight is 20/20.

Mark’s sudden passing and the outpouring of admiration, fun stories, and great respect for him as a colleague and friend throughout our industry brought Margaret back from my memories. What do I take away from this? What do I want others to glean from my short post here?

  • Don’t wait for your hindsight to become 20/20. Find the time to send a note, a card, a few quick words to your colleagues and friends to tell them thank you, good job, or kudos. The number of words does not matter, the genuineness of them do.
  • Get outside of your box. Introduce yourself to others, say hello to those you don’t know, and make new friends. Ask questions of these new friends and colleagues and accept theirs, too. Should someone scoff at your question, move on because they are not a true friend or colleague. No question is too small, and all educational opportunities are important.
  • For those of us who have been around the block a few times……get outside of your small clique. Engage the newcomers and make introductions. Accept new people into your circles. The success of our industry is only as strong as our weakest link.

University presses are not run by one person nor do they succeed because of one person. From the smallest to the largest presses, it takes a team to succeed. If I tried to recall the names of all the staff members, interns, student workers, graduate assistants, and colleagues who I have worked with over the past 22 years I would surely miss several; so, I will not try. But to all of them, I say thank you and my apologies if I had not done so previously. To my current colleagues and friends at Purdue University Press: Becki, Katherine, Kelley, Chris, Matt, Susan, Sarah, Sebastian, Ashutosh, Nina, Marcy, and Justin – thank you for all that you do, for me personally and more so for our team. Our success is because of the whole team.

To all past, present, and future colleagues—at Purdue UP and the greater AUPresses family—: don’t wait for your hindsight to become 20/20. I wish you all enough.


About the author: Bryan Shaffer drove the official Purdue University mascot, the Boilermaker Special, to his interview for a student worker position at the Press in July 1997. He was hired on the spot to design advertisements and to pick-and-pack book orders. When he arrived for the first day of work and he switched on the dusty Apple IIc computer he wondered what in the world he got himself into. Almost 22 years later he is the sales and marketing manager for Purdue University Press and is said to be the “institutional memory” and “den bear” of the small family that makes up the Press. He now knows what he got himself into…..a caring family and greater community. He considers himself very blessed, fortunate, and lucky.

 

Philip Roth Studies is a peer-reviewed semiannual journal published by Purdue University Press in cooperation with the Philip Roth Society. The journal publishes writing pertaining entirely or in part to Philip Roth, his fiction, and his literary and cultural significance.

Philip Roth Studies Volume 15, Issue 1, out this month, will be the final issue for executive co-editors Debra Shostak and David Brauner. We spoke to them about their experience, Philip Roth’s passing, and the future of the journal.

 


 

Q: PRS 15.1 is special for a few reasons; could you explain its significance?

 

Debra Shostak and David Brauner: The spring 2019 issue of Philip Roth Studies, volume 15, is professionally and personally momentous for us as editors, and we hope it will be as meaningful to our readers as it is to us. PRS 15.1 is valedictory, not only because it is the last issue we will have overseen before turning the Executive Co-editorship of the journal over to the capable hands of Aimee Pozorski and Maren Scheurer, but also, and even more movingly for us, because we are honoring the late Philip Roth, who died in May of 2018, with a special memorial issue.

To remember Roth as a writer who has brought so many of us together within the pages of PRS over nearly fifteen years, we invited reflective essays from eighteen scholars who have contributed significantly to the study of his work, mostly in monographs devoted significantly or wholly to Roth. We are also thrilled to publish what we think may be the last scholarly interview Roth granted, to Elèna Mortara, who has edited the Italian editions of his work for the prestigious literary series Meridiani Mondadori. Our line-up of contributors is stellar—in alphabetical order, Victoria Aarons, Ann Basu, Alan Cooper, David Gooblar, Jay Halio, Patrick Hayes, Brett Ashley Kaplan, Michael Kimmage, Pia Masiero, Maggie McKinley, Catherine Morley, Ira Nadel, Patrick O’Donnell, Timothy Parrish, Aimee Pozorski, and Matthew Shipe—and their offerings are brilliant, heartfelt, at times humorous (and we two have exploited our executive editor privilege to include our own reflections as well). The essays run from memories of meeting Roth and of attending his funeral, to musings on the profound, often disorienting, effects of his fiction on us as readers and critics. Contributors meditate on Roth’s attachment to Newark, New Jersey, on the sexual politics of his fiction, on his allusions to children, on his deep and troubled connection to the American history to which he faithfully, sometimes mercilessly, bore witness, on how he speaks to the present moment, on his devotion to literary pleasures, and on his fictive conversations with his literary forebears. Others revisit The Human Stain, Sabbath’s Theater, and American Pastoral. Without exception, the essays demonstrate Roth’s vital, unabated presence among us all—in his language, his stories, his inexhaustible formal invention, his integrity, his daring—even though he is no longer living among us to delight us yet again.

We, David and Deb, are bidding farewell to the many pleasures of editing Philip Roth Studies, but we will never bid farewell to the boundless, bottomless Philip Roth.

 

Q: What got you interested in studying Philip Roth? Was there a particular work that you feel most inspired your interest?

 

 

David: I first encountered Roth’s work when, as a teenager, I picked up a copy of Portnoy’s Complaint at random from my parents’ bookshelves, knowing nothing about it. In spite of the temporal and geographical gap between my own circumstances—growing up in a London suburb in the 1970s and 80s—and those of the protagonist—growing up in New Jersey in the 1940s and 50s—I felt an immediate thrill of recognition. It articulated brilliantly—and hilariously—what I later called a “transnational Jewish sensibility,” the profound ambivalence of Jews in the post-war period towards both their own Jewishness and the larger culture. There was then a hiatus of a number of years before, as a graduate student, I read The Counterlife. That was the book that got me hooked—I went on to read, systematically, everything that Roth had written and I began to write about his work. What struck me most powerfully about The Counterlife was the way it combined ingenious metafiction with compelling domestic drama and big political, historical, and existential questions. Later, Sabbath’s Theater was the novel that cemented my conviction of Roth’s pre-eminence among contemporary novelists: I remember vividly as I read it the first time thinking “this is one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read” and each successive re-reading has only reinforced my belief that this is Roth’s masterpiece.

 

Deb: My encounter—and fascination—with Roth’s work runs parallel to David’s in several ways. I remember seeing the vivid yellow cover of Portnoy’s Complaint on my parents’ bookshelves during my early adulthood, but I never picked it up. Instead, after hearing a casual recommendation in the late 1980s, I read The Counterlife. I was at once enthralled—by Roth’s dizzying formal experiment, his antic humor, his unique voice, and the magical touch by which he could make that most reflexive of novels seem like familiar realism in its treatment of family, history, and selfhood. I never anticipated how much that book would reshape my professional life. I felt driven to try to write about it, and then, reading through all of Roth’s work and eagerly awaiting each new volume, I never looked back. I was captivated by the hard questions he asked about American history, politics, and manhood, and by the many pleasures of his sentences. Like David, I judge Sabbath’s Theater to be Roth’s masterpiece, but for me, Operation Shylock runs a close second. If I had to guess which novels will most centrally keep Roth’s work alive for readers in the coming years, though, I’d probably point to his powerful treatment of twentieth-century America, “real” and all-too-real: in the American Trilogy and The Plot Against America.

 

Q: How do you think Roth’s death will affect the study of his work?

 

Deb and David: In the short term, it will stimulate scholarship, as critics reassess his work and his legacy in the round. In the longer term, there is a danger that interest in his work may wane—we have seen this happen with a number of his contemporaries, such as Saul Bellow and John Updike. However, our gut instinct is that this won’t be Roth’s fate—we think his work is more thoroughly embedded in the canon than that of any of his peers and, as we have seen with the recent renewed attention paid to The Plot Against America since Trump’s election, it continues to resonate powerfully in our contemporary moment.

 

Q: What do you feel have been your greatest achievements with the journal during your tenure, and what are you excited to see from the journal moving forward?

 

Deb and David: We are particularly proud of the number of younger scholars we have featured in the journal over the period of our editorship. One of these, Maren Scheurer, has now, together with Aimee Pozorski, taken over from us as Executive Co-Editor of the journal, and many others, who published their first peer-reviewed pieces with PRS, have gone on to establish themselves as important new voices in the discipline. Other notable features of our tenure have been the number of excellent special issues we have published and the range of other authors with whose work Roth’s has been placed in dialogue. Overall, the last five years have seen a significant extension of the parameters of Roth studies and we are proud that the journal has been at the forefront of this work. We are confident that Aimee and Maren will build on this legacy and continue to take Roth studies in new and exciting directions.

 


 

See more about Philip Roth Studies and subscription information. 

 

Purdue at 150: A Visual History of Student Life by David M. Hovde, Adriana Harmeyer, Neal Harmeyer, and Sammie L. Morris with a Foreword by Drew and Brittany Brees tells Purdue’s story through rare images, artifacts, and words. The authors culled decades of student papers from scrapbooks, yearbooks, letters, and newspapers to historical photographs and memorabilia preserved in the Purdue University Libraries Virginia Kelley Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center. Many of the images and artifacts included have never been published, presenting a unique history of the land-grant university from the student perspective.

What prompted the authors to undertake such a monumental task? Where do you start when you have the entirety of the archives as your source? We asked the authors to take us inside the process of making Purdue at 150.


 

David M. Hovde

Q: What prompted you to start this project?

David Hovde: I have spent most of my writing career, beginning in 1973, writing historical works. When I started to work in the Archives and Special Collections in 2006, I read everything I could about the history of Purdue using primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Then, I started to teach classes about how to do historical research using archival resources. I quickly noticed that the students were far more attentive when I discussed material created by students from Purdue’s past rather than material about presidents and famous faculty. The students could relate to the students of the past. At the same time, I noted that few official histories really discussed students and their lives on campus. Their voices were largely silent. Since I have a long-standing interest in folklore, I also noticed how much of the campus folklore had little basis in fact. For a number of years, I mulled over the idea writing a book about student life and student customs and traditions. When the sesquicentennial was approaching, I presented the idea to Sammie Morris and the entire staff, and the rest so to speak is history. The book is a bit different than what I had envisioned years ago, but this is a collaborative effort and that collaboration brilliantly highlights the collections in the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections and is strengthened by the many voices of those who contributed to the final product.

Sammie Morris: The Archives and Special Collections unit began discussing and preparing for the Purdue sesquicentennial many years in advance. One thing we discussed early on was a coffee table type book that would include beautiful realistic facsimiles of treasures from the Archives that provide evidence of Purdue’s past. We tossed around ideas about a scrapbook style album, or something featuring historical images and student memorabilia. David Hovde had a suggestion that we work together on a book project and there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst the staff in the Archives on taking on this challenge. From the start, it was important to me that we focus on filling in gaps in the past histories of Purdue by telling stories of some of the lesser known individuals and events in our history. As John Norberg worked to create an updated comprehensive Purdue history we differentiated our books by focusing solely on student experiences and featuring only items that are part of the Archives and Special Collections’ holdings. In this way, we let the evidence existing in the Archives tell the story of Purdue’s past students, while being aware that there are many gaps in the archival record that we would like to fill and enhance in the future.

 

Purdue at 150 on a ledge in front the Purdue Memorial Union

“Purdue at 150” is 280 pages, 10”×13” trim size with over 675 illustrations.

Q: How does one start the process of gathering all the materials needed for a project like this?

David: I began my post-college career as an archaeologist. Archival research is like archaeology. On a dig, you slowly and carefully peel back the layers of soil, recording the artifacts and their places on the site both horizontally and vertically and place each artifact in context with all the others on the site, sites in the region, and the time period the site represents. Archival research is much the same. Each document or artifact is a story and part of a larger whole. Each file, photograph, or box is a layer, and each relates to all the other files and boxes that tell the story of the site. A document is an artifact, a collection a layer, and each relates to other artifacts and collections temporally and spatially. The site in this case is the history of Purdue University. Each document, photograph, and artifact is equally as important as the others, and together they contribute to the story. This book has fifteen cultural layers that make up the site known as Purdue University.

As with any project, one starts looking at the secondary and tertiary sources and then the voice is chosen. In this case, the voice was the students. Then the structure is developed, and the researchers begins to look for primary sources, scrapbooks, photographs, letters, documents, etc., that bring the voice of the participant in the story to the forefront and gives the story life.

Prior to this, I had written a number of short articles about student traditions that would be the basis for a web site about Purdue student customs and traditions and to aid the staff to help students and researchers with questions about such things. These became elements of the future book. No one person in this collaboration knows all the collections. The authors each have their expertise and individual interests, but all wanted to give voice to the students who came and went over the past 145 years.

Adriana Harmeyer

Adriana Harmeyer: We decided early on that we would let the archival materials tell the story. We reviewed the items in the Archives, thought about which ones are most interesting, surprising, and engaging, and built the story from there. There are some seminal moments and traditions that we knew would have to be included and were able to find archival materials that would illustrate them.

Sammie: It was a big undertaking. We wanted something new and fresh that didn’t retell past Purdue histories and we wanted something that would complement, rather than compete with, John Norberg’s forthcoming book. With 150 years of history come 150 years of documents, photos, and artifacts. There are thousands of boxes of these records in the archives, but we had to start somewhere. Once we decided to focus on student life and organizing the book by decade, it helped us to hone in on what collections we had on those topics. We also made a serious effort to seek out—to the best of our abilities—diverse stories and perspectives, focusing not exclusively on famous alumni, but rather trying to tell the story of the average student experience by decade. We wanted to show that all Purdue students played a role in shaping the university, and we wanted to represent as many voices and perspectives as possible.

Q: What was your favorite decade to research?

David: I would say the 1900s, since that was the decade the many of the long standing and most colorful traditions were established or codified.

Adriana: I really enjoyed diving into the 1910s. So much was happening at that time as enrollment grew, old traditions faded, and new traditions developed. By the end of the decade, World War I really helped define what Purdue and the community could offer to the world.

Neal Harmeyer: My favorite decade to research was the 2010s. Studying archival content from the very recent past helped me to connect current issues and topics to those from past decades.

Professor Sammie Morris, director of Libraries Special Collections (Purdue University/ Mark Simons)

Sammie: I love the 1930s, it’s this fascinating time in American history between the two world wars when art and design and culture are becoming more streamlined and modern, Prohibition was ending, Art Deco was popular, and women were beginning to have more freedom after earning the right to vote in 1920. It also happens to be the decade when two women heroes of mine joined Purdue: Lillian Gilbreth and Amelia Earhart. It was the decade when Purdue opened the first university-owned airport. I just feel like there was a lot of growth and excitement, at Purdue, and in the U.S. during the 1930s. There was this can-do spirit seen in photos and documents that seemed celebratory despite the effects of the Great Depression. It was a fascinating time of highs and lows.

Q: Was there a single photo that you enjoyed the most that sticks out to you?

David: One of the most difficult parts of a book like this is choosing the best photo to tell a particular story. Sometimes there could be three or four similar images you like, but only one can be used. I like the photo on page 24 of the students being students, the two women on page 28, and the three women on page 34 showing early campus life of women. I also like the victors and the defeated on page 41, particularly the look of concern by the student with 08 sign hung around his neck.

Neal Harmeyer

Adriana Harmeyer: There are so many great photos in this book! One that comes immediately to mind, probably because I had never seen it until this project, is of Olympian Clifford C. Furnas running through ankle-deep water at a state track meeting as crowds cheer him on. This photo originally appeared in the 1922 Debris Yearbook, a great source of historical images.

Neal Harmeyer: I enjoy many of the images within the book. One that stands out is an image of the entrance to campus at State and Marsteller Streets in the 1940s. The intersection looks very different today.

Q: What were some of your favorite photos that didn’t end up making it into the book?

David: The one that did not make it in the book, because it is so commonly used, is Fred Hovde walking with a group of young men, some in World War II military clothing. The confident stride and the smiles reflect the new beginnings, growth, and promise of Hovde’s vision of a comprehensive research university and the GI Bill.

Adriana Harmeyer: There is a nice photo album from the 1930s, called “Purdue Panels,” that is filled with campus scenes. My favorite part of it, though, is the cover, which has sketches of the Power Plant and Heavilon Hall. It is a simple but eye-catching illustration of what the most prominent features of campus were at that time.

Neal Harmeyer: My favorite photos that did not make the book were a comparison of State Street during and after the redevelopment project of the 2010s.

Q: Were there any Purdue legends or stories that you found to be untrue?

David: Gobs and gobs…In particular, all those that start with, “In John Purdue’s will…” He did not have a will and all those stories about no foreign language instruction, red brick, no building taller than University Hall, etc., are completely bogus.

Portrait of John Purdue and with its corresponding page in “Purdue at 150”

Q: Neal, what is it like being involved in a project as a Purdue alum?

Neal Harmeyer: Working on this book as an alumnus was an interesting experience. I have spent many years in and around Purdue University, first as a student and later as a professional archivist, and through those experiences many historical details were already known to me. Yet, there are always new things to learn, and I was learned numerous facts during the research process. I found it fascinating each time a new fact was uncovered or myth debunked. Therefore, I am certain that anyone connected to Purdue will learn something from Purdue at 150.

Q: How similar is the work that you did for this book to the work that you do at the archives?

David: From the beginning, one of my roles was to recover lost bits of Purdue’s history and put dates, names, and context onto numerous photographs in the collection. Much of what is in the book cannot be found in other published Purdue histories.

Adriana Harmeyer: This book felt like a natural extension of our work in the Archives. We often assist researchers in identifying archival materials to help with their projects, and by working with these collections every day most of us have a good understanding of the broad strokes of Purdue history. This book gave us a chance to dive a little more deeply into the collections and piece together more of those historical details. I also manage the Archives social media accounts, so I am very familiar with identifying interesting images and writing descriptive text to accompany them.

Neal: As an archivist I am constantly helping researchers conduct their own research, creating metadata for collections and images alike, composing my findings, and enabling access to Archives and Special Collections content. Working on Purdue at 150 was similar to my daily activities, albeit with a longer research period.

Q: What do the archives provide to Purdue?

David: The Archives and Special Collection since its creation in 1913 strove to collect, arrange, describe, preserve, and make available the records of the University, staff, and alumni. It is not a mere collection because the highly trained professional and knowledgeable staff in the Archives bring the history of this institution to life and preserve it for the future.

Adriana: The Archives are the access point for these stories, housing the original documents, photographs, and objects that are part of the university’s history. However, we are not just a physical location, but a highly skilled team that can work with people through every step of the research process, from identifying primary sources for their research through to donating their own collections to the archives for future generations of researchers to study and enjoy.

Neal: I believe Archives and Special Collections provides unique opportunities for persons of all ages and educational backgrounds to self-discover and create new ideas. The collections with Archives and Special Collections document the histories of individuals, the university, and the community. A visitor may select, learn, and write about topics of their choosing, all while studying the original one-of-a-kind items of their creators. In turn, those studies generate new primary documents to be preserved for the next generations. Archives and Special Collections support research and learning. These are not only places of the past; they are places of the present and places of the future.

Sammie: The University Archives is the memory of Purdue. Here, we collect and manage the evidence of Purdue’s past activities, decisions, accomplishments, and the lives and contributions of its people. When a date or other fact needs to be checked, we provide the documentation for a reliable answer. But much more than that, the Archives is an accumulation of stories of the people who have shaped Purdue—the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the University who have collectively made it what it is. It’s the Archives that preserves those memories for use by current and future generations of Boilermakers, and it’s the archivists who teach students how to do archival research and come to appreciate and connect with Purdue’s history. Finally, the Archives serves as the access point for scholars worldwide interested in writing books, articles, creating films, or exhibits on Purdue history; without the Archives, Purdue’s past would be an unreliable mix of rumors and hearsay, but most importantly, the legacies of so many ordinary people who helped build and sustain Purdue would be difficult to discover. I think the Archives make Purdue history real for people in a way that facts cannot; there is something exciting about learning through interacting with historical documents, photos, and memorabilia, old digital files and media. The past becomes, for a brief moment, the present when one interacts with these relics from history.

 

 


 

Enter code PURDUE30 at checkout on our website to get 30% off Purdue at 150.

In celebration of Purdue’s 150th Anniversary on May 6, Purdue University Press is offering a special Giant Leaps Celebration Sale featuring two new books on the University’s history: Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University and Purdue at 150: A Visual History of Student Life.

Take 50% off each book by ordering directly from Purdue University Press at press.purdue.edu or by calling 1-800-247-6553 and use the discount code GiantLeaps at checkout. This special sale ends on May 6 at 11:59pm EST.

Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University by John Norberg with a Foreword by Purdue University President Mitch Daniels captures the essence of our great university. In this volume, Norberg takes readers beyond the iconic redbrick walls of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus to delve into the stories of the faculty, alumni, student, and leaders who make up this remarkable institution’s distinguished history.

President Emeritus Martin C. Jischke calls Norberg’s work, “an engaging, inspiring, and beautifully written history of one of America’s most distinguished public universities. It tells the story of Purdue from its humble origins to its emergence as a preeminent research university.”

Hardback with jacket, 496 pages, 6.75”x9.75” trim size with over 150 illustrations.

Purdue at 150: A Visual History of Student Life by David M. Hovde, Adriana Harmeyer, Neal Harmeyer, and Sammie L. Morris with a Foreword by Drew and Brittany Brees tells Purdue’s story through rare images, artifacts, and words. The authors culled decades of student papers from scrapbooks, yearbooks, letters, and newspapers to historical photographs and memorabilia preserved in the Purdue University Libraries Virginia Kelley Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center. Many of the images and artifacts included have never been published, presenting a unique history of the land-grant university from the student perspective.

The Brees’ say in their Foreword, “Purdue at 150 is the definitive visual history of student life at our beloved alma mater, recalling stories through rare images and artifacts as well as words. Whether you are a long-time alumni or a recent graduate, we know you will enjoy the trip down memory lane.”

Hardback with jacket, 280 pages, 10”×13” trim size with over 675 illustrations.

“The history of Purdue University is the story of people. They aren’t flat and lifeless, one-dimensional figures staring at us from paintings and black-and-white photographs. They are people who lived and breathed, laughed and cried. They succeeded and they failed, and to understand what they did for Purdue and why requires knowing them as friends, not historical data.”

— John Norberg, author of Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University

 

 

Celebrations of Purdue’s 150th are long underway, ranging from a formidable line-up of speakers, to the unveiling of a new Purdue-themed ice cream flavor.

On May 6, Purdue University Press will be joining in the sesquicentennial celebration with the release of two new history books, each with their own look at Purdue’s first 150 years. Ever True: 150 Years of Giant Leaps at Purdue University by John Norberg, and Purdue at 150: A Visual History of Student Life by David M. Hovde, Adriana Harmeyer, Neal Harmeyer, and Sammie L. Morris.

In Ever True, Norberg deftly covers 150 years of Purdue history, a task he equates to trying to fill a thimble with water pouring out of a fire hydrant. The book is filled with stories of the faculty, alumni, and leaders that make up our institution’s distinguished history.

“Today we see people from history in black-and-white photos staring blankly at us. But the people who formed our history were real people who got out of bed still tired and went to work and had good days and bad days, just like all of us today,” Norberg said in a recent interview in the Journal & Courier,  “I hope people who read this book get to know these folks from our past like friends.”

The book also features over 40 profiles of prominent Boilermakers who have taken “Giant Leaps”, celebrating the effect Purdue Alumni have on the world.

For Purdue at 150, a team of Purdue archivists pored over decades of student papers, from scrapbooks, yearbooks, letters, and newspapers, to historical photographs and memorabilia, all of which are preserved in the Purdue University Libraries Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections. The result is a stunning pictorial history of Purdue, with many artifacts and images that are being published for the first time. The book is divided into decades, giving you relevant insight into many different eras of student life.

In the foreword of the book, Purdue alumni Drew and Brittany Brees say “Purdue at 150 is the definitive visual history of student life at our beloved alma mater, whether you are a long-time alum or a recent graduate, we know you will enjoy the trip down memory lane.”

Whether you’re a Purdue student, alumni, or a fan, each book provides a unique opportunity to look into the history of Purdue, and make a perfect way to celebrate Purdue’s 150th.

On Founder’s Day, May 6, we’ll be having a special sale, make sure to keep an eye on our social media, newsletter, and this blog to so you don’t miss it!

 

In his new book The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist (Purdue University Press March 2019), Julien Gorbach examines the life of great twentieth-century screenwriter, playwright, and activist Ben Hecht.

Gorbach treats Hecht’s activism during the 1940s as the central drama of his life. His new book details the story of how Hecht earned admiration as a humanitarian and vilification as an extremist at this pivotal moment in history, about the origins of his beliefs in his varied experiences in American media, and about the consequences.

Read on to see our discussion with the author about Hecht’s life, career, and legacy.

 


 

Q. Who was Ben Hecht and why is he significant?

Julien Gorbach: Ben Hecht was a legendary screenwriter, who was also known for breaking the silence in the American media about the Holocaust, and for his militant Zionism. He invented the gangster movie and wrote classics like Scarface, Gone with the Wind and Hitchcock’s Notorious. Hecht was a prolific reporter, novelist, and Broadway playwright. During the Holocaust and the struggle to establish the state of Israel, he was a major force as a propagandist. He became notorious, because of his inflammatory rhetoric and his partnership with Mickey Cohen, a Jewish gangster. Together they smuggled weapons to Palestine in the struggle for a Jewish state.

The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist (March 2019

 

Q. How did Hecht find himself in the newspaper business, and what was the Chicago School of journalism?

Gorbach: He was introduced to the business through his uncle and quickly took to the work. I think it’s too simplistic to just dismiss Hecht as a cynic, though he was certainly influenced by the hardboiled attitude of other newshounds in his early days chasing stories. Reporters would do anything for a story and, given the fierce competition for scoops, would concoct more than a few. But Hecht’s cynical style ultimately reflected a strain of Romanticism. It was a dark view common among those who came of age during the Great War, the so-called Lost Generation. Like many who lived through the carnage of those years, Hecht developed a grim view of human nature and he looked back at the liberal Enlightenment-era optimism about mankind as naïve.

 

Q. How was he later influenced by the intellectuals, poets, writers he met in New York? Was The Front Page his breakthrough?

Gorbach: He came into himself as a dramatist in New York. In the 1920s one way to prove yourself was to write a blockbuster novel. Another way was to have a hit on Broadway, which is what Hecht and other friends of the Algonquin Roundtable crowd did. But New York was publicity-oriented, and Hecht found the city more superficial than Chicago. He famously said that he and his friends “were fools to have left Chicago,” but he knew most Midwest writers had to go to New York for their careers. The Front Page was a huge hit and made him famous. At about the same time, his 1927 movie Underworld launched the gangster movie craze, and he won Best Original Story for it at the first Academy Awards in 1929.

 

Q. How did Hecht get to Hollywood?

Gorbach: Hecht’s first hit movie was silent. When the talkies came in, writers were in demand. There’s the famous story about the telegram he received from Herman Mankiewicz, who said there were “millions to be grabbed out here, and the only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.” For writers, Hollywood was almost too good to be true.

 

Q. What happened to Hecht’s artistic ambitions and political ideals in Hollywood?

Gorbach: He once said: “We didn’t write movies. We shouted them into existence.” This wasn’t so far off. The writer’s room was a kind of clubhouse, especially since so many of Hecht’s friends from New York also came to Hollywood. He did feel compromised as a writer in Hollywood, so why did he keep at it? The truth is that Hecht was polyamorous—a skirt-chaser. He liked women and ran around with many. His playboy lifestyle ended up getting a bit out of hand, and reached a point where he had a lot of work to do just to make ends meet, keeping up his lavish life with his wife and his affairs. He wrote some great movies but also doctored scripts, doing many uncredited, piecemeal jobs under the table. His time was not spent on novels, which back then, especially, was considered the only real measure of great writers. And he did reach a breaking point, when his personal crises with his marriage and career and the global situation with Hitler all kind of came together at the same time.

 

Q. How was Hecht prescient about the Final Solution?

Gorbach: Hecht wrote “The Little Candle,” a short story, after Kristallnacht occurred in 1938. No one took from the event that there would be a genocide. That was beyond the imagination, or as the historian Deborah Lipstadt put it in the title of a book, Beyond Belief. But Hecht’s short story vividly describes the Holocaust. Critics said it was a powerful story but Hecht had an insane idea—that the Germans would actually kill a half million Jews.

Julien Gorbach

 

Q. How did Pauline Kael establish Hecht as a screenwriting legend?

Gorbach: That emerged because of her debate with Andrew Sarris. The 1960s Sarris/Kael debate made film a serious art form for critical consideration. A major question was who is the true author of a film, the “auteur” or the writer? Kael said it was the screenwriter and pointed to Hecht’s groundbreaking contributions, saying artists like him made the movies great.

 

Q. How might Hecht be reassessed as a writer with a political legacy?

Gorbach: He remains a politically controversial figure, but his significance is his message, which remains especially important now, in the days of the Trump administration. All of Hecht’s work as a writer and an activist is shot through with his concerns about the “soul of man,” which is so fundamental to all the questions we face today about democracy. If we want to remain liberal and democratic, we have to remember what liberalism and democracy are about. We rely on people to be good, but why does the United States also tilt the playing field, for example, by favoring rural people over urban people with our Electoral College and Senate systems? What are the implications for democracy if people don’t turn out to be as good as we expect them to be, or aren’t as good in the ways we expect them to be? What are the implications of our darker nature, our tribalism for example, for our free press and our social media? What are the implications for our ideas of rights, like the Second Amendment, or for our treatment of immigrants and people of different backgrounds? Are we reckoning with the dark side of human nature realistically in our foreign policy, in the way we talk about questions of war and peace? What does our treatment of the environment, and other species, tell us of our nature? These questions are still wide open, and in Hecht’s day, there was more room for error about them. With nuclear weapons, climate change, and the other issues that we confront now, the stakes have gotten much higher.

 

Q. Do you feel a revival is due of his works in a play or movie festival? How might The Notorious Ben Hecht introduce new audiences to a writer in some ways ahead of his time?

Gorbach: This is in a way three books rolled into one. It tells the story of his Jewish activism, and the implications of that story for Israel, America and Jews everywhere today. It’s the story of a great writer who has never been properly understood or appreciated. And finally, it’s the story of “a child of the century,” a kind of wild tour through all these worlds of the last 100 years—Capone’s Chicago, New York in the ‘20s, Hollywood, World War II, etc. But altogether this is just one big story of an extraordinary life, with an appropriately dramatic arc and ending. I think when people read the story and learn who he is, they’ll appreciate him. But they’ll also understand and appreciate the message that he has for us today. In this book, you can hear him speaking to us, now.

 


The Notorious Ben Hecht is now available. Check out a free preview of the book.

Get 30% off when you order directly from the Purdue University Press website and enter the code “PURDUE30” at checkout.