Americas and Oceania Collections blog

9 posts from January 2010

30 January 2010

In Search of J. D. Salinger

Few people can make it through their teenage years without meeting Holden Caulfield, and readers of this blog will no doubt be aware that his creator passed away on 27 January, at the age of 91.

As well as his evocation - or creation - of teenage angst, Salinger was famous for his reclusiveness and privacy, something that the British poet and critic Ian Hamilton discovered in 1986, when the publication of his biography In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life (1935–65) was stopped.  

Salinger had sued him for infringing the copyright of some of the letters he had sent to friends and associates. Hamilton published the book two years later with the relevant texts paraphrased or summarised, and the ruling remains an important one in copyright case law. Ironically, the transcript of the trial and its depositions perhaps recorded as much about Salinger's private life as did the biography.

Hamilton's papers, including those relating to the biography and trial, are now held by the British Library.

29 January 2010

Hearing 'island' voices

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the latest ‘Poet in the City’ event, Island Voices. The evening was organised to celebrate poetry and writing from the Caribbean as well as by those of Caribbean descent living in the U. K. The evening’s readers covered a number of topics, cutting across individual experience, society and history as they went.

Roger Robinson (whose works include Suitcase and Suckle) deployed humour and satire to evoke life’s depth and texture, while Jacob Ross illustrated his skills as poet, playwright and author in a reading from his recent novel Pynter Bender (BL Shelfmark: Nov.2009/397). Ross’s work cuts across a similar path to Robinson’s but his discussions of love, loss and society have a more spiritual emphasis illustrated by his deployment of contemporised folk-lore to tell his stories. Continuing a theme of dealing with big issues through individual lives, Dorothea Smartt, reading from her latest Ship Shape, contemplated the slave trade and its harrowing life geographies through a fictional account of the life of a slave boy who arrived and quickly died in eighteenth century Lancaster.

It was Smartt’s readings that instigated this blog as their powerful narrative of a life spanning the globe highlighted to me the misnomer in the title of the event. For sure, all these poetic voices may, in one generation or another, have hailed from Caribbean islands but the emotive core of all of these works and the scope of many of their subjects are actually global in resonance and relevance.

Robinson and Ross spoke eloquently of emotions universal in their feel and Smartt invoked the centrality of the Caribbean to globalised trade and global history through her powerful prose. So, what we have, rather than voices existing in isolation, are examples of the current generation of a vibrant literary and oral tradition influenced by Caribbean locations but interconnected with European and global culture for centuries. This heritage is reflected in the British Library’s collections, which hold a wealth of items historical and contemporary illustrating the history, politics and culture of the many Caribbean societies. In this particular instance I should highlight our Sound Archive's holdings, which contain many Caribbean literary performances, as well, of course, as music from the region.

In closing, all of this talk of global networks and the importance of Caribbean culture and heritage, as well as the many tributes offered last night at Island Voices, brings me back to think about Haiti. On this I cannot better Carole’s thoughts and sentiments posted earlier but what I can say is that evenings such as this, which point out the globalised voice of the Caribbean, make me hope that we do not all forget about Haiti and the work to be done there once the cameras leave and news editors move on to the next big story.

(P. J. H.)

28 January 2010

In search of the first Mrs Garvey

One of the things that gives me the most pleasure in my job is helping people to locate the information they need at a particular time. But an equally pleasurable result of that activity is that I invariably learn something – and the collections can benefit too.

Yesterday, Phil and I were asked if we could find a photograph of Amy Ashwood Garvey, the first wife of Marcus Garvey, for a documentary. Whilst I do, of course, know something about Marcus Garvey, I didn’t know anything about Amy Ashwood, or that he was married twice, or that his second wife was also called Amy (Jacques). This latter fact has led to some of the images we found on the web being wrongly attributed as Mrs Garvey no.1, whereas they are in fact of Mrs Garvey no.2. Fortunately, we soon found an entry for Amy Ashwood Garvey in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible online in our reading rooms), which features a nice photo (which may or not be in the National Portrait Gallery). We also found the same photo on the cover of Tony Martin’s book Amy Ashwood Garvey: Pan-Africanist, Feminist and Mrs Marcus Garvey No. 1 or a Tale of Two Amies, Marjority Press: Dover, Mass, 2008. Sadly, we don’t have the book, but that will certainly be remedied shortly.

So, Phil and I discovered that Amy Ashwood, like Garvey, was from Jamaica, and that they had met in 1914, at the time of his formation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Amy worked closely with him over the next few years and they eventually married on Christmas day 1919. Sadly the marriage was apparently effectively over by the following spring, although the divorce wasn’t final until 1922, when Garvey married Amy Jacques – who had been the chief bridesmaid at his first marriage. Amy Jacques remained his wife until his death in 1940, and is known as a pioneer journalist and publisher in the U.S.

But what of the first Mrs Garvey? Well, Amy Ashwood spent several periods in England during the 1920s and 1930s, and played a not insignificant role at several key moments of Black British history – such as her involvement in the founding of the Nigerian Progress Union, one of the precursors of the influential West African Students’ Union, and her work in the 1930s with notable activists such as C. L. R. James and George Padmore (during which time she also ran a restaurant and club and collaborated on musical shows with her longtime companion, the Trinidad calypsonian Sam Manning). She spent the remainder of her life  moving between the U.S., the Caribbean, and West Africa, as well as making several further visits to England. We discovered that she chaired the first session of the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945 (also attended, of course, by the likes of Dubois, Padmore, Appiah, Nkrumah, and Kenyatta), as well as setting up the Afro Peoples Centre in Ladbroke Grove in 1953. Later, in the wake of the Notting hill riots in 1958, she was also involved in the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

After a lifetime of seeking to further the rights of Black people – and Black women in particular, Amy Ashwood Garvey died in Kingston, Jamaica on 3 May 1969. I'm very pleased to have had the chance to learn a little about her, and I hope that the future documentary makes her better known.


22 January 2010

There was a lot about the Dude that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me...

Save the date, New Yorkers: on 18 March, The Horse Trade Theater Group and DMTheatrics will present Two Gentleman of Lebowski.  The first shows are already sold out (unlike Allan's dance review at Crane Jackson's Fountain Street Theatre on Tuesday night).

You might want to mosey over to this site to read the script of the amusing collision of the Coen brother's The Big Lebowski and Bill Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, or perhaps check out the latest in Lebowski studies (on order for the Library, but there's a preview from the publisher and Google Books), written by 'academics... Over-achievers, if you will'.  The chapter titles alone are worth listing:

Part 1. Ins (Intrinsic Models and Influences)

1. The Really Big Sleep: Jeffrey Lebowski as the Second Coming of Rip Van Winkle / Fred Ashe
2. A Once and Future Dude: The Big Lebowski as Medieval Grail-Quest / Andrew Rabin
3. Dudespeak: Or, How to Bowl like a Pornstar / Justus Nieland
4. Metonymic Hats and Metaphoric Tumbleweeds: Noir Literary Aesthetics in Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski / Christopher Raczkowski
5. The Dude and the New Left / Stacy Thompson
6. The Big Lebowski and Paul de Man: Historicizing Irony and Ironizing Historicism / Joshua Kates
7. Lebowski and the Ends of Postmodern American Comedy / Matthew Biberman
8. Found Document: The Stranger’s Commentary and a Note on His Method / Thomas B. Byers
9. No Literal Connection: Mass Commodification, U.S. Militarism, and the Oil Industry in The Big Lebowski / David Martin-Jones
10. "I’ll Keep Rolling Along": Some Notes on Singing Cowboys and Bowling Alleys in The Big Lebowski / Edward P. Comentale

Part 2. Outs (Eccentric Activities and Behaviors)
11. What Condition the Postmodern Condition Is In: Collecting Culture in The Big Lebowski / Allan Smithee
12. Holding Out Hope for the Creedence: Music and the Search for the Real Thing in The Big Lebowski / Diane Pecknold
13. "F[--]k It, Let's Go Bowling": The Cultural Connotations of Bowling in The Big Lebowski / Bradley D. Clissold
14. LebowskIcons: The Rug, The Irong Lung, The Tiki Bar, and Busby Berkeley / Dennis Hall and Susan Grove Hall
15. On the White Russian / Craig N. Owens
16. Professor Dude: An Inquiry into the Appeal of His Dudeness for Contemporary College Students / Richard Gaughran
17. Abiding (as) Animal: Marmot, Pomeranian, Whale, Dude / David Pagano
18. Logjammin’ and Gutterballs: Masculinities in The Big Lebowski / Dennis Allen
19. Size Matters / Judith Roof
20. Brunswick = Fluxus / Aaron Jaffe
21. Enduring and Abiding / Jonathan Elmer
Endnote: The Goofy and the Profound: A Non-Academic's Perspective on the Lebowski Achievement / William Preston

For more on the Lebowski phenomenon, there's also a rather wry article in the New York Times

Edit: and now hipster bowling alleys may be the saviour of NY City (thanks to my colleague Elizabeth Cooper for the link)



20 January 2010

Dusting off the DeLorean for International Women's Day: More from the New Yorker


A letter from Peter Zheutlin in the New Yorker("Product Placement", 18 Jan 2010) leads to yet another chain of thoughts.  Zheutlin, following a piece on Tiger Woods and commercial endorsements, draws the reader's attention to the endorsement by professional and amateur cyclists 'for at least a decade' before 1905.  In 1894, his great-grandaunt, Annie Kopchovsky, advertised Londonderry Lithia Spring Water during her ride around the world - the first by a female cyclist - and later advertised Sterling bicycles as the machine used for the second part of her circumgyration (she even travelled under the name Londonderry).  Sterling bikes, it seems, were also endorsed by Annie Oakley, the sharpshooter.

By co-incidence, we have been acquiring one or two early trade catalogues of U.S. bicycle manufacturers (as well as holding many of the newspapers advertising Sterling's products, with all that they reveal about commerce, adventure and feminism); colleagues on Dach Blog have also been writing about what can be learnt from adverts.  And readers may also be interested to know about this post by Francisca Pérez about how ads are being used for research on 'Everyday Practices and Representations of Domestic Space, Santiago, Chile, 1930-1960'.

Meanwhile, Zheutlin is also doing his own product placement.  Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. Around the World on Two Wheels, is out now...

(and for more on the sports studies collections at the library visit the relevant 'help for researchers' section of the BL site)


15 January 2010

Haiti on my mind


from Empire d'Haiti, New York: [1852]

A month or so ago I received notification of a conference on Haiti and it caused me to think about our holdings from the country.  At the American Studies Association annual conference in Albuquerque last year, I had met a Ph.D student who was working on 18th and early 19th century Haiti and I was able to tell her that we had some letters between the widow of Henri Christophe and Mrs Thomas Clarkson. Perhaps not totally surprising since they are included in Thomas Clarkson’s papers, but we’ve got a lot more on Haiti than you might think. And we’ve been finding even more as part of the work that Beth is doing for our Caribbean digitisation project (who knew that we had a 1793 letter from Dessalines!). I had intended to write a blog on the subject but was distracted by having to go off to do jury service for most of December. I never imagined that Haiti would have been brought back to my attention - and the centre of the news, in the way that it has over the past week, as we have watched on TV the dreadful aftermath of the earthquake and its effects on both the people and the land.

Inevitably I’ve been thinking about the history of the country – where more bad things have happened to the people over the years than you can possibly imagine. A piece in yesterday’s Guardian provided some much needed historical context for the disaster, with a good chronology of events. But some might question the omissions (what about the impact of neo-liberal globalisation policies and U.S. led or influenced military coups for example?), and it’s sadly become all too easy to perpetuate the ‘Haiti as tragedy’ narrative. So for a somewhat different perspective, you might want to listen to US policy in Haiti over decades "Lays the foundation for why the impact of natural disaster is so severe", which features Bill Quigley, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

And I’m also reminded that at such times of terrible disaster and suffering, there are always those who try to take advantage, so if you’re thinking of donating to any of the disaster funds, make sure you choose carefully to avoid the scammers. The BBC has provided a useful list


11 January 2010

Panoramas and New Chapters

I came across an interesting piece in the Guardian by Katie Allen about the future closure of the BL's newspaper reading room in Colindale (and the current and new digital resources) this morning:

Every year, tens of thousands of novelists, historians, journalism students or people curious about their family tree make the pilgrimage to one of the oldest and largest newspaper archives in the world. The British Library's newspaper collection has been housed in the industrial north London area of Colindale since the 1930s and contains such treasures as papers announcing the outbreak of the second world war, early editions of the Beano, every 20th-century football programme and the first edition of the Manchester Guardian in 1821

So, with newspapers in mind, this post is just to alert you to the news that Panorama, McSweeney's revival of the real-world newspaper, is available again.  As the New York Times said, "Panorama very nearly brought tears to my eyes. Everyone I know who has seen it has been similarly overwhelmed and overjoyed." Don't believe everything you read in the papers, but that's not so far off. Our copy is currently being processed and will be available, as we say, in due course (actually, probably not that long; the SF police morale monitor will still be current).


05 January 2010

Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian


I came across a piece in the North Shore News last week on The Edward Curtis Project. It's a multi-disciplinary theatre performance and photographic exhibit by Métis/Dene playwright Marie Clements and photojournalist Rita Leistner, to be premiered at the 2010 Cultural Olympiad and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival later this month. Sadly I won’t be flying over to Vancouver to see the production, but I was struck by the enduring interest in, diverse opinions on, and responses to Curtis’s own project – that extraordinary, collaborative endeavour to document Indian cultures, which resulted in the 20 volumes of ethnographic text and photographs, and 20 portfolios of photogravures, published between 1907 and 1930, which make up The North American Indian. The project was supported by Theodore Roosevelt and part-funded by J. Pierpont Morgan. And it was thanks to the latter, and then, after his death, his son, that the Library received a full set of the publication. 

I also read not too long ago about work at Rutgers to restore Curtis’s 1914 silent film In the land of the head hunters, which features Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl) communities in British Columbia, and this project has also spawned numerous performances, events and conferences.

And of course, academic debate on Curtis and his work continues. Of the many books on the subject, I would pick out Mick Gidley’s Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), and his edited volume Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian Project in the Field (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), both of which are held in the BL. I would also mention Shamoon Zamir’s work on native agency in Curtis's project. Whilst we await his book on the subject, you can read "Native Agency and the Making of the North American Indian: Alexander B. Upshaw and Edward S. Curtis" in The American Indian Quarterly Vol.31 (4), 2007, pp. 613-653 (available electronically in our reading rooms).

The entire contents of The North American Indian have been digitised by Northwestern and can be viewed online. The images are also available via the Library of Congress's American Memory website, where you will also find a useful special presentation Edward S. Curtis in context. But there's nothing like seeing the real thing, and a photogravure from one of the portfolios is featured in our Points of View exhibition. It is a portrait of Bear’s Belly (Arikara), who was born in 1847 in Fort Clark (in present day North Dakota). And speaking of a warrior of the plains, I'm reminded that the BM's new exhibition Warriors of the Plains: 200 years of Native North American honour and ritual opens on Thursday.