About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

June 30th, 2016

Why Money Is Undermining Our Financial System



The Evolution of Money

“And this is exactly where the current problem lies: central banks – and their peers, commercial banks – still operate in a one-dimensional universe where readiness to spend has been muted. On the one hand, we now have those who have, who are thus trustworthy and who can therefore reach into the honeypot of cheap credit. But these largely own what they want and who instead of spending on things invest – thus the asset bubble and also the increasing gap between rich and poor. On the other, we have those who want to spend but don’t have the means or access to credit.” — Roman Chlupatý

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. Today, we are happy to present an interview with Roman Chlupatý from Euronews, in which Chlupatý explains why we live in “a world where one of a few certainties is that while we don’t know when the next [economic] crisis will come, we know for sure that it will.” Watch the video or read the text in full below.

We live in a time of great monetary abnormality. Not only are the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan prescribing negative interest rates to prop up their failing economies but the Swedish central monetary authority is doing the same – despite the fact that its national economy is growing at a solid rate. And as if this were not enough, the Fed’s Janet Yellen, who was expected to increase rates three to five times this year on her quest for normalcy, has mentioned earlier this year that negative rates in the US – meaning banks charging interest from those depositing money with them – are still a possibility.

What does this mean? Seven and a half years after the so-called crisis broke out with the collapse of investment bank Lehmann Brothers, old recipes and ways of thinking are out of breath. They certainly did help to avert the worst – just imagine what would for instance have happened in the UK if ATMs had stopped giving out cash, a situation that was mere hours away – but they did so at the cost of a 57 trillion dollar-increase in debt, as consultancy McKinsey points out, and at the cost of inflating speculative bubbles all around. Read the rest of this entry »

June 29th, 2016

The Changing Faces of Money



The Evolution of Money

“Indeed, one of the things holding back the adoption of cybercurrencies including bitcoin is that they do not conform with traditional ideas about money. But is the problem with bitcoin, or have our ideas about money failed to keep up with its evolution?” — David Orrell

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. In “The Changing Faces of Money,” David Orrell looks at the rise of cybercurrencies and what they can tell us about what money actually is.

The Changing Faces of Money
By David Orrell

The question, “what is money?” is one that never seems to go away. Were medieval bills of exchange money? How about fiat currencies? Its latest manifestation tends to focus on cybercurrencies such as bitcoin – are they as good as regular coins?

To some techno-enthusiasts the answer is a resounding yes, but to many people it is less clear. This skepticism was captured by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who once told Bloomberg, “I do not understand where the backing of bitcoin is coming from. There is no fundamental issue of capabilities of repaying it in anything which is universally acceptable, which is either intrinsic value of the currency or the credit or trust of the individual who is issuing the money, whether it’s a government or an individual.”

Indeed, one of the things holding back the adoption of cybercurrencies including bitcoin is that they do not conform with traditional ideas about money. But is the problem with bitcoin, or have our ideas about money failed to keep up with its evolution? Read the rest of this entry »

June 28th, 2016

The Evolution of Money: Origins



The Evolution of Money

“Money has been one of mankind’s most successful inventions (it is no coincidence that to “coin” means to “invent”). Indeed, it is one of the things that best expresses our humanity.” — David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Origins,” the first chapter of The Evolution of Money.

June 28th, 2016

New Book Tuesday! The Company and the Shogun



The Company and the Shogun

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (Now available in paper)
Adam Clulow

June 27th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý



The Evolution of Money

“Even though money is something we all use every day, talking about it, defining it, and explaining are extremely arcane things to do. The tone is important, and The Evolution of Money goes about its task in a readable, breezy style that does not become glib.” — Paul Vigna, coauthor of The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Evolution of Money. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 1st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

June 24th, 2016

University Press Roundup



Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

Recently, Cornell University Press sat down with William J. Kennedy to discuss his new book Petrarchism at Work: Contextual Economies in the Age of Shakespere. Part One of this interview discusses how the development of print technology changed the canons of Shakespeare and Pierre de Ronsard by allowing them to publish multiple revised editions of their works. As a mercantile economy based on increased production became more prevalent, writing became monetized and writers and playwrights were able profit from their works, such as Shakespeare who, according to the author, was able to buy his way into the Gentlemen class as discussed in Part Two.

At Johns Hopkins University Press’ blog, Bernard Golden, PhD discusses ways to cultivate healthy anger, anger that is rooted in compassion for oneself and others. In his new book Overcoming Destructive Anger, Golden differentiates between healthy anger, which is constructive, and destructive anger, which is what one exhibits when they don’t feel a sense of self-compassion. Ultimately, by being more self-aware of one’s anger, we can “harness our energy and live a more fulfilling life.” Read the rest of this entry »

June 23rd, 2016

Developers Don’t Get It: Climate Change Means We Need to Retreat from the Coast



Retreat from a Rising Sea

“It is time for a profound new outlook—where we construct smaller, less expensive and perhaps mobile structures and do not replace buildings destroyed and damaged in storms. It is time we prepare to retreat from the rising sea.”—Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C Pilkey

Earlier this year in an incisive and impassioned op-ed published in The Guardian, Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis and Keith C Pilkey, authors of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, pointed out the continued folly of developing in coastal areas. 13.1 million people along the U.S. east coast will be at risk of flooding at the end of the century. While such statistics suggest the need to retreat from coastal areas, development continues.

Particularly vulnerable is the Florida coast where multibillion-dollar construction projects are underway. The Pilkeys cite several cities heading down the wrong path, including Miami:

In Miami, a city perilously perched atop a very porous limestone, two multibillion-dollar construction projects are under way, despite the fact that parts of the city routinely flood during high tides and that widespread flooding by the rising sea in a few decades is a virtual certainty. No sea walls, levees or dikes can stop the rising waters from flowing through the underlying spongy limestone and into the city. Miami is ultimately doomed.

Ft. Myers is also adding new hotels and restaurants to its coast using seawalls in the hopes of protecting them from flooding. The authors provide some succinct and much-needed advice on why that’s a bad idea:

If you need to build a seawall to protect your construction project, you should not be building at that site. Remember – seawalls destroy beaches.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 22nd, 2016

Is New York City Prepared for Climate Change? — An Excerpt from Retreat from a Rising Sea



Retreat from a Rising Sea

“New York’s poststorm actions show at this point, the city is best situated to respond to the challenges it faces from climate change and sea-level rise (while also revealing that we are in only the earliest stages of the response).” — From Retreat from a Rising Sea

In the following excerpt from Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey examine the state to which New York City is ready to handle climate change. As they write (see above), New York City is perhaps the best-prepared of all U.S. cities for future threats to coastal areas. While the authors praise former Mayor Bloomberg for the City’s preparedness and response to Hurricane Sandy, there is still much work to be done in terms of planning and the recognition that the New York City might need to “retreat” from the coast.

June 21st, 2016

Orrin Pilkey on the Costs of Ignoring the Rising Sea



Retreat from a Rising Sea

“We can prepare now and respond to the sea-level rise in a planned fashion, or we can act later in response to natural catastrophes (storms). Responding to the rising sea now will be painful, but ignoring the rising sea will produce catastrophic pain.” — Orrin Pilkey

Now that summer is officially here, many of us will undoubtedly be heading to the beach. However, as Orrin Pilkey points out in a recent op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer, many of our coastal areas are in serious danger. Ignoring these problems and continuing to develop these areas, Pilkey warns, will have serious and long-lasting consequences.

Pilkey is most recently the coauthor with Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, which examines a variety of coastal areas in danger. In his article for the Fayetteville Observer, “Why N.C. can’t ignore the rising sea,” he focuses on North Carolina’s failure to take any action at all:

In spite of these alarming suggestions, North Carolina has taken virtually no action or done any planning for response to the future sea-level rise. It’s fair to say, viewing the action of the Coastal Resources Commission and other environmental agencies, that the state’s coastal management program has crashed.

The science panel of the CRC was ordered to produce a report on the sea-level rise expected only for the next 30 years. Frank Gorham, CRC chairman, has written that the science panel itself chose that 30-year number, but that is incorrect. The 30-year time limit was a political decision forced upon the science panel to avoid comment on the post 30-year time frame when sea-level rise is expected to accelerate.

The short 30-year time span is out of sync with all other government entities concerned with sea-level rise in the U.S. and globally. By comparison, the UN’s climate change panel (IPCC) looks out 100 years, Holland plans out 200 years and has designed its storm gates for a 10,000-year storm (a bit of a stretch), and Germany looks out 500 years.

In the United States, North Carolina stands alone in doing basically nothing of consequence in sea-level rise planning and even discourages state employees from mentioning global climate change. New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia are planning, as well as taking baby steps, in an effort to start responding to sea-level rise. These states recognize the huge implications of the rising sea on developed shorelines.

Instead, the response of North Carolina has been to hold the shoreline in place at great cost and even encourage further development. The recent projected sea-level rise virtually dooms much of North Carolina’s beachfront development by this century’s end, especially the Outer Banks.

In even more danger from the rising sea is the northeastern corner of the state behind the Outer Banks. Here, the slope of the land is so gentle that a one-foot sea-level rise could push the water inland four miles or more.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 21st, 2016

New Book Tuesday: Appetite for Innovation, The Psycho Records, and More New Books!



Appetite for Innovation

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli
M. Pilar Opazo

Reimagining the Human Service Relationship
Edited by Jaber F. Gubrium, Tone Alm Andreassen, and Per Koren Solvang

Friends and Other Strangers: Studies in Religion, Ethics, and Culture
Richard B. Miller

Rethinking Investment Incentives: Trends and Policy Options
Edited by Ana Teresa Tavares-Lehmann, Perrine Toledano, Lise Johnson, and Lisa Sachs

Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect (Now available in paper)
Heather Houser

The Psycho Records
Laurence Rickels
(Wallflower Press)

Cinéma Militant: Political Filmmaking and May 1968
Paul Douglas Grant
(Wallflower Press)

The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century
Stein Ringen
(Hong Kong University Press)

Read the rest of this entry »

June 20th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Retreat from a Rising Sea”



This week we are featuring Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, by Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Retreat from a Rising Sea to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, June 24 at 1:00 pm.

In their review of the book Publishers Weekly wrote, “This accessible, impassioned argument considers the scientific, political, and socioeconomic dimensions of climate change and fervently presses for Americans to come to terms with the disastrous changes to the world’s oceans sooner rather than later.”

You can also read the chapter,”Control + Alt + Retreat”:

June 17th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “The Other Catholics”



The Other Catholics

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected some of the media coverage that The Other Catholics and Julie Byrne have received.

Visit Julie Byrne’s website.

Read “Sunday Dinner with Pope Francis,” by Julie Byrne at the Huffington Post. In her article, Byrne addresses Pope Francis’s views on the role of women in the Catholic church:

I loved the pope’s recent statements on climate change, capitalism, annulments and so much more. I read the pope’s letter granting priests faculties to forgive women who confess to abortions during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy. It is an extraordinary gesture to absorb among American Catholics, whose bishops made anti-abortion activism the overweening political concern for years, even as Catholic rates of abortion are higher than that of the Protestant population.

But the same letter makes another point starkly clear: the pope extends mercy to women in positions of dire need, while he cannot fathom women in positions of church power.

Read the rest of this entry »

June 16th, 2016

Guadalupe Stays Street



The Other Catholics

“Independent Catholics do things like this all the time. They step in when ordinary Catholics of whatever stripe need something and the big churches can’t or won’t provide.”—Julie Byrne

The following post is by Julie Byrne, author of The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion. Originally written just before Christmas, Byrne’s essay explores how independent Catholic clergy fill a niche when Roman Catholic official policies leave people on the sidelines:

It’s the night before Christmas Eve, but I’m a bit of a goddess girl, so the Virgin of Guadalupe remains an all-Christmas, all-year saint for me. I pay attention to her appearances around the city.

This year, as for the past few years, the parish of All Saints gathered with Queens community members for a midnight celebration of Guadalupe’s feast day in the streets of Long Island City.

All Saints and its pastor Father Mike Lopez are independent Catholics, part of the United American Catholic Church. Most of the Long Island City participants were Roman Catholic. So why weren’t they attending their own parish celebration? Good question. A few years ago, the local Roman parish declined to continue the traditional late-night street fiesta. The Guadalupe confraternity called Father Mike. “We have to keep it going,” confraternity members said. She’s the people’s saint.” Father Mike told them that he was independent. It didn’t matter to them. They just wanted a priest.

Independent Catholics do things like this all the time. They step in when ordinary Catholics of whatever stripe need something and the big churches can’t or won’t provide, from a wedding to a baptism to a popular (perhaps worrisomely unregulated) sacred block party. I don’t question the big churches’ reasons. But factually speaking, nature abhors a vacuum, and so does religion. Where there is Catholic lack, independent Catholics often fill it.

Father Mike himself lived this dynamic. I had the chance to hang out with him a few weekends ago in East New York. He grew up locally and always loved both the streets and the church. Eventually a Vincentian brother on track to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest, Mike fell in love and left the seminary to marry and have kids. After some fortuitous encounters, he realized he could be a Catholic priest and be married, since many independent churches allow clerical marriage. Keeping his day job in New York City law enforcement, Father Mike founded All Saints a few years ago.

Like most independent parishes, All Saints rents space for mass — and turns it into an ecumenical opportunity. They need the worship space. Ridgewood Presbyterian in Queens welcomes the vitality. Now the younger Latin@-and-everybody All Saints often joins with the older mostly-white Presbyterians for community events.

All Saints is at 5914 70th Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City.

Father Mike says everyone is welcome. All Saints can handle all the worrisomely unregulated situations just fine.

Que Viva La Virgen de Guadalupe!

June 15th, 2016

The Other Catholics Book Tour



The Other Catholics

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. Today, we are happy to provide the initial schedule for Julie Byrne’s The Other Catholics Book Tour. Professor Byrne is also available for New York City metro area bookings this summer and other cities in the future.

Saturday, June 18, 4:00 PM
Bensalem, PA
Barnes and Noble in the Neshaminy Mall

Saturday, June 25, 3:30 PM
Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe Public Library (145 Washington Ave)

Thursday, July 14, 6 PM
Chicago, IL
The Seminary Co-op Bookstore

Sunday, July 17, 10 AM
St. Louis, MO
St. Stanislaus Parish (1413 N 20th Street) Read the rest of this entry »

June 14th, 2016

Introducing “The Other Catholics”



The Other Catholics

“With their own histories and polities, independent Catholics decide things like eligibility for ordination as freestanding churches. They decide what Catholicism means in ways both similar to and different from the major communions.

In short, not all Catholics are Roman Catholics.”
– Julie Byrne

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present Byrne’s introduction, in which she explains exactly who “the other Catholics” are, and what makes independent Catholicism different from Roman Catholicism.

June 13th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion



The Other Catholics

“This beautifully written study illuminates the range of groups that exist across the whole Catholic spectrum. Linked, despite their diversity, by a shared identification as Catholic and common emphasis on succession, sacrament, and saints, Byrne surfaces the complex, often unnoticed interactions between independent Catholics, Roman Catholics, and numerous religious traditions. This fresh approach opens a provocative window through which to view the meaning and making of Catholicity.” — Ann Taves

This week, our featured book is The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion, by Julie Byrne. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Other Catholics. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 17th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

June 10th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “Black Gods of the Asphalt”



Black Gods of the Asphalt

“Black men’s bodies are overdetermined by racism and poverty on the court, but to stop there is to strip ballplayers of agency and to overlook their lived experiences of the games. In a twist of irony that rivals the sleight of hand of a crossover dribble, social scientists have attempted to explain black basketball by setting aside the subjective experiences the players have of it. In their desire to remain objective and to adhere to disciplinary boundaries, scholars have reduced basketball to a set of rules predetermined by external conditions.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected a number of the best articles and interviews on and with Onaje X. O. Woodbine looking at his new book.

First, at Killing the Buddha, read an excerpt on the 2013 Fathers Are Champions Too basketball tournament and other streetball tournaments from Black Gods of the Asphalt:

Black men’s bodies are overdetermined by racism and poverty on the court, but to stop there is to strip ballplayers of agency and to overlook their lived experiences of the games. In a twist of irony that rivals the sleight of hand of a crossover dribble, social scientists have attempted to explain black basketball by setting aside the subjective experiences the players have of it. In their desire to remain objective and to adhere to disciplinary boundaries, scholars have reduced basketball to a set of rules predetermined by external conditions. The powerful socioeconomic forces of poverty, racism, and mascu­line role constrain black male bodies, push­ing them toward limited definitions of self as ballplayers, gang­sters, and hustlers. This “symbolic violence,” as Bourdieu refers to it, is often embodied and internalized by the players. But to stop there is to leave us with only a thin sense for the human and lived dimensions of these games. The experience of the court as a vehicle of self-emancipation is stripped away. The living dimension of this urban religion is lost.

Woodbine was interviewed twice at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. First, listen to Woodbine discuss how his desire to tell the stories that come up in his book led him to take Black Gods of the Asphalt to the stage.

“It was storytelling,” Woodbine says. “This was inner-city, street-level storytelling. And I thought, ‘Why not actually, consciously, do this on the stage and create a conscious, ritual space in the theater? And so, I wrote a script with my father and my wife to try to tell these stories in a way that can impact audience beyond the streets.”

Read the rest of this entry »

June 9th, 2016

Thursday Fiction Corner: Many Annas Karenina



Repin's Volga Boatmen

Welcome to the Columbia University Press Thursday Fiction Corner! This week Russian Library editor Christine Dunbar comments on Janet Malcolm’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books on translations of Anna Karenina.

Janet Malcolm’s recent piece in the New York Review of Books on translations of Anna Karenina has spurred many discussions in the Slavic studies community. Malcolm comes down hard on the translating duo Pevear and Volokhonsky, who are as controversial amongst Russian scholars as they are feted by the non-Russian-speaking book world (chosen by Oprah!). On the other hand, she praises Constance Garnett, who is having a reputational renaissance in the scholarly world.

Arguing that Garnett is superior because she is more readable, Malcolm in turn insists that translators not sacrifice readability for textual fidelity. Like most generalizations, it’s easy to pick holes in this one: translation invariably requires an interpretive move, but if the source text is ambiguous or confused, perhaps reflecting, in the case of Anna Karenina, Anna’s disordered state of mind, smoothing it out is not in the reader’s best interest. The example Malcolm ends on—the confusion the reader feels when reading that Stiva Oblonsky’s hunting attire includes “linen bands wrapped around his feet” (in the Kent and Berberova edition of Garnett) and the additional explanation (in the Maudes’ translation) of “instead of socks,” not present in the original—is one I suspect many translators would sympathize with. I have heard Marian Schwartz, whose translation of Anna Karenina Malcolm casually and unfairly dismisses, say that if she can avoid unnecessary confusion (or a footnote) by inserting one or two extra words in the text, she may do so. Scholars tend to worry about what is lost in translation rather than what the reading public gains from works being translated, and so are more likely to quibble with this kind of deviation from the source text. Read the rest of this entry »

June 9th, 2016

The Creation of “Black Gods of the Asphalt”



Black Gods of the Asphalt

“I want the book to elevate the conversation on black masculinity and sports…. I want people to recognize that you can find religion in strange places, that this community has its own innate healers, its own innate capacity to heal, that these young men have agency, and that there is freedom within this community in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find it.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Today, we have excerpted part of an interview with Onaje X. O. Woodbine, conducted by Matthew Reed Baker, that originally appeared in Boston Magazine, in which Woodbine discusses his creative process and what he hopes the book will achieve.

At any point did you think that nobody could’ve written this book but you? It seems like the perfect match of author and book.

Howard Thurman, one of my favorite scholars and thinkers, has this phrase that we all have a “working paper.” The best scholarship is autobiographical. I’ve always viewed scholarship as a deeply personal project. In some ways, I do agree with you that only I could have written this particular project, but in other ways, part of the insight I learned from writing the book is that my self is made up of other selves. And so, if you dig deep enough within, you come out on the other side, you recognize the social world. Some of the best scholarship recognizes that society and the person are not mutually exclusive.

I think the experiences that are happening in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan are happening across other cities because the social context is very similar. There may be some changes in style and variation in the way that it is expressed, but they’re dealing with societal challenges and poverty, and these basketball courts are spaces of refuge, especially for young black men who don’t have access to traditional buffers against structural violence. They don’t go to church as much anymore, they don’t have access to quality therapy, and as you can see in the book, the family is largely fragmented.

Black men have always been linked to the physical, so the myth has been that black men are bound in body but not in mind. Sports dramatize that myth in such a powerful way that many black men in inner cities are attracted to it. They may be attracted to it because they’re pushed by race or poverty or social narrative, but when they get on the court, the lived experience of running up and down the court, rubbing your body next to your brother, and expressing your pain…it transcends the reasons why you got there in the first place. It’s deeply personal and deeply social at the same time.

There’s such a weaving of style and form in this book. What was your approach?

I wanted to mirror the culture in my scholarship, but I didn’t want to strip the community of its language. In the history of African American culture, different genres of self-expression have always been complementary. During the Harlem Renaissance, jazz and basketball often were performed on the same stage on the same night. In the hip-hop generation, it was b-boy/b-girl dancing and rap music, while basketball was performed in the same park at the same time, and you’d have the boombox out there. So it was a confluence of different forms of African American self expression.

It was a labor of love, and I wanted it to be in a language that the academy and general public could understand, but also that the community would recognize as authentic. That required an interdisciplinary approach. On one hand I had to use social theory, the theory of masculinity and race to recognize the objectifications of the black male body. On the other hand I needed poetry. I needed religious studies. I needed the first-person account to call into question those things. You need all of those tools. That as the hardest obstacle I faced. It took a few years to really find the tools, understand how to apply them, and there was a lot of grappling in the dark.

When a book mixes ideas and genres well, it’s seamless. How do you do it?

When I read it for the first time in full after all those years of work, you know what was the metaphor I had in my head? A basketball. [Laughs] It really felt round. The book itself, it felt like there were no corners, nothing stuck out. It felt like a cohesive unit. I kept thinking of a ball, a basketball. I kid you not.

You mention in the book that you had to leave your community in order to write about it.

This book was also born out of personal trauma of experiencing the violence of the inner city. I myself embody the pain of living in a racialized and poverty-stricken community, and with growing up, I constantly felt as if my life was in danger. I’d walk out of my house, and there was a gang right on the corner in front of my door. I went through this. I was depressed for a while growing up. I had very low self-esteem. I wondered—because I was in the METCO program—why the students I went to school with out in the suburbs had nice homes and we didn’t. I also wondered about my past. I wondered if I really was just a slave or a descendent of a slave, if there was nothing prior to that.

When we’re born into that kind of world, you internalize it, you take it for granted, and often you turn the pain inward. You blame yourself or the people around you. And you can’t necessarily prove how the larger society, mainstream society, and dominant culture has created a society in which you are meant to feel that way. I needed to leave that environment to heal. I needed to see other people who looked like me, who weren’t angry all the time, or weren’t part of a gang, or weren’t depressed, or weren’t smoking drugs because something had happened in their life. I needed to see that I could be something else.

But at the same time, once I got to Yale and into university culture, I also didn’t fit in there. I realized there was a tremendous loss associated with being out there. On the one hand, I was safe, I wasn’t constantly worried about violence. But on the other hand, I had to leave all the people I cared for behind, and my culture. Living in two worlds and being in that middle space, in some ways, was a privilege. I see myself as a bridge and I’m very thankful. And yet you feel like you’re always an exile, you’re always homeless.

What do you want this book to achieve once it comes out?

I want the book to elevate the conversation on black masculinity and sports. I think that the old messages of trying to solve structural racism are important, but need to be expanded upon. Particularly unconscious bias, and the kind of racism and bias that lives in our bodies. My question is: How do you transform people’s consciousness, that both they and others are human beings? I think that requires getting into your body and recognizing the trauma and the history that lives within us. I want people to recognize that you can find religion in strange places, that this community has its own innate healers, its own innate capacity to heal, that these young men have agency, and that there is freedom within this community in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find it. The standard view in literature on sports and race is that these young men are determined by a desire for social mobility and socioeconomic status, and that’s why they’re on the court. Part of what I want to do is challenge that narrative and say, “No, there are deeper human reasons why they are on the court in predominant numbers.”

Read the interview and accompanying article at the Boston Magazine website.

June 8th, 2016

Listen to Onaje X. O. Woodbine on All Things Considered



Black Gods of the Asphalt

“What [often] gets missed is the level of meaning and feeling that is experienced in the game itself. And the feeling of freedom and transcendence can’t be really captured in social scientific language. You need religious studies, you need poetry, you need music to really understand how these young men are creating meaning in this space.” — Onaje X. O. Woodbine

This week, our featured book is Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball, by Onaje X. O. Woodbine. Today. we are happy to present a fantastic interview with Onaje X. O. Woodbine on NPR’s All Things Considered on the new book, Woodbine’s history, and why we need religious studies, poetry, and music to understand how young black men create meaning through basketball and other sports.