Author: mem17025

Publishing NOW : Viet Thanh Nguyen


Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award in General Nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity, and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. He has been interviewed by Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, Seth Meyers, and Terry Gross, among many others. His current book is the bestselling short story collection, The Refugees. Most recently he has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, and le Prix du meilleur livre étranger (Best Foreign Book in France), for The Sympathizer. He is a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.

You Should…Read : In the Heart of the Sea

You should read In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick


If you have ever read or even heard of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville; if you have ever had an inkling of interest in New England history; or if you have ever wondered about life at sea and what would happen if you were actually ship-wrecked, then you should read In the Heart of the Sea.


But why read an historical account of the 1820 whale attack on the whaleship Essex and everything that came afterwards when Melville’s Moby Dick is already a classic? Because, in the words of our very own Mark Twain “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  In the Heart of the Sea tells a story so fantastic, so sensational, that it can only be a work of non-fiction.


But that is not what will keep you turning the pages. What will keep you reading into the wee hours of the night is the way Philbrick describes the harrowing events of what followed for four more months after the Essex crew was shipwrecked. Philbrick provides not only a description of the events, but an account of how the sailors – most of whom eventually perished – physically and psychologically responded to their desperate circumstances, from the extreme thirst and hunger brought on by severe dehydration and starvation, to the crippling fear of knowing that the likelihood any of them being rescued was extremely remote.


Why read In the Heart of the Sea?  Because, quite simply, as a work of non-fiction, it can fill in the details that the classic novel never could.

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Ruth Glasser

What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I have a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale.  I probably gravitate towards interdisciplinary programs because I’ve never been sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Still don’t.

In non-Humanities Institute civilian life I am an Assistant Professor in Residence in the Urban and Community Studies Program and am based at UConn’s Waterbury campus, where I’ve been since 2002.  Between Yale and UConn I worked as a freelance public historian on a variety of books, curriculum projects, exhibits, documentaries, and other more community-based history projects mostly focusing on Puerto Rican and Latino history.   At UConn, the community engagement has continued with service learning projects for students in the history and urban studies courses I teach.

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

The working title for my book project is “Brass City/Grass Roots: The Persistence of Agriculture in Industrial Waterbury, 1870-1980.”  I’ve been working in a variety of archives around the state and conducting oral history interviews as well as reading massive piles of secondary literature on topics ranging from gardening to garbage, thanks to the Humanities Institute.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

It’s an odd story since it has nothing to do with my usual Puerto Rican/Latino research.  Really the project emerged organically [pardon the pun] from my students’ and my involvement with a Waterbury organization called Brass City Harvest, that has been working since 2007 to create new sources of fresh food and jobs for the city through community gardens, greenhouses, a mobile produce van and more recently, a soon-to-be-completed food hub where area farmers can process their produce for sale.  I was teaching an intro course in which we considered food deserts and food justice as contemporary urban issues.  My students began to do service learning projects with Brass City Harvest and I joined the board for a while.  The executive director asked me to do some research for a little exhibit on farming in Waterbury’s relatively recent past.  I had had no idea about the local farming sector, and when I started talking to people and uncovering sources the project seemed worthy of something more lasting than the original exhibit, so that’s how the book came about.

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

As Sue Pronovost, the executive director of Brass City Harvest said when she asked me to do the exhibit, it’s hard to convince people that it’s possible to grow things in a city like Waterbury when they don’t realize that it’s happened before.  This project will hopefully reknit together past and present and future by showing that people did raise, process, and market food in Waterbury not too long ago so it is entirely possible for it to happen again.  The food sector could be an important part of Waterbury’s revitalization as well as a way to improve its public health and sense of community,

In a more general way, I hope to historicize the topic of urban agriculture, which is mostly talked about in academic and popular literature as an entirely contemporary phenomenon.  But the story of Waterbury’s agricultural past is not unique, and there are many more such stories to be told about cities and towns which supposedly were 100 percent industrial until industry left.  I hope to be part of an ongoing academic and popular conversation about how and why cities used to support their food sector, when, how and why they withdrew that support, and how they can support it again.  In our era of deindustrialization, we need to look at ways to economically and socially revitalize our cities and there are many lessons to be learned from the past.

Publishing NOW : A conversation with Dan Gerstle and Adina Berk

March 19th, 4pm,
A conversation with Dan Gerstle, Senior Editor, Basic Books  and Adina Berk, Senior Editor for History, Yale University Press


Adina Popescu Berk
Senior Editor for History, Yale University Press

I acquire in all periods and subfields of American and European history. I look for projects that challenge and change the historiographical conversation, as well as projects that address and inform essential questions in the public sphere and that seek to bring a historian’s perspective to a broad readership. I am particularly interested in projects that conceptualize American history broadly and place the United States in a global context. Themes and topics of particular interest are the way environmental factors and climate crises have shaped societies, the history of empires and the resistance to empires, the history of economic and financial development, connections between the United States and Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, the history of borderlands, histories of human migration, the rise of the right, African American history, Latino history, and Native American history. At Yale I am building on a distinguished history list including, among many other leading historians, recent prize-winners Manisha Sinha, Benjamin Madley, Steve Pincus, Carlos Eire, Pekka Hämäläinen, Martha Hodes, and many others.


Dan Gerstle
Senior Editor, Basic Books

Dan Gerstle joined Basic Books in 2013 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and acquires mainly in history, politics, current affairs, and the social sciences. The books he has edited and published include the 2017 Lincoln Prize–winning Thunder at the Gates by Douglas Egerton, Engines of Liberty by ACLU National Legal Director David Cole, Jefferson by John B. Boles, Locked In by John Pfaff, and Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard. Forthcoming titles include next works from historians Manisha Sinha, Walter Johnson, Matt Sutton, Jeremy Popkin, and Jared Farmer; and from journalists Bhaskar Sunkara, Joan Biskupic, and Andrew McCarthy. Dan holds a BA from Princeton University and an MA in American Studies from Yale University.


You Should – Read “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows”

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal.


One of my Saturday afternoon pleasures is to browse the new fiction section at my local public library.  Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows beckoned even as I was skeptical of yet another immigrant narrative, albeit of a young Sikh woman in London.  But I was in for a hilarious surprise.  Nikki, a Sikh English woman, is a law school dropout and rebel, who tends bar at a dive with sexist Russian coworkers a racist regular, a white Briton.  But against her better judgment, when she visits the gurudwara (a Sikh temple) in Southall to post a matrimonial ad for her prim and obedient older sister that things take an interesting turn.  While there, she sees an ad seeking an English teacher for Punjabi widows at the temple and despite having no teaching experience applies for and gets the job.  Only to find out that the widows, who range from 45-65, have no interest in learning English but in telling explicit and detailed stories about their sexual desires and fantasies. The uproariously funny and poignant stories reveal the complexities and contradictions of gender, immigration, love, sex, age, and violence of both the Punjabi and English communities and the different forms of isolation they experience in each.  Something that many of us are feeling in the US right now.

Balli Jaswal



Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Eleni Coundouriotis


-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I am a Professor of English with an appointment also in our Program in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, housed in the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. I have also been involved for many years with the Human Rights Institute and much of my teaching and research is around human rights. My education was in Comparative Literature and I specialize in the novel, in particular on how novelists engage problems of historical narration. Most of the primary texts I engage with are from postcolonial literatures, especially Anglophone and Francophone African literatures.


-What is the project you’re currently working on?

My current project has a tentative title of “The Hospital and the State.” It brings together a number of interpretative essays on contemporary works that focus on the hospital as a setting and use this setting as way to explore state failure. The project asks questions about the nature of political action and responsibility and where these rest in countries that have suffered significant brain drain, including the departure of many writers and intellectuals. The topic of the hospital seems to engage expatriate writers and this is intriguing to me. In this project, I also return to questions that have engaged me in earlier work concerning the writing of history. How do diasporic writers engage political and historical questions about their countries of origin? What does this distance mean to them and why do they repeatedly create characters who take on leadership roles in those countries?


-How did you arrive at this topic?

This is a hard question to answer because I feel that I am still arriving at my topic… Book projects take some time to become fully coherent. Indeed, by the time that happens, the book is finished! However, the easy answer to this question is in part through teaching courses in contemporary Anglophone fiction where this convergence of texts that focused on hospitals became apparent to me. I was also invited to participate on a panel on “Literature and the State in Africa” and first developed my ideas around this convergence for that occasion. However, the project now includes works by writers outside Africa, most notably Amitav Ghosh and Michael Ondaatje. My interests in human rights, and humanitarianism more particularly, have kept me engaged with scholarship on global health and the history of hospitals in Africa. The project is also an extension of my thinking on the narration of war, which was the topic of my previous book. Many of these novels take place during or after war.


-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

In so far as the topic will focus on ideas around leadership and political agency, I hope that it can help spur a conversation about how we conceive these. My work always seeks to complicate our understanding of how historical narratives come to gain currency and takes up the challenge of decentering our perspective. Disseminating the work of writers from the Global South is additionally part of my effort to change a larger public understanding.


Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Jeffrey Ogbar


What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I am a Professor of History, with concentration in the 20th century U.S., African American. My research spans radical social movements, popular music and urban history. I am a UCHI resident fellow.


What is the project you’re currently working on?

I am writing a book on the rise and expansion of black municipal participation and control in Atlanta, beginning from the late 1960s.


How did you arrive at this topic?

My undergraduate experience at Morehouse College in Atlanta sparked my initial interest in the city. Since my graduation in the early 1990s, the city has attracted more black migrants than any city in the country– by far. Widely perceived as the “Black Mecca,” only the metropolitan area of New York City has more black people than Atlanta metro. In most years, it is the first or second most visited destination for African American tourists It has the highest concentration of black millionaires, black-owned businesses and an over-representation of blacks in municipal and Fulton County government. I’ve been long fascinated how Atlanta, once the headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan, and deeply-entrenched white supremacist control, emerged as this model of black success.


What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

This book will be a useful source for scholars of urban history, African American history, and urban studies. It will make important interventions in both urban history and some facets of political science. There is a subfield of Africana studies, “Black Power Studies,” that will likely find this study an important addition. I hope (as perhaps many of us) that this will also serve as a possible general interest for people interest in the Capital of the South.


You Should – See “In Between”

You should see “In Between,” a film currently showing at Real Art Ways in Hartford. It’s a wonderful film about three very different Palestinian women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv, and the film follows their challenges and triumphs to balance traditional life with modernity. One is a successful attorney, one is a lesbian who works at various jobs (DJ, bartender), and one is a traditional Muslim woman who is finishing her degree in Computer Science and engaged to be married. All of them struggle against patriarchal control, violence and abuse, and imposed limitation, one by her partner, one by her father, and one by her fiancé. The film does a terrific job of destroying the monolithic stereotypes of what it means to be a Palestinian woman (or any woman), showing the great diversity of possibility. And it draws the common lines between these women and women everywhere as we all grapple with the same issues. In the end, sisterhood is powerful, no matter who we are!

Publishing Now! – George Thompson

George has been a professional editor since 1984, beginning his career at Johns Hopkins University Press as an acquisitions editor. At JHUP, George developed the geography and environmental studies list, including the “Creating the North American Landscape” series.  In 1990, George founded the Center for American Places, which he directed and served as publisher until November 2010, when he founded his own imprint. Books developed and published under George’s care have won more than 100 book awards, honors, and prizes, including best-book recognition in 31 academic fields.  George is also the editor, co-editor or author of five books of his own and has served as publisher-in-residence at a number of universities. He can provide help and advice on book and article projects at any stage of development.  More information is available here

George’s schedule:

To make appointments, contact Stephanie Beron in GEOG at

Get to Know Our Fellows: Four Questions with Harry van der Hulst

Harry van der Hulst

-What is your academic background and what is your current position in UCHI/at UConn/Your Home Institution?

I was born and educated in The Netherlands, where I taught at Leiden University after finishing my PhD in 1984. In 1999, I moved to the US, starting my work at UConn in 2000, after having been a visiting fellow for one year at Skidmore College on a project about ‘Creativity in Art and Science. I’m a professor of linguistics who is specialized in the study of the sound structure of languages (‘phonology’). I have worked on different phenomena such as ‘syllable structure’ , ‘word stress’ and ‘vowel harmony’. When I discovered that there are languages that have no sound structure (sign languages), I included those in my research. These languages use visual display instead of sound to express meaning, but other than that they are just like spoken languages in grammatical structure and functionality.

-What is the project you’re currently working on?

The project that earned me a fellowship at the Humanities Institute this year focuses on the relation between the  perceptible form of languages and meaning, specifically looking (!) at visual languages. The question of how words get to have their perceptible form (whether audible or visible) is very old (e.g. discussed in Plato’s dialogue Cratylus). Forms relate to meaning on a continuum from the form being totally arbitrary (as most words in spoken language; why do we refer to a cat with the word ‘cat’?) to being in some sense motivated by the meaning (as in the Chinese word for cat which is ‘mao’). We call this iconicity. Iconicity plays a much larger role in sign languages and I want to investigate the factors that play a role in allowing this to happen and suppressing it in the case of spoken languages (where it actually happens more than most linguists want to admit). In my project, I also include another visual ‘language’, namely the language of drawing, especially in the context of  ‘comics’ or ‘graphic novels’.

-How did you arrive at this topic?

My project combines a number of research lines that have developed gradually over many years. My route from spoken languages to sign languages occurred because realizing that not all languages have sound structure (which was the focus of my attention for many years) came as a shock. Had I spent many years of my life on a side of language that is non-essential? But then I realized that sign languages have a counterpart to phonology because indeed all languages (in fact, all communication systems) need a perceptible side to convey meaning. So this relationship (form/meaning) crystallized as a central issue. From a young age, I’ve liked drawing and graphic novels. I then discovered that there is a blooming academic field that studies this art form. Extending my work into this domain was a natural step (and a perfect excuse to integrate a childhood interest within my academic endeavors).

-What impact might your work have on a larger public understanding of your topic?

Language is something that everyone finds interesting. Yet, many misunderstandings exist among both lay people and academics. This is especially so with respect to sign languages. My work will contribute to erasing ‘language myths’ and allow insights that have been gained in linguistics to be shared with a larger community. By broadening the perspective and including both spoken and signed languages, as well as other, specifically visual, communication systems, my project will highlight the fact that human culture is essentially a web of communication systems and that the relationship between their forms and meanings is a perfect theme to unite the study of these systems.