Monday, July 10, 2017

Cover Story: Riding with Death

Jana Braziel, author of Riding with Death: Vodou Art and Urban Ecology in the Streets of Port-au-Prince, explains the cover of her study of urban art in Haiti--why she chose a vivid photograph by John Cussans. 

When I first saw the digital image of John Cussans' spectacular photograph of the Grand Rue alit at night and alive with creative, artistic energy, I knew that it was one-of-a-kind: the beauty of the Port-au-Princian sky with the cerulean blue-hued light and end-of-sunset shadows cast over the city from the surrounding peaks of Gros Morne; the labyrinthian path leading to Eugène's lakou; the lwa masoleum of sculptures gathered outside the gate--it was all so perfectly evocative and representative of the themes that I had been writing about in Riding with Death.  

When I asked John if I could use the photograph as the cover for Riding with Death, he immediately and graciously agreed to do so even though he was also finishing a book entitled Undead Uprising (MIT, 2017). I am so grateful to John not only for his generosity of spirit, but also for his intellectual engagement with my own ideas about the artists and the art work at the Grand Rue. It was a creative synergy that fueled both of our thoughts and writing processes. I am grateful for those gifts and for his willingness to share the photograph gratis.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Intern Guest Blog featuring Eugenie Brignac

Find out what it's like to work as an intern at UPM! Former intern, Eugenie Brignac, takes over the blog to discuss her experience at UPM. To apply, send a resume and cover letter to Emily Bandy ( The deadline to apply for both the McRae Internship and editorial internships is Monday July, 10.

I remember in high school wondering how books were made and thinking it was a relatively simple process (boy was I wrong). So when I decided I wanted to major in English, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, and since we have teachers in my family, it was a logical assumption; however, I quickly realized teaching was not for me.

I always enjoyed English classes throughout my years in school. This is when I decided that English was my calling. So if I wasn’t about to teach, what else could I do with my degree? In talking to Jordan Nettles (UPM’s Marketing Assistant Extraordinaire), she told me she was looking into a career in publishing. I thought that I liked books and I would love to see how they were made, so I looked into a career in publishing—thanks, Jordan!

After talking to one of my professors about future plans, I told her that I wanted to edit and publish books; she told me she had the perfect opportunity for me. She forwarded me a flyer for the Internships at UPM and next thing I knew, I had met some of the editorial staff when they came for a visit at Southern Miss and then I applied for and received the McRae Publishing Internship.  

When I first thought about publishing, I probably had the same idea as many other people about publishing: that when you submit a manuscript, the publishing company reads and edits it and then it will eventually be published. This job has definitely removed the rose coloring from my glasses. It is hard work, yet so rewarding.    

One of my favorite parts is that there is always something new to do. Some days I would be contacting readers for manuscripts, reading indexes, and preparing contracts for readers and authors. Other days I would be preparing materials for launch meetings and board meetings. I really enjoyed working in almost every part of the acquisitions process, like when I was able to talking to prospective authors and readers, working with contracted authors, reading manuscripts, writing descriptions, documents, and letters. I enjoyed being able to read through a manuscript and give some feedback on it.

Another lesson I learned from working here is how to deal with mistakes. As an intern, there was room to mess up since you are still learning. Since some of the editors I worked with were McRae Interns themselves, they know what to expect from this position and I felt pressure to try to live up to them, but they allowed my mistakes to let me grow.

I am lucky for the opportunity this has presented me. At the end of my internship when I walked into job interviews, the companies I interviewed with were able to hear about all of the knowledge I have gained, and they were very impressed. In fact, this summer I accepted a position as Assistant Editor at Pelican Publishing. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ret-Con Game: Retroactive Continuity and the Hyperlinking of America  

“Retroactive Continuity In The Age of Alternative Facts”
by Andrew J. Friedenthal

I opened my book Retcon Game: RetroactiveContinuity and the Hyperlinking of America with a quote from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984: “Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.” I used this line as a way to begin discussing the narrative technique of retroactive continuity, or retconning, which I defined as “the revisiting of past stories, told in previous installments of a long-form narrative, and adding a new piece of information to that older story, literally rewriting the past.”
In context, I was contrasting the Orwell quote, with its nefarious implications of fascist “doublethink” working to control the minds of a subdued, pacified populace, with what I saw as a storytelling tool with the potential to speak to a new way of understanding history and information in the digital era. Indeed, the ultimate thesis for the entire book was, “I posit that retconning, on the whole, has a positive impact on society, fostering a sense of history itself as a constructed narrative and thus engendering an acceptance of how historical narratives can and should be recast to allow for a broader field of stories to be told in the present.”
That thesis was written in something of a different world, prior to the ascendance of new terms, such as “fake news” and “alternative facts,” that call into question some of the basic ways in which we view news, facts, information, history, and perhaps even reality itself.
All of this, as you might suspect, has made me question the optimistic nature of my thesis. Was I blinded by my own educated, liberal, elitist bubble of savvy pop culture junkies? Had I underestimated the ability of the American public to differentiate conflicting interpretations of events from blatant lies? Was my interpretation of “historical revisionism”—the practice of unearthing unheard historical narratives in order to compliment and interrogate more “traditional” stories of exceptionalism—hopelessly naïve?
I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I still believe that by appreciating and understanding complex, nuanced media, of the kinds that utilize retroactive continuity, we become more open to seeing the same nuance and complexity in the world around us. However, what my own elitist bubble blinded me to was the fact that popular culture itself isn’t enough to engender this kind of understanding. Rather, it must be complimented by, and placed in conversation with, formal education geared towards instilling students with higher order thinking skills.
The creators of our popular media need to recognize the difference that they are able to make, and work to instill their audiences with an appreciation of nuance, complexity, and flexible narratives, even if subconsciously. Simultaneously, our systems of education (both higher and primary) need to do a better job presenting history as a narrative constructed out of a body of events and facts, and especially of teaching students how to interpret the media they consume daily.
In Retcon Games, I invoke Hayden White’s differentiation between the “chronicle” of all historical events and the “narrative” of interpretation created by historians to relate those events. Today, I think there is more value than ever to understanding this difference. All historians, and all journalists, interpret a chronicle into a narrative, and it is worthwhile to question those narratives as they are presented by even our must trusted of sources. However, what “fake news” and “alternative facts” attempt to do is rewrite the chronicle, to retcon reality à la 1984.
This, to me, is what differentiates historical revisionism from “alternative facts.” Revisionism, as practiced by historians, rewrites long-standing cultural myths by expanding the focus of history to give voice to the voiceless, while “alternative facts” seek to limit that focus in order to provide a biased point of view that silences dissent.
That is not to say that revisionism must always be positive; Holocaust denial is, after all, a form of historical revisionism. However, even at its most extreme, negative form, revisionism is about reshaping historical narratives, in the way that retconnimg is about reshaping fictional narratives. Alternative facts, on the other hand, are about reshaping the chronicle of facts, ignoring basic truths of history, science, and reality in order to provide a one-sided perspective.
Ultimately, I don’t think that retconning alone can save us from a complete breakdown of a consensus reality, but it can certainly add to the conversation about how that consensus is constantly formed, reformed, and refined. In concert with a quality liberal arts education in the humanities, I still do believe that an understanding of retconning can help us make sure that 2017 doesn’t become 1984.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Mississippi Encyclopedia

Schedule of Events 

Mississippi Encyclopedia Oxford Celebration Kick Off and Speed Lectures @ Oxford City Hall
May 20 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Oxford Celebration and Signing @ Off-Square Books
May 20 @ 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Turnrow Books @ Turnrow Books
Jun 1 @ 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Lorelai Books @ Lorelai Books
Jun 2 @ 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: A Cappella Books in Atlanta @ A Cappella Books
Jun 9 @ 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia at Atlanta’s MS in the Park @ Chastain Park
Jun 10 @ 10:30 am – 3:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Celebration at the Library of Congress @ Great Hall of the Library of Congress
Jun 13 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Panel and Discussion @ Archives and Special Collections
Jun 19 @ 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Pass Christian @ Pass Christian Books
Jun 20 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Main Street Books in Hattiesburg @ Main Street Books
Jun 21 @ 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event at the Mary C. @ Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center
Jul 22 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Celebration at the MS Book Festival
Aug 17 all-day

Mississippi Encyclopedia Session at the MS Book Festival (Time TBD)
Aug 19 all-day

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Delta State University @ Capps Archives Building
Aug 31 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Delta Blues Museum @ Delta Blues Museum
September 7 @ 5:00 pm-7:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event at the MS University for Women @ Mississippi University for Women - Fant Memorial Library
Sep 11 @ 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Book Mart and Cafe in Starkville @ Book Mart & Cafe
Sep 29 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event at the Carolyn Vance Smith Natchez Literary Research Center at Copiah-Lincoln Community College @ Carolyn Vance Smith Natchez Literary Research Center at Copiah-Lincoln Community College
Nov 2 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

MDAH History is Lunch: THE MISSISSIPPI ENCYCLOPEDIA @ Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Nov 8 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Mississippi Encyclopedia Event: Margaret Walker Center at JSU @ Margaret Walker Center
Nov 8 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm

Updated information can be found at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. For more information on The Mississippi Encyclopedia or to buy your own copy, visit the University Press of Mississippi's website

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Comedian Mort Sahl turns 90 today, May 11, 2017. In honor of his birthday, James Curtis, author of the newly released biography of Sahl, pays tribute to the father of modern comedy. 

Today Morton Lyon Sahl turns 90, and, in typical fashion, he will celebrate with a performance. The scene will be a 102-year-old theater in Mill Valley, California, some ten miles from where he made his first professional appearance on December 22, 1953. Physically, the years have weighed heavily on him. He walks with the aid of a cane, and his vision, after a stroke in 2008 robbed him of the sight in one eye, limits the newspaper and magazine reading he once did by the hour. Seated in a chair, he’s not the bristling presence on stage he was in his prime, but once he begins to talk, the years melt away and he bears witness to the  twentieth century and what has come since in a way few people can.

Mort is not above making cracks about his age and physical condition. At a 2014 memorial for his pal Robin Williams, he slowly made his way to the lectern as some in the celebrity-laden audience appeared surprised he was still alive. When he finally reached center stage, he leaned into the microphone and said, “I’ve just about paid off my student loans.” More recently, he interrupted his entrance on a Thursday night to comment on the Duke Ellington tune the pianist was using as his theme music. “Don’t you think he should be playing ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’?” he asked.      

Mort Sahl was always quick-witted, but for more than 60 years the raw material for his act has been politics and current events. In earlier days, he was thought to single-handedly keep entire newsstands in business. Now most of his news comes from cable TV and the Internet. During the Republican primary season, he liked to pick on presumed frontrunner Jeb Bush. (“Now I know the true meaning of No Child Left Behind,” he said.) Presently he takes aim at Donald Trump and his family, often on Twitter: “We’ve had good presidents and bad presidents but never no president,” went a recent tweet. “Ivanka Trump calls herself a feminist. Does that mean she pays the Chinese boys and girls she employs the same $64 a week?” wondered another. “There is a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the conscience of America,” a third concluded.

It’s Mort’s mind that always fascinated me, that ability to think on his feet while using words the way a jazz soloist uses notes. It was a quality fully on display when I discovered him on Los Angeles television in 1966. Later, I saw him live in various venues and got to appreciate how beautifully he filled a small club with his wit. Everyone knew the broad outlines of his life. He started out attacking Richard Nixon, wrote quips for John F. Kennedy, married a Playboy centerfold, tanked his career over his criticism of the Warren Report. I always knew his story would make a good book, and I waited for years for someone to write it. When nobody did, I finally took the plunge after a decade of talking myself out of it.

Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy took four years to research and write. At the core of that process were 40 hours of recordings I made with Mort, asking him about the details of his life in a way I don’t think anyone else ever had. I expected it to be a difficult process, and in a way it was, since he’s by nature a suspicious and combative man. I think our relationship improved when I was able to turn him on to a Swedish jazz singer he had never encountered. Then for his 87th birthday I gave him a set of Bill Evans CDs, and any chill that remained between us instantly thawed. 

The book was never targeted for Mort’s birthday, and it’s pretty much a coincidence that it was ready for publication within days of the event. Some people wondered why I wanted to write it at all, though that was something I never questioned myself. In my mind, Mort Sahl is not simply a comedian, but a living part of modern history whose memories and observations are both funny and profound. And despite taking as much of a knocking-around as life can deliver, he’s still standing, still at it at a time when most of his contemporaries have passed from the scene, some, like Lenny Bruce, decades ago.

Not long after Mort’s historic debut at San Francisco’s hungry i, the tradition was established of introducing him to audiences as The Next President of the United States. So if you’ve ever laughed at Bill Maher, marveled at the filmmaking prowess of Woody Allen, or been riveted by a Dick Cavett interview, raise a glass today and toast the birthday of The Next President of the United States, the man who influenced them all, the iconoclastic father of modern comedy, the one and only Mort Sahl.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dan Duryea on Turner Classic Movies

When we discovered TCM would feature a Starring Dan Duryea night, naturally we asked Mike Peros, author of DAN DURYEA: HEEL WITH A HEART to give us a list of his favorite Dan Duryea movies. If one night of Dan Duryea isn't enough, make sure you follow up with Mike's list. 

Starring Dan Duryea, March 31 on TCM 

By Mike Peros, author of DAN DURYEA: HEEL WITH A HEART

Finally, after years of opening my TCM Now Playing guide and seeing all kinds of luminaries (and not-so-luminaries) being offered a month, a night, or a day, I was thrilled when I saw TCM offering a “Starring Dan Duryea” night on March 31.  It’s a good line-up, including the classic Western Winchester ’73, the seminal noir Scarlet Street, 1950’s The Underworld Story (as the flawed good guy in a brave film for the era), Another Part of the Forest (he was Leo in The Little Foxes; in this prequel, he’s a young Oscar Hubbard—in essence, he’s, playing his own father!) and Pride of the Yankees (he and Walter Brennan share some good banter as sportswriters).

Now the good people at TCM didn’t consult me, but if they had, I’d have come up with a slightly different schedule for the evening (I might stretch it to the following morning):

The Little Foxes – Talk about vivid first impressions.  Duryea’s performance as the scheming, sniveling Leo received its fair share of praise, making an indelible mark (for better or worse) on both critics and moviegoers.  Duryea benefited when Lillian Hellman adapted her play, both with added screen time and a memorable scene with his father Oscar—which was shifted by director William Wyler from the living room to the bathroom—to great dramatic effect. 

Scarlet Street – A far darker film than its companion piece The Woman in the Window (both were directed by Fritz Lang and starred Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett), and as uncompromising as you can get.  Here Duryea shows all the traits that made him a guy you love to hate—including slapping the female lead around.  His female fans loved it.

Black Angel – My favorite sympathetic Duryea portrayal.  He’s a lovelorn alcoholic pianist helping a young lady (of whom he’s become enamored) clear her husband of murder—specifically of Duryea’s ex-wife.  It’s a haunting noir, with great support from June Vincent, Peter Lorre, and Broderick Crawford.

Still from Criss Cross
Criss Cross – Duryea is a slick mobster, Burt Lancaster is a naïve armored car driver, and Yvonne De Carlo is the woman they both desire. Duryea and Lancaster hate each other, but that doesn’t stop them from planning a daring heist.  If you’re thinking this can’t end well—it doesn’t.  Essential viewing!

The Underworld Story – Hard-hitting drama about an unscrupulous reporter exiled to the hinterlands who develops a conscience as he gets his big break which involves both a murder and the subsequent hounding of an innocent young woman.  It was a brave film that tackles mob rule, McCarthyism and racism. Duryea is terrific, with Herbert Marshall and Gale Storm lending good support.

Ride Clear of Diablo – A lively Audie Murphy western is elevated by Duryea’s performance as a cackling, carefree outlaw named Whitey (he played a few outlaws named Whitey in the 1950s) who befriends and bedevils Murphy’s naïve deputy.  Duryea and Murphy play beautifully off each other in the best of three Murphy/Duryea teamings.

World for Ransom – Robert Aldrich takes Duryea’s television China Smith, gives him a new name and more of a “fallen romantic” past in this low-budget drama of a jaded private eye doing his best to keep his friend out of trouble—at the behest of his former love—now married to the friend.  Duryea is both tough and sensitive as a very reluctant hero, with Patric Knowles, Marian Carr, and Reginald Denny providing very capable supporting work.

Still from The Burglar
The Burglar – Another low-budget thriller, another fine Duryea performance as an aging burglar who makes a big score, then fights his feelings for his ward (Jayne Mansfield) as he eludes a sweaty, corrupt and possibly murderous cop.   It’s one of Duryea’s best performances, as he invests a weary career criminal with a depth of feeling that makes his final redemptive actions quite credible.

To learn even more about Dan Duryea, purchase your copy of DAN DURYEA: HEAL WITH A HEART here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Interested in interning at UPM?

Find out what it's like to work as an intern at UPM in their own words. Two former interns, Aaron Payne and Jess Bennett, take over the blog to discuss their experiences at UPM. To apply, send a resume and cover letter to Emily Bandy ( The deadline to apply for both the McRae Internship and editorial internships is April 10.

Aaron Payne
When I first heard about the possibility of an internship with the University Press of Mississippi at Delta State University, I was immediately interested. I had been waiting for the chance to see what real editing is like, and this internship has been exactly that. I learned that there are separate fields within editorial—acquiring (bringing in new books) and production (copyediting, proofreading, and indexing books). This internship focuses on production and involves checking a manuscript over and over again to make sure you have caught all of the errors and that everything is laid out correctly.
            I went into the internship being nervous and not fully knowing what to expect, but that changed immediately. Project Manager Shane Gong Stewart quickly made me feel at ease, and from there we just started working. There was no rush, so I did not feel pressured to get things done. I was able to work efficiently at my own pace. One of the things I started with was looking at, reading, and editing indexes. I did not realize how much work and attention goes into editing the index for a book. The selected entries are very specific, and there are more organizational rules than one would think. There are many rules to apply at one time—for instance, checking the proper use of dashes and following rules for selecting subentries and cross references for overlapping ideas, all while alphabetizing entries and making sure page numbers are in numerical order. Everything needs to be checked multiple times, and it really helps to read the index out loud to check for mistakes, as tedious as it can be at times.
            Another element of production that I learned about was coding manuscripts. After editing several indexes, I was then given a document to code. I inserted codes that would indicate particular formatting cues for the designer, ranging from coding for line spacing, chapter titles, chapter authors, extracts, footnotes, and bibliographies to inserting callouts for pictures. It was an interesting aspect of production to get to work on.
            One of the bigger projects that I worked on this semester was an interview book, Jim Shooter: Conversations. One of the press’s series is a compilation of interviews with comic artists (Conversations with Comic Artists). The Jim Shooter book was interesting for me to work on because I enjoy comics-based television shows and movies, so reading about the original comics, especially hearing from the creators and writers of those comics appealed to me. It was remarkable learning that Jim Shooter started writing for DC Comics while he was still in high school and that that was how he entered into comic writing. With this project, I was involved in several different aspects of the editing process: I helped code and format the book, and then I got to read through it, correcting grammar and making sure the text flowed well and maintained the voice of the speakers. (The latter task is what I had been envisioning as editing and what I thought I would be doing from the beginning of a career as an editor.)
            Perhaps what has stuck with me most so far from this internship is the moment I actually felt like an editor. I was going through a completed PDF and checking that the chapter titles matched the contents page, the running heads were consistent, dashes were used correctly, spacing was accurate, the text was justified, and any errors in the formatting of the document were caught. After learning of all these elements and the rules to follow, the editing—in particular the difference between a hyphen, em dash, and en dash—started to click in my head. I also noticed that I was starting to apply these rules to the materials I was reading in my spare time. Looking for these attributes was starting to become second nature to me. It was in that moment that I realized I was truly learning these rules and applying them to aspects in my life. It was empowering.
            All in all, this internship has been very enlightening. It has helped me grow as a student, but more importantly it has given me ideas for career possibilities. What I have liked most about this internship is the chance to get to talk about life with Shane. Not only have I been able to learn about the process of editing from her, but she has also taken the time to invest in me and share personal experiences about life after college. She has shared her knowledge and has given me valuable information that will be applicable to my life moving forward. This is the kind of advice and guidance that I have been wanting since starting college—knowledge that is truly life applicable and that will help me succeed out on my own in the “real world.” This internship has given me editorial experience with that type of guidance as an added bonus.

Jess Bennett
Over the summer I had the privilege to work in the University Press of Mississippi’s main office in Jackson through the McRae Internship, an experience that required me to work with each branch of the press from editorial to business and marketing.  This internship was very intensive, especially since many positions in the press were changing during that time.  Our previous director changed presses, for example, while the head of the design department retired.  Refilling these positions consistently altered the work load among press employees, and this fluctuation lasted for the whole summer. 
            Once I returned to Delta State for my senior year, I anticipated that my work load would be easier, since I would only be working with the editorial department.  While my suspicions were true insofar as work load was concerned, the nature—perhaps enormity—of each assignment was quite different than in my previous year.  Still feeling the aftershocks of the summer staff changes, the editorial department had lost a lot of time on certain projects.  One such assignment, which Project Manager Shane Gong Stewart undertook a large portion of, was The Mississippi Encyclopedia, a lengthy project that, like any encyclopedia, requires fine-toothed combing in order to make sure each entry is accurate.
            While Shane dealt with the Encyclopedia, Aaron Payne, my fellow intern, and I helped with many of the remaining projects.  Naturally, we felt the same time crunch, meaning that these assignments not only needed to be handled well, but also in a timely fashion.  This aspect of the job proved more difficult than last year because I also encountered more challenging aspects of the editorial process.  For example, one of the projects I worked on was a book of interviews with the Chinese film director Wong Kar-Wai.  Naturally, many of the interviews were translated into English, and though the majority of the book’s content was very engaging, Shane and I found that some passages did not translate clearly.  At that point, we were confronted with one of the many difficult questions that editors have to wrestle with: what are the limitations on an editor when he or she works with a translation?  Of course, I was under the same time limitations as Shane, meaning that I had to process difficult situations such as translation in a short amount of time.
            Despite the difficulty of these challenges, the outcome was still quite rewarding.  When I face challenges of a similar nature in a college course, there is generally more time to navigate through each difficulty.  This luxury often does not occur in a job.  However, I felt a sense of accomplishment through being able to handle these challenges in a short amount of time.  While working at the main office, I learned that time, as far as the work force is concerned, is hardly ever ideal.  So, in a sense, I feel more prepared to enter “the real world.”
            One part of my job that was not affected by all the changes in the main office was the concern that Shane shows towards her workers.  This semester I came in with two capstone projects hanging over my head—one for English and one for History—and Shane said right at the start that if I felt like I was getting overwhelmed, then I needed to let her know as soon as possible.  Speaking frankly, any worker is lucky to come across such concern.  The fact that Shane shows this consideration for her interns exemplifies how wonderful a supervisor she is.  Furthermore, a similar level of consideration is present in the University Press of Mississippi as a whole, and I am excited to see where my final semester as an editorial intern takes me.


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