The Iowa Series in North American Autobiography
Albert E. Stone, series editor
Edited by a distinguished scholar of autobiography, this series includes life stories of so-called ordinary Americans who, though not necessarily known to the general public, freshly recreated representative pasts and reimagined singular identities. This series is no longer accepting submissions.
Horace A. Porter
This captivating and illuminating book is a memoir of a young black man moving from rural Georgia to life as a student and teacher in the Ivy League as well as a history of the changes in American education that developed in response to the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and affirmative action. Born in 1950, Horace Porter starts out in rural Georgia in a house that has neither electricity nor running water. In 1968, he leaves his home in Columbus, Georgia—thanks to an academic scholarship to Amherst College—and lands in an upper-class, mainly white world. Focusing on such experiences in his American education, Porter's story is both unique and representative of his time.
The Making of a Black Scholar is structured around schools. Porter attends Georgia's segregated black schools until he enters the privileged world of Amherst College. He graduates (spending one semester at Morehouse College) and moves on to graduate study at Yale. He starts his teaching career at Detroit's Wayne State University and spends the 1980s at Dartmouth College and the 1990s at Stanford University.
Porter writes about working to establish the first black studies program at Amherst, the challenges of graduate study at Yale, the infamous Dartmouth Review, and his meetings with such writers and scholars as Ralph Ellison, Tillie Olsen, James Baldwin, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He ends by reflecting on an unforeseen move to the University of Iowa, which he ties into a return to the values of his childhood on a Georgia farm. In his success and the fulfillment of his academic aspirations, Porter represents an era, a generation, of possibility and achievement.
Gaines Post Jr.
In 1951 Gaines Post was a gangly, bespectacled, introspective teenager preparing to spend a year in Paris with his professorial father and older brother; his mother, who suffered from extreme depression, had been absent from the family for some time. Ten years later, now less gangly but no less introspective, he was finishing a two-year stint in the army in West Germany and heading toward Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, having narrowly escaped combat in the Berlin crisis of 1961. His quietly intense coming-of-age story is both self-revealing and reflective of an entire generation of young men who came to adulthood before the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Post's experiences in high school in Madison, Wisconsin, and Paris, his Camus-influenced undergraduate years at Cornell University, and his army service in Germany are set very effectively against the events of the Cold War. McCarthyism and American crackdowns on dissidents, American foreign and military policy in Western Europe in the nuclear age, French and German life and culture, crises in Paris and Berlin that nearly bring the West to war and the Post family to dissolution—these are the larger scenes and subjects of his self-disclosure as a contemplative, conflicted "Cold War agnostic." His intelligent, talented mother and her fragile health hover over Post's narrative, informing his hesitant relationships with women and his acutely questioning sense of self-worth. His story is strongly academic and historical as well as political and military; his perceptions and judgments lean toward no ideological extreme but remain true to the heroic ideals of his boyhood during the Second World War.
Philip G. Hubbard
Philip Hubbard's life story begins in 1921 in Macon, a county seat in the Bible Belt of north central Missouri, whose history as a former slave state permeated the culture of his childhood. When he was four his mother moved her family 140 miles north to Des Moines in search of the greater educational opportunity that Iowa offered African American students. In this recounting of the effects of that journey on the rest of his life, Phil Hubbard merges his private and public life and career into an affectionate, powerful, and important story. Hubbard graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in electrical engineering in 1946; by 1954 he had received his Ph.D. in hydraulics. The College of Engineering extended a warm academic welcome, but nonacademic matters were totally different: Hubbard was ineligible for the housing and other amenities offered to white students. Intelligent, patient, keenly aware of discrimination yet willing to work from within the university system, he advanced from student to teacher to administrator, retiring in 1991 after decades of leadership in the classroom and the conference room. Hubbard's major accomplishments included policies that focused on human rights; these policies transformed the makeup of students, faculty, and staff by seeking to eliminate discrimination based on race, religion, or other nonacademic factors and by substituting affirmative action for the traditional old-boy methods of selecting faculty and administrators. At the same time that he was advancing the cause of human rights and cultural diversity in education, his family was growing and thriving, and his descriptions of home life reveal one source of his strength and inspiration. The decades that Hubbard covers were vital in the evolution of the nation and its educational institutions. His dedication to the agenda of public higher education has always been matched by his sensitivity to the negative effects of discrimination and his gentle perseverance toward his goals of inclusion, acceptance, and fairness. His vivid personal and institutional story will prove valuable at this critical juncture in America's racial history.
Kesho Scott, Cherry Muhanji, and Egyirba High
This expanded edition of Tight Spaces includes six new essays that explore the fulfilling spaces inhabited by Kesho Scott, Cherry Muhanji, and Egyirba High since their book was originally published in 1987. Tight Spaces won the American Book Award in 1988.
Reminiscent of Thoreau's introspective nature writing and Dillard's taut, personal prose, each chapter in Flight Dreams stands alone as a distinct narrative, yet each is linked by profoundly personal descriptions of dreams, the natural world, defining experiences, and chance encounters with people that later prove to be fateful. Part Eastern meditation, part dream sequence, part historical reconstruction, Flight Dreams testifies to a deep understanding of how the natural world—its visible and invisible elements—guides our destinies.
Gail Hosking Gilberg
Gail Hosking Gilberg's father was a hero, a valiant soldier decorated posthumously with the Medal of Honor, a man who served his country throughout his entire adult life. But Charles Hosking was a mystery to his daughter. He was killed in Vietnam a week after her seventeenth birthday. She buried the war, the protests, the medal, and her military upbringing along with her father, so much so that she felt cut off from herself. It took more than twenty years for her to recognize the stirrings of a father and a daughter not yet at peace.
Gilberg began a journey—two journeys really—to find out who her father was and in the process to find herself. She explored her buried rage, shame, and silence, and examined how war had shaped her life. In studying the photo albums that her father had left behind, Gilberg found that the photographs demanded that she give voice to her feelings, then release her silent words, words that had no meaning in war for her father yet had all the meaning in the world for her. The result was an epiphany. The photographs became the roads she took in and out of war, and her words brought her father home. Snake's Daughter reveals the crossroads where a soldier father's life and a daughter's life connect.
Snake's Daughter is an arresting and anguished narrative that gives voice to an experience Gail Hosking Gilberg shares with thousands of Americans, including military “brats” whose parents served their country and often gave their lives in the process.
Suzanne L. Bunkers
On a summer day in 1980 in Niederfeulen, Luxembourg, Suzanne Bunkers pored over parish records of her maternal ancestors, immigrants to the rural American Midwest in the mid 1800s. Suddenly, chance led her to the name Simmerl and to the missing piece in the genealogical puzzle that had brought her so far: Susanna Simmerl, Bunkers' paternal great-great-grandmother, who had given birth to an illegitimate daughter in 1856 before coming to America. Finding Susanna was the catalyst for Bunkers' intensely personal book, which blends history, memory, and imagination into a drama of two women's lives within their multigenerational family.
More than any other individual, Paul Engle was the spirited force behind the creative writing workshops now so abundant in America. His indomitable nature, enthusiasm, and great persuasive powers, coupled with his distinguished reputation as a poet, loomed large behind the founding of the influential Iowa Writers' Workshop more than half a century ago.
Through all his travels, accomplishments, and experiences in his long career, Engle remained tied to the American heartland. A Lucky American Childhood is his warm and engaging account of his childhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his grit and character originated.
A Lucky American Childhood will appeal to people with memories of the small-town America that Paul Engle describes with such affectionate realism and to all those interested in the roots of this renowned man of letters.
What does it mean to be “thrice alien”? Isabelle Zimmer Maynard is one who knows. Born in 1929 in Tientsin, China, Maynard was the only child of Russian Jewish parents who had fled the Communists and sought refuge in this teeming city on the North China Sea. They subsequently survived the Japanese invasion of China and ultimately escaped to San Francisco when the Chinese Communists seized power. China Dreams, like a string of beguiling pearls, is a collection of autobiographical stories of an amazing childhood. Maynard's ability to reconstruct her world in the moment will delight and enchant readers. She says, “I have carried China all my life. I do not claim accuracy of history—only accuracy of the heart.” Her keen eye and fetching wit provide an arresting, poignant, highly personal portrait of a now-vanished world once shared by thousands of European Jews.
In 1968 Michael Mullen, a graduate student in biochemistry, was drafted; in 1969 he was sent to Vietnam as a foot soldier in Colonel Norman Schwarzkopf's Charlie Company; and in 1970 he was killed by the same “friendly fire” that destroyed thousands of other lives during the Vietnam War.
Back home on the family farm in Iowa, his parents made his death a crusade to awaken all parents to the insanity of war. C. D. B. Bryan's Friendly Fire and the TV movie of the same name documented these dramatic years, and Peg Mullen became a national symbol of grassroots activism. Now Peg Mullen shifts from symbol to reality as she tells her story in print for the first time.
Outspoken, fearless, and wickedly humorous, Peg Mullen had a duel mission in the years after Michael's death: to penetrate the lies and evasions behind the artillery misfire that killed her oldest son and to publicize the senseless horror of the Vietnam War. Unfriendly Fire draws on the many letters sent to the Mullens after Michael's death; in addition, Michael's own bitter, weary letters home are reprinted. In these the voices of parents, brothers, sisters, comrades, teachers, and Michael himself echo Peg Mullen's call for truth and peace.
Benjamin S. Orlove
In 1921 Solomon Orlovski, a Russian Jew born in 1904, emigrated to America and transformed himself into Robert Orlove, a pattern maker in two senses of the term: during the day, he worked in the fur trade in New York and Chicago, making patterns for toys and hats; in his private life he became a self-taught artist who created prints, sketches, and collages in his study. More than sixty years later his son Ben—an anthropologist educated at Harvard and Berkeley—walked through the doorway of the deceased Robert's study and began to explore more than a half century of his father's experiences, thoughts, and emotions as well as his own very different life. His wry, sensitive combination of biography, memoir, and autobiography taps a remarkably rich vein of individual and collective experience in our diverse society. Ben Orlove's dual narrative constitutes a family history of notable breadth and immediacy. By turns passionate and cool, dramatic and analytic, he excavates his father Robert's lifetime accumulation of diaries, letters, clippings, photographs, and artworks to create a convincing, deeply satisfying portrait that link both father and son.
Ruth Cameron Webb
In Journey into Personhood Ruth Webb tells the story of an individual born with severe cerebral palsy who struggles to become a person in her own eyes as well as in the opinion of those around her. By developing both the inner ability to learn, live, and work independently and the outer ability to convince others to give her the freedom to do so—physically and emotionally—Webb earned her Ph.D. in counseling and guidance. With that validation of her intelligence and competence, she entered upon a fulfilling career working with mentally retarded people and other people with disabilities.
In 1920, thinking he would find a job as a writer, Robert Josephy met with a new publisher, Alfred Knopf--and ended up as an office boy for eight dollars a week. After a few intense years he was promoted to production manager and learned to design books, an occupation he traded on for the better part of thirty years. He designed the nascent Viking Press first six books, worked for Simon and Sdiuster and Random House in their early years, became a freelancer in high demand, and served as president of and teacher at the Book and Magazine Guild both before and after it became a full-fledged union. Many of his books are now collectors' items. This is just one of the ways Josephy has been taking part in what has turned out to be an unusually full and intriguing life.
Involvement and imagination have fueled the life and times of this book designer/farmer/political activist/environmentalist. Born in 1903 to a prosperous Long Island family, Josephy is still very much a self-made man. His acquaintances and experiences span a range that includes some of this century's brightest stars and most controversial issues—Alexander Calder, Lewis Mumford, Alfred Stieglitz, H. L. Mencken, Malcolm Cowley. He had to resign from the Bethel Democratic Town Committee for supporting Henry Wallace over Harry Truman. Called the "oldest living liberal Democrat in Connecticut," Josephy was twice persuaded to run as the heavily outnumbered Democratic candidate for the Connecticut state legislature—forty-two years apart. Exercising his design skills in a different field, he planted one of Connecticut's largest fruit farms, the Blue Jay Orchards in Bethel. He has served on the Connecticut Board of Agriculture, was a longtime board member of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and has been a driving force in the farmland preservation movement.
Fast-paced, multifaceted, opinionated, sometimes outrageous, and always interesting, Josephy and his life reflect the variety and breadth of changing experiences the United States has offered during the twentieth century. His vivid memoir serves to remind us that "ordinary people" lead singular lives: they have true stories worth the telling, stories that are often more than compelling—if not stranger—than fiction.
Cecil Reed and Priscilla Donovan
Born in 1913 in Collinsville, Illinois, Cecil Reed has lived all his life in the Midwest as a black man among whites. This self-styled fly in the buttermilk worked among whites with such skill and grace that they were barely aware of his existence—unless he wanted to get a bank loan or move into their neighborhood. Now, in his lively and optimistic autobiography, he speaks of his resilience throughout a life spent working peacefully but passionately for equality.
Luna Kellie and Jane Taylor Nelsen
Populist singer, Mid-Roader, editor, publisher, wife, mother of eleven, Luna Kellie was a well-informed, fervent member of the Farmers' Alliance movement in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Radicalized by railroad monopolies, corrupt government, recurring drought, heavy mortgages, and a desperate combination of rising costs and falling returns, prairie farmers were turning their energy toward raising "less corn and more hell."
Kellie actively sought to organize Nebraska into cooperatives and educate rural people about land, transportation, and money reform. Her compelling, often heartbreaking memoirs—written on the backs of ornate red-and-gold Farmers' Alliance certificates in 1925—give us her own description of how she became motivated to join the Alliance and participate in the Populist party. Kellie writes of her homesteading and political life from the age of eighteen to forty, of failed crops, mortgaged fields, intense hardships, and her devastation at the death of her children.
One of the most complete accounts of the Mid-Road political faction available, relevant in many ways to the plight of today's farmers, A Prairie Populist should be read by anyone with an interest in national politics, the farm protest movement, women's studies, and American cultural history.
Susan Louise Blake
Blake's adventurous essays—her Letters from Togo—are based on the letters she wrote to her friends from Lomé, the West African capital where she spent a Fulbright year teaching American literature from 1983 to 1984. As Blake begins the process of making sense out of a vibrant, seeming anarchy, we are pulled along with her into the heart of Togo—a tiny dry strip of a country no one can even find on a map. With her delightful prose and insight for detail Blake introduces us to Mahouna, her housekeeper, who runs a cold drink business from his refrigerator in a country where electricity is unreliable; to American Lee Ann and her Togolese family, who works at the American school to earn the fees for a private education for her children; and to the suave René, wearing silk shirts and a most seductive smile, who teeters on the edge of the Togolese and expatriate worlds. Since Lomé is both an overgrown village and a cosmopolitan city, Blake's exhilarating, often humorous experiences range from buying a car to attending a traditional tom-tom funeral, from visiting people who hunt with bows and arrows to enduring faculty meetings, from negotiating the politics of buying produce to lecturing on Afro-American literature at the English Club. Together, her enlivening letters trace the pattern of adjusting to a foreign environment and probe the connections between Africa and this curious, energetic American. Not "out of Africa" but within it, they take advantage of time and perspective to penetrate the universal experience of being a stranger in a strange land.
Ray A. Young Bear
A candid, poetic account of childhood and young manhood through the eyes of a Native American, this vivid narrative is destined to become a central moral for our time. Through the persona of Edgar Bearchild—a member of the Black Eagle Child Settlement—Ray A. Young Bear takes readers on an unforgettable "journey of words" as he documents grief and anguish countered by an abundance of humor, pride, and insight.
Gildner's memoir captures the spirit of baseball in a culture that doesn't understand chatter, insists on protecting the baselines by covering them with carpet, and whose citizens are more likely to have grown up bouncing a soccer ball off their heads than playing catch. Amid the lack of equipment, reliable playing conditions, and regular practices, Coach Gildner is still able to track the progress of the Sparks-and of himself, the grandson of a Pole-both as a team and as individuals.
In 1937 thirty-six nervous young men dressed in ill-fitting blue suits, wearing berets, and carrying identical black valises, were given tickets for an American Export Lines ship. They were told to conduct themselves as ordinary tourists, to be "inconspicuous." They were volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, traveling the French underground to join in the fight against Franco. Among them was Milt Felsen, a young New Yorker and radical antiwar activist on the University of Iowa campus who had decided that fascism had to be opposed. Some of these young men never made it to their destination. But Milt Felsen did, beginning a march across the Pyrenees which was only the first of his many battles and adventures. Told with uncommon wit and verve, this memoir of war and resistance is a stirring account of Felsen's involvement in two decades of battle. Surprisingly, this is a spirited and even funny book, infused with Felsen's unbeatable personality. After the Spanish Civil War, Felsen helped form the O.S.S. in World War II. Taken prisoner of war, he escaped in his inimitable style during a 1,200-mile prisoner-of-war march and drove out of Nazi Germany in a Mercedes-Benz. He returned to the United States more convinced than ever of war's insanity and its extreme human cost. Most of us are only spectators of the world's larger events. Milt Felsen knew the excitement and despair of being a participant. While most war books abound in details of what happened, this one also delves into why. Felsen's straightforward account is refreshingly frank and doesn't pretend to be more than it is—his own lived version of war and common truths.
Charles Elmer Fox
"Reefer Charlie" Fox rode the rails from 1928 to 1939; from 1939 to 1965 he hitched rides in automobiles and traveled by foot. From Indiana to British Columbia, from Arkansas to Texas, from Utah to Mexico, he was part of the grand hobo tradition that has all but passed away from American life.
He camped in hobo jungles, slept under bridges and in sand houses at railroad yards, ate rattlesnake meat, fresh California grapes, and fish speared by the Indians of the Northwest. He quickly learned both the beauty and the dangers of his chosen way of life. One lesson learned early on was that there are distinct differences among hoboes, tramps, and bums. As the all-time king of hoboes, Jeff Davis, used to say, "Hoboes will work, tramps won't, and bums can't."
Tales of an American Hobo is a lasting legacy to conventional society, teaching about a bygone era of American history and a rare breed of humanity who chose to live by the rails and on the road.