I worked for years as a journalism professor, starting with USC and moving on to UC Berkeley and finally as an Associate Professor at SUNY/Old Westbury on New York’s Long Island. The course that was the hardest for me to learn and to teach was The History of The Mass Media. But I knew that I had to teach that course because it was the gold standard of journalism courses, so much so that most universities these days are requiring that all undergraduates take The History of the Mass Media.
However, if you are a journalism professor, this course is not for wimps, and only the best teachers could master it.
At first, I wondered why I insisted on teaching this course. There are always ways of getting around it. I knew that it would be daunting, to say the least. But after a few years of teaching History of the Mass Media I knew I had a real understanding of the history of film, television, books, recorded music, newspapers and magazines.
The last time I started teaching the course was at Cal State Northridge. The first session was the day before 9/11. It was there that I discovered why the course is was deemed so important on college campuses that it was a requirement. Now I had sixty students and many more were begging me to let them into the class. But we only had sixty seats. As I spoke to them, I found that most had little understanding about journalism. They were just taking the course because they needed it to graduate.
Has I often did, I opened the course with a question: “What is the headline in the news today, class?” I saw the puzzled looks on their faces.
“Okay, I might as well tell you. It is what did Brad Pitt have for lunch yesterday.”
Some laughed; others had that look that said, “Is this guy for real?”
I then started talking about the non-stop media blitz of show business and celebrities. And, yes, there was an item on the local news the day before that Brad Pitt was seen getting a hamburger at an In and Out Burgers in Los Angeles. In fact, several of the students raised their hands and said they had seen the item on television. This kicked off a lively conversation between the students and me about the role of mass media these days, and what is “news.”
Two day later, when I came back to my class, the Twin Towers in New York City were still a smoldering wreck, and the press was saying that perhaps when the smoke and fire was finally put out, over 7,000 people will have died. That turned out not to be the case, but for now, Brad Pitt was out of the headlines.
I bring all of this up because I often wonder if the online world, a world I have yet to claim I fully understand, has desensitized us to all the turmoil in our world. In addition, we have more “friends” than we ever had yet loneliness is for so many of us our only real friend.
Those students that Wednesday in my class at Cal State Northridge were still feeling the sheer horror of what had happened the day before. There was no texting nor posting nor wiseass professor that day, just quiet talk, as we all grieved together.
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Roxana Robinson has written six novels and two short fiction collections—plus her widely acclaimed biography Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life. Her stories generally gravitate to privileged lives, to East Coast families with summer homes and positions to uphold. But as any number of critics have pointed out, no one who becomes immersed in her tales of heroin addiction, PTSD, and the complications of divorce would ever apply such reductive labels such as domestic, WASP, or women’s stories to her fiction.
She once told Publishers Weekly she knows that in contemporary letters “any mention of WASPs” is supposed to be ironic. Her work, though, follows a more classic tradition, showing how the world works through the lens of the well-born and well-meaning who don’t always realize that their actions carry monumental ripple effects on those with less power, including their own children.
Actually, make that their descendants. That is particularly the case in her new novel, Dawson’s Fall, which is a true story of her great-grandparents Frank and Sarah Dawson. They were prominent citizens of a distant time and place—the Old South during the Civil War and the Reconstruction era. It’s Robinson’s first historical novel, and her gifts for capturing time and place are put to the test of getting into the heads of white people who, for all their well-intended wishes to guide the South away from racism, were nevertheless products of their era.
The entire story is true, thanks to a wealth of written material that she could draw from. “The only parts I invented were some of the dialog and thoughts,” she tells me.
Frank Dawson founded The News and Courier in Charleston, S.C., which survives today as The Post and Courier, the city’s newspaper of record. --Sarah Morgan Dawson’s A Confederate Girls’ Diary, was published and became a classic—-available free if you Google it. There were also archives of family letters and other books about Frank Dawson, plus his own published journal.
In this dream storehouse of research material, she found lasting imprints of her great-grandparents within her family. “My father was a wonderful self-taught musician,” says Robinson. “He didn’t read music, but he’d go to the opera and come home and play what he’d just heard. It turned out that’s what Frank Dawson used to do. And the way Sarah talks about gardening is very similar to the way I think about it.” Then there was the other, dark legacy that the Old South has left upon America.
Robinson’s paternal grandmother, the daughter of Frank and Sarah, married a lawyer and moved to New York when she grew up; and on the surface, 19th century South Carolina seems light years away the afternoon I visit Robinson in the.....Read More
“I think all artists should read and travel,” Adger Cowans writes in his deeply engrossing memoir. And he more than practices what he preaches, taking readers on what continues to be a most adventurous, breathtaking life, full to the brim.
Known primarily as a photographer, he unspools a cornucopia of exciting moments, harrowing incidents, and significant personalities. Like his imaginative camera work, Cowans is just as inventive as a storyteller, and the episodes he recounts are almost visual, cinematic.
A vivid example of his ability to capture a poignant moment occurs in his chapter upon arriving in Tangier, a picturesque city in Morocco. “Morocco’s magic is timeless and potent,” he begins. “I felt the presence of ancient peoples from the moment I stepped off the ferry—men riding on horseback, people selling leather bags and herbs. The smell of mint tea and livestock permeated the air. Men were gesturing and crying their wares, “Aji, Aji! Come here. You want hashish?”
There are many such beckonings and temptations that Cowans readily succumbs to, and a few of his own creation. But let us return to the opening quote. “When you get stuck in rut, open a book, listen to music, go to a museum or explore something new, it doesn’t matter where.”
And explore Cowans does from one end of the globe to the other with mesmerizing stints in Brazil, Suriname, France, and across the U.S., none more intoxicating than his ventures in California and New York City.
Many of these opportunities to travel came at the request of filmmakers who employed him to provide stills for their productions. In this capacity, Cowans works with such notable directors as Francis Ford Coppola, John Cassavetes, Bill Duke, Sidney Lumet, and Alan Pakula, to mention but a few of them.
These shoots also allowed him to hobnob with a coterie of movie stars, and the luminaries included Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Anthony Quinn, Wesley Snipes, Avery Brooks, and Danny Glover.
Each of these encounters becomes more than chance meetings and Cowans takes full advantage of them in learning the lessons of films and how to navigate the tricky world of entertainers and their often-inflated egos. Almost without exception, no matter where he travels, Cowans’ idyllic journey is interrupted with danger and pain. During his stay among the Djuka people in Suriname he contracts malaria; during a motorcycle trip from the West Coast to New York City, he is nearly killed when a car runs him off the road; and there are bouts.....Read More
There was one missing aspect of Moore’s exceptional book detailing the ups and downs of author Mario Puzo, in his quest to be recognized as a gifted writer of refined, literary novels; a quest that he never fully was able to achieve.
The world of literary fiction books in the 50’s and 60’s was centered in Manhattan and it was mainly a world of WASPS, Jews and a few other Northern Europeans. They were the writers, editors, agents, and critics of books, magazines and newspapers. There were also a few late-night NYC local television shows that featured authors. (One famous night I stayed up late to watch enfant terrible Truman Capote when he was asked what he thought of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road? “That was not writing; that was typing.” he said in that famous voice of his in one of the greatest literary put-downs in American history! I laughed my teenage ass off.)
However, there were few Italians to speak of. As a result, look at this bird eye’s view of some of the important books of the 50’s, to see what I mean: Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train (1950), C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), James Jones, From Here to Eternity, 1951, Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time (1951), Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), Patricia Highsmith, The Price of Salt (1952), Bernard Malamud, The Natural (1952), Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood (1952), Barbara Pym, Excellent Women (1952), John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952), Kurt Vonnegut, Piano Player (1952), E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web (1952), Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1953, Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye (1953), James Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain (1953), Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha (1953), William S. Burroughs, Junky (1953), J. D. Salinger, Nine Stories (1953), William Golding, Lord of the Flies (1954), Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems (1954), Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (1954), Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), J. P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man (1955), Graham Greene, The Quiet American (1955), Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955), John Ashbery, Some Trees (1956), Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals (1956), Dodie Smith, The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956), James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956), Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems (1956), John Cheever, The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957), Bernard Malamud, The Assistant (1957), Nevil Shute, On the Beach (1957), Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958), Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana (1958), Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums (1958), T. H. White, The Once and Future King (1958), Robert Bloch, Psycho (1959), Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959), Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959), John Knowles, A Separate Peace (1959).
This was quite an array of exceptional literary talent. Just looking at these titles, you can see that this was an incredible output never seen in America before, and this was just a snapshot of an even larger output. Also, note that black Americans writer’s names were also called, although there were almost no blacks working in the literary world as editors or publishers or agents during this period. What they had going for them, besides talent, was the enormous roar of Brown vs The Board of Education and the start of the Civil Rights Movement in the South.
However, in the literary world of New York City in the 50’s and 60’s, where were the Italian Americans, whose names were rarely called in one of the most exciting literary times in.....Read More
in a con/strict/
space/ a place/ where/
for the wicked/
than/ there is/
rest/ for the weary
we/ do sing/
we/ do chant
our tongues/ are tied.....Read More
When I learned of the recent passing of Quentin Fiore, an artist who captured the cultural imagination of the 1960s and 1970s, this tribute of the visionary of design was inevitable. It was a time of political mayhem and upheaval during the close of 1960s. Waiting for the draft board to decide whether I was to battle Hanoi, I dreaded my birthday, for three of my friends had been killed in previous weeks.
On my birthday, one of my friends gifted me with a slew of Blue Note jazz albums, including Lee Morgan’s Search For the New Land, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, and Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch. All of them are still in my collection. But the mind-blowing treasures on that day were Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Message and War and Peace in the Global Village.
It’s said that the iconic The Medium is the Message was put into action by Fiore, who died in Connecticut at age of 99. He was familiar with McLuhan’s work, especially Understanding Media (1964), intrigued by the author’s ideas of the subliminal power of mass communication in society. McLuhan’s followers recognized his concepts from such popular publications as McCall’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, and Harper’s Bazaar.
American designers and students of contemporary media consider the McLuhan-Fiore collaborations as cornerstones in modern book design. These books are a heady mix of word and text, academia and popular media. In his effort to broaden McLuhan’s readership, Fiore served as the graphic translator of the cultural sage. While McLuhan possessed final say on the books’ contents, Fiore influenced the texts and images, placing them in a logical order.
“Message is more like an icon,” Fiore said in a 1988.....Read More
“Hadestown” is one of the most exciting musicals I’ve seen on Broadway in my 33 years of being a theatre critic. It has an engaging, original book, music and lyrics by Anais Mitchell and it’s her first time creating a musical.
She tells the story of the Greek Gods--Hermes, Hades, the God of the Underworld, Persephone, his beautiful wife who is Goddess of the seasons, Orpheus and Eurydice. Using Hermes as the narrator, the audience is ushered into a daring love story between Orpheus and Eurydice, while also seeing the intense relationship that Hades and Persephone have.
We also see the part that the Fates took in the lives of mortals. This musical is presented and staged in a way like you have never seen before! It is a stupendous sight to see and something you will never forget and probably want to purchase another ticket to take friends back with you.
The musical numbers will have you cheering and shouting with approval and the performances will blow your mind. This cast demonstrates musical theatre at its best! They are talent, the intensity, the stellar singing, dancing and acting performances that one should always encounter at a Broadway show!
Hermes is played by theatre icon, Andre DeShields and he is absolutely delightful to watch. DeShields is a quadruple threat—as he after 50 years in the business—is able to brilliantly sing, dance, act and simply look stunning at all times!
DeShields has a cast that compliments him, everyone is performing at the highest level. Reeve Carney is fantastic as Orpheus; Eva Noblezada is spectacular as Eurydice; Patrick Paige is riveting as Hades; Amber Gray gives an unforgettably brilliant and captivating performance as Persephone and of course, with Greek mythology you must have.....Read More
When I first saw The Collector in the arts section at Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena, it might as well have been flashing, “Read me.” Trusting my instincts, I put a hold on the book at the library and within a week it was mine to read. It’s a book right after my own heart—I loved reading it.
What a turbulent century the 20th was! starting in 1914 with the assassination of the Arch-duke Franz Ferdinand and start of World War I, then the Russian Revolution of 1919, and following that, Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and the beginning of World War II; following that the Cold War with its tensions between Russia and the United States, Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, and all the turmoil in the Middle East, leading to 9/11 in 2001.
Throughout the century Russia led the way in radical changes; much of the action has had to do with the struggle between capitalism and communism.
What with Expressionism and Impressionism, the end of the 19th and early 20th Centuries saw huge changes in the way art was rendered. Paris, France, was at the center of the art revolution. But art needs buyers to flourish. Foremost among the foreign buyers was the middle, sickly son of wealthy merchant capitalists, Ekaterina and Ivan Shchukin, Sergei Shchukin.
All the five Shchukin sons were collectors. Nikolai, the oldest, collected silverware and old paintings, Pietr, history and art. He had an underground tunnel gallery built from his house to another wing of it. Dimitry, an effeminate bachelor, collected old masters. Despite the enormous wealth at their command, Ivan, the youngest, was the only wastrel of the group, living a lavish life in Paris before his untimely death.
Sergei alone collected the modern art of his time—the work of Monet, Derain, Degas, Renoir,.....Read More
Admittedly, I’m getting a bit tired. My love for new experience keeps me in perpetual motion. I find it difficult to pass up any opportunity for adventure. Our editor, Fred Beauford, has been calling me The Woman About Town for a while because I’m so often out and about. Now, at 5:30 in the morning I’m up writing because I have jet lag…seemingly, my new normal!
Travel is my addiction. I am overwhelmed by the grandness of being someplace unfamiliar. The world of travel offers opportunities for personal growth and broader connections to humanity, which fill me with awe.
As I pack, a parody of Hamlet runs through my mind, and the question becomes whether to take or not to take my camera? The camera always wins, although lately I seem to use my iPhone and the camera stays untouched. This time, while packing to travel, I decided to leave the camera home.
From my teenage years till now, my (ugh!) senior years, photography has been my way of memorializing and sharing the life around me. Of late, I have been using my iPhone for almost everything—portraits for glamourproject.org, photos for Instagram, @karafoxart, @infinitelyolive and for a few years, travel.
With the new iPhone XS Max and charger cord tucked into my backpack (and a big bag of popcorn which I always keep handy) off I went to explore Italy with my friend, Adrian Grant, for a camera-less adventure. Adrian is the one who often calls and says, “Do you want to go to…” and I always say, “Of course.”
Italy, teaming with vivid colors, rich history, architectural wonders, congenial people and of course, beautiful food, informed my no-camera decision. With such magnificence in my path how could I possibly.....Read More
Sweet toothed, corn fed
tout suite, Dilly Bar
chocolate dip, Banana Split
Hot Fudge Sundae, Peanut Buster
Parfait, Strawberry Shortcake,
Crunch Coat, Marshmallow,
Caramel, Butterscotch, Pineapple,
push-pop, Bomb Pop, soft-serve twist—
chocolate and vanilla capped
with a fetchingly perfect loop
a flourish added by pimply teens
the world over. Freezes, malts, .....Read More
Fortunately, I had almost finished reading The Source of Self-Regard before Namwali Serpell’s “On Black Difficulty: Toni Morrison and the Thrill of Imperiousness” (SLATE, March 26, 2019) came to my attention.
The words "difficult" and "imperiousness" themselves possess a degree of difficulty, and they can enlighten and obscure at the same moment. Serpell contends, “Toni Morrison is difficult. She's difficult to read. She's difficult to teach. She's difficult to interview. Notwithstanding, the voluminous train of profiles, reviews and scholarly analysis that she drags behind her, she's difficult to write about. But more to the point, she is our only truly canonical black, female writer, and her work is complex. This, it seems, is difficult to swallow.”
Like Lady Macbeth, Serpell protests a bit too much. She is imperious in her yearning "for that specific human, black, female freedom to feel at ease to be difficult." She is at once right and wrong.
To be sure, Morrison's fictions and non-fictions are not easy nor transparent. Her novels demand as much interpretive work as, for example, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or Octavia Butler's Kindred. And her inscription of positions and perspectives in Playing in the Dark, The Origin of Others, and The Source of Self-Regard call for a kind of sweating provoked by engaging the moral meditations which Marilyn Robinson and Martha Nussbaum write.
And behind all the effort one hears a snide, accusatory, very American question: Is it worth it after all? Readers answer in accord with their degrees of cultural literacy. Whether they are thrilled or enthralled by imperiousness is a difficult question. Whatever the case, readers who lack genuine intellectual curiosity ought to leave the game and have the bravery to admit defeat. But imperiousness or arrogant assurance is a far cry from the blessed assurance readers can purchase with tears from James Baldwin's.....Read More
Rare is the novel that transcends the limits of space, time, and locale. In so many fictions (from William Faulkner's focus on a postage-stamp portion of Mississippi to Elena Ferrante's fixation on Naples, Italy) one place is an anchoring device.
In the realm of author Ed Pavlic, however, it’s drastically different. The world at large is the locale across which his fateful and yearning main protagonists move along, break away, relocate and reunite in far-flung areas ranging from Chicago to Kenya and points between.
Yet, it’s not just geography (in the superficial sense) that adds texture and complexity to this daring novel about star-crossed lovers. In fact, it's constricting to think of Another Kind of Madness as merely.....Read More
Trace pulls the icy cap from his head, wraps it around his hand, and breaks the window. He clears the remaining shards of glass, reaches inside, twists the lock on the knob and pushes into the house. He’s never done anything like this before, but what choice does he have in weather like this? He feels his way through the hallway, the only light a dim reflection from the snow-covered lawn. His hand touches a switch, but nothing happens. The house is cold and dank, but at least he’s finally out of the wind and blowing snow.
His eyes adjust and now he can see more. There’s a mirror in the entry, a dark hall leading to the left, the outline of a dining table and the emptiness of tall windows. Behind him a gust whistles through the broken pane in the door.
He takes the hallway to the right and stumbles over a chair, banging his knee on the floor as he falls. He flicks his lighter and steps further into the house. He comes to a room occupied only by a couch. He’s suddenly tired. So very tired. He curls up, buries his head in the cushions, and sleeps.
He was lucky to find the house. When his mom’s Grand Prix slid off the highway in heavy snow, pinning the door against a thick maple and sending a streaking crack across the windshield, he thought he might be dead. He’d been drinking, the tallboy of Bud flying from his hand as he tried to rein in the skid. He was in one piece, though, as far as he could tell. Nothing broken. He turned the key to restart the car, as if he might be able to drive out of his predicament, but the engine only shrieked and wouldn’t start. He crawled across the seat to the passenger door, stumbled out, his feet slipping and sinking in the snow. There would be cars, he thought, someone would stop to help. But no one came, and the snow continued to fall.
He saw lights through the trees. Was it a house? Was it far? He moved into the woods, took a few steps and the lights disappeared. He kept on, and the lights came into view and faded again, and then they were gone. But he found the edge of the woods, a snowy lawn, an overgrown hedge, and the shadow of an enormous, dark house.
In the morning, hazy light filters into the room, and now he can see details. There is a rug over hardwood floors, faded, and worn in spots. The ceiling in this room is high and the walls are pale yellow, with streaks that might be dirt, or shadows. And there are pictures, paintings or prints he isn’t yet sure which, in gilt frames that catch the dim light.
He finds a bathroom, surprised to have water, although what comes out of the tap is murky and frigid. He lets it run, hoping for warmth, but if anything the water seems to get colder. He splashes his face and wipes his hands on his jeans, still damp from the snow. There’s a kitchen off the dining room, but the cupboards are empty. He’s not hungry yet, but he will be.
“Where are you going?” Claudia shouted from her parents’ porch.
He was half way to the car, surprised by how cold it had become. He didn’t want to stop to answer her.
“Home,” Trace said, fumbling with the keys. “This was a mistake.”
“Daddy didn’t mean it, honey.”
“Of course he meant it, Claude.”
“You’re just going to leave me here?”
“Will you come?”
“You know I can’t. They’re my parents. Please come back inside. We’ll talk to him together. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
Trace slammed the car door shut, muffling her pleading voice.
Now it’s even colder and the snow has started again. The wind is fierce and the windows rattle. He wonders if the car has been found, if anyone knows what.....Read More
After breakfast, I take a train,
and by the time I’m back it’s night,
and you’re asleep in our bed.
When I wake up the next morning,
you’re on a train, and you
won’t be back until dinner.
Sometimes it’s like this—
one of us moving, the other still.
But tonight I’ll make us something
to eat. I’ll sauté spinach,.....Read More