Printer Friendly

Bridge of Courage: Life Stories of the Guatemalan Companeros and Companeras.

Sometime in the spring of each year, the fall catalogs from the book publishers of the English-speaking world begin to arrive. Announcements appear in Publisher's Weekly. Roughly bound, poorly printed, typo-laden galleys come in the mail, followed by finished books for advance reading. Publicists call - ostensibly to ask if the books have arrived but really to persuade The Progressive to review, or even excerpt, their new books. If I'm away from the office for a few days, my chair is stacked almost to the ceiling with galleys and books and press releases and phone messages.

It's a semiannual flood - fall books being followed by spring books - and I've managed this flood for this magazine and two others off and on for fifteen years. But the feel of it has changed in recent seasons. I go through the offerings of the big commercial publishing houses, most still based in New York City, and find less and less I want to read or review. It's possible to turn the pages of a half-inch-thick catalog, complete with a checklist of dozens of new titles for me to return, without finding a single one - or maybe just one or two - I believe to be worth space in the book section of The Progressive and thus the attention of our readers.

Not so the small presses, which used to be known more for publishing experimental fiction and poetry than for political nonfiction. Several now break that stereotype. They may or may not be formally structured as profit-making enterprises, but all are decidedly not "commercial," and the people behind them would probably insist that I enclose that word "profit" in quotation marks. Two among them come to mind.

Greg Bates cut his publishing teeth at South End Press in Boston, which has managed to establish itself well in this field. But Bates wanted to go off on his own. He spent the summer of 1990 drawing up a business plan to raise enough capital to start another left-wing press - Common Courage - to be based in Maine and run by Bates and his partner Flic Shooter.

How many presses does the Left need? "If you want the ecology of a forest," he told me, "you gotta plant more than one tree."

By the time the winter of 1991 rolled around, the United States was engulfed in war and Bates hadn't raised a penny for his press. He decided to publish his first book anyway: Mobilizing Democracy, a timely reader on the war in the Persian Gulf and, more generally, on how to change the U.S. role in the Middle East. It did well.

That started a trend. Bates had decided to print enough copies to keep a title in stock for at least a year. In the beginning, that meant an edition of 2,000; two-and-a-half years later, the figure, depending on the book, is up to the range of 5,000 to 8,000, and the books keep running out long before the year is up. He wants to keep his titles in print and goes back to press when he can.

Books available now from Common Courage Press (P.O. Box 702, Monroe, ME 04951; (800)497-3207) include:

[paragraph] Prophetic Thought in Postmodern Times and Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America, by Cornel West. The director of the Afro-American Studies Program and professor of religion at Princeton University is getting more press right now for his newer book, Race Matters, which is on Beacon Press's fall list, but these two volumes on multiculturalism and Eurocentrism are also worth noting: They examine the struggle to overcome race and class divisions and the role of intellectuals in that struggle. (200 pp. and 240 pp., respectively. $39.95, cloth, per volume; $14.95, paper, per volume.)

[paragraph] From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai|i, by Haunani-Kay Trask. This book on the movement by native Hawaiians to defy the theft of their nation by the United States and to demand their right to self-determination was written by one of its leaders, who is also director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai|i. Portions appeared in the July issue of The Progressive. (300 pp. $39.95, cloth; $15.95, paper.)

[paragraph] The Crisis of Color and Democracy: Essays on Race, Class, and Power, by Manning Marable. This collection by the director of the new Center for African American Studies at Columbia University (and frequent contributor to The Progressive) makes his persuasive argument for a socialist democracy based on the empowerment of blacks, Latinos, gays, lesbians, and all other poor or oppressed people. (272 pp. $39.95, cloth; $14.95, paper.)

There are, in addition, volumes by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, by American Indian Movement leader Ward Churchill, and other familiar names. Coming soon is a new title by Churchill, Indians |R' Us: Culture and Genocide in Native North America. (400 pp. $39.95, cloth; $14.95, paper.)

Coming in October is Adventures in Medialand, by Jeff Cohen (director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) and Norman Solomon (media gadfly and commentator for Pacifica Radio), which attempts to get Behind the News and Beyond the Pundits, if its subtitle can be believed. The introduction by Molly Ivins says it can. (261 pp. $39.95, cloth; $11.95, paper.)

And, timed for the first anniversary of Bill Clinton's inauguration next January, is a treatise by Solomon to be titled False Hope: The Politics of Illusion in the Clinton Era. We can only hope it also lives up to its subtitle.

Awaiting the Clinton Administration's release of its health-care package is a book designed to be a source and guide for advocates of a national health system based on the Canadian experience. (Available in November: The National Health Program Book, by David U. Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler. 180 pp. $39.95, cloth; $11.95, paper.)

You won't find this much good political reading in several years' worth of offerings by Random House, Simon & Schuster, and their ilk - combined.

I expressed some surprise that Bates was about to reprint - for the first time in paperback - Jeffrey Masson's Against Therapy. "When we were deciding," he said, "The New York Times was lambasting him daily while covering his lawsuit against The New Yorker and Janet Malcolm. Someone asked, |How could you possibly publish somebody with Masson's reputation?'"

Bates's reply: "If I depended on The New York Times to verify the reputations of my authors, I would not have published a single book this year." (Against Therapy has a publication date of December 1. 340 pp. $39.95, cloth; $15.95, paper.)

Even more engaging is the way in which a publisher/editor like Greg Bates gets involved in his books. He has talked to me several times about Bridge of Courage, by Jennifer Harbury. He sent me the manuscript, subtitled Life Stories of the Guatemalan Companeros and Companeras, and - because I've told him and other book people my tale of woe about the books stacked from floor to ceiling in my office - the envelope had a big sign on it: DON'T put this in Linda's Book Pile. She needs to take it Home.

Bates also told me that he and his partner have a couple of cardinal rules. When they found themselves breaking both of them - reading the stories to each other at home on Saturday morning - they knew the book was perfect for Common Courage Press.

Harbury, a Texas lawyer who worked on political asylum cases, got involved enough to go to Guatemala a few years ago to investigate for herself, and her book is a wrenching collection of oral histories of men and women involved in the guerrilla struggle against the government that, in its present incarnation, has been continuous since the CIA-sponsored coup of 1954.

One of the stories is that of "Everardo," the nom de guerre of a fifteen-year veteran, a Mayan campesino to whom Harbury is married. Or was married. He has disappeared. The Guatemalan government claims he committed suicide - shot himself in the mouth rather than be captured - in March 1992. At an exhumation of the supposed grave, the Guatemalan attorney general unexpectedly arrived and ordered the closed body bag reburied.

And two other guerrillas who have since escaped from clandestine government prison camps - torture camps, they call them - have reported seeing him alive months after the government reported him dead.

This story is not in the book. But Jennifer Harbury's campaign to find - or find out what happened to - "Everardo," which has been joined by Amnesty International, is close to the front of her publisher's mind. She was in Guatemala when Bates and I spoke, and that, more than flacking for his books, is what he talked about.

Bridge of Courage is to be published December 1. It includes an introduction by Noam Chomsky summarizing the history of U.S. responsibility for the Guatemalan debacle, in which he quotes the Salvadoran Ruben Zamora speaking in Northern Ireland on the subject of why people turn to armed struggle when they do not see an alternative. And Harbury tells the story of a Guatemalan teenager who joined the guerrillas in the mountains at sixteen. After a year or so, homesick, she writes to her family, refugees in Belize.

Her description of the reply closes this manuscript Greg Bates told me to take home: "Do you know what my mother wrote back? She wrote that she loved me very dearly, and that I would always be her daughter, that her home was always open. She told me I could come home whenever I wanted, but that I must understand one thing clearly. My brothers were still very young, and my father's knees were bad. If I came home, I would have to care for them and take care of the house. These would be my responsibilities, because if I came home, she would be going up to the mountains in my place." (272 pp. $39.95, cloth; $15.95, paper.)

Sasha Alyson has been publishing gay and lesbian literature since 1980, and Alyson Publications is a well-established "small press." In recent years, he has been the beneficiary of much free publicity because of a line of books for children - with the imprint "Alyson Wonderland" - that the Christian Right does not like. His titles Daddy's Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies are, by now, household words in a way that no small-press publisher believed possible.

Alyson recently published a new book by Michael Willhoite, the author of Daddy's Roommate, about a couple of kids who learn that the uncle they're about to meet is gay: Uncle What-Is-It Is Coming to Visit!! After exposure to stereotypes, they actually meet Uncle Brett, who turns out to look perfectly ordinary. (30 pp. $12.95, cloth.)

No word yet on library and school response, but then Daddy's Roommate seems to me like a perfectly ordinary children's book. However, as the director of the public library in Fort Myers, Florida, has said, "In my twelve years here, we've never had so much protest against a book."

The fact is that only five library systems, nationwide, have actually censored gaythemed children's books, according to Alyson. But the censors have a new ploy: Instead of banning the Alyson Wonderland books, libraries are being asked to remove them from the children's section and place them with "adult nonfiction." In August, the library in Mercer County, New Jersey, complied. So have libraries in Moss Point, Mississippi, and Martinsville, Virginia.

Other libraries have complied in other ways. In Bladen County, North Carolina, the books are placed on the top shelf of the adult section. And in Gwinnett County, Georgia, the library board voted to take Daddy's Roommate off the open shelf and make it available only by special request.

The Willhoite books are very well-known by now; they are not the only Alyson Wonderland targets of the censors. The North Carolina library has also put The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans on the top shelf of the adult section. (32 pp. $12.95, cloth.)

This is the first of two books of fairy tales by Johnny Valentine, illustrated by Lynette Schmidt, published by Alyson. (The second one, The Day They Put a Tax on Rainbows, is just out. 32 pp. $12.95, cloth.)

I want you to know just how subversive and depraved they are:

Grand Duke Archibald is in charge of the kingdom because the king and queen have to leave town for a while. He makes proclamations, and he sounds funny - "as if he were holding his nose while he talked." His first decree is that "everyone must come back tomorrow to hear my next decree." Then, worried about a jelly-bean shortage, he bans the eating of jelly beans. The children of the kingdom think he's silly; they think, in fact, that he is pretending to have a fancy accent. The adults tell them to hush.

The duke keeps making pronouncements. Eventually, he decrees: "Since I grew up with just one mother and one father, and I turned out so well, I proclaim that this arrangement will work best for everyone. In one week any children who have too many mothers or fathers, or not enough, will be thrown into the dungeon.

"Come back next week for another decree. . . . In the meantime, don't forget about the jelly beans."

Anna (who has two mommies) gets together with her friend Peter. They make a list.

"|There's Nicholas,' said Anna. |He has two dads. That's one dad too many, according to the grand duke."

The list eventually includes a girl with one mom and no dads, and Gaston, who lives with his grandparents, and about a dozen more kids threatened with the dungeon.

They deal with the duke. Their tactics are brilliant; read the book to find out what they are. But, since this is a fairy tale, I'm not spoiling the plot by telling you that they win. And after you read the book, defeat the censors by reading it to your children or your nieces and nephews or your neighbors' kids.

And also: Believe Judith Krug of the American Library Association when she explains that reclassifying a kids' book as "adult nonfiction" is censorship. It means kids can't check it out for themselves; they need an adult's permission, an adult's library card.

If you can't find these and the other Alyson Wonderland books in libraries or stores, find them at the source: 40 Plympton Street, Boston, MA 02118; (617)542-5679.

I leave you on the day the Grand Duke Archibald rode out of the kingdom as fast as he could: "That evening, everyone ate jelly beans for dinner. And except for a few stomach aches that night, they all lived happily ever after."
COPYRIGHT 1993 The Progressive, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rocawich, Linda
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:2464
Previous Article:Small is significant.
Next Article:How Am I to be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith.
Topics:


Related Articles
Courage to Love: A Gay Priest Stands Up for His Beliefs.
Mollie's Job: The Story of Life and Work on the Global Assembly Line.
Book Review With respect to women.
Thomas More--A portrait of Courage.
A courageous witness.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters