Monday, January 28, 2013

Author Spotlight, James N. Giglio on his book Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man

Musial by James N. Giglio
In the most comprehensive assessment of baseball legend Stan Musial's life and career to date, James N. Giglio places the St. Louis Cardinal star within the context of the times (Great Depression and wartime/postwar America) and the issues then prevalent in professional baseball, particularly race and the changing economics of the game. Giglio illuminates how the times shaped Musial and delves further into his popular image as a warm, unfailingly gracious role model known for good sportsmanship and devotion to family.

Why did you choose to write about Musial?  
I have always been interested in sports history, especially baseball during the Musial era.  I saw the value of sports history provided that one could place it in the context of our social history.  Insights can come from that.  I grew up in the Musial era; the book enabled me to connect with my youth and to that time. 

What were the challenges you faced while researching the book?  
First of all, sports figures do not write letters, and they don't usually save the letters they received.  So, there is the absence of primary sources that one can customarily rely on in doing political and diplomatic history and even more traditional social history, for that matter.  I combated that problem by sending out a questionnaire to over a thousand ball players who competed with or against Musial. (detailed in the preface of the book).  I also did a lot of interviewing. Moreover, there is a lot of mythology connected with sports figures that found its way in the sports sections of newspapers or in sports magazines.  One has to put that stuff aside.  Sports figures, Musial included, tend to be overly sensitive about writers digging into their personal lives, perhaps, sometimes with good reason.  Superstars especially wish to retain their hero image and sometimes resent any attempts to humanize them.       

Where did the names 'Stash' and 'Stan the Man' originate?  
Stan's father in Donora, Pennsylvania, called him Stashu, a Polish nickname.  It soon became Stash (sounding like Stush).  Consequently, beginning in his youth, all of Musial's Donora friends called him that and so did some Cardinal players early in Musial's career.  In the post World War II era, Musial used to clobber Brooklyn Dodger pitching especially at Ebbets Field.  In 1946 Brooklyn fans started to chant "Here comes the man" when he came to bat. Sportswriter Bob Broeg, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote about that and that is how it began.     

What is your favorite part of the book?  
The chapter titled "Anatomy of a Superstar" because it was there that I best defined him as a person. Biography should encompass both a person's career and his or her personality and character.  I thought I did the latter best in that chapter.

Did Musial enjoy playing or watching other sports?  
As a high schooler he was an excellent basketball player who could have competed at the college level.  The high school football coach wanted him to compete, but Musial chose not to.  He also became an above average golfer.  As far as I could tell he enjoyed watching all major sports.

Since your book was first published in 2001 have any noteworthy things happened for Musial since then?
The most important event occurred on February 15, 2011, when Musial received from President Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  That came not only for his performance as a superstar, but for his character and for his service as baseball's unofficial ambassador following his playing days.

What do you think Musial would like people to remember about him?  
I think he would would most like to be remembered as a kind and decent person, one who loved his family and the St. Louis community, especially the fans who were never denied his autographs.  It meant much to him that he played an important role in the Cardinals' three World Series championships.  He was also proud of his lengthy, durable career that included a batting average of .331 with 3,630 hits and 725 doubles, at the time of his retirement a National League record.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Author Spotlight: Carolyn Marie Wilkins

This insider's portrait of an unusual American family was called one of the 25 reasons academic publishing is sexier than you think by Library Journal. Carolyn Wilkins relates her struggles to redefine herself in light of the long-buried secrets she uncovered through her search to discover her family's story. She grew up defending her racial identity because of her light complexion and wavy hair, yet her grandfather had been America's first black assistant secretary of labor. Carolyn's quest unearths her family's generations-long quest for status and approval.
DAMN NEAR WHITE: An African American Family’s Journey from Slavery to Bittersweet Success

Q: What does “Damn Near White” mean, and why did you choose this title?
“Light, bright, and damn near white” is a saying that has long been used among black folks to describe people of a certain skin color. Mostly it’s used as an epithet to describe folks who are so light they have forgotten their identity as African Americans.  The irony is that the people I write about in this book, although they possessed light complexions, were firmly anchored in the African American community of their era. Damn Near White is a book about my family. Naming my book Damn Near White reflects the way people have described us, while at the same time poking fun at this description.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?
People are always asking me about my racial background. “Are you biracial?” “Are you Hispanic?” The fact is that my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are African American. You actually have to go a long way back in my family tree before you find any white people. Yet we are all very fair-skinned, and our experiences have been different from those typically described as African American.

I wanted to discover more about my family history both to address the questions I was constantly getting from other people and to satisfy my own curiosity, so I began to do a little research. The more that I found out about my ancestors, the more curious I became. As I dug more deeply, I began to uncover some pretty surprising details.

After a couple of years of me telling these stories around the Thanksgiving dinner table, my sister-in-law Ann Marie Wilkins suggested that these stories would make an interesting book. Damn Near White is the result of this process.

Q: You say that your family’s experience was different from what most people think of as “typically” African American.  Can you tell me about that?
I come from a very distinguished family.  My grandfather, J. Ernest Wilkins, was a remarkable man who defeated the odds stacked against blacks during the era of segregation and achieved national prominence. In 1954, President Eisenhower appointed him to the position of United States assistant secretary of labor. He was the highest-ranking African American official in government, and the first black man ever to be named an assistant secretary of labor. 

 Two of his sons, my father Julian and his brother John, graduated from Harvard Law School in the 1940s.  His third son, my uncle Ernest, was a prodigy who received his PhD from the University of Chicago in physics at the age of nineteen and studied with Albert Einstein at Princeton.

In 1957, after only three years on the job, my grandfather resigned abruptly from his position at the Labor Department. Shortly thereafter he died from a massive heart attack. No one in the family had ever been able to give me a satisfactory answer as to why he resigned or whether the stress of resigning contributed to his death three months later.

This book describes my quest to discover the answers to these questions and to my own issues of racial identity. 

Q: Were you able to find any ancestors from the 19th century? I am assuming that as an African American, you had some slaves in your family tree?
Actually, the full title of my book is Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success. My grandfather’s father, John Bird Wilkins, was enslaved, most probably in Oxford, Mississippi. My great-grandfather was quite a ne’er-do-well.  He abandoned my great-grandmother and her five young children for another woman when my grandfather was only two.  John Bird Wilkins had at least ten other children that I was able to find and at least three common-law wives.  In an age when most people lived and died within a ten-mile radius, my great-grandfather traveled all over the South and the Midwest. He was an inventor, a teacher, a journalist, and a Baptist minister who enraged his congregation with his unconventional religious philosophies. It took me a few years and the assistance of a professional genealogist to unearth all the facts, but it is such a fascinating story that I devote quite a bit of space to him my book.

Q: Can  you tell me more about your background?
I am a musician. I studied classical piano and orchestral percussion at Oberlin Conservatory. I also have a master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music. After spending some time overseas playing with the Singapore Symphony, I returned to the States where I worked as a freelance percussionist in Pittsburgh and Chicago before moving to Seattle, Washington. There I became interested in jazz and after several years of study, began to sing and play jazz piano full time.

Q: What is your “day job”?
My day job is Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston where I teach piano, ensembles, and ear training to aspiring young musicians.  I love it.

Q: How have people reacted to the book so far?
Whenever I talk about the book, I find that people become very interested. Regardless of their race or ethnicity, people these days are interest in exploring their family history. Our elders are dying, and unless we take steps to preserve their stories, they will be lost. I have grappled with issues of race, class, and color throughout my life. Working on this book gave me a chance to explore how my family’s history has shaped me and given me a chance to see myself from a much broader perspective.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Old-Time Fiddlers in Missouri Part II: Taylor McBaine

By Howard Wight Marshall

The 1980s was an active era in the documentation of traditional fiddle music and cultural heritage in Missouri. With Dolf and Becky Schroeder, the University of Missouri’s Extension Division produced a series of video programs called Missouri Origins. One of these
was “Country Missouri Fiddling: Taylor McBaine, Contest Fiddler” (1981).

In this video, Lois Gandt recorded the  legendary Columbia fiddler Taylor McBaine (1910-1994). At this time, Taylor McBaine was one of the leading exponents of the driving central Missouri style fiddling, a popular teacher, and a frequent contest champion. The video includes McBaine discussing fiddling, performing in contests and at festivals, and includes many of his ardent young students.

Taylor McBaine is seen playing his German-made “Amati” model violin in his bedroom in his Columbia home. His cramped but impeccable bedroom was his de facto teaching studio, where fiddle students and admirers (such as yours truly) would visit, listen to stories of the old times, listen to recordings together, and learn fiddle techniques and repertory. McBaine was an exceptionally generous and patient teacher.

McBaine fiddles one of the first tunes he learned as a child of six or seven, “Climbing the Stairs the Monkey,” an old favorite in Missouri and known by other titles, such a “Moss Billy” and “Shelby’s Mule.” Just as he had learned it as a young beginning fiddler, McBaine favored this tune as a teaching tune when he, in turn, passed the music on to others.

On this occasion, as on countless others, his young protégé Cathy Barton of Boonville accompanies McBaine on five-string banjo. Cathy plays in a “frailing” or “claw hammer” style she learned from banjoists such as the Grand Old Opry star Grandpa Jones. From the 1970s when she was a student at Stephens College in Columbia until McBaine’s passing in 1994, Cathy Barton, and her husband, guitarist Dave Para, were Taylor McBaine’s favorite accompanists and beloved companions.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

From the Director

To paraphrase an often quoted line from Mark Twain, reports of the closure of the University of Missouri Press are greatly exaggerated. We remain in our offices on LeMone Boulevard, and we continue to sell and publish books. In addition, we are actively seeking new manuscripts to publish in our areas of expertise.

Nonetheless, 2012 was a difficult year for the Press. As most readers of this blog probably already know, in May the University administration announced its intention of closing the Press. Employees were told they were to be laid off, and the authors of books scheduled for publication in the spring of 2013 were encouraged to find new homes for their works with other publishers. 

The outpouring of support for the Press that followed from authors, readers, librarians, scholars, journalists, and many others was far beyond what anyone had anticipated. In late August, the university reversed the decision. All of us working at the Press owe a deep debt of gratitude to everyone who fought for the Press’s preservation. We were overwhelmed at the extent of the appreciation shown for the books and the staff, for the quality of the volumes and of our work in publishing them.

As we move into 2013, the future for the Press is looking brighter than it has for a long time. In spite of, or maybe because of, all the publicity, sales are nearly even with last year at this time, even with a 20 percent increase in returns from bookstores that were fearful of being caught with nonreturnable stock.

Administratively, the Press has a new home under the Office of the Provost on the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri, with strong support for expanding both the number and the formats of publications. The search has begun for a new Director, someone to oversee the exploration of new avenues of publication while insuring that the Press maintains the scholarly rigor inherent in the very best academic publishing.

Because of the loss of manuscripts under contract for the spring of 2013, the Press will not be publishing any new books until the fall of 2013, but we have many books that might be new to you that are well worth checking out. Please take a look at the Press's catalog for fall 2012, and you will find many books that, due to the furor over the Press’s anticipated closure, did not receive anywhere near the review attention that they deserve.

All of these books can be ordered through your favorite retailers or via the Press’s online catalog.

In November, in conjunction with University Press Week, an anonymous donor generously offered $10,000 in matching funds for any donations to the Press. We exceeded the amount needed for earning the matching donation and remain grateful to everyone who so graciously came forward to offer tangible support for the Press. All of the money raised was added to the Press’s endowment, which we aim to build even more in 2013. If you would like to make a donation to the future of the press, go to the Giving to MU webpage, click Other, and type in “University of Missouri Press Endowment Fund.” If you would like to be added to the Patrons’ list and keep abreast of all the Press’s efforts, visit our Patrons of the University of Missouri Press webpage.

During the months to come, we will also be offering special features on the Press’s web page. If you would like to receive announcements of sales and special offers, you can sign up at the link that says, “Click here to enter your email address to sign up for periodic announcements from University of Missouri Press.” We promise not to spam your inbox.

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter  and Facebook.

And again, to everyone who supported the Press during the difficult summer and fall months of 2012, thank you.

Jane Lago
Consulting Director
University of Missouri Press