Monday, May 27, 2013

New Books for Fall 2013

We at the University of Missouri of Missouri Press are delighted to announce our list of new books for Fall 2013.

This fall, you can take flight with writer and pilot W. Scott Olsen, who invites readers along as he chases a new way of looking at the physical world and reveals the magic just visible from the cockpit of a Cessna. In the grand tradition of the travel essay, Olsen's Prairie Sky reveals the heart of what it means to fly.

Meander through the Ozarks with historian Lynn Morrow, who has gathered old and new essays from the Missouri Historical Review on the history, culture, and geography of this colorful region. Interest in scholarly study of the Ozarks has increased markedly in recent years, and the authors whose works are included in The Ozarks in Missouri History offer a diverse and fascinating look at this diverse region.

Meet writer Pamela Gerhardt, her four siblings, and her father, Ernie, as they negotiate one of life's most disorienting shifts--when an elderly parent abruptly becomes the cared-for and his children the caregivers. Lucky That Way, Gerhardt's heartfelt story about coming to terms with Ernie’s illness and imminent death, takes readers on an emotional roller coaster that highlights love, loss, humor, and sadness. 

Return to the cocaine-fueled 1980s with musician Carolyn Marie Wilkins, who in They Raised Me Up recalls her struggle to make it in the music business and the inspiration she found in the stories of ancestors and mentors--five strong, musically gifted women who fought to realize their own dreams at the turn of the twentieth century. This poignant narrative not only offers insights on the travails of a musician and single mother but also humanizes the struggles of black and biracial women from the early twentieth century into the 1980s. 

Discover additional new titles in American history, political science, religion, and literary criticism: 

Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, the Crisis, and American History, edited by Amy Helene Kirschke and Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Richard Wright and Haiku, by Yoshinobu Hakutani

In addition, we offer some terrific new paperback editions on icons of baseball, a celebration of the American essay, letters of a Civil War soldier, revivalism, and the Harlem Renaissance:

A Gallery of Harlem Portraits, by Melvin B. Tolson, edited with an afterword by Robert M. Farnsworth 

We are also expanding our ebook offerings, making both our new titles and an array of older titles available in a wide variety of digital formats. More on those soon!

You can browse the full catalog on the Press’s web page and read more about all of these exciting books. All of them are available for preordering from our web page or from your favorite retailer.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Author Spotlight: Mary Jo Ignoffo

Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune by Mary Jo Ignoffo
This first full-length biography of Sarah Winchester, heir to the arms company and a notorious eccentric who kept her home under extensive construction for twenty years, reveals that she was not a maddened spiritualist driven by remorse but an intelligent, articulate woman who sought to protect her private life amidst the chaos of her public existence. By excerpting from personal correspondence, Ignoffo gives the heiress a voice for the first time since her death.

Q: What prompted you to write a biography of Sarah Winchester?
Initially, I scoffed at the idea. I had heard about the woman who kept a large house under constant construction in order to stave off death, and I thought she must have been mad. I had never visited the Winchester Mystery House, and I had no desire to do so. I was a skeptic’s skeptic.
As I was researching another topic at San Jose’s main library, the librarian there told me that he was asked for information on Sarah Winchester every week, and that he wished he had something worthwhile to offer patrons. He went on to mention that he believed a local history museum nearby had some papers relating to her. His suggestion nudged me to go and look at the papers.
The papers I found opened the proverbial Pandora’s box. Sarah Winchester’s attorney had left papers, including both sides of the correspondence between the widow and the lawyer. The letters and assorted documents indicated a woman far different from her quirky persona. I discovered that the attorney had also been Mrs. Jane Stanford’s attorney and had been president of the first board of trustees of Stanford University. From the local museum I went to Stanford’s archives and found more letters. By that time, I was hooked on Winchester and certain that others would also be interested in the woman most categorized as one of history’s laughingstocks.

Q: Why did Sarah Winchester build such a large house?
If Sarah Winchester kept a personal diary, it has not been found, so knowing her personal desires and aspirations is not possible. But the historical evidence can allow us to reach some conclusions.
First, it is documented that when Winchester purchased a farmhouse near San José in 1886, she immediately took steps to enlarge it. I was able to prove that her three sisters with their families came to California at the same time. The widow supported them financially with monthly allowances. One might surmise that she built the house to accommodate the relatives.
Before long, the sisters and their families were living elsewhere. Yet Winchester continued to build and enlarge the San José house and gardens. She also purchased adjoining properties so that her land holdings grew from about forty-five acres to almost 160 acres over about fifteen years. Only Marion “Daisy” Merriman, Winchester’s niece, lived with her and a few servants. So why did she keep building?
In a letter in 1898 to her late husband’s sister in New Haven, Winchester described construction delays and problems she encountered while building the house. Yet, the tone of the letter suggests that she was telling her sister-in-law not to visit. “I am not so situated yet,” she wrote after almost ten years of construction, “as to feel that I can make invited guests as comfortable as to justify me in giving pressing invitations.” Perhaps Winchester kept building to avoid houseguests rather than to encourage them.
Winchester’s personal secretary reported that the house was the widow’s hobby. Planning, designing, and viewing the construction was an occupation that fulfilled her and brought a sense of well-being. A woodworker stated that Winchester wished to keep woodworkers gainfully employed. This line of thinking is easy to believe since Sarah Winchester’s father had been a finish carpenter who, for many years, was not able to support his family with his skill and had to resort to other work in order to make a living.
Sarah Winchester built because she wanted to, she enjoyed it, she could afford it, and she found satisfaction in providing employment for woodworkers. It also allowed a reasonable excuse to avoid houseguests. The great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed a large portion of the house and this lifestyle that she enjoyed so much.
Q: Was Sarah Winchester a spiritualist?
This question is often asked with an edge of suspicion to it, as if being a spiritualist is so far to the fringe as to constitute madness. In the middle to late nineteenth century it was not uncommon for a woman of Winchester’s social class and background to explore spiritualism, attend a séance, or visit a medium. In this book I draw parallels to other wealthy women, like Mrs. Jane Stanford for example, who appealed to a medium to conjure her deceased son. There is no concrete evidence that Winchester did this. One legend names a Boston spiritualist who Winchester purportedly consulted after the death of her husband. However, a search of spiritualist directories and periodicals of the time lists no such person.
But what if Winchester was a spiritualist? Would she not have joined with others in the San José area who practiced spiritualism? There was an active local community of spiritualists who come together at monthly meetings, and held sessions in their parlors. They were also educated people from the East of significant means. Winchester would have been welcomed, yet she never attended.
And what of the “séance” room of her large San José house where Sarah Winchester purportedly sealed herself off to commune with spirits? This notion misrepresents spiritualism which is primarily a social activity. It requires more than one person. It is not a solitary devotion. Sarah Winchester’s supremely private personality almost single-handedly precludes the assumption that she was a spiritualist.
Winchester was raised Baptist, and in California she participated in an Episcopal church in Burlingame. She befriended the rector there and invited him to her home. He presided at the funerals of a few of her employees, at least two relatives, and finally, was the presider at Sarah Winchester’s own funeral. If she ever employed spiritualist practice is uncertain. What is certain is that she often participated in a traditional church and arranged for her own funeral to be carried out through it.

Q: Legend has it that the only person allowed entry through the front door of the Winchester house in San José was Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science religion. Is there any truth to this?
No. Eddy was never in California. Furthermore, the Mary Baker Eddy library has no correspondence between Eddy and Winchester in its vast collection.

Q: Was Sarah Winchester obsessed with the number 13?
I found no evidence that Sarah Winchester was obsessed with the number 13. Furthermore, I found no evidence that the number played any particular role in the design and construction of her house. In tracing newspaper articles about Winchester that appeared in the press between 1895 and her death in 1922, none mentions the number 13. In fact, the number 13 only begins to appear in articles relating to the Winchester house a full six years after the widow’s death.
Within six months of Winchester’s death, an amusement park manager had leased her large old house, and he invited a local columnist, Ruth Amet, to visit the house. The columnist wrote a lengthy article, detailing the rooms, doors, stairways, and it lays out the house as ghostly and mysterious. In all the details, Amet never mentioned the number 13. Added to that, James Perkins, a man who worked as a carpenter at the Winchester place for many years, reported that the references to the number 13 were added by the new owners after the widow’s death. Perkins said many oddities were added to the house to draw the curious tourist.
Recently when I visited the Winchester house, a corridor with thirteen coat hooks was pointed out to me, and I was told they had been added quite recently. This twenty-first-century addition is only the latest of many references to the number 13 that were not in the house when Winchester lived there.

Q: Was Sarah Winchester consumed by guilt over the Winchester repeating rifle?
There is nothing to indicate that Mrs. Winchester felt guilty over her association with the Winchester repeater. She followed the finances of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company quite closely and was updated by the president of the firm, who happened to be her brother-in-law, at least quarterly between about 1890 and her death in 1922. Her personal finances fluctuated with the profits and losses of the company. Winchester did not hesitate to use dividends earned from stock in the company for a wide variety of investments in real estate, stocks, and bonds. 
Sarah Winchester’s female relatives, and possibly Sarah herself, were animal rights advocates. Her sister was the first Humane officer in California. Yet even taking into account an allegiance to the Humane Society does not equate to a negative attitude toward guns. The women objected to waste and to cruelty to animals. They did not object to hunting for sport or sustenance. Each hosted or enjoyed meals from locally grown or hunted animals.
Until the early years of the twentieth century, most firearms including the repeating rifle, were considered symbols of progress and industrial ingenuity. They were viewed as deterrents to crime and enforcers of peace. They offered hope for a lawful and upright world. This view came into question early in the century, but even then in Winchester’s old age, there is nothing to show that she felt guilty over gun production. During World War I, the numbers of firearms manufactured by Winchester and purchased by the government and its allies was forwarded to Sarah. After the war when the company faced bankruptcy, the idea that the Winchester family would relinquish control of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was one that shocked Sarah Winchester and that she resisted. She exhibited no desire to free herself from the gun company.

Q: What is the most surprising thing that you learned while researching the life of Sarah Winchester?
There are a few things that surprised me. The first was the amount of material related to Winchester that I was able to uncover. I had always heard, and when I started out was told, that there was no information on her. Sure enough the collections that contain her letters are not catalogued with her name but buried within the papers of other individuals like her attorney and ranch foreman. Finding the first set of papers was like pulling a loose thread, unraveling what had held Sarah Winchester secreted away all these years.
Another surprise was discovering Sarah Winchester’s sister, Isabelle Merriman, who was Sarah’s opposite in every way imaginable. Where Sarah was reclusive and private, Isabelle was outspoken and brash. The two lived at opposite ends of the Santa Clara Valley, a balancing act reflective of their lifestyles. Isabelle went bankrupt, and Sarah got richer; Isabelle was political, and Sarah never registered to vote; Isabelle practiced the Bahai faith, and Sarah was Episcopalian. Somehow through their differences and eccentricities, the two remained close, one offering support to the other. Ultimately, when Sarah Winchester’s remains were transported for burial to New Haven, so too were those of her sister Isabelle.
Perhaps most surprising was the realization that Sarah Winchester did not live at her large San José house after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. I thought she occupied the burgeoning house, as legend has it, for over thirty years. This is not the case. After 1906, Winchester occupied other homes, primarily one in Atherton, and went “to the ranch” a few times a year but rarely for longer periods of time. The ranch foreman at San José kept daybooks, one for each year from 1907 until 1922, and in them he noted when “Mrs. W. came” or “Mrs. W. went away.” Some of her visits were just for a few hours, and at other times she spent a week or two. She lived the last fifteen years of her life at her Atherton home, although she was in San José when she died. Her physician was a San José doctor, about twenty miles from Atherton, making it almost impossible for him to check in on her unless she was at the ranch.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Author Spotlight, Robert C. Plumb

Your Brother in Arms by Robert C. Plumb
George P. McClelland, a member of the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry, witnessed some of the Civil War's most pivotal battles. Never before published, McClelland's letters to his family offer fresh insights into camp life, battlefield conditions, perceptions of key leaders, and the mindset of a young man who faced the prospect of death nearly every day of his service. Plumb expounds on McClelland's words by placing the events in context and illuminating the collective forces at play in each account, adding a historical outlook to the raw voice of a young soldier.

Q: How did you obtain the letters that are in the book?  Are they family letters?

The McClelland letters came to me from a relative of my wife.  Her uncle purchased the 42 letters and photographs of McClelland from a Civil War ephemera dealer during the Civil War Centennial in the late 1960’s.  When the uncle passed away in the early 1990’s, his widow gave the letters and photos to me. So the letters are, in a sense, “family letters,” but McClelland is not a relative.  Nothing had been done with the letters until I began transcribing them in 2005.  And that’s when this soldier’s fascinating story began to unfold.

Q: A lot has been written about the Civil War, including compilations of letters.  What new information does your book offer to readers?

It’s certainly true that more books have been written about the Civil War than any other subject in the American experience, including some excellent books based on diaries and letters.  Your Brother in Arms, however, is a singular contribution to the body of non-fiction work covering the Civil War.  First, the letters cover a broad timeframe – the Army of the Potomac from summer 1862 to spring 1865, a critical period in the war.  And McClelland’s letters are exquisitely written and hold up well for the 21st century reader.  Finally, I have written contextual narrative to accompany the letters so that the general reader has some historical guideposts to better understand the environment in which McClelland was operating as he was writing his letters.  The eminent Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust has said: “War cannot be understood or communicated as a grand panorama.  It is real only in the context of individual lives and deaths.”  The new information for readers is the fresh perspective that the individual life of George McClelland brings to our understanding of a war that was fought 150 years ago.

Q: What went into your work in writing the narrative that surrounds McClelland’s letters?

Military records from the Civil War are very well preserved and relatively easy to access.  I spent a lot of time pouring over McClelland’s service, medical and pension records at the National Archives in Washington, DC.  And I was able to pull a tremendous amount of information from these very complete records.  I spent time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Davenport, Iowa exploring McClelland’s pre- and post-war life.  During the course of my research, I walked the battlefields where McClelland and his unit fought.  All of these battlefields have been saved from development so that I was able to walk in McClelland’s footsteps without having to detour around a big box store or a housing development. I was also fortunate to spend time with some of our country’s most knowledgeable Civil War historians and battlefield guides to get information first-hand.

Q: Did your own military experience inform your writing about McClelland?

From a macro sense, I think there are shared experiences for anyone who has served in a theatre of combat regardless of whether it’s 1863 at Gettysburg, 1968 in the Mekong Delta, or 2011 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  The appreciation of correspondence from loved ones at home; a deep sense of responsibility for one’s comrades in arms; and an acute awareness of one’s own mortality -- all these transcend time and place.  Today soldiers write home using e-mail, enjoy vastly better diets and have the benefit of some very sophisticated medical treatment – but the fundamental experiences of a military person in a combat zone are universal and timeless. These overarching aspects of combat did help my understanding of what McClelland was going through as I researched and wrote the narrative material in the book. 

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this book?

I think my answer – or rather answers – depend on the reader.  I hope the general adult reader better understands what the men who fought at well-known battles, such as Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, were facing and thinking.  Short of being there or watching a film of battle -- both of which are impossible when we study the Civil War today – the articulate and descriptive letters from soldiers are the next best thing.  I hope the young reader comes away with an understanding and appreciation of a teenager who went off to serve in one of America’s bloodiest wars and conducted himself with honor and bravery under the most difficult of circumstances.  For Civil War buffs I hope that they get a fresh perspective on the conduct of the war that either confirms their thinking or challenges what they have learned to date and gives them an opportunity to reflect again on this event in American history that is so important to them.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Author Spotlight: James Landers

The Improbable First Century of Cosmopolitan Magazine by James Landers
 Cosmopolitan is known for its vivacious character and frank, explicit attitude toward sex, yet many people don’t realize that the magazine has undergone many incarnations, including family literary journal and muckraking investigative journal. This book explores how Cosmopolitan survived three near-death experiences to become one of the most dynamic and successful magazines of the twentieth century. Landers uses a wealth of primary source materials to place this important magazine in the context of history and depict how it became the cultural touchstone it is today.

Q: What made you decide to write a history of Cosmopolitan?
It has had a fascinating life. Cosmopolitan is so completely, unbelievably different from how it began, and the fact that the magazine changed its identity completely several times over the years made me wonder who was responsible for the decisions and why those transformations happened.

Q: How do you write a 100-year history of a magazine?
You look at as many issues of the magazine as you can find. I read more than a thousand issues of Cosmopolitan published from March 1886 to March 1986. I would have read more, but dozens of copies were vandalized or otherwise destroyed, especially those from the 1960s and 1970s. I relied on college and university libraries around the country to loan me volumes of Cosmopolitan, and sometimes I had to request the same volume from two or three different libraries just to obtain a complete six-month set to read. It was sad to see that covers and pages were ripped out, something I rarely saw prior to the 1960s.

Reading all those issues let me see patterns – the types of articles that ran during a certain period, the types of fiction stories, what illustrations and photographs were like, what the advertisements were like, what products were advertised. It gave me a sense of shifts in the magazine’s editorial format at specific times.

Q: Once you’ve read the magazines, then what?
Then I needed to learn who changed the magazine’s formats and why. A historian hopes to find letters, memos, and other written material from key people. Their thoughts, their rationale for switching format, and other factors often are mentioned in such correspondence.

Usually the changes were a matter of money for Cosmopolitan. The magazine went through cyclical periods of losing readers and advertisers, then recovered, then slid again. Editors and publishers had to find a way to survive.

In this case, material from William Randolph Hearst’s archives at the University of California–Berkeley was quite interesting and helpful. Historians have ignored the magazines he owned because his newspapers were so outrageous and presumably important early in the twentieth century up until the 1920s. It turns out Hearst was proud of Cosmopolitan from the time he bought it in 1905 until he died in 1951. Plenty of telegrams, memos, letters, and business documents pertained to Cosmopolitan.
Also, material from Helen Gurley Brown was stored at Smith College in Massachusetts —memos, circulation reports, letters to advertisers and writers.

Of course, my interview with Mrs. Brown was invaluable. She remembered details about several important incidents, and she explained her goals and methods for transforming Cosmopolitan after being hired as editor in 1965.

Q: Any surprises?
Many. My first surprise was that Cosmopolitan was such a respected and popular magazine during the 1890s. I learned this after I had changed careers and was a middle-age graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. I was taking a history seminar on war policy and researching what magazines had written about imperialism after the Spanish-American War. A fierce debate raged whether the United States should keep Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico—all of which we took from Spain—and what should be done with Hawaii, which had been “annexed” during the war. I was amazed at the range of articles in Cosmopolitan—science, politics, international events—and was impressed by the caliber of contributors—diplomats, professors, well-known intellectuals, and public officials, including Theodore Roosevelt. Also impressive was the list of fiction authors: Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Jack London, Tolstoy, Willa Cather, William Dean Howells.

Another surprise was what Hearst did with Cosmopolitan early in the 1900s. It was an exposé magazine with the “Treason of the Senate” series on corruption, also a very graphic series on the hazardous conditions where children worked in factories, and with numerous articles on corruption in cities and states across the nation.

Then a big surprise was the complete switch from serious exposé articles to fluffy fiction and romance and adventure stories by the 1920s. It was a smart decision, because Cosmopolitan was more popular and profitable than ever.

The final surprise was the way Helen Gurley Brown took over a mediocre, dull magazine without any specific identity and created a controversial, popular magazine with an incredibly loyal readership. My conversation with her persuaded me that she was not at all surprised by the success of Cosmopolitan. She knew what young women of that era wanted.

Q: What lessons can be learned from the survival of Cosmopolitan?
Leadership makes a difference. An individual makes a difference. Be bold, be daring.