Tag Archives: UPK75

A Conversation with Kwoya Fagin Maples, author of Mend

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 12.46.43 PMKwoya Fagin Maples, author of Mend: Poems, amplifies the forgotten voices of black women whose bodies were used to further science at the expense of their humanity through her profoundly intimate, and sometimes devastating, verse. This collection of poems explores imagined memories and experiences relayed from hospital beds. The speakers challenge James Marion Sims’s lies, mourn their trampled dignity, name their suffering in spirit, and speak of their bodies as “bruised fruit.” At the same time, they are more than his victims, and the poems celebrate their humanity, their feelings, their memories, and their selves. A finalist for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, this debut collection illuminates a complex and disturbing chapter of the African American experience.

How did you first become acquainted with James Marion Sims, and did you learn about his experimentation on enslaved women at the same time, or did that knowledge come later?

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 12.51.35 PM.pngI didn’t intentionally set out to write historical persona poems. I was at a time in my writing career where I was weary of writing about myself. I’d just graduated from my MFA program and I felt a little lost—not knowing the direction I wanted my writing to take. Before Mend, I mainly wrote lyrical or language poems. During a Cave Canem summer workshop another writer mentioned the story of enslaved women—mothers, who were the subjects of gynecological experimentation conducted by Dr. James Marion Sims of Montgomery, Alabama. I’d been asking her about her own experience with motherhood. When I got back to my room, I googled the story, and I was immediately captivated by it. There was so little information online about it at that time, and no record of the women’s experiences. Not even all of their names. All of this was stunning and heartbreaking. I suppose from the beginning I deeply connected with the women emotionally—as if they were my family. At that time, I knew this story had not been told from their perspective. I imagined they’d been waiting on it to be told. I wrote one poem that same night. It was titled “The Door.” It is fortuitous that my editor, Lisa Williams, later chose it to be the book’s prefatory poem.

Can you describe the research you did in preparing to write these poems?

I began by collecting and studying slave narratives. Most of my research was conducted by use of the Library of Congress. I listened to music recordings from that time period and studied photographs of southern enslaved women in order to develop voices. I read Sims’s autobiography, surgical notes, and letters. By the time I finished writing Mend, I’d poured through hundreds of slave narratives and read several books surrounding the case, including Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid, which related several cases of medical experimentation conducted on people of color in the United States. Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy, and the other unnamed women of Mt. Meigs were not alone. I found that medical experimentation was commonly practiced by doctors and slaveholders. In her book, Washington uses the term “medical plantations,” arguing that what yielded for these doctors (instead of a traditional crop) was advancement in their respective fields and establishment of wealth. The poem I wrote in direct response to this idea is “What Yields,” an eleven-sectioned sonnet corona in Mend.

After spending so much time in research, when the poems came again for the book, they came in the voices of the women themselves. In 2011, at a writing residency provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, I began writing. I hadn’t written anything since that first poem a year earlier. I didn’t feel I’d have permission until I’d done my due diligence of researching. I didn’t automatically feel as though I could tell these women’s stories just because I was a black woman. I’d never been born a slave. Something that happened in the process of writing this book that I didn’t expect was how my own experience with matrescence would affect the work. In March of 2012, I found I was pregnant for the first time. After having written poems that endeavored to show the scope of the women’s lives, including their motherhood, there was so much I wanted to go back and revise. I didn’t plan on how being a mother would affect my work or the poems of this collection, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

How do the persona poems in Mend compare to your other poetry?

Mend is my first collection of historical persona poetry. I’ve written only a few other persona poems. My other work draws from my personal impressions and life experiences. I’m not an overtly political poet, but my work is political, nonetheless. Often, an argument is being made. The book I’m currently writing draws mainly from my childhood, and shows my obsession with the ocean. I’m from Charleston, SC, and that enters my work as well.

Earlier this year, the statue commemorating Sims was removed from New York’s Central Park and will be relocated to the Brooklyn cemetery where he is buried. It will include a plaque explaining the “legacy of non-consensual medical experimentation on women of color broadly and Black women specifically that Sims has come to symbolize.” Is this an appropriate step for the city to take and what more can or should be done concerning his memorials there and elsewhere?

The Sims statue removal in New York was pivotal and refreshing. It meant that people were hearing the story of Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy, and the unnamed women, and listening. Later in the year, when I heard that the mayor of Columbia, SC was interested in having the statue of Sims removed from the Statehouse there, I knew I wanted to be part of efforts to make it happen. I contacted Joy Priest, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, and we began organizing a protest in the form of a poetry marathon. I traveled from Birmingham to South Carolina. The protest was held in front of Sims’s statue. All day we read poetry, essays, and facts related to this case in medical history. Poetry is a powerful form of resistance. While we held up posters, we also passed out fliers with information about Sims and the experimentation. We reverenced the voices of Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy along with all the unnamed women by bringing them into the frame.

People who cause trauma to others should not be reverenced or held in such high esteem that they have statues erected in their honor. People with any moral decency should agree. Sims’s actions as a doctor jeopardized the lives of human beings and caused irreparable harm. Sims’s monuments were built in his honor without consideration of the circumstances surrounding his success. The women whose bodies he profited from became meaningless the day his statue was erected. Their existence was completely ignored. With these statues and others like it, marginalized people repeatedly receive the message that their experiences are of no importance. When we rectify our mistakes by removing or modifying problematic monuments or statues, we give people an opportunity to heal.

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Q&A with Maryjean Wall, author of Madam Belle

WallCompF.inddIn this revealing book, Maryjean Wall offers a tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South, as told through the life and times of the notorious Miss Belle. After years on the streets and working for Hill, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own establishment—her wealth and fame growing alongside the booming popularity of horse racing. Soon, her houses were known internationally, and powerful patrons from the industrial cities of the Northeast courted her in the lavish parlors of her gilt-and-mirror mansion.

Join the Kentucky Book Group on Thursday, September 20th from 6:30-7:30 at the Paul Sawyier Public Library for a riveting and engaging discussion on MADAM BELLE.

 

How did you first become acquainted with the story of Belle Brezing?

Soon after I moved to Lexington in the mid-1960s, I began to hear about Belle Brezing and the infamous mansion for men she had operated near downtown. She had been dead only twenty-some years and many people recalled her presence in this city. If you mentioned Belle’s name, people knew of whom you spoke. William H. Townsend, a Lexington attorney and historian, published a seven-page pamphlet in 1966 titled, “The Most Orderly of Disorderly Houses” and this pamphlet undoubtedly kept the legend going. Who wouldn’t have been interested in knowing more about this woman who ran a famous house of ill repute and was the prototype for the madam in Gone with the Wind? The mystery and mystique of Belle inspired me to explore further.

Belle was a businesswoman ahead of her time. Despite it being a brothel, what particular challenges did she face establishing and maintaining her own business?

She faced gender and poverty issues. In the beginning as a 15-year-old, when she’d already had a baby, seen her mother die, and been evicted by her mother’s landlord, Belle faced a grim future. She had a bad reputation in this city and probably was not going to get a job in a decent establishment. Or, perhaps she did not want to support herself in that traditional fashion. She turned to prostitution. But she did work her way up the financial ladder. It’s an amazing story.

The gender issues she faced were the same that all women faced in the 1880s, the 1890s and the early twentieth century. Women did not even have the vote yet. They could not exercise public power. Most women occupied the domestic sphere, raising families, and maintaining a home for their husbands. Belle chose to handle gender issues in non-traditional fashion. She worked disadvantages to her own advantage, improving her position in this community until she owned property, was wealthy, and operated at the city’s center of power.

What role did Lexington play in enabling Belle to develop her business as successfully as she did?

Lexington was a city of its time, embracing the 1890s notion that prostitution—called “a necessary evil” at the time—was best handled by segregating prostitutes into a red-light district. Any madam running prostitutes in her house was complicit in the corruption pervasive among city authorities. Also, Kentucky’s rising horse industry during the post-Civil War decades enabled Belle’s rise to power and fame, just as Belle’s identity as a southern belle played a role in crafting a most advantageous southern identity for Kentucky and its horse industry.

Bobbie Ann Mason’s Patchwork Promotional Tour

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As the visitors at yesterday’s book signing at Joseph Beth Booksellers can attest, a reading with Bobbie Ann Mason is more than a literary event. It’s an engaging, entertaining, and intimate talk filled with illuminating stories and anecdotes about the author, her life, and her work.

Bobbie Ann Mason signed copies of her new release, Patchwork: A Reader. She also read some of her short stories (“Charger” and “Car Wash”), spoke of her favorite characters (Nancy Culpepper and Sam from In Country), and shared several funny narratives, including how she had a teenage obsession with the Hilltoppers. Mason was such an admirer, in fact, that she started a fan club, and she and her mom would travel to their concerts. At one point, her mom had the band over for a catfish dinner!

Mason is about to hit the road for her North Carolina promotional tour and has several upcoming events scheduled the week of September 24. Check out the dates below and don’t miss the opportunity to spend an evening with this phenomenal scripturient!

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Patchwork North Carolina Promotional Tour

Monday, September 24, 6 pm at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, NC

Tuesday, September 25, 7 pm at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC

Thursday, September 27, 5:30 pm at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC

Friday, September 28, 6 pm at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, NC

Saturday, September 29, 11 am at McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro, NC

 

 

Meet the Press: Patrick O’Dowd, Acquisitions Editor

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Name: Patrick O’Dowd
Position: Acquisitions Editor
Hometown: Lexington, KY
Alma Mater: University of Kentucky

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Tell us a little bit about your position at the press.

I am one of UPK’s three acquiring editors. Most of my acquiring efforts are focused on regional titles, fiction, and poetry.

What’s one of your favorite UPK titles and why?

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson. It is a beautiful story by an amazing writer/human.

If someone was visiting Kentucky for the first time and you were their tour guide, where would you take them? Any specific restaurants, landmarks, etc.?

County Club

What’s your favorite word?

According to my fiancée: gorgeous.

Do you have a favorite font? If so, what is it? 

I have many strong opinions but not on fonts.

Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? When you were a kid, did you want to do something different as an adult?

Farmer, chef, race car driver. There was a certain process of elimination, but publishing is where I belong.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? What’s a random factoid about yourself?

I’m the biggest Formula 1 fan in Kentucky.

If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?

Leslie Knope.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee. Yes! It’s a well told story.

If you could have dinner with any three people—dead or alive, famous or not—who would it be?

Anthony Bourdain, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama

Meet the Press: Tasha Huber, Assistant to the Director

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Name: Tasha Huber
Position: Assistant to the Director
Hometown: Utica, Ohio
Alma mater(s); major(s), minor(s): University of Kentucky; B.A. in English, Communication minor

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Tell us a little bit about your position at the press.

As the assistant to the director, I do a variety of things at the press. I draft various letters and grant proposals. I help manage the director’s book projects and communicate with authors and community partners. I coordinate the editorial board and press committee meetings that happen four times a year. I also help coordinate our Thomas D. Clark Foundation meetings and work closely with the foundation members. Additionally, I work closely with our acquisitions staff to keep up-to-date on the book projects they are working on.

One of the things I enjoy most about my position is the work I do with our growing internship program. I helped create a group dedicated to the advancement of the program, and we meet monthly to discuss ways to give our interns a more meaningful experience. As a former intern at the press, I like to work with students and help them gain experience and knowledge in scholarly publishing.

What’s one of your favorite UPK titles and why?

Patchwork by Bobbie Ann Mason—it was the first project that I worked on when I became a full-time staff member at the press. I’ve spent a lot of time with the book!

If someone was visiting Kentucky for the first time and you were their tour guide, where would you take them? Any specific restaurants, landmarks, etc.?

I’m not a native Kentuckian, so I feel a little unqualified to act as a tour guide. However, I would definitely recommend the many distilleries and wineries that Kentucky has to offer.

What’s your favorite word?

Serendipity: finding something good without looking for it.

Do you have a favorite font? If so, what is it?

I like Adobe Garamond because that’s the font used in the Harry Potter books.Adobe Garamond

Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? When you were a kid, did you want to do something different as an adult?

I’ve always enjoyed reading books, so I think it was natural for me to want to work with books in some way. However, there was a brief period in time where I wanted to be a sports journalist.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? What’s a random factoid about yourself?

Normally my random fact is that I’m a super crazy cat lady, but most people know that about me by now (my “Cat Mother of the Year” mug is maybe not so subtle…). Something that most people don’t know about me is that my dream is to open a cat sanctuary one day. I’d love to spend my time playing with and giving love to kittens and cats that would be otherwise be left as strays on the streets or worse.

If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?

I would choose Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series because I think we would be best friends.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it?

I just finished reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Love of the Last Tycoon. As a huge Fitzgerald fan, I definitely would recommend it. It is interesting to read an unfinished work and to try to interpret where Fitzgerald was going with the novel based on the notes he left behind.

If someone were to make a movie about your life, who would you hope would play you?

I can only hope that it would be Emma Watson.

Any hidden talents?

I have a decent singing voice. I used to sing in a lot of talent shows and school musicals, in choir and in church, and at any event that had a karaoke machine. Now, I mostly limit my singing to car rides and the occasional sing-along to a Disney movie.

Meet the Press: Mack McCormick, Publicity and Rights Manager

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Name: Mack McCormick
Position: Publicity and Rights Manager
Hometown: Selma, AL

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Tell us a little bit about your position at the press.

My primary responsibility is publicity—writing press releases, mailing review copies, coordinating media interviews for authors, setting up book signings and other events.  I also coordinate the press’s subsidiary rights program. The bulk of our rights activity is translations, though it covers everything from professors who want to use a chapter from one of our books for a course packet to audiobooks to first serial excepts in magazines to movie deals.

What’s one of your favorite UPK titles and why?

There are so many I’ve worked on over the years, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one, so if I’m forced to do so, I’ll pick a more obscure title—Growing Up Hard in Harlan County, by G.C. “Red” Jones. It’s a memoir, originally published in 1985, and brought to the press by Harry Caudill.  We released it in paperback in the early 2000s, shortly after my son was born. It was the first book I read after he was born that I lost sleep reading (and when you’re already short on sleep, it takes something special for you to give up more).  Red Jones led a fascinating life that included running a team of mules through the Appalachians as a preteen, bootlegging, the depression, Bloody Harlan, World War II, and more.

If someone was visiting Kentucky for the first time and you were their tour guide, where would you take them? Any specific restaurants, landmarks, etc.?

It completely depends on who it is and when it is.  If Keeneland is in session, that’s a no-brainer.  It’s an experience and atmosphere you can’t get many other places, but one of the nice things about Lexington is there are lots of options, from historical to cultural to muscial to outdoors to sports.

What’s your favorite word?

It’s hard to pick just one. My favorite phrase might be “Eschew obfuscation.” And while I like both of those words individually, neither rises to favorite. As a category, I’ve always loved a lot of clothing terminology, which is a bit ironic, since I’m not what you would consider a natty dresser. I find myself intrigued by many of those words—tattersall, gaberdine, seersucker, madras, houndstooth (I did graduate from Alabama as well), gingham, muslin—not for their meaning or etymology, but as words themselves. Their sound. Their construction.

Do you have a favorite font? If so, what is it? [if possible, make image of font name in font]

Perhaps Palatino. I’m not a true font geek, though I did see and really liked Helvetica and I do notice and pay attention. I like and use a lot of more modern and streamlined fonts, but if push comes to shove, I’m a fan of old-style fonts, and Palatino is a nice modern version of one. As my eyes have gotten weaker, I’ve grown to appreciate Sabon as well, which is another modern take on an old-style design, but more open and easier on the eyes. It’s also one we’ve used extensively over the years on our film list. Palatino LinotypeHelveticaSabon

Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? When you were a kid, did you want to do something different as an adult?

I started college with a physics major in mind.  I was always good at math (higher math, I need a calculator to add) and science. Second semester calculus disabused me of that notion, and an amazing freshman English class left me an English major. Publishing/writing didn’t enter my mind until I started working on the staff of Marr’s Field Journal, Alabama’s undergraduate literary magazine. The one creative writing class I took there showed me how much better I was on the editing end. I had the ability to write, but not the voice for it or the need to do it. I continued to work in publishing from there—Marr’s Field Journal business manager, then editor; the media planning board at Alabama; Alabama Heritage and Southern Accents magazines; Limestone, Kentucky’s graduate literary journal; then UPK.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? What’s a random factoid about yourself?

I actually alluded to it above—I’m a closet physics junkie. While I can’t follow the math in the journals, I follow the popular press. I subscribe to Scientific American and I have a shelf filled with titles like A Brief History of Time, The Black Hole War, The Meaning of Relativity, The Fabric of the Cosmos, Notes from the Holocene, The Trouble with Physics, and Reality Is Not What it Seems.

If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?

Thursday Next.  If you don’t know who that is, I won’t deprive you of the joy of discovering for yourself.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

The last (non-work-related) book I completed: Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Liu Cixin (The Three Body Problem is the first in the trilogy). If you’re a fan of big, complex space opera (or of contemporary speculative Chinese fiction), yes. Otherwise, there are better introductions to the genre than this amazing, complex trilogy, but if you enjoy those, by all means check this one out.

The books I’m reading now: The Real and the Unreal/The Found and the Lost, by Ursula Le Guin. One is her selected short stories; the other is her collected novellas.  Both are amazing collections from a writer whom we recently lost.  Both are worth a read, though as collections, they’re something I can dip into and out of, so I don’t tend to read those straight through.

Novel I’m reading now: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Phillip Pullman. I’m not far in, but so far so good.  This one is a follow up to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which in my opinion is the best, most ambitious YA fantasy to be published since The Hobbit.  Start there before getting this one, and don’t bother with the movie version of The Golden Compass.  If you have seen it, don’t think it is an honest reflection of the book either.

What’s your favorite song to sing at karaoke and why?

Mack the Knife,” by Bobby Darrin. I have my own theme song, though I was probably 14 or so before I even figured out why so many of my parents friends called me Mack the Knife. If I do get up to sing it though, run—I’m tone deaf and perpetually flat (or so I’ve been told—it sounds on key to me).

If you could live in any TV show, what would it be and why?

The West Wing. Any the “why” should be obvious.

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Meet the Press: Emily Crowe, Marketing Intern

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Name: Emily Crowe
Position: Marketing Intern
Hometown: Frankfort, Kentucky
Alma mater(s); major(s), minor(s): Georgetown College; B.A. in History, Business administration minor (May 2019)

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Tell us a little bit about your position at the press.

As an intern I do whatever they tell me to do! So far this summer my duties have ranged from writing catalog copy and press releases to running UPK’s social media accounts for a week.

What’s one of your favorite UPK titles and why?

Creeker by Linda Scott DeRosier. I read it in my Kentucky History class at Georgetown College, which was taught by Dr. James C. Klotter, another UPK author. I’ve always enjoyed memoirs and biographies, as well as books about Kentucky, so reading about a woman growing up in Appalachia was really interesting to me. This was the first history class that I took in college and I liked it so much that I decided to get my degree in History.

If someone was visiting Kentucky for the first time and you were their tour guide, where would you take them? Any specific restaurants, landmarks, etc.?

Bourbon ‘n Toulouse for chicken étouffée and an Ale 8 would definitely be at the top of the list. The Kentucky History Center in Frankfort holds a special place in my heart because I volunteered there all through high school. Lake Cumberland or the Land Between the Lakes would be ideal for a long weekend. 

What’s your favorite word?

Meander is probably my favorite word. It feels like such a relaxing, casual word and I think it should be used more in conversations.

Do you have a favorite font? If so, what is it?

Not to copy Jackie, but I really like Candara because it’s so simple and sleek.

Candara

Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? When you were a kid, did you want to do something different as an adult?

The book industry has always been a big part of my life because my mom was the manager of the Kentucky Book Fair for fourteen years. My ultimate goal is to work in museum education, but this internship has been a great experience and it’s been a lot of fun learning about marketing.  When I was a kid, I thought, and my family agreed, that I should be a lawyer because I never gave up on an argument.

What’s something most people don’t know about you? What’s a random factoid about yourself?

All my friends and family know this (and are probably sick of hearing about it), but some people might be surprised to learn that I lived in Oxford, England from January to June of this year. I was studying History at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. The best thing about my time there was the fact that I lived 30 seconds away from the Eagle and Child, the pub that J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis visited every day for nearly thirty years.

If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?

Shawn and Gus from Psych. Their humor and friendship is something the world could use a little bit more of these days.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it?

Pride and Prejudice is the last book that I read. After years of my best friend insisting that I read it, I finally took her advice and I wish I had taken it sooner! Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books now and I would definitely recommend it. The characters are incredibly well-written and relatable, despite being written over 200 years ago. It’s the perfect book to read when you want to slow down and focus on someone else’s (fictional) problems for a little while!

Any hidden talents?

I can sing/rap all the way through Hamilton perfectly and from memory.

Name three things you can’t live without.

Ale 8, my dog, Maxx, and Parks and Recreation.

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