Mark Schafer ’85 is the translator for Before Saying Any of the Great Words: Selected Poems of David Huerta (Copper Canyon Press, 2009), a bilingual anthology of one of Mexico’s foremost living poets, David Huerta. The collection contains translations of 84 of Huerta’s poems selected from 12 of his 19 collections along with the original Spanish-language poems. The book is a powerful antidote to recent news coverage of Mexico that depicts the country as often violent and drug-ridden.
Huerta has been a central figure in two of the most influential poetic movements in late-20th-century Latin America—the neobaroque movement and that of postmodern language poetry. His imagery, intertextuality, and dense lyricism remain unparalleled in Mexican letters. In 2005 he was awarded the prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia Prize for his lifelong contributions to Mexican literature.
A graduate of Wesleyan’s College of Letters, Schafer has worked as a literary translator for 25 years. His career started with his senior year thesis, which he expanded and later published.
He edited and translated Before Saying Any of the Great Words with the support of a NEA translation fellowship. He also has received a variety of honors for his translations including grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Fund for Culture Mexico-USA, an NEA translation fellowship, and the Robert Fitzgerald Translations Prize. Translations in the Huerta anthology previously appeared in more than 15 literary journals, including American Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, BOMB Magazine, Massachusetts Review, Salamander, and Review: Latin American Literature and Arts.
In her ethnographic account, Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley (Duke University Press), Shalini Shankar ’94 focuses on South Asian American teenagers (“Desis”) during the Silicon Valley dot-com boom.
The diverse students whose stories are told are Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, from South Asia and other locations, including first- to fourth-generation immigrants whose parents’ careers vary from assembly-line workers to engineers and CEOs.
Shankar analyzes how Desi teens’ conceptions and realizations of success are influenced by community values, cultural practices, language use, and material culture, and she provides a compassionate portrait of a vibrant culture in a changing urban environment.
Whether she is considering instant messaging, arranged marriages, or the pressures of the model minority myth, the author keeps the teens’ voices, perspectives and stories front and center. She looks at how Desi teens interact with dialogue and songs from Bollywood films as well as how they use their heritage language in ways that inform local meanings of ethnicity while they also connect to a broader South Asian diasporic consciousness.
Shankar is assistant professor of anthropology and Asian American studies at Northwestern University.
Paul Yoon ’02 makes his literary debut with a short story collection, Once the Shore (Sarabande Books), about residents of an imaginary island somewhere off the coast of South Korea. In his eight stories, Yoon introduces characters who live over a span of half a century, several of them working in modern tourism jobs or more traditional fields of fishing, farming, and diving. Yoon often writes about individuals who have suffered great losses in their lives. His imaginary world was inspired by a handful of sources he happened to read, and he did little research for the book.
In the celebrated title story, a horrific accident at sea becomes the catalyst for an unlikely friendship between an American widow and a young waiter at a coastal resort.
This lyrical work was included in The Best American Short Stories 2006. Another story, “And We Will Be Here,” in which a troubled woman takes care of an unconscious soldier, was included this year in the Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories collection.
In her review of the collection in The New York Times, Joan Silber writes that “the beauty of these stories is precisely in their reserve: they are mild and stark at the same time. … Most of the collection’s characters move through events with a resignation or forbearance rare in contemporary fiction. Once the Shore is the work of a large and quiet talent.”
Rebecca N. Hill ’91 is the author of Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti Lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History (Duke University Press) in which she compares two seemingly unrelated types of leftist protest campaigns: those intended to defend labor organizers from prosecution and those seeking to memorialize lynching victims and stop the practice of lynching. Her incisive new study suggests that these forms of protest are related and have considerably influenced one another. She recognizes that both campaigns worked to build alliances through appeals to public opinion in the media, by defining the American state as a force of terror, and by creating a heroic identity for their movements.
Hill focuses on the narratives produced during the abolitionist John Brown’s trials and execution, analyzes the defense of the Chicago anarchists of the Haymarket affair, and compares Ida B. Wells’s and the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaigns to the Industrial Workers of the World’s early 20th-century defense campaigns. She also examines conflicts within the campaign to defend Sacco and Vanzetti, chronicles the history of the Communist Party’s International Labor Defense, and explores the Black Panther Party’s defense of George Jackson.
Hill is an associate professor in the department of social science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York.
Allison returned to Middletown a few years after graduating from Wesleyan and has lived here since.
Most of the poems in this collection have been written in Middletown over the last 20 years.
Allison comments: “I like the word concatenation, meaning: to link in a chain, to describe some of the poems. Many of the poems are concatenations of ideas based in experience. The book as a whole is a concatenation, and strives to make sense through random strings of devotion. I owe much to Rennie McQuilken who collaborated with me on the book.”
Poetry Collection by Susan Allison
A Tune for Harmonica
by Susan Allison
for Thomas Moses
Ladder ladder I descend
down where cocktail parties end.
Landscaped vistas, rarified air—
it’s too freezing cold up there.
Moribund hostesses make me shiver.
I am climbing a ladder down to the river.
Rippled current ocean-bound,
only here do I bow down,
sink my toes in fish-rank muck
soft and warm and full of suck.
My harp sings to the blessing giver.
I am climbing her ladder down by the river.
Tracy Winn ’75 is the author of Mrs. Somebody Somebody (Southern Methodist University Press), a vibrant new collection of interwoven tales about the inhabitants of Lowell, Mass., a dying mill town.
Her affecting and unsentimental stories, set from the 1940s to the present, cover a range of fascinating characters, including mill workers, a doctor, a hairdresser, a bookie, a restless wife, and several insightful children.
In his review of the book in the Boston Globe, Steve Almond ’88 praises Winn’s book as “a testament to the power of the short form.” He adds that her stories “carefully expose the universal desires for love and security that live within all of us — and the ways in which well-meaning but damaged people thwart these desires.”
Winn chose Lowell as her setting because it reminded her of Holyoke, the town where husband grew up. In a recent interview in the Republican (Mass.), Winn said: “You can’t protect your characters from bad things. That was hard for me to learn.”