Latin American Studies Alumnus Chronicles Peace Corps Journey in ‘Different Latitudes’

image of bookAs graduation looms right around the corner, many soon-to-be UT alums will be traveling far and wide on missions to change the world. From the Peace Corps to Teach for America, our jet-setting Longhorns will be making an impact in high-need regions of the world. In a book titled “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond” (Peace Corps Writers, April 2017), Latin American Institute alumnus Mark D. Walker chronicles his Peace Corps journey in various countries beset by poverty and political corruption.

Synapsis (from the publisher): Summer, 1971. A naive young man must decide his path upon graduation from a small university in Colorado. Amidst the turmoil of the counterculture years and the looming possibility of being sent to Vietnam, he concludes that he wants to travel, serve, and, if possible, save the world. As a Peace Corps volunteer Mark embarks on a vigorous cross-cultural experience in a Caribbean and two Central American countries, with a final stop in one of the more isolated areas of the highlands of Guatemala.

Though beset with a fear of the unknown and feelings of profound isolation due to being the only volunteer in a remote village, he eventually gets to know and appreciate the people of the rural communities he is privileged to live among. After a near-death experience takes him to another part of Guatemala and eventually to a horse town, Mark meets the love of his life, Ligia, who will bear him three children and be part of a lifelong commitment to and appreciation of this beautiful and unique country. Much of the courtship process will take place on a coffee plantation owned by Ligia’s family, where Mark experiences a different side of Guatemalan society.

While Ligia selflessly abandons her own career to focus on establishing a stable bi-cultural home for their three children during the violent Guatemalan Civil War, Mark’s “wanderlust” takes him on a four month solo trek through Latin America and then a country change based on threats from a guerrilla group. Mark’s 13-year career promoting rural development through various international NGOs begins when he sets up a local development agency in Guatemala to help the poorest of the poor, whose plight is at least partially due to the policies of his own government.

Eventually family circumstances force a radical career change and a return to the United States to begin a 30-year calling. Inspired by the “extreme do-gooders” he’d met along his journey, he takes some of the wealthiest American families in the world to meet some of the world’s poorest in some of the most isolated, unstable countries. This leads to many adventures, with both wealthy and poor growing from their shared experiences.

Mark’s career comes to a sudden and unexpected turn after he is let go as the CEO of one of these international NGOs, and this frees him up to focus on his three children and  six grandchildren. This twist in the road also provides a new opportunity to reflect on what he has accomplished, where he’s failed, and where the international NGO community has come up short. Different Latitudes is more than a travel memoir. It is a tale of physical and spiritual self-discovery through Latin American, African, European, and Asian topography, cuisine, politics and history.

Visit the author’s website to learn more about his good work in publishing and human rights advocacy.

GSC Education Coordinator Kristen Hogan Nominated for Lambda Literary Award

image of bookDr. Kristen Hogan, education coordinator at the Gender and Sexuality Center, has been nominated for a 2017 Lambda Literary Award, a prestigious honor that celebrates the best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year.

Hogan’s book “The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism and Feminist Accountability,” is one of eight publications nominated for the award under the LGBTQ nonfiction category. The nationally and internationally renowned award (known as the “Lammys”) brings together 600 attendees—including nominees, celebrities, sponsors and publishing executives—to celebrate excellence in LGBTQ publishing.

Winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on Monday, June 12  at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Visit this website for more details.

Check out her ShelfLIfe Q&A for more about the book.

Save the Date! Novelist Margot Livesey to Give Reading Feb. 16

image of author The UT Michener Center for Writers‘ author in residence, Margot Livesey, will give a reading on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302 on UT campus at the southeast corner of Speedway and 24th Streets.

Livesey published her first book, a collection of stories called Learning By Heart, with Penguin Canada in 1986. Since then she has published seven novels: Homework, Criminals, The Missing World, Eva Moves the Furniture, Banishing Verona and The House on Fortune Street, and The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Her eighth novel, Mercury, was published in September 2016 by HarperCollins.

Margot has taught at several prominent universities, including Boston University, Carnegie Mellon, Emerson College, Brandeis University, Bowdoin College, Tufts University, UC Irvine, and Williams College. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the N.E.A., the Massachusetts Artists’ Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts.  Margot is currently teaching at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Alice Sebold says, “Every novel of Margot Livesey’s is, for her readers, a joyous discovery. Her work radiates with compassion and intelligence and always, deliciously, mystery.”

Parking is available in the nearby UT San Jacinto Garage, and the event is free and open to the public.  For more information, contact Marla Akin, MCW assistant director, 512-471-8444.

 

Faculty Book Talk: ‘The Price for Their Pound of Flesh’

Image of book Tonight Daina Berry, professor of history and African and African Diaspora Studies, will discuss her book “The Price for Their Pound of Flesh” (Beacon Press, ’17) at 6 p.m. in the Gordon-White Building.

The book is the culmination of more than ten years of Berry’s research on enslaved values, drawing on data unearthed from sources such as slave-trading records, insurance policies, cemetery records and life insurance policies. Writing with sensitivity and depth, she resurrects the voices of the enslaved and provides a rare window into enslaved peoples’ experiences and thoughts, revealing how enslaved people recalled and responded to being appraised, bartered and sold throughout the course of their lives. Reaching out from these pages, they compel the reader to bear witness to their stories, to see them as human beings, not merely commodities.

The event is free and open to the public.

New Book Illuminates Interdisciplinary Insights into National Security

image of book cover As the presidential election draws to a close, many voters are asking how our next president will handle national security threats. In a forthcoming book, “Sustainable Security: Rethinking American National Security Strategy,” co-editor Jeremi Suri brings this critical issue to the forefront.

The book (Oxford University Press, December 1, 2016) brings together 16 leading scholars from across political science, history, and political economy to highlight a range of American security considerations that deserve a larger role in both scholarship and strategic decision-making.

In these chapters, scholars of political economy and the American defense budget examine the economic engine that underlies U.S. military might and the ways the country deploys these vast (but finite) resources. Historians illuminate how past great powers coped with changing international orders through strategic and institutional innovations. And regional experts assess America’s current long-term engagements, from NATO to the chaos of the Middle East to the web of alliances in Asia, deepening understandings that help guard against both costly commitments and short-sighted retrenchments.

This interdisciplinary volume sets an agenda for future scholarship that links politics, economics, and history in pursuit of sustainable security for the United States – and greater peace and stability for Americans and non-Americans alike.

More about the co-editor: Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at UT Austin. He is a history professor in the College of Liberal Arts and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Suri is the author and editor of seven books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. His research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America’s “Top Young Innovators” in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.

The 2016 Texas Book Festival is Upon Us!

Whether you are looking to find your next read or just a fun weekend excursion, look no further than the Texas Book Festival! The annual book fest is slated for Nov. 5-6 at the Texas Capitol and surrounding areas. Hundreds of authors will showcase their works in panel discussions, book tents, cooking demonstrations and more.

In addition to the many celebrity authors, the lineup also features UT Austin alumni, faculty and staff, including Dr. Leonard Moore, professor of history and senior associate vice president of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. He will be moderating a book talk with Derek Chollet, author of The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World on Sunday, Nov. 6 in the C-SPAN2/ Book TV Tent.

27217264About the book: In this inside assessment of Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy, Derek Chollet tackles the prevailing consensus to argue that Obama has profoundly altered the course of American foreign policy for the better and positioned the United States to lead in the future.

The Long Game combines a deep sense of history with new details and compelling insights into how the Obama Administration approached the most difficult global challenges. With the unique perspective of having served at the three national security power centers during the Obama years—the White House, State Department, and Pentagon—Chollet takes readers behind the scenes of the intense struggles over the most consequential issues: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the meltdown of Syria and rise of ISIS, the Ukraine crisis and a belligerent Russia, the conflict in Libya, the tangle with Iran, the turbulent relationship with Israel, and the rise of new powers like China.

An unflinching, fast-paced account of U.S. foreign policy, The Long Game reveals how Obama has defied the Washington establishment to redefine America’s role in the world, offering important lessons for the next president.

The 2015 winners of the Youth Fiction Writers Contest.

Winners of the 16th annual Youth Fiction Writing Contest.

The festival will also include its annual Youth Fiction Writing Contest. Hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the contest encourages and rewards creative writing in Texas schools. Junior and high school Texas students are invited to submit a piece of original fiction, no more than 2,000 words in length. The submissions are judged by Texas Book Festival authors, local educators and leaders in the publishing industry.

Visit the Texas Book Festival website for the full schedule of events.

UT Austin Alum Pens Essay on Diversity in Higher Ed

image of bookLast summer, a federal appeals court panel ruled that UT Austin can continue using race as a factor in undergraduate admissions as a way of promoting diversity on campus.

In the wake of the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin ruling, a group of scholars penned a series of essays examining campus diversity issues in colleges and universities across the nation. UT Austin alumnus Dr. Craig Carroll (Philosophy/Journalism, Ph.D., ’04) is among this group of distinguished authors who make the case for diversity as essential to higher education and society.

During his time at UT Austin, Craig participated in the IE Pre-Graduate School Internship, a program that connects undergraduates with faculty and graduate students to help them discover their academic interests.

Read more about the book titled Our Compelling Interests: The Value of Diversity for Democracy and a Prosperous Society (Princeton University Press, 2016). in this Inside Higher Education Q&A.

‘Just Mercy’ Author Bryan Stevenson to Speak at Campus Event Sept. 27

image of author The Seminary of the Southwest is hosting a talk by Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Sept. 27, 7 p.m. at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Auditorium.

Stevenson is a renowned lawyer and faculty member at NYU School of Law who has represented capital defendants and prisoners for more than 30 years. Stevenson’s work has garnered international acclaim, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” and the Olof Palme Prize in Sweden for human rights, and he is the author of the New York Times bestseller book “Just Mercy,” which will soon be made into a major motion picture starring Michael B. Jordan.

The event is in partnership with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law. Visit this website for more information.

More about the book: “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” is a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.
 
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

“Just Mercy” is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice

Words that Wake Us: A Guest Post by YA Author Ashley Hope Pérez

image of author Out of Darkness is set in Texas, and it takes the 1937 New London school explosion as the backdrop for a secret romance between an African American boy and a Mexican American girl. It’s a book about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

When I began Out of Darkness, my goal was to write a historical novel that would capture experiences largely excluded from the sanitized historical accounts in Texas history books. I wanted to approach the past in a way that would also prompt my readers to think more deeply about the present and the shape of the world around us.

Growing up in East Texas, I heard powerful stories of loss and of survival related to the natural gas explosion that killed nearly 300 students and teachers. But I was driven even more by the stories I didn’t find collected in the archival materials on the disaster. Because the New London school was intended to serve white children, historical accounts of the explosion focused on the tragedy as the white community experienced it; no one recorded how people of color in the area had responded or how they viewed the disaster.

image of book cover Gaps in the historical record catalyzed my imaginings of the two teenaged characters at the center of Out of Darkness: African American Washington Fuller and Mexican American Naomi Vargas. They meet in East Texas, where Wash is a long time native and the son of the New London Colored School’s superintendent. Naomi is a beautiful and painfully shy high school senior who has just moved to New London with her younger twin half-siblings, Beto and Cari (short for Roberto and Caridad). They’ve come to East Texas from San Antonio to live with the twins’ white stepfather so that the children can attend the New London School. The lighter-skinned twins quickly settle into their new life, but Naomi encounters hostility and racism. Wash helps her navigate the day-to-day demands of her new life, befriends the twins, and awakens Naomi to her own desire for love and freedom. Wash and Naomi’s love grows through secret meetings and stolen moments in the woods, but they know that they can’t hide forever. What they don’t know, though, is that the worst school disaster in U.S. history awaits, threatening to shatter the school, the community, and their hopes for a future where they can be together.

Because Out of Darkness is set in the South during the 1930s, color lines shape the story. In San Antonio, for example, Naomi and the twins are forced to attend “Mexican” schools with overcrowded classrooms and underqualified teachers. In East Texas, Wash attends a “colored” school with a shorter school day and year, and Naomi is sent to the back entrance of New London’s only grocery store. Although forced segregation of schools and communities may be a thing of the past, the effects—and reality—of segregation linger on. Wash experiences the heightened vulnerability that still characterizes the lives of many today, as evidenced in the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride, to cite just two examples. Racism and violence have deep roots in our history, and these roots are among the painful legacies that Out of Darkness examines.

James Baldwin once noted that, in the U.S., “words are mostly used to cover the sleeper, not wake him up.”

Reading fiction is no substitute for engagement with the world around us. I hope, nevertheless, that Out of Darkness confronts readers with words that that wake them to the human cost of racialized violence and wake them to the need for change in our communities.

About the author: In addition to Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of the YA novels The Knife and the Butterfly, and What Can’t Wait. She grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel. Read her Q&A here.

 

A Peek Inside ‘Circuit Riders for Mental Health’

book coverIn honor of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health’s 75th anniversary, we’re shining the spotlight on a forthcoming book by Texas A&M social and cultural historian William S. Bush. In Circuit Riders for Mental Health: The Hogg Foundation and the Transformation of Mental Health in Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2016), Bush tells the story of the Hogg Foundation’s central role in transforming the way we think, talk, and make policy about mental health in Texas and the nation. It also provides portrayals of the visionary men and women who pushed relentlessly to improve mental health for the people of Texas.

A community partner of the DDCE, the Hogg Foundation has been advancing recovery and wellness in Texas and across the nation since it was established in 1940 by “The First Lady of Texas” Ima Hogg. Read more about the foundation’s early beginnings in this excerpt from the book. Visit www.hogghistory.org to read more chapters.

On the evening of Wednesday, February 12, 1941, Homer Rainey, the president of The University of Texas, took the stage of the university’s Hogg Auditorium. He was there for the formal inauguration ceremony of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Hygiene.

In the audience were university faculty members, elected and appointed state officials, members of the news media, prominent Texas philanthropists, and nationally recognized experts in the emerging field of mental health.

As a privately endowed philanthropy housed within a public university, the Hogg Foundation was structurally unique. It also stood out as the only organization of its kind in the nation to be devoted solely to mental health.

Rainey told the audience that they were present for “some real history in the making” that night. The new foundation, he explained, “is going to play the most important role in the redirection of education for the next 20 years – mental health for the normal man.”

Rainey was hardly alone in holding this seemingly grandiose view. Public anticipation of the foundation’s inauguration had been building for nearly two years, ever since the announcement in July 1939 that the Hogg family had made a $2.5 million bequest to establish a “mental health program” at the state’s flagship university.

During the year prior to the inaugural ceremony, Rainey fielded a steady stream of inquiries from across Texas and other parts of the country. The writers were graduate students, university professors, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, community groups in Texas, researchers in Chicago, professionals in Los Angeles and Boston, and private citizens from across Texas.

Clearly, the coming of the Hogg Foundation had tapped into a wellspring of excitement, as expressed in one handwritten letter: “I almost can’t believe this wonderful news. I am only twenty-three years old, a recent college graduate – but I know the need and value of such a program. I just thrill to think that Texas will enjoy the privileges of this work. I want to have a part in it. I want to work – and I have long yearned, really, to be allowed to enter this type of work. I know that I haven’t the necessary specialized training and experience for the technical, scientific side of the work, but isn’t there something I could do?”

The ceremony thus held different meanings for its varied participants. For its hosts at The University of Texas, it announced a new financial endowment from a prominent Texas family. Other observers looked to the new foundation as a source of support for social reform, not only for its stated purpose to promote “mental hygiene for the people of Texas” but for its association with the Hogg family, which had built a reputation for deploying its wealth for the public good.

For Robert Lee Sutherland, the inaugural director of the Hogg Foundation, it was the beginning of what would prove his life’s great mission: to use the foundation as a vehicle for improving mental health not only for the people of Texas, but for the nation.

For Ima Hogg, it was a memorial for her beloved brother Will, who had died while on a trip with her to Europe, and whose estate provided the money for the foundation.

It was also, for “Miss Ima,” a statement of the kind of future she hoped the foundation would help bring into existence.

It was a future in which people with mental health challenges would be treated with respect and dignity, and mental health would be seen as indivisible from all other aspects of a flourishing and healthy life. Over the decades Texas has come some distance toward realizing that vision, in no small part thanks to the work the Hogg Foundation and its allies have done.

There remains a great deal to be done, however, and the foundation is as engaged in the hard work of realizing Miss Ima’s vision as it has ever been. Under the leadership of psychiatrist Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., the foundation’s fifth executive director, it is deeply involved in reforming and improving mental health practices and policies in Texas at every level of the system.