About two months ago, I attended my baby nephew’s bris, the Jewish circumcision ceremony. A week later, in writing class, my professor assigned us the task of writing about a fad, a cultural phenomenon that had gained a puzzling amount of popularity. Her examples were pink flamingos and zombies. I settled on male circumcision.
“So, tell me what each of you have been working on,” says poet-essayist Jane Satterfield, glancing around the table at me and the other creative writing students. She adjusts her glasses, then picks up a pen, ready to take notes as each of us responds. Her voice is quiet but articulate, with a lilt not unlike the compassionate tone of a therapist. She mentions nothing about the dedicated trek she just made up to Towson, hopping off a plane from Chicago that morning and trudging through slush from the previous day’s snowstorm. Instead, she had begun the night’s master class on her essays by passing out sheets of blue cardstock to each student for name cards.
Since I discovered literary-minded psychologist and writer Maria Konnikova, I’ve been reading through her long history of blogs for Scientific American and Big Think. As a published writer who crosses genres and also holds a doctorate of psychology, Konnikova is right up there on my list of “people I want to become.”
I just started taking a creative nonfiction course at Goucher College a few weeks ago, and have been busily brushing up on what exactly “creative nonfiction” encompasses and learning to shush that voice in my head that asks, “what’s so interesting about your life? What has happened to you that’s worth writing about?”
I’m a huge fan of Coursera, but have been waiting for awhile for an Introduction to Sociology course to start-up. When I was looking around online for other free sociology self-study options, I stumbled upon the Saylor Foundation, a DC-based nonprofit dedicated to providing and supporting free education. In 2008, Saylor started an initiative to provide free educational resources online. I hadn’t heard of the project before, so I was pleasantly surprised to find such a range of high-quality educational content on their website.
Review of Swamplandia by Karen Russell
Note: This review contains spoilers
After receiving many recommendations for Swamplandia, I finally set out to decide for myself whether I was a fan of Karen Russell, who was recently awarded a 2013 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” I was intrigued by the title and the premise of the novel: Among the mystical no-mans land of the Florida Everglades lies Swamplandia, an alligator-wrestling theme park run by the Bigtree “tribe.” Admirers of the Seminole culture and all things fantastical, the (white) Bigtrees live amongst the Seths (gators), diving into pits of the toothy reptiles in front of a roaring crowd for show. Thirteen-year-old Ava, our main character, wants desperately to follow in the footsteps of her mother, Hilola Bigtree, the fierce, legendary alligator wrestler responsible for Swamplandia’s success.
As an insider to the academic publishing field, I’ve long been enamored with the University of California Press. Somehow they’ve avoided many of the common mistakes of scholarly publishers, such as locking down intellectual property and restricting new, alternative ways of accessing content. Their website is current and belies a keen business sense, which is especially impressive considering they’re a university press. The homepage features videos and podcasts of the authors discussing their works. And their content is stellar, covering fascinating, not-just-for-the-academics topics such as a sociologist’s undercover analysis of the economics of beauty in the modeling industry, and retellings of Californian Indian legends.