Joe Magarac Is Every Immigrant

 

Meet Joe Magarac. He’s basically the Paul Bunyan of steel. He’s 7 feet tall, like Paul; he’s a workhorse, like Paul; and, like Paul, he’s superhuman: lumberjack Bunyan’s ax-swing could clear an entire forest, while Magarac’s made of 100% steel, like Colossus from the X-Men. And both men represent their respective industries’ crucial roles in America’s development. But Bunyan’s symbolic reach is bound to the Northwoods forests from which he hails; immigrant Magarac, on the other hand, illustrates a broader American experience, and a more timeless one, too.

Continue reading

Found in the LOC: 7 Augustus Washington Daguerreotypes

It’s unclear what ambitions Augustus Washington had growing up in Trenton, NJ, circa the 1820s and 1830s. It definitely wasn’t daguerreotypist. But a daguerreotypist he became – in 1843, to pay for his tuition at Dartmouth.

While growing student debt forced him from school one year later, daguerreotypes stuck, and became Washington’s bread and butter: He opened his own studio in Hartford, CT, in 1846, where he spent the next handful of years taking pictures of locals looking to experience his new-fangled technology.  Below you see an ad for said studio, with the caption, “Washington is at home, and daily executing beautiful and correct Miniatures, equal to any in this country, at his uncommonly cheap prices.”

But Washington was more than a talented artist. He was an activist. The son of a former slave father and an Asian mother, Washington fought racial injustice his whole life. But “that curious institution” of slavery was still extremely entrenched in the 1840s and 1850s; Washington was well aware he and his allies faced an uphill battle, and at times he felt hopeless, an emotion evident in this 1851 quote Washington gave the New York Tribune:

“Strange as it may appear, whatever may be a colored man’s natural capacity and literary attainments, I believe that, as soon as he leaves the academic halls to mingle in the only society he can find in the United States, unless he be a minister or lecturer, he must and will retrograde.”

Washington grew so frustrated with America’s intractable discrimination that in 1853 he moved his family – a wife and two children – to Liberia, where many like-minded black Americans were establishing their own nation.

Once there, Washington took his place behind the camera again, this time turning his lens to burgeoning Liberia’s political, military, and social elite. Below are a few of those images. In each and every one we see self-assuredness, independence and pride, all evidence of the subjects’ and Liberia’s determination to create something beautiful, a new world, from something grotesque, old hate.

These are some of Washington’s last professional images. He transitioned from daguerreotypes to the more lucrative sugar cane business in the late 1850s, and then to politics: He was both a congressman and senator in the 1860s, including a stint as speaker of Liberia’s House of Representatives, from 1865-1869. Washington died in 1875, having never again setting foot inside the States.

Here, in case you’re interested – and you should be – are lucky number 7 of Washington’s daguerreotypes, all taken during his early years in the then-new nation of Liberia, and all Found in the LOC.

Continue reading

Walking Paris in ‘What’s Left of the Night’

I’ve been slacking around these parts lately on account of a new job, but I aim to get back up to full speed ASAP. As I do, please ruminate on this stirring excerpt from What’s Left of the Night, Ersi Sotiropoulos’ soulful  and erotic account of C.P. Cavafy’s 1897 visit to Paris, when the Egyptiot Greek poet was 34,  still unknown, and finding his creative voice.

Exquisitely translated by Karen Emmerich, What’s Left of the Night delves into more than Cavafy’s personal experiences as a man struggling with his same-sex desires in restrictive era. It shines a light on far more universal debates about the nature of art in an ever-changing world. Does art bring people together or form a barrier? How is artistic success defined? And when does artistic desire become obsession?

These enthralling topics aside, I’d like to call out Sotiropoulos’ masterful description, and Emmerich’s resonant translation, of walking through the city.

As someone who spent 12 years in New York, where walking is a way of life, before moving three years ago to Atlanta, where the car is king, this passage sparked pangs of nostalgia for the biped life.

Here, for your enjoyment, is that excerpt. It takes place just as night falls across Paris and a young  Constantine Peter Cavafy takes a solo stroll. While the backdrop’s the City of Lights specifically, the vibe translates to any bustling urban environ:

“He soon began to feel better. The current of the crowd flowed in the direction of the grand boulevards, over wide sidewalks dotted with cafes, beneath awnings and into arcades where strangers’ silhouettes fleetingly took shape, then vanished again.

A blind river pulled him into its current. He inhaled deeply and followed that vibrant ripple in the hum and dust. Crowds overflowed the intersections, lingered at shop windows before indolently setting off again beside stylish coaches and one-horse buggies that clattered away into the lilac night. Newspaper boys on street corners bellowed out the latest news. Where the road met Rue des Pyramides he stopped and stood as if hypnotized. Faces rushed toward him, shattering as they passed. The traffic began an utter crush at Rue di Rivoli, where the arches of the Lourvre loomed like a domed seawall. Groups of friends disappeared down side streets. Their stroll would no doubt take them, later on, to more remote districts, off the beaten path. Secret, ill-famed neighborhoods. Shadowy doorways and basement rooms, he though, feeling a flutter within.

A mob of musicians was just ahead of him, lurching this way and that, laughing and shouting drunkenly. One of them was dragging a monkey by the hand, dressed like a soldier with a little cap. He increased his speed so as to overtake them. Light flooded the paving stones, spread over the facades of the buildings, trailed over the silvery roofs — a fluid, shadowless light. As he walked, the lines of a poem he was writing came to mind. Every so often he would pick it up, poke and prod, then let it be. He had looked back at it recently and had been satisfied. Very satisfied. It didn’t happen often. The musicality was flawless, the rhyme effective:

The city will follow you. The roads you wander will be

The same. And in the same quarters you’ll grow old, and see.”

What’s Left of the Night is out now from New Vessel Press, an independent publishing house devoted to translated literature and narrative nonfiction, and I’m happy to add it to All the LGBT Books Around My House.

Racial Injustice in ‘Heart’ and ‘Ragtime’

Two classic American novels, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Ragtime, expose an ongoing American tragedy.

The novels The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Ragtime appear as different as night and day. Carson McCullers’s Heart takes place in the post-war Georgia circa 1930, E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime the pre-war New York City of 1902-1912; Heart revolves around solitude among outcasts in a rural berg, Ragtime around glitzy dreams in a churning, syncopated metropolis. Yet both books’ plots are propelled by a black man’s thwarted quest for justice — a sad story that continues to be told today.

Continue reading

Friday Mood Music: Chuck Berry


It’s Friday! It’s also the first day of Black History Month.

That said, there is no better fit for this week’s “Friday Mood Music” than Chuck Berry, the St. Louis-born musician whose regarded as the unofficial father of rock and roll. This here footage’s from a 1965 performance for the French program, Face au Public, and the tracks include “Promised Land” and, of course, “Johnny B. Goode.”

Have a great weekend!

Found in the LOC: 13 Woodcuts from 1720

For this week’s Found in the LOC, I present 13 gorgeous woodcuts by Tachibana Morikuni.

Information on Morikuni is few and far between, but I learned he was born in 1679 in Osaka, and was trained in the art of woodcutting by a man named Tsuruzawa Tanzan. I also discovered Morikuni published three books: 1714’s Ehon kojidan (Old Stories about Illustrated Picture Books), Ehon utsushi takarabukuro (A Treasure Pouch of Picture Book Sketches) in 1720, and Unpitsu soga (Strokes of the Brush and Rough Pictures), posthumously, in 1749, one year after his death.

His legacy, however, lived on his apprentice and son, Tachibana Yasukuni, whose work is also in the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress dates the Morikuni images here circa 1720. Featuring foxes, rams,  horses, cats, and even boars, Morkikuni’s art is quite the menagerie. Above you see “Domestic cat nursing kittens.” Some beauty never goes out of style.

And click here for more Found in the LOC.

Continue reading

MLK Jr. On Getting ‘Woke’ in 1965

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.

Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement.  He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s speech that day, as well as audio from a 1968 delivery in DC.

Continue reading