….Don’t forget WW Norton/Countryman Press recently published my first endeavor, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History, in which I use humor and cultural analysis to show how this seemingly simple structure shaped the complex American identity, for better and for worse.
Just passing along two stories I wrote recently, both related to my book, The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History.
The first, for The Daily Beast, is all about the iconic cabin’s dark side, i.e. its use in slave trade and to demolish Indian traditions. Cheery stuff.
The second piece, written for Salon, revolves around dead presidents and why we idolize their mythical cabins.
A few weeks ago, at the website Timeline, the writer Meagan Day wrote an article about the Kaweah Colony, a short-lived, circa 1886-1892 socialist commune in what is now Sequoia National Forest, and which was crushed railroad conglomerates and other capitalist forces.
It was exciting to see some coverage of this little-known outpost and its dissolution. I myself only learned about Kaweah because the cabins they build showed up during research for my book, and was fascinated enough to drum up an 8,100+ word draft about the colony, its founding and its ultimate end, an end finalized by capitalist interests but brought about in part by colony infighting and paranoia. The piece went nowhere. I submitted it to one or two sites, but who wants to read 8,100 words, especially on something so esoteric?
In any event, while I appreciated the Timeline piece, I found it incomplete. In addition to overlooking the group’s internal conflicts, including a spin-off colony, the piece also didn’t mention the inglorious fact that Kaweah’s founders were xenophobic racists and misogynists. It’s an unfortunate truth that sullies the romantic image, and I admit I struggled with how to address it when I first pursued what seemed to be a fairly straight-forward and timeless tale, but Kaweah’s ugly underbelly is essential to remember nonetheless. It also makes one wonder, as I did in my scuttled piece, whether we’re better off Kaweah was crushed and scattered to the four corners. Does the world need another enclave of white supremacists, even on under the guise of cooperative living? That’s a hard no.*
All that said, here is an unedited excerpt from my unpublished piece. It picks up right after the colony’s Bay Area-based founders, Burnette G. Haskell, James J. Martin and John Redstone, decide to break away from San Francisco and start their own society in the woods.
(*It’s worth noting that California which so many of us envision as a sunshine-y liberal haven, is also a hotbed of white supremacists.)
(This is the first in what will be an ongoing series, “Found in the L.O.C.,” the Library of Congress.)
Chance played an instrumental role in artist Gordon Parks’ genre-spanning career. That’s both chance, as in “happenstance,” and chance, as in “taking a risk.” The former came early, and in fact catalyzed his career: The man who developed Parks’ film was impressed by the young shutterbug’s eye and suggested that he start taking photos for an upscale women’s fashion shop. That was 1937; Parks was a 25-year old black man. Applying for such a gig was the first occupational chance he took.
Up until then Parks, born dirt poor in Ft. Scott, Kansas and now living in St. Paul, had been working in bars and brothels, playing piano, singing and collecting used glasses to make ends meet. Once rent was made and food consumed, Parks spent what was left on Life and other glossy photo magazines, magazines he absorbed voraciously and that inspired him to save up for a camera. Soon he was snapping shots of life around him, i.e.: the somewhat seam side of night life, and that’s how he met the developer who encouraged him to go pro. And Parks didn’t stop taking chances for another 68 years.