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.

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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 Bill Perkins Costume Designs

For 2019’s first Found in the LOC, feast your eyes on these 13 thirties-era costume sketches by designer William Perkins.

I haven’t found too much  information about Perkins, but he clearly had a knack for the theatric and an eye for alluring style. Below, you’ll find costumes Perkins designed for a production of William Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, as well as some for Jack Erman’s  The Mystery of the Broadwalk Asylum, a sci-fi tale that, if the notes are correct, starred Martha Wright before she became Broadway sensation.

Most notable are Perkins’ designs for the 1938 premiere of activist Arthur Arent’s One-Third of A Nation.

Produced by the New Deal-era Federal Theater Project, One-Third condemned political leaders for the affordable housing crisis in New York City and other urban areas. The general message: slums and other dilapidated dehumanized and endangered innocent people for capitalist gain. It drew 270,000 viewers in the city alone, and even more once it toured across major urban areas.

You can imagine how this went over in DC: Conservative lawmakers were so incensed that they rallied their forces against the Federal Theater Project and forced its closure the next year.

Above, Perkins’ 1937 sketch of Winter’s Tale‘s Antigonus, the poor schmuck who gets eaten by a bear while abandoning a baby on the king’s orders. But at least he was wearing a gorgeous robe before becoming the beast’s dinner!

See more of Perkins’ mesmerizing sketches AFTER THE JUMP.

And click here for more Found in the LOC.

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Kylie Jenner and The Cult of Self-Made

The internet had a collective meltdown after Forbes described Kylie Jenner as “self-made” last summer. Many critics railed against Jenner’s privileged upbringing; others pointed out socioeconomic systems are inherently unequal; and the rest mostly noted there’s no such thing as self-made — no person’s an island, no lipstick developed alone, and all that.

One’s opinion of Jenner’s self-made status aside, the “self-made mogul” kerfuffle presented a terrific opportunity to explore the origins of “self-made” in America, its centrality in our national myth, and the dangerous expectations it creates.

I didn’t have a chance to write about this very pressing matter when the story first broke, but now, as 2018 comes to a close, here are a few words on Kylie Jenner and the timeless cult of “self-made.”

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Found in the LOC: “Thanksgiving Maskers”

Here’s a fun Thanksgiving fact: American kids used to celebrate the holiday by dressing as bums and other vagrants and went around the neighborhood asking for pennies, candy, and other treats. But it wasn’t as sweet as it sounds.

Check out some images from “Thanksgiving Masking” days past, AFTER THE JUMP.

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Damn The Man/You’re The Man

The dual identity of “the man” in American slang perplexes me. We say “Damn the man” or “Don’t let the man get you down” to sneer at establishment figures, from the police to nameless powers-that-be. Yet at the same time, perhaps even in the same conversation, we praise peers’ success by declaring “You’re the man!” or “You the man!” (“You’re the woman/You the woman” is basically nonexistent, replaced instead with the cheer “You go girl!”)

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Found in the LOC: Cândido Portinari

For this week’s Found in the LOC, here are four neo-realism murals Brazilian painter Cândido Portinari completed for the Library of Congress’ Hispanic Reading Rooms in 1942. The LOC has way more detailed information than I can provide, and I encourage you to check out their essay.

“Discovery of the Land”

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Vicious.

“Vicious” is being used voraciously this week. Donald Trump and his allies are using the word to describe the investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyer Michael R. Bromrich and others are describing Trump’s attacks on Ford in the same way.

Though we most often associate “vicious” with wild animals, it comes from the Latin lexeme “vitiosus”, meaning “depraved” or “wicked.” In essence, both Trump and his nemeses are calling the other wicked, a reality that cuts to the wick of the problem of bitter, seemingly intractable partisanship that’s blanketed America: it’s a fight for the very soul of Americas, a fight for the very definition of  right and wrong in America. It really should be no contest, but, alas, too many people have been beguiled by the Trumpeteer.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Drinking Problem

Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony last week made me want to wretch. And it wasn’t just for his grotesque display of white male rage at — the gall! — having to explain himself. Nor was it Kavanaugh’s “One of my closest friends to this day is a woman who was sexually abused” remark, though that was something truly repulsive. What really irked me, as a recovering alcoholic, was Kavanaugh’s repeated implications that his successes preclude a potential drinking problem. In the Supreme Court nominee’s mind, someone like him — a Yale graduate, a golden man-child, a former football player — could never have a drinking problem. Kavanaugh never said this outright, but this odious misconception wafted through the subtext like a stale beer.

I caught the first real whiff during Kavanaugh’s tense exchange with Senator Mazie Hirono, after the Democrat from Hawaii asked Kavanaugh if he’d been a heavy drinker in college. Kavanaugh, floundering and seething at this suggestion, deflected: “I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.” While Kavanaugh’s entire defense that day was built around his triumphs, here he was using his CV more pointedly: to nullify any implication of a drinking problem. In Kavanaugh’s eyes, academic and professional success not only negate any responsibility for alleged alcohol abuse — he made up for it in gold stars —, but the very possibility of alcohol abuse in the first place.

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