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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, Melinda Gates... and me!

Today is International Day of the Girl! To mark the occasion, asked a selection of women what advice they would give to their fifteen-year-old selves. The women include Oprah Winfrey, Arianna Huffington, Melinda Gates... and me! You can read my advice, as well as that of Christiane Amanpour, Queen Rania of Jordan, Fabiola Gianotti, Victoria Azerenka, Maria Shriver, Zaha Hadid, Maria Sharapova, and few others on's "Leading Women" page. I get a little vertigo being in such august company!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"intellectual espresso"

Michelle McCrary, who runs the terrific website Is That Your Child?, blogged a few weeks ago about Racial Innocence. I was so happy that Michelle put my book into dialogue with the issues confronted by contemporary parents, particularly those in multicultural families. The blog post received a lot of attention, so Michelle invited me to speak on her radio program. We spoke last night for almost an hour, and it was one of the most stimulating and enjoyable interviewing experiences I've ever had. Michelle asked the most insightful, penetrating questions about the history of race, childhood, and especially toys. We talked about topsy-turvy dolls, the Clark Doll Tests, nineteenth-century black dolls, innocence, and many, many other topics--including, ultimately, the possibility of anti-racist resistance. We could have talked for hours!

Michelle has deftly edited our interview and posted it on iTunes, Libsyn and on Stitcher (for mobile users and tablet users). She also blogged again about the book as well as our interview, and the interview is posted on that webpage. In her very kind introduction to the interview, Michelle called my book "intellectual espresso," and she said, "This is a really excellent book. I can't stop raving about it, and I can't stop encouraging people enough to just go out there and get it." Michelle also added a postscript to the interview in which she shared her own thoughts about the contemporary criminalization of black children, racist sports mascots, and Joel Chandler Harris. She also made some great points about how racial innocence lives on in the claims of contemporary white adults, especially members of the tea party, who wax nostalgic for an imagined past in which African Americans "knew their place." Michelle McCrary is one of the most thoughtful, closest readers I've ever had. I loved talking with her, and I hope for opportunities to continue the conversation. Thank you, Michelle McCrary, and hats off to!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Winner, Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize, New England American Studies Association

Racial Innocence has won the Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize, given by the New England American Studies Association. I am thrilled and honored to win this award, and I thank the NEASA and in particular the Rudnick prize committee: Aaron Lecklider, Jeffrey Meriwether, and chair Ben Railton (who runs the terrific website American Studier). I am especially pleased because Lois P. Rudnick's research was useful to my own. Lois Rudnick is a wonderful literary scholar and biographer who has written many books on modernism and the "new woman," and in particular on Mabel Dodge Luhan, the famous patron of the arts who was in social circles that included, in Paris, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and, in Taos, New Mexico, Georgia O'Keeffe. In Racial Innocence, I cite an astonishing passage from Intimate Memories, The Autobiography of Mabel Dodge Luhan, which Rudnick edited. In this memoir, Luhan recalls how, as a girl, she sadistically attacked the genital region of a black doll. The memory is offered with no apology or embarrassment; if anything, Luhan relates the racist violence with relish (she recalls that the attack on the doll aroused in her girl-self "a queer delicious kind of pleasure, both mysterious and yet familiar"). The incident is one of the most vicious and disturbing that I recount in my book (you can read about Luhan's attack on the doll on pages 209-210 in my book and pp. 17-18 in Intimate Memories). Rudnick's new book, The Suppressed Memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan: Sex, Syphilis, and Psychoanalysis in the Making of Modern American Culture, was just published this year by the University of New Mexico Press, and I hear that the violence in that book is even more disturbing. I haven't read that book yet, but I certainly will soon.

Sometimes I have mixed feelings about the amplitude of violence that I document in my book. But then I am reminded that no matter how much violence I recount, there is infinitely more in history. I wanted my book to historicize violence in a new way--especially by taking seriously the violence perpetrated by white children like Mabel Dodge Luhan. I thank the NEASA for honoring this project, even as it brings to light so much pain.