KIDNAPPED BY PIRATES! A (MOSTLY) TRUE STORY.
For centuries it was assumed that The Misfortunes of Alonso Ramírez was a work of fiction. Published in Mexico City in 1690 under the auspices of the powerful viceroy of New Spain, and ghost-written by Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora, a literary luminary of the day, this adventure story about a poor Puerto Rican-born carpenter-turned-seafarer who was captured and enslaved by English pirates is considered one of the cultural treasures of colonial Latin America.
One of the reasons for its importance, as Associate Professor of History Fabio López-Lázaro points out in this astonishing work of scholarly sleuthing, The Misfortunes of Alonso Ramírez: The True Adventure of a Spanish American with 17th-Century Pirates (University of Texas Press, 2011), is that the book was a political document that sought to rally Spanish resources against English pirates operating around New Spain and foster a sense of identity for the far-flung, multinational, multicultural inhabitants of Spain’s maritime empire.
The real fireworks in López-Lázaro’s study come from his meticulous archival research and a sort of scholarly triangulation based on accounts from the English pirate William Dampier and other sources that prove “that Ramírez existed and his narrative is not a novel but a historical account, though full of distortions and lies.” Not only that, rather than being enslaved by the English as he claimed, Alonso Ramírez cast his lot with the pirates, then lied and distorted the truth to save himself from prosecution. Alden Mudge
A PARALLEL CALIFORNIA
African-Americans have been in California since at least the late 18th century. In the 1790s they comprised nearly 15 percent of San Francisco’s population and more than 18 percent of Monterey’s. And since arriving in California, black authors have written eloquently about their experiences in letters, memoirs, poetry, and fiction. And yet the variety and expansiveness of this literary history has been long neglected. Redressing that is Black California: A Literary Anthology, the latest volume from the California Legacy Series, a decadelong publishing collaboration of Santa Clara University and Heyday.
Editor Aparajita Nanda, a lecturer in SCU’s English department, writes movingly in her preface about teaching and researching the state’s black literary culture, and her selections in this volume consistently surprise: from mountaineer James Beckwourth’s bittersweet account of his discovery of the northern Sierra pass named for him to Jervey Tervalon’s complicating look at the legacy of Stanley Tookie Williams, who was convicted of four murders but became a changed man (and author of anti-gang violence literature) while on death row in San Quentin.
Selections from David Henderson, Alice Walker, Ishmael Reed, Shaneska Jackson, Paula Woods, and many others demonstrate a remarkable range of literary styles and concerns. If there’s a single recurrent theme here, it is that the experience of racism in its most blatant and its most subtle forms has shaped these writers’ lives and expression. But that is to oversimplify. Because the manner with which these writers tackle prejudice—from comedy to rage—is so textured. And rarely is this the only issue they write about. Love, pleasure, and hope also abound.
The view of California presented here is a parallel one, an instructive counter to “sunny California.” Instead, as editor Nanda writes, Black California compiles “the narrative of black voices that speak of dreams and disasters, of heroic achievements and tragic failures … [and] that beats to the pulse of black California as it animates the printed word.” Alden Mudge
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Do the strains of Simon and Garfunkel’s longing lyric “I wish I was homeward bound” drown out Thomas Wolfe’s admonishment that “You can’t go home again”? While both sentiments exist in the American psyche, Professor of Psychology Jerry M. Burger suggests in his psychological exploration Returning Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2011) that millions of Americans return to their childhood home with largely positive outcomes. Spurred by the desire to connect to the past, overcome a current crisis or concern, or tackle a lingering childhood trauma, approximately one-third of all American adults over the age of 30 visits a childhood home, school, playground, or neighborhood haunt to investigate the personal psychological landscape that becomes fractured and forgotten with time. Burger’s research, based on hundreds of surveys, is largely anecdotal—and peppered with the insightful journeys of everyday folks and the occasional celebrity. While some homeward bounders find their visits disappointing, sad, or a reminder of mortality, others experience intense joy. Most discover a connection to the past that strengthens their sense of identity, a finding in line with Burger’s premise that “The place where we live becomes a part of who we are.” Citing his research as the first empirical work on the subject, Burger points out how little scholarly attention has been given to the common phenomenon of returning home. Indeed, the hundreds of surveys and interviews confirm what many Americans feel in their gut: You can go home again. Caitlin Mohan
EUCHARIST VS. SOLIPSIST
In Eucharist and American Culture (Paulist Press, 2010), Dennis Smolarski, S.J., recalls that the celebration of the Eucharist was originally considered countercultural because of its progressive inclusivity. But times have changed. Individualism trumps unity and community more often than not. Which means that celebrating the Eucharist is, in a very different way, going against the grain; and, in its symbolizing the unity of all humanity, it can be used to restore this lacking sense of community and connectedness that has led many scholars to recognize the “epidemic of loneliness” that has settled into our nation’s identity. Smolarski is professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics. The arguments he sets forth in the book earned it the top prize in the liturgy category from The Catholic Journalist. Jon Teel '12
A SAD TALE'S BEST FOR WINTER
Study of Shakespeare in performance has emerged as a field of increasing interest among scholars of the Bard. Judith Dunbar’s landmark contribution, The Winter’s Tale (Manchester University Press, 2010), illuminates the collaborative artistry involved with staging this play with its rich tragicomic vision. Analysis focuses on significant productions of the 20th and early 21st centuries: from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to productions in Sweden and St. Petersburg, Russia. Dunbar, an associate professor of English, has taught at Santa Clara since 1978. She conducted numerous interviews with directors and actors in shaping the study. What’s the attraction of the play? In part, Dunbar says, “Shakespeare really doesn’t blunt sorrow or the cost of loss, even with the tones of joy and new promise that are in the final scene." Read an extended interview with Dunbar on Shakespeare in this issue. Jon Teel '12