Another Positive CHOICE Review: For Insider Histories, Part 2

It’s never happened to me before but I’m delighted that it did: Positive (okay, actually glowing) reviews two months in a row in CHOICE. Last month they reviewed Michael “Mica” Kindman’s story, My Odyssey through the Underground Press, which is volume 2 in the Voices from the Underground Series. This one is for Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 2, which is volume 3.

Readers of popular journals may not be familiar with CHOICE but it is a key decision maker for librarians purchasing books for their libraries. I’m grateful to them for permission to reprint it here. It appears in the September 2012 issue. While it contains a few errors, they are minor and do not detract from the overall importance of the review.

This volume joins the series’ first volume (reprinted in 2011) and includes another interesting diverse sampling of underground newspapers that existed during the Vietnam War period. Examples include The Ally (an American GI newspaper), the Eugene AUGER [sic] (focusing on the antiwar movement), The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, The Furies Collective [sic] (a Washington, DC-based feminist and lesbian newspaper), It Aint Me Babe (the first national newspaper of the Women’s Liberation Movement), The Kudzu (a Jackson, Mississippi, newspaper published by the Southern Student Organizing Committee, affiliated with Students for a Democratic Society), and New Age (an underground workers newspaper), among others. There are also background stories and firsthand tellings that complement the content of volume 1, from Fag Rag (a Boston-based underground newspaper that was part of the Gay Liberation Front press) and The Fifth Estate (out of Detroit). The book features illustrations, including staff working and pictorial collages. Required reading for those interested in the underground press or this era in the US, this book directs attention to and provides missed voices in scholarship of this period in history. Summing Up: Essential. All readers.—M. Goldsmith, Nicholls State University (Reprinted with permission from CHOICE,  copyright by the American Library Association. )

Volume 1 of Voices Series Named Finalist for Two National Book Awards

I recently learned that Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 1, volume 1 of the Voices from the Underground Series, has been named a finalist in two 2012 national book awards: the Eric Hoffer Award and the Montaigne Medal.

I’m delighted and yet amused by the irony.

According to the Hoffer Award’s mission statement, the award was founded

to honor freethinking writers and independent books of exceptional merit. The commercial environment for today’s writers has all but crushed the circulation of ideas. It seems strange that in the Information Age, many books are blocked from wider circulation, and powerful writing is barred from publication or buried alive on the Internet.

How true. Can I be anything but pleased? Insider Histories, Part 1’s award was in the Culture category. Makes sense.

Furthermore, many of the top literary prizes will not even consider independent books or previously unpublished prose, choosing instead to become the marketing arms of large presses.

Not the Hoffer Award, which honors mainly unpublished prose from small, academic, micro, and independent presses. Michigan State University Press published the Voices from the Underground Series.

While I was basking in the glory, I received an email from Peter Werbe, anarchist talk show host on Detroit radio station WCSX-FM, wanting to set up a time for an interview. Peter is a long-time activist and intellectual as well as an early and still current writer for Detroit’s Fifth Estate, the longest-running underground paper, going back to 1965. Peter’s recollections and reflections are a significant part of Bob Hippler’s history of Fifth Estate that appears in Insider Histories, Part 2.

In my response, I mentioned the award and told Peter that Hoffer had been one of my favorite philosophers.

Peter responded:

I’m surprised you are fond of Hoffer. He was part of the cultural component of McCarthyism, elevated to philosopher as the common man who spoke against radical ideologies. I found his writing fairly insidious since his central message was that rebels and radicals [all, not just stalinists] suffered from low self-esteem and were easy prey for totalitarian movements. The idea that people who objected to the Cold War or who fought for civil rights or labor were either commie stooges or emotionally troubled was a cudgel used against radicals even into the 1960s. And, his contention that Nazis and Communists slipped back and forth into each other’s movements in Germany shows a woeful lack of history. Have you read him lately? Given what I know of you and what you write and are committed to, I wonder if you would still have a favorable opinion of him.

Oy. I had to admit that, no, I had not read him lately, though I appreciated Peter’s faith in my political commitments. Actually, I only read his The True Believer one time and it was long before I was an independent thinker. I was growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, probably in middle school. The Vietnam War was already happening, although at a low level, and was still flying under the radar of the major media. What I remembered about his writing was that it made me go “Wow” but I didn’t really understand why. Years later, I had no idea what he wrote. I just remembered that I had enjoyed reading it.

And for what it’s worth, I consider my self-esteem to be fairly high and have no patience for totalitarian movements, including cults, fundamentalist religions, and the Republican Party.

Today I’m not sure Hoffer himself would have read past the frontmatter of my book, or else he would have read it in its entirety in order to denigrate it. My thanks nonetheless to the independent panel that found my book worthy. I hope they will be equally generous for Insider Histories, Part 2.

Insider Histories, Part 1 also was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, for most thought-provoking book. The Montaigne Medal is sponsored by the Hoffer Award.

The Voices from the Underground Series is a four-volume collection of histories of underground papers from the Vietnam era as told by key people on each of the papers. The underground press was the independent, antiwar press of the Vietnam era that reported the news that the corporate papers suppressed about what our government was doing in Vietnam.

Stories in the series represent the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, military, prisoners’ rights, socialist, new age, rank-and-file, Southern consciousness, psychedelic, and other independent antiwar voices of the era as never before told. My history of the Lansing, Michigan-area underground press is one of the stories in volume 1 along with Muhammad Speaks, off our backs, Akwesesne Notes,  Space City!, Fag Rag, Liberation News Service, Freedom of the Press, the Guardian, Great Speckled Bird, and others. Forewords are by Markos Moulitsas, Abe Peck, and William Kunstler.

Hope to See You Sunday at Kerrytown BookFest 2011

This Sunday, September 11, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Ann Arbor residents and visitors will be treated to the 9th annual Kerrytown BookFest, a celebration of award-winning authors, book artists, and illustrators that takes place at the Farmers’ Market at 410 N. Fourth Avenue and Kingsley in downtown Ann Arbor.

The theme of the 2011 Kerrytown BookFest is “Michigan Voices” and I’m honored to be one of them this year. For most of the event, I’ll be selling books at booth #119. I hope you’ll come by and say hello.

But during the last hour, from 4 to 5 in the main tent, I’ll be appearing on a panel called “Counterculture Voices.” BookFest promotional literature advertises it as “a broad discussion of the Detroit counterculture, focusing on underground newspapers and music.” That’s pretty accurate but forces of nature will extend the discussion to also include the music scene in Ann Arbor and the underground press scene in Ann Arbor and Lansing-East Lansing.

Appearing with me on the panel are Brett Callwood, a music writer who has written books about two legendary groups, Lincoln Park’s MC5 and Ann Arbor’s The Stooges; and Susan Whitall, former editor of Creem magazine and presently a writer for the Detroit News and author of Fever: Little Willie John’s Fast Life, Mysterious Death. Moderator Harvey Ovshinsky was the founder and editor of Detroit’s Fifth Estate, still going strong as the longest-running underground paper to emerge from the Vietnam era. My own four-volume Voices from the Underground Series includes a landmark history of Fifth Estate written by former staffer Bob Hippler with help from interviews with Harvey, Peter Werbe, and other veterans of the paper. Unfortunately, the story will appear in volume 3, which won’t be out until next year. But volume 1, which will be available for sale all day, includes my history of the Lansing-East Lansing underground press and a history of the Black Muslim paper Muhammad Speaks, written by former editor and now Ann Arbor resident John Woodford.

It will be a way-too-short panel discussion. Great entertainment for just before dinner. Harvey already is a friend of mine but I’ve never met Brett or Susan. I look forward to meeting them.

The Kerrytown BookFest is unique according to Gene Alloway, president of the BookFest board and owner of Motte & Bailey Bookshop in Ann Arbor. Kerrytown is a historic neighborhood in the city which includes the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market where the event is held. “The BookFest is the only festival of the book in the country to celebrate both authors and the artists and crafts people who help create books.” This year the BookFest will feature illustrators, poets, letterpress printers, calligraphers, librarians, publishers, book artists, and storytellers.

As a special attraction, Doug Stanton, New York Times best-selling author of Horse Soldiers and founder of the National Writers Series, will interview Jaimy Gordon, the 2010 National Book Award winner (Lord of Misrule). In addition, Robin Agnew, owner of Aunt Agatha’s mystery bookstore in Ann Arbor, will talk with Canadian Award-Winning Mystery Writer Louise Penny. who has won both Agatha and Anthony Awards for her mystery writing. Special arrangements have been made to present Penny the Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association at the BookFest.

In recognition of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the panel “Michigan Civil War Voices” will feature Jack Dempsey, author of Michigan and the Civil War, moderating a discussion with Rick Liblong, author of Answering the Call to Duty: Saving Custer, Heroism at Gettysburg; and Kim Crawford and Martin Bertera, authors of The 4th Michigan Infantry the Civil War.

The panel “Working Voices” brings together a diverse group of writers who write about the world of the working man and woman. Poet and writer M.L. Liebler, most recently the editor of the literary anthology, Punching the Clock and Kicking out the Jams, will be joined by writer Jeff Vande Zande, recently editor of  On the Clock: Contemporary Short Stories of Work, and poet Ken Meisel, poet and the author of Beautiful Rust: Poems, part of Bottom Dog Press. The discussion will be led by author Lolita Hernandez, also a contributor to On the Clock.

“Detroit Voices” features a variety of voices from the changing face of Detroit talking about its future. The speakers will be John Gallagher, author of Re-imagining Detroit and a long-time writer for the Detroit Free Press; Sean Doerr and Dan Austin, author and photographer of the book Lost Detroit; and NPR Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson. Leading the discussion will be writer and Wayne State Professor Dorene O’Brien.

Other panels will be on “Michigan Voices: A Sense of Place”; “Science Fiction Voices”; “Victorian History Mystery”; and “The Art of the Thriller.” In addition this year’s event will offer more hands-on demonstrations by local craftspeople specializing in the book arts.

Last year more than 5,000 visitors attended the one-day event, which includes more than 100 exhibitors, artists and book sellers.

For more information on the BookFest and for a complete listing of authors, artists and programs visit

The BookFest is sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council¸ WEMU Radio 89.1, Ann Arbor Bank, Kerrytown Market, Zingerman’s, Hollanders, Thomson Shore, Kerrytown Concert House, and Michigan Radio.