14-year-old orphan Ponyboy Curtis lives with his older brothers Darry and Sodapop in a city somewhere in America. They are part of a greaser gang which means they smoke, they fight, they swear. The author was only 16 when her novel The Outsiders hit the bookshelves and disturbed America’s sense of decency. Afterwards, Susan Eloise Hinton’s life was never the same, and the attentive reader might wonder if the opponents of The Outsiders feared something more than improper manners.
As we approach the 5th anniversary of the American Studies Blog (http://blog.asjournal.org/), we decided to celebrate by asking you – our readers – to participate in the joyful occasion of our first blog competition.
Although blogging has changed over the years, it’s still a great platform to voice your ideas and share content with people around the world. Now choose a topic that fits into at least one of three zeitgeisty categories and try your talents:
- Access America (Popular Culture, History, and Current Events)
- Best Books & Fabulous Films (Reviews and More)
- Teaching Tools (Tips, Tricks, and Tools of the Trade)
And remember: The sky’s the limit.
In their 2016 book, Fintiaanien Mailla, three Finnish women take readers on a journey into unknown territory. Meeri Koutaniemi (photo journalist), Maria Seppälä (journalist and documentary filmmaker), and Katja Kettu (bestselling author) introduce us to Findians, a group of people who practically nobody has heard of, at least until now.
Between 1860 and 1940, approximately 400,000 Finnish emigrants left their homeland for North America in search of a better life. They mainly settled in Minnesota, Michigan, and Ontario. 400,000 is an amazingly high number, especially when one considers that Finland only had a population of about three million people in 1900. In their new homeland, the Finnish came in contact with the Ojibwa people. Relatively quickly, the indigenous people and the Finns noticed that they had much in common:
It was long after midnight. I was sitting in a fancy bar, killing time while waiting for my train home. I’d been at Comic Con in Berlin that weekend and had a freebie with me, its package prominently featuring the image of a clumsily drawn cartoon character with a yellow dog. I considered keeping it in my bag, given that this was something you’d expect to see in the hands of a preschooler, certainly not in this setting dominated by high heels, suave suits, and classy cocktails. However, upon sitting down, I proudly put the cartoon on the counter. Instead of taking my order, the barkeeper set his gleaming eyes on the boy and his dog, smiled from ear to ear, and said only two words: Adventure Time.
What followed was a free whiskey for me and a passionate discussion about a cartoon show featuring a twelve-year old boy named Finn and his magical dog, Jake, who live in a candy kingdom. You might say this sounds like a story made for little kids. Actually, it sounds like a story made ‘by’ little kids. But the very adult barkeeper told me in absolute earnestness that Adventure Time’s (2010 – 2018) final season’s finale, which he’d just seen and which had its premiere in Germany on that very day, had moved him to tears. Now why is that?
The book’s cover says it all: It shows Apache students on their arrival at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, an off-reservation school thousands of miles away from the students’ homes in the southwestern United States. The photograph at the bottom depicts the same students three years later in 1889. What a difference! Whereas in 1886, the children were wearing shawls, robes, and ponchos and had their hair done in different styles – some even wearing hats – in the photograph below, everyone is dressed alike in what seems to be grey, woolen, very tight clothing.
The “American Indian problem,” Arnold Krupat writes in his most recent book, Changed Forever: American Indian Boarding-School Literature, permitted “only two solutions, extermination or education. Extermination was costly, sometimes dangerous, and, too, it also seemed increasingly wrong.” The alternative was boarding or off-reservation schools. Although countless books and documentaries describe the boarding school system, relatively little is known about how the children themselves felt about their new environment, their daily chores and school routines. Krupat remedies this shortcoming by placing excerpts of those boarding school narratives in the appropriate cultural and historical context.
As someone who regularly teaches creative non-fiction to university students, I’m always looking for new material. Earlier this year, I came across a highly acclaimed memoir that lasted thirty-one weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Educated: A Memoir is written by Tara Westover, the youngest daughter of Mormon fundamentalists and survivalists from a remote area of Idaho, near Buck’s Peak.
Westover’s father repeatedly preached that the end of the world was imminent and that the right to exist without interference from the government took precedence over all other personal needs. Self-sufficiency from his point of view meant life without any formal education and health care. As a child, Westover was taught to obey, not to question. And when tragedy struck – which was often brought upon by the patriarch’s poor judgment – father still knew best. Family life was marked by dangerous, hard physical labor, poverty as well as the constant stockpiling of supplies, be they canned food or survivalist gear. Paranoid that the government would somehow intervene, the family was prepared to defend their way of life by any means necessary.
Keenly aware of her surroundings, Westover noticed – already at the age of seven – that her family was different. Before entering college at the age of seventeen, the young woman had never set foot in a public school. Her education was largely limited to the Book of Mormon and Mormon doctrine. One day, when Westover mentioned that she wanted to go to school, her father quickly rebuked her: “In this family […] we obey the commandments of the Lord.” And that was that. So how was Tara Westover able to gain university admission and later earn her doctorate? Let’s just say her path was filled with numerous obstacles, the greatest of which was her own guilt and shame. Read more