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ASU Now launches Sun Devil Shelf Life

May 31, 2018

A new searchable database of books by ASU faculty, staff and alumni is your gateway to exploring the perfect summer reading list

Arizona State University abounds with academics who are also authors — often prolific ones — and their publications range from research-backed guides to literary works to theoretical explorations. So wouldn’t it be great if there was a one-stop shop where you could go to see who’s writing about what?

Now there is.

Sun Devil Shelf Life, a new resource for readers and writers, is an online platform that serves as a database for the myriad publications written by members of the ASU community, including faculty, staff and alumni.

Publications are searchable by author name, subject and genre. Listings provide a synopsis, author bio, publication information and details on where to find or purchase a copy (including links to the ASU Library when available). Those who wish to submit their publications to be included in Sun Devil Shelf Life should contact the communications officer of their college or unit.

Given the size of ASU and the breadth of academic fields, such a tool is extremely useful.

“[ASU] is so big that it can be really hard to know what everybody’s doing, to always have your finger on the pulse,” said Julia Himberg, assistant professor of film and media studies.

Her first book, “The New Gay for Pay: The Sexual Politics of American Television Production” — an examination of how television production influences societal notions of sexuality — became available in January. She’s looking forward to using Sun Devil Shelf Life to learn more about the work of others around her.

“I think this is an incredibly valuable resource for faculty and students to learn about each other because it’s such an important aspect of community building,” she said. “And I think ASU really believes in that.”

ASU alumni Fernando Pérez, an assistant professor at Bellevue College, and Tayari Jones, a professor at Rutgers, also have books released this year: “A Song of Dismantling: Poems,” and “An American Marriage: A Novel,” respectively.

All three authors shared with ASU Now the inspiration behind their books and the value of writing in addition to their other academic duties.

Julia Himberg

The New Gay for Pay: The Sexual Politics of American Television Production
University of Texas Press, 2018

Question: What was the inspiration behind this book?

Answer: I felt like what I did in my dissertation was a great lesson for me in how to undertake a big project, but I wanted to take that further and say something different in a book. And I didn’t want to just write it for the sake of writing a book. I wanted to fill a gap in the scholarship and speak to some issues that I didn’t think were being talked about by other scholars around sexual identity and gender identity, especially LGBT identities and how television has a major role in how people understand social change.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important to write in addition to teaching and other scholarly work?

A: It challenges your mind in different ways. So for me, the challenge of teaching is that you’re essentially breaking down existing knowledge, trying to make it relevant, digestible and interesting to students. That’s an incredible challenge. Writing and doing research is the opposite; it’s about building knowledge. You’re going from the ground up versus going from the top down.

The other thing is that the two of them go hand in hand much more than people realize. I think many professors would agree that their interactions with students in the classroom often greatly influence their research and writing. Students raise important questions and criticisms. I don’t know that students are often thanked enough for their impact on professors’ work. 

Q: Do you have any advice for academics on balancing their other duties with the huge undertaking of writing a book?

A: It is so hard. I had papers and books spread out everywhere. I was in chaos. There were tears involved. I had to separate teaching and writing completely. The days I taught were completely dedicated to teaching. It’s very rewarding when you have a great class session, but it’s really hard to feel satisfaction day in and day out writing a book that takes years. So it’s really tempting to spend all your time doing a fabulous job just preparing for class. I had to be really disciplined about separating those two things. On days when I wasn’t teaching, I was writing. And I had a plan of what to write that day. When you don’t have an agenda, it becomes too overwhelming; you have to break it into pieces. 

Tayari Jones

An American Marriage: A Novel
Algonquin/Workman, 2018

Q: What was the inspiration behind this book?

A: I overheard a couple arguing in a mall. The woman said, “Roy, you wouldn’t have waited on me for seven years.” I always feel like I have a novel when both characters have a legitimate point. At the time, I was at Harvard researching incarceration, but I was getting nowhere with my novel because I had a problem but no people. Once I had people, the novel snapped into focus.

Q: Why is writing important to you?

A: Particularly with fiction writers, I feel like we make the record of the intimate lives of our society. That’s where the real truth is. 

Q: While at ASU, you had the chance to work with Ron Carlson and Jewell Parker Rhodes. What was that like?

A: It was a really informative moment for me. [Carlson’s] advice was: Write about people and their problems; don’t write about problems and their people.

Q: Do you have any advice for writers?

A: My advice to people trying to write is this: You can do it. It may take you a long time. A lot of people feel like they need to write every day. That’s not true. My advice is try to write three hours a week. When other people are at the gym, you can write.

It took me six years to write this book. There were times I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish. What I learned is that patience is an important part of writing. You can’t force it. You have to be patient and have faith (in) the story. It’s almost like waiting for the story to meet you. The bus may not come today, but you need to sit at the bench until it does. You’ll get rained on. There will be some not-so-nice people there. But the bus will come. 

Fernando Pérez

A Song of Dismantling: Poems
University of New Mexico Press, 2018

Q: What was the creative process for this book like? 

A: “A Song of Dismantling” has been a work in progress since the MFA program [at ASU]. It looks nothing like my thesis, but at the same time so much stems from those same roots. I kept adding and revising and taking away poems. I enjoyed printing the manuscript draft out from time to time to hold it and look at it and edit it on paper instead of just on my laptop. I kept shuffling the order, and what I loved to do was something that [ASU Regents' Professor] Norman Dubie and TitoASU Regents' Professor Alberto Rios, who in 2013 was named the inaugural Arizona poet laureate. had suggested, which was to spread the manuscript out on the floor and tape it to a wall, just like a storyboard. 

Q: Why do you write? 

A: I first write for myself, to explore ideas/problems/obsessions. But I also write to play with language. Recently I have come to understand the writing and sharing of poetry as a kind of generosity. I am starting to embrace the idea that what is simultaneously happening is that I am writing for others too. I am giving voice and validation to an experience. In some ways we help people who cannot put what they experience in words; we help them feel as though we have put them right there in that moment of empathy. Poetry is empathy.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to practice what you teach?

A: I think it's about staying relevant. I would be writing and publishing anyway. The fact that I "do" and teach is a bonus for the school and my students, I guess. They seem to like [my class]. Maintaining a boundary for writing poetry is very important as a teacher. I have to say "no" to certain people or requests sometimes. 

Q: What tips would you give to emerging writers/poets?

A: Be vulnerable. First with yourself, in the privacy of your own writing; get out of your own way. Don't compare yourself to others. You are on your own journey. Look to learn from others, but do not compare. Read a lot. 

I make my students submit their poems at the end of the quarter. I want them to get used to rejection. Publishing is certainly about the quality of one's work, but it’s also just a numbers game. Eventually someone is going to publish your work. Even bad writers have places to publish, too. There’s room for everyone. I'd just say to be persistent. The world of publishing is a reflection of your peers in the field. Their rejection or acceptance of your work can be a gentle guide.

Sun Devil Shelf Life is a growing resource; check in over time as more entries are added. All members of the ASU community, past and present, are welcome; those who wish to submit their publications to be included in Sun Devil Shelf Life should contact the communications officer of their college or unit.

Emma Greguska

Editor , ASU News

(480) 965-9657

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Deconstructing Philip Roth

May 31, 2018

Late literary giant left much to talk about, says ASU assistant professor

Satirical or sex-obsessed? Self-hating or self-commentary? Of the many ways late author Philip Roth has been described and discussed, the word “complicated” is rarely challenged in debate.  

A paradox of personality, Roth was both revered and reviled in the literary world but nonetheless remained an intriguing figure throughout his decades-long career. 

“I’ve had a lot of colleagues who, quite justifiably, just really dislike Roth,” said Brian Goodman, an assistant professor in Arizona State University’s Department of English. “But I have also been amazed to learn just how relevant Roth still feels to many of my students in their own lives.”

Goodman, whose research uncovered secret surveillance on Roth by Czech police during the 1970s, is among the many now sharing contemplative thoughts on the author in the days since his passing on May 22 at the age of 85. Goodman told ASU Now that regardless of what one might have thought of him, Philip Roth will remain an important figure in American literature.

Question: A lot has been said about Philip Roth and his work in recent days. What have you been thinking about in relation to his passing?

Answer: If you read Philip Roth’s later fiction, it’s clear that Roth had been preparing to die for a long time, and yet I was convinced that he was doomed to live to be 118 — a final, cosmic joke. So, I was caught entirely off guard when he passed away last week. Roth won the National Book Award for "Goodbye, Columbus" almost 60 years ago, and he wrote more than 30 books before he retired. If you were a devoted reader — and there were many — then you watched your own life, along with your country, change along with the shifting voices of his fiction. I’m a bit younger, so my own reading experience was much more condensed, more retrospective and probably more intense. 

Brian Goodman

Q: Why was Philip Roth important as a novelist?

A: Initially, as a young writer, Roth helped transform a relatively marginal cultural positionRoth was a third-generation, assimilated Jew from Newark, New Jersey. into a “universal” predicament for postwar American literature. And even if Roth’s initial vantage point seems somewhat narrow today — and very, very male — Roth has unquestionably served as a model for many other American writers, particularly from immigrant cultures. With "Portnoy’s Complaint" in 1969, he also pushed the boundaries of obscene language and what could be said in a novel. But these very common ways of talking about Roth’s legacy are somewhat limiting. About halfway through his career Roth turned his attention outward, away from the very funny — and sometimes narcissistic — explorations of his own ego. More than any other American novelist I can think of, he was a dedicated and receptive reader of his literary peers, an analyst of his country’s troubled history during the 20th century, and a writer who came to understand the high stakes and incredible ironies of our obsession with storytelling.

Q: What did it mean for Roth to give a voice to so many Central and Eastern European writers in the 1970s?

A: It meant everything. The pivot in Roth’s career happened in Prague. Roth had arrived at a point of personal and creative crisis when he first traveled across the Iron Curtain in search of Franz KafkaFranz Kafka was a Czech-born German writer (1883-1924). He is best known for his 1912 short story "The Metamorphosis."’s ghost. But after he met with living writers in Prague who had been banned from publishing because of their support for reform socialism prior to 1968, he developed one of the most important skills of a great novelist: He learned how to listen. He established a paperback series called “Writers From the Other Europe” that introduced many of the most important writers from the region to American readers, including Milan Kundera, Ludvík Vaculík, Tadeusz Borowski, György Konrád, Danilo Kiš, Bruno Schulz and many others. In addition to influencing a rising generation of American writers, the “Other Europe” series also promoted new ways of imagining the 20th century, from the memory of the Holocaust to the rise of a new human rights politics at the end of the Cold War.

Q: What did your research uncover about Philip Roth?

A: Surprisingly, almost none of Roth’s adventures in the Eastern bloc made it into last week’s obituaries. That’s because much of this remarkable story is just now coming to light. A few years ago, I traveled to Prague and retrieved Roth’s secret police file from the menacingly named Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. After translating the file and digging into Roth’s private papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., I was able to reconstruct Roth’s long engagement with writers in the Eastern bloc. In the mid-'70s, Roth traveled to Prague every year until the Czechoslovak government banned him from entering the country. By that point, Roth had established the “Other Europe” series, written an anonymous country report for the writers’ organization PEN, and set up a clandestine financial network that funneled money from prominent American writers to their persecuted counterparts in Czechoslovakia. Roth’s encounter with the “Other Europe” not only changed him as a person and a writer, but it made an immense impact on the lives and careers of his friends across East-Central Europe.

Q: If one were trying to get a sense of who Philip Roth was as a person, which of his books would you recommend reading — and in what order?

A: First of all, I would caution readers against confusing Roth with any of his fictional protagonists, a source of understandable confusion that Roth plays with a lot in his fiction. Instead, I would recommend Roth’s three great counterfactual fantasies, which are each revealing in very different ways. I tell everyone to start with "The Ghost Writer," which I consider to be his masterpiece: a false autobiographical confession wrapped around a risky counterfactual fantasy about Anne Frank. By far Roth’s most autobiographical novel is "The Plot Against America," which imagines a fascist takeover of the United States by devotees to Charles Lindbergh, a leader of the very real America First movement of the 1930s. This terrifying vision is imagined on a very intimate and personal scale. And if you’re pressed for time, Roth’s short and wacky essay “Looking at Kafka” is the best — and funniest — thing ever written about Prague’s greatest and most improbable writer. 

Q: What have been the risks and rewards of teaching Philip Roth?

A: I find the critique leveled against Roth as a “midcentury misogynist” to be largely convincing, particularly in the early phases of his career. My strategy in the classroom has been to be honest about my own ambivalence and introduce the controversies surrounding Roth right up front. So far, it’s actually been a pretty good way to talk about both the possibilities and limits of 20th-century American literature and culture at the end of the semester. For instance, we just read "The Human Stain," which takes place during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment. Framing our reading of the novel around a discussion of the #MeToo movement opened up entirely new ways of thinking about Roth. In the end, many of my students found "The Human Stain" to be a difficult book to love — this might have even been Roth’s intention — but many of those same students later voted for Roth as the most indispensable writer we read all semester. 

Top photo: A library collection of Philip Roth books. Photo by Suzanne Wilson

Suzanne Wilson

Sr. Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications