On Tuesday, September 16th, Special Collections welcomed Edward Lukasek and Dr. Natalie Houston for a panel discussion titled “Life with Books: Collecting, Reading, and Teaching LGBTQI Literature.” Cosponsored by the UH Libraries and the LGBT Resource Center, the event was intended to complement the exhibit LGBTQI Literature: Celebrated Classics and Contemporary Works, which closes on Friday, September 26th.
A rapt audience of faculty, librarians, staff, and visitors enjoyed learning about the role that books played in the lives of the two panelists – Edward Lukasek, a book collector whose private collection was donated to the UH Libraries as the Edward Lukasek Gay Studies Collection, and Natalie Houston, an Associate Professor in the English Department at UH who has taught a number of courses on LGBT literature.
Lukasek described collecting books at his favorite thrift shop while living in the Castro district of San Francisco for 17 years. Asked to recommend his favorite work of LGBTQI literature, he chose the trilogy of autobiographical novels by Edmund White: A Boy’s Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty, and The Farewell Symphony. He praised White’s ability to put the reader in the moment, and said that he appreciated reading about the experiences of a gay man from an earlier generation. Lukasek also described the flowering of literature that followed the early years of the AIDS epidemic, recommending Heaven’s Coast by Mark Doty as a particularly poignant memoir.
Houston has always been a voracious reader. While her major field of interest is Victorian literature, she enjoyed studying with queer studies pioneer Eve Sedgwick as a PhD student at Duke. Arguing that it was unfair to ask an English professor to pick only one favorite LGBTQI book, Houston recommended three favorite authors and works – Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World, a beautifully written novel about friendship; Carol Anshaw’s Aquamarine, the story of a woman’s three possible lives; and Emma Donoghue’s Hood, which centers on the death of the protagonist’s lover. Houston also talked about her rewarding experiences teaching LGBT literature to UH students.
The panel discussion made for a very special conversation; please watch this space for video from the event.
In recent posts I expressed admiration for the formal aspects of Agnes Arnold Hall, but anyone who works in this building knows that it has some problems. Most of these problems stem from a single design flaw—the architect’s decision to open the building to the outside, much like a garden apartment or a motel. Thus the lobby and corridor areas have but modest protection from the elements. This is a viable design strategy only in Hawaii and other places with a balmy climate.
Wind gusts blew through the open corridors at the upper levels of the building with such force that the university had to close the north-facing openings with glass. This was only a partial fix, and students changing classes in the winter still feel the cold as soon as they step outside the classroom.
Originally, visitors to Agnes Arnold Hall moved through the lower levels on escalators. Because of their many moving parts, escalators are maintenance headaches even in the controlled conditions of a shopping mall. When they were exposed to humid outdoor conditions as they were in this building, they didn’t last very long. Eventually, the university got tired of fixing them and replaced them with stairs.
The open courtyard at the basement level was a brilliant idea and looked great, but it resembled a bathtub during heavy rains. Flooding during Tropical Storm Allison (2001) forced the university to install mechanical floodgates at the entrance to this lower level.
Agnes Arnold Hall may have so many problems because Kenneth Bentsen was such a good designer. If you build the same thing over and over again, you learn by experience what works and what doesn’t work. That’s why dull, boring buildings seem to have the fewest problems. But within their profession, architects are encouraged to be innovative, to be different, to push the envelope with their designs.
When you do something different, by definition you don’t have much experience with how it will work in practice. That’s why the most architecturally significant buildings often have the most problems in daily use. Some new ideas are not good ideas, but you don’t know that until you try them.
We reward architects who take risks because that’s how the discipline of architecture advances. At least that’s the theory. So architects will continue to admire buildings like Agnes Arnold Hall and their users will continue to loathe them. We invite you to continue your study with the Architecture & Planning collections at the University of Houston Special Collections.
Today marks the kickoff of National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2014.
From September 15 through October 15, we celebrate the history, culture, and contributions of Americans whose ancestry derives from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The month, in actuality a 30-day period spanning two months, owes its unorthodox time frame to its origins (originally a week-long observation started under President Lyndon B. Johnson, it was expanded to a month under President Ronald Reagan) and to historical convenience (the first days coincide with the independence celebrations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile and the final days encompass Columbus Day or Día de la Raza). During this time, the Library of Congress in partnership with a number of archives, repositories, and various organizations sponsor exhibits and collections dedicated to telling the story of Hispanic American history.
Here at the University of Houston Special Collections, we celebrate the opportunity to be part of that collective voice as we make available for study our Hispanic Collections. Rich with research potential and always in-demand from scholars, highlights from the collections include the Alonso S. Perales Papers (diplomat, civil-rights lawyer, and one of the founders of LULAC), the Leonor Villegas de Magnón Papers (educator and founder of La Cruz Blanca), and the Mexico Documents Collection (holding manuscript materials dating as far back as 1570). A collection that should increase in its value to researchers over the years are the sizable Arte Público Press Records (the oldest and largest Latino publishing house in the U.S., based here at the University of Houston) and materials related to their award-winning work with the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project.
Over the next month we will take a closer look at the impact of these collections on scholarship related to Hispanic American history. We encourage you, in your own observations over the next month and all year long, to visit UH Special Collections and experience the archives holding that rich history.
On Tuesday, September 16th at 4:00 p.m., the University of Houston Special Collections will host an event sponsored by the University of Houston Libraries and the University of Houston LGBT Resource Center. “Life With Books: Collecting, Reading, and Teaching LGBTQI Literature” will feature talks from book collector Edward Lukasek, the generous donor of the Edward Lukasek Book Collection, and Dr. Natalie Houston of the UH English Department and Co-Director for the Periodical Poetry Index.
“Life With Books…” will take place in the Evans Room of Special Collections on the second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library and will be followed by a reception. Intended to serve as a complement to “LGBTQI Literature: Celebrated Classics and Contemporary Works,” currently on exhibition on the first floor of the M.D. Anderson Library, this panel discussion was scheduled for the last weeks of the exhibit’s run to allow increased opportunities for students to attend. Students of all disciplines, interested in the history and study of LGBTQI literature, are encouraged to attend this unique opportunity to meet and hear from our distinguished panelists. For more information, see the attached poster and we look forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday!
The recent publication of the USS Houston (CA-30) Photographs, adding to the growing Military History Collections at our Digital Library, marks another major milestone and means even more research potential for remote scholars unable to visit our rich USS Houston physical archives and materials.
Pulled from the photographs of the Cruiser Houston Collection, this new digital collection highlights the history of the heavy cruiser and her crew–the survivors, prisoners of war, and those who gave all. The flagship of the Asiatic Fleet during World War II, the Houston fought in the Battle of the Java Sea and to her bitter end at the Battle of Sunda Strait, sinking just after midnight as February turned into March, 1942. Highlights in the collection date back to the naming campaign that gave her our city’s name, include documentation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s affinity for the Houston as his vessel of choice for sea voyages and deep sea diversions during his presidency, show haunting scenes from those infamous POW camps, and testify to the resolve of 1,000 “Houston Volunteers” who answered the call sent out by the sinking of the Houston.If these recently published photographs barely scratch your research itch, be sure to also visit the Lt. Robert B. Fulton USS Houston Letters, the William Slough USS Houston Letters, and the USS Houston Blue Bonnet Newsletters, also available for study in our Digital Library. Or, better yet, visit the permanent exhibition of the USS Houston on the second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library and continue your research with a closer look at the larger USS Houston & Military History Collections in the Special Collections Reading Room.