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Banned Books: The Kanellos Connection

Book of the Month, In the News, Rare Books

In addition to the over 7,000 linear feet of archival collections made available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections, we are also proud to offer over 100,000 rare and antique books for use in our reading room. Each month we will highlight a text from our collections and what makes it so special.

This week, as we observe Banned Books Week along with the American Library Association and other members of the book community, we shift our formula a bit and focus on works in our collection which have historically been challenged, banned, or otherwise removed from public consumption.  The chance overlap of National Hispanic Heritage Month makes for a unique opportunity to highlight our Kanellos Latino Literary Movement Collection.

cover of Negocios by Junot Díaz (1997)

cover of Negocios by Junot Díaz (1997)

Banned “Confiscated” Books of the Month Moment:  Unfortunately, there are a few.  Negocios by Junot Díaz (his Spanish translation of the English language Drown), Zoot Suit and Other Plays by Luis Valdez, and The Magic of Blood by Dagoberto Gilb were all challenged by the Tucson Unified School District in 2012 and, also, all part of a generous donation of works from Dr. Nicolás Kanellos (founder and director of Arte Público Press and the driving force behind the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project).  Thanks to his work, foresight, and longstanding connections in the community, the Kanellos Latino Literary Movement Collection, consisting of over 1,000 books, covering a broad scope and time range of works printed in limited runs, unpublished works, and other writings critical to scholars studying Latino literature, is available for study at the University of Houston Special Collections.

Why so Special Scary?  Warning!  According to the Tucson Unified School District’s decision in the wake of the passage of Arizona House Bill 2281, these books may “promote the overthrow of the United States Government… promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

cover of Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez (2010)

cover of Zoot Suit by Luis Valdez (2010)

In 2012, rather than fight 2281, Tucson USD officials chose a path of compliance that suspended the district’s Mexican American Studies program.  This process included a public show of collecting, boxing, and carrying off a number of books that were part of the Mexican American Studies teaching materials, sometimes in the presence of students.  District officials insisted that they were not “banning” books, simply “confiscating” a handful of the more egregious outliers.  And, in the spirit of Banned Books Week, who are we to quibble?  A closer look at the MAS reading list, however, will raise some eyebrows.  In addition to the aforementioned “dangerous” works, other pieces on the reading list include revered Latina authors like Sandra Cisneros, as well as canonical and mainstream “Western” or Eurocentric works, like Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.”

In 2013, a federal court order mandated reinstatement of the program as part of federal desegregation laws aimed at providing equal eduation.  While the issue remains a contentious one in Arizona politics, it is hoped and assumed that this school year, Shakespeare, Thoreau, and all the rest have found a home in the Tucson USD curriculum.

Location:  Those interested (and brave enough) to study these works can access them in the Special Collections Reading Room during our normal hours.  With Banned Books Week and National Hispanic Heritage Month in full swing, why wouldn’t you visit us?

National Hispanic American Heritage Month 2014

Hispanic Collections, In the News
petition from the Barefoot Monks to Philip V, King of Spain (from the Mexico Documents Collection)

petition from the Barefoot Monks to Philip V, King of Spain (1739, from the Mexico Documents Collection)

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.

Leonor and ladies of Cruz Blanca 1st brigade

Leonor and ladies of Cruz Blanca 1st brigade (Leonor Villegas de Magnón Papers and also available in our Digital Library)

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.

Remembering Lauren Bacall

Contemporary Literature, In the News

Lauren Bacall, a legend (though she despised the word) and icon of Hollywood’s golden era who taught the world how to whistledied in New York on Tuesday.

Born Betty Joan Perske to working-class immigrants in Brooklyn, her parents divorced when she was six years old.  Her mother, Natlie Perske (maiden name, Weinstein-Bacal) moved to Manhattan and young Betty Joan would go on to usher theaters on Broadway and model dresses on Seventh Avenue before her enigmatic beauty drew inquiries from Hollywood.  She left for the West Coast in 1942, reemerging as Lauren Bacall (“Lauren” at the behest of producer and director Howard Hawks, the additional “L” to assist in pronunciation), catching the silver screens aflame with a mystique and unmistakable, smoldering vocal delivery.

“Betty” to long-time friends and family, but always “Baby” to “Bogie,” she sometimes bristled at the attempts of others to define her in the context of that other iconic actor, her screen foil, and her husband (until his death in 1957), Humphrey Bogart.  “Being a widow,” she once told an interviewer, “is not a profession.”  Bacall and Bogart sparked on and off screen in To Have and Have Not (1944), married in 1945, and would go on to star opposite one another in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948).

detail from Larry McMurtry's notes, working with Lauren Bacall and George Stevens, Jr., from the Larry McMurtry Papers

detail from Larry McMurtry’s notes, working with Lauren Bacall and George Stevens, Jr., from the Larry McMurtry Papers

Others will offer up more appropriate insights into the artistry and legacy of Bacall.  Today, however, while obituaries abound generously peppered with the name “Bogart,” as she’d once predicted and lamented long before her passing, an interesting item from the Larry McMurtry Papers provides even more context to the Bacall-Bogart dynamic.  In 1977 McMurtry worked with Bacall and George Stevens, Jr. as part of “The Stars Salute America’s Greatest Movies,” honoring the best 500 films to date.  Bacall was to introduce The African Queen (1951, John Huston), starring her late husband.

McMurtry quotes Bacall on her recollections of the filming of African Queen and Bogart’s co-star, Katharine Hepburn:  “John knew what he wanted.  Bogey and Kate were the only two stars crazy enough to follow him and [producer] Sam Spiegel to Africa… It was the beginning of my friendship with Katie–an important part of my life and it still is.”  Twenty years after Bogart’s death, however, it was clear he still served as a foil.  Reflecting on their conversation, McMurtry writes, “In terms of the introduction, she would like it to be clear that she has a reputation of her own–that she is not simply Bogey’s widow.  Obviously, it will be clear in her presentation that it is not purely coincidental that she is doing the introduction to AFRICAN QUEEN which starred Bogey.”

She must have known, however, that her legacy remains quite her own.  Honored throughout her life by a list that includes the Screen Actors Guild, the Tony Awards, and the Golden Globes, she also received a National Book Award for her autobiography By Myself (1978).  While she does recount those famous loves lost (Frank Sinatra once reportedly proposed to Bacall), she also recounts her rise as a starlet in a very particular heyday for Hollywood, including this interesting tidbit on how she went about acquiring her signature sound at the direction of Hawks:

He wanted me to drive into the hills, find some quiet spot, and read aloud. He felt it most important to keep the voice in a low register. Mine started off low, but what Howard didn’t like and explained to me was, “If you notice, Betty, when a woman gets excited or emotional she tends to raise her voice. Now, there is nothing more unattractive than screeching. I want you to train your voice in such a way that even if you have a scene like that your voice will remain low.” I found a spot on Mulholland Drive and proceeded to read The Robe aloud, keeping my voice lower and louder than normal. If anyone had ever passed by, they would have found me a candidate for the asylum. Who sat on mountaintops in cars reading books aloud to the canyons?

The Larry McMurtry Papers are available for study, along with twenty-one other Contemporary Literature collections, in the University of Houston Special Collections Reading Room.

Cadillac Ranch and the Houston Connection

Architecture & Planning, In the News
Cad Ranch

Cadillac Ranch (1974), copyright Ant Farm, Photo Doug Michels Architectural Papers

The Cadillac Ranch marks its 40th anniversary on June 21, 2014, only four days after the death of its patron, Stanley Marsh 3. In this iconic art installation near Amarillo, the counter-culture art group, Ant Farm (1968 – 78), buried ten Cadillacs nose-first in a field alongside the old Route 66 as an homage to the Cadillac tailfin.

Ant Farm was based in San Francisco but got its start in Houston.  In 1969 the University of Houston’s College of Architecture hired two young architects, Doug Michels and Chip Lord, for a one-semester job as lecturers.  They founded Ant Farm and moved to San Francisco when the semester ended.

House of the Century, 1972, copyright Ant Farm, photo Doug Michels Architectural Papers

House of the Century (1972), copyright Ant Farm, Photo Doug Michels Architectural Papers

In 1971 Houston art patron Marilyn Oshmann commissioned the group to build a lake house on her family’s property near Angleton, Texas.  The result, called the “House of the Century,” was an unconventional structure best described as “biomorphic;” it had no straight lines and recalled a living thing. In 1973 Playboy magazine published an article on the unusual house, calling it a “Texas Time Machine.”

Doug Michels, Stanley Marsh 3, Chip Lord (L-R), Cadillac Ranch 20th Anniversary (1994), Photo Doug Michels Architectural Papers

Doug Michels, Stanley Marsh 3, Chip Lord (L-R), Cadillac Ranch 20th Anniversary (1994), Photo Doug Michels Architectural Papers

Among the readers was Stanley Marsh 3, an eccentric Amarillo businessman who often placed large outdoor art installations on his ranch.  He invited Ant Farm—which by then included Curtis Schreier, Hudson Marquez, and others—to come to Amarillo and make some art for him.  Their creation celebrated the love of the automobile and the open road that is at the heart of American popular culture.  Cadillac Ranch made Ant Farm famous, inspiring a song by Bruce Springsteen (1980) and a Hollywood movie (1996).

In 1978 Doug Michels returned to Houston where he created a futuristic media room called the “Teleport” for businessman Rudge Allen.  Michels’ Star Trek-inspired media room was published extensively.  The Allen family donated the room to UH in the late 1990s, and it was reinstalled in the architecture building.  Michels reunited with his Ant Farm colleagues in 1986 to create the flying Thunderbird car sculpture outside the Hard Rock Café on Houston’s Kirby Drive (now demolished).

Michels’ life came full circle in 1999 when the UH College of Architecture brought him back as a lecturer.  He continued to practice architecture and design in Houston until his death in 2003. The university acquired Michels’ papers and drawings, and they now form the Doug Michels Architectural Papers in the library’s Special Collections Department.

Houston’s Own “Stonewall”

In the News
Anita Bryant (Billboard, 1971)

Anita Bryant (Billboard, 1971)

On the evening of June 16, 1977 thousands of Houston’s gay and lesbian community assembled to march on the streets of downtown in protest of Anita Bryant’s appearance at the Texas State Bar Association’s meeting.

A popular singer and former beauty queen, Anita Bryant founded Save Our Children, Inc. in 1977 to battle a growing gay rights movement, specifically working to repeal a Dade County law that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.  She staked out her stance and drew the battle lines, stating, “As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.”

The successful repeal of the Miami legislation buoyed other similar, religiously fundamentalist groups around the nation.  These newly organized activists would eventually exert more organized political influence through the end of the century under the Moral Majority umbrella, with Jerry Falwell using similar adversarial language and tactics as Bryant’s 1977 campaign.

So it was that in 1977, at the height of her popularity and controversy, the Texas State Bar Association invited Bryant to appear at their meeting in Houston at the Hyatt Hotel.  Their political influence lacking, Houston’s LGBT community was unable to block Bryant’s appearance in Houston but, donning black armbands emblazoned with pink triangles, the throng outside (which by some accounts grew to near 10,000), made their feelings known as they walked the streets and passed outside the Hyatt.  Inside the meeting, Bryant sang patriotic songs and received a standing ovation.  The galvanizing event had taken place, however, perhaps unbeknownst to those on the streets or the meeting hall.  Almost a decade after Stonewall, Anita Bryant had unintentionally given birth to the organized gay rights movement in Houston.

The Daily Kos argues as much in this piece and those interested in a better understanding of this complex history would do well to give it a read.  Leaning heavily on Bruce Remington’s 1983 thesis, “Twelve Fighting Years: Homosexuals in Houston, 1969-1981,” it charts the rise of the gay rights movement in Houston, providing quotes and insights from those who helped forge history that night and the days to come.

Here at the University of Houston Special Collections, we not only have Remington’s thesis available for study, but we also offer access to recorded interviews that were used as source material for the thesis.  As Pride season approaches, we encourage you to take a closer look at Houston’s history which serves to remind us that June does not only remember Stonewall in NYC but, for better or worse, it also remembers Anita Bryant’s visit to Houston.

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