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Excerpt from “The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma” (1932)

by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz, translated from the Polish by Ewa Malachowska-Pasek and Megan Thomas

The 1932 novel The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma is one of Poland’s most famous and enduring novels. The mordant political satire maintained its popularity before, during, and after the country’s Communist interlude and inspired a film adaptation in 1956, a TV miniseries in 1980, and a contemporary adaptation in 2002. It was also the inspiration for the award-winning 1979 American film Being There, which featured Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine. The novel follows the rise to political power of a churlish opportunist whose simplistic vulgarity the Polish elite mistake for canny introspection.

In the passage below, Dyzma is making his first steps up the social ladder. The landowner Kunicki has tapped Dyzma to manage his large and complex estate, a job for which Dyzma is completely unprepared.

They turned at an avenue of maples and rode for a good half hour past fields dense with ripe rye. The air was still, but out here the heat was more bearable.

“Nice harvest,” Dyzma remarked.

“Yes, yes,” Kunicki answered sadly. “Too nice, too nice, unfortunately.”

Nicodemus burst out laughing. “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”

“And you don’t think it is?” Kunicki asked, surprised. “After all, it’s a disaster for agriculture.” Dyzma was tempted to tell him he didn’t understand, but he held his tongue. Better to be circumspect. “A disaster,” Kunicki repeated. “Prices are dropping like a stone. In two months, we’ll be selling it for chicken feed. It’s a high-yield disaster, dear sir.” Aha, Dyzma thought. You see, who would’ve thought! But best to say as little as possible, and for Christ’s sake, don’t ask questions.

“Well, sure, that’s understandable,” he said in a loud voice. “It’s just that I don’t agree that it’s as bad as you make it out to be.”

He fell silent, and it occurred to him that he needed to add something in order not to appear naive. Which is why he said, casually and somewhat randomly, “Grain’s going up.”

“Bah! But that’s only if the government starts stockpiling grain.”

“And who said they weren’t?”

“What are you telling me?!” Kunicki leapt up.

Dyzma was afraid he had made some ridiculous fundamental error but was immediately reassured when he saw the gleam in his companion’s eye.

“Hot damn! What are you saying? Has it already been decided?”

“For now, it’s the plan . . .”

“My dear Nicodemus! What an absolutely brilliant idea! Brilliant! After all, it’s the government’s duty to protect agriculture; the country’s welfare is entirely dependent on agriculture, for God’s sake. Hell, in this country there’s nothing less than an obsession for tinkering around with the economy. But Poland is seventy percent farmers! Seventy percent. Not industry, not mining, not commerce, but agriculture and agricultural products, livestock and lumber—it’s the basis for everything! What’s good for agriculture is good for everyone—for manufacturers, for wholesalers, for workers! Mr. Dyzma, you really should, sir, you have a sacred duty to your fatherland, to use every bit of your influence to push this brilliant project forward! So the government is going to buy up all the surplus! My God! Koborowo and the house alone . . .”

As he began to mentally calculate the potential profit, Dyzma spoke up again.

“It’s just a matter of money. There isn’t any money.”

“Money, money? That’s nothing.” Kunicki was on fire. “A trifling detail. After all, the state can issue bonds. Grain bonds for, say, a hundred million zlotys. Pay the bonds and that’s that. Charging interest, obviously, at, let’s suppose, five percent, or even six. What do you think, sir? For six years, let’s say. And I’ll be damned if during that stretch there aren’t at least two boom years, right? So then we sell the entire grain supply abroad and make a bundle. What do you think? And tremendous benefits: primo, sustained high prices that’ll really save our hides, and secondo, increased circulation, because, of course, the bonds must be unregistered bearer bonds. And that way the state can give the domestic market a real shot in the arm, to the tune of a hundred million—now there’s a sum that will surely have a salutary effect on our catastrophe of a cash situation. Hot damn! You simply must talk to Minister Jaszuński about this . . .”

“We’ve already talked about it at length, and who knows . . .”

He broke off, and at the same time thought, This old guy’s got a hell of a good head on his shoulders. With a brain like that, he could even be a minister!

Kunicki pursued the matter unflaggingly. He rolled out various arguments, put forth reservations and doubts—which he immediately smashed with the power of his logical reasoning—on and on he lisped, his words tumbling out one after the other while he flourished his whip with emotion.

Meanwhile, the road had curved back into the woods, and they were making their way through tall pines.

In a vast clearing, cords of lumber were stacked along a narrow-gauge railway. A miniature steam engine had just begun to puff and hiss in the effort to move a dozen or so wagon cars loaded with great logs. Two rows of workers were helping it along, pushing the wagons from either side.

The workers doffed their caps with a reluctance that bordered on hostility. A weather-beaten figure in a gray jacket approached their carriage and was starting to say something when Kunicki cut him off.

“Mr. Starkiewicz, say hello to Mr. Dyzma, general administrator.”

The figure took off his cap and gave Dyzma an appraising look. Dyzma bowed slightly.

For a few minutes, while Kunicki grilled Starkiewicz on various particulars, Nicodemus looked curiously around at the masses of accumulated lumber, the barracks slapped together with old planks, the clearing with its whistling saws and moaning axes. When they moved on, Kunicki launched into an expert lecture on the many different grades of wood, the state of their utilization, and the tribulations of obtaining a permit to fell one’s own timber, a stand of trees in this very vicinity. He quoted articles of law, figures, prices, and from time to time he glanced at his companion’s face, which wore an expression of scrupulous attention.

In truth, Dyzma was flailing in a sea of panic. His consciousness was being buried alive under an increasingly berserk avalanche of concepts and ideas about which he had not the slightest understanding. He felt like a man beneath a toppled haystack. He’d lost all orientation and realized he was singularly ill equipped to deal with this state of affairs, and not by a long shot would he be able to control the situation enough to avoid disgrace and humiliation—to avoid, to put it plainly, ratting himself out.

They’d already toured the lumber station in the state-owned woods, the sawmill by the railroad terminal, and the furniture factory, and by the time they had finished their visit to the paper mill as well as some warehouse or another, the muddle in Dyzma’s head had grown to such a degree that he would’ve been glad to flee the scene right then and there. Looming before him was a towering mountain of incomprehensible business matters, bizarre and mysterious interconnections; he’d just met so many new people, these managers and directors, who spoke with such authority and with so many acronyms and abbreviations that Dyzma had managed to grasp nary a thing.

Excerpted from The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma: A Novel by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz, translated from the Polish by Ewa Malachowska-Pasek and Megan Thomas and with an introduction by Benjamin Paloff.

The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma introduces an unemployed clerk who crashes an elite soiree, where he makes a crass remark that sets him on a new course. Soon high society—from government ministers to drug-fueled aristocrats—wants a piece of him, interpreting his simple vulgarity as strength and freshness. His willingness to do anything to hold on to power—political flip-flopping, inventing xenophobic plots, even having enemies assaulted—only leads to greater success. 

TADEUSZ DOŁĘGA-MOSTOWICZ (daw-WENG-ah maw-STOH-vich) was born in 1898 and began his writing career as a journalist. Kariera Nikodema Dyzma appeared serially in 1930–31 to great acclaim, establishing his reputation as a novelist. He published prolifically until his death in 1939.

EWA MALACHOWSKA-PASEK is Ladislav Matejka Collegiate Lecturer in Polish and Czech Studies at the University of Michigan.

MEGAN THOMAS is, with Ewa Malachowska-Pasek, the translator of Zofia Nalkowska’s Romance of Teresa Hennert.

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Excerpt from “The Passion According to G.H.” by Clarice Lispector

Born in western Ukraine, Clarice Lispector (1920–77) suffered in her early years from famine, war, and violent antisemitism. When her family arrived in Brazil in 1922, Clarice’s father made a living selling rags; her mother died a few years later. Her novels and stories—among them The Chandelier (1946), The Besieged City (1949), The Passion According to G.H. (1964), and The Stream of Life (1973)—explored her existential speculations in a brilliantly inventive, lyrical, and metaphorical style using interior monologues and stream of consciousness. This selection from The Passion According to G.H. was translated by Idra Novey and is part of the forthcoming Latin American Ecocultural Reader, edited by Gisela Heffes and Jennifer French. In it, the death of a cockroach sparks a metaphysical crisis and an expansion of consciousness beyond humanity.


Each eye reproduced the entire cockroach.

—Pardon me for giving you this, hand holding mine, but I don’t want this for myself! take that roach, I don’t want what I saw.

There I was open-mouthed and offended and withdrawn—faced with the dusty being looking back at me. Take what I saw: because what I was seeing with an embarrassment so painful and so frightened and so innocent, what I was seeing was life looking back at me.

How else could I describe that crude and horrible, raw matter and dry plasma, that was there, as I shrank into myself with dry nausea, I falling centuries and centuries inside a mud—it was mud, and not even dried mud but mud still damp and still alive, it was a mud in which the roots of my identity were still shifting with unbearable slowness.

Take it, take all this for yourself, I don’t want to be a living person! I’m disgusted and amazed by myself, thick mud slowly oozing.

That’s what it was—so that’s what it was. Because I’d looked at the living roach and was discovering inside it the identity of my deepest life. In a difficult demolition, hard and narrow paths were opening within me.

I looked at it, at the roach: I hated it so much that I was going over to its side, feeling solidarity with it, since I couldn’t stand being left alone with my aggression.

And all of a sudden I moaned out loud, this time I heard my moan. Because rising to my surface like pus was my truest matter—and with fright and loathing I was feeling that “I-being” was coming from a source far prior to the human source and, with horror, much greater than the human.

Opening in me, with the slowness of stone doors, opening in me was the wide life of silence, the same that was in the fixed sun, the same that was in the immobilized roach. And that could be the same as in me! if I had the courage to abandon . . . to abandon my feelings? If I had the courage to abandon hope.

Hope for what? For the first time I was astonished to feel that I’d based an entire hope on becoming something that I was not. The hope—what other name could I give it?—that for the first time I now was going to abandon, out of courage and mortal curiosity. Had hope, in my prior life, been based upon a truth? With childlike surprise, I was starting to doubt it.

To find out what I really could hope for, would I first have to pass through my truth? To what extent had I invented a destiny now, while subterraneously living from another?

I closed my eyes, waiting for the astonishment to pass, waiting for my panting to calm to the point that it was no longer that awful moan that I’d heard as if coming from the bottom of a dry, deep cistern, as the cockroach was a creature of a dry cistern. I was still feeling, at an incalculable distance within me, that moan that was no longer reaching my throat.

This is madness, I thought with my eyes closed. But it was so undeniable feeling that birth from inside the dust—that all I could do was follow something I was well aware wasn’t madness, it was, my God, the worse truth, the horrible one. But why horrible? Because without words it contradicted everything I used to think also without words.

I waited for the astonishment to pass, for health to return. But I was realizing, in an immemorial effort of memory, that I had felt this astonishment before: it was the same one I had experienced when I saw my own blood outside of me, and I had marveled at it. Since the blood I was seeing outside of me, that blood I was drawn to with such wonder: it was mine.

I didn’t want to open my eyes, I didn’t want to keep on seeing. It was important not to forget the rules and the laws, to remember that without the rules and laws there would be no order, I had to not forget them and defend them in order to defend myself.

But it was already too late for me to hold myself back.

The first bind had already involuntarily burst, and I was breaking loose from the law, though I intuited that I was going to enter the hell of living matter—what kind of hell awaited me? but I had to go. I had to sink into my soul’s damnation, curiosity was consuming me.

So I opened my eyes all at once, and saw the full endless vastness of the room, that room that was vibrating in silence, laboratory of hell.

The room, the unknown room. My entrance into it was finally complete.

The entrance to this room had a single passageway, and a narrow one: through the cockroach. The cockroach that was filling the room with finally open vibration, the vibrations of its rattlesnake tails in the desert. Through a painstaking route, I had reached the deep incision in the wall that was that room—and the crevice created a vast, natural hollow hall as in a cave.

Naked, as if prepared for the entrance of a single person. And whoever entered would be transformed into a “she” or “he.” I was the one the room called “she.” As I had gone in which the room had given a dimension of she. As if I too were the other side of the cube, the side that goes unseen when looked at straight on.

And in my great dilation, I was in the desert. How can I explain it to you? in the desert as I’d never been before. It was a desert that was calling me as a monotonous and remote canticle calls. I was being seduced. And I was going toward that promising madness. But my fear wasn’t that of someone going toward madness, but toward a truth—my fear was of having a truth that I’d come not to want, an infamizing truth that would make me crawl along and be on the roach’s level. My first contact with truths always defamed me.

—Hold my hand, because I feel that I’m going. I’m going once again toward the most divine primary life, I’m going toward a hell of raw life. Don’t let me see because I’m close to seeing the nucleus of life—and, through the cockroach that even now I’m seeing again, through this specimen of calm living horror, I’m afraid that in this nucleus I’ll no longer know what hope is.

The cockroach is pure seduction. Cilia, blinking cilia that keep calling.

I too, who was slowly reducing myself to whatever in me was irreducible, I too had thousands of blinking cilia, and with my cilia I move forward, I protozoan, pure protein. Hold my hand, I reached the irreducible with the inevitability of a death-knell—I sense that all this is ancient and vast, I sense in the hieroglyph of the slow roach the writing of the Far East. And in this desert of great seductions, the creatures: I and the living roach. Life, my love, is a great seduction in which all that exists seduces. That room that was deserted and for that reason primally alive. I had reached the nothing, and the nothing was living and moist.

Excerpted from The Latin American Ecocultural Reader, edited by Gisela Heffes and Jennifer French

A comprehensive anthology of literary and cultural texts about the natural world drawn from throughout the Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil, including both canonical figures and works as well as contemporary writing that illuminates the marginalized environmental cultures of women, indigenous, and Afro-Latin American populations.

JENNIFER FRENCH is a professor of Spanish at Williams College. She is the author of Nature, Neo-Colonialism, and the Spanish-American Regional Writers.

GISELA HEFFES is an associate professor of Latin American literature and culture at Rice University. She has published two monographs and four novels in Spanish.

Parneshia Jones Appointed Director of Northwestern University Press

FOR RELEASE: Sept. 11, 2020

Parneshia Jones Appointed Director of Northwestern University Press

Evanston, Ill. — Sarah M. Pritchard, the Northwestern University Dean of Libraries and the Charles Deering McCormick University Librarian, has announced the appointment of Parneshia Jones as the new director of Northwestern University Press (NUP) effective September 21. “Since joining NUP in 2003,” says Pritchard, “Parneshia has developed a unique record as a leader on campus, in the Chicago area, and in the broader world of books and letters. She is the ideal leader both to build on NUP’s traditional strengths and to continue the advances that the Press has made in Black studies, critical ethnic studies, performance studies, and other subjects that enhance the university’s academic mission and commitment to social justice and inclusion.”

Evanston native Jones is currently Editorial Director for Trade and Engagement at NUP, where she has also served as an acquisitions editor and sales manager. A published poet, she revitalized the press’s storied TriQuarterly imprint, developing its award-winning poetry list with acquisitions including Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award; Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith, winner of the 2018 LA Times Book Prize and 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis, winner of the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and Anagnorisis by Kyle Dargan, winner of the 2019 Academy of American Poets Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

In addition to her publishing work, Jones is on faculty in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program. She is also a past president and board member of the Cave Canem Foundation. Her contributions to the Chicago literary community were cited by NewCity in their 2019 list “Lit 50: Who Really Books In Chicago 2019.” She also serves on the advisory board of ShoreFront Legacy Center, a nonprofit organization and foundation that documents African American history on the North Shore of Chicago. Jones becomes one of only two Black women currently leading a university press.

“I am so grateful to come full circle at Northwestern University Press,” Jones says. “My love for the literary world started within the mahogany walls of Third World Press, and my continued apprenticeship in publishing has been guided and supported by Northwestern, my brilliant NUP colleagues, and the unwavering  publishing community. In the words of the great poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘We are each other’s magnitude and bond.’ I step into this role deeply humbled by the magnitude of these special bonds.”

Northwestern University Press is the scholarly and trade publishing arm of the university. The Press publishes important works in philosophy, the performing arts, fiction, poetry, Black studies, critical ethnic studies, Slavic studies, literary criticism, literature in translation, and Chicago regional books. The Press’s award-winning imprint, TriQuarterly Books, is devoted primarily to contemporary American fiction and poetry.

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The Nigrescent Beyond

by Ricardo A. Wilson II

Despite New Spain’s significant participation in the early transatlantic slave trade, the collective imagination of the Mexican nation evolved in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to understand itself as devoid of a black presence. In The Nigrescent Beyond, author Ricardo Wilson proposes a framework for understanding this psychic vanishing of blackness and thinks through how it can be used to both productively unsettle contemporary multicultural and postracial discourses within the United States and further the interrogations of being and blackness within the larger field of black studies.

The following is an excerpt from The Nigrescent Beyond: Mexico, the United States, and the Psychic Vanishing of Blackness (Northwestern University Press; July 2020) by Ricardo A. Wilson II.

Contemporary conversations revolving around ideas of blackness in the post-revolutionary Mexican context cannot escape the gravity of the future. Eduardo Urzaiz’s 1919 novel Eugenia: Esbozo novelesco de costumbres futuras, a work that both centers on and critiques the eugenics movement and the drive toward a perfect society, may be seen to represent a certain starting point in this regard. Published six years prior to José Vasconcelos’s world-building La raza cósmica, it brings to life Villautopia, the capital of the Subconfederation of Central America, in the year 2218. Born in Cuba and raised in Mérida, Mexico, Urzaiz was a physician with expertise in both obstetrics and psychiatry. He was an early supporter of birth control and coeducation and played a substantial leadership role at all levels of the then-developing educational system in the Yucatán.[1] This diversity of thought finds space in Eugenia, an elusive work framed as a love story where the value of modernization and an aesthetically grounded philosophy of procreation, the role of indigeneity in this future, and the concept of utopia itself are left productively unsettled. As such, the work forces a valuable contemplation. However, despite the somewhat nuanced and progressive nature of the futuristic sketch it provides, an idea of blackness rests on solid and antiquated ground. In Urzaiz’s imagination, Booker T. Kuzubé and Lincoln Mandínguez, two pejoratively named black doctors from the fictionalized Hottentot nation in Africa, come to Villautopia to learn of its eugenic practices and prevent “the evolutionary stagnation of their race.”[2] And here we hear the anachronistic echo of Vasconcelos’s straight-faced visioning of a fifth race synthesized from what he understood as White, Black, Native American, and Asian components that shaped Mexican racial thought (and Latin American thought more broadly). As many who study Latin America know, it is a synthesis that in many ways constrains the indigenous component and disappears the black.

Urzaiz’s black doctors are described, “like those of their race,” as having “formidable cannibal-like teeth” and a developed custom of “sleeping anywhere at any time.”[3] And while much of the legible world has been remade by Urzaiz (there exist the Confederation of the Americas and the Euro-Asian Confederation, for example), the system of “Africa” does not contain the possibility of such revision. So here, after a series of scenes that make up only a few pages of the novel, ends the narrative’s investment in any idea of blackness. It is either a blindness to or, if reading generously, a spot-on description of the cultural moment. In either case, there is no relief or subtlety to produce a vacillation or a rethinking in regard to the role of blackness in this (almost) aesthetically pure future. And while some of the scholarship surrounding Eugenia does address these few scenes, and this includes the work done by the editors and translators of the important 2016 English critical edition, this scholarship does not go much beyond noting that the representation of blackness by Urzaiz was clearly influenced by the eugenics movement. It is a scholarship apparently conditioned by a relative loss for words when interrogating what may lie beneath the surfacing of these representatives of Hottentot. And while my concern in the pages that follow is not with Eugenia as an object, the novel’s narrative does demand that a future blackness be not only nonexistent within the bounds of what one might argue to be a surrogate Mexico but manifested beyond this border as irrevocably backward in nature. This demand very much aligns with my interest in understanding Mexico as a space that collectively understands itself, and is largely understood by those looking in, as devoid of any substantial blackness. In other words, it is helpful to start with the fact that we have caught up with the vanishings of Urzaiz’s futures.

… In this book I construct a framework that facilitates an examination of this psychic vanishing in the Mexican context in order to think through how this might nurture and open up related discourses within the field of a United States–facing black studies … Mexico’s much longer trajectory concerning postraciality and the disappearance of black radical possibility gives clarity to the relation between ideas of blackness that remain legible and acceptable within the boundaries of a collective liberal imagination and those settling on the other side of this boundary that would otherwise compromise this imagination. Following this, I look to the center (not periphery) of several popular and canonical texts (literary, cinematic, archival, etc.) to find flashes of this nonpresence in order to sharpen an understanding of the question, How, in this contemporary moment, can a text be read to tell the story of something that has to have no story? [4] My project, however, remains distinct from those that have been drawn to the intersection of ideas of vanishing and race via theoretical frameworks grounded in haunting. Productive as these frameworks can be, I wish to move toward an unreadable fragmentation and away from the underlying assumptions of recoverability, however limited, that an idiom inflected by haunting implicitly presents. The work is thus a modeling of a practice of reading that honors and encourages the disruptive possibilities offered by a sustained, if anxious, awareness of what I understand as the nigrescent beyond, or that which lies, irretrievable, beyond the horizon of the process of vanishing itself. As such, nigrescence, the process of becoming dark, is mobilized to articulate the contours of a barrier at the limits of a collective liberal imagination, beyond which certain radical black matter(s) has become and is becoming unreadable even as one reads.

[1] Eduardo Urzaiz, Eugenia: A Fictional Sketch of Future Customs: A Critical Edition. Edited and translated by Sarah A. Buck Kachaluba and Aaron Dziubinskyj (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), xx-xxvi.

[2] Ibid., 27

[3] Ibid., 28, 32.

[4] The italics are a refashioning of Frank Wilderson’s question “How does a film tell the story of a being that has no story?” See Red, White, and Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 28.

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Ricardo A. Wilson II

RICARDO A. WILSON II is an assistant professor in the Department of English and affiliate faculty in the Program in Comparative Literature at Williams College.

“Sovereignty: A Play” and a landmark legal decision for Native Americans

by Mary Kathryn Nagel

On July 9, in the case of McGirt v. Oklahoma, the US Supreme Court issued a watershed decision for Native American legal rights. The 5-4 decision acknowledged that the US government must honor its 1866 grant of nineteen million acres to the Muscogee Nation. In her 2018 play, Sovereignty, Native American lawyer and playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle dramatized many of the exact issues that McGirt v. Oklahoma addressed. Below is a scene from her play.

SARAH is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and a graduate of Yale Law School who returns home after a long absence. WATIE is her brother. He works for the Cherokee Nation police force. BEN is a Special Victims Unit police officer in present-day Oklahoma. MITCH is non-Indian lawyer living in Oklahoma and a childhood friend of Sarah and Watie.

BEN: So crazy to be standing there—you know, two sets of police, and neither one of us could do anything.

SARAH: Because of Oliphant.

BEN: An elephant?

MITCH and SARAH: Oliphant.

MITCH: Supreme Court case.

WATIE: Oh no. Two attorneys in the same room.

SARAH: In 1978 the Supreme Court said Tribes can no longer exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who come onto tribal lands and commit a crime.

BEN: That’s just wrong.

SARAH: Tell that to your United States Supreme Court.

BEN: You don’t like the court?

SARAH: I respect it.

BEN: So you’re like a Catholic that hates the Vatican.

SARAH: It’s hard to worship an institution that always decides against you.

BEN: You’ve never won a case?

SARAH: Worcester v. Georgia.

WATIE: We won a case in 1822.

SARAH: Thirty-two.

WATIE: Thirty-two, excuse me.

BEN: Rooster v. Georgia?

SARAH: Yes, but pronounced “wooster.”

BEN: Indians have weird names.

WATIE: Worcester was white.

SARAH: We won that case. And we’ve lost ever since.

BEN: So you’re telling me that because of this Elephant case, I could steal your car, I could steal your yoga mat—

SARAH: I don’t do yoga.

BEN: But if you did—

SARAH: You could set my house on fire, graffiti our courthouse, kill someone, basically do whatever you want, and Cherokee Nation could never prosecute you. But, if Cherokee Nation were to actually get off its butt and implement VAWA, we could prosecute domestic violence crimes perpetrated by non-Indians.

WATIE: Va what?

SARAH: Violence Against Women Act. You don’t know about the Violence Against Women Act?

WATIE: I’m a man.

SARAH: Just six years ago, Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act with a tribal jurisdiction provision in it.

WATIE: You lost me at authorized. Can I make a suggestion? Skip anything above two syllables.

BEN: VA-WA, that works.

SARAH: In VAWA, Congress restored a piece of our criminal jurisdiction. The criminal jurisdiction that Oliphant took away.

WATIE: Jur-is-dic-shun. You lost me at dick.

SARAH: You know jurisdiction.

WATIE: I know we don’t have it. Over white guys.

SARAH: And I’m telling you that VAWA restored it. A piece of it.

WATIE: Oh. Wow.

SARAH: Yeah.

WATIE: Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?

SARAH: I swear. Sometimes I want to hit you.

MITCH: You’re not the only one.

BEN [to SARAH]: Are you this passionate about everything in life?

MARY KATHRYN NAGLE is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Her play Sliver of a Full Moon has been performed at law schools across the United States, and she has received commissions from Arena Stage, the Rose Theater, Portland Center Stage, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Yale Repertory Theatre, Round House Theatre, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She served as the first executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program from 2015 to 2019. Nagle is also a partner at Pipestem Law, P.C., where she works to protect tribal sovereignty and the inherent right of Indian Nations to protect their women and children from domestic violence and sexual assault. She has authored numerous briefs in federal appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

Sovereignty unfolds over two parallel timelines. In present-day Oklahoma, a young Cherokee lawyer, Sarah Ridge Polson, and her colleague Jim Ross defend the inherent jurisdiction of Cherokee Nation in the US Supreme Court when a non-Indian defendant challenges the Nation’s authority to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence. Their collaboration is juxtaposed with scenes from 1835, when Cherokee Nation was eight hundred miles to the east in the southern Appalachians. That year, Sarah’s and Jim’s ancestors, historic Cherokee rivals, were bitterly divided over a proposed treaty with the administration of Andrew Jackson, the Treaty of New Echota, which led to the nation’s removal to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears. Taking as its point of departure the story of one lawyer’s passionate defense of the rights of her people to prosecute non-natives who commit crimes on reservations, Sovereignty opens up into an expansive exploration of the circular continuity of history, human memory, and the power of human relationships.

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“Miss Muriel”

ALMOST EVERY DAY, Ruth Davis and I walk home from school together. We walk very slowly because we like to talk to each other and we don’t get much chance in school or after school either. We are very much alike. We are both twelve years old and we are freshmen in high school and we never study—well, not very much, because we learn faster than the rest of the class. We laugh about the same things and we are curious about the same things. We even wear our hair in the same style—thick braids halfway down our backs. We are not alike in one respect. She is white and I am black.

Yesterday when we reached the building that houses my father’s drugstore, we sat down on the front steps—long wooden steps that go all the way across the front of the building. Ruth said, “I wish I lived here,” and patted the steps though they are very splintery.

Aunt Sophronia must have heard our voices, because she came to the door and said, “I left my shoes at the shoemaker’s this morning. Please go and get them for me,” and she handed me a little cardboard ticket with a number on it.

“You want to come with me, Ruth?”

“I’ve got to go home. I’m sure my aunt will have things for me to do. Just like your aunt.” She smiled at Aunt Sophronia. I walked partway home with Ruth and then turned back and went up Petticoat Lane toward the shoemaker’s shop. Mr. Bemish, the shoemaker, is a little white man with gray hair. He has a glass eye. This eye is not the same color as his own eye. It is a deeper gray. If I stand too close to him, I get a squeam­ish feeling because one eye moves in its socket and the other eye does not.

Mr. Bemish and I are friends. I am always taking shoes to his shop to be repaired. We do not own a horse and buggy and so we walk a great deal. In fact, there is a family rule that we must walk any distance under three miles. As a result, our shoes are in constant need of repair, the soles and heels have to be replaced, and we always seem to be in need of shoelaces. Quite often I snag the uppers on the bull briars in the woods and then the tears have to be stitched.

When I went to get Aunt Sophronia’s shoes, Mr. Bemish was sitting near the window. It is a big window and he has a very nice view of the street. He had on his leather apron and his eyeglasses. His glasses are small and they have steel rims. He was sewing a shoe and he had a long length of waxed linen thread in his needle. He waxes the thread himself.

I handed him the ticket and he got up from his workbench to get the shoes. I saw that he had separated them from the other shoes. These are Aunt Sophronia’s store shoes. They had been polished so that they shone like patent leather. They lay alone, near the front of the table where he keeps the shoes he has repaired. He leaned toward me and I moved away from him. I did not like being so close to his glass eye.

“The lady who brought these shoes in. Who is she?”

I looked at him and raised one eyebrow. It has taken me two months of constant practice in front of a mirror to master the art of lifting one eyebrow.

Mr. Bemish said, “What’s the matter with you? Didn’t you hear what I said? Who was that lady who brought these shoes in?”

Excerpted from “Miss Muriel,” the title story in Miss Muriel and Other Stories.

Ann Petry

ANN PETRY (1908–1997) was a reporter, pharmacist, social worker, and community activist. She illuminated the range of black and white experience in her novels, short stories, and other writing. Her book The Street was the first novel by an African American woman to sell more than a million copies. Her novels The Narrows and Country Place are also available from Northwestern University Press.

This edition published in 2017 by Northwestern University Press with a new by foreword by Jamilah Lemieux. Copyright © 1945, 1947, 1958, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971 by Ann Petry. Foreword copyright © 2017 by Jamilah Lemieux. Published 2017 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

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The Dead Season

Excerpted from Collected Stories by Bruno Schulz. Translated from the Polish by Madeline G. Levine and with a foreword by Rivka Galchen.

“Bruno Schulz is arguably the most influential author the Polish language has ever known . . . Levine finally allows English-language readers to spend time with the living Bruno Schulz—serious, funny and breathtakingly real.” ⁠—Times Literary Supplement

At five in the morning, a morning brilliant from early sunshine, our house had already been bathed for a long time in ardent and quiet morning radiance. At that solemn hour, unobserved by anyone—while across the room in the semidarkness of lowered drapes the peaceful breathing of sleeping people still moved in solidarity—in total silence it entered into the facade that was blazing in the sunlight, into the silence of the early heat, as if its entire surface were made of blissfully slumbering eyelids. Thus, profiting from the silence of those solemn hours, it swallowed the very first fire of morning with a blissfully slumbering face, fainter in the radiance, with the arrangement of its features trembling slightly in the dream-filled sleep of that intense hour. The shadow of the acacia in front of the house, waving brightly on those burning eyelids, repeated on their surface as if on a piano, over and over again, the same glittering phrase washed away by a breeze, vainly attempting to penetrate the depths of that golden dream. The canvas drapes absorbed the morning heat, portion after portion, and grew darkly suntanned, swooning in the boundless radiance.

Bruno Schulz, self portrait, 1920-1922

At that early hour, my father, no longer able to find sleep, descended the stairs, laden with his books, in order to open the shop, which was located on the ground floor of our apartment building. He stood motionless in the entrance for a moment, withstanding with tightly closed eyes the powerful attack of fiery sunshine. The sun-bright wall of the house drew him sweetly into its blissfully leveled flatness, smoothed down to the point of disappearance. For a moment he became a flat father, grown into the facade, and he felt his arms, branching out, trembling and warm, fuse flat amid the golden stucco decorations of the facade. (How many fathers have already grown permanently into a facade at five in the morning, at the moment when they stepped off the bottom step of a staircase? How many fathers have become in this way forever the keepers of their own door, flatly sculpted onto the frame, with a hand on the door handle and a face unfolded into the same parallel, blissful grooves over which their sons’ fingers would later travel lovingly, seeking the last traces of their fathers now merged forever into the universal smile of the facade?) But then he detached himself with his last bit of will, regained the third dimension, and turned into a man once again, freeing the shackled shop door from its padlocks and iron bars.

When he opened the heavy, ironclad wing of the shop door the grumbling gloom retreated one step from the entrance, drew back a few inches into the depths of the shop, changed its place, and lay down lazily inside. Invisibly giving off steam from the still-cool paving stones of the sidewalk, the morning freshness stood timidly on the threshold as a faint, trembling strip of air. Deep inside, the darkness of many previous days and nights lay in the unopened bales of cloth that were arranged in layers and ran in rows into the interior, in muffled parades and pilgrimages, until it came powerlessly to a stop in the very heart of the shop, in the dark stockroom, where, already undifferentiated and replete with itself, it dissolved into the silent, looming, ur-matter of cloth.

Father walked along that tall wall of cheviot wools and twills, trailing his hand along the edges of cloth bales as if along the slits of women’s dresses. Under his touch, the rows of blind torsos that were always ready to panic, to break out of line, would calm down and consolidate in their cloth hierarchies and order.

BRUNO SCHULZ (1892–1942) was a Polish Jew born in Drohobych, at the time a city in Austrian Galicia. He published two volumes of short fiction during his life. Shot in the street by a Nazi officer in German-occupied Drohobych, Schulz achieved posthumous fame as one of the most influential European fiction writers of the twentieth century.

MADELINE G. LEVINE is Kenan Professor of Slavic Literatures Emerita at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her translations from the Polish include The Woman from Hamburg and Other True Stories by Hanna Krall, Bread for the Departed by Bogdan Wojdowski, and four volumes of prose by Czeslaw Milosz, including Beginning with My Streets: Essays and Recollections and Milosz’s ABC’s.


By Sterling Brown

This is not Jordan River
There lies not Canaan
There is still
One more wide river to cross.

This is the Mississippi
And the stars tell us only
That this is not the road.

We do not know
If any have reached that Canaan
We have received no word.

Behind us the belling pack
Beyond them the hunters
Before us the dismal swamp.

We do not know. . . .

We have exchanged Louisiana for Mississippi
Georgia for Florida
Carolina for Tennessee.

We have passed, repassed
So many rivers
Okmulgee, Chattahoochee,
St. Mary’s, Mississippi,
Alabama, Tennessee,
We have leapt
From swamp land
Into marshes
We have won through
To bloodred clay
To gravel and rock
To the baked lands
To the scorched barrens.

And we grow footsore
And muscle weary
Our faces grow sullen
And our hearts numb

We do not know. . . .

We know only
That there lies not Canaan
That this is no River Jordan.

Still are we motherless children
Still are we dragging travelers
Alone, and a long ways from home.

Still with the hard earth for our folding bed
Still with our head pillowed upon a rock

And still
With one more river,
Oh, one wide river to cross.

BROWN.inddSTERLING A. BROWN (1901–1989) was one of the most important and influential figures in the development of African American literature and criticism in the twentieth century. Born in Washington, D.C., he was not only a poet but also a distinguished folklorist, anthologist, critic, and reviewer. Brown was a professor at Howard University for forty years.

From The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown; edited by Michael S. Harper, foreword by Cornelius Eady. Copyright © 1980 by Sterling A. Brown. Published 1989 by TriQuarterly Books/Another Chicago Press by arrangement with Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. This edition published 2020 by arrangement with the John L. Dennis Revocable Trust.

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John Moutoussamy House, 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place

by Lee Bey

An excerpt from Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side

John Moutoussamy was the first black architect to make partner at a majority white Chicago architecture firm. His Johnson Publishing Building on South Michigan Avenue is still the only downtown skyscraper designed by a black person.

John Moutoussamy House, 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place
Architect Moutoussamy designed this elegant one-story home for himself and his family

Lesser known is the refined modernist home Moutoussamy designed for himself, his wife, and three children at 361 East Eighty-Ninth Place in the South Side’s Chatham community. Built in 1954, the blonde-brick residence is elegant in its simplicity; the home and its integrated garage greet the street as a single rectangular piece.

The Moutoussamy House is part of a notable cluster of modernist houses that were built in Chatham as the neighborhood became a prime spot for solidly middle-class and well-off African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.


LEE BEY is a photographer, writer, lecturer, and consultant who documents and interprets the built environment—and the often complex political, social, and racial forces that shape spaces and places. His writing on architecture and urban design has been featured in ArchitectChicago magazine, Architectural Record, and many news outlets. His photography has appeared in Chicago ArchitectOld-House JournalCITE, and in international design publications, including Bauwelt and Modulør. A former Chicago Sun-Times architecture critic, Bey is also a senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and served as deputy chief of staff for urban planning under former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.


From SOUTHERN EXPOSURE: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side. Text and photographs copyright © 2019 by Lee Bey. Foreword copyright © 2019 by Amanda Williams. Published 2019 by Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Northwestern University Press gratefully acknowledges the support of the the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.

Northwestern strives to be an instrument for change. Click here to visit our suggested reading list.

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“Fou diumenge passat” / “Last Sunday”

By J.V. Foix

Translated from the Catalan by Lawrence Venuti

From Daybook 1918: Early Fragments


Fou diumenge passat, a les tres de la tarda, sobre el pont del passeig, que un embriac occí una dona per amor d’una rosa que l’homicida abandonà damunt el toll de sang. Ja el diumenge abans hom havia assenyalat un fet idèntic al mateix indret i a la mateixa hora. Pressento per a avui un crim equivalent. Em cal, doncs, advertir el taverner i avisar la policia. Però, Déu meu, i si fos jo l’assassí? Vet ací el meu got vessant de vi, el carmí dels teus llavis, del teu si, del teu sexe, reflectit dins la tèrbola beguda roja. Aboqueu més vi, Rafel!, són dos quarts de tres; al pont del passeig hi ha una dona amb una rosa a la mà i el meu coltell és fi com l’aresta d’un estel.


black dot


Last Sunday, at three in the afternoon, on the bridge over the boulevard, a drunken man killed a woman for the love of a rose which the murderer abandoned in the pool of blood. The previous Sunday, in fact, someone had noted that an identical act would occur at the same place and the same time. I have the foreboding that an equivalent crime will be committed today. I must therefore warn the owner of the taverna and notify the police. But, my God, what if I am the assassin? Here before me stands a glass brimming with wine, the carmine of your lips, your nipples, your sex, reflected in the turbid red drink. Pour out my wine, Rafael! It is half past two. On the bridge over the boulevard stands a woman with a rose in her hand, and my knife is as sharp as the edge of a star.



daybook-1918J. V. FOIX (1893–1987) was an influential poet, essayist, journalist, and figure in Catalan letters. He was active in the Catalan nationalist movement and instrumental in introducing the modernist avant-gardes into Catalonia. His poetry is distinguished by an experimentalism that synthesizes medieval literary traditions with modern tendencies like surrealism.

LAWRENCE VENUTI, a professor of English at Temple University, is a translation theorist and historian as well as a translator from Italian, French, and Catalan. He is the author, editor, or translator of twenty-five books, including The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation, The Translation Studies Reader, and Antonia Pozzi’s Breath: Poems and Letters.

English translation, introduction, notes, and selection of texts copyright © 2019 by
Lawrence Venuti. Published 2019 by Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved.