Lois Leveen


March 10, 2012

I Want a Pony.  And Freedom.

File under: I want a pony. And also my freedom, and that of 4 million other slaves.
Mary Bowser was only one of many African Americans whose intelligence proved critical to the Union army.

"On Jan. 24, 1862, a slave named Harry escaped to the Union picket line. Rather than return him to his owner, as other officers might have, Captain William Heine took him on as a guide and servant. He gave him a uniform, a pistol, a sabre and 'a good horse.' A full year before the Emancipation Proclamation or the enlistment of black soldiers, Harry became the first black cavalryman of the war. He knew every road and path in the area, and . . . [five days later] he was leading an armed raid against his former owners." Harry's story is included in a great recent piece in Disunion in the New York Times.
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March 8, 2012

Civil War Swimwear

Great bikinis of the Civil War. Let's face it, we've all googled ourselves. But when I googled to try to find the UK cover for my book, imagine my surprise to get this search result.
Turns out, a Brit website, bookgroupbooks.com picked my book for its choice for a best book club read for May (meaning it's released in May. You can read it any ol' month thereafter).

And on the same page of the blog, they have a list of best 2011 bookclub books for women, BECAUSE EVERYONE KNOWS THE PICTURE IS WHAT GETS YOU PEOPLE TO READ ONLINE POSTS is illustrated with this picture of Filipinas in bikinis.
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March 8, 2012

Petticoat Dis-junction

Petticoat Dis-Junction: a (transgendered) Civil War fact in honor of International Women's Day.
Loreta Velazquez
Women fought on the front lines in the Civil War. Some even sported facial hair, although alas not as fab as their male compatriots. Loreta Janeta Velazquez (pictured above) fought for the Confederates, disguised as a man. Jennie Hodgers fought for the Union, disguised as a man. Turns out, when you didn't do physicals as part of enlistment/draft, it was much easier to disguise self as what self was not.

Mary Bowser, of course, did not disguise herself as a man. She simply made use of the disguise provided in a culture that didn't find a black woman capable of "intelligence," in either sense of the word.

Happy International Women's Day, whatever you're wearing.
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March 7, 2012

Shakespeare Franklin Smackdown

In a Shakespeare v. Ben Franklin Smackdown ... I know who this writer would root for. Or should I say, for whom this writer would root.

Shakespeare wrote. A lot. For example, he wrote, "Never a borrower nor a lender be." (Apparently that did not apply to body parts, as he was one to implore, "Lend me your ears.")

Franklin wrote as well, although he did many other things, too. Like founding a library.

When it comes to books, I am all for being a borrower and a lender. I am a heavy user, currently having over a hundred books out from the library, with 15 more on hold. But my addiction extends beyond the books.

Because I'm not satisfied with using public library books in the privacy of my own home. Last night, I was at the fabulous culmination to our library's Everybody Reads program sponsored by Multnomah County Library--and just so you know how rocking our library life is here, I was out until past midnight. This afternoon, I'm leading a history workshop at the Canby Public Library. Tonight, I'm having dinner with librarians from FIVE different library systems in two states, to talk with them about Mary Bowser.

Tomorrow I may be going through library withdrawal. If you see a jittery, bespectacled woman outside your local branch library, that would be me.
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March 6, 2012

Books do not fall from the sky

Books do not fall from the sky. Which is why as part of Portland's Everybody Reads program, I'm teaching a seminar on HeidiDurrow's The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, looking at the 'literary lineage' of the novel.

We've covered everyone from William Blake to Hans Christian Andersen to Nella Larsen to Langston Hughes to Audre Lorde -- in just three sessions. And tonight, we'll be hearing from Heidi herself, when she speaks at "The Schnitz" here in Portland (for out of towners, the Schnitz is a lovely performance venue, not a sausage stand).

It's made me wonder what people will see as the literary precursors to my novel. I've got my own list, but readers may see some connections I don't.
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