Dear Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,
The highlight of this month was a personal note from the editor of ELAND Press in London, “Dear Mark, You have done Moritz proud!” This is in response to the essay they published in their newsletter, which they followed up with three ELAND books as a token of their appreciation.
In Culture Watch, I’ll share a personal story about the growing efforts to ban books by school boards here in Arizona. Amongst all the craziness, a sense of humor is a must, so I’ve included Just Keep Laughing, My Writing, Interviews and Reviews, Voices of the Day, and What Others Are Saying and of course, an updated Calendar.
I look forward to reviewing the three books the Editor of ELAND sent me, as they truly stand for, “Keeping the Best of Travel Writing Alive.” Here are just some of the responses I’ve received from this article:
Hi Mark, What a great essay. You sound like the official expert on Moritz Thomsen and the right person to pen a book about him! Congrats! Susan Pohlman Writer|Editor|Writing Coach
And the author of One Hundred Fires in Cuba, John Thorndike:
When I read Moritz Thomsen’s Living Poor in 1970, it became a guidepost for my young life. Living Poor was so good that I read all the rest of Moritz’s books, as soon as they came out. Now it’s lovely to see Mark Walker’s devotion to his life and work. Moritz should be more widely read. I’m sure we both agree. He’s one of the most honest and enticing writers I know—and I look forward to more essays like this one.
Here’s a link to the essay, which includes some comments about Moritz from several outstanding writers, including Paul Theroux:
One of my siblings recently sent me the following message from “Parents Defending Education,” which claimed, “No part of your child’s education is safe from ideology and political activism. Paradise Valley United School District in Arizona is considering math textbooks that claim conservatives are racist — even presenting it as fact. Parents Defending Education’s research team is identifying and exposing troubling examples like this from across the country. But to keep standing up to this political activism in schools, I’m counting on concerned parents like you for support.”
I was surprised, since I’d chosen Paradise Valley School District for my kids because it was reportedly one of the best. Two of my children graduated from one of the high schools in question and my youngest daughter’s husband is a librarian at a local community college.
After some initial research, I learned that the PV school district reportedly found texts with profanities and sexual references. I shared this with my kids, and they all said that finding sexually explicit materials in textbooks was never a problem and still isn’t, as most kids are discussing these issues anyway and their major source of information is online—not textbooks. https://www.12news.com/article/news/education/scottsdale-school-removes-smutty-book-from-reading-list/75-56be1b72-abe9-4ba5-abfd-894456bab248
They all checked out the message from Parents Defending Education and pointed out that this is a “fundraiser,” and the information it provides is not substantiated in any way.
I also found a recent article from the American Library Association, which reveals that this is not an isolated case, “…in terms of numbers, book challenges/bans in the past six months have been at their highest since the American Library Association began collecting information in 1990. More than 330 unique cases were reported.”
The American Library Association reported that since 1981, it saw nearly 1,000 books challenges – with most, but not all, coming from conservative groups. Last October, a key Republican state legislator in Texas called for school districts to review whether they held some of the 850 books he listed as making kids “uncomfortable or guilty.” Hundreds of titles have been removed since, including “from Sept. 1-Nov., 20 more than in any other three-month period…”
A professor friend at the University of Tennessee told me:
Here in Tennessee, we know a little bit about book banning! The Governor’s newest initiative is to form “American Patriots” through some kind of Civics Institute funded by the State and housed in the U of Tennessee. As you might guess, UT faculty are irate and protesting to a university administration that lacks “cojones,” as one might say in Spanish. Mike
My middle daughter’s hubby (the librarian) is on a committee that reviews and opposes book banning in general at one of our Community Colleges. So, our concern is that banning books from libraries and schools can’t prevent children from finding them, which is why some of the new book banning wave is being aimed not so much at children, but at punishing teachers and librarians—and at trying to narrow curriculum and classroom debates about controversial topics.
As parents with two children in Horizon High School, our focus was not the content of textbooks, but how to broaden our children’s life experience and opportunities to learn and grow into balanced world citizens and professionals. We sent them to Europe for a year with Rotary’s Youth Exchange program—two in Germany and one in France, where they learned a third language and matured immensely. As far as the content of textbooks—I’ll refer you to my recent book review of Lies My Teacher Told Me, which focuses on the information our students are not being told, which would impact the way they see the world and how they treat others http://millionmilewalker.com/2022/01/lies-my-teacher-told-me-everything-your-american-history-textbook-got-wrong-by-james-w-loewen-reviewed-by-mark-d-walker/
Attacking books has been an American tradition since 1650, when Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony seized William Pynchon’s “The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption,” labeling it blasphemous to say obedience, and not suffering, led to atonement… From 2000-2009, the Harry Potter books were the most challenged, accused of “promoting the occult and Satanism…”
Below is an article from the “Washington Post” that explains why the effort to ban books is different today from other times it has been attempted in our history. “Now we are seeing a new way of book bans, marked by an unprecedented number of challenges and intense polarization. Its focus: narrowing the universe of information in schools and public libraries that might challenge young people on race and gender—the same issues at the center of the political and cultural wars ripping through the country.”
Amanpour & Co. recently hosted a revealing interview with authors Jason Reynolds and Kiese Laymon on what it’s like to have your books challenged and banned in several school boards around the country. Jason Reynolds is an Ambassador for Youth Literature and says that our focus needs to be what’s good for the children, not the parents. Books should be the basis of discovery. Feeling “uncomfortable” is the basis of learning new things. And education should be about children learning new things—so that education can be revised. He goes on to say that during his readings—no children seemed overwhelmed or left the room during his readings— “the kids are alright.” Focusing on our children’s educational needs, rather than insecure, biased parents, is key to a more balanced approach to how our children learn.
What to do? Well, if you’re the Penguin CEO, you set up a $500,000 trust to combat book-banning efforts. And call it the Dohle Book Defense Fund in conjunction with PEN America.
And for those who write or just read books, join PEN America. A writer friend of mine submitted my name to participate in an event being organized in Phoenix. PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. They champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. And their mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Founded in 1922, PEN America is the largest of the more than 100 centers worldwide that make up the PEN International network—and I love international networks. https://pen.org/
Just Keep Laughing
On the former president’s praise of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“The entire world is aghast and horrified. The only people who could possibly think this is a good move are those unemployed fringe weirdos who go on small radio shows.” — SETH MEYERS
“Keep in mind Trump also used the words ‘savvy’ and ‘genius’ to describe McDonald’s Dollar Menu.” — JIMMY FALLON
“So honestly, I’m not sure you want to be called a genius by the guy that clogged the White House toilet with classified documents.” — JIMMY FALLON
My Writing, Interviews & Reviews:
My Review of Paul Theroux’s, “Under the Waves of Waimea,” will be published in March’s issue of “Scarlet Leaf Review.”
Here’s a more detailed version of my “Traveling Through the Land of the Eternal Spring: A Literary Journey,” just published in Revue Magazine. It tells the story of my introduction to Guatemala and reviews of the books of four authors, two Nobel Prize in Literature laureates, which explain the impact of U.S. corporations and our government on the future of Guatemala, including the consequences that have resulted in a record number of Guatemalans fleeing their country for the U.S. today. Please take the time to leave a comment at the end of the essay, https://www.revuemag.com/2022/02/traveling-through-the-land-of-the-eternal-spring-a-literary-journey-by-mark-d-walker/
I met the author of the latest book I’ve reviewed at the Desert Nights Writers Conference at ASU in Tempe several years ago, and was impressed by Alberto Rios’ literary acumen, as well as his insights into the Hispanic community. I told him about my connections and interests in Latino culture and asked about participating in his literary interview show, Books & Co., which he hosted for eight years on PBS. He currently hosts an arts interview show “Art in the 48.” He was named Arizona’s first poet laureate in 2013, a post he still holds.
I decided to start with one of his best-known books, The Iguana Killer: Twelve Stories of the Heart, which is considered a Chicano Fiction classic, and was not disappointed. As one critic put it, “The Iguana Killer might not be the Chicano version of ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ but it is close.” Here’s the entire review: http://millionmilewalker.com/2022/02/the-iguana-killer-12-stories-of-the-heart-by-alberto-rivero-rios-reviewed-by-mark-d-walker/
You can still find my essay, “Ramon and Moritz: A Partnership of the Black Coast,” in the “Arizona Authors Association 2022 Literary Magazine,” along with other winning entries of unpublished novels, essays, and poetry from authors in Arizona and around the world. https://www.amazon.com/2022-Arizona-Literary-Magazine-Winning/dp/B09J7FZYT2/ref=sr_1_6?crid=15JVCVH461GAB&keywords=Arizona+Literary+Magazine&qid=1640269058&s=books&sprefix=arizona+literary+magazine%2Cstripbooks%2C126&sr=1-6
Voices of the Day
For Reading Addicts
A truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone.
The Heinlein Society
What Others Are Saying
Of my book Different Latitudes, from a high school friend and fellow writer, David Thyfault:
When I’m sitting at my computer, my copy of this book is less than 6 feet away. I’m amazed at how one man’s dream can evolve into a family’s never-ending pool of positive ripples.
Of my essay, “Traveling Through the Land of the Eternal Spring,” in Revue Magazine:
Mark, it was a privilege to read your rich, evocative work. I look forward to reading your other pieces. Thank you for sharing this astounding piece. When my husband and I served, it was staggering how many people we met just walking around like regular people, but carrying always the trauma of genocide, like a tinaja full of water. I haven’t read any Francisco Goldman since Long Night of White Chickens. I’ll be getting back to that as well. Catherine (Totonicapan 89-92)
Of my essay, “The Saddest Pleasure,” in ELAND Press’s newsletter:
Mark —By far and away your best work about Moritz, keep it up!
Tom Miller, mentor, and author of The Banana Hat Trail and Revenge of the Saguaro, among other books.
- Tentatively early May – A performance of “La Pulsera” (The Bracelet) for “For the Love of Story” at Carefree’s Sanderson Outdoor Pavilion.
- A visit from the president of the National Peace Corps Association, Glenn Blumhorst, March 2-9 to promote NPCA affiliates like “Partnering for Peace.”
You can find my 60 book reviews and 28 articles, plus several videos
at www.MillionMileWalker.com “Follow” me on Twitter. https://twitter.com/millionmile, @millionmile_wal and Facebook http://www.facebook.com/millionmilewalker/?modal=invite a friend for the latest on international affairs and literature. And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” by all means, rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it.