Monday, August 28, 2006

Interview with Home Again Editor

Jim McGarrah, co-editor with Tom Watson on the new Indiana Historical Society Press book Home Again, took time recently to answer questions about his role in the book of essays featuring some of Indiana's finest writers.

What prompted both of you to put together a book of essays on Indiana?

Tom and I were both writing some non-fiction essays at the time and exchanging them for editorial comments. One day we began talking about how many good writers actually wrote non-fiction that lived in Indiana and Tom came up with the idea of showcasing some of them in an anthology.

Describe your role as editors for the book?

Besides contributing essays to the project, Tom and I worked at laying out the order for the essays after collecting them, reading and re-reading them, suggesting changes and cuts in individual essays where we thought necessary, and proofreading drafts. Tom worked very hard at logistics as well, keeping all the authors connected and updated by e-mail and conversing with the Indiana Historical Society.

Was there a particular theme you wished to emphasize in the book?

Not at the beginning. However, as we collected essays, we noticed a theme developing. People were writing about Indiana as their home, someplace they moved to in order to establish some continuity in their lives, or moved away from and back to in a search for stability and harmony.

How did you go about recruiting authors for the essays?

Many of these authors we had met previously at writers' conferences throughout the country, or I had worked with some at RopeWalk Writers Retreat in New Harmony. A few, we just read and like their work. We either called , or mailed them and asked them to contribute to this project honoring Indiana.

At one time, Indiana enjoyed a great national reputation in literature.
How does the state fare today?

There is at least one world class writer still working who comes from this state, Kurt Vonnegut. And, their are some wonderful writers who still live and work here that enjoy well-deserved national reputations like Susan Neville, Scott Russell Sanders, Tony Ardizzone, and poets like Marianne Baruch and Kathy Bowman, just to name a few. This is in the literary arena. Some good genre writing (i.e. mystery, western, romance, etc.) and academic writing is also being produced. So, I would say Indiana can hold its own in the world of readable, and important literature.

Do you have a favorite essay?

I love Leisa Belleau's story about growing up around Rockport, Indiana, and I love the lyrical, almost poetic, language and rhythm in Patty Aakhus' essay about the chroral mass at St. Meinrad.

What projects are you working on now?

I have a memoir about my experiences in Vietnam, A Temporary Sort of Peace, which is due to be published in January of 2008 by your Press, and I am working on finding a publisher for my second collection of poetry, "Uneven Symmetry." Over this past summer, I began writing the draft of a sequel to my memoir.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Authors Explore Indiana Themes

Famed Indiana writer and wit George Ade once observed that a Hoosier seemed often to be a "puzzling combination of shy provincial, unfettered democrat, and Fourth of July orator," as well as being a storyteller by reason of being born in the state.

What it means today to make a home in the nineteenth state is examined in the Indiana Historical Society Press's new collection Home Again: Essays and Memoirs from Indiana. Editors Tom Watson and Jim McGarrah have brought together some of the state's finest writers to reflect on such themes as family, security, and, as the editors noted, "quests for a better life, a life rooted in Indiana."

"Perhaps this state is to the United States what the heart is to the body," the editors note in the book's introduction. "Everything that is the essence of what keeps us alive flows to and from this center, drawn in and pumped out to replenish and reinvigorate all the other parts."

The book includes essays from such well-known Hoosier literary figures as Kurt Vonnegut, Scott Russell Sanders, Susan Neville, Michael Martone, and David Hoppe. The many different meanings of "home" are examined in the book, including Alyce Miller discussing her attempts to become a Hoosier after having moved to Indiana from California, and Michele Gondi finding a place in the community of Mount Vernon after moving from her native Argentina.

The tone of the essays collected in Home Again range from the pastoral, as in Scott Saalman's account of his work with his grandfather in "Cider Days," to humorous yet scholarly, as in Rick Farrant's examination of the history of the name for Indiana residents, "Hunting for Hoosiers." Other essays explore such subjects as the Amish, hardware stores, lakes, Bobby Knight, unlocked doors, and urban sprawl.

McGarrah is an Indiana native. He has been managing editor of the national literary magazine The Southern Indiana Review since 1998 and teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Indiana. McGarrah codirects the RopeWalk Readers Series and serves on the RopeWalk Writers Retreat staff in New Harmony, Indiana, as well as the New Harmony Arts Committee.

Watson was born and raised in La Porte, Indiana. He is an online adjunct instructor of creative writing for Indiana University and recently retired from teaching writing for thirty years to at-risk populations for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Watson has been an associate editor for The Crescent Review and a contributing editor for Hunger Mountain, the Vermont College journal of arts and letters.

Home Again costs $19.95 and is available at the Society's Basile History Market gift shop. To order, call (800) 447-1830 or order online at the History Market.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Interview with Governor Book Editors

Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, editors of the new IHS Press book Governors of Indiana, took some time recently to answer some questions about the publication, which features detailed biographies and official portraits of the fifty men who have served as the Hoosier State’s chief executive. Gugin is a professor of political science at Indiana University Southeast and St. Clair is a professor of journalism at IU Southeast.

What prompted you two to do a book on Indiana Governors?

We saw a book on Georgia governors and liked the idea of such a book. We checked and found that there was no comparable publication for Indiana governors. There were briefer versions and dated versions, but nothing with in-depth information and nothing current. We thought the subject was interesting and that the book would be of interest to a wide range of people. We also thought that this project was a natural for us given our background in biographical research and writing. We have co-authored two biographical works, one on Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton and the other on Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson.

How did you go about recruiting contributors for the project?

We started by contacting colleagues who we knew had the research background and writing skills that were essential to producing a top quality publication. We also consulted with staff at the Indiana Historical Society who suggested people who had previously written about a specific governor, and we got leads for possible authors from historians at Indiana University in Bloomington and at IUPUI. We were fortunate that virtually everyone we contacted agreed to write an essay, and some even volunteered to do additional ones. We think we have a pretty impressive list of contributors, including the Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.

You two have collaborated before on book projects. How did you divide the work on this book?

We divided the work by century.

Jim: I was interested in working on Ashbel P. Willard, who was living in New Albany when he was elected governor, so I chose to edit the essays on nineteenth-century governors.

Linda: I had done a lot of research on Paul McNutt for the biography of Sherman Minton and wanted to write on McNutt. So I was happy to edit the essays on twentieth-century governors.

It turned out that there were about an equal number of governors in each century, and working on governors for each century was beneficial in other ways. For one, it allowed us to check the essays for continuity and possible discrepancies for succeeding governors. Plus we became knowledgeable with the recurring issues of specific eras.

In doing the book, what surprised you most about the state’s governors?

Working on the book reaffirmed for us the importance of the office of governor. We discovered that the office of governor was a wonderful lens for viewing the political, economic and social history of the state. We became aware of how central Indiana was to the fortunes of both national political parties. Indiana governors were often sought by the national parties for balancing considerations, and several governors went on to important national offices including territorial governor William Henry Harrison who became president, Thomas Hendricks who served as vice president under Grover Cleveland, Thomas Marshall who became Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, and Otis Bowen who served at Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Reagan.

Do each of you have a "favorite" governor?

It is hard to pick because there have been many able governors who have served the state well. Many were interesting characters, and it was fascinating to learn about them.

Jim: If I had to pick one it would be James Mount, a heroic figure during the Civil War, who was governor from 1897-1901. He was a reluctant politician but once he was elected he was conscientious and progressive. His term came when there was a lot of reform legislation at the national level, and at the state level he was able to push through laws to regulate business, improve worker health and safety and ensure the quality of food and drugs. He was an honest, decent, hardworking public servant who achieved quite a bit in his one term in office.

Linda: My pick is Paul McNutt. I became familiar with him while working on the Minton biography and was impressed with his understanding of how to accumulate power and use it to pursue his policy goals. McNutt, who was governor from 1933-1937, was without question one of the two most powerful governors in the state’s history. Historically, the office of governor has been a weak office, in terms of the formal powers available to the governor. Although McNutt was limited to only one term, he found ways, with the blessing of the legislature controlled by his party, to centralize authority in governor’s office. Serving during the height of the Great Depression he was able to establish many progressive programs including tax reform, socioeconomic legislation, and regulation of utilities.

Any advice for those who might want to tackle this sort of project in other states?

Before undertaking this kind of project it is essential to seek out potential publishers. We were fortunate that the Indiana Historical Society was receptive to our proposal from the beginning, and their staff were immensely helpful throughout the process. For people who plan to edit a work on governors, the most important thing is to select good writers and provide them at the outset with as much guidance and assistance as possible in terms of the format for the essay and suggestions for sources of information. Our most important advice to our authors was to write an engaging essay, to begin the essay with an overall theme, and to develop that theme throughout the essay. We also gave them specifics about what information was essential in the essay and what kind of information was not appropriate. Editing is hard work, and occasionally you will ruffle the feathers of some of the authors, and you need to learn diplomatic ways to deal with that. It is a very satisfying project. It provides a valuable resource for citizens of the state and future generations.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Indiana Governors Profiled

Did you know that Indiana’s first territorial governor, William Henry Harrison, became the ninth president of the United States and was the grandfather of the twenty-third president, Benjamin Harrison? That Henry S. Lane served the shortest term as Indiana governor, just three days? That two governors, Thomas A. Hendricks and Thomas R. Marshall, later served as vice presidents? That Civil War governor Oliver P. Morton was the first native-born Hoosier to serve as the state’s chief executive?

Recently released by the IHS Press, The Governors of Indiana includes detailed biographies and official portraits of the fifty men who have served as the Hoosier State’s chief executive.

Edited by Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, the 436-page, hardcover book includes biographical information and highlights the lives and careers of each governor, with special emphasis on the events and accomplishments during his time in office. Each governor's official portrait is also included. An introductory essay discusses the evolution of the office of governor and provides an overview of the people who have been governor.

The men who are featured deserve recognition if for no other reason than serving as chief executive of Indiana, the highest honor the state can bestow. In addition, many of them filled important offices on the national level, such as representative, senator, cabinet officer, ambassador, vice president, and president. Others achieved prominence outside of politics as successful lawyers, businessmen, and civic leaders.

In their introductory essay, the editors note that historically the office of governor in Indiana has been a weak institution compared to the power enjoyed by the state legislature and contrasted to the officer of governor in other states. Over time, however, the state’s chief executive has increasingly wielded more power than what was prescribed in the constitutions of 1816 and 1851.

Historical events have played a role in shaping gubernatorial authority. The book closely examines the administration of two of the state’s most powerful chief executives—Oliver P. Morton, governor during the Civil War, and Paul V. McNutt, who occupied the office during the grim days of the Great Depression. Republican Morton, a key supporter of President Abraham Lincoln, has been called “the most powerful governor of Indiana during the nineteenth century.” With the support of a Democratic legislature, McNutt could boast of a string of legislative victories that has never been matched by succeeding administrations.

Linda C. Gugin is a professor of political science at Indiana University Southeast and is cowriter of Sherman Minton: New Deal Senator, Cold War Justice and Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography. James E. St. Clair is a professor of journalism at Indiana University Southeast and is cowriter of Sherman Minton: New Deal Senator, Cold War Justice and Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography.

The Governors of Indiana costs $34.95 and is available at the Society's Basile History Market gift shop. To order, call (800) 447-1830 or order online at the History Market.