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April 2019

Oregon Book Award Winner: Dangerous Subjects

Dangerous Subjects Book Cover

Congratulations to OSU Press author Kenneth R. Coleman!


His first book, Dangerous Subjects: James D. Saules and The Rise of Black Exclusion in Oregon, won the Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction at the 2019 Oregon Book Awards.

Dangerous Subjects examines the history of black exclusion in Oregon through the story of James D. Saules, a black sailor who was shipwrecked off the Oregon coast in 1841. Coleman follows Saules’ story as he settles in Oregon and is faced with mounting dangers and racism from white settlers and the government as Oregon Trail emigrants arrive in the region.


In this interview with OSU Press, Coleman speaks more about why he chose to share this history through the eyes of a historical figure, and the impact he hopes this book will have.

Get your copy of Dangerous Subjects here!

Reflecting on Rivers, Part Two

Welcome back to Part 2 on our blog series on literature about rivers!

We're thrilled to feature this guest blog post by Peter Brewitt, author of Same River Twice: The Politics of Dam Removal and River Restoration.


There’s always a dam.


The neighborhood where I live in South Carolina is built around a lake, created by a dam. The pond down the street from my wife’s home in Vermont? Plugged up by a dam. The environmental studies center where I teach? Just below one dam, which hides another, older dam – we see it when the water’s low. This afternoon I biked through Columbus, Ohio, where I attended the American Society for Environmental History conference earlier this month. In a brief ride I saw two dams.


Your own streams are surely dammed-up as well; there are 2.5 million dams in this country. If you want to find your own dams, you can check out the Army Corps of Engineers’ map. But the Army Corps only includes about 4% of dams, so keep your eyes open. It may take some effort – our local dams are so routine that we often don’t notice them.


But they shape the waters around us. Along with turning streams into lakes, dams stop silt from going downstream, fish from swimming upstream, and water from flowing naturally. They are one-stop shops for ecological destruction.


Now, to be fair, dams can be useful tools, and every aspect of human life has some environmental impact. But dams, for the most part, are no longer offering much benefit in return for the costs they put on nature. 80+ percent of them are past their useful lives.


So we’ve started taking them out. For most of the 20th century, dam removal was crazy, the province of radicals and novelists. Why, people asked, would anyone take out a dam? Dams were progress and prosperity and civilization. Most people didn’t think about the environment very much, and those who thought about it didn’t have much power. Now in the 21st century, nearly a thousand dams have been removed, 69 of them in 2018 alone, according to NGO American Rivers. People are coming to realize that old dams and degraded rivers don’t need to exist forever.


But in many places, dam removal is controversial. There are plenty of people who loved the dammed water-scape, and plenty of people who still can’t believe anyone would take out a dam. The politics of dam removal – the ways people fight for and against their dams – are dynamic and passionate. There are few laws about old dams, so people who care about their rivers, and their dams, are creating a new political landscape, and a new part of river history, as they go. In Same River Twice, I tell stories of three major dam removals and the people who made them, as part of the larger story of America’s rivers.  


The story continues to evolve. In 2018, dams came out all over America, from Georgia to Minnesota, from Maine to California. And in Columbus. Just a little downstream of the last little dam I saw, on the Scioto River, is a dam removal site. Above it stand the skyscrapers of the city’s busy downtown. Below them, the river’s returned to its natural channel, and the banks are lushly recovering. Along the bike path are signs sharing the history of the Scioto and some semi-technical discussion of its restoration. The Scioto River runs freely through Columbus.


 Learn more about the politics and history of dam removal and purchase Same River Twice here!


PETER BREWITT grew up in Bangkok, Thailand, and East Alton, New Hampshire. After majoring in history at Dartmouth College, he spent five years as a naturalist, primarily in Yosemite National Park. He received his PhD in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he focused on environmental policy. He is now a professor at Wofford College, where he teaches and conducts research about the politics of ecological restoration. Same River Twice is his first book.

Reflecting on Rivers, Part One

Here at the 
OSU Press office in Corvallis, we’ve been watching the high flows on the Willamette this week and rivers are on our mind. Today we’re featuring three recent Press books that tell the story of rivers, in Oregon and around the world.



Speaking for the River book cover

Speaking for the River: Confronting Pollution on the Willamette, 1920s-1970s

Though the state of Oregon has a reputation for being green, one of its major rivers, the Willamette, has struggled with pollution throughout history and in the present day. James Hillegas-Elting looks to the past to explain the present, examining the complex political and technological issues that challenge this Or

egon river, and the communities and ecosystems that live alongside it. A must read for Oregonians and all interested in the health and protection of rivers.




book cover

Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy

Author and photographer Tim Palmer shares 160 breathtaking images of rivers in this book. All the rivers depicted are protected under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. In addition to highlighting their beauty, Tim investigates the importance of these rivers and the challenges they face. Also, several of the photographs from this book were recently made into postage stamps! Read more about this story and hear from Tim on the importance of these rivers in this blog post.



Same River Twice book coverSame River Twice: The Politics of Dam Removal and River Restoration

Using case studies from rivers in the Pacific Northwest, Peter Brewitt explores how dam removals, politics, and public policy intersect. This book is perfect for scholars of environmental politics, wildlife and public land professionals, and environmental activists.


Peter Brewitt will guest blog and focus on dam removals.


Stay tuned for Reflecting on Rivers, Part Two.

New Book Alert! The Eclipse I Call Father

We were thrilled to debut this new book at AWP 2019 in Portland and excited to share that it is available for purchase online.

Memory, place, and experience intersect in David Axelrod’s new collection of essays, The Eclipse I Call Father. David’s writing is lyrical and observant, reflecting his identity as a poet and traveler. Though he has lived and worked abroad for periods of time, David calls the Northwest home, and home is a central image in the essays of this book. Take a look at an excerpt from the essay “To Live as We Dream”, one of the essays in The Eclipse I Call Father  also featured online at Terrain:





My parents’ house, which they built in 1960, was a tiny, white, Modernist tract house constructed from sturdy materials, trimmed in green, with clean, plain lines, and overall an expression of practical, affordable design. Situated at the middle of a crabgrass lot, it fronted the bucolically named Pleasant Place, one lot north of forests and marshes that on summer nights erupted in choruses of frogs. Standing on my bed and looking through the casement window screen (why were windows always placed so high on the walls of houses built in that era?), I looked out into darkness hallucinatory with fireflies and the Milky Way. In a recent dream, I moved back into that house decorated as it was in 1960: sleek Danish-style furniture, Fauvist and Cubist prints, the RCA Victor console stereo with its collection of LPs by Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., and Nat King Cole. The accretions of over fifty intervening years of my life fit comfortably, if improbably, within the dream of that tiny house.


Early in his classic exploration of the home, The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard dwells on the way the intimacy of childhood spaces persists throughout our lives, especially in reveries. Lost in daydreams, we don’t so much inhabit the memory of our childhood home; instead, we live in its absence as we once dreamed in its presence. I’m inclined to agree with this, though it’s the houses not lived in as a child but visited and departed with an unusual feeling of well-being that interest me now.


That tract house my young parents built, and occupied as briefly as their marriage endured, always seemed untidy and cramped, at first full of manias, then a long bleak period of grief. It was quite the opposite of the houses of some of the family and friends we visited. Those houses always seemed aglow with the calm light of a November afternoon just before it begins to snow. Or in the oppressive humidity of an Ohio summer, those rooms remained cool, full of shadows the color of polished oak. Without exception, those were Craftsman houses.


The heavy front doors or foyers of Craftsman houses open into living rooms with large stone hearths, the many-lighted and beveled-glass windows, dark and heavily grained woodwork, built-in cabinets with glass-paneled doors, dining rooms with large bay windows, and the sight-lines of one room opening into another, creating the illusion of spacious luxury. The walls above the wainscoting were often painted in pale green that contrasted with the dark-grained woodwork, intended to harmonize with the natural world. These were houses designed with such a deep sense of spatial balance, intimacy, and structural integrity it’s hard to believe today that they were the typical homes of many working-class and lower-middle-class families in my hometown. That such houses could be purchased as kits and built quickly, often for less than a thousand dollars, is mind-blowing.


After more than a generation of shipping manufacturing jobs overseas, wage stagnation, the destruction of labor unions, and tax redistribution that transfers wealth upwards, today such working- and lower-middle-class families are lucky to be living in trailers or suburban ticky-tacky; lucky, that is, if they aren’t living in their cars, the homeless and dispossessed refugees of post-modernity.


Many of these same Craftsman houses now sell for as much as half a million dollars, even during the Great Recession we’re only now coming to the end of. At the height of its popularity, though, such architectural design was an expression of socialist idealism and respect; namely, the belief that all segments of society had access to domestic space that, at least in its design, nurtured the souls of its inhabitants and brought them into greater harmony with the natural world.


That’s a lot of wishful thinking, and it would be folly to imagine such an ahistorical reality existed; but as an ideal, as an aspiration, I’m all for it now, and even as a child, sensed its power. In her survey of social reform aesthetics, “House and Home in the Arts and Crafts Era: Reforms for Simpler Living,” Cheryl Robertson quotes Kate Greenleaf Locke from a 1907 issue of House & Garden: “[Craftsman design] appeals to a wide circle and several classes. . . . there is yet in its atmosphere a delightful flavor of Bohemianism and the liberty and originality that camp life and studio life permits.” Robertson concludes: “the bungalow combined the attributes of taste, rusticity, and economy . . . [and applied them] to the villa, farmhouse, and cottage . . . [a] democratization of domestic architecture [that is] evidenced in ‘classless’ bungalows.” That’s surely a more thoughtful idealism about how we might occupy space and has proven far more durable than most contemporary, postmodern spaces. Many corporate spaces and post-war apartment blocks, by contrast, particularly those remnant examples of Brutalism, compound error upon error and become, in the critique of Christopher Alexander, forbidding “reservoirs” of stress. Such poured concrete, bunker-like buildings seem designed to allow for little else than the possibility of siege.




In the summer of 2002, I visited a friend in Billings, Montana, who lived in a neighborhood like many in the American West, dating from the 1920s and full of Craftsman houses. His house, located near a corner on a narrow lot along a leafy street was, he stipulated, a “Craftsman cottage.” Inside were two bedrooms in which the original family raised five children. There were a multitude of kitchen cabinets, built-in bookcases in the half-walls between dining and living rooms, and wainscoting and hardwood floors. Filled with his sturdy antique furniture, it felt cozy inside despite the enormity of the Great Plains stretching north, south, and east for a thousand miles beyond the horizons.


During that visit, we rose early one day and drove to the mountains above Red Lodge. The light that July morning in the Rocky Mountains filtered down through lodgepole pines. We slowed as we passed through a cluster of structures, a pre–Great Depression “camp” below the Beartooth Plateau, where we intended to spend our day hiking. Scattered throughout the dense trees above and below the dusty road were a dozen or so tidy cabins and outbuildings constructed from materials available in the surrounding forests: unpeeled pine logs, river cobbles, and mud. The screened windows, porches, and doorways, and the rolled green asbestos roofing, recalled an era deep in the past, the world of my grandfather’s coming of age during the Great Depression. It was a moment when citizens briefly shared a belief in our egalitarian national destiny. Call this again what it is: an ahistorical claim. Nevertheless, it’s the lens through which I was taught to perceive my country’s ideals, if not its reality.


We passed by the camp so quickly, all I can recall with any clarity was a single fastidious cabin just above the road on the passenger side. It seemed more like a playhouse than a cabin. It was so tiny that it would have allowed just enough room for a bunk, maybe a bench, and a small stove on the front porch. Whoever had spent summers living there, I imagined, spent most of their days outdoors. When these cabins were built, only the most rudimentary road or, more likely, trail would have existed. Getting into that canyon would have required a good deal more effort than we made driving there in little more than an hour from Billings. These were very resourceful sojourners. Whoever they were, I immediately assumed I wanted to know them.


That tiny camp in the immensity of a Montana canyon, like my friend’s cottage back in Billings, seemed an unlikely confluence of egalitarian ideals and domestic intimacy, a reservoir of calm and comradeship, at ease with the natural world into which it was unobtrusively tucked away.




The Eclipse I Call Father is available to purchase online here.

DAVID AXELROD is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently The Open Hand and Folly, both from Lost Horse Press, as well as a previous collection of essays, Troubled Intimacies: A Life in the Interior West (Oregon State University Press). He is the editor of Sensational Nightingales: The Collected Poems of Walter Pavlich and the award-winning basalt: a journal of fine and literary arts, as well as the director of Eastern Oregon University’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing. In the spring of 2019, he joined Lynx House Press as its managing editor.

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