Scribes & Cartographers: The Nonstop Metropolis Team at NACIS 2016

This past weekend saw cartographers from the world over gather in Colorado Springs, CO for the North American Cartographic Information Society’s annual meeting. On Saturday eve, the Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography was presented to Rebecca Solnit. Attending in her stead, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, co-author of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, accepted the award on Solnit’s behalf.

In addition, Jelly-Schapiro delivered the keynote address, where he discussed in detail the maps from the city atlas series. His comparison of a scribe being awarded a cartography prize—by the top mappists in the land—being a bit like Bob Dylan winning his Nobel Prize in Literature was met with appreciation (and laughter) from the crowd.

Below is the speech penned by Rebecca and delivered by Josh. And, thanks to the world we live in, we could follow along via live reports from the scene:

Including a shout-out for the work of contributing cartographer, Chris Henrick:

Many years ago, I heard my dear friend and mentor Barry Lopez read his story “The Mappist,” in which the character Corlis Benefideo appears. I loved it, and of everything Barry’s ever written that I know, it seems most like Jorge Luis Borges’s work: a proposition about the possibilities of the world and the objects in it—in this case, maps and atlases, and their capacity to tell stories, transmit wonder, elicit passion, deepen our sense of place, and become compelling works of art. The story proposes other kinds of beauty than the ones we commonly hear about: the beauty of meaning, of devotion manifested through longterm projects, of intimate sense of place, and of maps as aesthetic objects.

To receive an award for maps of real places named after a fictional character is magical realism enough, but I want to exult in the fact that Barry Lopez wrote a small gem of an essay for the final atlas in our trilogy: Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, co-directed and co-edited by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, who’s come to accept the award on behalf of this eight-year three-volume project of mapping the three cultural capitals, the three island republics, that adorn the three coasts of the Lower 48. To receive an award named after a fictional character by a writer who also appears in the work for which the award is given is convoluted in a wonderful way, a moebius strip of friendship and impact, a tribute to how we make the world we inhabit.

I am sorry I can’t be here tonight, not least to try to recruit a few dozen cartographers for any future projects that may arise, but I’m truly grateful and deeply honored. Who better to decide the merits of our adventures in mapping than the people who make maps? I want to thank the cartographers I’ve worked with on these three books, Ben Pease, the main cartographer for the first atlas, Shizue Seigel for the second, and Molly Roy for the third, with extraordinary contributions by Richard Campanella, Chris Henrick, Darin Jensen, Jakob Rosenzweig and Ruth Askevold of the Estuary Institute, all designed into harmonious glory by Lia Tjandra of UC Press.

There are two kinds of books, and the kind that have maps in them have always struck me as slightly better, whether they’re maps of fictional places, as with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and its beautiful maps hand-drawn by Tolkien’s son, or of places on this earth, as with the endpapers for Bernard DeVoto’s 1846: Year of Decision or so many of the western and urban books that fed my ideas about place and about the possibilities of maps. Maps are invitations to dream, to travel in our heads, to contemplate places and movements and relationships. Like no other kind of art, they invite us to imagine our own movements across the space depicted.

I began making atlases for several reasons, and I learned so much about maps as I went along. I wanted to make a series of propositions about cities that maps could make in ways my lifelong main medium, writing, doesn’t. If the narrative we call a storyline is like a road, a path, a river, then a map allows multiple storylines and times to overlap, collide, converge, and intersect. My first proposition in the maps we made was that cities are places of myriad coexistences between complementary and competing phenomena. The second was that cities are intellectually infinite: you can just map the roads and the parking and maybe the shopping or restaurants and leave it at that, and most utilitarian maps do, but there’s no reason why you can’t map the butterfly species or queer public spaces, the musical history or crime scenes or carbon footprints or spiritual life and sea level rise. Maps are versions of places, and every place exists in innumerable versions. The old Borges story about the map on a 1:1 scale with the territory was a joke, because even that wouldn’t represent anything near the innumerable meanings, histories, presences, contexts a place has, though many maps could at least hint at that complexity. Maybe a third was that though the history of maps is often imperial and colonial, mapping can serve justice, diversity, forgotten histories, erased groups, marginalized communities.

Another concern of mine was the role and value of maps in our lives in an era where many are leaving paper behind not for digital maps, but for digital directions. I’ve been struck by how many younger people are not map-users, but are phone-users, and how those of us who use maps internalize the knowledge so that, in a sense, we become atlases, become oriented, capable of traversing a place knowledgeably (or of getting lost without being helpless because we’ve learned to negotiate the unknown with skill). Thus it is that a paper map can be truly interactive, while a navigational device is something users depend on every time to issue instructions (or asking a local for directions). We learn to command the information on a map but submit to the orders of a device. I wanted to celebrate what maps have been and what they can be, portals to places and spaces through which we travel imaginatively in places we know and places we will never go. One of the things that I discovered along the way is that a great many people passionately love maps and respond to them with a joy that is unlike that elicited by any other art form.

At this point, I feel as if maps are themselves a territory, one I have begun to wander in and get to know a little. This wonderful award feels like an invitation to keep exploring what maps have been, are, and can be. So thank you again, citizens of the territory of maps.

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

This post is part of a series on the atlas trilogy.

Celebrating in Song: A Nonstop Metropolis Playlist

In homage to ‘Singing the City: The New York of Dreams’, the first map in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, we are celebrating the official publication of the book with a playlist curated from iconic songs from New York City’s boroughs.

The sheer range of songs celebrating New York, from Broadway musicals to hip-hop and every possible kind of ballad and rant in between, makes choosing which to feature nearly impossible.* So, we’re making it into a journey.

First stops, The Bronx and Manhattan:

Get a peek at the ‘Singing the City’ map and others in today’s feature on Brainpickings. Just like so many people have been inspired by one of Nonstop Metropolis‘ maps to envision the city’s subway map with stations named for famous women, imagine where your favorite New York song might fall on the map.

Stay tuned for our second Nonstop Metropolis playlist, featuring songs from Brooklyn & Queens.

And, if you’re just joining the party, see our series of posts about the atlas trilogy, as well as this selection of recent stories:

In a special event co-presented by Harper’s Magazine and BookCulture, Rebecca and Josh will be doing a reading and signing on Thursday evening. They will be joined in discussion by Paul La Farge.

*We also had to remaster our playlist of dreams based on what was available on Spotify. Some of those missing tracks might appear in future posts, but meanwhile feel free to tell us on Twitter what you’d add to the mix: @nonstopatlas.

In Defense of Poverty

This essay was originally published as part of a series called “What is Inequality?” hosted by the Social Science Research Council on its online forum, Items.” The piece is reposted here in recognition of International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. #EndPoverty #ItsPossible

By Ananya Roy, co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World

Inequality bothers me. I am troubled by the persistence and prevalence of wealth and income inequality in the United States. I join earnest social scientists and conscientious global citizens in condemning inequality. But that is not all that bothers me about inequality. The widespread use of the term inequality also bothers me. The language of inequality is everywhere—dominating newspaper headlines, gaining prominence in the agenda of philanthropic foundations, and anchoring a host of new university programs and centers. Readers might have noticed that I serve as director of the brand-new Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA. I worry that inequality has become a mere trope for social justice. I worry that the expansive use of inequality distracts attention from specific forms of impoverishment, exploitation, discrimination, and segregation. I worry that the institutionalization of inequality as a banner theme keeps the concept safely contained within the discourses and practices of liberal democracy, often twinned with other liberal themes such as inclusion and diversity.

For those of us involved and implicated in academic work organized under the sign of inequality, we must be constantly alert to such containments. Repoliticizing inequality is an ongoing project, one that increasingly demands vigilance and creativity on the part of social scientists. In this brief essay, I offer one approach to the task of repoliticizing inequality: the resignification of poverty as a critical concept. My defense of poverty is meant to be a provocation rather than a blueprint, although I outline some ideas about what such a conceptual commitment might mean for an agenda of social science research.

Poverty is a well-worn term. It is also, especially in the United States, seen to be a personal failing, a disgrace, a matter of shame. Poverty knowledge has thus often been tinged with the shadow of stigma, be it the efforts to wrestle with a so-called “culture of poverty” or in vocabulary such as “the underclass” or “ghetto.” Indeed, the intellectual history of poverty studies does not bode well for a defense of poverty as a critical concept to be mobilized in the efforts to repoliticize inequality. Yet, this is my intention. With this in mind, I pinpoint three elements of what can be tentatively called “critical poverty studies,” a field of inquiry that I believe is in the making in various corners of the social sciences.

The active relations of impoverishment

A welcome aspect of the widespread discussion of inequality in the United States is the simple and yet powerful mantra that there is nothing natural or inevitable about current patterns of inequality. Be it Joseph Stiglitz or Robert Reich, Emmanuel Saez or Paul Krugman, the consensus is unwavering: policy, for example systems of taxation, has produced inequality, often by allowing the hyper-rich to hoard and guard their wealth. Such stockpiling of prosperity contrasts with a generalized condition of precarity; one in which the American middle class lies in ruins, burdened by debt and stripped of key assets such as homeownership. This is the power of the trope of inequality. It identifies a common condition to which most of us belong; it names an indefensible hierarchy within which we all chafe. This, of course, is the rallying cry of Occupy Wall Street: we are the 99%.

My argument in defense of poverty is straightforward: we are not all equal in the experience of inequality. We are not all equally impoverished. We are not all equally indebted. We are not all equally precarious. The poor are uniquely so.

I recently participated in a simulation of the social services system organized by various nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles. This was not, as the organizers noted, a simulation of poverty, for that is simply not possible. It was a glimpse of the public assistance bureaucracy that the poor must navigate in order to survive. Despite being fluent in sophisticated understandings of poverty and inequality, the participants, mainly middle-class social justice professionals, were thoroughly disoriented by the sheer dehumanization wrought by the experience. Shunted from office to office, in search of basic paperwork, trying to meet convoluted criteria of eligibility, we the privileged experienced, for a brief moment, what it is like to be undeserving. We were reminded that we are not poor and that we barely understand the lived condition of poverty.

That lived condition, in the United States, is necessarily and persistently racialized. It is embedded in, and reproduces, systems of racial capitalism. To pinpoint poverty—to acknowledge how poor others are imagined, named, managed, and incarcerated—is to come into contact with this long-standing history. This history did not start with the Great Recession or even with the era of neoliberalization. It is the long history of racialized expropriation and quarantine. I worry that a general narrative of inequality elides both the specificity of poverty and the distinctive history of impoverishment.

Some of my current research is concerned with the relationship between bureaucracies of poverty and poor people’s movements. Following the seminal work of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, I see poor people’s movements as “both formed by and directed against institutional arrangements.” Most importantly, poor people’s movements are not organized around the cause of ending poverty. After all, these movements are acutely aware that racialized poverty is not an anomaly, but rather a necessary supplement to prosperity. Instead, be it the National Welfare Rights Organization or the National Union of the Homeless, poor people’s movements transform poorness from stigma to rights, from lived experience to political agency. I am also arguing that social science research must document and analyze the histories and futures of such organizing.

The problem of poverty

Describing the Industrial Revolution and its social transformations, Karl Polanyi,  wrote that “it was in relation to the problem of poverty that people began to explore the meaning of life in a complex society.” So is it the case today. The start of the new millennium is marked by the emergence of poverty as a visible, global problem. The constitution of poverty as a problem to be solved, in our lifetime, through cool gadgets and smart apps, through volunteerism and humanitarianism, through aid advocacy and micro-economic field experiments, requires critical scrutiny by social science research.

Roy.EncounteringPovertyIt demands the question that Michael Katz poses in Territories of Poverty, a book that Emma Shaw Crane and I recently coedited: “What kind of a problem is poverty?” It demands studying the forms of power and privilege that are exercised and extended by acting upon poverty and in relation to poor others, as does the Relational Poverty Network led by Sarah Elwood and Victoria Lawson. It demands an honest examination of how the global university fosters formats of service-learning such that well-heeled college students can build resumes filled with examples of poverty action and community service. Indeed, the “end of poverty”—Jeffrey Sachs’ influential phrase—has become a lucrative and alluring endeavor. As I have argued in ongoing work, new scripts for global citizenship and personhood, as well as new markets for global capital, are being negotiated and opened up through the staging of such encounters with poverty. Indeed, in Encountering Poverty, my colleagues and I argue that such scripts often enact an old coloniality of power in a new global order.

Social science research must thus pay attention to how, at specific historical conjunctures, poverty is constituted as a problem, and how acting on poverty makes possible the reconstitution of social class, professional expertise, and even our academic disciplines. Indeed, in studying the constitution of poverty as a problem, we study the making of authoritative knowledge, the marking of poor others, the assembling of humanitarian reason, the crafting of good will, and the constant rejuvenation of whiteness as the center of human experience. In other words, we come to study ourselves, both our liberal selves and our embeddedness in the institutions of liberal faith. The task of “critical poverty studies” is to not only make visible such processes but also to consider how encounters with poverty—whether in individual acts of goodwill or in the making of our disciplines—can be a space of doubt, critique, and even transformation.

Rethinking North and South

In 2012, as the discussion of inequality was heating up in the United States, the Pew Research Center released a report titled The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier. Highlighting severe income and wealth losses, the report notes that middle-class Americans looked to the future with “muted hope.” I am struck by the particular language in use here, that of a “lost decade.” Without intention or citation, it echoes descriptions of the bruising effects of structural adjustment policies, implemented in the 1980s, in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, of a lost decade of development. Indeed, it is possible to think about the contemporary moment in the North Atlantic as structural adjustment returned home, a vicious austerity politics that has already played out elsewhere in the world. More interesting, such austerity politics is not necessarily the order of the day in the global South. While quite a bit of the inequality discourse (much of it concerned with the global North) has relied on broad generalizations about neoliberalism and its inexorable reach, the present worldwide history of welfare and development is marked by difference, divergence, and discrepancy. Of particular significance is the proliferation of social assistance and human development programs that are being envisioned and launched in the global South, whether by governments, development banks, or nongovernmental organizations. As Maxine Molyneux has argued, central to such formations of social policy is a concern with poverty or what she calls the “New Poverty Agenda.” None of this can be easily read in the register of North Atlantic neoliberalism. Instead, what is at stake is what James Ferguson has foregrounded as the revalorization of distribution, notably distributive state policy and distributional claims.

The resignification of poverty as a critical concept requires a transnational research agenda, one that is attentive to the “reinvention of development for the poor”—Richard Ballard’s phrase —that is afoot outside the territorial boundaries of the West. My own interest in such a transnational research agenda is not multinational comparison. Instead, I am interested in how the study of poverty, be it that of poor people’s movements or poverty expertise, can also resignify the familiar geographies and histories of North and South. As the “New Poverty Agenda” unfolds in discrepant locations, through processes that are necessarily differentiated and divergent, the South becomes, as the Comaroffs put it, “an ex-centric location, an elsewhere to mainstream EuroAmerica,” an “angle of vision” in “the history of the ongoing global present.” In their much-discussed text, Theory from the South, the Comaroffs read the global South as a prefiguration of the future of the global North. Following Obarrio’s response to the Comaroffs’ work, I am interested in this “anthropology of anticipations.” But as Ferguson notes in his own response to the work, the point of such an impulse is not to suggest that the global South is ahead of the North but rather to disrupt conventional ways of thinking about North and South and thus about “emergent new empirical configurations of the social” which may provide us with “clues for thinking about how we might re-imagine ‘the social’ as object both of theory and of politics.” Poverty, I have suggested, is one such configuration of the social. To study it with critical force may require us to rethink the geographies of research and theory through which we have configured the social sciences.

Ananya Roy is Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. She is co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World with Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales, Kweku Opoku-Agyemang, and Clare Talwalker.

Filipino American History Month

Mabuhay, and happy Filipino American History Month!

From the 16th century “Luzones Indios” who arrived on the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esparanza at present Morro Bay, California, to the labor organizers who led worker’s strikes alongside Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, Filipinos have been an integral part of American history. Every October– in recognition of that first landing on October 18, 1587– we commemorate the important role that they play in the history of the United States.

Sakadas Juan Baloran, Juan Pagoyo, Cipriano Barragado, and Julio Silga, n.d. Courtesy of Hawaiʻi State Archives.
Sakadas Juan Baloran, Juan Pagoyo, Cipriano Barragado, and Julio Silga, n.d. Courtesy of Hawaiʻi State Archives.

Since the early 1900s, Filipino-Americans, particularly in Hawaii, California and throughout the rest of the west coast, have been leaders in labor movements that sought to mobilize and unite Filipinos, Asians, and Pacific Islander laborers. Overcoming the divides of language, religion, and regionalism, they emerged with a strong Filipino– and Filipino-American– identity in their new nation. Prof. Gary Okihiro details Filipino-led labor movements in Hawaii in American History Unbound

Following the 1909 strike, the HSPA [Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association] recruited increasing numbers of Filipinos to remove the “belligerent” Japanese and to keep them in their “proper place.” But as their numbers grew and they were confronted with the same conditions of oppression and exploitation, Filipino workers rose up against the planter class. They initiated the 1920 strike that was subsequently supported by Pablo Manlapit and his Filipino Labor Union and then the Federation of Japanese Labor…

They launched the strikes of 1924–25, which cost many lives and led to the banishment of Manlapit from the territory. As before, their main goal was higher wages, but they also demanded other progressive reforms, such as an eight-hour day (as opposed to the prevailing ten hours), equal pay for men and women engaged in the same work, overtime pay and double pay for working on Sundays and holidays, and recognition of the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

Once again, the planters ignored the workers and began a campaign of intimidation, targeting the leaders. The Philippine colonial governor appointed a conservative resident labor commissioner to Hawaiʻi and pointedly warned Manlapit to refrain from striking. Thus Filipino workers’ strikes for equality challenged two U.S. colonial regimes, that in the Philippines and the oligarchy of the territory.

Despite the Philippine labor commissioner’s intervention, Manlapit issued a manifesto on January 2, 1924 warning of an impending strike, and on March 14 he declared “a silent strike, staying on the job, but doing only enough work to earn the wages.” He appealed “to all races and nationalities on the sugar plantations to join the strike. It is a strike for American standards and American ideals.” The High Wages Movement claimed ten thousand members, which represented about half of the Filipino plantation workforce and a quarter of the total.

Okihiro also shares the story of Riz Raymundo, an eleven-year-old girl born in Modesto, CA, who grew up in the 1930s. Her diary captures her childhood recollections of the Filipino strikes of 1924-25, including life in a “strike camp” following her family’s displacement from their Waipahu plantation home:

Strike Camp, Middle Street, Honolulu, May 10, 1924.

Dear Diary:

We just arrive here today, here, at the “Strike Camp.” There are so many Filipinos here, married-couples and unmarried men. They’re from all parts of Oahu. There are five other young girls here too. I became friends with two of them already. Their first names are Esperanza and Victoria. They are, both, very nice girls. They showed me the place around here, as soon as we settled, I mean, found our sleeping quarters. You see, we all live in one big house, and so all we did was put curtains around our bed, and that will have to serve as our room for how long, we don’t know. I guess we have to stay here until this strike is over. And Manlapit is going to feed the whole crowd. We’re suppose to go down to his office, every other day to get our ration of food. Gosh I hope this strike won’t last long. You see, Diary, Mr. Manlapit wanted the Plantation to give the laborers $2.00 a day and eight hours work. I certainly hope Manlapit wins, ‘cause then it will be for our own good.¹

Though ultimately unsuccessful, culminating in the tragic Battle of Hanapepe, these early labor strikes reflected an early willingness to protest and fight for worker’s rights in the face of prejudice and oppression– predating the Delano grape strike by more than 60 years.

Visit the Filipino-American Historical Society for more information on Filipino-American history throughout the month, and learn more about the contributions Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, and other Asian-Americans have made to American history in Okihiro’s American History Unbound.

¹ Angeles Monrayo Raymundo, diary excerpts, Lost Generation: Filipino Journal 1, no. 1 (1991): 31-40.

Behind-the-Scenes at UC Press: The Making of Rebecca Solnit’s Atlas Series

By Lia Tjandra, Art Director with Dore Brown, Principal Editor

A winning team: Lia Tjandra and Dore Brown

Each title in the atlas series had more moving pieces than any other book we’ve published. Multiple authors and contributors produced different parts that were worked on at different times. In our roles of project editor and art director, Dore Brown and I were the hub of the wheel, receiving and disbursing material from artists, cartographers, photographers, writers, copyeditors, proofreaders, museum partners, in-house staff, and, of course, the volume editors. It was a far cry from our usual linear workflow.

One of the first design decisions we made for the atlas trilogy was the trim size. I proposed that each map be shown on a spread and that the spread dimensions be square-ish, the way San Francisco is square-ish. In 2011, after the initial success of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, I briefly entertained the idea that the atlases for New Orleans and New York should have customized trim sizes that fit their respective map footprints. This was totally impractical, of course, and detrimental to the harmonious series look. But it was fun to imagine for a brief time!

Rebecca Solnit, who’s incredibly well connected to people in the artistic and intellectual community, brought in San Francisco artist Alison Pebworth to conceptualize and put on paper the logos for all three atlases. Each atlas has a unique visual identity, brainchild of Alison and Rebecca’s creative partnership. For the final logos, check out the finished books, but you may find these in-process sketches fascinating.

1 AP_infinite
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Infinite City
2 AP_infinite
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Infinite City
3 AP_Unfathomable
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Unfathomable City
4 AP_Unfathomable_
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Unfathomable City
5 AP_Nonstop
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Nonstop Metropolis

For each map, I started work with a base map from the cartographer. The very first map, Monarchs and Queens, had a skeletal, almost wire-frame appearance. We hadn’t developed a look or any map specifications yet, hence what you see here, from Ben Pease, is raw.

Raw map for Monarchs and Queens from Infinite City

Many months later, we had established the general look and feel of the maps, including the color palettes and type specs. Here’s the resulting Monarchs and Queens vector file.

Vector file for Monarchs and Queens map from Infinite City

After the map had been edited, I sent it to Mona Caron, a local mural artist. She tailored her illustration to the parameters of the map to create a vibrant piece of art that raised the map to a whole new level.

Final version of Monarchs and Queens map with illustration from Infinite City

The palette is one of the most important elements of each book. For Infinite City, the palette is muted and chalky. For Unfathomable City, we represented New Orleans with a watery and translucent look. For Nonstop Metropolis, we choose deeper and more intense colors to reflect New York’s energy and complexity.

It takes multiple rounds to get it right, and at least once during the production of each atlas we took all of the in-progress maps and spread them out on tables to see how they were gelling. The final decisions were always made by Rebecca and her coeditors.

Wildlife is one example of the creative process. Take a look at this early sketch and see how wildly the background colors and illustrations by Tino Rodríguez differ from the final version.

1 Wildlife_rough
Rough version of Wildlife map from Nonstop Metropolis, illustrations by Tino Rodríguez
2 Wildlife_Final
Final version of Wildlife map from Nonstop Metropolis, illustrations by Tino Rodríguez

From Nonstop metropolis: viewing a city’s crazy, diverse, complex history as an atlas in The Guardian:

“Tennessee Williams said: ‘America has only three cities, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. All the rest are just Cleveland,’” Solnit explains, before admitting there were other reasons she expanded this undertaking, which began as a commission from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to include the Big Apple and the Big Easy.

“They’re cultural capitals, three port cities on the three coasts of the US,” she says. “New York has been hovering in the wings for a long time. When this book comes out in October, I will be done making atlases for the foreseeable future.”

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca SnedekerJoshua Jelly-Schapiro, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

To get a copy of Nonstop Metropolis, visit your local bookstore, or purchase online at IndieBoundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (to save 30% on, enter discount code16M4197 at checkout).

This post is part of a series on the atlas trilogy.

Columbus Day, Then and Now

In reference to Columbus Day and as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize Hispanic and Latino Americans’ current contributions–and current struggles–in the United States. Learn more at #HispanicHeritage Month and #ColumbusDay.

Every year on Columbus Day, Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus’s landing in the New World on Oct. 12, 1492. The holiday was established in 1937. But many have begun to question the prevailing views of this day, opening the doors to discuss how it ignores the enslavement and mass murder of thousands of native and indigenous groups.

Some Latin American countries now choose to celebrate Día de la Raza (Day of the Race), celebrated on October 12 of each year. And in Spain, the holiday has been changed to Día de la Hispanidad (Day of Hispanity) or Fiesta Nacional de España  (National Day of Spain) to recognize Spain’s history, monarchy, and military.

The recognition of the cultural meaning of Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World and the shift in its meaning is being introduced to a new generation of people and students so all can gain a truer understanding of Latin American and Latino American culture.

Almaguer.NewLatinoStudiesReaderIn 1491, on the eve on the Columbian voyages, there were some 123 distinct indigenous language families spoken in the Americas, with more than 260 different languages in Mexico alone. Perhaps as many as 20 million people were living in the Valley of Mexico in 1519, in hierarchical, complexly stratified theocratic states. But there were no Indians. Christopher Columbus invented them in 1492 by mistakenly believing that he had reached India, and thus calling them indios producing the lexical distinction we now use to refer to the Caribbean as the West Indies and to India as the East Indies. Inventing Indians was to serve an important imperial end for Spain, for by calling the natives indios, the Spaniards erased and leveled the diverse and complex indigenous political and religious hierarchies they found. Where once there had been many ethnic groups stratified as native lords, warriors, craftsmen, hunters, farmers, and slaves, the power of imperial Spain was not only to vanquish but to define, largely reducing peoples such as the mighty Aztecs into a defeated Indian class that soon bore the pain of subjugation as tribute-paying racialized subjects.

From Ramón A. Gutiérrez and Tomás Almaguer’s The New Latino Studies Reader: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective, Chapter 1, “What’s in a Name?” by Ramón A. Gutiérrez. 

Many now see this day as an opportunity to reaffirm their culture, share the value of their cultural identity, and an equal relationship amongst all peoples.

GutmannLesser.GlobalLatinAmericaAt a time when the commemoration of the Fifth Centenary of the arrival of Columbus in America has repercussions all over the world, the revival of hope for the oppressed indigenous peoples demands that we reassert our existence to the world and the value of our cultural identity. It demands that we endeavor to actively participate in the decisions that concern our destiny, in the building-up of our countries/nations. Should we, in spite of all, not be taken into consideration, there are factors that guarantee our future: struggle and endurance; courage; the decision to maintain our traditions that have been exposed to so many perils and sufferings; solidarity towards our struggle on the part of numerous countries, governments, organizations and citizens of the world. That is why I dream of the day when the relationship between the indigenous peoples and other peoples is strengthened; when they can combine their potentialities and their capabilities and contribute to make life on this planet less unequal, a better distribution of the scientific and cultural treasures accumulated by Humanity, flourishing in peace and justice.

From Matthew C. Gutmann and Jeffrey Lesser’s Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century, Chapter 12, “Nobel Lecture” by Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Must-read articles for LGBTQ History Month

In celebration of LGBTQ History Month this October, enjoy free access to articles from Feminist Media Histories, a journal that examines the role gender has played in media technologies across a range of historical periods and global contexts. These must-read articles will be freely available throughout the month of October.

"Poster for Club de femmes (1936)." (From article)
Poster for Club de femmes (1936). (From article)

Proto-Queer Media Criticism: “Cinema Ramblings” from an RKO Secretary
Candace Moore
(Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 2014)

Lisa Ben’s “Cinema Ramblings” in the 1940s underground publication Vice Versa mark some of the first media reviews to focus on homosexual themes, representations, and subtexts from a self-proclaimed lesbian perspective. While still largely unknown, the critical lenses and stylistic methods she employed set a precedent for the kind of radical queer media criticism that reviewers engage in today.

Mod Pop Methods: This Year’s Girl
Quinlan Miller
(Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 2014)

This article reconstructs queer popular culture as a way of exploring media production studies as a trans history project. Miller argues that queer and trans insights into gender are indispensable to feminist media studies. The article looks at The Ugliest Girl in Town series (ABC, 1968–69), a satire amplifying a purported real-life fad in flat chests, short haircuts, and mod wigs, to restore texture to the everyday landscape of popular entertainment.

"Figure 5. FIGURE 5 11, 3, 5, 9, Lesbians are mighty fine' in Home Movie." (From article)
“11, 3, 5, 9, Lesbians are mighty fine” in Home Movie (1972). (From article)

Lesbian Feminist Cinema’s Archive and Moonforce Media’s National Women’s Film Circuit
Roxanne Samer
(Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 2015)

This essay offers a microhistory of the feminist film distributor Moonforce Media. Between 1975 and 1980, Moonforce Media built the National Women’s Film Circuit, a lesbian feminist distribution system that circulated preconstituted packages of multigeneric feminist films through as wide a nontheatrical feminist U.S. market as possible.

“Feeling-Images”: Montage, Body, and Historical Memory in Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses
Alessandra Chiarini
(Vol. 2, No. 3, Summer 2016)

This essay investigates the ways in which Barbara Hammer’s film Nitrate Kisses (1992) traces stories about homosexuality throughout the twentieth century. Inspired both by the concept of “vertical cinema,” as theorized by Maya Deren, and by the historical-philosophical reflections of Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin, Hammer realizes a montage process in Nitrate Kisses that resurrects a forgotten historical memory through the juxtaposition of archival materials and original images. It is a memory that is reappropriated through the film as an experiential, tactile, and emotional moment.

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#NonstopMetropolis launches at the Queens Museum + Upcoming Events

This week we’re celebrating the launch of Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas at the Queens Museum.

For previous posts in this series, see our Nonstop Metropolis archive.

While the Nonstop Metropolis: The Remix exhibition—a multi-faceted project in collaboration with renowned writer, historian, and activist, Rebecca Solnit—has been up at the Queens Museum since Spring 2016, it continues to evolve. This past weekend was the launch event for Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, the culminating volume in a trilogy of atlases. As described by The Village Voice, “…here is Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas to make these streets magic again. Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s collection achieves the trifold purpose that all good cartography does — it’s beautiful, it inspires real thought about civic planning, and, most of all, it’s functional.”

The public event included a hands-on map-making workshop facilitated by Queens Museum educators; “Songs of the City,” a unique mix of songs and music referenced in the book; and drop-in readings of essay excerpts and signings by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Garnette Cadogan, Jonathan Tarleton, and some of the many contributors* in attendance.

Laura Raicovich, President and Executive Director of the Queens Museums, introduces Nonstop Metropolis authors and contributors. (Photo by Pema Domingo-Barker)
Garnette Cadogan, Nonstop Metropolis Editor-at-Large and author of the “Law of Love, Peace and Libertie” essay, appropriately, about Flushing, Queens. (Photo by Mirissa Neff,
Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Garnette Cadogan, and Rebecca Solnit in the Panorama of the City of New York, on long-term view at the Queens Museum. (Photo by Mirissa Neff,
Sheerly Avni, author of the ‘My Yiddishe Papa’ essay in Nonstop Metropolis, addresses the crowd. (Photo by Mirissa Neff,

For a live perspective on the event, check out the Queens Museum’s Twitter feed, and artist Peach Tao’s Tumblr telling. (Stay tuned to this space for details on her fab Shaolin creations).

To get a copy of Nonstop Metropolis, visit your local bookstore, or purchase online at IndieBoundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (to save 30% on, enter discount code16M4197 at checkout).

To get it signed by the the authors, upcoming Nonstop Metropolis events include:

Dance RecitalJJ SchapiroNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

* The full list of contributors to Nonstop Metropolis: Sheerly Avni, Gaiutra Bahadur, Marshall Berman, Joe Boyd, Will Butler, Garnette Cadogan, Thomas J. Campanella, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Teju Cole, Joel Dinerstein, Paul La Farge, Francisco Goldman, Margo Jefferson, Lucy R. Lippard, Barry Lopez, Valeria Luiselli, Suketu Mehta, Emily Raboteau, Molly Roy, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Luc Sante, Heather Smith, Jonathan Tarleton, Astra Taylor, Alexandra T. Vazquez, Christina Zanfagna, plus interviews with Valerie Capers, Peter Coyote, Grandmaster Caz, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Melle Mel, and RZA.

The Legacy of Cesar Chavez

As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize Hispanic and Latino Americans’ current contributions–and current struggles–in the United States. Learn more at #HispanicHeritage Month.

Originally published in 1969, Peter Matthiessen’s Sal Si Puedes provided a detailed account of the three years he spent working and traveling with Cesar Chavez. It was a candid look into an enigmatic and now legendary labor organizer who changed agricultural work in the United States forever. In 2014 we published an updated edition with a new foreword by Marc Grossman, Cesar Chavez’s longtime spokesman and personal aide. Below we offer an except of this foreword.

The call still haunts me. I was in my Sacramento office shortly after 9 a.m. on Friday, April 23, 1993. Paul Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s middle son and one of eight siblings, was on the phone. “I’ve got some bad news,” he said, his voice crackling. “My dad has died.”

Paul was calling from La Paz, the farm worker movement headquarters at the Tehachapi Mountain hamlet of Keene, east of Bakersfield, just after hearing the news from union staff. They had discovered Cesar’s body when the United Farm Workers president had failed to awake in his room at the San Luis, Arizona, farm worker home where they were staying.

I’d known Cesar for twenty-four years, since beginning as a volunteer grape boycotter in 1969 while an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine—and had served as his longtime press secretary, speechwriter, and personal aide.

Peter Matthiessen’s beautiful portrait of Cesar Chavez deepened my commitment when it first appeared later that year, and it is just as compelling four and a half decades later. My task here is to offer insights gleaned since Sal Si Puedes was initially published and bring readers up to date through Cesar’s passing in 1993, and beyond.

You can order Sal Si Puedes on our website or wherever books are sold.

Peter Matthiessen is a winner of the National Book Award and the American Book Award and is the author of over thirty books of fiction and nonfiction, including The Snow Leopard (1978), At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965), Far Tortuga (1975), In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1992), and Bone by Bone (1999). Chavez’s longtime spokesman and personal aide Marc Grossman is currently Communications Director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

The “six” boroughs: Staten Island

This is the third of the “six” boroughs blog series celebrating Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. We’ve already visited Queens and the Bronx. If you missed the prior posts, we encourage you to go back and read them after you’re done here.

Staten Island is the least populous borough of New York City, is the only borough not connected to the MTA Subway system, and is only accessible, without leaving New York City, by the Staten Island Ferry to/from Manhattan and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to/from Brooklyn. However, Staten Island has played an important role in the history of New York City, and has provided many frequently overlooked cultural contributions to the world.

From 1947 to 2001, New York City sent its trash to Fresh Kills, a Staten Island wetlands turned municipal dump, which at its peak receives 29,000 tons of trash per day, ranking as the largest human-made structure on earth. Now, New York’s residential garbage, close to 4 million tons of it a year, is shipped by barge and truck to distant landfills, from Niagara Falls to South Carolina. Fresh Kills received its last waste from Manhattan when it absorbed the rubble from the World Trade Center after September 11, 2001. Holding approximately 108 million tons of trash, it covers 2,200 acres, and is being turned into a park, which when completed will be almost three times the size of Central Park.

Garbage scows bring solid waste, for use as landfill, to Fresh Kills on Staten Island in 1973

The rest of New York complains that Staten Island is a sleepy, insular borough (that’s more like a suburb) that is not worth the effort of exploring. Staten Islanders argue that the rest of the city is a filled with a bunch of parochial bellyachers who have not taken the time to get to know Staten Island’s natural beauty and increasingly diverse population. What everyone agrees on, however, is that the Wu-Tang Clan is the borough’s most well-known entity—and beloved export. In Nonstop Metropolis Joshua Jelly-Schapiro interviews RZA about what it was like growing up on Staten Island.

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro: You grew up between Staten Island and Brooklyn; you lived in public housing in both boroughs. But by your teens you were in Staten Island pretty full time. How did Staten Island compare to Brooklyn in those days, when you were growing up? What do you remember of each?

RZA: One thing about Staten Island that was different from Brooklyn was the ability to walk from one neighborhood to another, to actually have a break from project life. For instance, in Brownsville, in Brooklyn, if I walked from the Marcus Garvey projects to go see my cousin Vince, who lived in the Van Dyke projects, I had to walk through four projects to get there—and each project could be considered “turf.” In fact, each building could be considered turf. But on Staten Island, you can walk from the Park Hill projects to the Stapleton projects, and in between those two projects is something else—”normal” hardworking homeowners, you know. Not projects. When I was on Staten Island I walked a lot—I’d walk from Park Hill to Stapleton, and then from Stapleton to New Brighton. I would take the route that led up Targee Street, and make the right down Van Duzer, and then take Cebra. And on Cebra and Van Duzer, I saw what we’d consider mansions then, big homes. And I think seeing another side of life, that wasn’t ghetto life—I think there was something healthy about that. When I was living in Staten Island in sixth grade, when a snowstorm happens, guess what I’m able to do—I’m able to get out, pull out a shovel, and make $15 hustling, shoveling snow. That wasn’t available in Brownsville. You had breathing space. You were able to walk a few blocks, not worried about fighting, defending, stealing, robbing—things that happen every day in the projects.

To read the rest of the interview, purchase Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas wherever books are sold.

Nonstop Metropolis

Meanwhile, please sit back and listen to some Wu-Tang Clan.

JJ Schapiro

Dance RecitalNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.