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.

The Oysters in the Spire

We are excited about the forthcoming publication of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua 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!). With this inaugural post, we launch a weekly series to bring you inside the books, share the process of creating them, and announce news, reviews, and events. Enjoy! We think you will appreciate it as much as we do!

The “Wildlife” map and its accompanying essay celebrate places and people who resisted and rebelled against the status quo in New York, including Angie Xtravaganza, founding member of the House of Xtravaganza, and the Chelsea piers, a free space for celebration and erotic encounters from the 1970s to the 1990s. The map juxtaposes these against the city’s elusive but omnipresent nonhuman population—the turtle species that live in Central Park, the muskrats in Lower Manhattan, and the coyotes that attended Columbia. While some wild species are on or over the brink of extinction—the endangered piping plovers at Rockaway Beach, the minks that used to be found in the Bronx—others, such as rats, cockroaches, pigeons, and bedbugs, are hardy survivors. And some—including the bulls and bears of Wall Street—exist only in our imagination. Together the map and essay explore how New York remains “a place of wildlife but also of wild life and wild lives.”

Click to enlarge

Our inspiration for this map was the art of Tino Rodriguez, a perpetual metamorphosis in which humans grow wings and breath takes the form of a bird and men’s bodies as well as women’s can be tender, flower-bedecked, mortal, carnal, spiritual—a world in which nothing is separated by category or species. His paintings are reminders that the natural world comes right into the city and asserts itself in a lover’s bouquet, a funeral wreath, in the ways animals furnish our imagination and the animals we catch sight of lift our spirits or break us out of our routine. This is a map about the forces that break the routines of the city, about the dissident forces that are in some ways life itself—life that existed before the orderly city of authority, outside it, despite it, and will live after it—forces that include saints and lovers, humans and animals, birdwatchers and nightclubbers.

—Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Nonstop Metropolis conveys innumerable, unbound experiences of New York City through 26 imaginative maps and informative essays. Preorder your copy today.

UC Press Books in the News

We’re kicking off a recurring series of posts today which highlight UC Press books of note that have been featured recently in the media. Since we continually strive to publish works that will be relevant for the long term, note that many of the titles highlighted below are from the recent past. Additionally, we’ll be highlighting forthcoming releases (and in this installment: a very exciting, early preview of Rebecca Solnit‘s newest book, coming fall 2016).

Lead Wars

Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of Children co-author Gerald Markowitz was interviewed on Boston NPR affiliate station WBUR’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook“, discussing how “Our National Lead Problem is Bigger Than Flint.”

Why Busing Failed

Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation (coming April 2016) author Matt Delmont wrote an article/opinion piece for on the anniversary of what is considered the largest civil rights protest in US history (NYC, 1964), during which 460,000 students took part in a one-day school boycott to call for improved schools and educational equality, and to protest school segregation.

Scholar Denied

The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology by Aldon Morris was reviewed in last month’s Berkeley Journal of Sociology by Boston University Professor Julian Go. Go states that “Du Bois is often noted to be the first “black” sociologist, but Morris’ point here is that Du Bois more rightfully deserves to be among the first empirical sociologists, period.”

Infinite City

A mention in the New York Times of the highly anticipated third volume in Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Atlas’ series, Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas (the previous bestselling volumes being Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas), appeared on February 3rd. Nonstop Metropolis ties into the Queens Museum‘s biannual International exhibition which “will take New York City as its subject, and Ms. Solnit will organize a series of unorthodox works and public programs with the artists Mariam Ghani and Duke Riley.


New UC Press Podcast: The Rebeccas Talk Unfathomable City

Unfathomable CityIn the latest episode of the UC Press Podcast, Unfathomable City authors Rebecca Snedeker and Rebecca Solnit share how they became interested in making a book of maps about New Orleans, and what their respective “insider” and “outsider” statuses bring to the project. Like the bestselling Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, this book is a brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans, a city replete with contradictions.

In the podcast, the authors discuss the literal and metaphorical implications of the city’s status as a port, what they love about their favorite maps, and why walking down a street in New Orleans feels so different from walking down a street in the Bay Area.

Listen to the podcast now 

Rebecca Solnit on Landscapes of the Self in Harper’s

Rebecca Solnit. © Sallie Dean Shatz

Head over to Harper’s Magazine to read a six-question interview with Rebecca Solnit, in which she talks about her two new books, Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas (UC Press) and The Faraway Nearby (Viking), and her continuing project to define the self in terms of physical, natural, political, or communal spaces.

Solnit is particularly interested in showing the grander scope of personal narratives—the way people are “interfused with the natural world, biologically and psychically.” She makes the point, too, that often “our metaphors and analogies are drawn from spaces, the natural world, the animal world, and our own bodies, and all these things can also represent each other. […] We need the natural and sensual world not only for ecological, biological, and maybe spiritual reasons, but for intellectual and imaginative ones.”

Unfathomable City, co-authored with filmmaker and native New Orleanian Rebecca Snedeker, uses essays and 22 full-color two-page-spread maps to make these imaginative connections and plumb the depths of New Orleans. The maps’ precision and specificity shift our notions of the Mississippi, the Caribbean, Mardi Gras, jazz, soils and trees, generational roots, and many other subjects, and expand our ideas of how any city is imagined and experienced.

Be sure to check out the map, “Oil and Water: Extracting Petroleum, Exterminating Nature” at Harper’s, which will be included in the finished book.

Infinite City, an atlas that examines the many layers of meaning in the San Francisco Bay Area, is the previous book in the series.