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Jeremy Wang-Iverson

Joanie Schirm reviewing her father's correspondence in 2008. The passport photo seen in the foreground became the cover of MY DEAR BOY.

Conversation with Joanie Holzer Schirm

By | University of Nebraska Press

Earlier this spring, Potomac Books, an imprint of University of Nebraska Press, published My Dear Boy: A World War II Story of Escape, Exile, and Revelation by Joanie Holzer Schirm. This is Schirm’s second book, following Adventurers Against Their Will, that draws on her father’s past, after she discovered a collection of letters at the time of his death in 2000. In My Dear Boy, Schirm writes in her father’s voice, creating the memoir he might have written, based on her extensive research and reading closely his correspondence that she arranged to have translated into English from the original Czech. Oswald “Valdik” Holzer was a Czech Jewish doctor who escaped Prague in 1939, seeking refuge in Shanghai, before moving to the United States and settling in Florida, where Schirm was raised and lives today. This interview with Schirm, just below the book trailer, continues a Q&A that appears on the University of Nebraska Press blog.

In addition to gaining a deeper knowledge of your father, what changed for you after writing My Dear Boy?
In a small Florida town, I was born into a life of ease and privilege and raised in my mother’s Christian faith. I had no personal experience of prejudice and little awareness of what my father had endured. During the past decade, as I’ve researched the lead-up to World War II and subsequent atrocities, I’ve witnessed the alarming erosion of protections for human rights and dignity. The global migrant crises made up of desperate people like my displaced father has exploded while echoes of the 1930’s slip from the mouths of dangerous new autocratic leaders. It’s clear it’s not limited to anti-Semitism but a fear of the ‘other’ which incites violence. As I’ve now walked within the Holocaust’s multi-layered shadow that accompanied my father’s life and now mine, from a place of knowledge, I feel an obligation like never before to speak the truth against hatred and persecution. As my grandfather, Arnošt wished, as a benefactor for suffering humanity, I have the extraordinary opportunity to bear witness for those who came before us and forge ahead against backward pressure.

Schirm’s father, Oswald “Valdik” Holzer, in 1938.

A lot of the book is about concealing the truth in order to spare the people we love. Were there things that you left out of the book for the same reason?
No. To ensure the reader gains the most from my father’s compelling account, I included his most excruciating truths that he’d hidden from my brother, sister and me. Not wanting to bring us children fear and sorrow, his silence also allowed him to avoid a revisit of his own pain and guilt. By not hiding his most painful revelations, I inherited his heartache as I believe was meant to be. Sharing it this way, the complete story is revealed through the words of his own correspondence and my later research to determine who lived and who died. I have no doubt he carried heavy guilt during the remainder of his life about his failure to save lives. From my findings, I believe he did all he could have done under the circumstances, with the knowledge he held at the time. It was clear his real experience offers modern relevance for creating empathy for the everyday frantic life and death decisions of forcibly displaced persons, migrants, and refugees.

The last letter Valdik Holzer received from his father Arnošt (Schirm’s grandfather) – the title MY DEAR BOY refers to this letter.

What do you think your father would make of current immigration detention centers in the U.S?
My father would be appalled by the actions of his adopted country. The erosion of government accountability that characterized the Third Reich echoes the insufficiently conceived prison- like facilities to prevent foreigners from entering the country. The centers, unresponsive to protecting asylum seekers, create terrible trauma, especially for children when separated from their parents. These actions are contrary to fundamental American principles which my father proudly exemplified by hosting at our home a Cuban refugee family in the 1960s. I also know from conversations with both my parents what they thought of the relocation and internment of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent. With no evidence of these citizens’ disloyalty, my parents thought it was a disturbing example of racist persecution by the fact that citizens who traced their ancestry to America’s other WWII enemies, Germany or Italy, weren’t incarcerated. Recalling the media fanning the flames of fear in America, my father said it reminded him of why public opinion turned negative in 1930s Czechoslovakia as Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi oppression flooded their border.

Joanie Holzer Schirm and her father Valdik in 1996.

My Dear Boy is the story of your father’s escape from persecution as a Jew during World War II, but you do not share his religion, being raised in your mother’s Christian faith. Did you gain a greater appreciation for the Jewish culture as you wrote the book? Did you feel you were approaching the story as an outsider?
With feet in two heritage camps, curiosity about faith and tradition propels me. Not only did I want to learn about my father’s Jewish cultural past but also how my Christian mother first and foremost was comfortable to teach and to offer a “Christian way of life” rather than to proselytize. Initially, more onlooker than outsider, as I waded through brutal Holocaust history, I developed a much broader view of what took place. My writing mission moved from dissecting my parents’ situation to working to universalize what happened to millions and make it felt. Through unadorned delivery of their story emerged an emotional chronicle that offers a retort to the Nazi’s crazed dehumanization of humanity. Background true stories reinforce the Nazi-fixation to destroy the Jews and others they deemed inferior. The reader is reminded that victims are more than statistics and empathy is neither place nor time limited. With feet firmly planted in Holocaust education, exhibitions around the world share my father’s story, and I participate in teacher training institutes and in Orlando as a capital campaign co-chair for the new Holocaust Museum for Hope & Humanity.

Joanie Holzer Schirm was the founding president of Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants, Inc., in Orlando, Florida, which she directed for seventeen years. She is now a full-time writer, speaker, and curator of the Holzer Collection, her father’s World War II legacy. Schirm is the author of Adventurers Against Their Will: Extraordinary World War II Stories of Survival, Escape, and Connection—Unlike Any Otherswinner of the Global Ebook Award for best biography. For more information, visit her website:

Steven Stoll, Sarah Jones, and Tom Hansell at Book Culture | Photo by Jeremy Wang-Iverson

After Coal at Book Culture

By | West Virginia University Press

Earlier this month, Tom Hansell (author of After Coal) was joined by Steven Stoll (author of Ramp Hollow) and Sarah Jones (staff writer at New York Magazine) for a special event in New York City at Book Culture, co-sponsored by Harper’s Magazine and filmed by C-SPAN BookTV. The video clip is available below.

Michel Feher at Seminary Coop in Chicago | Photo by Alana Podolsky

Michel Feher at Night of Philosophy

By | Zone Books

Michel Feher, one of the founding editors of Zone Books, will be in New York City this weekend for A Night of Philosophy of Ideas, an all-night marathon of talks, lectures, and performances at the Brooklyn Public Library. Feher’s talk “Not So Strange Bedfellow: Populists and Plutocrats in a Speculative Age,” will be drawn from his recent book Rated Agency (2018), the latest volume in Zone’s Near Futures Series, which considers the effects of neoliberalism in the past forty years. Feher’s tour for the book last fall included stops in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and London.
AUDIO: Michel Feher and Jonathan Levy,
Seminary Coop, Chicago (10/26/18).

2019 Steele Prize to Sedgewick & Flajolet

By | Princeton University | No Comments

Robert Sedgewick has been awarded the 2019 Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition from the American Mathematical Society for his work on Analytic Combinatorics (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Sedgewick co-authored the book – and shares the prize – with his friend Phillippe Flajolet, who passed away in 2011. More information about the prize can be found on the AMS site. Sedgewick reflects on the genesis for Analytic Combinatorics here:

Philippe and I (and many others) were students of the work of Don Knuth in the 1970s, and inspired by the idea that it was possible to develop precise information about the performance of computer programs through classical analysis. When we first began working together in 1980, our goal was just to organize models and methods that we could use to teach our students what they needed to know. As we traveled between Paris and Princeton, producing conference papers, journal articles, and INRIA research reports, we began to understand that something more general was at work, and Analytic Combinatorics began to emerge. It is particularly gratifying to see citations of the book by researchers in physics, chemistry, genomics, and many other fields of science, not just mathematicians and computer scientists.

In addition to the text, Sedgewick produced video lectures to accompany Analytic Combinatorics that are available on Coursera. The prize will be formally awarded on Thursday, January 17 at the 2019 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore.

Andrea Lawlor profiled in New York Times

By | Book Festivals, Rescue Press | No Comments

Andrea Lawlor was profiled in the New York Times, with their close friend Jordy Rosenberg:

Lawlor’s debut novel, “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl,” set in the 1990s and featuring a shape-shifting (and sex-obsessed) protagonist, was published last year by Rescue Press — and received enough attention that Vintage/Anchor and Picador will reissue the book next spring. Rosenberg’s first novel, “Confessions of the Fox,” which reimagines the legend of the 18th century English thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard as that of a transgender man, was put out this summer by One World — a recently relaunched Random House imprint dedicated to diversity — and promptly heaped with praise. (The New Yorker called it “a cunning metafiction of vulpine versatility.”)

It’s been a great pleasure watching Andrea’s continued success since the book’s launch last November. In the photo above, we caught up at the Brooklyn Book Festival, where they were on a panel with Alexander Chee and Rebecca Makkai, moderated by MJ Franklin.

Zone at the Frankfurt Book Fair

By | Book Festivals, Zone Books | No Comments

In the next few days, I will be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair for Zone Books, meeting the publisher’s dedicated agents and also editors from several countries. Recent publications and catalogs from Zone will be on display at the MIT Press stand, 6.2 B-22. The latest rights guide for Zone can be found here and in the photo above, taken at my stand at the Brooklyn Book Festival, you can see a few international editions of Zone titles: Malpaso’s El pueblo sin atributos [Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos in Spanish, translated by Víctor Altamirano] and Seuil’s Langues obscures [Daniel Heller-Roazen’s Dark Tongues in French, translated by Paul and Françoise Chemla]; in the left corner you can just spot Akal’s Renacimiento anacronista [Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood’s Anachronic Renaissance in Spanish, translated by Francisco López Martín].

Titles published by Zone have been translated into 19 languages; the publisher is also known for translating leading scholars and significant texts into English, including a new title for this fall, Michel Feher’s Rated Agency: Investee Politics in a Speculative Age, translated from the French by Gregory Elliott; Feher’s latest, the fourth edition of the Near Futures series, was first published as Le temps des investis in 2016 by Le Decouverté.


Vesto at the Brooklyn Book Festival

By | Book Festivals, Visual Art | No Comments

We look forward to exhibiting at the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday 9/16, booth 613, from 10am-6pm. Holly Mitchell and I will be there, with books from our friends and clients Banipal, Rescue Press, West Virginia University Press, and Zone, as described in this blogpost that we placed on Foreword Reviews.

We are also pleased to feature prints that depict each article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a project that I worked on with my wife, Isabel Brito Farré. The prints are linoleum cuts for the images and photopolymer plates for the text, printed on a Vandercook proof press. Each set is 31 articles, and it’s an edition of 20. Isabel made linoleum cuts of the images and I transcribed by hand the article text to make the plates. They were printed at The Arm in Williamsburg. Four examples are below.

For historical background, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the drafting the UDHR, a document that was written to express individual’s rights and prevent the atrocities of World War II from happening again. Representatives from seventeen nations were on the committee that drafted the document, with Eleanor Roosevelt, René Cassin, and John Peters Humphrey having key roles in the process. The UDHR was a response to the end of World War II, but in the language that was used, the drafters hoped to keep the document free from ideology, as Johannes Morsink notes in his book The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Penn Press 1999):

Given that World War II was fought to make the world free for democracy, it is certainly odd that the noun “democracy” never occurs in the Declaration at all, not even in the Preamble, and that the adjective “democratic” occurs only once, in Article 29, paragraph 2. The same query arises with respect to the terms fascism and Nazism…Ideologically the Declaration is a very bare document; it mentions neither the winning ideology (democracy) nor the losing one (fascism). The reason for the absence of these terms is that they got caught up in the rhetoric of the Cold War. This rhetoric distorted their meaning and made them unsuitable for use in a document that was designed to be acceptable to all the participating delegations.




Hilary Plum

Narrating Forgetting

By | Fence Books | No Comments

Hilary Plum’s essay in the latest issue of Brooklyn Rail, “Narrating Forgetting,” explores the literature inspired by war in Iraq, which includes her two novels: They Dragged Them Through the Streets and Strawberry Fields, published by Fence in April 2018. The essay provides a glimpse into her life and process, but also features a remarkable reading list that suggests what poetry, essays, and fiction can offer in difficult times. As an editor, Plum acquires for Rescue Press and Cleveland State University Poetry Center (also programming the Lighthouse Reading Series) and she was previously responsible for the books published by Clockroot Books, an imprint of Interlink, that was active between 2009-2013. More information about Plum (including reviews of Strawberry Fields in Consequence, Zyzzyva, and Full Stop) can be found on her website.

While writing this second novel I grew preoccupied with how hard it was even to read journalism, a seemingly accessible genre: how much of the work of journalism the reader—and sometimes the journalist—may misread or avoid. The novel moves quickly among settings and situations in an exaggerated echo of the daily newspaper and its disorientation, where the story of a new US drone base in Niger yields to the write-up of a wedding in New York, which yields to a follow-up on the long water crisis in Flint. What happens when the reader accepts a brief paragraph as knowledge? What of the language of facts do we truly hear? These questions begin somewhere and proceed through #fakenews. These questions begin in an appetite I too share, a desire to know, a habit of consuming something I treat as knowledge. I wrote the novel to try to learn who I am when I read.
–Hilary Plum, “Narrating Forgetting” (Brooklyn Rail, Sept. 2018)

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Curated Stories by Sujatha Fernandes

By | Oxford University Press | No Comments

Sujatha Fernandes will visit the US next month for several events to discuss her recent book Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling. She will give a talk at the Our (Digital) Humanity conference at Lehigh University on April 21 and then travel to California for lectures at UC-Santa Cruz and UC-Riverside. This is her fourth book – which she describes below in an interview from 2016 – that continues her project of examining social justice movements through a cultural lens, combining theory with engaged ethnography, and she presents case studies to demonstrate how the act of storytelling has been hijacked by those seeking profit or political gain, with soundbites that placate more than politicize listeners:

In truth commissions, courtrooms, and legislatures, stories were abstracted from the goals of building mass movements that confronted power, and they were reoriented toward transaction and negotiation. The method of consciousness-raising was retooled as the sharing of personal stories in televised spectacles, and was divorced from the political. Stories were shorn of their nuance and complexity to become short texts that would fit in a report or could be easily recitable for the purposes of a legal hearing, daytime talk show, or civil litigation.

Fernandes, who is professor of political economy and sociology at the University of Sydney, also just recently wrote a piece for The Nation, published last month, which follows a group of children in a small town in Cuba who make a short film – Siete Y 50 – about a local factory that was almost closed down, but saved thanks to their efforts.

Robert Sedgewick, Kevin Wayne, and SIGCSE

By | Pearson | No Comments

Robert Sedgewick, professor of computer science at Princeton University, is the author of the seminal textbook Algorithms, now in its fourth edition from Pearson. In 2016, he published Computer Science: An Interdisciplinary Approach with his co-author Kevin Wayne, also on the faculty at Princeton. In their latest book, Sedgewick and Wayne are proposing a change to how introduction to computer science is taught, with less an emphasis on programming, and asking students to consider computer science in a broader context – to be more useful for other fields. Both texts have accompanying video lectures and Sedgewick encourages faculty to use the videos and texts in tandem. Since Sedgewick has made the transition to relying on the video lectures in his department at Princeton, he’s noticed excellent results:

Generally, since we have been using online videos instead of large live lectures, teacher-student interaction is at a much higher level than before. Students know the basics from the videos, so the discussion can be about applying and connecting concepts, or delving more deeply into some topic of interest…And faculty at other institutions can adopt the same model. In the 20th century, we didn’t insist that every professor at every institution write a textbook for every course. In the 21st century, does it make sense for every professor to prepare and deliver lectures, when good online lectures are available?

Vesto PR associate Holly Mitchell is attending the annual meeting of the Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) this week, displaying the books and videos at booth 520. Co-author Kevin Wayne will stop by on Friday February 23 at 10:00am to say hello and the exhibit hall will be open until Saturday February 24 at Noon.