Staff Summer Reading List 2019

Voices from the Field | August 13, 2019 | By:

It is August! Oh my!

Our annual staff summer reading list is always fun to put together. This year it was a reminder for many of us of how quickly the season seems to be flying by and how many books there are still waiting to be read. But no worries:  the cooler months make for cozy reading, too. As the novelist Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

Here are a few of the books on our minds and in our hands right now! Happily, since a book is timeless, we think you’ll find recommendations from past years that inspire you, too!

Happy reading!


From Meg:  Summer is just racing by and I haven’t done anywhere near as much reading as I’d hoped. I’m halfway though “Little Faith” by Nickolas Butler and I’ve just picked up “This Storied River – Legend & Lore of the the Upper Mississippi” by former WHC board member Dennis McCann. “Little Faith” (also recommended by Gail below!) explores the family dynamic that emerges when different perspectives on faith clash over how best to care for a sick child. It sets this story in a richly detailed Wisconsin seasonal and cultural landscape as grandparents struggle to remain in the lives of their ill grandchild. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve only just begun to dig into “This Storied River,” which I was excited to read after hearing the author tell one of the stories in it.  The unique stories about places along the Mississippi River, from effigy mounds to the button boom, speak to my love of rivers and history.

 


From Shawn: I’m reading a book that was a National Book Award Finalist in 2014 titled “Citizen, An American Lyric,” by Claudia Rankine. In parabolic prose poems, photos, art and essays, the book elucidates the raw impact of emotional injury the author personally experienced or witnessed from subtle and unexpected moments when racism surfaced – between she and friends, between she and colleagues, and among strangers on the train headed for Union Station. There is also the tumult of being rendered invisible (hence, insignificant) by society at large which shows up in the news every day, and in gestures and the facial expressions of neighbors in drugstore check-out lines. This book is a painful read no matter the color of your skin. Carve out enough time to process the shock of it.

 

 


From Carmelo: This summer I was up for light and fun reading. I finally took one of my wife’s reading recommendations seriously and picked up her beat-up pocketbook copy of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (after 15 years of insistence on her part).  A TV series based on the book is now streaming on Amazon Prime (I won’t be watching it until I’m through with the book!). This now-classic comedic novel tells the story of the attempts of Heaven and Hell to finally unleash the Apocalypse and the efforts of an unlikely alliance between an angel named Aziraphale and a demon named Crowley to thwart such prophetic attempts. Aziraphale and Crowley have both been living among humans for thousands of years, and have therefore developed an appreciation for all things humans and, in the particular case of Crowley, for earthly pleasures. The plan? To swap babies, so baby Antichrist be placed with a normal human family, instead of his designated Demon family, to sabotage the implementation of the book of Revelations prophecy. From page one I realized that the irony in this book is to die for. The humor in these pages reaches Apocalyptic proportions very quickly. Wonderful reading if you want to decompress or recharge through laughter!


From Jessica: For fans of Barbara Kingsolver’s characters and storytelling, it is a treat when a new book comes out. I loved her latest, “Unsheltered,” a story set in Vineland, New Jersey. The real city of Vineland was established by a property developer in the 1860s as an alcohol-free utopian society based on agriculture and progressive thinking. In the book, chapters alternate between a family living in a crumbling home of dubious historic importance in modern times with a family living in nearly the same spot in the early years of the city’s founding. Delightfully, the last two words of each chapter form the title of the next chapter, allowing the ideas in the two stories to weave together poetically.  Characters in both families find their beliefs about the world coming unhinged just as the literal roofs on their homes collapse and threaten to make the families homeless, or unsheltered. I especially enjoyed learning about Mary Treat, a real-life botanist and entomologist who corresponded with Darwin, studied the carnivorous plants of the pine barrens, and brought new scientific ideas to popular audiences in her regular pieces in magazines like Harper’s. When visiting family in New Jersey this summer, I made a point of going to Batso Village to see where Mary Treat set off into the woods for her plant studies!


 

From Dena: What better time than summer to read something thoroughly addictive? I’m half-way into the second of the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante and will not stop until I’ve read them all (“My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” “and “The Story of the Lost Child.”)  Their driving force is the friendship between two women, beginning with their childhood in a working class neighborhood in Naples.  Either character alone would be fascinating enough to carry an entire novel.  The two together, and Ferrante’s brilliant depiction of their friendship and their struggles in life and with one another, are mesmerizing.  The emotional complexity of the two characters is so convincing that I’m sure, like me, you’ll decide they must be real.  Add a ton of great plot, great secondary characters, and some ocean…. Maybe you’ve heard that HBO did a version, but don’t even think of watching instead of reading!

 


From Gail: I’m also recommending “Little Faith” by Wisconsin writer Nick Butler. I was fortunate to work with Nick years ago and have read all his books. I can recommend them all. But this one I really enjoyed. It is subtle and powerful, and beautifully written. In an interview, he explained: “I don’t know how NOT to be influenced by the people I love, namely my family and friends. I also don’t know how to write about the world I’m struggling to understand, the world I’m trying to celebrate, the world I’m trying to critique, without incorporating my own feelings, perceptions, and history.  So it often seems that my books very much have the fingerprints of real people all over their pages. ” As for the inspiration for this story, he said, “I’d been thinking about the Kara Neumann case since 2008 when her death came to light.  It was just a horrendous story and something that still resonates with any adult who was alive at that time, but especially those with children.”

 


In conclusion, in the words of Nick Butler: “Read a book.  Any book. Thanks.”

What we were reading last summer

Books we loved in 2017

Our 2016 Summer Reading Picks

Top Summer Reading Selections in 2015

The first WHC Summer Reading List


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Welcoming five new board members

Humanities Programs in Focus, Voices from the Field | July 26, 2019 | By:

This summer, board member John Viste invited the Wisconsin Humanities Council to Wausau for our tri-annual board meeting. Wausau happens to be the home of the WHC’s founding board chair, Gerald Viste, John’s father. We were delighted to have his company at a reception in downtown Wausau and to honor his lifelong commitment to civic engagement, deep thinking, and building connections. In the photo above, Jerry is surrounded by the current and former board chairs who joined us that evening.

The WHC was created as an independent non-profit in 1972 by a congressional mandate. For the past nearly 50 years, the WHC has had  board members who bring their individual strengths and collective wisdom to give the people of Wisconsin greater access to the humanities.

In this tradition, we welcome five new members to the WHC board:  Nicole Brookshire, Jenifer Cole, Jan Larson, Carole Trone, and Kris Adams Wendt. And we also say farewell and thank you to retiring board members Reggie Jackson and Don Greenwood.


Welcome to our new board members!

Nicole Brookshire lives in Milwaukee, where she is Executive Director of Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs. She brings decades of experience as a leading voice for positive growth in Milwaukee and has a passion for working with youth.

Jenifer Cole lives in Madison and is the Program and Policy Supervisor for the Bureau of Working Families, part of the State of Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. She also serves on the board of the Wisconsin Women’s Network and has spent her career committed to gender and social justice. She was appointed by Governor Evers.

Jan Larson lives in Eau Claire, where she is professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism at UW-Eau Claire. She began her career as a journalist and was a member of the steering committee for a WHC initiative called Beyond the Headlines in Eau Claire.

Carole Trone lives in Madison, where she is the Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives of the Fair Opportunity Project. She is committed to building partnerships between educational organizations to expand resources for all students. She was appointed by Governor Evers.

Kris Adams Wendt lives in Rhinelander, where she retired from Rhinelander District Library and now works as a Public Library Consultant for the Wisconsin Valley Library Service. She is committed to public service and building bridges between policy makers at municipal, county and state levels. She was appointed by Governor Evers and is serving her second term on the WHC board.

What does a WHC board member do?

Wisconsin Humanities Council members work hard.  As volunteers, they review grant proposals three to five times a year. The also attend WHC and grant-funded events around the state serving as ambassadors for the Council and evaluating our programs. Board members are also critical in helping the WHC make connections and raise money. With their individual strengths and collective wisdom, our board contributes a great deal to make history, culture, and conversation happen all over Wisconsin.

We accept nominations. If you know someone who might like to join the WHC board, find out more here.

Board members who have completed their terms rotate off the board, but gratefully they don’t go far: former board members are invited to join our Alumni Circle, an informal group made up of past members.

The Alumni Circle channels their commitment to the Wisconsin Humanities Council into direct action. They put their energy into creating more opportunities for Wisconsinites to have access to the ideas and knowledge sparked through humanities experiences. Thanks to the passion of the Alumni Circle, for example, we partnered with the storytelling group Love Wisconsin to share the story of Jim Leary, a folklorist, to help broaden understanding of the humanities and their role in our lives. Find it here!


Announcing Summer Grant Awards!

Humanities Programs in Focus | July 11, 2019 | By:

The Wisconsin Humanities Council believes that everyone in the state should have the opportunity to explore the rich histories and diverse cultures that together inform our ideas about the past and shape the future of our communities. With seven deadlines every year, our grant program is accessible. It provides the assistance community leaders need to turn their ideas into home-grown experiences.

Below are eight short summaries of the big ideas that recently received WHC funding! Every year we give away around $200,000 in grants to schools, libraries, museums, churches, historical societies, colleges and civic groups for projects that promote new understanding and that reflect the needs and interests of the community.

You can follow what is happening on our Facebook page!

Read More


People who made the journey

Humanities Programs in Focus | June 25, 2019 | By:

From the Director Dena Wortzel

 

Every immigrant to Wisconsin has a unique story.  If you aren’t part of that story, or aren’t looking for it, you might miss it.

As immigration remains at the red-hot center of our politically divided nation, we decided at the WHC that we had to use the humanities to help people think about the immigrants among us — especially immigrants from south of the border. Read More


Announcing $109,587 in grant awards this spring!

Humanities Programs in Focus | March 8, 2019 | By:

 

We are so incredibly proud of the way our grant program provides crucial funds to support homegrown efforts in communities large and small around the state. For each WHC grant dollar we award, an average of $4.87* comes to the project as match from the local community. With seven deadlines every year, our grant program is accessible. It provides the assistance community leaders need to turn dreams into reality.

The recent grant awards are stellar examples. These projects bring people together for opportunities to stretch minds, meet new people, and explore ideas about what it means to be human today, in times past, and into the future.

Humanities events are happening all around the state, coming soon to someplace near you. You can read project descriptions here, find upcoming events here, and follow what is happening on our Facebook page!

Thank you for staying engaged, sharing your ideas, and supporting the humanities in Wisconsin. Now check out this impressive list of outstanding humanities projects we are funding!
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From the Director: The Shutdown, Wisconsin Humanities Council, and You

Humanities Programs in Focus | January 18, 2019 | By:

From the Director Dena Wortzel

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, right?  The government shutdown is increasingly having that effect, as people in Wisconsin experience what happens when federally-funded programs and services are not available. 

It is largely thanks to federal funding that, for 47 years, we’ve made the humanities a living, breathing part of your life and the lives of millions of people throughout Wisconsin. 

I’m not considering cancelling grant rounds or programs because of the shutdown.  I hope it will be over long before we would take such steps. Instead, today, the shutdown is a forceful reminder of why Americans have long believed that the humanities and the arts should receive federal support.

Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants. National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-209)

That’s what we said as a nation in 1965 when Congress passed the bill that created the National Endowment for the Humanities and its sister for the arts.  We agreed then, as a nation, that the health of our democracy depends upon the humanities. 

Today we are divided as we were in 1965, and even more threatened by technological change.  It takes each of us, and all of us, to make the nation whole. Will you join me in renewing that agreement? 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

P.S. Please consider affirming your commitment to the humanities in Wisconsin by joining The Legacy Circle or making a recurring gift to the Wisconsin Humanities Council.



Because we all find ourselves disagreeing with people at one time or another. Use these tips to make sure you, and others, walk away feeling good. The Zeidler Center’s Katherine Wilson offers four strategies for hosting gatherings where difficult conversation is encouraged. She says, “The goal, and the challenge, is to help people disagree without being disagreeable and help people connect in ways they may not realize they can with people they may have de-humanized or othered.” Her four tools will help you get started or improve your programs and events!

From the Director: Taking Care of Local Treasures

Humanities Programs in Focus | December 20, 2018 | By:

From the Director Dena Wortzel

Responding to a natural disaster isn’t the WHC’s stock in trade. We are best known for giving grants to organizations that create programs like walking tours, museum exhibits and face-to-face community discussions. But last summer, when I started getting reports about torrential rains causing unprecedented flooding in the southwestern parts of our state, I worried about the organizations in those rural communities. A few phone calls and conversations revealed that libraries in La Valle, Ontario, Norwalk, Rock Springs and Viola all needed help. 

The WHC hadn’t worked with any of these libraries before, but in each of these small towns, the library is treasured.  In Rock Springs, at word of impending flooding, community members worked furiously to get everything out of the library before the rising water rendered their building unusable.  Today, that library is temporarily housed in a church basement.  Libraries in Ontario, Norwalk and Viola didn’t suffer quite as badly, but needed to replace lost items and make repairs. 

Fortunately, the WHC is an organization poised to help. Generally, we respond to community members who want help bringing their ideas for humanities programs to fruition, and we can provide expertise and funding. In this case, the real need was to keep these little libraries open! What they needed was money for books, shelves, carpets, and other basics.

I was in La Valle, population 367, last week to visit their library. The WHC has provided money to replace items that were damaged when water filled their building, covering the lower three shelves and destroying their entire children’s collection. I was thrilled to learn from Becky and Cindi that the La Valle Public Library, founded in 1903, plans to re-open soon.

Libraries are a critical source of information and of connection to the rest of the state and to the world.  Especially in rural communities. I’m so grateful to our donors, whose regular contributions meant that the WHC could instantly offer help when and where it was most needed.  Thank you on behalf of Becky and Cindi in La Valle,and all the other librarians and library supporters we are able to help.

Here’s wishing you a joyful holiday season and a new year rich in the humanities!

Becky, Cindi, and Dena at the La Valle Library; December 2018.



Hope for local media and democracy

Humanities Programs in Focus | November 27, 2018 | By:

Dear Friends,

Are you worried about the future of the news media? About the media’s role in our democracy today?

At a time when people are worried about “fake news,” we are building trust in our Wisconsin media by bringing reporters together face-to-face with the citizens they serve. Read More


Over $100,000 goes to support humanities projects in Wisconsin

Humanities Programs in Focus | October 25, 2018 | By:

The Wisconsin Humanities Council administers the only grant program in the state devoted to the public humanities. 

This fall our grant awards total more than $100,000. That is money going to school groups, museums, historical societies, colleges, civic and cultural organizations around the state. As we approach our 50th anniversary, we are very proud of the impact our grants have had on our state. We believe that locally-designed, community-based projects represent the power and potential of the humanities. In other words, when people come up with good ideas, and invite others to gather to explore those ideas more deeply, communities grow stronger. Read More


How to talk without fighting

Humanities Programs in Focus | September 12, 2018 | By:

Do you avoid talking about politics with someone in your family, for fear of conflict?  Have you clashed with a friend over an issue, and sadly found that more conversation made you both dig into your positions more deeply?  Read More