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One Book Blog

Venus in Fur

February 10, 2019 | Cathy Moore

Lipstick Theater ran Venus in Fur in Shanley Pavilion from February 7th to 9th. The play is about a director/writer looking to cast the leading lady in his adaptation of the play Venus in Fur and focuses on an actress who walks in late to the audition. The play lasted 80 minutes with no intermission with scenes that blurred reality and fantasy. Producer Rachel Khutorsky says, “I am grateful to all the students that brought Venus in Fur to Northwestern and thankful for the audiences who came to all the shows. I am really proud that we were able to present not only a quality production but also an important message.”

After the Thursday performance, the group brought in Kyra Jones from CARE (Center for Awareness, Response & Education) for a “Let’s Talk About Sex” discussion on safe BDSM practices and consent with the cast and some of the production team. The panel discussed how they produced a play that involved intimacy and violence while engaging in safe practices and ongoing consent in the theater space.

Nina Simone: Four Women

February 3, 2019 | AnnElise Hardy

Performed at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Nina Simone: Four Women explores singer, songwriter, and activist Nina Simone's response to the bombing of 16th Street Baptist in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The bombing killed four young girls – Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair. This tragedy inspired Nina Simone to compose her first civil rights song, “Mississippi Goddam.”  The play delves into what it means to be an African-American woman, activist, and human. One Book One Northwestern took a group of Northwestern community members to see this incredibly powerful performance filled with revelation, information, and the soul-moving music of Nina Simone.

After the performance, the theatre’s Director of Education and Community Engagement hosted a Talk-Back with two members of the cast, Sydney Charles (Nina Simone) and Deanna Reed-Foster (Sarah).  The discussion focused on the moments and lines from the show that resonated most with the audience along with more general questions from the audience on the conception of the play and the actors' interpretation of their roles.  The show runs through March 3, 2019.

Film Series: Women at the End of the World: Born in Flames (1983)

November 16, 2018 | Cathy Moore

The Block Museum and One Book One Northwestern hosted a screening of Born in Flames on Friday November 16th. Before the screening, Lauren Herold, a graduate student in the screen cultures program, discussed how Born in Flames was a revolutionary film as a part of the movement where cheaper recording technology in the ‘60s-‘80s allowed women and marginalized groups to show their own stories and further their ideologies. The film itself shows different feminist groups fighting for equality in a new American Socialist Democracy society that claims equality, but its reality is very different.

Following the movie, Nick Davis hosted a Q&A with the film’s director, Lizzie Borden. Borden discussed the process of making the film over a five-year period in the ’80s. The film uses a combination of documentary style footage of New York and scenes between actors, both scripted and unscripted. On why she created this film, Borden talked about how Born in Flames was born out of the art world and wanted a film of many voices negotiating how to work together, not a unified movement. On the decision to focus on black and gay women during the film, she noted how she felt alienated by second wave feminism during the ‘80s because the faces felt too bourgeoisie.

The Making of Gilead: the Facts that Made the Fiction

November 13, 2018 | Ryan Albelda

One Book One Northwestern hosted a reception in the 1 South commons in University Library. The event was done to highlight the One Book Fellows' and Ambassadors’ creation of posters and research on events from The Handmaid's Tale. The exbibit was curated by Meredith Belloni, and the art work was done by Mary Truong. This is the third year One Book One Northwestern has had an exhibit by the team members in the library.

The write ups for the posters were done in partners among members of the One Book team. The exhibit was done in refence to how all the events in The Handmaids Tale are based on true stories. When Margaret Atwood came to speak on Northwestern’s campus, she mentioned how all the events in the book took place before she wrote the novel. There is a total of seven themes represented in the exhibit. These themes are found in the book and note real events that took place in the world that also relate to the theme.

The first poster focuses on reproductive justice. This is a key theme of the novel where women’s only
job is to reproduce. One location in the world where women are working to gain reproductive rights is in
Argentina. In 2018, a vote was cast to make abortions legal in Argentina, but it did not pass.

The second poster touches on issues of financial oppression. In the novel, Offred looses all her financial
rights under Gilead. In the United States, women lost the right to property once they were married. The property became that of their husband. In 1839 Mississippi allowed women to own land and other
states followed the trend.

Oppression of sexuality can be found in the novel and in the world as well. In the novel, it is illegal to be
homosexual. In Russia in 2017 authorities tortured a man for being gay and no official investigation was
launched for the illegal torturing.

Clothing is represented as a theme used to oppress women. References to Jews having to wear labels of their religion under Nazi control is an example of status being shown through clothing.

Women in the novel are not allowed to read. In US history, after the Nat Tuner rebellion took place in 1831, Virginia increased the punishment for salves reading to be death.

Loss of power this happens with women nothaving many if any, rights in Gilead. The “unwoman” in the
novel are sent to the colonies to clean up waste. Labor camps have been a reality in the world and are a
loss of power for people.

The final poster talks about women and driving. The theme of women not being able to drive in the
book is something thing that women in Saudi Araba used to face as well and women facing doubts about
their abilities to race cars.

The posters will be up until the start of winter quarter in 1 South in the library.

Jane Eyre

November 8, 2018 | Ryan Varadi

“When all good people are obedient, all the wicked people shall have their way,” Jane Eyre says in Polly Teale’s stage adaptation of the novel by Charlotte Brontë. The play, directed by Kathryn Walsh, ran from October 26th to November11 th at the Josephine Louis Theater, located in Northwestern’s Arts Circle.

In the scene, Jane is a child reflecting on the harsh punishments she receives at her boarding school, including being shamed in front of her peers and denied dinner. Jane is torn between doing what she believes to be right and conforming to Victorian expectations. This conflict plagues Jane throughout the play and is shown onstage. At the beginning of the play, a second actress plays an embodiment of Jane’s rebelliousness. After she is punished for standing up to her cousin, Jane chains her rebellious side to an elevated platform to hide it away from the world. The woman on the platform is there onstage throughout Jane’s life, reminding the audience of Jane’s constant internal struggle. The elevated platform later becomes the room holding Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s first wife, also known as “the mad woman in the attic.” In moments when Jane begins to lose control of her own emotions and desires, Bertha’s platform
gets closer to the ground and she comes closer to escaping.

Although they have very different settings, Jane’s story and Offred’s story in The Handmaid’s Tale are similar. Both women live in male-dominated societies with heavy Christian influences. Both women grapple with the conflict between thinking one way and acting another. And both women, in a way, are able to escape their circumstances. Jane’s escape may be less literal than Offred’s, but she is able to find someone who loves her because of her fiery nature rather than in spite of it.

Rape Law in the Time of #MeToo

November 6, 2018 | Ryan Albelda

On Tuesday, November 6th, One Book One Northwestern held a conversation and dinner in the Dittmar Gallery in Norris on the topic "Rape Law in the Time of #MeToo." The conversation was led by Professor Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor at Northwestern’s Law school. Tuerkheimer’s work focusses on law on rape and consent and advocating for change in the legal system.

She discussed how the current laws for rape have been in existence since the 1960s. She mentioned the challenges that come with rape claims and credibility statements when reporting sexual assault and taking legal actions to deal with it.

She related her work to The Handmaid’s Tale by explaining whether she would consider the monthly ceremony that Offred has partakes in to be rape. The novel talks about how Offred has a “choice.” This “choice” does come with constraints. Tuerkheimer also mentioned how in the novel, if a handmaid were to deem the actions as rape, it is unlikely that the Gilead society would believe her.

Towards the end of her remarks, Tuerkheimer mentioned the American Law Institute (ALI) project that she is working on. The project works on improving the current reporting methods for sexual assault on campus.

Following the remarks by Tuerkheimer, a conversation was held with the participants at the dinner. The questions listed below were used to spark discussion.

  1. What are some popular misconceptions about rape and rape survivors that impede accurate credibility determinations? (Relatedly, what is your estimate of the frequency of false allegations of sexual assault?)
  2. Consider the impact of the #MeToo movement on “credibility discounting.” In what ways has the movement generated progress? In what ways is this progress limited?
  3. How should the criminal law define the crime of sexual assault? In particular, what is the best definition of sexual consent?
  4. What are the challenges that inhere in efforts on the part of universities to create fair and equitable procedures for resolving allegations of sexual assault?
  5. What is the appropriate sanction for a student found responsible for a
    sexual assault on campus? What factors should affect this determination?

One Book keynote with author Margaret Atwood

October 30, 2018 | Ryan Albelda

Margot Atwood came to speak at Northwestern’s Campus on Tuesday, October 30th as the One Book keynote speaker. The conversation took place on campus at Pick-Staiger auditorium between her and the One Book One Northwestern faculty chair Helen Thompson. Conversation consisted of mostly the novel  The Handmaids Tale, but also touched on the TV series, as well as other works by Atwood.

Atwood mentioned how in her writing Offred is not a huge feminist for a reason. Her strength as a writer is writing about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  She stressed how all the events in the book and the show were based on real events.

She also mentioned how when she wrote the book, there were few women who wrote dystopian fiction. She talked about reading and being inspired by Ray Bradbury, 1984, Brave New World and more as a child. With her novel, she wanted to flip the narrative, and include women in the story.

The event highlighted Atwood’s sense of humor. She also mentioned that she will have an announcement on November 29.  For more information, check out these news articles on the event:

The Handmaid’s Tale: A discussion of themes around trauma

October 23, 2018 | Ryan Varadi

On the evening of Tuesday, October 23, four panelists gathered in the basement of Willard Hall to discuss issues of trauma in The Handmaid’s Tale, both as a book and as a Hulu television series. Willard’s Faculty-in-Residence Ben Gorvine, a professor in the Psychology Department, hosted the event and was joined by Dr. Sekile Nzinga-Johnson, Director of the Women’s Center, Kanika Wadhwa, a member of the CAPS staff who specializes in working with survivors, and Saed Hill, Assistant Director of Prevention and Men’s Engagement at CARE. Each member of the panel introduced themselves and invited everyone present to do the same and to feel free to contribute to the conversation.

The discussion began by addressing the confusing narrative structure of the novel. This confusion about the course of events, Professor Gorvine noted, is quite similar to the way trauma is often processed. The discussion soon moved to the depictions of trauma in the TV show, which most of the people in the room had seen. The show seems unafraid to show visceral scenes and the panelists expressed concern that the show is too traumatic or that graphic scenes are only used for their shock value. And while the book eventually resolves its trauma, the finale of season 2 of the show leaves room for a third season and for a continuation of the trauma. The panelists also felt conflicted about the fact that the showrunner is male and wondered how much say Margaret Atwood had in the show’s production, especially in season 2. They were also disappointed that while the show portrays characters of color in the world of Gilead, it has done
little to address intersectionality.

By the end of the discussion, one question in particular hung in the air: does the excessive portrayal of trauma in the show have a purpose and is it worth it? While we did not arrive at an answer, Dr. Nzinga-Johnson did mention two positive things to come of the show. She told the room that she started a Facebook group while season 2 was airing so that she and others could process traumatic scenes as a group. By the end of the season, the group had grown to over 50 people all helping each other. She also noted that female identifying protestors are dressing up as Handmaids while fighting for political change. Kanika Wadhwa closed the discussion by reminding the room that resources like CAPS, CARE, and the Women’s Center are available to help the Northwestern community to begin to tackle complex issues related trauma. 

English Department faculty discuss The Handmaid’s Tale

October 23, 2018 | Ryan Albelda

On Tuesday, October 23, the English department held its quarterly event related to this year's One Book. The event consisted of three speakers: Nick Davis, Barbara Newman and Michelle Huang. The introduction for the event was given by this year’s faculty sponsor, Helen Thompson.

Barbara Newman, an English and religious studies professor, spoke first. She discussed how religion and the patriarchy are featured in the novel, giving background on the USA moral majority that came to rise in the early 1980’s. Atwood may have drawn inspiration from those events. Newman also mentioned that the characters of the novel only read certain passages of the bible, ignoring other parts, such as the passages that speak of rebellion.

Next, English and Asian American studies professor Michelle Huang spoke. She addressed the history of the word salvaging and how the events of the novel were based on historical events, including murders in the Philippines. She also mentioned the race and reproductive bind – in history women have been limited by being made sterile.

The last speaker was Nick Davis. He is a professor who focuses on American Literature, film and gender
and sexuality. He talked about how Offred idealizes her past in the novel – the past before Gilead which she didn't fully appreciate until being forced to live as a handmaid in Gilead. Professor Davis also currently teaches a class about the book.

Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System

October 18, 2018 | Ryan Albelda

On October 18th, the Block Museum held a conversation about the exhibit Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System. This conversation was moderated by Northwestern PhD student in art history, Risa Puleo. The exhibit of Walls Turned Sideways is currently on display at the Contemporary Arts Museum
Houston. The guests that spoke were Mary Patten and Dorothy Burge of Chicago Torture Justice
Memorials, Sarah Ross and Eric Blackmon of Prison Neighborhood Art Project, and Levin Kaempf of
Lucky Pierre.

Mary Patten and Dorothy Burge of Chicago Torture Justice Memorials spoke about the history of police
torture in Chicago. This torture took place under the command of Chicago police captain Jon Graham Burg. The police tortured over 200 people on the South Side of Chicago between 1972 and 1991 in an attempt to force confessions. The group Chicago Torture Justice Memorials works to use art a form of reparations for the torture that took place. They have created a space for victims of torture to tell their stories. More information about the group can be found at https://www.chicagotorture.org/.

Sarah Ross and Eric Blackmon of Prison Neighborhood Art Project (PNAP) spoke about the work they
have done with Stateville Correctional Facility. Art classes are taught in the prison to encourage self
expression in inmates. The project was started by Dr. Margaret Burroughs. The group works to educate the public about the prison as well as help with education in Stateville. More information about the organization can be found at http://p-nap.org/.

Levin Kaempf of Lucky Pierre spoke about its community-based performance/video installation Final Meals. For this project, they film volunteers eating a meal that someone on death row in Texas requested for their last meal. The state of Texas has posted a total of 310 last meal requests online. The videos also note when a meal is declined. The group creates other art as well. More information about the group can be found at http://luckypierre.org/.

In The Handmaids Tale, the handmaids undergo elements of torture if they do not abide by the rules, and they are not allowed to express themselves. Seen in the story, this takes its toll on the characters.
The works and efforts by the artists in Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System has
parallels to what art may have looked like if the handmaids were able to create it.

AHEAD Book group discussion of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

October 18, 2018 | Elizabeth Guthrie

A group of staff and students gathered at the library on Thursday for a discussion of themes from The Handmaid’s Tale. Clustered in the cozy book nook of University Library, we munched on cookies and other refreshments while tackling some of the complex ideas in this year’s One Book. Using the One Book reading guide, which you can find at https://www.northwestern.edu/onebook/student-engagement/discussion-guides.html, we explored how concepts from the book are relevant to our current political climate. Our discussion included the question of whether dressing in the handmaid costume is an effective tool for protesting, the idea of a “post-feminist” America, and the skewed sense of time created by the book’s narrative structure. We also pondered at how quickly Gilead seemed to transform, and questioned whether a society like Gilead is possible under America’s democratic political structure. We reflected on how our own experiences as women are echoed in The Handmaid’s Tale, and many agreed that the book’s messages about equality feel more pressing now than ever.

Film Series: Women at the End of the World: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

October 17, 2018 | Catherine Moore

The Block Museum and One Book One Northwestern hosted a film screening of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the first movie in the Women at the End of the World film series this quarter. Before the screening, Rita Rongyi Lin, a graduate student in the screen cultures program, discussed the animated film’s themes, historical context, and connection to The Handmaid’s Tale and Hayao Miyazaki’s other works. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is about a princess in a post-apocalyptic world defending her home from other kingdoms and nature itself. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, the film reflects the environmental concerns of the ‘80s by showing a bleak outlook on human’s impact on nature.

 

Gender, Work & Power Keynote: Dolores Huerta, labor activist & feminist

October 11, 2018 | Bevy Daniel

On October 11th at the crowded Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Dolores Huerta joined members of the Northwestern community for an exploration of gender, work, and power sponsored by the Graduate Student Association and the Women’s Center. With Huerta's decades of work in civil and labor rights – often partnered with Caesar Chavez – the audience’s excitement for this keynote speech was palpable.

Huerta began by asking how the country got to this place of hate, delving into the United States' history of "abysmal ignorance" and oppression to unpack where we find our society today. Noting the omission of crucial narratives to Americans’ education, Huerta further explicated the main threads of this cloistered history. She spoke in depth about how the manner in which students learn of slavery and race fosters racism from the very beginning of classroom education, and how content changes in our education system could combat this. Further, the speech noted other vital yet silenced topics – Latin America is largely absent from the news, and the labor movement is absolutely essential to society as we know it yet neither studied in school nor celebrated.

Huerta also animated the audience with more overt political discourse. She touched on the current political scene, the absolute vitality of women in politics (along with general advice to the working woman), and pressing reforms in education and healthcare.

Huerta ended with an adamant message to vote, impressing this duty into the audience in order to achieve the necessary reforms she described in her speech. As the night came to a close, Huerta left the stage to calls of "Sí se puede" from a riotously cheering crowd.

For more information, check out these news articles on the event:

The Handmaid’s Tale: the book vs. TV series, a discussion on content approach

October 10, 2018 | Meredith Belloni

When I arrived at the Willard faculty-in-residence apartment, I entered to find about a dozen students already serving themselves dinner and chatting amongst themselves. Once we were all seated, introductions were made. The room was made up of mostly undergraduates representing many different majors. The faculty members present were from the English and Psychology departments. There were only two men in the room, including the professor who hosted the event. Most people had seen the show and read the book. A few had read the book but not seen the show. One woman had seen the show but had not read the book.

After the introductions were done, the discussion began. Early in the conversation, we acknowledged the gender difference in the room and talked about how, it seems that women on campus have felt much more of an impact from the book than men. Both the men and women spoke up as we discussed this impact and what we think the book can, does, and should provide its readers. Conversation spanned most of the themes of the book— from the obvious, like gender and power, to the more subtle, like the environmental factors, the restricted language, and the dynamics of race in the book and show. We talked about race for a while, comparing how the show differs from the book in its representation. Another difference between the show and the book discussed at length was how the show felt “updated” for a 2018 audience. We talked about how it would be hard to present this show without directly referencing current events and the changes in the political climate since the book was written. There was also some discussion about the actors involved on the show and whether or not art can be separated from its creators.

One interesting theme we discussed was what it means to be a fan of the book or show and “love” it. Students and faculty voiced that they felt some discomfort in saying they enjoyed the read. They questioned what it means to feel attached to a piece of fiction that is so dark and full of fear and trauma. We looked at many pop culture trends that felt similar, citing that much of literature and television seems darker today than it has in the past, especially in dystopian, fantasy, and sci-fi genres. The group wondered what it means for us that we, in the current social climate, spend our free time on such dismal themes and asked ourselves whether or not the prevailing message of this kind of work is hope. Does the existence of the resistance and the revelations of the afterword leave us with the knowledge that even in the worst of times people will be fighting for good? Or do we regardless walk away dwelling on the dark times we feel are to come?

One Book Program Update

In response to expressions of concern from the Northwestern University community, we have decided to cancel the One Book One Northwestern escape room scheduled for October 5 and 6 in the Norris Center.  It was not the intention of those who planned this event to trivialize the historical atrocities that Atwood’s novel depicts.  But as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony at the Supreme Court hearing of Justice Brett Kavanaugh last week painfully reminds us, the very metaphor of escape represents a cruel impossibility for persons suffering structural injustice in this city, this country, and this world.  Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale demands that we recognize the incomplete justice still accorded women and other minoritarian subjects and imagine the dystopia that might follow.  What happens next is up to us.  We anticipate a year of exciting programs through which we will engage this book’s challenges together.