A Letter from Katherine McNamara, Editor of Archipelago


In a previous issue, see our feature of Katherine McNamara’s Narrow Road to the Deep North

Other letters from Katherine McNamara

Winter 2002

Fall 2001

Summer 2001

Spring 2001

Fall 2000

Winter 2000


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Dear Friend and Reader,

Archipelago begins its sixth year on-line with this Spring issue, in which we publish serious and, also, delightful, writing. Some of us remember, perhaps from our childhood, the horrible story of the murder of a black youngster, Emmett Till, by two white men in Mississippi. We offer a series of reports on the aftermath by James L. Hicks. “Jimmy” Hicks was an eminent black reporter who went down to Sumner, Miss., to cover the trial. Investigating amid the fearful atmosphere in the African American community, he uncovered facts and the whereabouts of a crucial witness, who nonetheless was never called to testify. The atmosphere during those days was so threatening that Hicks waited to file his stories until his return to New York. The Baltimore Afro-American, the Cleveland Call and Post and the Atlanta Daily World ran his dispatches, which we re-print here.

Hicks's reports are to be published in the “documentary history” The Lynching of Emmett Till, by Christopher Metress, due out in September from the University of Virginia Press.

Another kind of fear and threat moves through the reminiscences of the well-known younger Russian novelist Svetlana Vasilievna Vasilenko, as she describes her childhood in Kasputin Iar, one of a series of closed Soviet military cities. Kasputin Iar was the first Soviet missile test site, built in 1946, and home to the Soviet's cosmonaut program. Vasilenko recounts the days of her childhood to the Israeli novelist and writer Corinna Hasofferett, who has listened to a number of eminent women in the arts in her book Once She Was a Child. The interview was translated from the Hebrew by Michal Sapir.

But delight, too, lives in our pages. The poets Ann Barrett and Kevin McFadden offer us poems in very different forms, but of equal intensity. In “Recommended Reading,” the poet and gardener Mary-Sherman Willis suggests why we ought, also, to read the poems of D. Nurkse. And the photographer John Palcewski gives us two arresting portraits of American faces.

We offer, too, a work of fiction by a fascinating, not well-enough-known Polish-German novelist of the Thirties, Ilse Molzahn, in a chapter from her novel The Black Stork, delicately translated by Isabel Fargo Cole, who has appeared several times in our pages.

The final conversation in my series of conversations with distinguished book people, “Institutional Memory,” appears in this issue. Arthur Samuelson, former publisher of Schocken Books, a house whose diminishing fortunes I have followed over the last several issues, talks with me about his intentions and accomplishments at Schocken during the Nineties and his enthusiastic reading of the possibilities that the Web and electronic publishing open for “niche publishers.”

More soberly, my Endnotes, “The Colossus,” consider a matter facing us all, now. In this endless war America seems to have taken up, the present administration speaks of the possibility of using “tactical” nuclear weapons against seven targeted nations. In the weeks after the leak of the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, this writer contemplated Goya¹s beautiful paintings of women and war and reconsidered the subject of “Copenhagen,” the fine play by Michael Frayn about the meeting in September 1941, between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Did Heisenberg tell Bohr the Germans were not building an atomic bomb? Did Bohr hear Heisenberg say the Germans were building an atomic bomb? We do not know. No one witnessed their talk. Speculation by physicists, historians of science, journalists, and this accomplished English playwright continues. In the essay I have included a short excerpt from the Farm Hall transcripts, in which the German atomic physicists interned by the Allies have just learned of the Americans's use of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The date is August 6, 1945. They are appalled and aghast, because of the awfulness of the weapon, and also because the Americans have beaten them to solving the secret of a useable atomic reaction. “The Colossus” asks, and it is no trivial question, how science ­ and war ­ enter the artistic and the moral imagination. Or, in what manner do we live with our knowledge of the bomb?

Invited to respond to my previous Endnotes, “The Bear,” Congressman Bob Filner writes a letter to the editor about his “Military Environmental Responsibility Act,” under which the armed forces on their domestic military bases would be subject to the same laws protecting the environment as civilians are. My focus in “The Bear” was on Alaska, and on the cleaning up of Ft. Greely, the first test site of this administration's proposed nuclear defense shield. Quoting reliable sources, I wrote of the contamination of parts of Alaska with so-called low-level nuclear and chemical-warfare waste. Just before this issue went live, I received a news report unfortunately confirming a bad situation. On April 12, Reuters reported, in part:

“ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Ground clearing was halted at an Alaska site slated for a new national missile defense system after workers dug up barrels holding what might be the aged remains of dangerous chemicals, the Army said Friday.

“Workers at Fort Greely, a former chemical weapons test site, have found up to 20 of the barrels, which have lids labeled ŒUS CWS, meaning the United States Chemical Warfare Service, an organization disbanded in 1946, the Army said. More barrels may be unearthed at the site, the Army said.

“Some of the barrels were open, and workers found a frozen, crystallized material inside, the Army said. The discovery, made on Monday by the Army's contractor, Aglaq Corp., was reported on Wednesday, the Army said.

“The Bush administration plans to use Fort Greely, about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, as a site for its ground-based missile defense systems.”

We will follow developments.

I encourage you to take the “download” (pdf) edition for more thoughtful reading and to respond to the writers, and to me. I read your letters and e-mail with pleasure and interest. I am grateful, too, for the financial support which so many of you send us, and hope that your assistance will continue, and am glad to acknowledge that we have received grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, for the conversations about Schocken Books.

yrs., Katherine McNamara

Editor and Publisher
Box 2485
Charlottesville, VA 22901 USA