Recently published books by alumni

And faculty, plus recommendations

WE ASKED Marjoleine Kars ’82, Ph.D. ’94, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (The New Press), about how she found this untold story and what compelled her to write about it.

Sifting through documents in the Dutch National Archives, I hit gold. A little-known but massive slave rebellion had occurred in 1763-64 in Dutch Berbice, now Guyana. The archives held boxes of material about the conflict that played out in this impenetrable land of savannas and subtropical rainforests crisscrossed by rivers. While most slave rebellions were suppressed in a matter of days, this one lasted more than a year. The collection included a remarkable diplomatic exchange—letters between the Dutch governor and rebel leader Coffij, paddled back and forth by Amerindians in dugouts. Even more astounding was the post-rebellion testimony, revealing the voices of 900 defeated freedom seekers. Here was a story that had to be told.

It was a topsy-turvy world of shifting alliances. The former colonial masters were confined to a few plantations near the coast while the formerly enslaved were in control of most of the colony. Caribs and Arawaks fought on the side of the colonists, eager to keep African competitors out of their territory. Dutch soldiers sent from neighboring Suriname mutinied and joined the very rebels they had come to defeat. African ethnicities and competing visions of freedom divided the rebels. Self-emancipated people welcomed the overthrow of slavery while dodging both the rebels and the Dutch.

In the aftermath, the Dutch tried the leaders and interrogated hundreds of others. Their accounts provide a vivid picture of the internal workings of the rebellion and of the emotional life and aspirations of the enslaved in Berbice.

Popular politics in the Berbice rebellion were as complex as any other in this era. During the Age of Revolutions (1763- 1820s), not only elites but also peasants, Indians, ordinary whites, and enslaved people fought for greater autonomy and better lives, though how they defined these values differed greatly. Leaders of the Berbice rebellion wanted liberty to run a colony of their own with a measure of human bondage in place. Ordinary self-emancipated people wanted autonomy to tend their own gardens without being exploited. This difference was a common theme in the revolutionary age: Elites wanted one thing; commoners wanted another; both called it “freedom.”

RECOMMENDATIONS from Corey Sobel ’07

In The Redshirt, Sobel—a former Blue Devil linebacker—explores identity, masculinity, class, and more through the coming-ofage stories of two football players at a private university in North Carolina. Here, he shares books that inspired him.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

I like my Dickens late and dark, and have a passion for this story of an imprisoned debtor and his daughter. Dickens is thrilling in how he dramatizes systems—social, political, and in the case of Little Dorrit, economic. Debt deforms William Dorrit and his unendingly loyal daughter Amy, and this novel helped me think through how college football’s system of indentured servitude mauls bodies and souls in a similar fashion.

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

This novel in verse’s protagonist is Geryon, a boy who also happens to be a mythical winged red monster, and it follows him through an abuse-haunted childhood into his doomed love for Herakles, the hero fated to destroy him. My novel’s narrator, Miles, also feels baffled by the strange body he’s made to wear, and likewise struggles to remember that that body is capable of taking flight.

The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Second Edition

My novel’s other main character, Reshawn McCoy, researches an enslaved poet I based on George Moses Horton. In the mid-1800s, Horton taught himself to read and went on to publish three volumes of deft, heartbreaking verse. I first learned about him in an AAS course with the brilliant Maurice Wallace, and still own the Norton anthology we used as our primary textbook. It was a delight to open the book during my research—and mortifying to read my late-adolescent marginalia.

The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago

A master satirist of power structures, there are books of Saramago’s that are more directly linked to The Redshirt’s themes (like The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis), but this novel has a very personal resonance for me. Its protagonist is a lonely proofreader awakened to his true self by a woman he loves and a book he writes; I got married as I was starting The Redshirt, and then worked on the manuscript between drab freelance proofreading jobs. You can fill in the rest.


State of Empowerment: Low-Income Families and the New Welfare State (University of Michigan Press) Carolyn Barnes, assistant professor of public policy and political science, and Andrea Louise Campbell

How to Write a Horror Movie (Routledge) Neal Bell, professor of the practice in the department of theater studies

The Lonely Letters (Duke University Press) Ashon T. Crawley A.M. ’11, Ph.D. ’13

Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism (Little, Brown & Company) Seyward Darby ’07

The Haitians: A Decolonial History by Jean Casimir (UNC Press) Translated by Laurent Dubois, professor of Romance studies and history; foreword by Walter D. Mignolo, professor of Romance studies and literature

Lula and His Politics of Cunning: From Metalworker to President of Brazil (UNC Press) John D. French, professor of history

Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity (Random House) Brian Hare, professor of evolutionary anthropology and psychology and neuroscience, and Vanessa Woods, director of Duke Puppy Kindergarten

The Brief and True Report of Temperance Flowerdew (Blackstone Publishing) Denise Heinze Ph.D. ’90

Gatecrashers: The Rise of the Self-Taught Artist in America (University of California Press) Katherine Jentleson Ph.D. ’15 

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