Category Archives: Features

You Can Go Home Again

Despite his spare frame and quiet demeanor, Greg Lipscomb isn’t a wallflower, especially regarding his thoughts on the subject of libraries.

“The library is just in my veins,” he says. “I cannot imagine living in a society or a culture that doesn’t have a library.”

Lipscomb is the incoming chair of the UT Libraries’ Advisory Council and has just committed to a large planned gift for the Libraries, so I’m sitting with him to find out why.

Greg Lipscomb.

He begins by recounting the period during his study at UT in the early 1960s when a confluence of history and wanderlust compelled him in a direction that would ultimately lead him on a fifty-year journey away from Austin, on an odyssey of professional work and travel that would brush against events of notable historical significance.

“It was at the end of 1961 – the end of my sophomore year – I was over in one of the massive reading rooms in the Tower with the beams above and the wide tables and so forth, and at the end of finals, I stood up and I went out and took on the world as best I could see it in my own interpretation,” says Lipscomb, “and I was gone from that sort of setting for 50 years.” 

Lipscomb expresses that he wasn’t walking away from his college career or academic endeavor forever – he went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from UT – but the draw of civic responsibility was too compelling to ignore. This was the time of John Kennedy’s clarion call to public service, and the cacophony of protest was growing audibly across the campus. 

“You have to realize that in the 60s, you could literally be in class — many times we had the windows open because there wasn’t air conditioning — and you could hear civil rights demonstrations out on Guadalupe,” he says. “And there was this pull. John Kennedy was in office and he was making politics elegant again for the first time since Roosevelt. And the notion of public service was big.”

The urge to be part of something larger than himself became too strong to dodge, and led him down a five-decade path which presented the opportunities that ultimately formed him as a person.

“I felt the need to play a concrete role in the changes that were happening, so I got involved in student politics,” he recounts. “I got involved in civil rights. I went off to the army because of Vietnam. I went around the world. I went to California and worked for Jerry Brown. Went to Washington and worked for the Democrats there. Went to Harvard for the Kennedy School,” 

Lipscomb became an active leader in the student civil rights protests at UT, was elected student body president in 1964, and used his standing to make the final push to get the regents to integrate the dorms on campus. He and a carload of his journalism colleagues from The Daily Texan drove 800 miles to document the fateful march at Selma, Alabama. As a member of ROTC, Lipscomb landed in an intelligence unit at the Pentagon during the war in Vietnam. After hitchhiking around the world with his wife, he worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, which propelled him into California politics, including a position in Governor Jerry Brown’s administration. He later returned to D.C. as a speechwriter for the first African American chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Any pairing of these life events might be enough to mention; that they’re woven into a single period of a single life is remarkable.

Amid his extended interlude in the Beltway at the FCC, Lipscomb began to seek distraction through some of the intellectual rigor that he left behind in college. He surveyed his environs and eventually wound up bumping around the library at George Washington University (GWU). After being given broad access to resources there, he felt an obligation to do what he could to return the favor, and approached the library’s development office to make a donation. Library administrators thought that as someone with no significant ties to GWU, Lipscomb might provide a valuable perspective as chair of their advisory board. His acceptance of that role enjoined him to a cause in libraries.

“Several years later, I decided retirement was timely. I was burned out on Washington. It had changed in temperament.”

The experience at GWU also elicited a change in him. Lipscomb summoned the earlier version of himself, making a conscious attempt to return to the point in time when he walked out of the library back in 1961 to take on the world. He wanted to find a place to settle where he would have ready access to the knowledge resources of a library, and began to consider all the familiar places from his past. 

“And then, in 2014, I came back to Austin and I sat down at the same place and picked right up where I left off. What I was reading, what I was writing,” he says. “It’s like T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – ‘in my beginning is my end,’” says Lipscomb.

Lipscomb personifies this internalized value as “The Eternal Sophomore.” “That’s the kind of mindset I say with affection. You’re on the precipice, but your mind is still fresh, your attitude is fresh. And I saw the library reading room as a sort of cathedral, a sacred space. That’s sort of where I came back and picked up.”

“Coming back was a huge decision, and I came back humbled – and a little appalled at my arrogance sometimes along the way. Also proud of certain things and people I worked with, and causes I worked on. But I was ready to keep learning as a sophomore.”

And some undergraduates on campus might recognize him as a fixture in their world, or, perhaps, as a fellow traveler. Lipscomb’s loyalty to self-improvement through learning means he spends a significant chunk of his time on campus, much of it on the upper floors of the Perry-Castañeda Library. 

“Within the closures of this building – if I had food and medicine – I could be here indefinitely,” he says. “Right now I spend about 20 hours a week – it’s a part-time job. I got up to that writing some personal stuff and just catching up on all the reading I never got to, the great reading.”

Lipscomb continued to feel a responsibility to the Libraries when he returned to Austin, wanting  to carry through on the advocacy role he’d taken on at George Washington. He expressed interest to administrators at the UT Libraries, and was invited to join the council in 2014 where he has been a consistent participant not only at regular meetings, but as a vocal proponent and supporter both on campus and beyond.

Still, Lipscomb’s primary drive is in discovery and personal growth. That lengthy period of working on behalf of others has earned him the opportunity to focus on his interests, and he’s taking full advantage of it.

“The library to me is a great conversation,” he says. “I think of it in terms of books – but these books, they talk back and forth. And you can tell the mentor and the mentee — like in a translation of The Iliad or something — one passes on to the other. It’s the DNA of ideas. You can start out with just a germ of a phrase and watch it blossom into something right there.”

But even the bibliophile in Lipscomb recognizes the value of a diverse array of resources. He’s spoken extensively with library professionals about the transition to digital resources and the advantage it gives to preservation, and he’s been in active attendance at all of the public discussions in the last year related to a task force on the future of UT Libraries, where the conversation about the value of books and the impact of technology has real currency. 

He especially appreciates the benefits that technology brings to research, particularly in making discovery significantly more efficient: “You can do it digitally. That’s a different training that I’m having to come up to, but I respect it. It’s easy to say, ‘Everybody’s just channel-surfing through nothing more than a paragraph or two.’ It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. But, also, you can search, you can go backwards and forwards. Software is beginning to mimic the brain, or learning as we know it.”

Whatever the challenges that have arisen since he was an undergraduate at UT, Lipscomb feels his experience all pointed him back to this place.

“I didn’t realize back in 1961 how much had been passed on to us in terms of the resources and the staff, the wonderful reading rooms – I didn’t realize until later,” says Lipscomb. “That’s when it occurred to me that I owed something.”

“The library function, role, the sanctuary, the passing on from one culture to another –  it’s an optimistic enterprise,” he continues. “It says, ‘We have here your past, which is valuable, and you have to carry it forward.’ That’s what we do in the libraries. You owe current and future generations the gratitude that you received.” 

“There is almost a Buddhist sense of circularity…returning to where you started. You come back and pay respects to the master that formed you. The mentor, the habits, the patterns, the depth of thinking.”

Chicana Feminist Scholar and Writer Alicia Gaspar de Alba to Read at Archive Exhibit

BY DANIEL ARBINO

White, heterosexual men have long dominated archival records. However, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection has a new archival exhibition that indicates the times are changing.

The Benson Collection is pleased to commemorate the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Reading Room on Thursday, May 2, at 4 p.m., with a visit from the author herself. During the presentation, Gaspar de Alba will read from her published creative writings as well as participate in a discussion with Mexican American and Latina/o Studies faculty member and community activist Lilia Rosas. Additionally, a selection of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba papers will be on view in an exhibition titled “This is about resistance”: The Feminist Revisions of Alicia Gaspar de Alba. The Benson acquired these papers in fall of 2017 through a generous donation from the notable Chicana feminist scholar, professor, and author.

The exhibit highlights the intersections of Gaspar de Alba’s scholarly and creative endeavors. Early poetry, essays on identity as a queer Chicana feminist, journal entries, research notes for novels and scholarly work like Desert Blood (2005) and Making a Killing (2010), correspondence with UT Press, novel manuscripts, and photographs will all be on display for visitors.

Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, "Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House" (1998)
Notes for Gaspar de Alba’s first book-length academic publication, “Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House” (1998)

Gaspar de Alba is a native of El Paso/Ciudad Juárez, but has lived for over twenty-five years in Los Angeles, where she is a founding faculty member and former chair of the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. She is currently the Chair of the LGBT Studies Program and has affiliate status with the English Department. A celebrated writer and scholar, she has won various awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel (Desert Blood) and the American Association of Higher Education Book Award for [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (2015).

The acquisition of the Gaspar de Alba papers further strengthens the Benson’s holdings in U.S. Latina feminism and literature, which also include the Gloria Anzaldúa Papers, the Carmen Tafolla Papers, and the Estela Portillo Trambley Papers.

Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City
Gaspar de Alba at the San Jerónimo Convent in Mexico City

Attend The Event

View the event here: https://www.lib.utexas.edu/events/270

This event is co-hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, who gratefully acknowledge the following co-sponsors: the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

About the Benson Latin American Collection

The Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection is one of the foremost collections of library materials on Latin America worldwide. Established in 1921 as the Latin American Library, the Benson is approaching its centennial. Through its partnership established with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies in 2011, the Benson continues to be at the forefront of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o librarianship through its collections and digital initiatives.

Hinojosa and Pérez Brought Soul and Heart to 17th Annual ¡A Viva Voz!

A packed house at the Benson Latin American Collection was treated to a stunning set of music for the 17th annual ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of Latina/o Arts and Culture, held April 4.

Lourdes Pérez (photo: Daniel Hublein)
Lourdes Pérez (photo: Daniel Hublein)

To be in the audience for “Cantos y Cuentos,” with singer-songwriters Tish Hinojosa and Lourdes Pérez, was to be drawn into an intimate conversation, an evening of poetry and song and sentiment that was poignant and personal, and at times delightfully humorous.

Audience at "Cantos y Cuentos" (photo: Daniel Hublein)
Audience at “Cantos y Cuentos” (photo: Daniel Hublein)

“Embodied in you is the history of thousands and thousands of years and hours of work and activism and human rights and cultural work, so I want to give you a round of applause for being here with us tonight,” said Pérez, before opening the concert with her song “Remolinos.”

In a set that was arranged song-swap style, Hinojosa followed with “Amanecer,” a love song written for her mother.

Tish Hinojosa (photo: Daniel Hublein)
Tish Hinojosa (photo: Daniel Hublein)

The emotional range of the concert was among the details that made it remarkable. One of the most touching songs of the evening was Hinojosa’s “The West Side of Town,” the tale of her parents, Felipe and María, which she wrote for her children so that they would learn about their grandparents, both of whom died before Hinojosa’s children could know them. Following that number, Pérez turned to her friend and said, “Tish, that’s a beautiful song, and I just wanted to tell you … I admire you, your beautiful voice, your songwriting—your beautiful songwriting—and I look up to you. Thank you for everything you’ve done in your life and your career.” These words, and this moment of one performer responding to the other, capture the authenticity of the evening.

Photo: Daniel Hublein
Photo: Daniel Hublein

Pérez’s wonderful sense of humor was on display with the songs “Héroe” (about a messenger dog, written in the poetic form known as décimas) and “A tu amor renuncio” (I Resign from Your Love—a breakup song for the digital age). In introducing the lovely “Roses Around My Feet,” Hinojosa claimed it was as close as she could come to a breakup song; the lyrics were inspired by the saying “No me estés hechando flores”— don’t be a flatterer—taught to her by her mother.

“Carrusel,” by Pérez, stood out as a stirring commentary on our time: “Diez mentiras repetidas son igual a una verdad” (“A lie, repeated ten times, equals the truth,” she translated.) In the haunting refrain, Pérez sings, “¿Qué veo? Nada. ¿Qué oigo? Nada. Y, ¿qué hago? Nada.” (What do I see? Nothing. What do I hear? Nothing. And what do I do? Nothing.)

Photo: Daniel Hublein
Photo: Daniel Hublein

The artists closed the concert with two duets, Hinojosa’s tender and enduring “Manos, Huesos, y Sangre,” written for Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and Pérez’s anthem-like “Tengo la vida en las manos” (I Have Life in My Hands).

Before teaching the chorus of “Tengo la Vida” to the audience, Pérez spoke: “We still have the opportunity of creating spaces of freedom of speech. Who would have known that it was so threatened?” And she acknowledged the importance of places like LLILAS Benson, and of “this opportunity to celebrate life, to go into institutions of higher learning to tell our stories, and to straighten up the story that is being told” about us. (Adding another dimension to this statement, Hinojosa’s archive is housed at the Benson Latin American Collection.)

I have life, I have life,

I have life in my hands.

It is a consequence of being a woman.

It is a consequence of being human.

And then we all sang,

Tengo la vida, tengo la vida, tengo la vida en las manos.

Es consecuencia de ser mujer, es consecuencia de ser humano!


Learn about the artists at their websites: Tish Hinojosa and Lourdes Pérez.

Tish Hinojosa and Lourdes Pérez to Headline 17th Annual ¡A Viva Voz!

LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections is proud to present “Cantos y Cuentos: An Evening with Tish Hinojosa and Lourdes Pérez” for the 17th annual ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of Latina/o Arts and Culture, coming to the Benson Latin American Collection, 2300 Red River Street, on Thursday, April 4, 2019, at 7 p.m.

In “Cantos y Cuentos,” San Antonio native Tish Hinojosa and Puerto Rican–born Lourdes Pérez will share the stage for song and conversation, giving the audience a front seat to the stories and histories behind each composer’s music, and glimpse of a friendship that spans many years.

Tish Hinojosa
Tish Hinojosa

Hinojosa is one of 13 children born to immigrant parents. The Southwest has been a focal point for her songwriting in English and Spanish, in styles ranging from Tejano to singer-songwriter folk, border music, and country. In a career spanning more than three decades, she has toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe, recorded in English and Spanish as an independent artist for major record labels, and has been a featured artist on Austin City Limits and A Prairie Home Companion. Hinojosa was praised by the Chicago Tribune as “a first-class songwriter,” and her supple voice lends itself well to a variety of genres. Her most recent album, West, includes new originals and an eclectic mix of covers.

West album cover Hinojosa

Hinojosa was an invited performer at the White House at the invitation of President Bill Clinton and then First Lady Hillary Clinton. She has performed with Joan Baez, Booker T. Jones, Flaco Jimenez, Pete Seeger, and Dwight Yoakam. The Benson Latin American Collection is the repository of Hinojosa’s archive.

Lourdes Pérez, photo: Annette D'Armata
Lourdes Pérez, photo: Jennifer Davis, 2019

When she began touring in the early 1990s, Lourdes Pérez was one of the only out Latina lesbians in the music world. Known for her soulful contralto voice, she takes on difficult topics in her songs, such as war and social justice, but also pens beautifully crafted lyrics on a range of topics. She is one of the few female writers of décimas, a form of Spanish poetry. Pérez’s performances have taken her to war zones and contested areas such as Chiapas and Palestine, and she has collaborated onstage and off with songwriters and performers in those areas and others, including translating lyrics from Arabic into Spanish.

In 2006, Pérez was one the first five artists in the US to be awarded a United States Artists Fellowship for Music, naming her “one of the finest living artists in the country.” Pérez is also a poet and oral historian. Her most recent project, Still Here: Homenaje al West Side de San Antonio, is a book and CD with original compositions by Pérez, performed by a variety of artists, inspired by oral histories of some of San Antonio’s most revered elders. The release of the project included a multimedia performance.

Still Here cover Perez

This event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow the performance. RSVP requested at http://attend.com/avivavoz17.

The Infinite Atlas Project, Or a Supposedly Fun Project the Library Didn’t Create

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love In this series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is considered, by some, a masterpiece of late 20th century American literature. The Harry Ransom Center’s acquisition of Wallace’s personal papers in 2010 gave his work a higher profile among scholars[1], and “Wallace Studies” has emerged as a sub-discipline.[2] Curiously, his writings inspire an obsessive fan base that resembles the enthusiasm and devotion found at sci-fi cons rather than serious literary study.[3] (Wallace had his own obsessions with television and “low-brow” pop culture, and perhaps he would find his fandom amusing.)[4]

I started reading Infinite Jest while I was living in Boston, and I was struck by the novel’s sense of place. Wallace set the novel in a dystopic future where the United States has merged with Mexico and Canada to form the Organized North American Nations. Despite this setting, Bostonians will quickly recognize places in the novel because Wallace reimagines the city in excruciating detail. Critic Bill Lattanzi suggests Wallace was mirroring James Joyce’s painstaking recreation of Dublin in Ulysses. But Lattanzi recognizes what many readers familiar with Boston understand about the novel: There is a distortion of the city in Infinite Jest. It’s not Boston, or even the United States, as we know it. [5]

In this context, I chose to evaluate the Infinite Atlas, an interactive, crowd-sourced mapping project that geo-locates references in Infinite Jest.  William Beutler, a communications consultant, created the Infinite Atlas and the travel blog Infinite Boston in 2012. The site’s “About” section describes it as “an independent research and art project.”[6]

Infinite Atlas 1 Ennet House copy
The Infinite Atlas includes fictional and fictionalized locations unique to Infinite Jest. The Ennet Drug and Alcohol Recovery House is set in the town of Ennet, a fictionalized version of Boston’s Brighton neighborhood.

The Infinite Atlas is built on Google Maps, with design work by the firm JESS3 and programming from the web development company Red Edge. (It’s unclear if Beutler paid for the design and programming.) Beutler credits his friends and family for helping him with data collection, which included going through all 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest one-by-one. The project also allows users to create their own locations and upload photos and descriptions, so the Atlas has expanded beyond the Boston area.

What can academic institutions take away from this project? What strikes me is the dedication, love, and passion Beutler and his friends brought to it, and their continued maintenance of the Infinite Atlas. Maintenance of digital projects is an ongoing issue for academic institutions and libraries, which can’t afford trendy design firms. However, we can learn from the Infinite Atlas team’s dedication. We should choose projects that we are passionate about, ones that we will care for and attend to in the future, much in the same way we care for our physical book collections.

Infinite Atlas 2 Ryles copy
This is the Infinite Atlas entry for Ryle’s Jazz Club in Cambridge, which was the setting of a notable scene in Infinite Jest and is a place you can actually visit.

This project also has interesting implications for scholars. Infinite Jest is a very difficult book. It is long, convoluted, and full of footnotes. It requires stamina of its readers. If the novel is, as Lattanzi suggests, a fragmentation of Wallace’s experiences in Boston, it is logical that fans would try to make sense of that. Beutler told Fast Company in 2015, “I re-read Infinite Jest after Wallace’s passing, and became obsessed with the idea that there was a way to treat Infinite Jest as a very large data set.”[7] The Infinite Atlas is an attempt to better understand this novel through data, and that is one of digital humanities’ primary goals. Furthermore, the Infinite Atlas could be an object of study unto itself. It is, in a way, a primary source potentially useful for scholars interested in reader response to Wallace’s work. In the universe of digital projects, a non-academic work like the Infinite Atlas is an intriguing example because it challenges our notions of scholarship and leads us to other potentially better questions.[8]

You can find editions of David Foster Wallace’s fiction and non-fiction, including Infinite Jest, at the PCL, where you can also find critical and scholarly works on Wallace’s writing.

[1] Meredith Blake, “What’s in the David Foster Wallace Archive?” The New Yorker, March 9, 2010, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/whats-in-the-david-foster-wallace-archive

[2] See the Preface to Boswell and Burns’s 2013 book Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies for a brief history of Wallace Studies: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b8828072~S29

[3] See fan sites like the Infinite Jest Wiki: https://infinitejest.fandom.com/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace and the Uncyclopedia: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/David_Foster_Wallace And then there’s this particularly, er, challenging essay by Mike Miley in The Smart Set magazine from 2014: https://thesmartset.com/article08181401/

[4] See Wallace’s famous essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” in his 1997 book A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again for Wallace’s examination of his own fraught relationship with television: http://catalog.lib.utexas.edu/record=b4267999~S29

[5] Bill Lattanzi, “Messing with Maps: Walking David Foster Wallace’s Boston,” Los Angeles Review of Books, February 6, 2016, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/messing-maps-walking-david-foster-wallaces-boston#!

[6] “About Infinite Atlas,” Infinite Atlas, accessed February 7, 2019. http://infiniteatlas.com/about

[7] Teressa Iezzi, “Infinite Atlas: A Location-Based Visualization Of A Literary Masterpiece,” Fast Company, January 26, 2015, https://www.fastcompany.com/1681555/infinite-atlas-a-location-based-visualization-of-a-literary-masterpiece

[8] No discussion of Infinite Jest would be complete without its own set of self-aware footnotes.