Last weekend, Scott Simon, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, gave a classy on-air tribute to Laura Nyro, one of the most extraordinary singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s. "Extraordinary" in the true sense of "out of the ordinary." There was never any one quite like her, and last week, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her 1968 album was Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.
Here's how Scott concluded his essay: "In the long, hot summer of 1968, wars overseas were blowing up at home. Protests rang in the streets. Fires and fury raged. And Laura Nyro went into a studio and sang out the passions of the times. Who does that today?"
Check out the link above to Scott Simon's essay and also this YouTube video of Laura Nyro at the piano--she was an amazing musician--singing her great song "Save the Country."
Dugald Stermer, renowned was the art director for Ramparts, the left-wing firebrand magazine of the 1960s and 1970s, has died. You can read his obituary here. You can also read a 2009 interview with Stermer and with Peter Richardson, author of A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America.
One of Stermer's finest covers for Ramparts was for the May 1968 double issue--a re-creation of an American flag as imagined by none other than Mark Twain in 1901. For this cover, an actual cloth flag was stitched together, with red-and-black stripes and skull-and-crossbones "stars."
Some things that happened in 1968 continued already long traditions, like publishing cookbooks that were notMastering the Art of French Cooking. Four of these from the Minnesota Historical Society library‚Äôs collection are worth a look. One is a community cookbook, compiled by a religious women‚Äôs organization to sell for the congregation‚Äôs benefit, one is written by an individual, and two are examples of the many cookbooks published by the state‚Äôs agribusinesses to promote more use of their products. Each reflects the paid or unpaid work of women.
One of my favorites doesn‚Äôt look like a cookbook at all, at first glance. Ida B. Davis‚Äôs Fun with Yiddishand Additional Material of Special Interest was published in Duluth and copyrighted in 1968. The friendly introduction to Yiddish words and phrases is followed by a section on Jewish Holidays and then by ‚ÄúTraditional Recipes and some modern variations.‚Äù These include Bagels, Chicken Soup, and that flexible noodle pudding that can be sweet or savory, Lockshen Kugel.
A classic 1968 cookbook in the collection is the Christ Lutheran Church Cookbookfrom Marine on St Croix, Minnesota. Beginning with a timeline of church history: ‚Äú1872. Church dimensions 18 x 30 x 48, Gothic style, rough lumber purchased at Marine Mill and planed by hand, floors and ceiling double boarded,‚Äù it soon moves on to recipes. Chapter 1 features celebrity recipes, from the luau recipes used by the church‚Äôs Couples Club in 1968 to those contributed by politicians‚Äô wives, like Mrs. (Governor) Harold Levander‚Äôs Swedish Meat Balls. The chapter of recipes from Scandinavian and Other Countries features many Swedish favorites, a few German recipes, and Italian Lasagne.
The colorful Betty Crocker‚Äôs Pie and Pastry Cookbook contains recipes developed in the General Mills test kitchens by home economics graduates of the University of Minnesota and other Midwestern schools. Four-color photos illustrate some of the recipes, like Fresh Blueberry Cobbler and Cheeseburger Pie.
Pillsbury is represented by its 19th Annual Bake-Off Cook Book, with recipes developed by Bake-Off winners from all over the United States ‚Äúshort-cutted and up-to-dated by Pillsbury‚Äù ‚Äì another team of home economists in that company‚Äôs test kitchens.
The Pillsbury Bake-Off was one of the premiere events in American popular cooking of the postwar era. Begun in 1949, the contest became an effective marketing tool for Pillsbury, as thousands of home bakers rushed to stores to buy the exact product (a brand-name frosting mix, for example) needed to reproduce the winning recipe. At some point in the 1960s, the name of the contest was actually changed to the ‚ÄúBusy Lady Bakeoff,‚Äù emphasizing the fact that more and more women were entering the workforce outside the home, and were thus presumably in desperate need of short-cuts for their baking chores.
The 1968 competition‚Äîheld in Dallas in February‚Äîexpanded into three divisions: Flour, Convenience Mix and Refrigerated Fresh Dough. The Grand Prize Winner that year was Phyllis Lidert for her Buttercream Pound Cake with poppyseeds. Some of the other winners used newer Pillsbury products like Hot Roll Mix for ‚ÄúPuddin‚Äô Filled Coffee Cake‚Äù, and Hungry Jack Mashed Potatoes for ‚ÄúPuffy Potatokins.‚Äù
Watch this clip from Art Linkletter's House Party show, during which he announces the 1968 Bakeoff winner.
Special thanks to guest blogger Debbie Miller, reference librarian at the Minnesota Historical Society
Anne McCaffrey, the author of the beloved Dragonriders of Pern fantasy/science fiction series, has died at age 85. Here's her obituary.
The first book in the series, Dragonflight, was published in 1968--a great year, as it turns, out for women writers of science fiction. See the earlier post on this subject here.
By the way, if you have a first edition of Dragonflight (see illustration) gathering dust on your brick-and-board bookshelves, it's probably worth a grand or more. You probably don't, but I thought I would mention it.
And 1968 brought another milestone for Anne McCaffrey: she was the winner that year of the coveted "Hugo" award for science fiction for her novella Weyr Search, which later became part of the Dragonriders series.
William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner appeared in October 1967 and won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1968. The novel is based on the true story of a violent slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831, led by a divinely inspired preacher and slave, Nat Turner, whose actual jail-cell "confession" had long been part of the historical record. Styron's Confessions was a stunning critical and popular success, remaining on the New York Times best-seller list for months, becoming the 2nd most popular book of new fiction published in 1967.
With its excruciating violence and its merciless depictions of the degradations and humiliations of slavery, Confessions proved to be as much an "event" as it was a work of literature. It was no doubt the first experience that millions of readers had had with the sickening stories of America's "peculiar institution." Surely no history book had ever provided such a visceral narrative, and popular fiction had also steered clear of slavery, with a few notable exceptions, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, published more than 125 years earlier. Gone with the Wind (1936) hardly counts as a hard-hitting slavery novel, and Black Thunder (also 1936), a relatively tepid slave revolt novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Arna Bontemps, was not widely read.
Styron, who grew up white and relatively privileged in Virginia, near the area where the bloody revolt had taken place, began writing the book in 1962, a time, he later wrote, when the civil rights dream "was dreamed in a spirit of amity, concord, and the hope of mutual understanding." But Nat Turner appeared just months after some of the worst race riots of the 1960s, in Newark and Detroit. During the months of its greatest popularity, Martin Luther King was assassinated and riots broke out again in urban cores around the country. While Styron surely did not set out to answer that patronizing question asked by every white magazine in the country--"What does the Negro want?"--his book seemed at least to offer a much-needed historical context for the continuing absymal state of race relations in America. Here's just a sample of the thoughts he places in the mind of Nat Turner, from the first lines of the section of the book called "Study War":
"An exquisitely sharpened hatred for the white man is of course an emotion not difficult for Negroes to harbor. . . . Many conditions are required for the full fruition of this hatred, for its ripe and malevolent growth, yet none of these is as important as that at one time or another the Negro live to some degree of intimacy with the white man. That he know the object of his hatred, and that he become knowledgeable about the white man's wiles, his duplicity, his greediness, and his ultimate depravity."
Styron's novel attracted--at first--the praise of mainstream white critics as well as that of some black writers, notably James Baldwin (a personal friend of Styron's) and Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man. Baldwin wrote of Styron: "He has begun the common history--ours."
But the good will began to unravel in the summer of 1968, with the publication of William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond, a collection of essays by black historians and other intellectuals. The writers attacked Styron for what they deemed historical inaccuracy and "a vile racist imagination," but most were simply outraged at the presumptuousness: that a white writer could dare to write so intimately of the black experience. In one of the most measured of the essays, historian (and associate of Dr. King) Vincent Harding takes issue, strongly, with Baldwin's claim about Styron's writing "our common history." Harding writes:
Surely it is nothing of the kind. Styron has done nothing less (and nothing more) than create another chapter in our long and common agony. He has done it because we have allowed it, and we who are black must be men enough to admit that bitter fact. There can be no common history until we have first fleshed out the lineaments of our own, for no one else can speak out of the bittersweet bowels of our blackness. . . . Only then will we capture Nat Turner from the hands of those who seem to think that entrance into black skin is achieved as easily as Styron-Turner's penetration of invisible white flesh.