Friday, May 16, 2014

Interview with Carl Kurtz, pt. 1

The University of Iowa Press is proud to announce the release of our newest Bur Oak Book, A Year of Iowa Nature: Discovering Where We Live, by Carl Kurtz!

"Carl Kurtz is a photographer who blooms where he is rooted. He puts into words and images what people who love nature and the Midwest wish they could say and do. Each image and comment provides something to think about beyond the week they were originally shared."—Linda and Robert Scarth, authors, Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa

UI Press editor, Holly Carver, sat down with Carl Kurtz to ask him a few questions about the inspiration for his book and his life as a photographer. Check back Monday to read the conclusion of the interview!

Holly Carver: You’ve been sending out a nature photo and a short essay every week for more than eight years. How did this start? 
Carl Kurtz: This began as a means to share observations with others and to encourage them to look more carefully at the world we live in. 
HC: Is it hard, some weeks, to find a worthy subject? If you have more than one candidate, how do you decide which to feature? 
CK: Some weeks, it is difficult to locate a suitable subject and other weeks, I may have half a dozen or more. I try to use what is most characteristic for that time of year and, if possible, something new that I have not used before.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Interview with Joseph Weber, pt. 2

Joseph Weber’s Transcendental Meditation in America will be published this month. Editor Catherine
Cocks took a moment to talk to him about what drew him to write about transcendental meditation.

Catherine Cocks: What brought TM to Fairfield, Iowa, and what did local people think when the movement’s members first arrived?

Joseph Weber: The movement bought the campus of a bankrupt Presbyterian college in Fairfield, Parsons College, in the 1970s when it was looking for a place to house a fast-growing university it had created in California. Many Fairfielders were mortified at the prospect of meditators descending on their little farm town, fearing what some thought of as practices that were at least un-Christian if not Satanic. They fretted that newcomers would be a bunch of hippies. In fact, they proved to be quite strait-laced, by order of the guru. Still, there was a gulf between them and the locals that in some respects endures years later.

CC: The Beatles were big TM supporters back in the 1960s. Are there any comparable celebrities who support the movement today?

JW: None are comparable, but there are celebrities who endorse TM-style meditation and help parts of the movement. Among these are comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Russell Brand, talk-show maven Oprah, shock-jock Howard Stern, newsman George Stephanopoulos and newswomen Candy Crowley and Soledad O’Brien, along with actors including Hugh Jackman. Celebrity endorsers have long been central to movement marketing and that endures, though some backers are getting long in the tooth, as are the followers.

CC: Why do you think spiritual practices from India, China, and other Asian nations have become more popular in the United States over the past fifty years?

JW: Americans have been materially successful beyond belief but are spiritually hungry. Traditional religious practice doesn’t cut it for many. So they look elsewhere, and the beliefs and practices of the East seem appealing, especially those that calm restless minds or promise to sharpen those minds. At the same time, Eastern spiritualists have known they could find a ready market in the United States. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was one in a line of such spiritual entrepreneurs who had come to the United States over many decades to popularize their ancient practices and, in the process, do pretty well for themselves.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Interview with Joseph Weber, pt. 1

Joseph Weber’s Transcendental Meditation in America will be published this month. Editor Catherine Cocks took a moment to talk to him about what drew him to write about transcendental meditation.

Catherine Cocks: Why did you decide to write about the Transcendental Meditation movement?

Joseph Weber: The movement’s influence on American culture has been profound. It popularized meditation at a time—in the early 1960s—when the practice was seen as foreign and strange. Then it took off like wildfire as the Baby Boomer generation came of age and sought something spiritual that was outside traditional religious practice and a bit anti-establishment. The movement’s influence endures today, as meditation has become comfortably entrenched in society. But somewhere along the way the movement went off the tracks, moving from a youth-oriented organization that catered to Boomers fed up with war and violence to something critics derided as cult-like, with its own esoteric body of practices and beliefs. I was curious about what happened, why and how, and about what that story said about a particularly American predilection for Utopian movements and charismatic leaders.

CC: How did movement officials and members respond to your interest?

JW: Some were cool and some warm, perhaps because the movement has been fractured ever since the guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, died in 2008. Some leaders, such as those at the Maharishi University of Management, were quite helpful. They believe they have a great story to tell. But the top leaders of the world movement and its U.S. arm did not talk with me, though their chief spokesman was of some help. Many members in Fairfield, the home of the U.S. arm of the movement, were quite gracious and welcoming.