Home > 2008-2009 books, Author of European descent, From: library, Genre: Non-fiction > 48. Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s: An Oral History, Jeff Kisseloff

48. Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s: An Oral History, Jeff Kisseloff

Very interesting read. This is more appropriately titled something like “Generation on Fire: Jewish Voices of Protest from the 1960s,” as at least ten out of fifteen people profiled are Jewish. For that matter, “Generation on Fire: White and Jewish Voices of Protest from the 1960s,” would fit, as only two (!) of the people he profiles are people of color. This was an excellent and interesting book, if only for bringing into light the sheer amount of shit people had to live through when fighting for civil rights (one interview subject recounts a man’s attempt to scoop his eye out of his sockets during a protest), but the demographics Kisseloff chose to focus on began to bother me somewhat as the book went on. It’s totally cool for him to focus on people who inspired him when he was growing up, and it makes sense that many of those people would be Jewish like himself, but it seems wrong to do an oral history of protest during the 1960s and feature only two people of color.

Likewise, Kisseloff’s treatment of the women who shaped an era is pretty iffy. In the introduction, women are clearly an afterthought: “by the time I interviewed them, you’d never know that many of them had been real tough guys (or women).” I’m pretty dubious of his choice to end one of three interviews with a woman by focusing on her role as a grandmother, rather than reformer. This isn’t because there is anything wrong or counter-revolutionary about being a mother, but the sort of neatness. Another woman’s interview ends with the following reflection:

There isn’t equal pay for equal work, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be. We still don’t have guaranteed child care, but people are conscious of it. There’s still inequality in terms of wealth, but there’s a larger sense of self-worth and self-respect in terms of what we can be. It’s a totally changed world. 182

Which, I’m sorry, is just depressing as shit.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting read and now I’m searching my library databases for more oral histories.

Page count: 269
Page total: 21,151

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EDIT: Jeff Kisseloff was kind enough to comment here and inform me that my numbers were off– only six out of the fifteen people he profiled are Jewish, so my suggested title amendment is of course (even more) unnecessary. See the comments for his thoughts.

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  1. jeff kisseloff
    August 13, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    hi,

    I should first say that I appreciate the review, but I have to admit being puzzled by it and the issue you raise about the number of Jews in the book. Why it bothers you is something for you to think about, but having said that, let me just say a few things:

    1) Your numbers I think are wrong. You say ten of the 15 people profiled in the book are Jews, but all I can think of is that you base that on guesses from looking at last names. Neither Barnard LaFayette, Bob Zellner, Gloria Richardson, Daniel Berrigan, David Cline, Peter Berg, Elsa Marley, Frank Kameny or Dave Meggyesy are Jewish.I’m assuming that you see the names Zellner, Berg and Cline and assume they are Jews, but you are guessing wrong.

    2) I didn’t seek out Jews. Barry Melton was included because I wanted a musician and two others (neither of whom were Jewish) backed out. I wanted one of the Chicago 8, and Lee was the only one who agreed to talk to me. I wanted Marilyn Webb because of the experience she had in 1969, I had no idea she was Jewish when I called her. Neither did I have any idea whether Verandah Porche was Jewish when I contacted her. Jews, by the way, come from all different economic, social and political strata. Even if the interviewees were 85 percent Jewish, I’m not sure what the relevance would be.

    3) My guess is that you are talking about Elsa Marley who was discussing her role as a grandmother at the end. I ended it that way, because that was the way she was ending it. Besides, I wanted to draw a line to what they were focusing on today. Elsa’s role as a granny is as important to her as her art. The same is true for Marilyn Webb, who is now a grandmother but is also still active. I’m sorry you found what she had to say depressing. She might agree with you, but it accurately reflects what she has to say. If it gives you and other readers pause, so be it. That’s the point.

    As for my treatment of the women being iffy. Well, that’s fine if you feel that way, but in my defense I can say that Elsa Marley, Marilyn Webb, Gloria Richardson, Verandah Porche and Allison Krause represent a substantial portion of the book, if not the majority. It didn’t occur to me to parcel out the stories based on percentages, although again in my defense at the last minute I had to delete the interview of another woman who was interview. I did so at her request because she didn’t want her story to be told.

  2. Eli
    August 20, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Sorry if I got the numbers wrong. As you say, I did partially assume from the names. I’m sorry also if my tone was wrong and if my references to Jewishness have you concerned that I dislike books written about Jewish people or seeing their voices represented. I’m Jewish and, for the record, enjoy reading about Jews, especially radical Jews working toward social justice. As I say in my reactions, it makes sense to me that a Jewish man is especially drawn to the voices of other Jewish people working for social justice. And as a Jew working for social justice causes, these stories resonated with me because I believe that we all have an obligation the greater good, and that people who have been marginalized are in a special position to embrace others who have been marginalized and outcast. I think, particularly, the history of how Jewish and black people worked together during the 1960s is inspirational.

    I do, however, continue to wonder why the voices of white people are so heavily represented in an oral narrative about the 1960s and civil rights. That does seem odd to me. I appreciate you clarifying your method, as I was under the impression that you did particularly seek out the voices of Jewish people who are, as I’m sure you realize, overwhelmingly white. That is why I suggested that a name that acknowledged these two categories would be much more fitting to the narratives actually being explored. Now that you have corrected my numbers I see that this is not a fitting title.

    I only just noticed this comment, so you may not see it. I don’t think you need to “defend” yourself against anything unintentional– just see it, respond to it, and carry the lesson forward. Thank you for taking the time to comment and to clarify a little of your methodology. I appreciate an author taking an interest in hir readers.

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