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The Full Stack: 2003-2023

Each year since 2003, entering students have read a book—or books—together.

Each year since 2003, entering students have read a book—or books—together.

With the 20th anniversary of Pomona College’s annual orientation book in the rearview mirror, the full list makes for quite a stack.

Each year since 2003, entering students have read a book—or books—together. One thing has changed: Instead of receiving the book in the mail, most students now opt for electronic access.

How many have you read? Have a pick for the entering Class of 2028 next year? Books of poetry, short stories, essays or a volume that pairs well with a work of art such as a painting or film are being considered. Send your ideas to pcm@pomona.edu.

Each year since 2003, entering students have read a book—or books—together.

Bookmarks Fall 2023

Arletis, Abuelo, and the Message in a Bottle by Lea Aschkenas ’95Arletis, Abuelo, and the Message in a Bottle

Set in rural Cuba, Arletis, Abuelo, and the Message in a Bottle by Lea Aschkenas ’95 tells the story of a little girl and an old man who forge a lasting friendship that expands both their worlds.


A Stone Is a Story by Leslie Barnard Booth ’04A Stone Is a Story

A Stone Is a Story by
Leslie Barnard Booth ’04 follows a stone’s journey through time as it forms and transforms, providing a window into Earth’s past along the way.


Don’t Look Away: Art, Nonviolence, and Preventive Publics in Contemporary Europe, Brianne Cohen ’04Don’t Look Away: Art, Nonviolence, and Preventive Publics in Contemporary Europe

In Don’t Look Away: Art, Nonviolence, and Preventive Publics in Contemporary Europe, Brianne Cohen ’04 advocates for the role of art to foster a public commitment to end structural violence in Europe.


Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother, Peggy O’Donnell Heffington ’09Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother

In Without Children: The Long History of Not Being a Mother, Peggy O’Donnell Heffington ’09 draws on diligent research to show that history is full of women without children.


American Burial Ground: A New History of the Overland Trail Sarah Keyes ’04American Burial Ground: A New History of the Overland Trail

Sarah Keyes ’04 offers a reinterpretation of the Overland Trail in American Burial Ground: A New History of the Overland Trail, focusing on how the graves of migrants who died along the way were leveraged to claim the land of Indigenous peoples.


The Seeing Garden by Ginny Kubitz Moyer ’95The Seeing Garden

Set in 1910 on an estate in Northern California, The Seeing Garden by Ginny Kubitz Moyer ’95 is a coming-of-age story inspired in part by the great San Francisco Peninsula estates of the past.


Capacity beyond Coercion: Regulatory Pragmatism and Compliance along the India-Nepal Border by Susan L. Ostermann ’02Capacity beyond Coercion: Regulatory Pragmatism and Compliance along the India-Nepal Border

Susan L. Ostermann ’02 demonstrates how coercively weak states can increase compliance by behaving pragmatically in Capacity beyond Coercion: Regulatory Pragmatism and Compliance along the India-Nepal Border.


Becoming a Social Science Researcher: Quest and Context by Bruce Parrott ’66Becoming a Social Science Researcher: Quest and Context

Becoming a Social Science Researcher: Quest and Context by Bruce Parrott ’66 aims to help aspiring social scientists understand the research process, focusing on the philosophical, sociological and psychological dimensions.


Warnings: The Holocaust, Ukraine, and Endangered American Democracy by John K. Roth ’62Warnings: The Holocaust, Ukraine, and Endangered American Democracy

Warnings: The Holocaust, Ukraine, and Endangered American Democracy features exchanges between professors John K. Roth ’62 and Leonard Grob that underscore the most urgent threats to democracy in the U.S. and suggest how to resist them.


Just in Time: Temporality, Aesthetic Experience, and Cognitive Neuroscience, by Pomona College President G. Gabrielle StarrJust in Time: Temporality, Aesthetic Experience, and Cognitive Neuroscience

In Just in Time: Temporality, Aesthetic Experience, and Cognitive Neuroscience, Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr, also a professor of English and neuroscience, explores how beauty exists in time, integrating neuroscientific findings with humanistic interpretation.

Book Talk: Space for Sale

lon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance ’00Ashlee Vance ’00, author of the bestseller Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, turns his attention to the business of space in his latest book, When the Heavens Went on Sale: The Misfits and Geniuses Racing to Put Space Within Reach. Vance follows four startup companies—Astra, Firefly, Planet Labs and Rocket Lab—as they race to launch rockets and satellites into orbit. PCM’s Lorraine Wu Harry ’97 spoke to Vance about the book, the corresponding HBO show he is producing and, of course, Elon Musk. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

PCM: What made you want to write this book?

Vance: I was not a space junkie (although I seem to be becoming one). Out of the Elon book, my favorite thing to report on was the early days of SpaceX. Those were some of the best stories and the most interesting characters. Right as I finished that book, I could see that there was this new world bubbling up around commercial space. And there were these entrepreneurs appearing all over the planet who were trying to make rockets and satellites. I could see that this was my chance to witness what may be like the early days of SpaceX firsthand. Then, as time went on, it became clear to me that there was this revolution taking place and that space was changing forever. And I had this unique “in” with all kinds of access that you don’t normally get, and I just started chasing it.

PCM: What was it like for you to do research for this book?

Vance: Normally, almost all this stuff is usually top secret. It’s almost impossible to get into, but because I had this track record, people were very willing to let me in, and then reporting it was just a proper adventure. I probably went to about 12 countries across four continents and followed this for five years. That’s one of the things I love about the book: It is about rockets and space, but it’s also this travelogue where you’re going with me on this journey and meeting all these interesting characters. Some of them are in the U.S., but it’s very much a global story and full of drama in all these places.

PCM: You say in the “Dear Reader” section, “I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed living it.” What did you enjoy about living it?

Vance: A lot of these launches take place in pretty exotic locations, and they’re both beautiful but also off the beaten path. The characters were very diverse in their personalities; there are a lot of different archetypes. You got to meet this quite eccentric group of people and spend a lot of time with them. It was this feeling of having a front-row seat to the birth of an industry and really getting to see how it operates. I do lots of very long magazine stories where you might interview dozens of people over a decent period of time. But this was the first time I felt like I was right there getting to witness everything firsthand, and you got a sense of the joy but also the difficulties and travails these people go through. It was the first time in my reporting where I really felt like I knew for sure what ground truth was, through my own eyes, as opposed to trying to stitch it together from other people’s opinions after the fact. I was living it in real time.

PCM: So this was pretty different from all your previous work.

Vance: With Elon, there was a lot of historical stuff where you had to go back all the way to his childhood and recreate things, and the same with some of his earlier companies. But I spent literally thousands of hours with these subjects and so, in that sense, very different in terms of the depth of the reporting. I’d wanted to be a fly on the wall of a journey for a long time.

PCM: Tell me about the show you’re producing and how it overlaps with the book.

Vance: I filmed with all the characters in my book for these five years and I’ve partnered with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Adam McKay’s Hyperobject Industries on this project. It’s a more concentrated version of the book that is going to focus on a couple of characters from the book and tell the story about the rise of commercial space. As long as the stars align, it will be on HBO next year.

PCM: Your book about Elon Musk came out eight years ago, and a lot has happened since then. What is your assessment of Musk’s ownership of Twitter?

Vance: Since I’ve done the book, Elon’s only gotten bigger, bolder and crazier over time. I’m still a huge fan of Tesla and SpaceX and find them fascinating. Twitter is not really my cup of tea, and I think it’s a huge waste of time for Elon to be dealing with that. He’s not doing probably the best job of taking it over so far. It’s kind of sad, if I’m honest, because so much of my interest in him was this figure who was not doing consumer technology, was doing stuff that felt a bit more meaningful to me in the world of manufacturing and human ambition and climate change. Even though I use Twitter a lot, I find it to be sort of a large distraction and it falls more in the entertainment category to me. It’s a little depressing that this guy who symbolizes so many other things is getting down in the muck.

PCM: How do you think the recent FTX bankruptcy and Twitter meltdown have changed the idea that tech entrepreneurs can supplant traditional government?

Vance: We’re at a very interesting time where there’s a handful of technology companies that have resources on par with governments and are taking on projects that governments traditionally would have done. If you look at Tesla’s self-driving car network, if you look at all the rockets that I’m writing about, if you look at these giant computers fueling AI—outside of China, you don’t really see countries tackling these issues; it’s being driven by the companies. We’re at this precarious position where I think a lot of the innovation and control has shifted so far from governments and academia toward companies. I’m not sure that most people fully realize the extent of this shift to where if you are a college like Pomona or a university like Stanford, and you want to do breakthrough research on the human brain or something like that, you probably do not have the requisite resources to do that yourself. You’re knocking on the door of somebody like Google to borrow their computers. Overall, I’m not sure this is a good thing.

PCM: Why don’t you think it’s good?

Vance: There are pieces of this that are not good. There are pieces of this that are very liberating. I think it’s bad that five countries controlled space for 60 years. I think it’s a much more equitable future where almost any country that wants to be a spacefaring nation can be that. All the satellite imagery, all these pictures taken of Earth are not just in the hands of spy agencies and militaries. That the public can access all this stuff to see the sum total of human activity, what’s happening with the environment, it’s a much more open scenario with information. So I don’t know. There are a lot of pros and cons.

PCM: Would you say the pros outweigh the cons of commercial space?

Vance: I think it’s to be determined. I don’t think the average person on the street realizes what’s coming, which is that 100 percent, the capitalists have taken over space and the governments will very shortly be also-ran participants in this. People get fixated on space tourism or going to the moon, but in actual fact most of the money and action is taking place in low-Earth orbit where there’s this giant economic expansion taking place. This is very much a capitalist exercise that, on the pro side, is going to bring high-speed internet connectivity to half the world’s population so they can fully participate in the modern economy. We’re going to have all this data that was unimaginable about the health of our planet, monitoring trees, methane. You will be able to calculate and tax every piece of this, but it is companies that are doing this. This is new territory that’s being seized.

PCM: So, to be determined.

Vance: Hopefully, given that this is the last place we can expand, with a bit of luck we will be better stewards of it than we have been of the land and the oceans and the air.

Bookmarks Summer 2023

Asian American Histories of the United States, Catherine Ceniza Choy ’91Asian American Histories of the United States

In Asian American Histories of the United States, Catherine Ceniza Choy ’91 presents 200 years of Asian migration, labor and community formation, all the while reckoning with the recent surge in anti-Asian hate and violence.


Chloe and the Kaishao Boys, Mae Coyiuto ’17Chloe and the Kaishao Boys

Chloe and the Kaishao Boys, a young adult rom-com by Mae Coyiuto ’17, follows a Chinese-Filipina girl in Manila as she gets off the waitlist for USC and decides if following her dreams is worth leaving everything behind.


The Last Cold Place, Naira de Gracia ’14The Last Cold Place

Naira de Gracia ’14 writes a memoir about her experience studying penguins in Antarctica, weaving in the history of Antarctic exploration, climate science and personal reflection in The Last Cold Place.


Tales of Whimsy, Verses of Woe, Tim DeRoche ’92Tales of Whimsy, Verses of Woe

Tales of Whimsy, Verses of Woe by Tim DeRoche ’92 is a collection of lighthearted poetry filled with wordplay reminiscent of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss.


I Have Her Memories Now ,Carrie Grinstead ’06I Have Her Memories Now

The short stories in I Have Her Memories Now by Carrie Grinstead ’06 touch on health, medicine and death and explore themes of vulnerability and fallibility.


Nocturne, Jodie Hollander ’99Nocturne

The poetry of Jodie Hollander ’99 in Nocturne charts the emotional journey of the daughter of a professional classical pianist, exploring family dysfunction and musical obsession.


Tasting Coffee: An Inquiry into Objectivity, Kenneth Liberman ’70Tasting Coffee: An Inquiry into Objectivity

In Tasting Coffee: An Inquiry into Objectivity, Kenneth Liberman ’70 sheds light on the methods used to convert subjective experience into objective knowledge with coffee as its focal point.


Representation Theory and Geometry of the Flag Variety, William “Monty” McGovern ’82Representation Theory and Geometry of the Flag Variety

Representation Theory and Geometry of the Flag Variety by William “Monty” McGovern ’82 is a reference for researchers and graduate students in representation theory, combinatorics and algebraic geometry.


Blue Jeans, Carolyn Purnell ’06 Blue Jeans

In Blue Jeans, Carolyn Purnell ’06 presents extensive research on the history of jeans as well as the global and economic forces that shape the industry. The book is part of a series called Object Lessons about “the hidden lives of ordinary things.”


Quinoa: Food Politics and Agrarian Life in the Andean Highlands, Linda Seligmann ’75Quinoa: Food Politics and Agrarian Life in the Andean Highlands

Linda Seligmann ’75 tells the story of Indigenous farmers and the global demand for a superfood in Quinoa: Food Politics and Agrarian Life in the Andean Highlands.


The Way to Be: A Memoir, Barbara T. Smith ’53The Way to Be: A Memoir

The Way to Be: A Memoir, a firsthand account of the life and work of artist Barbara T. Smith ’53, accompanies an exhibition on view at the Getty Research Institute through July 16, 2023.


Beyond That, the Sea, Laura Spence-Ash ’81Beyond That, the Sea

The novel Beyond That, the Sea by Laura Spence-Ash ’81 follows Beatrix, an 11-year-old British girl sent to live with a New England family during World War II, as she navigates two worlds.


After Anne: A Novel of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Life, Logan Steiner ’06After Anne: A Novel of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Life

After Anne: A Novel of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Life by Logan Steiner ’06 tells the story behind the story of the author of Anne of Green Gables, offering a nuanced portrayal of her life.


Democracy in Latin America: A History Since Independence, Thomas Wright ’63Democracy in Latin America: A History Since Independence

In Democracy in Latin America: A History Since Independence, Thomas Wright ’63 chronicles Latin America’s struggle for democracy as well as the challenges that lie ahead.

Book Talk: Uncommon Purpose

Saving Ryan

In Saving Ryan, physician-scientist Emil Kakkis ’82 chronicles the 30-year journey to develop a first-ever treatment for the ultra-rare genetic disease mucopolysaccharidosis, known as MPS. At the center of the story are Ryan Dant, who was diagnosed with potentially fatal MPS type I at age 3, and his parents, who started a foundation to support the development of the treatment. Dant is now in his 30s, a college graduate and recently married.

PCM’s Lorraine Wu Harry ’97 talked to Kakkis—also founder, president and CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Ultragenyx—about the book, his time at Pomona and advice for young people today. The interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

PCM: What was your impetus for writing the book? Who do you hope will read it?

Kakkis: One impetus was to capture the challenge of getting a treatment for rare disease developed from a policy perspective, to highlight the requirements the Food and Drug Administration has put that are quite difficult, near impossible. While we succeeded, it was so close to being missing. It shouldn’t have been because it’s straightforward science. I intended the book to help with the FDA and Capitol Hill on the policy issues regarding the regulation of these rare disease drugs. At the same time, I wanted to capture for families out there that the impossible can be achieved, that you don’t have to be a scientist—Mark Dant was a police officer, and his wife was a programmer—that you can come together and figure out how to treat your kid. It was a story for inspiration for those families.

PCM: Did you keep journals along the way? There are so many details you remember from the last 30 years.

Kakkis: Some of them were seared into my brain. I remember them very specifically. I had memos and letters that helped me place things in time. What the book does is jump from moment to moment in time. I was really writing about the things that were memorable. Things like an FDA meeting. That meeting I remember very, very vividly.

PCM: Tell me about your time at Pomona: what you studied, how it shaped you, how it prepared you for your work.

Kakkis: I spent my time at Pomona as a biology major. I took a lot of chemistry, biochemistry and a fair amount of philosophy too. I took a course with [Professor Fred] Sontag when I was a freshman. I thought I was a good writer, and then I discovered that I was not a good writer. Sontag had a great policy. You wrote your first paper; he graded it and he graded it thoroughly. If you rewrote the paper based on the comments, then he would grade the new one too and average it with your first draft. I ended up rewriting every single paper. What he was doing was encouraging you. It started me thinking about how to express yourself and how to edit yourself. How to think ahead, how things sound, how they read. It was a really important piece of learning.

The science training was, of course, excellent. As an undergrad I was running the research; there wasn’t a grad student. Therefore, you had to learn and organize the research yourself and conduct experiments and plan what you were going to do. It’s a good test for your ability to organize and execute, which serves you well later. You’ve done it before, as opposed to being a helper on someone else’s project where you’re just following along. Having to do it yourself as an undergraduate researcher challenges you to think harder, deeper and to be able to plan and execute an actual research program.

PCM: Would you have any advice for Pomona students who are either aspiring physicians or scientists, or both?

Kakkis: The important thing that I put in the book is the discovery of your true purpose for your career. It shouldn’t be about money, or fame or prizes. It should be, what do you want to do that’s going to be meaningful, that will last and be important?

In college, you have a lot of reasons why you might become an M.D.-Ph.D. Finding your true purpose will help you make better decisions as you go forward that are not about your fame or about money but about doing the right thing that helps achieve something lasting. You could talk about prizes or tenure, but there’s nothing quite like talking with Ryan or meeting him, finding out how he’s doing and realizing that you’ve changed the course of his life and the lives of many other kids with MPS I. There’s a real purpose to what you can get done in research if you find that purpose. And if you adhere to it, then you can have a career that’s without regret and achieve great things.

PCM: What has been the reception to your book?

Kakkis: The reception has been really good. I’m happy I got it done because at least the story is down on paper. The truth is, like any movie or writer, there are always imperfections you wish could be better, but I do feel it captures the story enough that others can relive it and maybe draw from it what it takes to do the impossible and how gratifying and exhilarating it can be.

PCM: I could see it becoming a movie.

Kakkis: That’s right. I’m going to be lobbying for George Clooney to play me. He was a great pediatrician on ER; he needs to be a pediatrician in the movie. He’s done everything else. He’s been a lawyer and other things. It’s time for him to be a doctor again.

PCM: Any last things you’d like
to share?

Kakkis: You always wonder what you can do with your life. I’ve run into students lately, especially post-pandemic, that feel like there’s nothing that they want to do or nothing great, no place to go. The truth is, there are incredible projects that are waiting for them that they’ve never heard of, that they can find, that will give their life great meaning and purpose. They should keep searching for that thing and find that passion and that purpose and do great things. You may not have any idea what it is—I certainly had no idea when I was in college, but it came out, it was found. I hope people get the inspiration to seek that mission and find their purpose. Even though you have no idea what it is now, it will come, and then you have to see it in front of you and know when it’s time that this is the thing I need to do.

Bookmarks: Winter 2023

Seeding the Tradition: Musical Creativity in Southern Vietnam

Seeding the Tradition: Musical Creativity in Southern Vietnam

Alexander Cannon ’05 explores southern Vietnamese traditional music while suggesting revised approaches to studying creativity in contemporary ethnomusicology.


Dreaming of Space

Dreaming of Space

In this children’s book, Grant Collier ’96 combines photos with illustrations to tell the story of a boy who dreams that aliens take him on a journey across the universe.


Tanum: A Story of Bumping Lake and the William O. Douglas Wilderness

Tanum: A Story of Bumping Lake and the William O. Douglas Wilderness

Susan Summit Cyr ’85 P ’13 recounts the history of the little-known pocket of Bumping Lake in Washington state and the conservationists who fought to preserve it.


Bibliophiles, Murderous Bookmen, and Mad Librarians: The Story of Books in Modern Spain

Bibliophiles, Murderous Bookmen, and Mad Librarians: The Story of Books in Modern Spain

Robert Ellis ’77 examines how books are represented in modern Spanish writing and how Spanish bibliophiles reflect on the role of books in their lives.


Preserving Whose City? Memory, Place, and Identity in Rio de Janeiro

Preserving Whose City? Memory, Place, and Identity in Rio de Janeiro

Geographer Brian J. Godfrey ’74 describes preservation projects undertaken in Rio de Janeiro since the 1930s and the role of memory in placemaking.


Boundless: An Abortion Doctor Becomes a Mother

Boundless: An Abortion Doctor Becomes a Mother

Through weaving her personal narrative with stories of her patients, Christine Henneberg ’05 deals with the complexities of motherhood and choice.


Applying Lean Six Sigma in the Healthcare Setting

Applying Lean Six Sigma in the Healthcare Setting

Scott Lisbin ’77 advises healthcare professionals on improving access, quality, safety, service and affordability in the healthcare environment.


A Midnight Train to Everywhere

A Midnight Train to Everywhere

This paranormal fantasy novel by Ryan Mims ’99 takes readers on an adventure through the afterlife and across the multiverse.


Wishbone Behind the Scenes

Wishbone Behind the Scenes

Denise Noe ’81 goes behind the scenes to show how this educational children’s TV program starring a Jack Russell Terrier was created.


Evading the Patronage Trap: Interest Representation in Mexico

Evading the Patronage Trap: Interest Representation in Mexico

Brian Palmer-Rubin ’04 unpacks how reliance on economic interest organizations undermines interest representation in developing democracies.


The Traces

The Traces

In this memoir, Mairead Small Staid ’10 draws on the fields of physics, history, architecture and cartography to explore the nature of happiness and memory.


To Be Enlightened 

To Be Enlightened 

This fantasy novel by Alan J. Steinberg ’79 passes on lessons on meditation and enlightenment by following the life of a fictional philosophy professor at Pomona College.


Disrupting Corporate Culture

Disrupting Corporate Culture

David G. White Jr. ’83 uses cognitive science research to provide a guide on how to sustainably change culture in the business world.


McKenzie Rising: An American Frolic

McKenzie Rising: An American Frolic

Miles Wilson ’66 satirizes contemporary America and its institutions in this novel about MegaMax Corporation’s venture to turn the McKenzie Valley into an upscale development.

Bookmarks Summer 2022

John’s Turn

In this children’s book, Mac Barnett ’04 celebrates individuality through the story of a kid who finds the courage to show others his talent for dancing.


True Blue: White Unionists in the Deep South during the Civil War and ReconstructionTrue Blue: White Unionists in the Deep South during the Civil War and Reconstruction

Clayton Butler ’10 investigates the lives of white Unionists in three Confederate states who enlisted in the U.S. Army, shedding light on the complex story of the Civil War era.


Swimming to SyriaSwimming to Syria

This chapbook by Sandy Feinstein ’74 is a collection of poems reflecting her experiences teaching at the University of Aleppo and traveling throughout Syria.


Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not OkayBig Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not Okay

Liz Fosslien ’09 and Mollie West Duffy weave science with personal stories and original illustrations to examine uncomfortable feelings and lay out strategies for managing them.


Archipelago of Resettlement: Vietnamese Refugee Settlers and Decolonization across Guam and Israel-PalestineArchipelago of Resettlement: Vietnamese Refugee Settlers and Decolonization across Guam and Israel-Palestine

Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi ’13 examines a question: What happens when refugees encounter Indigenous sovereignty struggles in the countries of their resettlement?


She Came from MariupolShe Came from Mariupol

Alfred Kueppers ’93 has translated Natascha Wodin’s homage to her mother’s story of leaving Ukraine for Germany as part of the Nazi forced labor program during World War II.


Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Eastern California: Second EditionGeology Underfoot in Death Valley and Eastern California: Second Edition

In a revised, full-color edition of this popular book, Allen Glazner ’76 and Arthur Sylvester ’59 guide readers through some of California’s most spectacular and scenic geology.


Hunting Nature: Ivan Turgenev and the Organic WorldHunting Nature: Ivan Turgenev and the Organic World

Thomas P. Hodge ’84 explores Ivan Turgenev’s relationship to nature through his passion for hunting, making a case that hunting profoundly influenced his writing.


Saving RyanSaving Ryan

Physician-scientist Emil Kakkis ’82 writes about his 30-year journey to develop a treatment for mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS), an ultra-rare genetic disease, and the young patient it saved.


Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, EarthExploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth

In this guide with 300 color photos, Nancy Matsumoto ’80 and Michael Tremblay invite the reader into the story of sake, offering histories, current trends and recommendations.


The Immersive Enclosure: Virtual Reality in JapanThe Immersive Enclosure: Virtual Reality in Japan

Paul Roquet ’03 takes a critical look at virtual reality, uncovering how the technology is reshaping the politics of labor, gender, home and nation in Japan.


Yours AlwaysYours Always

Henry Scott ’78 tells the story of his great-grandparents, a Southern man and a Northern woman, through their nearly 1,500 letters, their diaries and related historical accounts.

Garrett Hongo ’73: An Honored Poet in Search of the Perfect Stereo Sound

This spring, Garrett Hongo ’73 received the 2022 Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, an annual prize presented to a writer who has had a substantial and distinguished career. Past winners of the award, presented by the Sewanee Review each year since 1987, include Howard Nemerov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Wendell Berry, Louise Glück and Billy Collins.

Both a poet and a memoirist, Hongo draws heavily upon his memories of growing up on the North Shore of O‘ahu and in Los Angeles. His time at Pomona also figures prominently in his recollections, and his poem “Under the Oaks at Holmes Hall, Overtaken by Rain” is inscribed on a plaque in the Smith Campus Center. Now a Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon, Hongo’s collections of poetry include The River of Heaven, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1989.

Shortly after Hongo visited campus for a reading this spring, PCM’s Lorraine Wu Harry ’97 talked with him about his recently published book, The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo, in which he delivers a personal memoir of his life as a poet vis-à-vis his decade-long quest for the ideal stereo setup. The interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

PCM: You have such a strong memory for things that happened even long ago.

Garrett Hongo: People have told me that. Things are very vivid in my mind. I remember easily, as it were. The phrase from William Wordsworth that poetry is “emotion recollected in tranquility”—I need to do it or else I’m unhappy. It’s how I create who I am, in a way. It’s not just to write but to be. I live in remembrance, and it’s something I need to do.

PCM: It seems like nostalgia also plays a strong role in your writing.

Hongo: I think it’s often characterized as nostalgia, but it’s a little different than that for me. Having been uprooted and moved to South Central L.A., it was something about living in a feeling that was no longer present in my life in L.A. that I had as a child in Hawai‘i. The German philosopher Friedrich Schiller talks about naive and sentimental poetry. The naive poet would be the poet who lives in emotions, and the sentimental poet is a poet who longs for the emotion previously lived. In that characterization, I would be a sentimental poet. However, I’m a sentimental poet in the sense that the emotion was not fully lived. It takes the activity of the recollection and that instigation of longing in order to complete the mental experience.

PCM: You talk about writing being for yourself. Do you did you find that this book met that need?

Hongo: People always question my obsession with hi-fi. They thought it was insanity. I didn’t even know it myself, but it was a way for me to meditate.

I really loved writing the book. I loved learning how to write the book because I didn’t know how to do it. I had all this conflict of memoir and I want to know about audio. How do you make it all work together? It was only after almost 10 years of not knowing what the hell I was doing, all of a sudden, I figured it out, and then the book came like that—boom. I’d written pieces of it. I basically wrote the whole book in a couple years, but it took eight years of not figuring it out. That seems to be my pattern for every book I write. What the hell am I doing? What is all this? I’m so awful. And I go through a lot of self-hate and castigation, and all of a sudden it breaks through.

PCM: Did you have experiences of remembering things you had forgotten?

Hongo: That’s what the book is. It’s about revelation and realization. As they say in self-help, it’s self-actualization in writing. My adoration of vacuum tubes is the same. I didn’t understand why I was so attracted to them. When I saw an amp online, I thought, “I gotta have a vacuum tube amp.” I said, “Well, I suppose that will reproduce the human voice better than transistor amps.” But what I was really doing was remembering my father. And I didn’t really realize that until I started fooling around with tube amps myself, and I remembered all those evenings with him, when he would solder together these kits and his vacuum tube amplifiers. It was also a kind of fulfillment because I would hear all the music that he could not in his losing his hearing.

As a poet, you feel confirmed in these kinds of emotions. You seek confirmation, blessing as it were, in the memories, and their pursuit gives you that. This is the way you build, as they say in psychology, personality. This is how you create subjectivity. But this is also the way ultimately you create lineage, ancestry and continuity of goodwill.

Like I say in the end of the book, my friend, Mahealani Pai, who I spent a couple of days with on the Big Island at Kaloko-Honokahau, I asked him why he was chanting or what he was chanting. He said he was chanting the names of his ancestors. I said, “Why you do that?” And he said, “So I will know them and they will know me.” And I said, “Oh, for what?” And he said, “So that when I make a decision and I chant, I will make a decision or choice in harmony with their spirits.”

It stayed in my mind. And it made sense for myself in terms of writing this book when I realized that I’m fulfilling something for my father in my own quest, and it was also a quest to become his heir, his scion, his descendant in this life, to be truly a son. So the book is a kind of Telemacheia in that sense.

PCM: What feedback have you gotten from readers? You write very much about your own experience as a Japanese American, but so many people feel a resonance with your stories.

Hongo: I think people come through the different layers of hegemonic discourse and then they respond to the work because it allows them to come through those layers. Because what they are told about identity, ethnicity, even common humanity obstructs what they feel because it puts them in positions that in fact blind and silence them to their own emotional resonances with their own lives. Poetry, not just mine, but a lot of poetry gives them the opportunity to break through those things in a way that refreshes their own affections or what has been silenced in their own histories or microhistories. I think there is a kind of intuitive connection that they feel that emerges, and I’m grateful for that.

PCM: How do you feel your time at Pomona shaped your writing and who you are now?

Hongo: I write with fondness of my time at Pomona in several episodes of my book. The liberal arts education itself afforded me a different kind of consciousness with which to engage the world. A liberal arts education gives you more freedom, allows you to be more free, allows you to be more self-creative. We’re not looking to fit. We’re looking to create.

Book Talk: After the Flood

A century has passed since the 1921 San Antonio flood, a disaster that devastated the city but also sparked a movement.

West Side Rising: How San Antonio’s 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice MovementWith the coming release of the paperback edition of Environmental Analysis and History Professor Char Miller’s 2021 book, West Side Rising: How San Antonio’s 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement, PCM’s Sneha Abraham talked with Miller about what happened when the waters receded—and the issues that remain more than a hundred years later. The interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

PCM: In relation to the 1921 San Antonio flood, you examine spatial inequities, ethnic discrimination, environmental injustice. How are those things revealed?

Char Miller: One of the things that I’m really fascinated with regarding this flood and hurricanes and other similar disasters is that these events are ephemeral. A flood comes, it goes, and then it’s gone. A flood just runs downriver until it heads into, in this case, the Gulf of Mexico. But what it reveals are all of the social issues that may not be talked about, but which are very evident on the ground. For example, the spatial inequity in a place like San Antonio is evident if you ask a pretty simple question, “Who died, and where did they live? And who didn’t die, and where do they live?”

And, in this case, you can, like an archaeologist, do a very quick schematic. Those who lived in the flood plain tended to be poor, tended to be Hispanic, but not exclusively, and tended to live in a landscape that repeatedly flooded. It’s not just the 1921 flood, there are floods dating back to the 18th century when the Spanish arrived. Those who did not die even though their streets flooded tended to live in much more substantial homes that were designed to withstand periodic moderate flooding—almost invariably in all-white neighborhoods.

Then you start to look at the physical geography. And it’s not just that one group is in the flood plain; the other group is elevated. By 1921, the spatial differentials were that in San Antonio the people who were dying or getting injured or whose homes were getting destroyed tended to be black and brown, and those who didn’t tended to be white. So that’s one way to see it. If you look at the second layer, which is political inequity, that’s built into the system also. And so, although Spanish-surnamed residents and African Americans voted, they were voting for white candidates because that’s who dominated the political arena. So even if you had the power of the vote, you didn’t have power.

The third issue is economic inequities. Those who lived in victimized neighborhoods were themselves manual laborers and, therefore, had little-to-no money to cushion themselves as a consequence of one flood after another, after another, after another. And so, with the ’21 flood, you can see that although the downtown core got ravaged and the West Side barrio got splintered, downtown recovered and the West Side barrio didn’t.

And those are post-flood examples of political disempowerment, of political and environmental injustice and the linked spatial inequities. The city grieved for those who died and then immediately turned its resources, its public funds, to support and protect the downtown core, which it believed was the only economic activity and social life that mattered. The Anglo power elite built a big dam and then straightened out the river and did all sorts of work over the next decade, virtually none of which was useful to anybody whose family had been destroyed in the 1921 flood.

PCM: Similar to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 …

Miller: Yes, totally right. Katrina, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Name your hurricane and they reveal that same kind of story. It’s dramatic in a sense, but also predictable. And that’s the piece that, I think, drove me crazy while working on the book, which is that there are really two stories. One of which is the disaster as a disaster. The other is the repeated disasters that go back to the 18th century.

Even though I don’t talk about climate change in the book, it’s actually an analog for what happened in San Antonio for decades. “We had a flood; let’s do something.” “Nah, let’s not.” “We had a flood; let’s do something.” “Nah, it’s too expensive.” And they kept delaying, calculating that in the short term it’s cheaper not to do anything. In the long term, if people died, the elite could say to themselves, well, they’re not our bodies. They were other people who were going to bear that burden disproportionately. So that’s one part of the story.

The other part of the story is that, yes, there was a disaster, and yes, it solidified for a period of time the control of Anglo domination over the city’s budget, over its politics, over its social life, and managed to even further segregate Spanish-surnamed communities, the West Side barrio.

But—and this is a piece of the story that is crucial—out of that disaster came a local Latino environmental justice movement that quickly became one of the most dominant grassroots organizations of any city in the United States. And it was another flood that turned that story around. The flood in 1974 spurred the West Side to say, “All right, enough of this s—.” You can quote me on that one.

Two years prior, the West Side had been organizing a group called COPS, Communities Organized for Public Services, a parish-based, largely female-led organization that is in and of itself fascinating.

And they flipped the narrative so rapidly that it’s almost impossible to believe. They used the 1974 flood to challenge the political status quo, secured half a billion dollars over the next 10 years to turn ditches into flood-control channels, repair street infrastructure, and build better houses, water and sewer hookups, a set of connected resources the West Side had wanted for 50 years since the ’21 flood. They fought such that the city had to create a new charter so that city council representatives were no longer elected by at-large elections but via single-member districts. This new format gave people like Henry Cisneros, who was later mayor of San Antonio and then U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a chance to get onto the city council and take its budget and start moving it to disempowered neighborhoods, African American and Mexican American. They broke the back of the power elite and came up with a whole political system. And then COPS became sort of the University of COPS, training and sending activists to Los Angeles and Houston, Tucson, Phoenix, Denver and Chicago.

San Antonio was for Mexican American/Chicano political development what Atlanta was for the Black Civil Rights Movement. It was the incubator and the galvanizing force that then sent people across the country. And, you know, you can’t have that story without the ’21 flood. And, in a way, what COPS’ victory represented for me was a kind of homage to those who died in 1921. They were going to better the landscape—built and natural—than the flood-prone one their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had endured, and they did it.

PCM: Why did you choose to examine the 1921 San Antonio flood?

Miller: Partly because I lived in San Antonio for 26 years. I lived near the Olmos Dam and was totally puzzled by it, but it taught me about watersheds. I also worked for what was called the Open Space Advisory Committee for the City of San Antonio, and everyone was thinking watersheds there, too.

Talking to the committee’s representatives from the west and south side was a lesson in politics. They knew all about the local watersheds and what flood control had achieved and what it had not accomplished. That hit home, literally, because the community in which we lived was built at the exact same time the dam was dedicated. It was a high-ground lure for the elite who wanted to get out of town, literally, and get elevated above and behind the dam. It was then a white enclave and an automobile suburb—the first car-dependent subdivision in San Antonio. It was these people who helped fight for the dam’s construction so that it would protect their downtown businesses and other economic assets—using public funds to protect private capital.

In 1939, New Deal photographer Russell Lee captured a key outcome of this skewed public spending. He set up his camera on the bank of Apache Creek, which in 1921 ripped through the barrio. In the foreground is a shack much like those throughout the West Side. In the middle ground is San Fernando Cemetery, where many of the 1921 flood’s victims were interred. In the background, no more than 1.5 miles away, tall post-flood skyscrapers rise up. Lee doesn’t need to say a word: He has perfectly caught the systemic injustices that prevailed in San Antonio two decades after the 1921 flood.

These strategies to withstand disasters normalized class and race and injustice. They weren’t just normalized; they were set in concrete. If you had concrete, you were protected even more. And if you still had an earthen ditch, you were utterly at the whim of nature. And its whim was felt in 1935, 1946, the 1950s through the mid-1970s, as floodwaters poured through the West Side. Running through the 1960s it was pretty nasty on the West Side. Most of their streets through the early ’70s were hard-packed dirt. Many areas were without potable water. They had to walk to find a faucet somewhere. The Peace Corps trained volunteers in San Antonio so they would understand what they might encounter when they arrived in South America.

COPS, the Communities Organized for Public Services, which emerged in the 1970s, is one expression of the West Side’s anger and the ultimate success of its grassroots activism. But you have to backdate that a little to 1960 when Henry B. Gonzalez, also a West Side resident whose family had gone through the ’21 flood, became the city’s U.S. congressman. He used his seniority to start channeling money to the West Side. COPS did the same thing with local dollars.

The combination of bottom-up and top-down pressure meant that West Side residents themselves disrupted, even destroyed, some of the markers of systemic racism. It doesn’t mean racism and classism have been fully vanquished, but the since the 1970s Spanish-surnamed politicians have dominated the public arena.

PCM: You talk about these calamities not being natural disasters. What do you mean by that? 

Miller: Disasters, whether hurricanes, tornadoes or a flood like that which wracked parts of Tennessee last year, blast through human communities. We want to call them natural disasters so that we can say that we have no control over them. But, in fact, we do have control. If we build houses in fire zones and they are incinerated, that’s not natural. It’s a result of policymaking. The same is true when communities greenlight subdivisions in a flood plain, riparian or coastal. Human decisions have human consequences.

The argument in West Side Rising, much as it is when I write about wildfires, is that because these are human actions they can be reversed. As an example, in 1998 San Antonio experienced yet another mega-flood. All local flood control infrastructure worked as planned. But this inundation revealed that there were other unprotected watersheds; a lot of people lost their homes. The city and the county acted swiftly, committing local funds to buy floodplain-sited houses from willing sellers.

I had been tracking that story and realized that the same strategy could be applied in the wildfire zones in California. Why not buy people out before their houses burn or buy them out after a firestorm swept through a community? The Golden State could replicate San Antonio’s success, which depends on a simple insight: that human-made disasters can be prevented. Equally so with climate change.

PCM: You’re a mentor for many students.
For this project, how did you bring San Antonio home to Claremont? 

Miller: West Side Rising and a companion documentary volume, The Tragedy of the San Antonio Flood, benefited enormously from the talents of a team of Pomona and Scripps students. I received a wonderful grant from the Digital Humanities at The Claremont Colleges initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation and used the funds to hire Anam Mehta ’21, Natalie Quek SC ’19 and Katie Graham SC ’19 to digitize a large collection of photographs and aerial maps that the U.S. Army had produced in the immediate aftermath of the 1921 flood. Anam also created several maps that appear in the two texts. Nicole Arce ’21 pored through Spanish-language documents and newspapers and provided a number of key translations. It was a blast working with them and being schooled by their insights—as happens with their peers every day in class.

Char Miller, W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis and History

Char Miller, W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis and History

Bookmarks Spring 2022

PITPIT

Art Professor Lisa Anne Auerbach collects photographs she took at Chicago punk and hardcore shows—in particular in mosh pits—in 1985 when she was a teenager.


What Is Love?What Is Love?

In this picture book, Mac Barnett ’04 and illustrator Carson Ellis present a fable about the nature of love, told from the perspective of a child.


Don’t Wait, Create: How to be a Content Creator in the New Digital RevolutionDon’t Wait, Create: How to be a Content Creator in the New Digital Revolution

Erica Berry ’19 writes about the changing nature of the entertainment industry and how successful digital content creators found their creative voices, providing a roadmap for aspiring content creators.


Eyewitness to AIDS: On the Frontlines of a PandemicEyewitness to AIDS: On the Frontlines of a Pandemic

Bob Biggar ’64, a physician-epidemiologist from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, tells the story of AIDS and the HIV epidemic from its earliest discovery in 1981 to 2021, giving insight into how science brought this pandemic under a measure of control.


Dreaming of California

Dreaming of California

Grant Collier ’96 spent many months taking photos in California to capture the images for this children’s book about Pandora the Pelican and her exciting journeys through California past and present.

Pomoniana

All the fun stuff from campus: Pomona College tidbits, traditions, lore and more.

Cecil Skateboarding