Tuesday, May 29, 2012

FEATURD AUTHOR: Dr. Matthew Delmont

Dr. Matthew Delmont is an assistant professor of American Studies at Scripps College in Claremont, CA. His research and teaching areas include popular culture and media studies, urban history, education, and comparative ethnic studies. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Delmont earned his B.A. from Harvard University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Brown University. The Nicest Kids in Town is his first book

The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia

American Bandstand, one of the most popular television shows ever, broadcast from Philadelphia in the late fifties, a time when that city had become a battleground for civil rights. Counter to host Dick Clark’s claims that he integrated American Bandstand, this book reveals how the first national television program directed at teens discriminated against black youth during its early years and how black teens and civil rights advocates protested this discrimination. The Nicest Kids in Town brings together major themes in American history—civil rights, rock and roll, television, and the emergence of a youth culture—as it tells how white families around American Bandstand’s studio mobilized to maintain all-white neighborhoods and how local school officials reinforced segregation long after Brown vs. Board of Education. The Nicest Kids in Town powerfully illustrates how national issues and history have their roots in local situations, and how nostalgic representations of the past, like the musical film Hairspray, based on the American Bandstand era, can work as impediments to progress in the present.

Book website: http://nicestkids.com 

Digital project (including additional American Bandstand photographs, video, and memorabilia): http://scalar.usc.edu/nehvectors/nicest-kids

How did you start out your writing career?

I came to writing through reading. When I was training to become a professor I read hundreds of books. This helped me become a better teacher, but it also inspired me to start working on my own book.

What did you learn while writing this book?

I initially believed, as Dick Clark has claimed, that American Bandstand, was fully integrated in the 1950s, but my research turned up new evidence that led me to tell a different story.

What did you hope to accomplish with this book?

Two things. First, I wanted to set the record straight about the fact that American Bandstand discriminated against black teenagers during the time it broadcast from Philadelphia (1952-1964). Second, I wanted to bring attention to the work of pioneering African-American deejays pioneering deejays, Georgie Woods and Mitch Thomas, as well as the civil rights activists who protested racial discriminatory on American Bandstand and in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and schools.

What came first with this story, the characters or the plot? Why?

I would say that Philadelphia and teenagers came first. I knew I wanted to write about the rise of youth culture in 1950s Philadelphia on and around American Bandstand, but I didn’t learn about many of the important character and stories until I started interviewing people and going through the historical archives and newspapers.

What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?

I’ve been most surprised to receive e-mails from people who danced on American Bandstand or participated in the protests of the show. These responses have all been positive and it means a great deal to me that people who take the time to write. I’ve added a “Share Your Memories” section on the book’s digital project to highlight some of these stories:


What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?

I love the research aspect of writing. I love finish those “needle in a haystack” stories in a dusty box of papers or in a yellowed newspaper. They remind me that there are still so many stories that still need to be told. I hate how long it takes to revise my writing so that I am able to share my research findings with readers.

What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?

1) Two of the people that I interviewed for the book passed away before it was published. I wish I could have properly thanked them.

2) That you have to be willing to let a book go at some point. You can’t work on it forever.

3) I wish I would have taken more foreign languages in college.

Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?

Do: Be able to explain your project in a few sentences. If you can explain the book to someone else, you can remind yourself what the book is about and what drew you to the project in the first place.

Don’t: Be afraid to tear it up and start again. My book looks very little like the proposal I wrote some years ago. The writing process requires revision.

What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?

That writers are intimately aware of the imperfections of their books. I became a much more generous critic of other people’s work once I realized how difficult it was to sustain a story or an argument over dozens or hundreds of pages.

Tell us something few know about you?

My baseball team made it to the Babe Ruth World Series when I was 15 and it remains one of my favorite memories.

When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to run. I just completed the Boston Marathon, which was my eighth marathon. Running helps to clear my head and keep me calm at work.

What do you do to interact with your readers?

I’ve tried to make the book’s website as user friendly as possible and I regularly exchange e-mails with readers.

Our theme for this month is BOOK READERS.

Name your top five favorite books of all time.

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

The Second Sex – Simone DeBeauvoir

The Origins of Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit – Thomas Sugrue

Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino

Listen to the Lambs – Johnny Otis

Who was the first author you ever met?

Cornel West

Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?

That I can do better tomorrow.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?

I’m currently working on two projects. One is a narrative history of the music of the civil rights era and the second is about the how television shaped popular perceptions of busing for school desegregation in the 1970s.

How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)

Website: http://mattdelmont.com
e-mail: mdelmont@scrippscollege.edu
Matt Delmont
Scripps College
1030 Columbia Ave, #4085
Claremont, CA 91711

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