A Rare Maverick in the House

Author Thomas W. Jones stopped by Sage House a few weeks ago to sign copies of From Willard Straight to Wall Street—purchasing more than 500 books for friends and colleagues.  He inscribed a personal note in each book and paid to have them mailed.

This is who Tom Jones is. He diligently worked for eight hours to make sure his positive message for our country and the world would get to the people that mattered most to him. As he has done throughout his life, he was embracing the importance of the moment and his place in it.

Fifty years ago, Tom and a group of African-American students occupied Cornell University’s Willard Straight Hall with a cache of weapons. It was 1969 and one year and days after the assassination of Martin Luther King. A cross had been burned on campus (or near campus). African-Americans were dying in Vietnam. Cornell’s black studies curriculum wasn’t moving fast enough and the atrocities of slavery were being omitted from the classroom. These students felt intellectual oppression. During the days of the standoff on a radio show, Tom told the university, “Cornell has three hours to live.”

***

IMG_0161I first met Tom in September of 2015 at the Statler Hotel on Cornell’s campus. His manuscript had arrived at the Press from former Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings via our editor-in-chief Peter Potter. He was attending a meeting of the Cornell Board of Trustees.

The manuscript needed work but I couldn’t get the story out of my head—the shear humanity of it. This was a story only a university press could tell.

With a rifle on his shoulder, he was prepared to die for the idea of black history and culture finding its rightful place in the curriculum. He had wished his ancestors had made more progress in the fight against slavery.

“Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person…The wheel of history…had turned; my generation were to be tasked with the obligation and destiny to finally draw the line and end our oppression in America.”

Those lines stuck with me. Tom had led an armed occupation of Willard Straight Hall in 1969 and had gone on to a successful career on Wall Street—where he rose to power and was exonerated twice from SEC investigations.

He watched the planes hit the buildings on September 11th and walked uptown out of the rubble, turning back to see a gaping hole of evil in the North Tower. He had no idea that those buildings were metaphor as he bore witness to the collapse of the banking industry at Citicorp eight years later.

“Every day something was happening in the late sixties—the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, the riots at the Democratic National Convention and Vietnam raging,” said Tom. “It was the same thing on Wall Street. Every day another scandal broke. In both cases, America was coming apart at the seams.”

Tom Jones is an American-made success story—he believes in education and hard work. His story transcends race and cliché. He enrolled in Cornell at sixteen and was elected freshman class president. He had joined ROTC also in his first year but quit because of the number of black men dying in Vietnam. The Straight occupation arose from a number of factors but at its core was an intellectual argument for dignity and respect in the academy.

He became the first black CEO and President of TIAA-CREFF and was handling the pensions of the professors he challenged. He was unceremoniously walked out of Citicorp just before its demise and hit rock bottom. The spiritual foundation cultivated throughout his life saved him.

***

I struggled to find the right methodology to provide feedback during that first meeting. Like the former revolutionary I was facing, I made a short list of demands for the manuscript. I went in with guns blazing as an editor and an author.

We had a title we both liked—”Rare Maverick”—but not much else. The financial story was largely told through press releases. That moniker was coined by a reporter.

Three full edits and two years later, I told Tom that we couldn’t move forward—that he wouldn’t want his story to be told this way. We suggested that a ghostwriter could do this.

Then Tom hired a miracle worker—Emily Sanders Hopkins. She was a friend of our managing editor Ange Romeo Hall. She became the medium between publisher and author—channeling the best parts of the story into an entertaining structure.

Emily filled in the manuscript with detail and atmosphere. Working with Emily changed Tom. The stories became so powerful in her hands that he now freely lets the emotions wash over him when recounting them.

The story for me became more about Tom’s transformation and his journey. From Willard Straight to Wall Street is the new title because it gives a sense of his life’s expansiveness—the skills he learned on the steps of the Straight prepared him for the trials of the financial industry. He was chosen to witness, to fight for his beliefs and to prevail.

This journey also turned Thomas W. Jones into a fine writer.

jones cover


Dean Smith is the Director of Cornell University Press.


Upcoming events

 

April 16, 2019 at 6pm: Conversation with the Author: Thomas W. Jones ’69

April 24, 2019 at 8pm: From Willard Straight to Wall Street and Back: An Evening with Tom Jones ’69


You can find more information on the 50th Anniversary of the Willard Straight Hall Occupation of 1969, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
A Rare Maverick in the House

One Book at a Time

Gangs of Russia author Svetlana Stephenson wanted to become a sociologist after she read a collection of essays entitled American Sociology given to her by her father at the age of fifteen.

Growing up in Russia, she couldn’t obtain a degree in sociology from Moscow State University without having first worked in an industrial plant or for the party. So she studied history and later obtained a doctorate in sociology from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“I consider myself a historical sociologist,” she said. “This was the time of Gorbachev. I got a job at the Russian center for public opinion and I was lucky to have it.” Continue reading “One Book at a Time”

One Book at a Time

The Art of Stirring Things Up

When we look closely at myths and tales from around the world, we see that the archetype of the trickster plays an absolutely essential role in the growth and development of everyone else within the story. In fact, we can safely say that in many cases without a trickster there generally isn’t much of a story at all to tell. Noted scholar Lewis Hyde sums it up even further by stating succinctly: “Trickster makes this world.”

Obviously, tricksters are not simply found in stories, but everywhere you find surprise, laughter and a deeper understanding. There is a little bit of trickster in every single one of us, and a lot in those who consistently help us laugh at ourselves and our circumstances—our comedians.

Like the archetypal tricksters of myth, our best comedians not only are funny, they can help us see the world in a completely new way. They break boundaries by discussing things that are taboo in the society, and bringing them into the light to be seen and understood rather than remain in the shadows of fear. The status quo does not remain unchanged in the hands of a great comedian. Something new is brought forth. Continue reading “The Art of Stirring Things Up”

The Art of Stirring Things Up

Let’s Change the World

Our goal for Giving Day is to raise $15,000 and open one of our new titles to the world. Your contribution will realize that dream.

 

Give the gift of reliable knowledge to everyone.

Cornell University Press has been publishing high-quality scholarship since 1869–rigorously edited and voraciously read all over the world in print and digital form.

Your gift on Cornell Giving Day (March 14th) will allow us to continue our experimentation with open access and give back to the world. We already have 150 open titles being accessed across the globe in 150 countries by thousands of people. With your support we’ll make it 151.

A Cornell book stimulates thinking otherwise. The more of our books that we open to the world the more we can change it through that stimulated thinking.

Our books help effect positive change in the world. Deadly River from our ILR Press imprint exposed the UN’s role in the cover up of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The award-winning Violence as a Generative Force brought an unknown genocide in Bosnia into the light of day. Continue reading “Let’s Change the World”

Let’s Change the World

150 Notable Books: In Our Own Backyard

At Cornell University Press, we strive to change how we think and act in the world, one book at a time. The world in question is sometimes the globe itself—for instance when we publish work on environmental policy and impacts that are not limited by borders. At other times, a book may pertain to key topics of history or politics in distant places such as Korea or Indonesia where geopolitics turns. And sometimes the subject matter is closer to home: New York State, the counties of the Southern Tier, and Ithaca.

150th logo basic white on red flat

Continue reading “150 Notable Books: In Our Own Backyard”

150 Notable Books: In Our Own Backyard

A Look at the List – Mahinder Kingra

As we move towards our new season of books (those publishing between March and August this year), we asked our acquiring editors to give us a little preview of their list. Here’s the first in the series, from Editor-in-Chief Mahinder Kingra.

ss19coverforblog

Continue reading “A Look at the List – Mahinder Kingra”

A Look at the List – Mahinder Kingra

150 Years of CUP: Daniel Willard Fiske, the First Director

As part of our celebrations of our 150th anniversary, we’ve compiled a series of short biographies of our esteemed directors. Here is the first entry, about the first director, in this series.

RMC2003.0026Daniel Willard Fiske, 1869–1871
Photo courtesy of the Cornell University Library Rare and Manuscript Collection

 

When Cornell University Press was established in 1869, the board of trustees appointed Daniel Willard Fiske (usually known as Willard Fiske) as its first director. Fiske’s background was well suited to running the press, he was already the university librarian and held a chair in North European languages at Cornell. Earlier in his career he was an assistant librarian at the Astor Library in New York City, founder of the Chess Monthly journal, editor of the Syracuse Journal, partner in a bookstore, and a former editor of the Hartford Courant in Connecticut.

University founder A. D. White and Fiske were boyhood friends and Fiske was an important adviser to White in the early stages of planning the university, which included plans for a university press from the beginning. Once the press was up and running, with student labor recruited and Benjamin Hermon Smith appointed as manager, White was not as closely involved. He was officially replaced as director by Smith in 1871 but kept a close watch over its affairs until his retirement in 1883.

 

150 Years of CUP: Daniel Willard Fiske, the First Director

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., recently, my mind went back to where I was fifty years ago. An angry young man in my senior year at Cornell University. There was no King holiday then, as King had been assassinated just the previous year. Mentally and emotionally I was prepared to be one of those African Americans who would meet my destiny in a struggle against oppression and injustice that was much bigger than any one of us, and even much bigger than all of us. I thought we were the generation fingered by history to draw the line on America’s ill treatment of African Americans. It had to stop with us, in our time.

Fifty years ago, America was still in the midst of a battle to secure equal treatment for African Americans in public accommodations, employment, housing, voting, and other civil rights. I remember as a child traveling with my family through southern states like Virginia and North Carolina, and my father stopping at gas stations where, before purchasing gas, he asked if we would be allowed to use the restrooms. Many Americans today forget that this country practiced that kind of segregation. Similarly, at that time African Americans were routinely denied employment opportunities simply because of race. Qualifications did not matter. Many Americans today forget that this country practiced that kind of discrimination. De jure segregation was enshrined in the law, and de facto institutional discrimination was the social norm in America.

The petty discrimination of being denied access to public facilities was intended to dehumanize African Americans, and to proclaim every day that we were different and inferior. And the systemic institutional denial of economic opportunities was intended to ensure that African Americans remained poor and powerless. And each previous decade as you step back through American history was typically more brutal towards African Americans.

But the purpose of reciting this history is not just to remind us of where we have been, but also to focus on how far we have come. It is important to know history, and to understand how the world we live in has been shaped by the past, but it is equally important not to be a prisoner of history. By that I mean there is no point in suffocating our potential for today and tomorrow with ongoing animosity over the grievances of the past. The burden is too heavy. Many racial, ethnic or religious groups have some plausible basis for resentment and animosity about some historical injustice. The historical injustices are not all morally equivalent, but it’s unlikely that we will ever achieve societal consensus on their relative hierarchy. So just as a family cannot heal unless it lets go of yesterday’s anger, so all Americans of every race and creed and ethnicity must be open to reconciliation and healing. If we don’t let go of our racial and social resentments, America will not achieve its potential as a multiracial, multiethnic, and religiously diverse democracy wherein all citizens live in freedom and civic equality.

It seems to me undeniable that African Americans, other minorities, women, and the LGBT community have educational, economic, and social opportunities available today which are unprecedented in American history. Does this mean that our country has overcome all its problems? Of course not! The legacy of hundreds of years of slavery, and physical as well as psychological abuse and neglect, created a scale of human misery and dysfunctionality which cannot be reversed in just fifty years. But is America moving in the direction of becoming the country envisioned in its noble founding documents – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – unequivocally yes!

When I left Cornell in 1972 after completing a graduate degree, I committed to living in accordance with Dr. King’s creed – I would choose my friends and associates based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. That’s a decision I’ve never regretted.

Thomas W. Jones is author of the forthcoming, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir. He is the founder and senior partner of venture capital investment firm TWJ Capital. He previously served as Chief Executive Officer of Global Investment Management at Citigroup; Vice Chairman, President, and COO at TIAA-CREF; ad Senior Vice-President and Treasurer at John Hancock Insurance Company.

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Gospel According to John Cleese

A friend of mine once put forward the theory that art and religion developed to pay homage to, or to pray for, good hunting. He’d been talking about the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux—the idea being that hunting was so central to these folks’ survival that they didn’t just choose, but were compelled, to create the art that today evokes in us so deep a sense of wonder. Of course, if this art sprang from such an elemental well, so too would have the engineering of weapons for the hunt: the triangles of pointed rock, the straight charcoal lines of spears arcing toward their prey. Art and design; geometry and engineering. Sounds something like what we do at Cornell.

And then there is John Cleese, Cornell’s longtime professor-at-large. Since 1999, he’s been visiting, lecturing, listening, and making us laugh. He has been our most surprising tutor, our unexpected long-term guest. Yet as well-known as he is, many Cleese fans (and even Cornellians) have no idea what he’s about outside of his day job. Professor at Large, a new collection of Cleese’s public talks at Cornell, presents a portrait of a mind at work. His topics are wide-ranging, from psychology to religion to screenwriting. But over and over, what reappears in different contexts is a fascination with the creative process, and (usefully) his interest in how to get there, as well as pitfalls to avoid, on the path to the “relaxed, attentive, open, and inquiring states of mind,” that allow creativity to flourish.

As it turns out, Professor at Large is, on one hand, a kind of how-to book for students of creativity. One could unearth a decent cache of listicle points from its pages, if need be. (My favorite, which happens to be from the screenwriter William Goldman: “Read it five or six times, each time with a different color pen.”) It’s also an argument shouted against prevailing winds. Cleese pays due respect to “the practical workaday thinking” that “relies on the application of reason and logic to known data.” However, he warns against a common bias toward “fast, purposeful, logical thinking,” not only in how we pursue success in business and academics, but also in our search for personal happiness.

(Listicle point: Get a cat. “The nice thing about cats is when they grow up, they don’t blame you for everything.”)

The quiet, open space, both physical and metaphorical, that Cleese defines as necessary for creative production will be familiar to practitioners of meditation, to solitary wanderers, and to those seeking to understand with humility the sacred writings of their chosen religion. It (surprisingly) comes as no surprise that much of Professor at Large has to do with religion and mysticism. Cleese makes it clear that they are not necessarily synonyms and are frequently at odds. He is against the certitude of doctrine because of what it stifles: the same openness of mind that summons up creative insight. One might call his writing the Gospel According to Brian, which in fact is the subject of an essay that’s both amusing and profound.

My friend told me that the Neanderthals buried their dead with amulets of sharpened stone. The better to hunt in the afterlife, he said. I’m no scholar, and I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes a good story.

cleese cover


About the author of this blog post: Elizabeth Kim is marketing designer for Cornell University Press, where she continues to look on the bright side of life.

*Original source of featured image: Empire

 

The Gospel According to John Cleese

November is “And the Sparrow Fell” Month with Three Book Talks Planned in Ithaca by Author Robert Mrazek

Five-term congressman, film director, and bestselling author Robert J. Mrazek will be presenting three book talks this month to discuss his coming-of-age-tale set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, And the Sparrow Fell.  Mrazek, a Cornell alum and Ithaca resident, will discuss his new novel, a vivid and urgent story in which many of the characters and events are informed by his own personal experiences, particularly his time at Cornell University. Ithaca landmarks such as the State Theater, Fall Creek, and the Chapter House are featured throughout the book.

Please take advantage of this unique opportunity to hear Robert Mrazek speak locally in Ithaca. He will be discussing his new book at the following times and locations:

We do hope you can attend one of these events. Continue reading “November is “And the Sparrow Fell” Month with Three Book Talks Planned in Ithaca by Author Robert Mrazek”

November is “And the Sparrow Fell” Month with Three Book Talks Planned in Ithaca by Author Robert Mrazek