Whitworth Alum Publishes New Take on Old Names

Author G.L. Corum shares info about the release of Ulysses Underground, along with some tried and tested tips for aspiring writers:

At Whitworth, I majored in English Literature without Post-it Notes or a MacBook. Thecorum latter had not been invented in the mid-seventies. And Post-it Notes had barely begun marking the pages of history when I took two American History survey classes from Homer Cunningham. I am certain I never thought of writing a book, especially about a war hero.

Post-it Notes appeared after 1968, when chemist Spencer Silver, attempting to develop a super strong adhesive, accidentally invented a super weak, repositionable one. Ulysses Underground came about through a similar arc of unexpected discovery. I set out to find the earliest, organized, nonviolent resistance to slavery. In mid-search, I discovered young Ulysses growing up in an antislavery community committed to ending slavery without dividing the Union.

In the 1990s, while parenting young children in an increasingly materialistic, environmentally toxic world, I began seeking deep lifestyle change. I prayed. I listened. I journaled. I got sick.

Recuperating in bed in 1997, I received a biography of an east coast abolitionist. (Though I did not pay attention at the time) when I picked up that book, I was pulled into a world I could not put down. I became ravenously interested in how slavery ended.

When, how, where and who started its demise? Never had I had such ferocity to learn. My quest took me over tracks of the Underground Railroad spread across the country. As I searched for earlier and earlier sources I found footnotes pointing to southwestern Ohio and moved there.

Ulysses Underground uncovers seventy years of secret history near the banks of the Ohio River. For more than a decade I assembled a 200,000 piece puzzle of hidden history with no cover picture. For months I would work on bits of one section, and then after discovering a small link, I would set in on another section.

Having absorbed the 1920s version of America’s victorious Civil War general, I had no interest in Ulysses when I first came across his name. But I encountered more pieces and began reading current Grant scholarship. I learned how at his death, his immense popularity surpassed that of President Lincoln. Ulysses’ seven-mile-long funeral procession included every stripe of humanity. Thirty years later his reputation was deliberately distorted to foster Jim Crow thinking; black people faced hurdles much harsher than ruined reputations. The distortion hid the history even farther underground, but I kept digging.

Many pieces remain lost, but enough came together to reveal Ulysses’ family inside a startling community committed to liberty and justice for all. Fierce piety and patriotism combined to push for the full benefits of democracy for everyone, regardless of color.

Clusters of families intentionally aligned their homes to form an escape route out of slavery; their children and grandchildren continued their work. Everything incriminating had to be erased. How could I ever explain all this in any compelling manner?ulysses-s-grant_MTx9k

Post-it notes! In 2011, I read David Shenk’s advice: “Get feedback — oodles of it. Show pieces of your book to lots of people — different types of people … beg them for candor. Find out what’s missing, what’s being misinterpreted, what isn’t convincing, what’s falling flat.” Shenk’s quote went on a virtual sticky note on my Macbook desktop.

My readers wrote corrections, suggestions, etc. on Post-it Notes and positioned them on the errant sentence or words. After entering the corrections into the text, I peeled off the note. The process satisfied me. My convoluted writing improved. Ulysses Underground unfurls America’s best history and I hope it will satisfy you deeply when it is released on Memorial Day weekend 2015. One of Whitworth’s founders may link to the history, but that will have to wait for another book.

You can check out Corum’s book at http://www.ulyssesunderground.com.

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