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About John Last Updated: Sep 8th, 2009 - 08:07:52

Kaveny's Bookshelf

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A History of "The Madison Review of Books", 1975-1980.

My editor and chief James Andrew Cox assures me that there are no page counts in cyberspace. Therefore I will take him at his word and proceed with this month's Kaveny's Bookshelf. It will be organized along three major themes. The historical, the personal, and the contemporary, which will include my travels in the most recent past, my planned future projects, and of course a number of items for review which have come into my possession, as a result of these my sojourns in both Cyber and real time and space.

The historical part of this feature deals with the existence of a corporate entity called the Madison Review of books, which was founded by Dr. John Ohliger 1926-, in Madison, Wisconsin in 1975, as an offshoot of his involvement in the founding of the Community Radio Station WORT-FM, which was also in Madison. In a sense, Dr John Ohliger is the most grandly historical of any of the individuals whose names you will come upon in this section of my feature. As John reads this he will be outraged with my characterization of him.

Dr. John Ohliger's biography could easily take a volume of it its own, but the best way I could summarize his life to this point is to say that he is one of the best of what we have come to call the "Greatest Generation". John grew up in genteel poverty in Detroit during the Great Depression, and entered the military during the last days of the Second World War. John managed to miss the horrors of combat, but did see first-hand the desolation of Europe as part of The Allied Army of Occupation in Germany in 1946.

John, I think, came out of that experience just like twelve million other former GIs who wanted to make the post-war world a better one through collective activity and cooperation. John's biography would take more electrons to cover than even I have available in cyberspace. But at least two parts of it were significant to the formation of Madison Review of Books.

The first is that by the time John resigned from his position as tenured, full professor of Adult Education at Ohio State University in the early 1970's , he was a major force in the field of adult education, though a controversial one since he has worked the rest of his life to abolish the compulsory aspects of many of all its programs. The second was that John was a media professional at a west coast community station (Pacifica, I believe). Thus John was able to bring his skills as both an adult educator and media professional to the founding of the non-profit, community supported radio station WORT-FM in Madison, Wisconsin, and The Madison Review of Books. Incidentally John Ohliger came to Madison Wisconsin in 1974 to take a part-time position as library service assistance at The Undergraduate Library at the University of Wisconsin Madison. This act set the stage for all of us to come together.

At that time James Andrew Cox 1942-, Hank Luttrell 1948-, Richard Russell-1944, Janice Bogstad-1950, and myself 1944- were all moving along different time-space continuums. However, we were all drawn together by the formation of an entity called The Madison Science Fiction Group.

The Madison Science Fiction Group was founded in the basement of The Madison Book Cooperative in 1974 by Janice Bogstad, Hank Luttrell, Richard West, and, later, James A. Cox who happened to notice a note placed on a campus wall by Hank Luttrell, and showed up at a meeting. The Madison Book Cooperative was located in the heart of the campus area on 700 block of State Street. Richard Russell incorporated the Madison Science Fiction Group in 1976, as a tax-exempt literary and educational organization. Incidentally, Richard Russell helped me to incorporate the Madison Review of Books in 1979 in that same manner.

The reason I am including all of the birth dates of individuals is this. One can see an almost a generational confluence of interests between an idealistic WWII Veteran, three war babies, and two baby boomers, which supported the existence of a Madison Review of Books from 1976-1980 on the community WORT-FM radio station in Madison, Wisconsin.

Incidentally, with much rancor and great damage to certain individuals, key paid staff members became jealous of our success as radio programmers and hosts, culiminating in The Madison Review of Books being kicked off WORT-FM in 1979. However The Madison Review of Books did go not gently into that good night. It also became a public access television program from 1978 to 1981 on Public Access Cable 4 in Madison Wisconsin, where I briefly served as chairman of the board of directors.

I believe that the most significant fact in existence of the Madison Review of Books was its geographic location in Madison, Wisconsin. As a fifty-six year resident of Madison, until I retired from the University of Wisconsin on January 9, 2000, I feel I am qualified to say something about the city. I can say the best of the sprit of community of the late 1960's has survived longer in Madison, Wisconsin than any other city in the in The United States.

This statement includes The University of California Berkley campus area. While Berkley has, I observed in my September 2001 visit, settled into a kind of sixty-year-old hippie lassitude, "Hey man can yeah spare a sawbuck for a Latte, and a Biscotti?". Madison, Wisconsin, on the other hand is stilled fueled with a historical progressivism, and I sense, what is a Midwest sprit of co-operation and egalitarianism which have their roots in mid-19th Century German Liberalism, and early 20th-Century Progressivism.

In the late 70's on Community Radio WORT In Madison Wisconsin, Jim Cox, Hank Luttrell, Janice Bogstad, and myself were able to raise several thousands dollars on a Saturday afternoon fund raiser. This included a several hundred-dollar pledges from a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice. A quarter of a century later, Wisconsin Public Radio has trouble matching such figures on a Saturday afternoon on-air fundraiser.

Recently there has been some rancor on the part of John Ohliger, a founder of community WORT-FM and the Madison Review of Books, about claims made by Jim Cox that The Madison Book Review became the Midwest Book Review. Having been a significant part of both entities I feel qualified to say at least a few things about that question. I also wish to make a few sanguine comments about the fate of volunteers in community organizations like WORT-FM, and The Madison Review of Books.

To put it simply, the Midwest Book Review became the successor to The Madison Review of Books in 1980 when Jim Cox set out on his own to form the Midwest Book Review. We in fact had a meeting where we all gave Jim our blessing, and Jim repaid me the funds I had forwarded to fund the incorporation of The Madison Review of Books.

Over the previous four years 1976-1979 James Andrew Cox donated 1000-1200 hours a year of his own time and a fair amount of his own money, for stamps, commuter gas, office supplies, and a number of other items. This was when he was holding a full time job as a Wisconsin school district Developmental Disabilities Coordinator. This holds true, to an extent for Hank Luttrell, Richard Russell, Janice Bogstad, and myself. This was at a time when we could have all been using at least some of that time and energy devoted to our volunteer work with The Madison Review of Books for our own professional and career development (as we were to later in our lives), but we believed in what we were doing.

When I use the word successor I am speaking in moral, ethical, and historical, rather than corporate, and legal terms. If this were not the case I would not hold my present position as the Literary Editor for the Midwest Book Review, where I have complete editorial freedom to say and I write as I wish.

It is fair to say that by the time of its dissolution John Ohliger and the rest of the group of volunteers had come to have a very different view of what The Madison Review of Books should have been. From John Ohliger's perspective The Madison Review Books should have been an ever-expanding popular movement with successive waves of volunteers each trained by its predecessors, as in a sense he trained us. But try as we might, we handful of volunteers were unable to get anybody else to work for nothing on a regular basis, to do all the grunt work that is essential to run a book review after Jim Cox left.

In my own personal sense, the work I had done on The Madison Review Of Books led me on a track back into the academic world, starting with an article I wrote similar to this one for "The Journal of Media and Adult Education" in 1981. Nine years later I was to return to graduate school in Library and Information Science at the University of Wisconsin Madison where I earned a MLS in 1993. In 1998 I earned (CAGS) Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies, in that same area. During my whole period as a graduate student I kept in contact Jim Cox and the Midwest Book Review. Even to the point of using the Midwest Book Review as a forum to present some of my most cutting edge research in comparing the Internet as agent of change to the printing press. At the present time along with my Literary Editor's hat for the Midwest Review of Books, I also review on a regular basis for five peer-reviewed academic journals.

Before I go into the travel and book review section of this feature I want make some additional comments. I speak to the responsibility one has to be aware of how they use their charismatic ability to recruit "cannon fodder" to support their community organization. I have seen people encouraged by others to dedicate their lives to causes in which their labor, energy, and good will was expropriated as certainly as if they had devoted their lives to Fortune 500 Companies. I have seen much of that in my lifetime.

One last note which should put all of this in its proper historical perspective if you do a Yahoo Search for The Madison Review of Books you will get six hits. One of them will lead you to a dusty corner of a basement and a big pile of boxes. Perhaps, this reminds you a bit of the end of "The Raiders of The Lost Ark" Movie. - MsC 461 MANUSCRIPT INVENTORY RECORDS OF THE TOOTH PASTE PRESS SPECIAL COLLECTIONS DEPARTMENT UNIVERSITY OF IOWA LIBRARIES IOWA CITY, IOWA 52242-1420 TELEPHONE: 319/335-5921

FAX: 319/335-5900e-mail: JANUARY 1998 Inside of Box 20 you will find some records for (Madison Review of Books, 1978-1980). What I am saying here, of course, is we must keep all of this in historical perspective.

If you search for the Midwest Book Review, you will get thousands of hits, and the names of hundreds of individuals. Enough said.

"John believed that memoirs and biographies had to include 'warts and all' (or 'WORTS and all' as he liked to say in reference to the radio station he helped to start). He may not have agreed with everything in this piece by Phil Kaveny but he would have appreciated its honesty and found its 'truth' nonetheless."

-- Chris Wagner

© Copyright 2004 John

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