Far Out isn’t Far Enough: remembering Tomi Ungerer (1931 – 2019)

Books always were my best friends; ever since I was a child they shared with me their facts and knowledge, their flights of imagination, with fun, dread and suspense.

There is always a bond between the author and reader, every book is a bridge, having something different to offer […] Books are lasting, they do not lose their leaves in autumn as trees do.

 Tomi Ungerer,  A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader 2018, 216

 

The Tomi Ungerer I first knew was not Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur, the prolific illustrator and trilingual writer of 140 books. Rather, he was Tomi Ungerer, the precocious child artist who, in the summer of 1940, aged 8, witnessed the Nazis invade his hometown in Alsace. A few months later, he recorded this sight on paper:

L’arrivée des Allemands en juin 1940, © Tomi Ungerer, Musée Tomi Ungerer collection

Many years after that date, this pencil drawing would illustrate his memoir of his childhood under the Nazis, first published in French as À la guerre comme à la guerre (1991, in German as Die Gedanken sind frei, 1993 and in English as Tomi: A Childhood Under the Nazis, 1998). By the time of this drawing, Ungerer could only sign his drawings TU within the safety of his home; in Nazi-occupied Alsace he had to change his name from Tomi (Jean-Thomas) to Hans (Johann). Street names, as well as resident’s first names changed from French to German; French books and berets were banned and one word of French, one bonjour, one merci would land you in an internment camp. Ungerer’s sister, Genevieve, who worked at the government prefecture during the war, would take home formulas and certificates of military allocations, and he would draw on the back of these. Ungerer drew, among other subjects, images of the Nazis; had they been discovered…

© Tomi Ungerer, Musée Tomi Ungerer collection

Thankfully, they were not. Tomi Ungerer’s mother conserved 500 of the drawings he made in his childhood (both before and during the war), and they formed part of the collection for the Musée Tomi Ungerer – Centre Internationale de L’Illustration in Strasbourg, which holds 11,000 graphic works by Tomi Ungerer and collections by artists such as André François, Maurice Henry and William Steig.

I have been fortunate to work on the collection of child art as part of a doctoral project exploring the significance of juvenilia in the formation of artists whose backgrounds include exile and war.

One of my museum visits coincided with the press conference for the museum’s 10th anniversary, and the museum curator, Thérèse Willer, kindly invited me and introduced me to Tomi Ungerer. I was very moved. There were many important people present, my spoken French was – and still is – abominable, but Tomi Ungerer took leave of them from time to time that morning to hear about my project and talk to me about his life, his influences. ‘Books are everything,’ he told me. Books? I was surprised. Was it not drawing that should have been everything to this remarkable artist? No, books, he said, books that he had read as a child had marked him for life.

Back in the museum library, Thérèse Willer showed me the Benjamin Rabier albums that Tomi Ungerer’s brother and sisters had handed down to him and contained his first scribbles, Jean de Brunhoff’s L’ABC de Babar, one of the few books that had been Tomi Ungerer’s very own as a child and that would in part inspire his Mellops family, the family of pigs in his first published children’s books.* She also spoke with me about the young Ungerer’s reading of Le Journal de Mickey and the books by the Alsatian artist Hansi (Jeans-Jacques Waltz). Mickey Mouse appears in drawings Tomi Ungerer made before and during the war: when Tomi Ungerer’s world was turned upside down, Mickey Mouse was a figure remnant from his pre-war world that provided him a reference point as he sought, on paper, to navigate the place his home had become.

A pre-war Mickey, © Tomi Ungerer, Musée Tomi Ungerer collection

Many of the soldiers he drew at this time (when not at school!) are not those of the Second but First World War; Tomi Ungerer’s dislike for the Nazis was in great part informed by the anti-German propaganda Hansi wrote and illustrated in his children’s books around the time of the so-called Great War.

the books read in childhood lay the foundations of a writer’s literary aesthetic; they provide the models, the anti-models, and the springboards for subsequent generations

Kimberley Reynolds, Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction 2007, 9.

In many ways, Hansi’s books became the anti-models for Tomi Ungerer’s work as an adult that fought against social injustice and prejudice and for pacifism. Firmly believing that children should not be shielded from the reality of war, his picturebook, Otto: the Autobiography of a Teddy Bear, which fictionalises some of his own childhood experiences, does not shy from the violence and persecution of the Second World War; schools in France often use the book to teach children about war and the Holocaust. Perhaps stemming from the role creativity played in his own childhood, he also strongly advocated for children to use their imaginations and stretch their minds (Ungerer always liked to include words in books child readers would not necessarily know).

 

On Saturday afternoon I saw that the Tomi Ungerer Museum had changed the profile picture on their Facebook page: a black circle; their cover photo a black banner. What exhibition is this for, I wondered, what is Tomi commenting on with this blackness in his latest artwork. Then I realised. These changes were not for an exhibition. There was no new artwork. Tomi was dead. Yet, as I learned the following day, yesterday, black was not only appropriate for marking our loss of Tomi, but also to represent one of his philosophies. In a video clip the Ungerer family posted, Tomi explains:

When I say far out is not far enough, it means that no matter how far you’re thinking […] no matter how far it is, it’s still not far enough. Because one challenge [to be] worthy at all has to be followed by a greater challenge. It’s the unknown, that’s what’s really fantastic about death and death is to be welcomed, and when I die I’ll find out what’s behind the far out. Maybe there’s nothing. But nothing is fantastic too, because if you’re faced with nothing, you can fill it up with your mind.

Tomi, whatever may or may not be behind the far out, may your incredible imagination serve you well.

My thoughts at this time are above all with Tomi Ungerer’s family and museum staff. For blog readers unfamiliar with Tomi Ungerer’s works, I encourage you to look at further examples of his child art on the museum website and details of his books for children and adults can be found on the Tomi Ungerer website.

Lucy Stone, doctoral candidate

*See Thérèse Willer’s Tomi Ungerer: Graphic Art (Éditions du Rocher, 2011).

 

Transience, Temporariness, and Teenagers: The unlikely inspiration behind Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West

By Enya-Marie Clay, MLitt Student

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West follows the relationship of Nadia and Saeed who endure a difficult journey in search of safety and belonging after their escape from a war-torn country through a magical door. The doors that emerge in the novel – instantly transporting passers-through to a random location in the world – serve as an optimistic vision of a borderless future raising questions about identity, transience, and belonging.

As part of Newcastle University’s participation in the Booker Prize Foundation’s One Book Project, free copies of Exit West were offered to students across the University campus. This culminated in the One Book Event on Monday 29th October during which author Mohsin Hamid was in conversation with Newcastle University’s Dr Neelam Srivastava about his latest novel.[1] This free, public event provided an accessible way for students and members of the public to engage with the book, explore its themes, and connect with its author. The event was a huge success with engaging conversation, a full audience, and plenty of opportunity to ask questions followed by a book signing by Hamid.

The evening opened with Hamid reading a passage from his book – one of the many micro-stories featuring in the novel. In Hamid’s selection, we see an extract from the micro-story of an old woman who, surrounded by youth, modernity, and change, muses that we are all “migrants through time.”[2] Transience and temporariness are central themes in Exit West and this is comparable to the arc of maturation often found in adolescent fiction. It reminds us that transience is a universal experience transcending race, culture, and time, yet it is one we tend not to acknowledge out of a desire for the illusion of permanence and belonging. Hamid compares this to anxieties about mortality, of ourselves and of our loved ones. These themes of temporariness and mortality are common throughout teenage fiction novels and one of my key research interests is exploring how they are navigated in teenage Holocaust fiction.

An intriguing aspect of Holocaust fiction’s popularity among teenage readers is their curiosity regarding issues of trauma, death, and identity – elements that feature prominently in Holocaust fiction by its very nature. Hamid’s poignant discourse in both Exit West and his other writings on the falsehood of permanence also relate to Holocaust literature and education. A key message of Holocaust commemoration is, ‘never again’, yet how often do we see this message weakened by stories of conflict, prejudice, and genocide in headline news? And how do we then communicate to young readers that Holocaust fiction is about the past when the issues it explores are still very much prevalent in our society? My MLitt research underlines the view that we shouldn’t – these themes deserve our attention and the creation of accessible Holocaust fiction for young readers is a viable way to bridge gaps in education and to explore many of the issues Hamid’s Exit West discusses.

In an interview with the Guardian in August, Hamid said that children’s stories are the best examples of how a story can speak to humanity as a whole.[3] I asked him, considering that statement, whether he would write a children’s story himself in the future. He said he would like to but hadn’t gotten around to it yet, then explained that his first novel was a cynical response to ideas of purity and that, while his following two novels featured destabilised narratives, Exit West’s narrative style was inspired by children’s books.

…[Saeed] he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our own being-ness, and all our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in each other, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world (p. 202).

On reading Exit West, with its raw exploration of difficult questions surrounding identity, transience and belonging against the backdrop of negotiating culture clashes and escaping conflict, you may be surprised to find out its style was inspired by children’s fiction. Yet it is the double-partisan way in which children’s literature involves and challenges the reader, by its ability to be both straightforward and complex in adapting to the needs and maturity of its audience, that inspired Hamid’s writing style in Exit West. Hamid said this in response to the question I put to him at the One Book Event, stating that, in the face of the popularity of fake news, there is value in putting the reader on the side of the character to explore an issue. He compared it to the effect of Charlotte’s Web in the reader’s involvement in urging Wilbur not to die – he wanted Exit West to give readers the same involvement with its characters.

Exit West gives raw emotionality and human experience to the stories we are all familiar with seeing on the news. Its manner of taking the reader out of their comfort zone without having the effect of preaching privilege encourages reflection as it explores issues that affect us all without condemnation or outright judgement of any particular group. As issues of identity and belonging become more contentious and politicised, Hamid’s voice is an important one. One day, his voice will be a valuable contribution to succeeding generations should he write a book for younger audiences. Until then, it’s up to us adults to learn, co-operate, and act to improve the world for those that will follow.

[1]Award-Winning Author To Speak At Newcastle University“. 2018. Newcastle University Press Office.

[2] Hamid, Mohsin. 2017. Exit West. Penguin Books. p. 209.

[3] Preston, Alex. August 2018. “Mohsin Hamid: ‘It’s important not to live one’s life gazing towards the future’ [Interview]”The Guardian, 2018.

Seven Stories Northern Bridge Consortium Collaborative Doctoral Award

Fully-funded PhD opportunities

Wanted! Outstanding candidates interested in fully-funded doctoral projects in collaboration with Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Seven Stories is a groundbreaking museum, archive and visitors’ centre with a mission to preserve and celebrate Britain’s rich heritage of children’s literature. As the National Centre for Children’s Books, Seven Stories hold manuscripts, artwork and archival material relating to British children’s books from c.1930 to the present day, representing over 250 leading authors and illustrators ranging from Enid Blyton to Michael Morpurgo, and correspondence and other material from editors and publishers. See here  for an overview of current holdings. Seven Stories shares this collection with the public through events in their visitor centre, and exhibitions which tour nationally. Through their award-winning creative learning and engagement programme they work closely with schools and community groups.

To take advantage of this opportunity you will:

  • be a resident of UK or EU
  • be seeking to begin a PhD in October 2019
  • have an outstanding academic record, including a first degree in a relevant subject and (in most cases) a master’s degree either in hand or shortly to be completed OR relevant and equivalent working experience
  • have an interest in working on a doctoral project in collaboration with Seven Stories, in one or the areas listed below.

Applications for a Collaborative Doctoral Award are invited in the following research areas:

Children’s and youth literature projects will make substantial use of one or more archival collections at Seven Stories. Critical and creative projects will be considered. While the Seven Stories collection represents material from the 1930s onwards, proposals on the history of children’s literature, as well as work focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, are welcomed. Themes of interest to Seven Stories in this application round are:

  • Makers of children’s literature: children’s book history; editing; publishing; education; bookselling
  • The art of children’s books: children’s book illustrations; picturebooks; comics; development of printing technologies; art history; visual experience; materiality
  • Childhood and place: national identity; global childhoods; cosmopolitanism; heritage and historical fiction

The child and the book: children; childhood heritage; literary heritage; the book as object; memory; childhood reading; reading contexts Museum and gallery studies projects will focus on Seven Stories’ role as a museum, focussing on our visitor centre and touring exhibition programme. Themes of interest to Seven Stories in this application round are:

  • Children and museums: children; young people; early years; museums; galleries; heritage; archives; digital technologies

Creative practice projects are invited in any artistic medium or discipline, that respond to our collections, spaces, work and audiences, and could adopt the form of residencies within our venues. Themes of particular interest to Seven Stories are:

  • The evolution of children’s books: children’s books; production; experience; distribution; experimental practice; participation; collaboration
  • The future of storytelling: storytelling; technology; artificial intelligence; machine learning; immersive technologies; interactivity; virtual reality; augmented reality; mixed reality In each of these research areas, we particularly welcome projects which explore themes around inclusion, diversity and representation: race and heritage; disability; gender and gender identity; sexual orientation; age; socio-economic status; religion; culture; children’s rights and human rights.

How to register an interest in a Collaborative Doctoral Award with Seven Stories:

Potential applicants are asked to select the research area they would like to pursue, and contact Dr Annie Tindley (northernbridgedirector@newcastle.ac.uk) to discuss ideas. They will then submit a project summary which will undergo an initial assessment in November 2018. Projects selected at that point will be supported into the main competition. For more information about Seven Stories please explore the website.

For queries about eligibility, suitability and for general enquiries please contact sarah.rylance@ncl.ac.uk

Current Northern Bridge Collaborative PhD Student Helen King says of the application process:

I found Seven Stories and my supervisors really supportive throughout the Northern Bridge process. It’s a lengthy process and I felt daunted by it at the start, but they were enthusiastic about my ideas whilst also challenging me to keep improving my proposal. I was made really welcome when I came for a visit so I got a real sense that I’d enjoy studying here. It’s important to remember that your potential supervisors have a wealth of expertise both on their subject and the application process. It’s also worth remembering that if they have accepted your expression of interest it means that they think your research is exciting and worth doing, and they will be rooting for you to get a place.

Roald Dahl and the Big Friendly Neuroscientist – a Public Engagement Odyssey

7 November 2018, 18:00-19:00, David Shaw Lecture Theatre, The Medical School, Framlington Place, NE2 4HH

Tom Solomon is Professor of Neurology at the University of Liverpool. In 1990, as a junior doctor in Oxford, he looked after world-famous author Roald Dahl. The two developed an unlikely friendship, and every third night, when Solomon was on call, they would chat into the wee small hours about Dahl’s fascinating medical encounters. These included inventing a medical device to treat water on the brain, campaigning for vaccination, and devising a rehabilitation regime which led to the formation of The Stroke Association.

Twenty-five years later these tales became the basis of Solomon’s highly acclaimed popular science book Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Medicine, which received extensive coverage on national television and radio. Following promotional events at Cheltenham Literature Festival, and science festivals, Solomon developed Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Medicine into a sell-out smash hit family show at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and London’s West End.

Nowadays, academics are encouraged to engage patients and the public in their research. In this lecture Professor Solomon will talk about Roald Dahl and his marvellous medical encounters, and show how he used this opportunity to engage patients and the public in his work. For more information on Tom please see his website.

This event is free but please book your place here. Teachers and school groups are welcome, this talk will be most suitable for sixth form age students and beyond.

Venue: The David Shaw Lecture Theatre is located inside the Newcastle University Medical School on Framlington Place, NE2 4HH, building 60 on campus maps. It is accessible by lift and is fitted with an induction loop. There is no parking on site but there are car parks nearby. We recommend using public transport where possible. It is approximately 15 mins walk from Haymarket metro / bus station.

28 Tales for 28 Days: The Mother’s Tale

CLUGG is sharing space and broadcasting writers’ stories of those who experience indefinite immigration detention in the UK and those who work with them.

Today’s tale centres on the experience of family separation, as told to Marina Warner and read by Sinéad Cusack:

Read more about Refugee Tales and the #28for28 campaign here.

28 Tales for 28 Days: The Unaccompanied Minor’s Tale

CLUGG is sharing space and broadcasting writers’ stories of those who experience indefinite immigration detention in the UK and those who work with them.

Today’s tale centres on the reality for unaccompanied minors who seek sanctuary in the UK and find age 18 they are detained indefinitely, as told to and read by Inua Ellams:

Read more about Refugee Tales and the #28for28 campaign here.

28 Tales for 28 Days: The Dependant’s Tale

CLUGG is sharing space and broadcasting writers’ stories of those who experience indefinite immigration detention in the UK and those who work with them.

Today’s tale is from the perspective of a child, showing the impact of government policy on the life of her family, as told to Marina Lewycka and read by Julie Hesmondhalgh:

Read more about Refugee Tales and the #28for28 campaign here.

28 Tales for 28 Days

CLUGG is sharing space

We are sharing our blog and broadcasting writers’ stories of those who experience indefinite immigration detention in the UK and those who work with them. Many organisations, including the Royal Society of Literature and Literature Cambridge, are doing the same. Over 28 days, you will find tales here, showing the fundamental power of literature to bring about change.

The UK is the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely for administrative purposes and without judicial oversight under immigration rules. Rooted in the work of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, and supported by the University of Kent, Refugee Tales shares the tales of those who have been indefinitely detained in immigration detention. To highlight the call for a 28 day time limit for immigration detention, Refugee Tales is releasing 28 tales online – one each day over 28 days on the website www.28for28.org. Writers and actors lend their words and voices to asylum seekers, refugees and people in indefinite detention. CLUGG supports the Refugee Tales call for an end to indefinite detention. Over the next month we will be sharing 3 of the 28 tales that centre around the child’s experience. In the meantime, watch the Refugee Tales statement:

#28for28

About Refugee Tales

Through Refugee Tales, writers collaborate with asylum seekers, refugees and people in indefinite detention who share their stories. Taking Chaucer’s great poem of journeying – Canterbury Tales – as a model, writers tell a series of tales as they walk in solidarity with detainees. As they walk, they create a space in which the language of welcome is the prevailing discourse.