What is this newsletter?
Based in Taiwan, our newsletter is “about” history, politics, justice, and law. More broadly, though, we’re interested in forms of resistance—including the playful and soulful kinds. We’re interested in the “patient, sustained effort,” as sociologist Charles Payne writes of SNCC organizers in the 1960s, of people everywhere. We’re interested in how others live and work, or deal with not working. We’re especially interested in people who live and work on the margins. This includes incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, undocumented people, freelance musicians and artists, librarians, contingent workers in the academy, activists and educators (especially those in rural or deindustrialized areas), people who have chosen a religious vocation, and Gen-Zers working in the trenches to make a difference.
More prosaically: it’s a weekly digest of what we’re thinking about.
Thanks to a grant from Substack Local, we’ve transformed this newsletter into a bilingual platform based in Taiwan. Current subscribers can opt into Taiwan-based news. Our ambition is to create a Mandarin-language section that serves as the Village Voice of Taipei, highlighting, empowering, and disseminating local and marginalized voices in Taiwan. Our hope is to create a genuinely cross-pollinating community, bridging local and diasporic peoples.
Why did you start it?
In the academy, it’s all doom and gloom. In woke politics, it’s all critique and critique. We’ve noticed a loss of generosity, of intimacy, in the discourse around the things we care about. We started this newsletter because we want to get closer to people, to show how they find ways to survive and come together. We want to dream, to reflect, to imagine a different world. We want to create a space for hope in hopeless times.
Our students, members of a generation born into unprecedented economic and environmental distress, have inspired us with their stories of volunteering with refugees, organizing protests, even getting teargassed. They’re modeling the space for hope we’re talking about, and so we also started this newsletter to continue our journey with them even after they’ve left the classroom—to learn about how they’re growing and changing.
And, like most people, the pandemic forced us into an existence mediated constantly by screens, and our digital consumption caused us daily anxiety and panic—but we also found that the online world often had a large discrepancy from our real experiences. So we started this newsletter, finally, in the hope of forging more connections. If, like us, you get depressed reading the news, or feel empty after a long doomscroll through your social media feed, we want to connect with you. The more we immerse ourselves in acts of creation and solidarity, in liberation struggles and art, in poetry and protest, the closer we are to becoming free.
Who are you?
Albert is a historian (read: he likes old people) who works on the history of religion and medicine. He grew up in Taiwan, where his family still lives. Albert wrote a book about German missionaries in China, From Christ to Confucius, and is working on another one about why we distrust medical authority. He’s broadly interested in global history, and works with archival material in German, French, Japanese, and Mandarin. Albert loves jazz, opera, the NBA, and Roger Federer.
Michelle (郭怡慧) is a social activist, lawyer, teacher, and writer. She worked with undocumented immigrants on tenants’ and workers’ rights in Oakland; before becoming a lawyer, she taught at an alternative school in rural Arkansas. She wrote a memoir about literacy and incarceration in the Mississippi Delta, Reading with Patrick, which has been released in the U.S., United Kingdom, Taiwan, Japan, and (soon) South Korea. It was a runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice, and has been a community reads pick at numerous colleges and libraries. As James Forman, Jr. and Arthur Evenchik write, “Impassioned writing and hard-earned wisdom set her book apart. In all of the literature addressing education, race, poverty, and criminal justice, there has been nothing quite like Reading With Patrick.” Michelle has published essays in The New York Review of Books, New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Point, and Public Books, among others.
Together we’ve worked in prisons and immigration detention centers, and we think a lot about abolitionist approaches and transformative justice. Michelle works with incarcerated clients and helped to found Dialogue & Transformation, a collective for formerly incarcerated people across the world. Together we’ve taught in prisons in the U.S, France, and Taiwan and met while volunteering as teachers at San Quentin. We are associate professors at the American University of Paris, where we teach students from all over the world and work closely with them on issues of social justice. Last year, with our wonderful friend Hannah Davis Taieb, we started a prison education program at La Santé, where our students learned alongside incarcerated people in a French prison. Last summer, we took students to Texas to volunteer with RAICES, helping detained migrants to apply for asylum. How people resist despair is a question that we think a lot about with our students.
We are currently based in Taiwan. Albert is an Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica. Michelle is an associate professor at the American University of Paris in History, Law, and Society and a visiting associate professor at National Taiwan University. We are always on the lookout for ways to create meaningful and creative spaces that bring us closer to one another, and to a more just world. Please don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re nearby!
Oh yeah, and we’re married. To each other. We look like a pleasantly homogeneous Asian-American couple, but really Albert is more Asian and Michelle is more American. Sometimes Albert gets sad that Michelle isn’t more Asian; sometimes Michelle thinks Albert is too Asian. (What do these words even mean? To be explored in a future installment!) But we came together around shared interests—The Autobiography of Malcolm X, radical social movements, Marilynne Robinson, liberation theology, interracial solidarity, Breaking Bad, John Milton—and we remain together through work like this. We also have a baby named Phoebe who is the light of our lives. She has a manly grunt and enjoys rifling through bags.
Where should I start ?
Here are some of our most-read posts:
Albert notices a sea change in his classroom: students overwhelmingly think that dropping the atomic bomb was a war crime.
Michelle talks about the anxiety of becoming a new mother and how the spunky girl-heroes of Miyazaki’s films helped.
We interview a former student, Zakee Hutchison, who was incarcerated for 21 years at San Quentin Prison and released in 2020. (The Chinese version is coming!)
Plus, here are two Taiwan-centric pieces:
Should informers to an authoritarian regime get restorative justice? We make the case, discussing a Taiwanese legislator who was recently outed as a former informant. (The Chinese version is here.)
We discuss the language wars in Taiwan and the push to make multilingualism a practice instituted in the everyday affairs of state.
What’s the difference between paying and not paying?
Right now your subscription fee ($5 a month, $50 a year) goes toward compensating our editor, our transcriber, and our interviewees (undocumented workers, formerly or currently incarcerated people, freelance artists, academics, translators, educators, nonprofit workers, and many more) for their time. For now, paying subscribers can take part in monthly book clubs, read longer transcripts of interviews, and enjoy other goodies yet to be announced. If you’re economically vulnerable and can’t afford to subscribe, please just let us know.
Who is on the team?
Our English-language editor: Daniel Levin Becker at Fern Books
Our Chinese-language editor: Isabelle Chang
Our transcriber: Divya Shesshsan Balakrishnan
How do I contact you?
Please feel free to post on Substack or e-mail us email@example.com.
這份電子報談「歷史」，談「政治」，談「正義」，談「法律」。不過更廣義而言，我們關心的是各種形式的抵抗，幽默詼諧者有之、沉重嚴肅者有之。我們關心世界各地人們「寧靜致遠的努力」──一如社會學家查爾斯‧佩恩（Charles Payne）對 1960 年代黑人民權運動組織「學生非暴力協調委員會」（Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC）發起人的評註。我們關心他人如何生活、如何工作，或如何與「不工作」周旋。我們最關心的是在邊緣生活、工作的人群，他們是受刑人和更生人、面臨國家越來越無孔不入監控的無身份人群、自由工作的音樂家和藝術家、圖書館員、學院的兼任工作者、社運人士和教育工作者（尤其是在鄉村地區或去工業化地區活動的人）、投身宗教職業者、人生經歷過壯闊波瀾的長者、為帶來改變而在艱鉅挑戰中努力的 Z 世代。
感謝 Substack Local 提供的獎助金，我們正努力把這份電子報改造成立基臺灣的雙語平臺。目前的訂閱者可以選擇收到以臺灣為出發點的新聞。我們志在打造一個中文天地，成為臺北的《村聲》（Village Voice）週報，傳播臺灣當地邊緣化的聲音，大聲疾呼、為之賦權。我們希望創造出真正跨界相互滋潤的社群，搭起當地人群和離散人群之間的橋樑。
孟軒 (Albert) 是歷史學者（言下之意：他喜歡老人），研究宗教史和醫療史。他在臺灣長大，家人依然住在臺灣。孟軒寫過一本談在華德國傳教士的書，《從基督到孔子》（From Christ to Confucius），目前正著手完成另一本書，談我們為什麼不信任醫療機構。他對全球史抱有廣泛興趣，使用的檔案材料橫跨德文、法文、日文、中文等語言。孟軒熱愛爵士樂、歌劇、NBA 和羅傑‧費德勒（Roger Federer）。
怡慧 (Michelle) 是社運律師和作家，她在加州奧克蘭（Oakland）為沒有身份的移民爭取租屋權益和勞工權益。成為律師之前，她在阿肯色州（Arkansas）鄉下的另類學校（alternative school）教書。怡慧寫過一本回憶錄《陪你讀下去》（Reading with Patrick），討論在密西西比河三角洲的閱讀、書寫與監獄生活，這本書在美國、英國、中國、臺灣、日本，以及（即將在）韓國發行。《陪你讀下去》榮獲戴頓文學和平獎（Dayton Literary Peace Prize）亞軍及戈達德‧里弗塞德與史蒂芬‧羅素社會正義新書獎（Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice），也是無數大學和圖書館的讀書會選書。怡慧發表的文章見於《紐約書評》（The New York Review of Books）、《紐約時報》（New York Times）、《洛杉磯書評》（Los Angeles Review of Books）、《觀點》雜誌（The Point）、美國書評網（Public Books）等報刊網站。
我們在監獄和移民收容所並肩工作，深刻反思廢除主義取徑和轉型正義。我們在美國、法國和臺灣的監獄教過書，兩人在加州聖昆丁監獄（San Quentin）擔任志工教師時相識。我們都是巴黎美國大學（American University of Paris, AUP）的副教授，班上學生來自世界各地，我們和學生一同認真探討、實踐社會正義議題。去年，我們和優秀的好友漢娜‧戴維斯‧泰伊伯（Hannah Davis Taieb）一起在巴黎拉桑特監獄（La Santé）開辦監獄教育計畫，我們的學生和法國監獄受刑人同窗共學。去年夏天，我們帶學生到德州的難民及移民教育法律服務中心（Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, RAICES）當志工，協助被拘留的移民申請庇護。人如何對抗絕望成為我們和學生再三思考的一個問題。
喔，對了，我們結婚了，我們兩個是夫妻。我們貌似一對「琴瑟同調」的亞裔美國夫婦，但真要說起來孟軒偏向亞洲多一點，怡慧偏向美國多一點。有時候孟軒很難過怡慧為什麼不更亞洲一點，有時候怡慧覺得孟軒太囿於亞洲思考。（這麼說到底是什麼意思？之後會有一期電子報討論這個議題！）不過我們分享共同興趣，攜手並進──《馬爾科姆‧X 自傳》（The Autobiography of Malcolm X）、激進社會運動、瑪莉蓮‧羅賓遜（Marilynne Robinson）、解放神學、跨種族團結、《絕命毒師》（Breaking Bad）、約翰‧彌爾頓（John Milton）──我們也透過像這樣的工作凝聚彼此。我們還生了一個寶寶菲碧（Phoebe），她是我們的生命之光。她嗓音低沉，喜歡翻包包。
我們採訪了我們以前的學生 Zakee Hutchison。他在 San Quentin 監獄被監禁了 21 年，並於 2020 年獲釋。(原文在這裡.)
目前而言，你的訂閱費用（一個月 5 美元、一年 50 美元）用於我們的編輯、逐字稿聽打人、客座作者、譯者、受訪人身上（他們是無身份的勞工、更生人或受刑人、自由工作的藝術家、學者、譯者、教育工作者、非營利的工作者，諸如此類），酬謝他們付出的時間。付費訂閱者目前享有的權益包括參加每月讀書會、閱讀較完整的訪談內容，還有更多權益將陸續公布！如果你的經濟狀況不穩定，無法負擔訂閱費用，請放心告訴我們。
我們優秀的編輯：丹尼爾‧列文‧貝克（Daniel Levin Becker）
我們親愛的逐字稿聽打人：迪維亞‧謝什山‧巴拉克里希南（Divya Shesshsan Balakrishnan）