Welcome to our Substack Newsletter!

A little bit about us

Hello! Welcome to our newsletter! We’re so happy that you’ve decided to join us on this journey.

What is this newsletter? 

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 facing ever-expanding state surveillance, freelance musicians and artists, librarians, contingent workers in the academy, activists and educators (especially those in rural or de-industrialized areas), people who have chosen a religious vocation, elderly people who have lived through extraordinary events, and Gen-Zers working in the trenches to make a difference. 

More prosaically: it’s a weekly digest of what we’re thinking about.

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 is a social-activisty lawyer 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 prize-winning memoir about literacy and incarceration, Reading with Patrick, which has been translated and released in China, Taiwan, and Japan. Michelle loves naps, coffee, and petting dogs on the street.

Together we’ve worked in prisons and detention centers, and met while volunteering as teachers at San Quentin. Now we both work 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.

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 who is statistically the cutest baby on earth. She has a manly grunt and enjoys rifling through bags.

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. 

How do I contact you?

Please feel free to post on Substack or e-mail us at michellebert2014@gmail.com.

In the meantime, tell your friends!