Tag Archives: primates

The Lines We Draw

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I am beyond excited to announce that my longform nonfiction narrative story “The Lines We Draw” has been published as a short ebook by Hen Press, the new digital publishing arm of Our Hen House. I can’t thank Our Hen House enough for their support, keen insights and feedback on this piece. About this story:

“This is story about boundaries — physical, biological, and ethical — it evolved out of a conversation with the late Dr. Alfred Prince, a hepatitis researcher, about the use of chimpanzees in medical research, and expanded into a larger discussion about ethics. Prince left New York University’s Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) in the 1970s to establish New York Blood Center’s chimpanzee research colony in Liberia. The story weaves various threads and makes connections among logging, the Liberian Civil War, and vivisection. Chimpanzees are slowly being phased out of research in the United States, and the New York Blood Center has ceased testing in Liberia, but questions remain about the fate of laboratory chimpanzees.”

You can purchase and download the eBook, The Lines We Draw, on Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

MEDIA

  • On February 22, 2014, on episode 215 of Our Hen House podcast, I spoke with Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan about the piece and read a short excerpt.
  • Pickles & Honey reviewed the story as part of their End of Week Reading.
  • Viva La Vegan featured an short interview with me about the piece.
  • One Green Planet features my story on the status of Chimpanzees in Laboratories.
  • Mark Hawthorne, Author of Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering & Striking At the Roots discusses the ebook with me here. We had a lovely chat about writing about animals.

Sangu’s resulting narrative offers a heady dialogue—the animal activist and the animal exploiter—but Sangu handles it with aplomb, and her writing is sometimes more poetry than prose.”

For more of my primate memoir writing, check out Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice (University of Illinois Press) and Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education, Advocacy and Sanctuary (University of Utah Press).

See more of my work here:

Same/Not Same

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“The impulse to write a book appears to run like a fever through those of us who’ve lived with apes,” declares Rosemary Cooke, the narrator of Karen Joy Fowler’s recent novel We are all Completely Besides Ourselves. Rosemary goes on to list those who came before her: “The Ape and the Child is about the Kellogs. Next of Kin is about Washoe. Viki is The Ape in Our House. The Chimp Who Would be Human is Nim.”

I’m no stranger to the genre of primate memoir, particular the stories of chimpanzees who were cross fostered and raised as human children to participate in language studies. I read Roger Fouts’ Next of Kin in college. It inspired me to learn American Sign Language and spend a summer with Washoe, Moja, Tatu, Dar and Loulis in Ellensburg Washington. It was at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute that I was then introduced to others who had spent their lives among apes. Like Rosemary, I discovered Leakey’s women: “…I checked out every book, I could find on the monkey girls‑Jane Goodall (Chimps), Dian Fossey (gorillas), and Birute Galdikas (orangutans)”

Years later, I read In the Kingdom of Gorillas, before a trip to Rwanda. When discussing primate memoirs, I cannot forget to mention Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir, which opens with the  line: “I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla.”

Fowler’s novel is a fictional primate memoir, but hers is not the story of a researcher and his/her subject, but rather about the fate of the human children of researchers who were raised, briefly, with a chimpanzee. There’s not too much known about the human siblings of these cross-fostering experiments. Donald Kellogg was raised with the chimpanzee Gua for the first 19 months of his life. His parents terminated the experiment when Donald started picking up chimpanzee vocalizations rather than Gua picking up human ones. Later in life, Donald committed suicide in his early 40s.

Fowler’s story is loosely based on the Kellogg’s experiment, but also draws from other chimpanzees’ stories. The Cooke Family is based in Bloomington Indiana, where the Kelloggs did their research several decades earlier. At the time of writing the book, Fowler didn’t know the Kellogg’s had another child. Their daughter contacted Fowler after the reading the book. In an interview with BookSlut, Fowler notes “She was born about the time the experiment ended, so she has no memory of it herself, nor would her brother, who was only nineteen months old when the experiment ended. But she feels strongly that it completely deformed her family.”

In the beginning of Fowler’s novel, the reader learns only that our narrator, Rosemary Cooke, has a mysterious sister named Fern who disappeared when Rosemary was 5 years old and an older brother named Lowell who left home when she was 12. Rosemary only reveals the fact that Fern is a chimpanzee about a third of the way into the book. She has her reasons for withholding.

“I wanted you to see how it really was. I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. You’re thinking instead that we loved her as if she were some kind of pet.”

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Tedx at Cooper Union and Primate People Anthology

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Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education, Advocacy, and Sanctuary (University of Utah Press) comes out this month.  I am very excited to read this anthology edited by Lisa Kemmerer with a forward by Marc Bekoff.  My story “Soiled Hands” is the closing essay in the this collection.

I am adapting this into a Tedx talk at Cooper Union on April 24, 2012 which is themed “Found in Translation.”

 

April 24th, 2012 (5pm-9pm)
41 Cooper Square
Third Avenue between 6th & 7th Streets
New York
The Cooper Union, Rose Auditorium


“Minds Enough to Lose and Histories that Can Only Hasten the Process”

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As I mentioned in my previous post, last year, I was in a craft course on memoir, which focused on narratives of trauma.  We had just read Teresa Cha’s Dictee.  After the third read, I understood it to be  a fragmented story exploring  rupture and  loss resulting from Cha’s separation from her mother, mother tongue, and her mother land, Korea. Dictee explores what it meant for an individual and a people to be torn apart by colonization, war and migration.

It was around the same time, I had been reading about post traumatic stress disorder in chimpanzees and elephants and was interested in similar questions in the animal context.   What does it mean for an animal as an individual or a species to be subject to similar ruptures?  In The Wauchula Woods Accord, Toward a New Understanding of Animals, Charles Siebert, explores this further when he examines psyche of captive chimpanzees.

Siebert visits Patti Ragan’s Center for Great Apes in Florida, which he calls “a place to house bad dreams.”  These rescued chimpanzees had previously been stripped of their mothers and denied their own chimpanzee culture. They like others born and bred for entertainment or biomedical research may have been “chimps with a name but no recollection of a tree.”  Though these animals are well protected and cared for now, traumatic memories can still intrude their present. He notes that chimpanzees “have, like us, minds enough to lose and histories that can only hasten the process.”

Siebert who has written several thoughtful and beautiful long narrative pieces about animals in the New York Times Magazine, incorporates some of that research in The Wauchula Woods Accord.   The book is framed around one evening he spends with Roger, a chimpanzee in the sanctuary,   but he provides background into a vast body of knowledge of our complicated history with primates.  The story of Lucy is one such example and you can listen to Siebert talk about her on Radio Lab.

What is also particularly fascinating in the book is  Siebert’s description of the history of trials against animals as described in The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals: The Lost History of Europe’s Animal Trials, where all animals were granted a lawyer—and “accorded the same legal rights as human beings, right down to being provided with the best available defense attorneys, and all at the taxpayer’s expense”   He goes on to suggest that if captive animals today who have been put down as a result of a violent outbreak, were accorded “the same legal privileges as their medieval counterparts, the most amateur lawyer would be able to get them all off on insanity pleas.” Read the rest of this entry