Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Boswell Book Company @ 7pm

Edward R. Schmitt, author of President of the Other America: Robert Kennedy and the Politics of PovertyEdward Schmitt

Please enjoy this interview Edward generously agreed to do with me and support your local authors by stopping by his reading this evening! Information on the book can be found below.

1. Please describe why you chose to write about this particular piece of history.

I started doing research on RFK because I've always been intrigued by the dramatic movements of the 1960s and their intersections with politics. Kennedy seemed to be a figure in the middle of it all. And the more I researched, in spite of all that has been written about the Kennedys, I learned that there was an interesting story yet to be told.

2. Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you or was unexpected?

Many things! I learned that Kennedy was involved with the issue of poverty much earlier than has been understood. I found that in some ways, his initial battle plan for attacking poverty looked a lot more like the approach of Herbert Hoover than that of FDR. I learned that JFK made poverty an issue in the general election of 1960 much more than historians have understood, and that it probably helped him get elected. One of the most fascinating aspects of my research was looking at African American and Mexican American newspapers and learning how minority groups viewed RFK.

3. Has your Wisconsin upbringing influenced your career or writing choices in any way?

I think it certainly influenced my career in my eagerness to work for a school (UW-Parkside) within the UW System, and my desire to point out for my students the local ties to larger developments in American history. I also may have tried a bit harder to include some local material in the book, though it certainly wasn't a reach to quote from a couple of interesting poverty-related speeches RFK delivered in Milwaukee in 1964 and 1965. Kennedy probably felt he had a friendly audience speaking about those issues among Wisconsin progressives, so it is likely more than coincidence that he said something of consequence on my topic while in town.

4. What authors influence your own writing? OR, what authors offer you a respite from your work when you need it?

I wish I had more opportunity to read fiction but it is hard not to keep reading stuff in my field. But I enjoy it, and I find just getting the chance to read energizing and a bit of a respite from the everyday work of teaching.

5. You’re going to a Halloween party, which famous political figure do you go as?

Funny! I did have a Bill Clinton mask for one Halloween party and it made for some interesting repartee...

6. Do you have a favorite book related childhood memory?

I have a very fond memory of my fifth grade teacher reading us the very first "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, The Cave of Time. It brought reading alive in a way that I can still remember vividly. One might think that doing history is sort of the opposite, you already know the ending before you start. But what I've found is that the deeper you research the human interactions that produce history, understanding more deeply what went into important developments of the past yields its own adventure.


Robert Kennedy's abbreviated run for the presidency in 1968 has assumed almost mythical proportions in American memory. His campaign has been romanticized because of its tragic end, but also because of the foreign and domestic crises that surrounded it. Yet while most media coverage initially focused on Kennedy's opposition to the Vietnam War as the catalyst of his candidacy, another issue commanded just as much attention. That issue was poverty. Although his calls to action sometimes met with apathy, he refused to modify his message.

This book, President of the Other America, marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's bestselling book, The Enemy Within. Schmitt is an associate professor of history at UW-Parkside.

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