Reply to Jackie B., “Stretching the Boundaries of History”

Editor’s Note: In this, his last response to our roundtable on his work, Glenn C. responds to Jackie B. and her thoughts on how performance can extend the nature– and enhance the effects– of AA History.

“Glenn has insisted from the moment we first met in San Antonio that I am a historian. In the foreword to my second play, a history of the Twelve Traditions called Our Experience Has Taught Us, Glenn described me as a historian of ‘the new generation.’ [Nevertheless] for many years during our correspondence, I would counter that I was just a storyteller.”– Jackie B.

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Herodotus, ca. 484-425 BCE

Modern western history writing was begun by a classical Greek historian named Herodotus (c. 484–c. 425 B.C.) who coined the word “history” when he wrote his great work on the battle of Thermopylae, and the first Marathon runner, and the other famous events of the Persian wars. The Greek word he used to describe what he had written was the term historia. This originally meant inquiry or research; it came from the Greek word histôr, which meant a wise person, a person of knowledge, a good judge who understood moral right and wrong. So a historia was a research work which told exactly what had happened, with an implicit internal value system which made wise judgments as to who the praiseworthy people were, and who had fallen short. [1]

The English word “history” came from that Greek word, but so did the word “story,” which was originally just a shorter form of the word history. In modern English, a history is a collection of stories put together in a continuous narrative, with logical causal connections tying everything together.  Now I would like to make an observation here — one that is a bit over-generalized, I am sure, but nevertheless one with an underlying truth to it.

When Jews get together to talk about spirituality, they tend to be much less interested in philosophical theology than Christians. What they do love to debate and argue about is the Law, the Torah, the difference between good behavior and bad behavior down to the minute details.  Christians on the other hand will literally torture, imprison, and even kill one another over fine points of philosophical theology. Was Jesus Christ homousios (of the same essence) as God the Father? Or only homoiousios with an i (of a similar essence) to the Father? Or merely homoios (similar) to the Father? When we recite the Nicene Creed, do we say that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified” (as in the Roman Catholic Church), or do we say (with the Eastern Orthodox Church) that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father,” leaving out the words “and the Son”? We had Catholics and Orthodox Christians killing one another other theological issues like that in the Balkans not that many years ago.

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Taking it too seriously.

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Reply to Bill White, “The Color and Character of AA”

Editor’s note: Today Glenn C. responds to Bill White’s discussion of his book about the varieties of AA experience across the color line. Next up: his thoughts on the recovery plays of Jackie B.

slayingWilliam L. White is the author of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America (orig. pub. 1998, 2nd ed. 2014), the classic history of treatment and recovery programs, covering the entire course of modern American history since its beginning.  I first met him at the 6th National A.A. Archives Workshop in 2001, where I was on the planning committee, and he was the keynote speaker. After hearing him in person, I was so glad we had chosen him as our main speaker — it was the most fascinating and eye-opening talk on the general history of recovery in America I had ever heard. And Bill himself is a wonderful person. Close to Ernie Kurtz, he played a valuable role as one of the stabilizing figures in the AA History Lovers during the last two or three years of Nancy Olson’s life. And it was Bill who presided over Ernie’s memorial service in April of 2015 at Dawn Farm in Ypsilanti.

His book, Slaying the Dragon, made it clear that a really good and thorough history of A.A. would have to supply material about the context in which the new A.A. movement had developed. Nothing historical comes into existence out of a complete vacuum, and in A.A.’s case, there was a long history in the United States of trying various methods for dealing with both alcoholism and drug addiction. Some of these had a strong influence on early AA principles and methods — and also on struggles and controversies in which AA became involved later on, as we can see from Nancy Olson’s book With a Lot of Help from Our Friends. Parts of Bill White’s book and parts of Nancy Olson’s book could be read quite profitably in conjunction with one another. As Bill White says, we need to look at the history of early black A.A. in the context of the broader social and political movements in which it occurred.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Of the three earliest black A.A. groups, the social and political background of the Washington, D.C. group was the clearest. It was founded by Dr. James C. Scott, Jr., who had earned both an undergraduate degree and an M.D. from Howard University, one of the two top historically black universities. Dr. Scott, in other words, was an educated black man of the professional class who was trained at one of the major twentieth century centers for the black revolution which arose in the United States during the twentieth century. Read More »

Reply to “Rich Dubiel Meets Glenn C.”

Editor’s Note: Today we feature the second response by Glenn C. to his interlocutors in our roundtable. Stay tuned for more this Thursday!

WashingtonWe would be severely disparaging of scholars in American History and American Studies if all they ever published about the period of the American Revolution were biographies of George Washington. This is not to minimize the importance of the first president, but there were many other people who also made major and necessary contributions. And yet AA history studies has at times tended to focus so much on Bill Wilson and his small circle of close associates, that one has to look far for studies on many other people and topics.

Rich Dubiel’s 2004 book The Road to Fellowship: The Role of the Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club in the Development of Alcoholics Anonymous, was however one of the major works which endeavored to significantly broaden the history of the AA movement. [1] I have tried to contribute to the wider history of AA myself in some of the books I have written and in the materials I have posted on the Hindsfoot Foundation website. So I was thrilled when Ernie Kurz had Rich contact me, and I realized that Rich and I were like-minded souls in so many ways. His book expanded my own horizons enormously. I tremendously enjoyed every minute of getting the book ready for print. And it was a book that was going to have an impact.

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Rowland Hazard, Not in 1931

The first bombshell that Rich’s book dropped was when he proved that the “orthodox” or traditional AA answer to when Rowland Hazard III was psychoanalyzed by Carl Jung — 1931 — could not possibly be correct. He showed from a detailed analysis of correspondence and financial records in the Hazard family papers that there was no time in Rowland Hazard’s busy schedule during 1931 in which he could have spent an extensive period in Switzerland undergoing treatment by Jung. What made this a bombshell was that if Rowland could not have gone to Jung in that year — the date given in all the older AA literature — then did he in fact undergo treatment by Jung at all? Was the whole story only a myth? Read More »

Reply to Arthur S., “AA History and AA Myth”

Editor’s Note: To round out our Points Roundtable on the contributions of AA historian Glenn C., we turn to the man himself! Over the next week, we’ll post Glenn’s replies to the pieces that Art S., Rich Dubiel, Bill White, and Jackie Bedzinski have published here in the last month. Our series will take us right up to Valentine’s day– at which point, everyone in America is going to need to stop loving Glenn and shift their affection to other, more properly commoditized objects! 

Arthur S. played a truly major role in one of our most important A.A. archival resources, the AA History Lovers web group (the AAHL). [1] At its height, this site had almost 3,000 listed members from all over the earth, including the United States, Canada, the U.K., Ireland, Mexico, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, Australia, and India, to name just a few of the far flung lands where it had members. But the actual number of people who were affected by the web group was far higher. There were many who read the group’s postings on a regular basis without having signed up on the membership list, since anyone who had a computer and access to the internet could read all the messages.

AAHL logo (2)At least 90% of the people who had authored the best books on AA history were members of the AAHL, as were at least 90% of the top archivists, rare book specialists and other historical researchers in the field. The web group quickly gained a reputation as the most dependable single source of historical information about A.A. If you wanted to find out what the real experts said — the most knowledgeable and competent scholars and researchers in the field — the AA History Lovers would give you the best-documented and most up-to-date information known. And it would also usually be one of the first places to publish information about newly discovered documents and facts, along with notices of the most recent publications on AA history. [2]Read More »

Stretching the Boundaries of “History”

Editor’s note: Today sees the final installment of the Points tribute to AA historian Glenn C.  Commentator Jackie B. graduated in 2002 with a degree in Theater and Performance Studies from U.C. Berkeley.  Sober since 2006, she is the founder and Artistic Director of Recovery Works Theater (RWT) in San Francisco. Her work has been seen by tens of thousands of recovering alcoholics and addicts throughout the United States in a range of venues from convention centers and black box theaters to county jails. Rooted in rigorous research and a reverence for history, Jackie’s plays seek to create a living connection between the audience’s personal experience and the experiences of the early members and groups of Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Step fellowships. Her most recent work, I Am Responsible, premiered in February 2017 in San Francisco.

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In 2008, I began writing original plays about A.A. history, specifically created for performers and audiences in Twelve Step recovery. My interest in A.A. history was sparked when I was two years sober by a San Francisco old-timer during a Traditions study who shared a story about Joe McQ. of the Joe and Charlie Big Book study series. That’s how I learned that “Big Book” Joe, as he was called back home in Arkansas, was the first black man to get sober in A.A. in Little Rock. That was the night I learned about the lengths that many members had to go through to receive the same opportunity I had been so generously given, without question or demand, at my first A.A. meeting.

I was introduced to Glenn’s work while researching my first A.A. history play, In Our Own Words: Pioneers of Alcoholics Anonymous. Written in the documentary style of The Laramie Project, a tradition also known as verbatim theater, the dialogue was taken word for word from primary material, including A.A. speaker tapes, group histories, Grapevine stories and the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. The second half of the play was devoted to Third Tradition stories, stories like that of Joe McQ., and other marginalized people who paved a way inside the fellowship, creating a safe space for future members who identify as women, LGBTQ, young people and people of color.

I very much wanted to include the story of an early African-American woman in the program. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a single story from the 1940’s. Not in the Big Book or the Grapevine digital archives. Almost ready to admit defeat, I came across a mention of early black A.A. members in a 2005 book called The Factory Owner and the Convict: Vol. 1 of the Lives and Teachings of the A.A. Old-Timers by Glenn C. The text was originally written for local intergroups, to show how A.A. started in the cities and towns along the St. Joseph River, as it wound its way through Indiana and Michigan to the Great Lakes. Requests for copies came in from all around the country, and the author, a Professor of History and Religious Studies at Indiana University in South Bend, self-published it and made an excerpt available on www.hindsfoot.org. I eagerly ordered the book, and when it arrived I found a remarkable interview between Glenn and a black woman named Jimmy M., who got sober in A.A. in 1948. From that interview I was able to construct a monologue for Jimmy, creating one of the most powerful and revelatory scenes of In Our Own Words:

My little troupe of actors in recovery began to perform In Our Own Words outside of San Francisco. We traveled all over California. We performed in church sanctuaries, middle school auditoriums and jail pods. Over and over again, audience members would come up to me afterwards and thank me for sharing Joe and Jimmy’s stories, telling me that for the first time, they felt a part of A.A. history too.  That was all made possible by Glenn’s dedicated and meticulous work.  Finally, in 2010, we were given the opportunity to perform at a major international conference in San Antonio. I invited Glenn, reaching him through the AA History Lovers Yahoo Group. I didn’t know if he would make it, whether he would even get through the doors. The conference plays were so popular that year, the hotel had to shut down its elevators to keep more conventioneers from trying to get into the packed hall, far exceeding its maximum capacity. And still the conventioneers came, sneaking in through fire doors, climbing ten sets of stairs, and even stealing our set furniture from onstage to snag a seat.

After the performance, Glenn introduced himself. I wish I could remember more of that first face-to-face conversation. But I remember he hugged me and he hugged and took pictures with the lovely actress who played Jimmy. We exchanged numbers and emails and less than a week later, Glenn wrote to me, and that was the start of a seven-year friendship and mentorship that has shaped me as a thinker, writer and person in recovery.

When Glenn and his delightful wife Sue decided to winter in Fremont, California, my sponsee and I became regular guests at his new home. Anyone who has had the pleasure of spending one-on-one time with Glenn can attest to the mischievous delight he takes in the exchange of ideas and stories, everything from tidbits of oral history and classical literature, recovery wisdom and philosophical quandaries. Nestled deep in a cozy armchair, Glenn proved himself both an emphatic listener and a consummate teacher, insisting from the moment we first met in San Antonio that I am a historian.

In the foreword to my second play, a history of the Twelve Traditions called Our Experience Has Taught Us, Glenn described me as a historian of “the new generation.” For many years during our correspondence, I would counter that I was just a storyteller. Even as I began to do more rigorous primary research in archives around the country, I held back from calling myself a historian. I was a “history buff,” an A.A. history nerd. It wasn’t until I shared a stage with Glenn at the 2016 A.A. History Symposium at the Sedona Mago Retreat that I embraced the mantle of historian.  Glenn C., who is arguably the most prolific writer of recovery history, generously shared his 45-minute presentation slot with a young female artist and scholar, as we shared the experiences of early gay, lesbians and people of color in A.A., including the stories of Jimmy M. and Joe McQ. It was a moment I will never forget; my journey with Glenn had come full circle. I will cherish every moment I have spent with Glenn, every email, every phone call, and every story. I could not be more proud to call him a mentor, a friend, and a fellow traveler on the broad highway.

The Color and Character of AA

Editor’s Note: Today’s tribute to the work of AA Historian Glenn C.  comes from leading recovery historian William L. (“Bill”) White, Emeritus Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems. Readers of Points will recognize Bill as the author of the definitive history of recovery in the U.S., Slaying the Dragon, and the more recent Recovery Rising: A Retrospective of Addiction Treatment and Recovery Advocacy (see the Points interviews on them here and here!) among many, many other books and articles. For the past 25 years, his work has focused on mapping the pathways, styles, and stages of long-term addiction recovery, with attention to both recovering people and the industries and groups that serve them. Bill’s collected papers are at www.williamwhitepapers.com.

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Bill White, Chestnut Health Systems

An early criticism of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was that its program of recovery was drawn primarily from the collective experiences of white men and thus unsuitable for people of color.  Such declarations have since been challenged by surveys within communities of color indicating AA as one of the preferred choices for people seeking help with alcohol problems, recent surveys of AA membership revealing significant (11-15%) representation of non-White ethnic minorities, and studies of treatment linkage to AA indicating that people of color are as likely, or more likely, than Whites to participate in AA following professional treatment. Also of note are the growth of AA meetings within communities of color and the cultural adaptation of AA’s Twelve Step program within these communities (also see Here and Here). What has until recently been lacking is a definitive history of the racial and ethnic diversification of AA, including first-hand accounts of how the first non-White men and women experienced AA and attracted increasing numbers of people of color to AA’s program of alcoholism recovery.

Color AAGlenn C.’s just-published Heroes of Early Black AA marks a major step in filling this void. His well-researched text documents the founding of the first Black groups in AA in 1945 (St. Louis-AA-1 Group, Chicago-Evans Avenue Group, and Washington D.C.-Washington Colored Group later rechristened The Cosmopolitan Group) and details the experiences of early Black AA members drawn from interviews and taped AA talks with five key figures (Bill Williams, Jimmy Miller, Harold Brown, Dr. James C. Scott, Jr., and John Shaifer). Heroes of Early Black AA closes with the story of Joe McQuany, widely known for his role in the Joe and Charlie Tapes (Big Book Study Guide) that are revered by many within the AA fellowship.

Three qualities distinguish Heroes of Early Black AA.  First, it vividly depicts the larger social context within which Black AA groups emerged in the mid-1940s and in which the subsequent racial integration of AA unfolded. Glenn C. skillfully places the racial struggles and the process of racial reconciliation within AA within the larger social context of American society during these same periods. The best and worst of what occurred within AA is contextualized within the best and worst that was occurring in the larger culture. Such context is crucial in understanding both the resistance and the progress in racially integrating AA. Within this contrast, AA is given a mixed grade: “not as good as it ought be, but nevertheless much better than society as a whole.”

Second, the opportunity to hear the voices of these Black men and women who first broke racial barriers within AA is an emotionally moving privilege. Their poignant stories of recovery and the relationships they built across the racial divide within AA are among the great contributions of the book. Particularly striking are the distinct yet shared experiences of people whose backgrounds ranged from physician to tavern patron to con man. Glenn C.’s own understanding of alcoholism and alcoholism recovery within AA permeates this book but does not get in the way of letting his central protagonists tell their own stories.

Third, Heroes of Early Black AA details the process of how local AA meetings went from banning Blacks, limiting their attendance to open meetings, allowing attendance as “observers,” designating certain meetings as “interracial,” to further lowering and then losing such barriers, including the frequent exchange of speakers between predominately White and Black AA groups.  That process of change is described as follows: “It was done by attacking the issues at the fundamental spiritual level, and by insisting that spiritual principles of the program had to take preponderance over personalities, and personal likes and dislikes, and politics, and blind cultural taboos. It also took a handful of people, both black and white, who had astonishing courage, and a willingness to speak lovingly, but boldly and honestly, when basic spiritual principles were at stake” (p. 164). What local AA leaders on both sides of the racial divide proclaimed was that the fear and hostility that divided Black and White AA members had no place in a program like AA.

Most touching were the stories of personal transformation, e.g., an AA members who had once resisted AA meeting attendance by Blacks later attending the funeral of a Black AA member, with tears running down his face as he talked about what the deceased member had meant to his recovery.  I have heard it said that the most segregated place and hour in America is Sunday morning church services; today, the most integrated setting in America may well be the AA meetings held the night before in those same churches.

welcome_to_arkansas_by_fakingmyownsuicideThe story of Joe McQuany and his collaborative relationship with Charles Parmley is a perfect point of closure for the larger story told in Heroes of Early Black AA.  Here were two men, a Black man and a White man, both AA members in the South, who found common ground in their study of the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous. Joe was the first Black members of AA in Arkansas and entered AA only a few years after the violent resistance to forced school integration in Little Rock. Joe was first allowed to attend AA meetings with the requirements that he not arrive early or stay late to socialize and not drink any of the coffee. As Joe would say, “Little Rock was no place for a black man to be looking for help in 1962.” But Joe survived such early insults to get help within AA, and his subsequent friendship and study with Charlie resulted in years of collaboration in producing the best know study guide to what has affectionately become known as AA’s Big Book.  Glenn C. describes the unique quality that Joe brought to his study of the Big Book.

Joe McQuany developed a style of spirituality which was built not upon the spirit of fellowship, but upon studying history and telling the stories of courageous historical figures who were cast in the role of pioneers, innovators, and lone wolves who had to make it with minimum help from others—a method especially appropriate for those who were, marginalized, socially excluded, and psychologically isolated within the surrounding culture (p. 392). One of the described high points within Joe’s years of service within AA was recounting of a 1977 trip to Lawton, Oklahoma to facilitate one of their Big Book Study meetings. Joe and an ailing Charlie, Black and White friends and collaborators, picked up Tony V., an AA member of Mexican descent, only to arrive at the meeting to find seating in the first row members from the Anadarko Indian Reservation. It had been a long journey (literally and figuratively) but there was realization at that moment that AA had become a coat of many colors. One can imagine Joe smiling in the knowledge that he had been a link in that chain of progress.

Heroes of Early Black AA joins a growing list of texts (e.g., Women Pioneers in 12 Step Recovery, Women in Alcoholics Anonymous, The History of Gay People in Alcoholics Anonymous, A History of Agnostics in AA)  describing the increased diversity of AA membership and the ever-expanding varieties of AA experience. Glenn C. has made numerous contributions to the study of AA via his published books and articles, oversight of the AA History Lovers online group, creation of the Hindsfoot Foundation, and his mentorship of innumerable people interested in the history of AA. Heroes of Early Black AA is one of his most important and inspiring of these contributions.

Rich Dubiel Meets Glenn C.

Rich Dubiel

Editor’s Note: Today we present the second installation in our roundtable series celebrating the work of AA Historian Glenn C. Richard Dubiel, formerly Professor of Communications at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, was an early beneficiary of Glenn’s work with Hindsfoot Press, which published his insightful “Sober Sleuths: Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke” in 1999. Here he describes the journey– undertaken with Glenn’s help– towards his important history The Road to Fellowship: The Role of the Emmanuel Movement and the Jacoby Club in the Development of Alcoholics Anonymous (iUniverse, 2004).

To talk about my relationship with Glenn C. requires some exposition that will appear a bit egocentric. But, truth be told, it was my book, or rather a tattered manuscript back then, that brought me to the Hindsfoot Foundation and, of course, Glenn.

The book, , wasn’t really my idea either. At one time, like when I was nine or ten, I wanted to be a pal with Roy Rogers, maybe Gene Autry. I was torn. But I wound up being an associate professor of communication, pursuing the books and files of the Pittman Archives in Center City, Minnesota. That of course is Hazelden. I was honored as the first academic researcher to use the archives (July-August 1995) courtesy of a development grant from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

I was in search of a topic for a monograph, or at least a couple of academic articles. I knew about alcoholism and Hazelden. I’ll leave it at that. Moments of grace do happen.

The first just such moment occurred when I met Bill Pittman in the archives. We chatted informally. He asked me if I would be interested in working in an area that could surely lead to a book. A book? You betcha. I was soon back in my department in a meeting with my colleagues, hoping that my sabbatical could take place during the summer of 1997. In the meantime I began my research on the influences on the early AA thinkers. Bill sent me a couple of boxes of books to get me started. Guided by Ernie Kurtz’s Not-God, I read in and around the history of AA, discovering new names.

During the summer of 1996 I made a trip to Boston, funded by the Hazelden Foundation. Most of work was done in the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Episcopal Church Archives, Diocese of Boston. The experience, especially in the Mass Historical Society, was one of hushed silence, wearing white linen gloves when handling papers, and organizing material that was being photocopied. I mailed a complete manuscript to Bill Pittman on August 15, 1997. Now a different type of task unfolded, one that would require the encouragement, friendship, expertise and professional know-how of Glenn.

The manuscript sat until spring 1998 when Bill Pittman informed me that new material on Rowland Hazard III at the Rhode Island Historical Society would make a valuable and relevant addition to the book. I spent a week that summer gathering and organizing material, and in the fall mailed the new chapter on Rowland Hazard to Hazelden.

No word regarding the fate of the manuscript. A sense doom closes in. I expressed my concern to a few prominent AA scholars. None less than Ernest Kurtz advised me to develop some options. Hazelden’s support was instrumental in the eventual creation of the actual book; I am grateful to them and certainly to Bill Pittman. (Hazelden currently has my research notes and photocopied archival material in their archives. I am likewise grateful for this.) To this day I am not sure what happened their; perhaps a change in management philosophy?

This was a dark period. My manuscript was read by a university press, and received a positive evaluation but one that concluded with “sorry.” It was understandable given the then (and now) publishing environment. My book was certainly specialized and wasn’t going to generate the revenue that university presses needed. I figured I could simply post the manuscript in cyberspace and that would be that, perhaps as a link on my university webpage. I more or less lost interest.

During this period I began work on an AA-related paper: “Sober Sleuths…”, comparing the crime fiction detective heroes of Lawrence Block and James Lee Burke. Things looked bleak except that Bill White and Ernie Kurtz were in my corner and wanted to see my book published. They paved the way for me to seek a solution to the problem: The Hindsfoot Foundation, and, of course, Glenn C.

I got in touch with Glenn and during 2003 letters, papers, computer discs and the like flew back and forth. Glenn received my material and I thought it was all but done. Not so. There was all the permission business, an index, and the need for some
punching up here and there. Plus, I admit to being a person who needs a push now and then. Glenn’s sincere interest and drive kept me going. But, truthfully, it was he who did most of the driving and reading and rewriting, additions and deletions, that needed to be done.

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The Long & Winding “Road”

Even the earliest emails from Glenn, say March 2003, were filled with an interest in my work, not only this book, and my thoughts on AA. Over the distance, via the internet, I had made a colleague and true friend. Though we had never met, not spoken to each other, we developed a true scholarly camaraderie, dare I say a kinship. The production of The Road to Fellowship moved quickly. I was guided through all the legal and technical consideration by Glenn, who sensed my own fatigue and was a forgiving mentor. The publication date was 2004.

After that, I was reading in other areas of Christian theology and would occasionally have a question. One example was my puzzlement with various interpretations of atonement. A more prosaic person might have thrown a few references at me, perhaps a comment or two, and have sent me on my way. But not Glenn. I still have pages of his downloaded emails, explaining not only atonement but any other idea or thought that I was having. He knew of my dissertation on Paul Tillich and the graduate work I had done at Drew University as part of my Ph.D. program at Purdue. Perhaps those two factors linked us and provided the basis for our scholarly friendship. And it has continued. That continuation exists in that his The Higher Power of the Twelve-Step Program… and God and Spirituality: Philosophical Essays sit on my nightstand. My scholarly and spiritual journey continues as a gift of my Higher Power, but it has been in no small way guided by this truly magnanimous man. I am grateful to have had the help and friendship of Glenn.

Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

AA History as Opposed to AA Myth

The first in our series of testimonials to the work of AA Historian Glenn C. comes from Art. S., who came into AA in the mid-1980s. A voracious reader of AA literature from his earliest days in the fellowship, he became an AA historian in 2001, when he took up the position of Archivist for his home group in North Texas.  In this role, his background in the tech industry and skill with data analysis were formative. Working in dialogue with Glenn C. as he began Hindsfoot Press and founded the AA History Lovers listserv, Art has made major empirical contributions to the national history of AA as represented on the Internet, helping to quash myths and rumors about the fellowship’s origins and growth. His magisterial “Narrative Timeline of AA History” is a sterling example of the ways in which digital publication has brought powerful tools for analysis and publication to people outside of the academy.– Trysh Travis

My testimonial to Glenn is primarily devoted to digital material he authored and the use of the web for the propagation of AA history as opposed to myth. He is a prolific author and quite skilled in digital archiving.

I was introduced to Glenn through “digital channels” around fifteen years ago. It occurred through the web-based AA history special interest group “AAHistoryBuffs” which later became “AAHistoryLovers.” Nancy Olson, an accomplished historian, and close friend of Glenn, started both special interest groups. Glenn was one of the premier historians who actively participated, along with Ernie Kurtz and William White. Glenn’s solid academic standards, and clarity in writing, provided a wonderful example to emulate.

I corresponded mainly through email with both Nancy and Glenn who inherited responsibility for managing AAHistoryLovers when Nancy became ill and passed away in 2005. Glenn has composed a wonderful history of AAHistoryLovers and a touching memorial to Nancy O. He recently has withdrawn from moderating AAHistoryLovers but over the years has provided a legacy example of academic discipline regarding the material posted and the type of commentary deemed appropriate.

Glenn  also administers a first rate digital repository at Hindsfoot.org. It is a rich collection of historical religious and spiritual writings together with biographical material on many historical names in AA history, such as Richmond Walker, Rev Ralph Pfau and Father Edward Dowling. Many of his published works are noted and explained on the website together with a rich assortment of AA history and memorabilia images and documents.

I enjoyed a wonderful research experience with Glenn collaborating, via email, with him in Indiana and Tom E. in New York. It resulted in an academically disciplined paper addressing AA recovery outcome rates and the myths and errors circulating at the time that AA has only achieved a 5% to 10% success rate. The latest version was released in 2008.

I first personally met Glenn at the 2010 AA International Convention in San Antonio. Subsequently, the opportunity to spend more personal time with him occurred over the course of three “long weekend” AA History Symposium events held at the Mago Retreat Center in Sedona AR in 2015, 2016 and 2017. A friendship flourished that I treasure highly today.

AA History Symposium, Sedona Mago 2016

As a prolific author of books and articles focused on religion, spirituality and AA History writings, Glenn is both diverse in subject matter and quite generous with the distribution of complimentary copies of many of his works in digital form. His latest contemporary works on Father Dowling, the history of black AA members and groups, plus an exposition on how the earliest AA meeting were conducted, provide a rich source of material that can be found nowhere else.

In my judgement Glenn is one of the top AA historians today.

 

 

Happy (AA Historical) New Year: Roundtable on the Work of Glenn C.

Glenn C., 2016

With a nod to everyone who’s decided to abstain from alcohol in the new year, Points is kicking off 2018 with a tribute to one of Alcoholics Anonymous’s most talented historians, Glenn C., founder of the Hindsfoot Press (1993) and long-time moderator of the AA History Lovers listserv (fd. 2002). I first “met” Glenn through the listserv while working on my book about the history of 12-step recovery in the early 2000s.  In what was at that time a veritable wild west of self-published print and online AA discourse, it was invaluable to have someone like Glenn as a guide: a professor of History with a PhD from Oxford as well as a Divinity degree, with a long history of publishing about AA (and moderating AA history disputes!). His mentoring was unfailingly graceful and insightful.

Nearly twenty years later, I had the honor of presenting with him at the Sedona Mago AA History Symposium in the spring of 2017. Nearly every speaker at Sedona noted their personal debt to Glenn as well as to the intellectual community of the History Lovers listserv and to the invaluable resources made available by Hindsfoot. The moment seemed right to make that sense of gratitude public. Over the next few Thursdays, Points will present commentaries on Glenn’s work and influence from AA Historians Art S., Richard Dubiel, Bill White, and Jackie B. Glenn will then comment on their comments, and after that, who knows what will happen.

In Memoriam: Ernie Kurtz, 1935-2015

All serious historians of alcohol and drugs will be saddened to hear of the passing, last week, of Ernest (“Ernie”) Kurtz, the first and foremost historian of Alcoholics Anonymous. Kurtz’s commanding Not-God: a History of Alcoholics Anonymous was published in 1979 by Hazelden.  Though Ernie often talked about how AA history in the decades since Not-God appeared had outstripped its claims, and in fact called from the pages of Points for a revised and updated history of AA, his book remains the definitive word on the fellowship’s founding and early growth.

Hazelden, 1979
Hazelden, 1979

Kurtz wrote Not-God as his dissertation; he earned a Phd in the American Civilization program at Harvard University (a fact that I don’t hold against him, even though I attended a different and really much better American Studies program down the road). The volume’s power arises from his ability to situate its founders and their fledgling organization within the context of American religious and cultural history.  Like two other compelling historians of AA,  Damien McElrath and Glenn Chesnutt, Kurtz was positioned well to inquire into the program’s spiritual foundations: after earning a BA in philosophy from St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester, New York, he entered the priesthood and served as a parish priest from 1961 to 1966.  I’ll leave it to better Catholics than myself to sort out whether it was Ernie’s seminary training or his departure from the church in the late 1970s that gave him such penetrating insight into the ways AA manifested what he came to call “the spirituality of imperfection.”Read More »