Events Rule Supreme at The University of Texas School of Law

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The University of Texas School of Law and the Tarlton Law Library will host an author’s reading and book signing featuring Mimi Clark Gronlund, daughter of United States Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, ’22. It will be held in the Law School’s Sheffield Room (TNH 2.111) at 3:30 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 28. The event is free and open to the public.

“Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark,” (University of Texas Press) is the first biography of this important American jurist whose landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education overturned racial segregation in schools and other public facilities. Combining personal memories with historical events, the author expresses affection and admiration for her father without avoiding any controversy or criticism he faced during his lifetime.

Conference on judicial biography and the Supreme Court in honor of Roy M. Mersky

A conference on judicial biography and the Supreme Court will be held in memory of Roy M. Mersky, the longtime director of the Tarlton Law Library and Jamail Center for Legal Research and Harry M. Reasoner Regents Chair in Law, who died in May 2008.

Professor Roy Mersky

Professor Roy Mersky

Speakers include Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. scholar G. Edward White and Benjamin N. Cardozo biographer Andrew L. Kaufman. University of Texas History professors H.W. Brands and David Oshinsky will moderate.

UT Law professors Sanford Levinson and Lucas A. (Scot) Powe Jr., also a panelist, originally organized the conference as a tribute, not as a memorial, to Mersky. His interest in judicial biography and particularly in the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States was longstanding.

Levinson and Powe recalled that when they approached Mersky in March 2008 (a few weeks before his death) to propose the idea, Mersky’s first comment was “I’m not retiring.” Mersky was delighted at the idea of the symposium, but made it clear to his two colleagues that he had no intention of retiring or otherwise leaving the institution he loved. Levinson said he and Powe assured him that the symposium would only serve as “a marker of his continuous service.” Unfortunately, Mersky died a few weeks later at the age of eighty-two.

The conference will begin at 9 a.m., Friday, Jan. 29 in the Law School’s Eidman Courtroom. It is free and open to the public.

Linguist Chronicles the Life and Death of Texas German

Hans Boas, associate professor of Germanic studies, founded the Texas German Dialect Project, an archive of recordings, transcripts and translations of the dwindling Texas German dialect.

Hans Boas, author of "The Life and Death of Texas German"

In the Hill Country towns of Fredericksburg, New Braunfels or Boerne, Texas’ German heritage is visibly alive and well. While strolling along the old western storefronts or wandering down rolling country roads dotted with historic limestone churches and homesteads, you’re likely to see a group of old cowboys telling stories of “der cowboy” (cowboy) and “die stinkkatze” (skunk or stinky cat) in a dying dialect known as Texas German.

According to Hans Boas, associate professor of Germanic studies, those conversations will disappear along with the language by the year 2050, as the last remaining speakers die out.

To create a veritable linguistic time capsule of Texas German, a unique fusion of English and 19th century German, Boas founded the Texas German Dialect Project, through which he has interviewed more than 300 Texas German speakers. The recordings, transcriptions and translations are stored in the Texas German Dialect Archive, an online database of audio and textual materials from personal interviews with the Texas Germans. An in-depth analysis of the project is detailed in his recent book “The Life and Death of Texas German” (Duke University Press, 2009).

For more about Boas’ work, read the feature story, “Vanishing Voices.”

THEN CAME THE NOVEL

Brian Hart, author of "Then Came the Evening"

UT alumnus Brian Hart likes to work against the grain. Maybe that explains why he was able to sell his first novel in the aftermath of Black Wednesday—December 3, 2008—when many of publishing top names announced layoffs, firings, suspended acquisitions, salary freezes, or major restructurings. A week later, Hart signed a deal with Bloomsbury for his debut work “Then Came the Evening.” The book released in December 2009 with a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly and advance praise all around, and an author tour brings Hart to Austin on January 21, 2010.

A 2008 graduate of the UT Michener Center for Writers’ MFA program, Hart grew up in rural Idaho and put off college for a series of vividly blue-collar jobs across the American West—trapper, fisherman, drywall hanger, line cook, trim carpenter, welder, and hotel desk clerk are among those variously mentioned in his biographical blurbs. Then in his late 20s, he completed a Bachelor of Arts  at Portland State and joined the Michener MFA program in 2005. At the end of his first year, he won the $90,000 inaugural Keene Prize in Literature from The University of Texas at Austin. Doomsayers predicted it was enough cash or hype to ruin a budding author, and, sure enough, agents and publishers came calling right away for stories or novel pages, but Hart held back. He stuck to his old work habits and finished his MFA in May 2008 with the novel all but done and an agent willing to wait for the final draft.

Set in Hart’s native Idaho, the novel opens as Vietnam vet and local troublemaker Bandy Dorner wakes up from a bender to find his cabin burned to the ground and his pregnant wife dead, or so he believes. Two cops are killed in his ensuing rage, and Dorner serves eighteen years in prison. But his wife isn’t dead, and when Dorner returns home to a son he never knew, the three damaged characters struggle for reconciliation and forgiveness.

“‘Then Came the Evening” is an edgy and affecting debut from a writer already bursting with promise and achievement. His novel of love squandered and oh-so-nearly retrieved is a triumph,” says author Jim Crace, the distinguished visiting novelist with whom Hart worked during his final year of the MFA.

As Hart waited for the book’s release, he went back to framing houses and trying to carve out writing time for a second novel every day—one way or the other, hammering away at it. “Published novelist” can now claim a spot between “potato sorter” and “roofer” on his colorful resume.

His reading and booksigning is at 7 p.m., Thursday, January 21, 2010 at BookPeople, on the corner of West 6th and North Lamar.

Author Elizabeth McCracken Joins UT Faculty

This spring, author Elizabeth McCracken assumes the Michener Endowed Chair in Creative Writing with UT’s Department of English and the Michener Center for Writers, the latest distinguished joint hire by the two programs.

McCracken is the author of a 1993 collection of stories, “Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry,” a debut the New York Times called “elegantly written.” Her first novel, “The Giant’s House” was a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award, and Granta magazine named McCracken one of the Twenty Best Young American Novelists that year.  A third novel followed in 2001, “Niagara Falls All Over Again,” which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the year and was recognized with a PEN/Winship award.

McCracken’s latest published work is a memoir, “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination,” which tells of the death of her first child during her ninth month of pregnancy in 2006. McCracken’s unflinching account of this terrible loss—and the healthy birth of another baby a year later—has won both popular and critical acclaim for its eloquence and fearless honesty. It was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2008, and the paperback comes out next month.

Elizabeth and her husband, the novelist Edward Carey, relocated to Austin with their two children, Gus and Matilda.  Elizabeth is currently at work on a novel about a strong woman tentatively called “Let Your Heart Become Iron”—for which she’s done research with UT’s Todd-McLean Physical Culture archiveand a second story collection, “The House of Two Three-Legged Dogs.”

"Alcestis" explores unknown story of character in Greek mythology

Cover of "Alcestis"Katharine Beutner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and a former graduate intern at the Harry Ransom Center, has just published her first novel, “Alcestis” (SoHo, 2010).

In Greek myth, Alcestis is known as the ideal good wife; she loved her husband so much that she died to save his life and was sent to the underworld in his place. In this poetic and vividly-imagined debut, Beutner gives voice to the woman behind the ideal, bringing to life the world of Mycenaean Greece, a world peopled by capricious gods, where royal women are confined to the palace grounds and passed as possessions from father to husband.

Alcestis tells of a childhood spent with her sisters in the bedchamber where her mother died giving birth to her and of her marriage at the age of fifteen to Admetus, the young king of Pherae, a man she barely knows, who is kind but whose heart belongs to a god. She also tells the part of the story that’s never been told: What happened to Alcestis in the three days she spent in the underworld before being rescued by Heracles? In the realm of the dead, Alcestis falls in love with the goddess Persephone and discovers the true horror and beauty of death.

Photo of Katharine Beutner by Wylie Maercklein

Photo of Katharine Beutner by Wylie Maercklein

Beutner grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in classical studies from Smith College,  and a master’s degree  in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin, where she is currently working on her doctorate in eighteenth-century British literature. Her work has appeared in “Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.”

A book release event and signing will be held at BookPeople at 3 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 7.

Beutner answers a few questions about her book:

What inspired you to write a novel about this character? What was it about Alcestis that made you want to flesh out her story?
My first inspiration for the book came from Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem about Alcestis, which I read in Stephen Mitchell’s lovely translation.

I found the end of the poem really striking. The basic plot of Alcestis’s story is that she chooses to go to the underworld in her husband’s place, in order to save his life. Rilke writes that her husband Admetus hides his face when Alcestis disappears “in order to see nothing but that smile” as she goes. That stuck in my mind. Then, in 2004, I read Euripides’ “Alcestis,” which ends very differently.

Admetus’ friend Heracles shows up, figures out what’s going on, and goes to the underworld to rescue Alcestis. He brings her back, and she’s alive, but silent. It’s supposed to be a happy ending, but I was so irritated — I love Euripides because he’s the most psychologically astute of the Greek tragedians, but he gives Alcestis no inner life at all. I wanted to write a version of her story that would allow readers to follow her into the underworld and see how she experiences it.

Have you always had an interest in mythology?
Yes, Greek mythology in particular. My parents gave me the D’Aulaires’ books of Greek mythology and Norse mythology when I was little and I read the Greek myths book to pieces while the Norse book got maybe two or three reads. I remember writing at least one story about Greek gods when I was in middle school, though I’m pretty sure the evidence has been destroyed. When I went to college, I worked as a research assistant for a classics professor, and ended up majoring in classical studies, which included studying ancient Greek. (I continued Greek while I was studying abroad in Ireland, where I got teased for my accent when reading Greek out loud). I now study eighteenth-century British literature — the neoclassical period, of course.

Did you start this project with the intention of writing a novel?
I did. I started writing this novel the summer before I came to UT to attend the MA program in creative writing and finished it as my thesis in that program. I’d written a different novel the year before, one that had totally snuck up on me — I thought it was a long short story, until I hit thirty thousand words and had to reassess. Alcestis was mapped out in advance. I’m kind of a structure geek, so I have to admit that I find outlining to be one of the most enjoyable parts of writing. When I was a kid, my favorite board game was, not surprisingly, The Amaze-ing Labyrinth (no connection to David Bowie in Spandex). Refining a novel in outline is a bit like that. You shift one piece and the whole layout changes.

Barbecue, Football and Regional Pride

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Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American studies and author of Republic of Barbecue

For many carnivorous Texas Longhorn fans, celebrating a big win just wouldn’t be complete without a mouthwatering cascade of brisket, sausage and ribs. Recognizing just how important barbecue is to football culture, the presidents of The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Alabama have wagered it on the outcome of the national title football game on Thursday, Jan. 7.

University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr. will ship barbecue from Iron Works Barbecue in Austin to Alabama President Robert E. Witt should the Longhorns lose. Witt will send barbecue from Tuscaloosa, Ala.’s Dreamland to Powers should the Crimson Tide lose.

Much like football, barbecue in Texas has become a source of regional pride. In “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket” (University of Texas Press, 2009), Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American studies, and 11 of her graduate students took a culinary tour across central Texas to explore how barbecue evolved into not just a hot meal, but a way of life.

On a quest to hear the stories of Texas’ uniquely smoky heritage, the team of authors set out to collect, document and preserve oral histories from the people who make barbecue happen in popular chain restaurants, legendary mainstays like Lockhart’s Kreuz Market and Driftwood’s Salt Lick, small mom-and-pops, and many other venues.

Exploring the people and places of Texas’ barbecue nation, the authors documented a vast array of themes, including manliness and meat, new technology, civil rights, small-town Texas identity and intrinsically Texan drinks such as Big Red, Dr Pepper, Shiner Bock and Lone Star beer.

Visit the Life & Letters Web site to read more about the book.

Hamilton Book Awards Call for Submissions

637320_books_booksThe University of Texas at Austin and The University Co-operative Society have announced call for submissions for the Professor Robert W. Hamilton Book Author Awards. First prize is $10,000 and four additional prizes will be awarded of $3,000 each. The awards recognize faculty and staff members who have published the best book-length publications as determined by a multi-disciplinary committee appointed by the Vice President for Research.

Current University of Texas at Austin faculty and staff are eligible to compete.  Nominated books must have been published between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009. Submissions must be received on or before 5 p.m., Monday, Feb. 1, 2010More information and application instructions.

Last year’s grand prize winners included Thomas McGarity and Wendy Wagner for their book, “Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research,” published by Harvard University Press. McGarity is the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Administrative Law, and Wagner is the Joe A. Worsham Centennial Professor in Law at The University of Texas at Austin.