Barry Unsworth to Discusses "Land of Marvels" at the HRC

In the first of the Harry Ransom Lectures, writer Barry Unsworth discusses his new book “Land of Marvels,” at 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 26 at the Ransom Center. The program will be webcast live. A book signing will follow.

The Ransom Center holds the papers of the celebrated writer who won the Booker Prize in 1992 for “Sacred Hunger”, a novel about the 18-century slave trade widely considered his masterpiece.

His other acclaimed works include “Morality Play,” “Pascali’s Island” (which was adapted into a film starring Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren), “The Ruby in Her Navel,” “The Songs of the Kings,” “After Hannibal” and “Losing Nelson.”

The Harry Ransom Lectures honor former University of Texas Chancellor Harry Huntt Ransom and highlight the Ransom Center’s vital role in the university’s intellectual and cultural life. The program, made possible by support from the University Co-operative Society, brings internationally renowned writers, artists and scholars to Austin for public events and conversations with university students.

What's on Your Nightstand, Tom Gilligan?

For Thomas Gilligan, recently appointed dean of the McCombs School of Business, reading is like breathing.

“I’m not sure I can think of myself as existing apart from reading—it’s an integral part of life,” Gilligan says. “Reading was a big salvation for me when I went into military service right out of high school. It’s the way I educated myself before I ever went to college.”

Prior to joining academia, Gilligan served as a Russian linguist in the United States Air Force and was a staff economist for President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Keep reading to find out what’s on his nightstand this winter. Continue reading

The Ultimate Product Placement

Michener Center alumnus Philipp Meyer (MFA ’08) has earned an amazing plug for his debut novel from crime writer Patricia Cornwell. The best-selling author mentioned it in “Scarpetta,” the latest in her popular coroner-detective series.

The unprecedented endorsement caught the attention of both The New York Times and the UK’s Guardian this week.

Meyer and Cornwell share an agent, who gave the best-selling author an advance copy of Meyer’s “American Rust,” due out from Spiegel and Grau (a division of Random House) this February.

Cornwell apparently liked the book. Not only did she provide a glowing jacket blurb, she compared Meyer’s style to Hemingway and suggested he should win a Pulitzer Prize.

Cornwell and Meyer have never met, but Meyer plans to read “Scarpetta” right away. “I’m flattered,” Meyer said of Cornwell’s support, “and proud.”

Meyer will read and sign copies of “American Rust” at 7 p.m., March 12 at BookPeople Bookstore.

Michener Alum Reads at BookPeople Tonight

Texas Monthly’s new editor Jake Silverstein, a 2006 graduate of UT’s Michener Center for Writers, will read at BookPeople at 7 p.m., Jan. 20 from “Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper’s Magazine” (New Press, 2008).

The collection features 15 pieces of inside-out reportage by Silverstein and other cutting-edge journalists such as Barbara Ehrenreich, William T. Vollmann, Charles Bowden, Jay Kirk and Wells Trevor.  

“A piece I wrote on high-stakes poetry gambling is in the book,” Silverstein says. “This won’t be the most exciting thing to happen in America on Jan. 20, but I can promise that it will be short, funny, and there will be at least one good inauguration joke.”

Before joining Texas Monthly, Silverstein was a contributing editor at Harper’s. His journalism has been featured in Best American Travel Writing and won the 2007 PEN/USA Journalism Award.

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!

Edgar Allan Poe, American poet, critic and inventor of the detective story, turns 200 years old today.

In honor of Poe’s 2009 bicentennial, the Harry Ransom Center has collaborated with the University of Virginia (UVA) on the exhibit From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. The exhibition features many items from the Ransom Center’s significant Poe collection.

The exhibition opens March 7 at UVA, and arrives at the Ransom Center Sept. 8.

The narrative poem “The Raven” is perhaps Poe’s best-known, and most parodied, work. The Simpsons famously lampooned the poem in the episode “Treehouse of Horror,” which featured Homer as the lead character and Bart as the raven (see inset).

What’s your favorite Poe poem?

Historian Traces Emergence of Black Identity in America

During the transatlantic slave trade an estimated 20 million people from the continent of Africa were transported to North America as slaves.

History Professor James Sidbury tells the complex story of how this diverse group of people forged a unified identity through the shared experience of oppression in “Becoming African in American: Race and Nation in the Early Black Atlantic” (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Drawing upon compelling narratives by early black writers such as Ignatius Sancho in England and Phillis Wheatley in America, Sidbury illuminates how thought leaders and political activists transformed the term “African” into a symbol of pride and unity for the Black Diaspora.

The book also examines the rise of African-American churches, especially the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the important role they played in helping form black identity.

Renée Soulodre-La France, of the American Historical Review, called the book “A welcome contribution to the puzzle of the complex relationships developing in the Atlantic world…. Full of insights that will be useful to experts and students alike. It is a compellingly argued contextualization of the politics of race in the United States during this early period.”

Sidbury also is the author of “Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730-1810” (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

A Guided History of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama

January 19 marks the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., a remembrance of the life and legacy of a man who championed racial justice and equality.

From the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, to the 1965 Selma to Montgomery protest march, King led many pivotal civil rights events in Alabama, a state considered by many to be the epicenter of civil rights movement in America.

After the fall of segregation, local activists in Alabama struggled to carry on King’s vision for social and political change.

UT alumna Susan Youngblood Ashmore (B.A. History, ’83) tells their story in “Carry it On: The War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, 1964-1970″ (University of Georgia Press, 2008).

In the wake of the Vietnam antiwar movement, destructive urban riots and the assassination of president Kennedy, a series of tumultuous events in civil rights history unraveled in the Deep South.

Resurfacing the pivotal events, overshadowed during our nation’s “great unraveling,” Ashmore, now an associate professor of history at Emory University, provides a comprehensive account of the continued struggle for equality in Alabama.

Ashmore looks closely at the antipoverty fight among southerners in the Alabama Black Belt, the state’s poorest counties that stretch from Tuskegee to the Mississippi state line. With a particular focus on local antipoverty projects funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity, she analyzes the rise in economic justice and political power among African Americans.

Compiling historical records from interviews, government documents, books and newspaper articles, Ashmore offers an in-depth study of the barriers African Americans faced during a time of incredible transition.

What do you think was the most pivotal moment of the civil rights movement in America?

An Inside Look at the Supreme Court's Gatekeepers

UT alumnus David Weiden (Ph.D., Government, ‘07) and co-author Artemus Ward, assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, offer a peek inside the Supreme Court’s closed chambers in “Sorcerers’ Apprentices: 100 Years of Law Clerks at the United States Supreme Court” (New York University Press, 2006).

Filled with charts, graphs and quotes from law clerks and justices, the book provides a nuanced overview of the inner workings of our nation’s highest court, focusing on how law clerks significantly influence justices’ decision-making.

Tracing the history of the Supreme Court from the 19th century to the present, the authors compile an overview of the changing world of law clerks, revealing their transcendence from mere clerical assistants in the 1930s to the powerful gatekeepers they are today.

Based on Supreme Court archives, extensive interviews and surveys with 150 former law clerks, the authors track the clerks’ escalating rise in power and define the little-known role of the law clerk, a profession many consider the pinnacle of a young lawyer’s career.

The book’s namesake alludes to the title of the 1797 poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which tells the story of a sorcerer’s apprentice who oversteps his bounds by trying on the master’s robe and experimenting with sorcery. Using this metaphor, the authors pose the question: Are the lines between the “masters” and “apprentices” becoming blurred?

Do Supreme Court law clerks pose a threat to the court’s authority?

Alum's Book Parodies Pregnancy Guide

In a spoof on the pregnancy self-help book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” Mary K. Moore (BJ ’96) spotlights the absurd moments of pregnancy and shakes the sugar-coating off symptoms.

Sure to brighten the day of any woman, “preggars” or not, Moore’s book delivers tongue-in-cheek advice on everything from how to know when baby prepping reaches a level of paranoia to picking a name to the do the dos and don’ts of “postpartum partying.”

A former New York editor for publications like Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, Moore admits she’s not a guru, doctor, or parenting expert but has fallen in love with being a mother to her 3-year-old daughter, Scarlett.

The sassy mother-daughter duo lives with husband/dad T.J. in Austin.

The Unexpected When You’re Expecting: A Parody” was published by Sourcebooks last September.

Reprinted with permission from the Nov./Dec. 2008 issue of The Alcalde. For further reading, check out the Austin American-Statesman’s Nov. 4 story about Moore’s work, “She’s expecting a book.”

"Snoop" in Smithsonian Magazine

Do your books, knick-knacks, music and wall décor reveal the essential makeup of your character? University of Texas at Austin psychologist Sam Gosling, who has studied the psychology of personal space for more than 10 years, says they do.

In his new book “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You” (Basic Books, 2008), Gosling reveals some of the key findings from his research, a special brand of voyeurism he calls “snoopology.”

Smithsonian Magazine recently wrote about Gosling’s work in the Oct. 21 story “How to Be a Snoop.” Check it out and tell us what you think. Are you a snoop?