Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark to present “From Civil Rights to Human Rights” on Monday, Nov. 12

Attorney General Clark and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967.

Attorney General Clark and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967.

Ramsey Clark (Plan II, ’49), who served as attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson, will present a talk titled “From Civil Rights to Human Rights” on Monday, Nov. 12, from noon to 1 p.m. in the Law School’s Eidman Courtroom. The event is free and open to the public.

William Ramsey Clark was appointed assistant attorney general of the Lands Division by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, when Clark was only thirty-three years old. After his tenure as assistant attorney general, Clark served as deputy attorney general from 1965 until 1967, when Johnson appointed him the 66th U.S. attorney general. Clark served as the attorney general until the end of the Johnson Administration in January 1969, and played an important role in the administration’s civil rights agenda, including supervising the drafting of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

Following his term as attorney general, Clark worked as a law professor and was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. He undertook two unsuccessful Senate campaigns in New York. Clark became an anti-war and human rights activist, founding the International Action Center, and speaking out against the United States’ 1991 and 2003 military invasions of Iraq. Author of New York Times best-seller “Crime in America,” Clark served as legal counsel to many controversial figures, including Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. In 2008 he received the prestigious United Nations Human Rights Prize.

Clark was born in Dallas. At the age of seventeen he joined the Marine Corps and served in Europe in the final months of World War II. He received a bachelor’s degree in Plan II from The University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from the University of Chicago. After completing his education, Clark joined his father’s Texas law firm, Clark, Reed and Clark, where he remained until he was appointed assistant attorney general. Clark’s father was former U.S. Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, ’22. Justice Clark’s papers are housed at the Law School’s Tarlton Law Library.

The talk is co-presented by the two centers at the Law School — the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice and the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law. Student organization co-sponsors include the Public Interest Law Association, the Texas Journal for Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, and the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society.


Psychology Professor James Pennebaker Wins $10,000 Hamilton Book Award

book.pennebaker

James Pennebaker, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, won the $10,000 grand prize at the Hamilton Book Awards for his book, “The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us” (Bloomsbury Press , 2011) on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.

The awards are the highest honor of literary achievement given to published authors at The University of Texas at Austin. They are sponsored by the University Co-operative Society.

In “The Secret Life of Pronouns,” Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking research in computational linguistics – in essence, counting the frequency of words we use – to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints.

Two faculty members from the College of Liberal Arts received $3,000 runner-up prizes for their books. The honorees are:

books

Sheldon Ekland-Olson, Department of Sociology
“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Decides?: Abortion, Neonatal Care, Assisted Dying, and Capital Punishment” (Routledge, 2011)

Circe Sturm, Department of Anthropology
“Becoming Indian: The Struggle over Cherokee Identity in the Twenty-first Century” (School for Advanced Research Press, 20111)

The Hamilton Awards are named in honor of Professor Robert W. Hamilton, the Minerva House Drysdale Regent Chair-Emeritus in Law. Professor Hamilton was chair of the Co-op Board for 12 years, from 1989 to 2001, and was in large measure responsible for the Co-op’s uncommon growth and profitability during that period. Visit this website for more about the 2012 award winners.

A Q&A with Kathleen Marie Higgins, Author of “The Music Between Us”


978-0-226-33328-1-frontcoverFrom our first social bonding as infants to the funeral rites that mark our passing, music plays an important role in our lives, bringing us closer to one another. In “The Music between Us: Is Music a Universal Language?” (University of Chicago Press, June 2012) Kathleen Marie Higgins investigates this role, examining the features of human perception that enable music’s uncanny ability to provoke — despite its myriad forms across continents and throughout centuries — the sense of a shared human experience. Her interdisciplinary and richly researched study showcases the ways music is used in rituals, education, work, healing, as source of security and, perhaps most importantly, joy.

Higgins, who is a philosophy professor at The University of Texas at Austin, recently answered some of our questions here at ShelfLife@Texas about the transcendent power of music – and how it is one of the most fundamental bridges in human society.

What is your musical background, and how did you become interested in the philosophy of music?

I was a music major as an undergraduate, playing piano and organ. I was especially interested in the way music related to ideas and culture more broadly, and taking a course in the music of India led me to start reflecting on the differences among musical traditions. I did graduate work in philosophy, but among my philosophical interests from the beginning was philosophy of music.

What are some modern discussions being held by philosophers who study music?

One set of issues concerns the ontology of music — questions about what constitutes music, musical performances and musical works. Another focuses on why music affects us so powerfully. Philosophers of music consider such issues as whether or not emotional arousal and/or expression is the purpose of music or whether these are simply byproducts; the basis for the connection between music and emotion; whether music that expresses given emotions also arouses these same emotions; and what the object of the emotion is in the case of emotion generated through music.

Philosophers of music also discuss the ways that music relates to ethics. Can it make us a better or worse person, and if so how? What is involved in musical understanding? For example, how much attention to structure is essential? How music is like or unlike the other arts? How music is like or unlike language? What is the proper basis for evaluating and valuing music? How and why music functions politically? And what does music reveal about our minds and our world? I’m tempted to say that music offers an angle on just about any topic in philosophy.

In the book you mention the qin, a Chinese unfretted lute, which is so sensitive that ambient air currents can produce sounds and even the grain of the musician’s fingerprints on the strings can be heard. What other unique musical instruments or musical techniques have you encountered in your research about the universality of music?

Probably the most interesting I’ve come across is a practice in one New Guinea society of putting drone beetles in one’s mouth in order to use one’s own body as a resonator for the sounds of the beetles. Another New Guinea people, the Kaluli, perform duets with various natural sounds, such as those of waterfalls and cicadas. The ghatam, a South Indian instrument, is a clay pot. One of the things I notice when I encounter instruments and techniques such as these is the tendency to find musical possibilities in materials and phenomena in everyday life.

I’m often struck by the various timbres utilized in music, whether produced by instruments or the musical voice. The first time I heard a crumhorn, I found the character of the sound rather humorous, even though the crumhorn was not designed for that purpose. I also find highly nasal vocal styles a bit comical, but in some cultures they are standard and highly prized. My reactions in these two cases makes it clear to me how much the musical practices of our own society determine what we take to be the norm, and how sounds that aren’t utilized (or utilized much) in those practice can strike us as aberrant.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting chapters in your book is “What’s Involved in Sounding Human?” At the risk of being reductive, can you explain some of the research you included in the chapter to answer the question, “What is it to sound human?”

The question itself suggests that human beings employ only a subset of the available sonic possibilities in music, and this is certainly the case. Not surprisingly, we make music in the area where the human powers of hearing are most acute. The octave above a note is treated as the “same” note in most respects. Human beings prefer intervals of relatively simple ratios of frequency vibrations, and the simplest (the octave and the fifth, in particular) tend to be prominent in most musical systems around the world.

Human beings typically make music in “pieces.” We tend to use a centering tone (called the tonic in the West), which is perceived as the tone of a scale that is the most stable, and other tones have various degrees of relative instability by comparison. Music tends to employ lots of repetition within a piece and within smaller components of a piece. There is some tendency in most musical cultures for musical utterances to end with a descent in pitch. All these tendencies show up virtually everywhere that people make music. Human beings have a signature way of making music, just as songbirds and humpback whales do.

What do you find most fascinating about the connecting power of music?

What interests me most about all this is the fact that even though music from another culture might be formulated on very different principles than the music we are most familiar with, and even though it might sound exceedingly foreign, it is geared to our perceptual faculties and is structured of patterns that can be recognized quite readily if one is familiar with the musical idiom. This is not to say that it is easy to “get” foreign music right away; some of our perceptual habits may even interfere, as when we are expecting one kind of tuning or rhythmic organization and encounter another. But it does suggest, and some experimental evidence bears this out, that we can improve in gaining an orientation in foreign music in a relatively short time. So we shouldn’t conclude from the fact that it is challenging that an unfamiliar type of music is foreclosed to us. The popular claim that music can communicate across cultural boundaries may understate the challenges in some cases, but the basic idea is right.

Are there any non-musical societies that we know of? Or are there societies scholars consider decidedly less musical than others?

No, it appears that music plays a role in every human society, and that it serves a cluster of functions (creation of social cohesion, emotional regulation, indication of socially significant occasions and promoting health, for example) virtually everywhere.

What’s next for you and philosophy?

I’ve been working on issues in the philosophy of emotions, in particular on the nature of grief. I’m interested in how grief motivates and is expressed through art and other practices that have an aesthetic dimension. Music plays an important role in this connection; lamentation is one of those ubiquitous ways that we humans use music. So although this new project isn’t about music as such, music will be a part of it, and no doubt other projects I pursue in the future.

New Writers Project Launches Touring Authors Series at BookPeople

panorama-city-by-antoine-wilsonThis October, the English department’s Master of Fine Arts program, now known as The New Writers Project, is kicking off a New Writers Tour featuring book talks by up-and-coming writers at BookPeople.

The first event will feature a reading and signing by Antoine Wilson, author of “Panorama City” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept. 2012) on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. The book talks are free and open to the public. Go to this website for more details.

About the book: Open Porter, a self-described “slow absorber,” thinks he’s dying. He’s not, but from his hospital bed, he unspools into a cassette recorder a tale of self-determination, from village idiot to man of the world, for the benefit of his unborn son.?

Written in an astonishingly charming and wise voice, Panorama City traces forty days and nights navigating the fast food joints, storefront churches, and home-office psychologists of the San Fernando Valley. Ping-ponging between his watchful and sharp-tongued aunt and an outlaw philosopher with the face “of a newly hatched crocodile,” Open finds himself constantly in the sights of people who believe that their way is the only way for him.?

“Panorama City,” received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, calling it “fresh and flawlessly crafted as well as charmingly genuine.” And Peter Carey, a two-time Booker Prize winner, described the novel as “filled with joy and wonder, and a sort of goodness you had stopped believing might be even possible. Antoine Wilson’s sentences are like diamond necklaces but his greatest treasure is his human heart.”

About The New Writers Project:
The two-year program is an opportunity for serious writers to study with established authors at The University of Texas at Austin. It’s a program where students lead their own workshops and are trained in a nationally ranked English department. With the guidance of award-winning faculty and visiting writers, students have an opportunity to focus on one genre (fiction or poetry) and complete a manuscript by the end of their second year.

“The New Writers Project recruits poets and fictions writers who are already showing great promise, and provides them with the time and space to continue developing their talent,” says Oscar Casares, associate professor in the Department of English and director of The New Writers Project. “As an extension of the program, The New Writers Tour features writers who have received critical praise but are still relatively early in their careers. Ultimately, this is about the discovery of talented writers and of where we expect them to be before too long.”

For more about The New Writer’s Project, take a look at their recently launched website.

“Swamplandia!” Author to Speak at Plan II Honors Event

Donoghue-articleInlineBest-selling author Karen Russell will come to campus on Thursday, Sept. 27 to talk about her novel “Swmaplandia!” and other literary works. The event, hosted by the Plan II Honors Program, will be held at 7 p.m. in the Joynes Reading Room, located on the east side of the Carothers Building.

Russell’s debut novel, “Swamplandia!” (Thorndike Press, 2011) tells the story of the Bigtree family, which runs an alligator-wrestling theme park deep in the Florida Everglades. The 13-year-old narrator sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to rescue the park from ruin after finances go south and family members disappear.swamplandia

The story of “Swamplandia!” first appeared in Russell’s highly acclaimed collection of short stories, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.” In 2012, the novel was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Russell’s stories have been anthologized in “The Best American Short Stories” and published in Granta, Zoetrope and the New Yorker, where she was also featured among 20 outstanding writers under the age of 40. Her next collection of short stories “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” will be published in February 2013.

The event is sponsored by the Mary Lu Joynes Endowment in the Plan II Honors Program, the New Writers Project in the Department of English, and the L.L. and Ethel E. Dean Endowment in the School of Undergraduate Studies.

Government Professor Wins Major Grant to Curb Violence, Urge Diplomacy in Egypt

lg Jason Brownlee, associate professor in the Departments of Government and Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a $109,484 grant to examine peace-building efforts in Egypt.

The funding, provided by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), will enable Brownlee to determine whether the rise in Egypt’s anti-Coptic violence comes from underlying social tensions or from lack of government interventions.

Nationally known for his expertise in authoritarian rule in the Middle East, Brownlee studies democratization and U.S. foreign policy. In his new book “Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance” (Cambridge University Press, September 2012), he explains how America’s alliance with Egypt has impeded democratic change and reinforced authoritarianism over time.

As Egypt moves forward in its effort to consolidate a democratic transition, this initiative will provide timely and informed guidance for nongovernmental organization workers, policymakers and officials in Egypt who are working to reduce societal conflict in a country pivotal to U.S. policy in the region, said Steve Riskin, the special assistant to the president for grants at USIP.iran_election1

“The study, which accords with USIP’s mandate to resolve violent conflicts and promote postconflict peace-building, will yield important insights for other Middle Eastern countries with religious minorities, including Syria and Lebanon with Christian and other minority groups,” Riskin said.

Created by Congress to be independent and nonpartisan, USIP works to prevent, mitigate and resolve international conflict through nonviolent means. During the past 20 years, the institute’s grant program has awarded more than 2,100 grants in 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and in 87 foreign countries. The grant program increases the breadth and depth of the institute’s work by supporting peace-building projects managed by nonprofit organizations including educational institutions, research institutions and civil society organizations.

Jeremi Suri: How to Make America Great Again

cvr9781439119129_97814391191293In a world rife with political and economic turmoil, President Obama’s re-election campaign has been put to the test. From the rolling economic crisis in Europe, to the intensifying conflict in Syria, to the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, a daunting array of global issues have complicated the 2012 presidential election.

Recent headlines from around the world reinforce a reality for Obama and any of his successors: Nation-building can only work when the people own it. Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, argues that the United States has too often forgotten this truth over the course of its history of foreign policy.

This is one of the five principles of successful nation-building that Suri outlines in his book “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” (Free Press, Sept. 2011). In what he calls “the five Ps,” he draws a new model for building successful relationships overseas and abroad.

The book, now available in paperback, combs through more than 200 years of U.S. policy to explain the successes and failures of nation-building operations.

Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discusses the many reasons why American citizens need to dream beyond the world they live in today.

Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discusses the many reasons why American citizens need to dream beyond the world they live in today.

From Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, to the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq, Suri draws lessons from past mistakes and offers a plan for moving forward.

Although “Liberty’s Surest Guardian” focuses on politics and foreign policy, the patterns of change apply to all areas of life, Suri says. In this eight-part Knowledge Matters video series, watch him discuss the importance of nation-building – and why dreaming big is a critical component of societal progress.

A Poetic Q&A with Author, Activist and Alumnus William J. Cobb

“Bill Cobb’s The Bird Saviors is a stark modern-day Old Testament story in which the evil that men do is barely balanced by the good that a few manage to achieve.  It’s a gritty harrowing story set in a dust-blown Colorado town that seems filled with vivid characters.  Cobb’s expert story-telling compels us forward scene by scene to a final satisfying redemption.” – Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong

William J. Cobb (MA English, ’84) is a novelist, essayist and short fiction writer whose work has been published in The New Yorker, The Mississippi Review, The Antioch Review, and many others.

Before his most recent novel, “The Bird Saviors,” Cobb authored “Goodnight, Texas,” “The Fire Eaters” and a book of short stories titled “The White Tattoo.” He has received numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Sandstone Prize, an AWP Award for the Novel, and the prestigious Dobie-Paisano Fellowship — a prize sponsored by the Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Institute of Letters that provides solitude, time and a comfortable place at J. Frank Dobie’s Paisano ranch house for Texas writers who have written significantly about Texas.

Set in a time of economic turmoil, virus fears, climate change, fundamentalist cults and illegal immigrant hardship, “The Bird Saviors” is a visionary story of defiance, anger and compassion, in which a young woman ultimately struggles to free herself from her domineering father, to raise her daughter in the chaos of the New West, and to become something greater. It is an elemental and timely vision of resilience and personal survival, but — most of all — of honest hope.

From his home in Colorado, Cobb kindly answered some questions for ShelfLife@Texas about his life, writing and teaching styles, and what he hopes readers will take away from reading”The Bird Saviors.”

We recently reviewed the book of an alumna that was set in Galveston, Texas — a city with which she has long had a fascination. You seem to have a strong interest in the American West. Where did that come from and how does it affect your writing?

I am totally (and unabashedly) fascinated with the West (both New and Old), and see myself much more as a Western writer than anything else. Most of my childhood was spent on the northwest side of San Antonio (near Olmos Creek), and that landscape of cactus, juniper and oak trees, limestone hills and clear-flowing rivers and creeks enthralled me. I’ve written essays about how it seemed I was growing up on the border of the Old West, which I later found out to be quite true: A couple years ago I read S. C. Gwynne’s “Empire of the Summer Moon” (2010), about the history of the Quanah Parker and the Comanches, and there were many references of Comanches in that area of the Hill Country. But my obsession with Colorado really began when I was about nineteen years old, on my first trip there, en route to Montana: We slept on the floor of a group of archeologists involved in a dig near Cortez, Colorado, and I thought the mountains (and the people) were wild and beautiful. For the past thirty years or so I’ve spent some or all of my summers in the West, and for ten years now I’ve owned a second home in Colorado, which I think of as my real home.

The West influences my writing greatly now, like an Appaloosa I like to ride. In particular I’m obsessed with that mixture of the past and the present — of outlaws gone, remembered and soon-to-be — of a landscape in flux. The summer of ’99 I lived in Creede, Colorado, and was jazzed to learn that Bat Masterson (I love the name.) once owned a saloon there. Robert Ford — “the man who shot Jesse James” — was shot to death there (in 1892, I believe) and was at one time buried in a cemetery through which I would often take my dog for a walk. I think of myself as something of a Western landscape writer, certainly not an “urban” writer. There are plenty of those in New York, but someone must celebrate the importance of the plains and the mountains far west of the East Coast. I’m glad to be one who does that.

In 2004 you received the Dobie Paisano Jesse H. Jones Writing Fellowship: How was that experience for you personally and for your writing? Did you learn anything new about yourself or your writing process?

My time at the Paisano Ranch was nothing short of bliss. That year (2004) had a wet spring, so Barton Creek flowed the whole time and my wife and I went for swims daily. Until the heat of summer set in, the air was cool, the fields were green and the wildflowers gorgeous. Although the ranch is only about seven miles from town, it was quiet and peaceful. At night, the most distinctive sound we heard were the lions roaring in a small zoo that was located near the entrance to the property, about a mile away. The bird life was amazing. In late April we started hearing a lovely trilling sound outside our bedroom window, and soon came to find a family of Eastern Screech Owls lived in the Elm Oak beside the patio. If you shone a flashlight over the fields, you could see just their glowing eyes as they hunted insects. We liked to say those were the souls of Comanches floating over the fields. I have a long list of Paisano birds sighted, which includes the remarkable sighting (by my wife) of a juvenile Whooping Crane (traveling along the Colorado River flyway, no doubt), Ospreys, Painted Buntings, Black-Billed Cuckoos and a Golden-Cheeked Warbler, which is extremely rare. The Chuck-Will’s Widows could be so loud at night we’d have to close the windows to get some sleep.

My Paisano Fellowship came at a good time, when I was burned-out from teaching and needed some time to write: I finished the novel “Goodnight, Texas” there. What I learned most from that experience is to value the time free to write. People don’t realize how demanding the role of being a writing professor can be, how full your days can become, with no time to write. If I had the chance, I’d love to go back to Paisano and spend another spring there writing. We had a trio of longhorn steers that came to visit us regularly, and although I’m sure we weren’t supposed to, we left the gate open so they could come inside and eat the sweet grass close to the house. My wife even hand-fed them now and then. They liked her cornbread the best.

Although you were raised in Texas, you live and write in Colorado and teach writing at Penn State, correct? Can you tell us a little about your teaching style in the classroom?

I tell stories. One of my teaching assistants in a large-lecture class I taught not long ago said, after a few class sessions early in the term, “I have to come up with some anecdotes to tell.” Since most of what I teach is about storytelling, I think it’s a good way to approach the subject matter, by doing it as well. I love the anecdote related about Vladimir Nabokov in his “Lectures on Russian Literature,” in which he is said to have asked all his students to give a reason why they were taking his course, and his favorite was, “Because I like stories.” Right now I’m reading the great evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson’s new book, “The Social Conquest of Earth,” and although much of the material is rather cerebral and analytical, he still manages to tell a lot of stories, such as anecdotes about his adventures as a field biologist studying ants in South America. I don’t think of this as “lite” or “easy,” either. Great storytelling is a rigorous endeavor. We understand the world through the stories we tell, the tales we share with another. In explaining the evolutionary steps to the development of human consciousness, E. O. Wilson cites the role of the campfire and hearth as central to our development. We became human, after millennia of sitting around the campfire, telling stories. It’s the essence of what makes us special.

How did your idea for “The Bird Saviors” develop?

Two things kicked this novel into being: At some point I heard a voice in my head — Ruby’s voiceover in the beginning of the novel — and I jotted that down, which contains the first line: “Lord God is talking again. He does love to hear himself speak.” Her voice stuck with me for a long time, and I began with that. Yet I didn’t conceive of this as a singular story, but rather multi-voiced, with an ensemble cast of characters to provide a complex vision of this world. So the second seminal moment for “The Bird Saviors” occurred when I heard an anecdote about a young woman engaged to be married, then after her fiancé cancelled the engagement, he asked for the ring back. She refused. Soon afterward her apartment was burgled, and the only thing stolen was the engagement ring. Naturally her family suspected the fiancé was the culprit. I was fascinated by the story, by the gall of the fiancé to ask for the engagement ring back, and even more so to break into her apartment to steal it back. That was the catalyst that set everything else in motion: Once I understood Ruby’s and Becca’s characters, the other people and events developed naturally. I always pictured it in the not-too-distant future, too, when the landscape is parched and dusty by drought. Unfortunately, in Colorado that’s only too true right now.

You have described yourself as “committed naturalist and card-carrying member of the ABA (American Birding Association),” and although it’s by no means heavy-handed, there is an environmental conservation theme running through this book. Can you tell us about how some of your personal passions find their way into your fiction?

I certainly hope I never use a heavy hand in my approach, but I want my fiction to be engaged in the world, and not to be about only my life, say, or my petty likes and dislikes, but things that matter. As a father, I’m concerned about the way I see the world changing now, and am worried about how much we might alter the natural balance of the world, particularly in the Southwest, which is focal point, to some extent, for climate change. I have no patience for climate change deniers or so-called “skeptics.” Too often mainstream media outlets are giving space to kooks and shills who have some dubious if not despicable agenda. The evidence for climate change is now overwhelming. There’s a deadly epidemic in the background of “The Bird Saviors,” and one of the dangers of climate change is that it may well alter habitats in ways we don’t understand, and push viruses into the human population that have been secluded or dormant for years.

For those interested, one of the best books I’ve read recently on the subject is Michael Mann’s “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” (2012), which tells the story of Climategate from the scientist whose emails were stolen and distorted. I certainly believe that writers should speak out, should touch on what is close to their hearts, and what concerns the rest of the world. Right now I think the biggest issue facing the world is environmental and economic collapse, and I touch on both of these in “The Bird Saviors.” Some of my fiction has seemed prophetic at times, such as my previous novel — “Goodnight, Texas” — imagined a great storm hitting the Texas coast, and was written before both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ivan. That said, I don’t have a prophetic bone in my body. But I read much science-related nonfiction, and perhaps because of that, I can read the writing on the wall.

What do you most hope readers will take away from “The Bird Saviors?”

I like that idea of “taking away” something from a book. One of the things fiction (and all writing, actually) does best is to give something to its readers. So what do I hope I’m giving readers? That image of a young mother lost in a desert town blanketed with pink snow, at the novel’s beginning, when Ruby flees her father and walks miles across the prairie and through town to reach her mother, just as a dust storm collides with a cold front. Or the gutsy strength and artistry of George Armstrong Crowfoot — a Native American who functions as a kind of avenging angel and chronicles this changing world by painting petroglyphs on a mesa’s cliff-side. Or the scheming pawn shop owner Hiram Page, who likes to quote various philosophers and kings as he cheats people and bilks the needy and desperate. He’s despicable, conniving, and the rest of the world has to move quickly to keep up with him. And Jack Brown’s squishy morality as he somehow justifies to himself that kidnapping a toddler in exchange for a pickup truck is not a reprehensible act. Or Fufu’s trashy love for Officer Israel James. And much, much more.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m off from teaching for eight months and plan to write the first draft of a new novel tentatively titled “The Donkey Woman.” It’s loosely based on the donkey woman folktale I heard while growing up in the Texas Hill Country, which I later learned was a retelling of the famous La Llorona folktale from Mexican culture. I’ve got the itch to write it, which is always a good sign.

Third Time’s a Charm: College of Liberal Arts Awards Keene Prize for Literature to Michener Center Graduate Student

FIONA PHOTOFiona McFarlane, a Michener Center for Writers (MCW) graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature for her story, “A Fortunate Man.”

The Keene Prize is one of the world’s largest student literary prizes. An additional $50,000 will be divided among three finalists.

McFarlane was a finalist in 2010 and again in 2011. This year she has finally taken the big prize. Her short story “A Fortunate Man” was chosen from more than 60 submissions in drama, poetry and fiction.

“The story demonstrates her talent for original characterization, vivid and sensuous description and subtle irony,” said Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and the award selection committee. “All the judges praised her immaculately spare and elegant prose.”

McFarlane, who is graduating from MCW this spring, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Sydney, Australia, and her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, England. Her work has appeared in a number of literary journals, including Best Australian Stories, Missouri Review, Zoetrope, and Dossier. In 2010 she won The Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize, and last month she won the Roy Crane Award for the Literary Arts. She is currently working on a novel.

In addition to McFarlane, the three finalists are:

Carolina Ebeid, MCW graduate, for her masterly collection of poems, “Small Beauty of the Forest.” Ebeid was also a finalist in 2011.

Corinne Greiner, graduate of the New School for Writers in the university’s Department of English, for her vivid and compelling creative nonfiction piece, “Blood Holler.”

Corey Miller, first year master of fine arts student at the MCW, for his witty and direct collection of poems, “How we say I love you in coal country.”

Members of the 2008 selection committee were: Cullingford; Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts (ex officio); Brant Pope, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance; Dave Hamrick, director of The University of Texas Press; and Tom Zigal, novelist and speechwriter for The University of Texas System.

Established in 2006 in the College of Liberal Arts, the Keene Prize is named after E.L. Keene, a 1942 graduate of the university, who envisioned an award that would enhance and enrich the university’s prestige and support the work of young writers. Students submit poetry, plays and fiction or non-fiction prose.

Two Faculty Authors Discuss their Works at Game Changers Double Header

game2Watch two distinguished liberal arts professors discuss their research at a Game Changers double header on Wednesday, March 28. The tapings are free and open to the public.

1 p.m. Wednesday, March 28
Paul Woodruff: Are You Ajax or Odysseus?

In his book “The Ajax Dilemma,” (Oxford University Press, Oct. 2011) Paul Woodruff, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies and professor of philosophy, uses a parable from classical Greece to shed light on a very contemporary business dilemma: how to reward outstanding players without damaging the team.

Tapping into his experience as a boss, a professor, an officer and an employee, Woodruff uses his broad perspective to issue an intriguing call for a compassionate approach to fairness.

Meet a Game Changer: Paul Woodruff

Meet a Game Changer: Paul Woodruff

Woodruff is the Darrell K. Royal Professor in Ethics and American Society. He joined the university faculty in 1973 and has been chair of the Department of Philosophy and director of the Plan II Honors Program. He also served on the Task Force on Curricular Reform.

Specializing in ancient Greek philosophy, Woodruff has written a number of definitive translations of works by Plato, Sophocles and others. In addition, he has authored books that interpret classical philosophy for political, business or personal situations in contemporary lives. He won the 1986 Harry Ransom Teaching Award and was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 1997. He holds degrees from Princeton and Oxford.

6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 28
Jeremi Suri: Can America Be Great Again?

After the Second World War, American society benefited from unprecedented peace and prosperity. What was key to this success? Americans were very strategic in their

Meet a Game Changer: Jeremi Suri

Meet a Game Changer: Jeremi Suri

deployment of historical wisdom, drawing upon the experiences, institutions and knowledge acquired in earlier decades to build our nation.

So far, Americans have not shown the same wisdom in the 21st century. Our society is suffering. The time has come for Americans to reawaken their historical wisdom, analyzing the recent past to identify the key ideas and institutions that will allow our society to thrive once more. Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and LBJ School of Public Affairs, will examine our national history and will show how this history should empower citizens to reinvent American greatness again.

Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and professorships in history and public policy. He is the author of five books on contemporary politics and foreign policy including “Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama” ( Free Press, Sept. 2011). Suri’s research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America’s “Top Young Innovators” in the arts and sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media.

The talks are in Studio 6A at the KLRU studios. Sign up to attend one taping or both. Go to this website for more details.