Winners of the Fourteenth Annual Hamilton Book Awards Sponsored by the University Co-operative Society

9780674023512-lgThe winners of this year’s University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards were announced on Wednesday, October 20, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin. The Hamilton Award is one of the highest honors of literary achievement given to published authors at the University of Texas at Austin. Chairman of the University Co-operative Society, Dr. Michael H. Granof hosted the event and announced the winners. President Bill Powers of The University of Texas at Austin presented the awards.

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

The $10,000 Grand Prize winner of the Hamilton Book Award was:

Shirley E. Thompson, Department of American Studies
“Exiles at Home: The Struggle to Become American in Creole New Orleans” (Harvard University Press)

There were also 4 winners who took home $3,000 runner-up prizes:

Oscar G. Brockett, Department of Theatre and Dance
“Making the Scene: A History of Stage Design and Technology in Europe and the United States” Published by Tobin Theatre Arts Fund (University of Texas Press)

Huaiyin Li,
Department of History
“Village China under Socialism and Reform: A Micro-History, 1948-2008”
(Stanford University Press)

Robin D. Moore, Butler School of Music
“Music in the Hispanic Caribbean” (Oxford University Press)

Richard R. Valencia, Department of Educational Psychology
“Chicano Students and the Courts: The Mexican American Legal Struggle for Educational Equality” (New York University Press)

Booking it This Weekend

2010_posterWhether you are looking to find your next read or just a fun activity for another gorgeous weekend in Austin, Texas look no further than the Texas Book Festival. Annually, it celebrates Texas authors’ contributions to the culture of the state and nation — and it is a fantastic way to contribute to the state’s libraries. The festival boasts more than 200 authors attending each year, many from The University of Texas at Austin. It regularly draws crowds of more than 40,000 visitors that come to hear their favorite Texas writers read their work, sign their books and participate in panel discussions. While most events are at the Capitol, some will be held in surrounding locations. Check out the official book festival website for a complete schedule of  Oct. 16-17 happenings.

Elizabeth McCracken's Property

625338Named Best Young American Novelist by Granta, Elizabeth McCracken traveled to London this July for an event promoting the British literary quarterly’s latest issue. Granta hosts a week of events featuring its writers and editors as they discuss the issue’s content and central ideas. This issue’s theme is “Going Back” which includes McCracken’s short story “Property.”  She appeared at several of the week’s events, including a conversation at the British Library with Salman Rushdie, Richard Russo, A.L. Kennedy, and Granta editor John Freeman.

McCracken, a professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin, holds the James A. Michener Chair in Creative Writing. She is the author of a story collection, “Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry;” two novels, “The Giant’s House,” a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award, and “Niagara Falls All Over Again;” and a memoir, “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.”

Elizabeth McCracken’s Property

625338Named Best Young American Novelist by Granta, Elizabeth McCracken traveled to London this July for an event promoting the British literary quarterly’s latest issue. Granta hosts a week of events featuring its writers and editors as they discuss the issue’s content and central ideas. This issue’s theme is “Going Back” which includes McCracken’s short story “Property.”  She appeared at several of the week’s events, including a conversation at the British Library with Salman Rushdie, Richard Russo, A.L. Kennedy, and Granta editor John Freeman.

McCracken, a professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin, holds the James A. Michener Chair in Creative Writing. She is the author of a story collection, “Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry;” two novels, “The Giant’s House,” a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award, and “Niagara Falls All Over Again;” and a memoir, “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.”

H.W. Brands’ “American Dreams” Book Signing, June 16

American_Dreams“American Dreams” mean different things to different people, but for historian and University of Texas at Austin Professor H.W. Brands, it’s the title of his latest book. “American Dreams: The United States Since 1945” (Penguin Press, June 2010) takes a historical journey from the end of World War II to the Obama administration.

“After spending a lot of time dealing with the nineteenth century, I decided to return to the twentieth – and, not coincidentally to that part of American history I’ve lived through (most of it, anyway). It’s almost like writing a memoir,” says Brands of his latest endeavor.

Beginning his story with a victorious America  — a nation arising more powerful after WWII and with the Great Depression a thing of the past –anything seemed optimistically possible. He tells the story of what comes next, interweaving six decades of our nation’s triumphs and woes: from its politics and war to its culture and society.

In a recent review, The Economist coined the book as “…a primer or refresher on America—from the Vietnam War to the civil-rights movement to the space race to the sexual shenanigans of Bill Clinton—this is a crisp, balanced and easily digestible narrative.”

Covering a lot of historical ground, Brands says what he finds the most interesting is the emergence of technologies (cable TV, cell phones, the Internet) that put people in instant touch with the whole world, with each other, and with the knowledge that humans have amassed over centuries.

“My students and children have a hard time understanding how their elders, including me, lived without this stuff,” Brands says. “And I had to remind myself how we did.”

Brands hopes his readers will take away an appreciation that most of the problems we face today are similar to problems we’ve faced before.

“We’ve always managed to find our way through,” Brands says. “This is no guarantee we’ll find our way through again, but it gives reason for hope.”

Brands will have a book signing at 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 16 at BookPeople located at 603 N Lamar Blvd Austin, Texas.

Historian Emilio Zamora’s Book Acknowledged as Best in Texas

zamora_claimingrights-195x300Historian Emilio Zamora has been named a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), in addition to winning its annual Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for best book on Texas for his work “Claiming Rights and Righting Wrongs in Texas: Mexican Workers and Job Politics during World War II,” (Texas A&M University Press, 2009).

The award bears the name of the late Tullis (UT alumnas, B.A. ’24 and M.A. ‘27), who was one of the first women on faculty in the History Department.

In addition, The Texas Institute of Letters presented him with its Scholarly Book Award this spring. Zamora brings focus to his study with the overarching argument that wartime concerns in Mexico-U.S. relations raised the issue of race to a hemispheric level of importance and encouraged Mexican workers to continue their call for equal rights. It will remain relevant to scholars and policy makers in the present as questions about immigrant labor, Mexican Americans, Mexico-U.S. relations and discrimination continue to draw our attention.

Historian Emilio Zamora's Book Acknowledged as Best in Texas

zamora_claimingrights-195x300Historian Emilio Zamora has been named a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), in addition to winning its annual Coral Horton Tullis Memorial Prize for best book on Texas for his work “Claiming Rights and Righting Wrongs in Texas: Mexican Workers and Job Politics during World War II,” (Texas A&M University Press, 2009).

The award bears the name of the late Tullis (UT alumnas, B.A. ’24 and M.A. ‘27), who was one of the first women on faculty in the History Department.

In addition, The Texas Institute of Letters presented him with its Scholarly Book Award this spring. Zamora brings focus to his study with the overarching argument that wartime concerns in Mexico-U.S. relations raised the issue of race to a hemispheric level of importance and encouraged Mexican workers to continue their call for equal rights. It will remain relevant to scholars and policy makers in the present as questions about immigrant labor, Mexican Americans, Mexico-U.S. relations and discrimination continue to draw our attention.

Religion, Robots and a Second Life

6acdc6cbdd1848e480564e179aaa0dd5ShelfLife asked Robert Geraci, author of “Apocalyptic AI,” (Oxford University Press, Feb. 2010), to shed light into the world of artificial intelligence and the making of his new book. Geraci, an alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin (Plan II ’99) says the interdisciplinary approach that characterized his time at UT is apparent in his research now, where religious studies meets anthropology and science.

As an author, how do you feel your Plan II education factored in during this experience?

Along with all of the many lessons in culture, politics, science, and practical skills like critical reading & writing, my professors in Plan II encouraged me to study with passion. I would name Betty Sue Flowers (English), Bob King (linguistics), and TK Seung (philosophy) as the most influential upon me–all were brilliant and encouraged brilliance in all of their students, helping us develop our critical thinking skills and our ability to express what we thought. I firmly believe that Plan II offers the best undergraduate education in the country and think it founds much of what I do today. The intellectual excitement of my faculty and classmates at UT made learning a joy and continues to bolster my attitude toward learning, teaching, and research.

What sparked the idea to write “Apocalyptic AI?”

The book flowed out of my desire to think about how religion and science interact in contemporary culture. As a grad student, I read and commented on pop science books in robotics and AI that promised we would become immortal by uploading our minds into robots and/or virtual reality in the future. As I started teaching at Manhattan College, it seemed to me there was a connection between that idea and apocalyptic traditions in Judaism and Christianity. After I wrote an essay on this (published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion in 2008), I wanted to do a full book treatment that would consider whether those apocalyptic ideas actually mattered in public life.  I find that the most interesting questions in religious studies end up being about real people doing real things, so I set about trying to find out if the ideas of pop science authors like Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil actually matter to anyone.

How did you prepare and conduct research for the book?

The book involves three basic areas where I wanted to think through the consequences of Apocalyptic AI ideology: robotics research, virtual world residency, and public policy discourse. For the first, I went to Carnegie Mellon University’s famed Robotics Institute as a visiting researcher during the summer of 2007 and interviewed folks there about immortality, mind uploading, the future of intelligent machines, etc. It was a fun and fascinating time…I wish it could have lasted longer! For the second area, I conducted conversations and did interviews in the virtual world of Second Life. I met a wide variety of people and found that many feel a sense of transcendence in their activities in SL and there is a transhumanist community there which actively looks forward to mind uploading into SL or similar environments. I construed public policy discourse very broadly to include philosophical, theological, legal, and governmental discussions about machines and machine intelligence. In all of these areas, the Apocalyptic AI authors are of considerable influence. All told, my research was anthropological and sociological, seeking to evaluate the nature and significance of certain ideas, but not their moral worth.

What exactly is “cyber-theology?”

That would be any theology that is grounded in digital technologies. In my own work, the term refers to the ways in which some people hope to address traditional religious claims through advances in computer science. For example, the Apocalyptic AI authors advocate that we will create a transcendent new (digital) world, upload our minds into that world (providing immortality and rejecting the limitations of the earthly body), and even resurrect the dead through high fidelity computer simulation. Those are three things that, for example, Christian theology has promised for two thousand years but that people now hope to receive from technological progress.

What were you most surprised to learn during your research for the book?

One thing that really surprised me is that there are people in Second Life who think of their personalities in that world as distinct from and potentially severable from their personalities in conventional reality. Some of the folks whom I interviewed think (or at least talk) in terms of identities that are separate from their “primary” or “other personality.” It is a fairly unique form of self-consciousness and I enjoyed learning from the people willing to share with me.

Any misconceptions about AI you’d like to clear up?

Well, I’m pretty skeptical about terminator scenarios where the robots all wake up and take over the world. More importantly, however, I think we should steer away from the idea that technologies develop according to their own logic without concern for the choices of real people. Such technological determinism disregards the contingency of life and the moral and practical agency of humanity. We can make choices about what kinds of technology (including AI technology) we’d like to develop.

Creative Writing Graduate Wins Keene Award for Literature

Nora Boxer, winner of this year's Keene Prize.

Nora Boxer, winner of this year's Keene Prize.

Nora Boxer, a graduate of the Creative Writing Program in the English Department at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature for her story “It’s the song of the nomads, baby; or, Pioneer.”

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

Boxer’s story was chosen from 61 submissions in drama, poetry and fiction. Laconic in style, it unsentimentally evokes the artistic, old hippy, new punk eco-lifestyle in New Mexico. In a sharply evoked landscape of bare mesas and changing seasons, among a cast of characters ranging from the shallow and self-aggrandizing to the stoically compassionate, the pregnant heroine tries to make sense of her commitment to a life “off the grid.”

“As we watch the devastating consequences of our oil addiction unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, Nora’s story takes on particular resonance,” said Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and chair of the award selection committee. “She examines the costs and consequences of an attempt to live responsibly as well as creatively.”

Boxer graduated Brown University in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in English and American literature and earned her master’s degree in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin this year. She has had a varied career in arts, agriculture, community and non-profit work, including an apprenticeship at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California and work with a literary organization in Taos, N.M.  She is developing a nonprofit, sustainable urban arts residency in Oakland.

In addition to Boxer, the three finalists are:

Roger Reeves, master of fine arts graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, for his collection of poetry, “King Me.” These allusive poems appropriate paintings, classic literature and history to build a formally inventive, emotionally intense and rhythmically powerful structure.

Fiona McFarlane, master of fine arts student of the Michener Center, for two stories, “Mycenae” and “Exotic Animal Medicine.” McFarlane’s prose is polished, elegant and witty, while her displaced characters are sharp observers of the original and awkward situations in which she places them.

Virginia Reeves, master of fine arts student of the Michener Center, for three stories, “Investments as Big as These,” “Why Don’t You Put that Down” and “Her Last Dead Child.” These stories employ strong dialogue and rich descriptive detail to evoke the complicated relations between parents and children.

Members of the 2008 selection committee included: Cullingford; Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts; Holly Williams, chair ad interim of the Department of Theatre and Dance; Joanna Hitchcock, director of The University of Texas Press; and resident author Tom Zigal, novelist and speechwriter for President William Powers Jr.

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 reputation in the international market of American writers. The competition is open to all university undergraduate and graduate students, and the prize is awarded annually to the student who creates the most vivid and vital portrayal of the American experience in microcosm. Students submit poetry, plays and fiction or non-fiction prose.


Mexican Center Hosts Distinguished Authors

460941Distinguished Mexican writers Héctor Aguilar Camín and Ángeles Mastretta will speak Thursday, March 25, as part of the Mexican Center’s “Many Mexicos” series.

One of Mexico’s foremost intellectuals, Héctor Aguilar Camín is a journalist, historian and writer, or, as he puts it, “ a historian by accident and novelist by vocation.” Born in 1946, Aguilar Camín has been a Guggenheim scholar and editor of NEXOS, one of Mexico’s leading cultural magazines. Some of his most renowned novels are “La frontera nómada” (1977), “Morir en el Golfo” (1985) and “El error de la luna” (1995). “A la sombra de la Revolución Mexicana,” his 1991 collaboration with Lorenzo Meyer, was published in the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) Translations from Latin America Series as “In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution” and was honored as an alternate selection by the History Book Club.

Aguilar Camín will explore the history of Mexican politics in his talk “Actualidad del pasado: Reflexiones sobre doscientos años de cambios y costumbres políticas de México” (The Past as Present: Reflections on 200 Years of Political Practices and Change in Mexico). The presentation—given in Spanish with simultaneous translation provided—will be held 4 to 5 p.m., Thursday, March 25, in the Sinclair Suite at the Texas Union (UNB 3.128).

Ángeles Mastretta is one of Mexico’s leading literary figures, a prize-winning novelist and journalist whose 1985 novel “Arráncame la vida” was a stunning critical and popular success in Mexico. As a young writer, she studied with authors Juan Rulfo and Salvador Elizondo and wrote as a columnist for various newspapers before publishing “Arráncame,” the story of a young woman who grows up in Puebla in the unsettled world of post-Revolutionary Mexico. A special screening of the film based on the book, will be held at the Paramount Theatre at 8 p.m., March 25. Mastretta will hold a Q&A session following the movie. For more information and tickets, visit Cine Las Américas.