Q&A with Samuel Garcia, Author of ‘How Goats Can Fight Poverty’

image of book coverSamuel Garcia, a business honors senior at UT Austin, has “a goat idea” for fighting poverty. No, that’s not a typo; goats are a big part of his plan to help farmers break out of the vicious cycle with nothing more than some goats, some plants and some cooperation. Read on to learn more about his plan—and how it could potentially alter the fate of the many families that are struggling to survive in a poverty-stricken Colonias just outside the Rio Grande Valley.

A quarter of the proceeds from the sale of his book will go toward the Knapp Community Care Foundation and another quarter will go to LUPE, an outreach program in the Rio Grande Valley.

Why are you passionate about fighting poverty?

author pic

Samuel Garcia is a senior in the McCombs School of Business, and a participant in the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Program.

My father loved the people of the Rio Grande Valley and throughout his life fought to make conditions better for those that live there. When he passed, I decided that I wanted to carry on his legacy of helping people in the Valley, and I thought the best way to do that would be through coming up with a way to face the problem of poverty in the Valley.

How did your study abroad experience in Argentina inspire you to write this book?

Well the Argentines had a peculiar way of dealing with the issue of razor-thin margins on their crops. Small farmers knew that it was possible for them to make a living off of farming, but did not have a line of credit available to them (that had feasible interest rates) to make the initial investment. So small farmers banded together in order to split large costs and have the ability to fill out large contracts. This then became the foundation for my idea.

What is “a goat idea?” Could you give an example?

Well absolutely! Simply put, I want to give 30-40 families goats so that they can become a cooperative that makes cheese in the same way a real goat dairy would.

What message do you hope readers will take away from this book?

I want people to start thinking that complex problems like poverty do not always need complex solutions. My solution involves nothing more than some goats, some plants and some cooperation.

Do you have plans for a second book?

As of right now, I am contemplating whether to release a second book that explains the plan, obstacles and solutions in painstaking detail. I was not afforded the luxury of doing that in the first book because people would stop reading after the first page, so it had to be somewhat interesting. The next one would be a lot more like a manual rather than a short story.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to thank a few people and programs for helping me to get to this point. First, the IE program helped me to realize that undergraduates could actually write about research and ideas that change the world! I saw a lot of kids actually help with groundbreaking research and that helped to inspire me to try my hand at writing. I would also like to thank my family and friends especially my mother for always being so supportive.

"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.

Grad Student Publishes Memoir of Growing Up in Iran

After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s secret police executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents in a sweeping attempt to destroy all opposition to the regime.

UT doctoral student Nastaran Kherad was one of many who were imprisoned after the revolution.

More than 20 years after her brutal incarceration and flight from Iran, she has decided to share her story in the memoir “In the House of My Bibi: Growing Up in Revolutionary Iran” (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008).

Born in Abadan, Iran, Kherad was raised by her maternal grandmother, Bibi, a gifted storyteller and wise woman of the local community. But as she grows up, Kherad feels the pull of the modern world, represented in the ideals of her brother Mohammad, a political activist.

After her brother is imprisoned and placed on death row by the Ayatollah’s government, the secret police mount a search Kherad, accusing her of sympathizing with the anti-revolutionary movement.

At the age of 18, Kherad makes the choice to turn herself in, believing it will help reduce her brother’s sentence to life in prison.

Nastaran Kherad

Nastaran Kherad

Instead, Kherad was tortured and imprisoned for a year in the women’s cellblock of Adelabad Prison. Her brother Mohammad was eventually executed for his political beliefs.

“In the House of My Bibi” offers a powerful account of Kherad’s imprisonment, juxtaposed with the peaceful memories of her childhood that sustained her during her ordeal.

In the following interview, she reveals why she decided to tell her story, what it means to live in exile, and her hopes for the future of Iran.

Q: Why did you decide to write “In the House of My Bibi”?

A: “In the House of My Bibi” is a tribute to my maternal grandmother, and to my older brother, Mohammad, who was arrested for his liberal ideals, tortured and executed after 28 months of brutal imprisonment, at age 24.

All I left Iran with was my memories, which haunted me quietly wherever I went. When my grandmother died in 1996 and I wasn’t able to return to Iran and say my farewell, it seemed that suddenly the old wounds opened and the pain gushed through me all over again.

The only way I could cope was through writing, seeking, perhaps, solace and reconciliation. Writing, at that stage, was a form of mourning in ink. I had to write and tell my story on paper to keep my brother’s memory alive, and many people like him whose only crime was demanding the basic human right: freedom.

Q: What do you hope readers will learn from your story?

A: Today Iran is considered an Islamic country in the Middle East, a much controversial and misunderstood country in the West, yet one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. My hope is that “In the House of My Bibi” will help many curious readers who wish to explore Iran and to understand its recent history, its people, its culture, and its politics.

By telling my story of struggle and survival, I also hope to depict Iranians’ struggle for justice and democracy, especially women’s resistance against an oppressive regime, with the hope of furthering justice and liberty for those still suppressed and subjugated.

Q: What helped you get through your imprisonment? Did you always have hope you would be released?

A: Being imprisoned as a political prisoner who has no rights whatsoever, and under such tentative, horrifying conditions, one does not know what will happen next. With the thought of death hanging over your head at all times, one does not have much choice but to live life day-by-day and even hour-to-hour. Your verdict could change and be increased, for instance, from one year to 10 years if the prison guards were displeased with your attitude.

What kept me sane was seeing many others in prison who had to suffer much worse than I, and it seemed that my sufferings were nothing in comparison to theirs. By the time I was released from prison, in addition to my brother, six of my cousins and relatives, all under age 25, were already executed. So, maybe that had an effect on the prison official’s decision in letting me go. I guess God had mercy on my mother who had already buried her young son.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your grandmother?

A: What I cherished the most was our time spent over the rooftop under the stars on the summer nights. I loved and value so much her sense of compassion and respect for others regardless of what social class and background or ethnic group they belonged to. My grandmother was a natural storyteller who had a wealth of oral history, which she shared generously with so many around her.

There are so many beautiful memories, but what I always love to remember is her easy laughter and her chubby, high cheekbones and the way she always reminded me in her beautiful idiom: “babam, it doesn’t matter what others decide to do, you choose to be good!”

Q: You had a special relationship with your brother Mohammad—what do you cherish the most about his life and memory?

A: I don’t even know who I would have been without my brother Mohammad. I look back and feel so blessed to have known someone like him. He was very protective of me, kind to everyone, and compassionate and sensitive towards the deprived and the oppressed. He opened a new world of ideas to me and introduced me to literature and art.

He had such great sense of justice from early on. If my grandmother taught me to see the world with an intelligent eye, Mohammad taught me to stand up for justice and what is righteous. I am not nearly as brave as he was, and I always think of him when I find myself helpless in a situation and seek his strength.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be living in exile? If so, what does it mean to be an exile?

A: Since I cannot go to my native country, Iran, for fear of the government, I feel very much in exile. But even before leaving Iran, I felt marginalized and exiled in my own home country. Because of my political beliefs, and the fact that I was imprisoned, I was banned from attending the university or working in public businesses.

After my release, I felt the watchful eyes of Revolutionary guards everywhere. Before long, I among thousands and thousands of other dissidents, were forced to seek exile. Torn apart from my own culture and language, I began a new life in the West.

Since leaving Iran in 1986, I have experienced an unremitting life of migration and at times a sense of loss and displacement. But, I believe that living in exile has its advantages, it offers the individual a profound sense of growth, compassion for all, and a worldly outlook.

Q: What do you think is the future of Iran under the current regime?

A: I must have asked myself this question a thousand times. In the past 30 years the government has managed to eradicate the entire opposition groups, imprison and execute thousands of young people, and brutally crush the student movement. The Iranian people have become impoverished, and the Iranian government continues to violate human rights.

My only hope is that there would be concrete and constructive changes within the country through the young people, intellectuals, and academics. I also hope that Western nations will help the Iranian people achieve freedom and democracy, and hold the Iranian government accountable for violating human rights. The Iranian people deserve to live a peaceful, democratic life.

After fleeing to the United States in 1990, Nastaran Kherad earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at California State University. She is now a doctoral student in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on Persian studies and exile literature.

Kherad will discuss and sign copies of “In the House of My Bibi” at 7 p.m., Jan. 14 at BookPeople. Visit www.nastarankherad.com for more details.