Do Your Holiday Shopping this Saturday at the Humanities Texas Book Fair

flyer_email-copyBooks make great gifts, especially for those “hard to buy for” people on your list. So take a break from the mall and head on over to the Humanities Texas annual Holiday Book Fair this Saturday, Dec. 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the historic Byrne-Reed House.

Twenty-one authors will be available to visit with the public and sign copies of their latest books, which Humanities Texas will offer for purchase at a discounted price. Proceeds will go to the Bastrop Public Library, which suffered losses to its collection during the September wildfires.

The lineup includes:

H.W. Brands, the Raymond Dickson, Alton C. Allen and Dillon Anderson Centennial Professor

1Brands_GreenbackPlanetIn “Greenback Planet,” Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. In The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield, Brands traces the downfall of a notorious New York City figure and brings to life New York’s Gilded Age. More…

Oscar Casares, associate professor of English

1Casares_Amigoland“Amigoland,” set on the South Texas border with Mexico, is the story of estranged brothers Don Fidencio Rosales—querulous, nearly 92 years old, and living in a nursing home—and Don Celestino, twenty years his junior and newly widowed, who finds himself somewhat ambivalently involved with his young cleaning woman, Socorro. The housekeeper is a catalyst for the brothers reconnecting, and the improbable trio takes off on a bus trip into Mexico, where the siblings hope to settle a long-standing dispute about how their grandfather arrived in the U.S. and Socorro hopes to find clarity in her unlikely romance. The trip stirs up powerful issues of family and pride and about how we care for the people we love. More…

Don Graham, the J. Frank Dobie Regents Professor of American and English Literature

1Graham_StateofMindsIn “State of Minds,” Graham brings together and updates essays he published between 1999 and 2009 to paint a unique picture of Texas culture. In a strong personal voice—wry, humorous, and ironic—Graham offers his take on Texas literary giants ranging from J. Frank Dobie to Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy and on films such as “The Alamo,” “The Last Picture Show,” and “Brokeback Mountain.” More…


James Pennebaker, the Regents Centennial Liberal Arts Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology

1pennebaker_james“The Secret Life of Pronouns” examines how and why pronouns and other forgettable words reveal so much about us. Partly a research journey, the book traces the discovery of the links between function words and social and psychological states. Written for a general audience, the book takes the reader on a remarkable and often unexpected journey into the minds of authors, poets, lyricists, politicians, and everyday people through their use of words. More…

Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy

1Suri_JeremyNation-building is in America’s DNA. It dates back to the days of the American Revolution, when the founding fathers invented the concept of popular sovereignty—the idea that you cannot have a national government without a collective will. The framers of the Constitution initiated a policy of cautious nation-building, hoping not to conquer other countries, but to build a world of stable, self-governed societies that would support America’s way of life. In “Liberty’s Surest Guardian,” Suri looks to America’s history to see both what it has to offer to failed states around the world and what the nation should avoid. More…

L. Michael White, the Ronald Nelson Smith Chair in Classics and Christian Origins and the director of the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins

1White_ScriptingJesusIn “Scripting Jesus,” White challenges us to read the gospels as they were originally intended—as performed stories of faith rather than factual histories. White demonstrates that each of the four gospel writers had a specific audience in mind and a specific theological agenda to push, and consequently wrote and rewrote their lives of Jesus accordingly—in effect, scripting Jesus to get a particular point across and to achieve the desired audience reaction. More…

Park for free in the St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church’s large lot on the northwest corner of 15th and Rio Grande Streets, and enjoy coffee and a bake sale of donated and homemade treats. Go to this website for more information about the authors and their books!

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Luminous Prose

cropShakar

Alex Shakar

“It’s exciting to meet an author who’s unafraid of heights.”

So writes one New York Times reviewer of Alex Shakar, a 1994 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin Department of English graduate program in creative writing and former Michener Fellow.  Shakar, whose newest book “Luminarium” was released from Soho Press last month to critical praise, will be in Austin this week to read and sign at Austin’s BookPeople.  Friends and fans will get a chance to hear new work from a writer who is establishing himself as one of the most daring and inventive social critics of his generation.

Shakar’s debut short fiction collection,City in Love,” published shortly after his graduation, won the 1996 FC2 National Fiction Competition. A reimagining of Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” set in an anachronistic New York City of 1 B.C., the stories draw on classical myths to depict isolated urbanites searching for love, artistic expression and meaning in a hard urban landscape. They range in style from the traditionally narrative to the experimental, and in the title story, Shakar employs a prototypical form of hypertext that references links within the story to a secret embedded narrative thread, foreshadowing by some years the ways in which technology alters and informs our reading experiences today.

“City in Love” was followed in 2001 by “The Savage Girl,” in which Shakar again creates a mythical city, built on the slopes of a volcano, where advertising and consumerism rule and trendspotters hungrily troll for the Next Big Thing.   The cultural landscape into which the novel was released in September 2001 was quickly changed by the events of 9/11. “The age of cynicism and anomie that is captured here may have ended in a flash,” a New York Times review said, “but . . . Mr. Shakar preserves them here with a scathing intelligence that transcends the trendiness of any particular moment.”

thumbLuminariumAfter ten years during which Shakar completed a doctorate at University of Illinois at Chicago and joined the fiction faculty at Urbana-Champaign, where he is now associate professor, he has published his second novel, “Luminarium.” This time his razor-sharp eye and wit are trained on the shaky shared ground of technology and spirituality in our cyber age. “Science fiction without the Frankenstein scars,” a Time Out Chicago reviewer notes of Shakar’s genre-bending style.  “Part Philip K. Dick, part Jonathan Franzen, this radiant work leads you from the unreal to the real so convincingly that you begin to let go of the distinction,” notes a recent starred Publishers Weekly review.

The reading and booksigning begin at 7 pm on Thursday, September 8, 2011Bookpeople is located on the corner of West 6th and North Lamar Blvd.  Shakar will also meet with students earlier in the afternoon, at 3 p.m., at the Michener Center’s Dobie House seminar room; call 512-471-8444 to reserve a seat.

Michener Center Graduate First Poet to Win Keene Award for Literature

Josh Booton, 2011 Keene Prize Winner

Josh Booton, 2011 Keene Prize Winner

Josh Booton, a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers (MCW) at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature for his collection of poems, “The Union of Geometry and Ash.”

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

Booton’s collection of poems was chosen from more than 60 submissions in drama, poetry and fiction. The title sequence is a traditional double or “heroic” crown of sonnets, 14 poems in which the last line of the first poem becomes the first line of the next.

“The technical inventiveness of these poems never overwhelms their substance, a profound meditation on how to sustain a working marriage,” says Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and the award selection committee. “All of the judges found Josh’s work hauntingly memorable and compassionate, as well as formally compelling.”

Booton received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon, and his master’s degree in speech and hearing sciences from Portland State University. A finalist for the 2010 Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, his poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review,Poetry Northwest, Raleigh Review and The Grove Review.

The three other finalists are:

  • Carolina Ebeid, MCW student, for her collection of poems, “An Iceboat Will Carry Us Through the Ice.”
  • Nicole Cullen, MCW graduate, for her story, “Long Tom Lookout.”
  • Fiona McFarlane, MCW student, for three stories, “Rose Bay,” “The Movie People” and “Unnecessary Gifts.”
  • Members of the 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; Joanna Hitchcock, director of The University of Texas Press; and author Tom Zigal, novelist and senior communications writer 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 reputation in the international market of American writers. The competition is open to 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.

    The Heart and Soul of Our Poetry Community

    smDYcolorOn Friday, April 8, poets from across the country will read at Austin Museum of Art downtown in a benefit honoring The University of Texas at Austin’s  Livingston Endowed Chair in Poetry Dean Young, beloved poet and teacher who faces a heart transplant.

    Nationally acclaimed poets Tony Hoagland, Thomas Lux, Dobby Gibson, Barbara Ras, Stuart Dischell, David Rivard and Joe Di Prisco are volunteering their time to fly in for the free event and will read along with a raft of local poets, including visiting professors Tomaz Salamun and Mary Ruefle, and members of the University community Kurt Heinzelman, Judith Kroll, Roger Reeves and Malachi Black. Each reader will read a favorite poem by Dean and a piece of their own.

    Dean joined the university’s permanent faculty in 2008 as the first of two distinguished chairs created by the Michener Center for Writers and Office of Graduate Studies.  A professor in the Department of English, he teaches poetry workshops and seminars in both creative writing programs.  Among one of the most prolific poets of his generation, celebrated for his energetic and inventive style—a mercurial blend of  tragedy and joy, the surreal and the minutely observed—he has more than a dozen books of poetry and prose to his credit, including “Fall Higher,” forthcoming this year; “Primitive Mentor,” shortlisted for the 2009 Griffin International Poetry Prize; “Elegy on Toy Piano,” nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; and “Embryoyo,” as well as a critical work on poetry, “The Art of Recklessness.”

    Dean’s imprint on the poetry program in English and the Michener Center has been immediate and distinctive.  English chair Elizabeth Cullingford calls him a “consummate teacher who’s brought dynamism and new ideas to our Creative Writing program.”   Leanna Petronella, a poet in her second year at the Michener Center, says that Dean uses “an odd and brilliant metaphorical language to get at what poetry does.”  MFA candidate Zebadiah Taylor, whose thesis Dean is supervising in absentia this spring, says “No other person I’ve encountered understands poetry as deeply.”

    But the heart Dean Young puts into his teaching and mentoring is in trouble.  For the last dozen years or so, he has lived with congestive heart heartimageDYfailure due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare disease of the heart muscle.  Naturally spry and athletic, he was, until last year, able to spring back from periodic episodes of weakness.  Last fall, his condition worsened dramatically, until this spring he required surgery to place external mechanical pumps to take over the work of his heart.  He’s spent much of the last several months hospitalized, fighting infection and setbacks, and still he has kept up with his students, texting and answering emails, and meeting in person, when his health allows, to discuss their poetry.  He is at the highest priority on the transplant list at Seton Medical Center at Austin, and awaits only a suitable donor.  Despite his health insurance, out of pocket expenses are enormous.

    Among Friday night’s readers is Joe DiPrisco, Dean’s longtime friend who chairs a fund-raising campaign through the National Foundation for Transplants, a nonprofit organization that has been assisting transplant patients with advocacy and fundraising support since 1983.  The organization will have information available at the reading about how supporters can help with Dean’s medical needs.

    Donations are welcome, but the reading is free at AMOA Downtown, 9th and Congress and begins at 6 p.m.

    A Q&A with Ashley Hope Pérez, Author of “What Can’t Wait”

    authorOn the brink of graduating high school, Marisa must make some tough decisions. Should she stay close to her family, marry a nice boy and get a job at the local grocery store? Or should she go off to college to study engineering at The University of Texas at Austin? Caught at the crossroads, Marisa must decide whether she has what it takes to break free and follow her dreams.

    Inspired by her teaching experience at Chávez High School in Houston – where many of WCWstackher students faced similar challenges – English alumna Ashely Hope Pérez tells the story of Marisa’s struggle in her debut young adult (YA) novel “What Can’t Wait” (Carolrhoda Books, 2011). She was kind enough to chat with ShelfLife about her passion for teaching, tips for aspiring novelists, her vampire literature class, and what’s up next!

    Tell us about yourself. Have you always dreamed of becoming a writer?

    Right now, in addition to writing, my jobs include LOTS of reading for my Ph.D. exams in comparative literature this May, being mom to an active 9-month-old little boy, teaching a course on women writers of the Caribbean, and getting the word out about “What Can’t Wait” my new YA novel. Past lives include work as a bilingual literacy tutor and Montessori teacher and several years teaching high-school English in southeast Houston. I also love to exercise and bake cookies, hobbies that cancel each other out and make me happy.

    Writing has always been part of my life in important ways, but I used to get paralyzed by a fear of inadequacy and a worry that I’d never be able to write again. I only began to think of myself as an author once I started writing for teens, and I attribute the successful completion of two novels, “What Can’t Wait” plus my next novel, also coming out with Carolrhoda Lab to the fact that my students gave me a sense of urgency about writing that was more powerful than my fears.

    What inspired you to write about a teenage girl struggling to carve her own path in life while dealing with a family that expects her to stay close to home?

    My students, my students, my students. Marisa isn’t based on any one student, but so many of the circumstances my students faced influenced the world Marisa finds herself in. I wanted to show that, for many teens, using education as a means of advancement also requires tough decisions and scary compromises. Teens like Marisa (and many of my students) deserve lots of credit for having the courage to find ways to maintain connection to family while nevertheless forging their own path. I wanted to honor this reality with my book, which is why it’s dedicated to my Chávez students.

    How have your students responded to this book?

    From the beginning, they were my biggest supporters and my first readers. One student wrote me an amazing letter (which I still have) telling me how important the book was to him — and that it was one of two books he read from start to finish. Reading that letter, I knew that my book had found a reader for whom it mattered and that — if I persisted — it could find many more.

    When I write, I still think of my students, and having a clear sense of audience is a huge help to me. It’s one of the things I like best about writing YA literature.

    What do you hope your readers will take away from this story?

    Oh, so many things. That you can live your own life without forgetting to take care of the people you love. That you can’t be your best self for others if you aren’t taking care of your dreams. That keeping promises — especially to yourself — is really hard work. That family can be a surprising ally. That it’s always scary to step out into the unknown, but sometimes it’s worth it.

    Not only are you an author – you’re also a grad student, a teacher and a parent. That’s quite a heavy load! How do you find time to write?

    The truth is that sometimes I don’t have much time at all. But I’m a firm believer that whatever writing we do — no matter how paltry it seems — is better than what we don’t do. So instead of saying, “I can’t get anything done in fifteen minutes,” I focus on how much I can get done in fifteen minutes. Sometimes the time constraint functions like a pressure cooker, and I feel like I get more real work done than when I have a bigger block of time, but feel less of a sense of urgency. Oh, and I also have a very supportive husband who loves to play with his son. That helps a lot.

    What are you reading right now?

    I’m reading La Vie mode d’emploi (“Life: A User’s Manual”) by Georges Perec. This is a wild novel full of crazy catalogs of items, descriptions of paintings, and digressions that nevertheless make me want to slow down and savor the minutia of being human. Lots of times when I’m reading, I’m trying to figure out how I could do what the writer is doing, but this is one of those books I just have to stand back and admire. Haruki Murakami has the same effect on me. What I mean is that Perec’s work is so different from my own on every level that when I think about what it must have felt to write it, it’s like imagining being Martian.

    Perec was a member of OULIPO, a French literary association founded around the idea of using constraints to facilitate creativity. You might have heard of him as the writer who composed an entire novel without using the letter “e” (La Disparition, translated as “A Void”). Reading La Vie does tempt me to try using some kind of constraint — although not as extreme as cutting a letter — to generate a first draft. Just as a lark.

    What’s the most important piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer?

    Recognize that writing well is a process, and develop your own strategies for moving a piece forward. That is, don’t expect the writing to be done after a couple of drafts, but also be strategic about how you rewrite. When you think you’ve done everything you can to improve your writing, put away your manuscript for a while. Check out a great book with writing exercises or strategies for revision, do some practice, and then dig back into your manuscript. Go to a conference. Join a writer’s group. For me, the most important part of writing is rewriting.

    The best revision tip I ever got is this: every time you do a major revision, retype the whole work rather than going back into the old file. I know it sounds too simple (or crazy) to be effective, but I can say from experience that it helps me get back “in” the narrative and helps me to resist the urge to tinker without accomplishing any real revisions.

    I couldn’t help but notice you teach a vampire literature class. Would you ever consider infusing vampires into a future young adult book?

    I actually designed the vampire lit class in response to the interest expressed by students. Before teaching it, I had read little beyond “Dracula.” Together, my students and I developed key concepts for understanding the evolution of the vampire in literature and how writers use the vampire to explore varied concerns. This was a thrilling intellectual project (and so fun that I taught the class twice), but I don’t anticipate any vampires appearing in my novels any time soon. It’s not that I’m uninterested in pushing the envelope beyond the purely realistic, but the vampire figure is so weighted with expectations on the part of the reader that I would feel overwhelmed just thinking about where to position my character with respect to the tradition.

    Could you give us a sneak peak into what you’re working on now?

    I’m knee-deep in revisions of my second YA novel “The Knife and the Butterfly,” which is coming out with Carolrhoda Lab in 2012. The book follows two teens through the aftermath of a deadly gang fight. There’s Lexi, a troubled girl from a working class background who hangs with a street gang for protection. And there’s Azael, a romantic drifter essentially orphaned by his mom’s death and his father’s deportation to El Salvador. The truth about what happened connects them in a surprising but powerful way.

    I also have a third novel idea simmering on a back burner, but I’m a little superstitious and don’t like to “spend” writing ideas before I get a handle on them. Check back with me in another year and I’ll be ready to talk about it!

    To Build My Shadow A Fire

    David Wevill

    David Wevill

    On November 10, our community will get a rare chance to hear the work of one of our most beloved yet enigmatic poets.  David Wevill has spent the last 40 years in Austin as a teacher, translator and editor.  He retired in 2007 from the University, where he was the heart and soul of the poetry programs of the Department of English and, later, the Michener Center for Writers.

    Over the decades, Wevill has mentored scores of students who have gone on win some of the country’s most visible awards for young poets: Lilly Fellowships, the National Poetry Series, Stegner Fellowships, and the like.  Famously soft-spoken and self-effacing, though, he has not been one to call attention to his own distinguished career, which includes seminal works of translation and more than a dozen volumes of poetry.

    Born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1935 to Canadian parents, Wevill graduated from Cambridge University in England in 1957 and over the next decade was part of a groundbreaking collective of young poets in London known as The Group.  His first two books established him as an important new voice, already weaving together his distinctive mix of dark introspection and image-rich attention to the natural world. Wevill moved to Texas in 1970 to pursue his interest in translation — and stayed to join the University of Texas faculty — but British and Canadian presses continued to bring out the lion’s share of his published work, and he has become known as one of the best-kept secrets of our national literary landscape.

    Michael McGriff

    Michael McGriff

    One former student of his, Michael McGriff, decided to remedy that situation. Through McGriff’s efforts as editor and with Wevill’s collaboration, a new edition of

    Wevill’s selected works came out from Truman State University Press last spring, “To Build My Shadow a Fire.” “This is a wonderful book — a rare harvest of a lifetime’s truth-telling,” poet Eavan Boland says of the book.

    A 2006 MFA graduate of the Michener Center, editor McGriff has already chalked up one remarkable accolade after another — the Lilly, a Stegner, a prize-winning debut “Dismantling the Hills,” a second collection forthcoming from the esteemed Copper Canyon Press, a book of translations, and now his own small press — Tavern Books — made possible in part by a generous 2010 Lannan Foundation Fellowship.

    The Michener Center for Writers and Department of English will host a reading by Wevill and McGriff on Wednesday, November 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Ransom Center’s Prothro Theatre.   They’ll also discuss the process of collaborating on the book, about which we recently spoke with both of them:

    WevillCollHow did this project come into being and what was the process like?

    MM: The roots of it are pretty simple:  I wanted — and wanted to share with others — a sort of “essential” Wevill anthology, and I asked David if he’d be willing to let me take it on. Once he agreed, I began selecting the representative work, including his books of translations and prose poems.  We agreed on a table of contents pretty quickly . . . after a few vetoes on David’s part.  Then I set out to transcribe the 300-odd page manuscript.  It became clear that this volume would be suggestive and not comprehensive, because so much had to be left out.

    David, how did it feel to have your former student as your editor?

    DW: I have a profound respect for Mike’s talent and intelligence.  I was grateful that he’d take the time to do this.  There was no resistance on my part, but a friendly caution that the effort might prove hard.

    Mike, what was your chief motivation?

    MM: Most poetry goes out of print as quickly as it’s published.  If you’re not an avid book collector, you’re going to miss out on some of the greatest books of poetry ever written.  I felt an ethical call to arms, and decided to make the book that I wanted to read.

    The work collected in the volume wasn’t previously published — or therefore widely available — in the United States?

    DW: The work came from British and Canadian collections, so there was no U.S. collection until this.  And now Mike has, with his fellow poet Carl Adamshick, started a new small press, Tavern Books.  They’re reissuing an earlier book of mine, “Casual Ties.”

    MM: The spirit of Tavern Books and the spirit of editing “Shadow” are one in the same.  I feel a responsibility to the books that I love, to do my part to get them into the hands of other readers. When I was editing”Shadow,” I was yearning to include the entire text of “Casual Ties,” a book of linked prose poems. It’s utterly brilliant, experimental, and shape-shifting — I’ve never read another book like it.  So, “Casual Ties” became the obvious choice for Tavern’s first full-length book. Our forthcoming books include works by Charles Simic, Yannis Ritsos, Leonardo Sinisgalli and Gwyneth Lewis.

    What did you each learn about the other in the process?  What surprised you?

    DW: I learnt what I already recognized:  Mike’s extraordinary diligence, judgment, imagination and practical ability.  It’s the degree to which he took this that is surprising. I’ve dedicated to the book to Mike, and to Britta his wife, as a small gesture of astonishment.

    MM: What surprised me most is just how incredible David’s career as a poet has been so far. I had read all of his books before taking on the project, but I’d never read them one after the other in chronological order. The more I read, then more I kept thinking to myself, “it’s a crime that there’s no selected edition of David’s poetry and translations here in the U.S.” We have such an artistic short-attention span.  It’s amazing what people don’t read, and what publishers let fall out of print.

    David, do you miss teaching?  Has being away from the classroom altered your approach to your own writing or changed your routine since retirement?

    DW: I do miss the imaginative interactions of teaching, and have been a slow writer these last couple of years, not because I’m not teaching but from self-questioning, weighing the value of what I write. That’s perhaps nothing new, but more so.

    Mike, how can you best sum up your relationship with David, as his student and his editor, and now publisher?

    MM: David’s treated me not as a student, but as a fellow traveler.  We had a sort of ongoing three-year chat about poetry in translation, films, books, you name it.  Despite our age difference, I consider David to be a kind of brother, another guy making his way along all the tortuous pathways poetry has to offer.

    New to the Shelf: Fall 2010 Sneak Preview

    In just a few short weeks summer will be over. Time to say goodbye to the extra daylight, daytrips to the coast and weekend barbecue parties. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Why not escape from those end-of-summer blues with a good book? Here’s a sneak peek at some forthcoming reads that will be hitting the shelves this fall.

    colossus
    “American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900”
    (Doubleday, Oct. 2010)
    By H.W. Brands, the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History and Government

    During the 30 years following the end of the Civil War, America as we know it began to take shape. The population boomed, consumption grew rapidly and the national economy soared. In “American Colossus” Brands provides a historical account of America’s transformation into a land of consumerism and massive industry. Chronicling the efforts of such tycoons as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan, Brands describes how early American capitalists altered the shape of America’s economic landscape.

    const
    “The Endurance of National Constitutions”
    (Cambridge University Press, Oct. 2009)
    By Zachary Elkins, assistant professor of government, Tom Ginsburg, James Melton.

    Why do some constitutions last for generations while others fail quickly? In “The Endurance of National Constitutions,” Elkins and Ginsburg describe the key components constitutions need to survive. Their research reveals that constitutions generally endure if they have flexible amendment systems, are drafted with highly participatory processes, and are extensive and precise. The authors joined several other constitutional scholars to advise the Kenyan leaders who recently drafted a new national constitution in August.

    ben“Race, Sport and Politics: The Sporting Black Diaspora” (Sage, Sept. 2010)
    By Benjamin Carrington, assistant professor of sociology

    Why do people commonly assume African Americans dominate professional sports? How did golf pro Tiger Woods and tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams become pioneers in sports history? These are some of the questions Carrington grapples with in his new book “Race, Sport and Politics.” Presenting a postcolonial overview of sport’s role in enforcing racial stereotypes, Carrington shows how the industry of sport changes ideas about race and racial identity.

    troubled“The Troubled Union: Expansionist Imperatives in Post-Reconstruction American Novels” (Ohio State University Press, Sept. 30 2010)
    By John Morán González, associate professor of English

    In “The Troubled Union,” González presents a historical account of post-Reconstruction novels. Combining a literary analysis with cultural studies, González highlights the importance of the domestic novel form, with its emphasis on women’s self-representation, and the revolutionary plot of courtship and marriage. The book includes dramatic narratives from such authors as Henry James, Helen Hunt Jackson and María Amparo Ruiz de Burton.

    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.


    A Q&A with Suzanne Harper, Author of 'Fun and Frothy' Books for Teens

    imageShelfLife sat down with Suzanne Harper, an English and journalism alumna, to talk about her two young adult novels, “The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney” (Harper Collins, 2008) and “The Juliet Club” (Harper Collins, 2008).

    Did you set out to write fiction for young adults?

    All through college and graduate school and many writing courses after that, I really wanted to write mysteries for the adult market, although I kept reading children’s books during that time simply because I enjoyed them so much. Then I started working at Disney Adventure magazine, which led me to learn more about children’s books and children’s publishing. Also during that time, the YA market started booming, so I found myself reading more books aimed at teens. Then one day I was doodling in my journal and found myself writing a sentence that would eventually become the first line of “The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney” (“It’s three minutes past midnight and the dead won’t leave me alone”). As I kept writing, the voice of my main character came through loud and clear – and she was definitely a teenager! I started writing my first YA novel and found that it was great fun.

    When you were a teen, what kind of books did you like to read?

    I liked epic historical novels, gothic romance novels, comedic novels, mysteries, spy novels, fantasy and science fiction to some degree….really, almost anything except moody books about mid-life crises (which I still avoid at all costs).

    How do keep fresh when it comes to writing teen dialogue?

    I don’t try to mimic teen speech as such. For one thing, slang dates a book really quickly. And for another thing, I think that if I were consciously trying to write teen dialogue – as opposed to trying to write good dialogue – I would quickly go off the rails. (I’ve read a few teen reviews online that complain that no teens actually talk like my characters, which is probably true. If anything, I guess I try to write idealized teen dialogue)!

    In “The Juliet Club,” six friends are bonded by an organization called “the Juliet Club,” in which they answer letters sent to Juliet by those seeking advice on matters of the heart. What is the significance of the Shakespearean classic “Romeo and Juliet,” and why did you choose it to frame your story?image[1]

    I read about the real-life Juliet Club, which is based in Verona, Italy, in an airline magazine. The club has dozens of volunteers who respond to letters from around the world, sent by people asking for advice from Juliet. (By the way, there is a nonfiction book about the history of the Juliet Club, which is the basis of the upcoming movie, “Letters to Juliet.”) I thought that the concept of the Juliet Club was a great setup for a YA novel, since Romeo and Juliet were teens and most teens first encounter Shakespeare through Romeo and Juliet.

    Having said that, the main plot is really based on “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s one of my favorite plays and it was great fun to re-visit it and echo certain scenes in the novel.

    I also had a lot of fun researching the book. I visited Verona twice, took Italian lessons, and had tutors teach me a tiny bit about stage sword fighting and Elizabethan dance in order to write the scenes where my characters have to learn both those skills.

    What message about love do you want the reader to walk away with?

    That it’s a good idea to entertain the possibility that love will appear in disguise! In the novel, Giacomo thinks Kate is too studious and she thinks he’s too much of a flirt (actually, they’re both right, but they still fall in love). Silvia thinks Tom is awkward and gauche and Lucy doesn’t even notice Benno until almost the end of the book.

    The other message is that love (and perhaps Shakespeare– or maybe both!) can transform people. Kate learns to flirt, Giacomo truly falls in love for the first time, Silvia softens a bit, Tom finds courage to declare his love, and so on. (And let’s not forget Kate’s father and Giacomo’s mother, who overcome a bitter academic rivalry to find romance).

    In “The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney,” the protagonist is a teenage medium who tries desperately to be “normal.” How do you think your readers can identify withsparrow Sparrow?

    I think the desire to be normal and fit in is a classic teen wish, mainly because almost every teenager (even the popular, “normal” ones) secretly feel that they’re weird and abnormal. Also, teens are very self-conscious about being teased or seen as different, so most of them can identify with the fear of being mocked because their family talks to ghosts (even if their family doesn’t).

    Paranormal young adult novels have become a huge hit among teenage girls. Why do you think young readers are so enthralled by things that go bump in the night?

    Teens have always been fascinated with death and the possibility of an afterlife. I think it’s because they’re still relatively close to that shocking moment in childhood when you first realize that people you love — and eventually you — will die. It’s a subject that fascinates and scares them in equal measure, and they like reading books that address those issues.

    Can you give us a glimpse into what you’re working on now?

    I’m working on a middle grade series, which again involves the paranormal (and is set in Austin). I also have another YA novel in progress that is set in an alternate version of 18th century England and involves a troupe of traveling players.

    About the Author: Harper has written three original novels based on the “Hannah Montana” TV series and a number of novels (under the pen name N. B. Grace) based on “High School Musical.” Her nonfiction books include “Boitano’s Edge: Inside the Real World of Figure Skating” (with Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano), “The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy” (with Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum), “Terrorists, Tornadoes and Tsunamis: How to Prepare for Life’s Danger Zones” (with Lt. Col. John C. Orndorff), and “Hands On! 33 More Things Every Girl Should Know: Skills for Living Your Life from 33 Extraordinary Women.” Visit her Web site for more about her works.

    A Q&A with Suzanne Harper, Author of ‘Fun and Frothy’ Books for Teens

    imageShelfLife sat down with Suzanne Harper, an English and journalism alumna, to talk about her two young adult novels, “The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney” (Harper Collins, 2008) and “The Juliet Club” (Harper Collins, 2008).

    Did you set out to write fiction for young adults?

    All through college and graduate school and many writing courses after that, I really wanted to write mysteries for the adult market, although I kept reading children’s books during that time simply because I enjoyed them so much. Then I started working at Disney Adventure magazine, which led me to learn more about children’s books and children’s publishing. Also during that time, the YA market started booming, so I found myself reading more books aimed at teens. Then one day I was doodling in my journal and found myself writing a sentence that would eventually become the first line of “The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney” (“It’s three minutes past midnight and the dead won’t leave me alone”). As I kept writing, the voice of my main character came through loud and clear – and she was definitely a teenager! I started writing my first YA novel and found that it was great fun.

    When you were a teen, what kind of books did you like to read?

    I liked epic historical novels, gothic romance novels, comedic novels, mysteries, spy novels, fantasy and science fiction to some degree….really, almost anything except moody books about mid-life crises (which I still avoid at all costs).

    How do keep fresh when it comes to writing teen dialogue?

    I don’t try to mimic teen speech as such. For one thing, slang dates a book really quickly. And for another thing, I think that if I were consciously trying to write teen dialogue – as opposed to trying to write good dialogue – I would quickly go off the rails. (I’ve read a few teen reviews online that complain that no teens actually talk like my characters, which is probably true. If anything, I guess I try to write idealized teen dialogue)!

    In “The Juliet Club,” six friends are bonded by an organization called “the Juliet Club,” in which they answer letters sent to Juliet by those seeking advice on matters of the heart. What is the significance of the Shakespearean classic “Romeo and Juliet,” and why did you choose it to frame your story?image[1]

    I read about the real-life Juliet Club, which is based in Verona, Italy, in an airline magazine. The club has dozens of volunteers who respond to letters from around the world, sent by people asking for advice from Juliet. (By the way, there is a nonfiction book about the history of the Juliet Club, which is the basis of the upcoming movie, “Letters to Juliet.”) I thought that the concept of the Juliet Club was a great setup for a YA novel, since Romeo and Juliet were teens and most teens first encounter Shakespeare through Romeo and Juliet.

    Having said that, the main plot is really based on “Much Ado About Nothing.” It’s one of my favorite plays and it was great fun to re-visit it and echo certain scenes in the novel.

    I also had a lot of fun researching the book. I visited Verona twice, took Italian lessons, and had tutors teach me a tiny bit about stage sword fighting and Elizabethan dance in order to write the scenes where my characters have to learn both those skills.

    What message about love do you want the reader to walk away with?

    That it’s a good idea to entertain the possibility that love will appear in disguise! In the novel, Giacomo thinks Kate is too studious and she thinks he’s too much of a flirt (actually, they’re both right, but they still fall in love). Silvia thinks Tom is awkward and gauche and Lucy doesn’t even notice Benno until almost the end of the book.

    The other message is that love (and perhaps Shakespeare– or maybe both!) can transform people. Kate learns to flirt, Giacomo truly falls in love for the first time, Silvia softens a bit, Tom finds courage to declare his love, and so on. (And let’s not forget Kate’s father and Giacomo’s mother, who overcome a bitter academic rivalry to find romance).

    In “The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney,” the protagonist is a teenage medium who tries desperately to be “normal.” How do you think your readers can identify withsparrow Sparrow?

    I think the desire to be normal and fit in is a classic teen wish, mainly because almost every teenager (even the popular, “normal” ones) secretly feel that they’re weird and abnormal. Also, teens are very self-conscious about being teased or seen as different, so most of them can identify with the fear of being mocked because their family talks to ghosts (even if their family doesn’t).

    Paranormal young adult novels have become a huge hit among teenage girls. Why do you think young readers are so enthralled by things that go bump in the night?

    Teens have always been fascinated with death and the possibility of an afterlife. I think it’s because they’re still relatively close to that shocking moment in childhood when you first realize that people you love — and eventually you — will die. It’s a subject that fascinates and scares them in equal measure, and they like reading books that address those issues.

    Can you give us a glimpse into what you’re working on now?

    I’m working on a middle grade series, which again involves the paranormal (and is set in Austin). I also have another YA novel in progress that is set in an alternate version of 18th century England and involves a troupe of traveling players.

    About the Author: Harper has written three original novels based on the “Hannah Montana” TV series and a number of novels (under the pen name N. B. Grace) based on “High School Musical.” Her nonfiction books include “Boitano’s Edge: Inside the Real World of Figure Skating” (with Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano), “The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy” (with Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum), “Terrorists, Tornadoes and Tsunamis: How to Prepare for Life’s Danger Zones” (with Lt. Col. John C. Orndorff), and “Hands On! 33 More Things Every Girl Should Know: Skills for Living Your Life from 33 Extraordinary Women.” Visit her Web site for more about her works.