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Release: Nov. 8, 2002


“To Live and Die: Collected Stories of the Civil War, 1861-1876,” edited by University of Iowa English department faculty member Kathleen Diffley, will be one of the new books featured in free readings on the “Live from Prairie Lights” series during the week of Nov. 18-22 in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. All the week’s readings will be broadcast on the “Live from Prairie Lights’ series hosted by Julie Englander on UI radio station WSUI, AM 910. The readings can be heard on the internet at

The week’s schedule is:

--.Mary Rakow, reading from her debut novel “The Memory Room,” at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18;

-- Michael Perry, reading from “Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time,” his memoir of returning to a small Wisconsin town, at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19;

-- National Book Award nominee Richard Dooling, reading from his new thriller “Bet Your Life” at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20;

-- acclaimed southern novelist Lee Smith reading from “The Last Girls” at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21; and

-- Diffley’s reading at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22.

Rakow has a masters degree from Harvard University Divinity School and a doctorate in theology from Boston College, and her debut novel concerns a woman coming back from hell to construct a new self. Written in un-rhymed verse, to book echoes the influence of Holocaust poet Paul Celan.

Scholar John Felstiner, who won the Truman Capote Award administered by the UI Writers’ Workshop for his critical work on Celan, wrote: “Mary Rakow has seamlessly, subtly, composed her own memory fugue, distant from Celan but profoundly connected.”

A Publishers Weekly preview stated, “ With subtlety, restraint and an extraordinary eye for detail, Rakow has constructed a breathtaking debut that avoids the clichés of abuse narratives as it tests the boundaries of prose and poetry. Drawing from the Psalms and the poems of Paul Celan, Rakow has written a novel that distills the mysteries of suffering, faith and salvation into a complex yet accessible whole.”

Michael Perry’s “Population 485” takes readers to New Auburn, Wis., to which he returned after a decade away. “Unable to polka or repair his own pickup, his farm-boy hands gone soft after years of writing, Mike figures the best way to regain his credibility is to join the volunteer fire department,” the description goes. “Against a backdrop of fires and tangled wrecks, bar fights and smelt feeds, he tells a frequently comic tale leavened with moments of heartbreaking delicacy and searing tragedy.”

Richard Dooling is an Omaha lawyer and developer of legal software. His second novel, “White Man's Grave,” was a finalist for the National Book Award, and he has also been a finalist for a National Magazine Award. His work has appeared in periodicals including the New Yorker, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. His other books are “Brain Storm” and “Critical Care.”

Critic Emily Russin described Lee Smith’s “The Last Girls” as “At its heart, a book about how we never quite outgrow the past, even after plenty of chances to do otherwise.” Brad Hooper wrote for Booklist, “Achieving greater depths of characterization and heights of technique with each succeeding novel, Smith sets out here, as the women themselves set out on their trip, to explore various paths by which women journey from late adolescence to early middle age. With graceful, even brilliant shifts from past to present, Smith builds this absolutely inviting, completely compelling novel around the idea that ‘whatever you're like in your youth, you're only more so with age.’”

Lee is the author of the novels “Fair and Tender Ladies” and “Saving Grace,” and the story collections “Me and My Baby View the Eclipse” and “News of the Spirit,” both of which were New York Times Notable Books. Her awards include the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award and the 1999 Academy Award for fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

With “To Live and Die: Collected Stories of the Civil War, 1861-1876” Kathleen Diffley follows up on her previous book, “Where My Heart Is Turning Ever: Civil War Stories and Constitutional Reform, 1861-1876.”

Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain are the only well known authors in her new anthology, in which “bushwhackers carry the war to out-of-the-way homesteads, spies work households from the inside, journeying paymasters rely on the kindness of border women, and soldiers turn out to be girls. The stories are populated with nurses, officers, speculators, preachers, slaves, and black troops, and they take place in cities, along the frontier, and on battlefields from Shiloh to Gettysburg.”

Gary W. Gallagher, author of “Lee and His Army in Confederate History” wrote, “This splendid collection reveals a great deal about the ‘real war’ that Walt Whitman predicted would never get into the books. Written between 1861 and 1876, the stories illuminate myriad facets of our defining national crisis. The range of scenes and voices from the battlefield and the home front, from men and women, from North and South, remind us of the almost infinite variety of ways in which the war touched Americans.”

And Elizabeth Young, author of “Disarming the Nation: Women’s Writing and the American Civil War” noted, “Kathleen Diffley has unearthed, assembled, and contextualized a fascinating collection of stories, most completely unknown until now. This volume will bring renewed attention to Civil War fiction as a viable and interesting genre.”

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