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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 24, 2003

'Live From Prairie Lights' Features Woodworth's Study Of Terrorism

The Nov. 4-7 schedule of "Live from Prairie Lights" broadcast readings hosted by Julie Englander on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910, will feature International Writing Program (IWP) participant Paddy Woodworth's provocative study of terrorism, "Dirty War, Clean Hands," at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5 in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

The full schedule of 8 p.m. broadcast readings in the book store that week is:

  • Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate J.C. Hallman, reading from "The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game," on Tuesday, Nov. 4;
  • Woodworth, the IWP's Irish representative, on Wednesday, Nov. 5;
  • UI alumnus Jerry Harp, reading from his debut poetry collection, "Creature," on Thursday, Nov. 6; and
  • Science historian Mark Essig, reading from "Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death," on Friday, Nov. 7.

You can attend the readings at the Prairie Lights bookstore free of charge, or listen to the readings -- America's only radio series of live readings -- on the internet at

"During a post-college stint as a blackjack dealer in Atlantic City, freelance writer Hallman discovered the chess community that thrives in dealer lounges," a Publishers Weekly preview explained. "There he met 39-year-old chess master Glenn Umstead, who performed exhibitions while blindfolded and had 'hoped to become the world's first black grandmaster.' The two became friends and embarked on an exploration of the chess subculture, a grand tour that took them from Princeton to prisons, from windowless rooms to the 'giant electronic chess room' of the Internet Chess Club (ICC)."

Chess journalist Cathy Forbes wrote, "Hallman is a talented writer whose vivid prose and keen journalistic eye offer chess culture the compliment of intelligent impressionistic portraiture, full of powerful, haunting images of the 'demonic gods' of the chess Olympus and the chess underworld."

Hallman's previous work has appeared in GQ, Boulevard, Prairie Schooner and other journals and anthologies.

Paddy Woodworth, a former writer and editor for the Irish Times, wrote an in-depth study of Spain's "Dirty War" that has proven timely, provocative and revealing as the United States pursues its War on Terror.

A Publisher Weekly preview observed, "The transition from the Franco dictatorship to a democratic state has been widely regarded as exemplary. However, as modern court proceedings have exposed, the first post-transition government, in attempting to destroy the Basque separatist group ETA, adopted the very policies of indiscriminate terror which characterized both the Franco regime and ETA's own strategy. In this narrative, Woodworth disentangles a complex conspiracy through documentary evidence and first-hand interviews. He analyzes what happens when a democracy abandons the rule of law, showing how state terror has strengthened revolutionary terrorism."

A review in the Sunday Times of London called the book a "scholarly and superbly told story . . . (with) all the hallmarks of a classic," and a Time Magazine review stated, "'Dirty War, Clean Hands' is a balanced, finely documented tale of how easily democratic institutions can run off the rails."

Jerry Harp, who holds a literature doctorate from the UI, has poems in Delmar, the Iowa Review, the Notre Dame Review, Pleiades, Salt and Xantippe. He teaches literature and creative writing at Kenyon College in Ohio, and he is a contributing editor of Delmar.

UI alumnus and long-time faculty member Donald Justice, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, wrote of Harp's debut, "Let the new poet discover all at once his true subject and he will begin writing easily and very well. Jerry Harp is not the only poet to have had such luck, but so far as I know, he may well be the latest."

Mark Essig wrote his doctoral thesis on the history of forensic toxicology, which involved researching a pair of New York City poisoning cases in 1890s. The men convicted in those cases were among the first to die in the new execution device, the electric chair.

"The story of the electric chair had everything I like," Essig says. "Technology, medicine, murder, gruesome experiments and an American hero doing unexpected things. I had to learn more."

"Edison was a brilliant inventor but not a deep thinker," Essig says. "I don't think he imagined the implications of this new device. The book tries to explain the mix of fear, greed and altruism that led him to champion the electric chair."

A preview in Publishers Weekly explained, "Thomas Edison was deeply concerned about public safety and stoutly opposed to capital punishment. Yet except for the rivalry with George Westinghouse, he would have remained a closet humanitarian. Or so historian of science Essig argues in his first book. The race between Edison, advocate of direct current (DC), and Westinghouse, champion of alternating current (AC), to build an electrical empire in the 1880s is a classic example of runaway Gilded Age capitalism.

"Essig recounts Edison's early work on electricity and the opening of Manhattan's Pearl Street power plant in 1882. Just four years later, Westinghouse opened his own plant and quickly outpaced Edison in acquiring municipal contracts. Edison publicly decried AC as a safety hazard and convinced New York legislators that electricity offered the cleanest execution method available -- provided it was done with AC. Thus in 1890 William Kemmler became the electric chair's first victim. He was not, however, the first victim of electrocution. Around this time, a spectacular series of fatal accidents triggered a citywide panic; and New York ordered unsafe wires cut down. Westinghouse protested while Edison applauded: DC cables were underground. Nonetheless, AC triumphed in the end."

Entertainment Weekly said that Essig's book "delivers a thrilling jolt of discovery."

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, Program: Paddy Woodworth,

PHOTOS are available at or