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University of Iowa News Release

June 4, 2004

UI Grads Dominate As Prairie Lights Series Resumes Schedule

University of Iowa alumni will take center stage when the "Live from Prairie Lights" reading series, hosted by Julie Englander on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910, returns to a full schedule of live events the week of June 14-18. The 8 p.m. readings, broadcast from the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City, will be:

-- UI Writers' Workshop graduates Doug Unger and Rachel Pastan reading from their latest fiction on Monday, June 14;
-- UI alumnus Steven Sherrill reading from "Visits from the Drowned Girl" on Tuesday, June 15;
-- Maureen McCoy, another Writers' Workshop grad, reading from her new novel, "Junebug," on Wednesday, June 16;
-- Iowa City writer Ingrid Hill, who holds a UI doctorate in English, reading from the novel "Ursula, Under" on Thursday, June 17; and
-- Alaska novelist Seth Kanter reading from the acclaimed eco-novel "Ordinary Wolves" on Friday, June 18.

Listen on the Internet at

Critic Janet St. John wrote, "Unger's first novel, 'Leaving the Land' (1984), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; 'Voices from Silence' (1995) received acclaim from the likes of poet Hayden Carruth, and now he presents his first short-fiction collection, a book diverse in subject and approach.

"From a short story about a lab assistant who realizes the highly sentient nature of an aged research monkey to an autobiographical piece about his childhood on the streets of New York to a novella of the fallout of war as experienced by a mentally damaged Vietnam veteran, Unger thoughtfully confronts real-life tragedy by stirring the emotional pot to see what bubbles to the surface... this strong and engaging debut collection delivers."

Unger is director of the International Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Rachel Pastan will read from her debut novel, "This Side of Married," which critic Carol Haggas says "cunningly reveals the myriad sides of being married -- the good, the bad, and the ugly."

Novelist Luanne Rice wrote, "'This Side of Married' is a three-sisters treasure: tender, witty, and filled with love. Rachel Pasten is a wonderful writer."

Pastan's short fiction has appeared widely and has been honored with the PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize, the Arts and Letters Fiction prize and fellowships from the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Delaware Arts Council.

John Nichols, author of "The Milagro Beanfield War," wrote of Maureen McCoy's fourth novel, "'Junebug' is a rare and special book, one of those mysterious and totally original inventions that summon attention because they are so unique. It is as American as the Great Plains, as poignant as Carson McCullers at her best, and imbued with the deeply affecting and poetical heart-song of its lonely and quirky narrator.

"Maureen McCoy writes like an angel, full of passion, musical cadence, and offbeat curious insights into the human soul. This novel is a deeply touching prayer for all the wild and beautiful misfits on earth . . . including you and me."

McCoy's previous novels are "Diving Blood," "Summertime" and "Walking After Midnight." Among her many awards are the James Michener Award, the Wurlitzer Foundation Award, and the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in the Humanities, chosen by Toni Morrison. She teaches at Cornell University.

Steven Sherrill, a faculty member at Penn State Altoona, is back in Iowa City to teach at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. He was the recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Fiction for 2002, and his first novel, "The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break," is being translated into eight languages.

For the American Library Association's Booklist, Joanne Wilkinson wrote of "Visits from the Drowned Girl," "In this immaculately written, perversely comic novel, Sherrill slyly implies that his readers, along with his protagonist, Benny Poteat, are voyeurs of the worst sort. Benny is perfectly content to view life from a distance, spending his days 200 feet in the air painting towers.

"Then one day he espies a young woman who sets up a video camera and calmly walks into a river. By the time he scrambles down the tower and makes it to the riverbank, she has completely vanished. He takes the video camera and a series of tapes back to his rundown duplex. When he discovers her identity, he insinuates himself into her family -- dating her sister, Becky, who is a midget, and having dinner with the parents, all the while expressing his sympathy for their plight even as he withholds the information they are desperately seeking.

"Sherrill explores the intoxicating power of secrets and the psychology of the marginalized even as he forces readers to identify with Benny's worst tendencies. Mesmerizing and disturbing."

Sherrill is a recipient of the Dewitt Wallace/Reader's Digest Fellowship to the MacDowell Colony, and his poems and stories have appeared in journals and anthologies including "Best American Poetry," the Kenyon Review, River Styx and the Georgia Review.

Ingrid Hill, who received a National Endowment for the Arts literature grant in 2002, set her debut novel in Michigan, where she lived before moving to Iowa City in 1987.

Reviewer Deborah Donovan wrote, "Hill's enchanting debut novel spans more than 2,000 years and is brimming with an engaging cast of characters. . . . a magically entertaining, poetic, and heartfelt look at the often overlooked significance of extended family."

Seth Kanter's "Ordinary Wolves" has been considered a standout in the growing genre of ecological fiction. A Publishers Weekly preview commented, "the great challenge is to balance political and environmental agendas with engrossing storytelling. This riveting first novel sets a new standard, offering a profound and beautiful account of a boy's attempt to reconcile his Alaskan wilderness experience with modern society. . . As a revelation of the devastation modern America brings to a natural lifestyle, it's a tour de force and may be the best treatment of the Northwest and its people since Jack London's works."

Barbara Kingsolver called Kanter's novel "an astonishing book: exotic as a dream, acrid and beautiful and honest as life." And Louise Erdrich commented, "I've not read anything that so captures the contrast between the wild world and our ravaging consumer culture."

The Writers' Workshop and the English department are academic units of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,