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University of Iowa News Release

April 25, 2005

Amherst College President Emeritus Reads From Debut Novel On WSUI May 6

Classics scholar Peter Pouncey, president emeritus of Amherst College, will read from his first novel, "Rules for Old Men Waiting," at 8 p.m. Friday, May 6, on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910. Listen on the Internet at

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be a free event in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

In Pouncey's novel an elderly widower, alone in a Massachusetts retreat, makes a list of rules for his remaining days, against memories of love and war.

A starred review in Publishers Weekly explains, "Begun in 1981, this slender, unpretentious, lyrical and deeply moving novel by the president emeritus of Amherst College was more than two decades in the making. The year is 1987, and octogenarian Robert MacIver is alone, in failing health and debilitated with grief over his wife's recent death, hiding out in the dead of winter in a remote, unheated Cape Cod house 'older than the Republic.'

"Shocked into confronting the seriousness of his plight when the timbers of the front porch collapse under his weight, he retreats back inside the house and realizes that he wants to live out his remaining days -- however few in number -- with dignity. Thus resolved, he formulates his Ten Commandments for Old Men Waiting, the seventh of which is 'Work every morning.' And so he decides to write a short story about an infantry company in 'No Man's Land' in WWI, which will draw on the interviews he conducted with victims of poison gas that he used for his first book, the well-received oral history 'Voices Through the Smoke.'

"Pouncey's novel thus becomes a story within a novel; and MacIver's story is elegantly juxtaposed with his memories from his own long life. Pouncey's first book is proof that sometimes greatness comes slowly and in small packages."

Frank McCourt called the book, "A deeply sensual, moving, thrilling novel that calls for a second and third reading -- it is that rich," and Louis Begley described it as, "a tender, beautifully expressed rumination on love and loss by a highly intelligent and marvelously brave old man."

Born in China of British parents and educated at Oxford University, Pouncey moved to the United States in the 1960s. He was dean of Columbia College in the 1970s, and retired from Amherst College in 1994 after a decade as president.

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