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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 5, 2007

University of Iowa Press releases three new volumes of literary scholarship

Three new books of literary scholarship are now available from the University of Iowa Press: "Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions" by Maggie Nelson, "A Vocabulary of Thinking" by Deborah M. Mix, and "Fiction Sets You Free" by Russell Berman.

The three books are now available for sale at bookstores or directly from the UI Press by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at Customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, or Africa may order from the Eurospan Group online at

Nelson, who teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts in Valencia, Cal., has written the first extended consideration of the roles played by women in and around the New York School of poets, from the 1950s to the present. She offers analyses of the work of Barbara Guest, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Eileen Myles and abstract painter Joan Mitchell, as well as a reconsideration of the work of many male New York School writers and artists from a feminist perspective.

"Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions" ranges widely and covers collaborations between poets and painters in the 1950s and 1960s; the complex role played by the "true abstraction" of the feminine in the work of John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara and James Schuyler; the intricate weave of verbal and visual arts throughout the postwar period, from Abstract Expressionism to Pop to Conceptualism to feminist and queer performance art; and the unfolding, diverse careers of Mayer, Notley, and Myles from the 1970s to the present.

Mix, who teaches English at Ball State University in Indiana, places Gertrude Stein at the center of a feminist and multicultural account of 20th-century innovative writing. Mix also maps literary affiliations that connect Stein to the work of writers including Harryette Mullen, Daphne Marlatt, Betsy Warland, Lyn Hejinian and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Arguing that these authors have received relatively little attention because of the difficulty in categorizing them, Mix brings the writing of women of color, lesbians, and collaborative writers into the discussion of experimental writing.

By distinguishing a vocabulary -- which is flexible, evolving, and simultaneously individual and communal -- from a lexicon -- which is recorded, fixed, and carries the burden of masculine authority -- Mix argues that Stein's experimentalism both enables and demands the complex responses of these authors.

Mix offers close readings of previously neglected contemporary writers whose work doesn't fit within conventional categories, and by linking genres not typically associated with experimentalism -- lyric, epic, and autobiography -- challenges ongoing reevaluations of innovative writing.

Berman, the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University and the author of seven previous books, raises fundamental questions long ignored by literary scholars: Why does literature command our attention at all? Why would society want to cultivate a sphere of activity devoted to the careful study of literary fiction?

"Fiction Sets You Free" advances the argument that literature and capitalism, rather than representing merely commercialization, actually belie a long and positive association: Literary autonomy is a central part of modern Western culture, thoroughly intertwined with political democracy and free-market capitalism.

Berman particularly challenges the issue of periodization, in which current scholarship emphasizes historical context over the integrity of a literary work and thus neglects the capacity of literature to remain interesting in other times and contexts. By moving from the origins of human language through the development of written alphabets and sacred texts, eventually probing the role of public literature in the creation of community, Berman surveys the intellectual landscape of Western societies.

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

MEDIA CONTACTS: Allison Thomas, UI Press: or 319-335-2015. Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,