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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 22, 2008

'Live from Prairie Lights' will feature Levitin, Peebles Sept. 3 and 4

University of Iowa Writers' Workshop alumna Frances de Pontes Peebles, winner of Brazil's Sacatar Artist's Fellowship, will read from her debut novel, "The Seamstress," in a free "Live from Prairie Lights" event hosted by WSUI's Julie Englander at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, in the Prairie Lights bookstore at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City.

Also reading for "Live from Prairie Lights" that week will be Daniel Levitin, introducing his new book, "The World in Six Songs," at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3. The events will be streamed live via the UI Writing University Web site at

Both events will be recorded for broadcast on Iowa Public Radio's "Live from Prairie Lights" series. Hour-long "Live from Prairie Lights" productions air at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays on WSUI-AM 910 in Iowa City and WOI-AM 640 in Ames.

Like Levitin's previous book, "This is Your Brain on Music," "The World in Six Songs" combines psychology, anthropology and evolutionary science with a poetic love for music.

"The Seamstress" received a starred review in Booklist: "This impressive debut novel seduces with its sweeping story, strong characterization, and extraordinarily vivid detail. A good read-alike for fans of Isabel Allende."

And Aryn Kyle, the author of "The God of Animals," wrote, "'The Seamstress' is a gripping portrait of the lives of two sisters caught in the political unbalance of a country at a crossroads. Bittersweet, beautifully written, this sweeping saga is as impossible to put down as it is to forget."

The novel was inspired by a dream about the cangaceiros, early 20th-century bandits that have become popular folk heroes in Brazil similar to Bonnie and Clyde or Robin Hood. Peebles combined the cangaceiros with the lives of her great-aunts, who were seamstresses in their youths, and told her stories of growing up in rural Brazil.

In the late 1990s, she learned about and researched a particular cangaceiro, Antônio Silvino, interviewing the elderly residents of the area where he was active. "Some said he was a light-skinned giant: blonde, green-eyed, and very tall," she wrote. "Others said he was short and dark like a Cariri Indian. I heard exaggerated tales about Antônio Silvino: once he made a disrespectful old woman hug a cactus, another time he gave a box of gold coins to a starving child.

"I began to read about other, even more famous cangaceiros that came after Antônio Silvino. I wanted to know more about the female bandits in the cangaço, but information was hard to find. Only one woman -- the famous bandit-bride named Maria Bonita (Mary the Beautiful) -- was truly studied. This lack of information made me think of my grandmother Emília and my great-aunts Maria Augusta and Luzia. They'd lived in the countryside when cangaceiros were prevalent. They were the kind of girls that could have been kidnapped and forced to join the cangaço. They'd escaped this fate, but what if they hadn't?"

The Writers' Workshop is a graduate program in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

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

MEDIA CONTACTS: Jan Weissmiller, Prairie Lights, 337-2681; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073,