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University of Iowa News Release


July 3, 2008

Pritchett reads from new novel for WSUI's 'Live from Prairie Lights' July 16

Fiction writer Michael Pritchett will read from his new novel, "The Melancholy Fate of Captain Lewis," at 7 pm. Wednesday, July 16, in Prairie Lights Books at 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City. This WSUI "Live from Prairie Lights" event is free and open to the public.

Listen live via the University of Iowa Writing University Web site at

The event will be recorded for broadcast on Iowa Public Radio's "Live from Prairie Lights" series hosted by Julie Englander. 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.

Pritchett's novel finds extraordinary parallels between Meriweather Lewis' doubts about manifest destiny and the contemporary uncertainty that surrounds the modern male.

"Until I read the journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, I saw myself as a purely contemporary writer, and never dreamed I'd write a historical book," Pritchett says. "But something about Lewis' story, his short life and tragic death, wouldn't leave me alone. Along the way, what I discovered I love about historical fiction is its absurd impossibility, how it allows us to pretend we're living the life, and thinking the actual thoughts, of some famous person living hundreds of years in the past.

"For me, the book slowly morphed, changing from a study of Lewis' short life and untimely death into an exploration of belief. What is it we believe to be true, about the present, about the past, and why do we believe it? And why were Clark's and Lewis' beliefs about their present reality so different that one married, had children and prospered, and the other didn't? Therein lies a tale."

A Publishers Weekly preview summarized, "Pritchett retells the saga of Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) from the perspective of Bill Lewis, a modern-day high school teacher who is writing a book about the explorer.

"Shuttling between the early 19th and 21st centuries, the twin narratives contrast the historic exploits of Lewis' life with the more mundane events of Bill's suburban existence. Lewis explores the Northwest Passage, makes Indian policy as governor of the Louisiana Territory, becomes peripherally involved with the traitorous Aaron Burr and takes his own life only three years after his return from the West Coast.

"In the present, a clinically depressed Bill, prone to suicidal thoughts, tries to finish his book while dealing with a deeply troubled marriage, a teenage son with an eating disorder, a student who drops out of school after becoming pregnant and a dangerous flirtation with a friend's wife. Pritchett raises classic questions about the nature of heroism and society's need for (and treatment of) heroes."

Pritchett is also the author of an award-winning collection of stories, "The Venus Tree." He is the winner of the 2000 Dana Award for a novel-in-progress, and his stories have appeared in Passages North, Natural Bridge, New Letters and other magazines. He teaches fiction writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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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: Jan Weissmuller, Prairie Lights,; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell),