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University of Iowa News Release


March 7, 2011

UI Press releases 'The Meaning of Rivers' on March 15

The University of Iowa Press will release "The Meaning of Rivers: Flow and Reflection in American Literature" by T.S. McMillin on March 15.

In the continental United States, rivers serve to connect state to state, interior with exterior, the past to the present, but they also divide places and peoples from one another. These connections and divisions have given rise to a diverse body of literature that explores American nature, ranging from travel accounts of 17th-century Puritan colonists to magazine articles by 21st-century enthusiasts of extreme sports.

Using pivotal American writings to determine both what literature can tell us about rivers and how rivers help us think about the nature of literature, "The Meaning of Rivers" introduces readers to the world of flowing water and some of the different ways in which American writers have used rivers to understand the world through which these waters flow.

Embracing a hybrid, essayistic form -- part literary theory, part cultural history, and part fieldwork -- "The Meaning of Rivers" connects the humanities to other disciplines and scholarly work to the land. Whether developing a theory of palindromes or reading works of American literature as varied as Henry David Thoreau's "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers" and James Dickey's "Deliverance," McMillin urges readers toward a transcendental retracing of their own interpretive encounters.

"Water floats memories," Wayne Franklin wrote in the foreword. "Think of any phase in your experience and soon you will find some stream twisting through your thoughts. . . . Scott McMillin revives them for me in 'The Meaning of Rivers.'

"His effort is both ambitious and disarmingly simple. He wants, as his title suggests, to set us thinking not about the surface of rivers, whether smooth and shiny or turbid and rough, but rather about their philosophical significance. "What do rivers mean?" he insists on asking us at the outset, and he will not let us off easy. We cannot reply that rivers are about the endless flow of experience, or that they mirror the fluid uncertainty of our souls‚ such cliches will not do.

"For one thing, he conceives of rivers in their intransigent thereness, their actuality. If rivers are to mean something, it will not be because we can forget actual flows of water, with the debris they carry and the work they do. It is because we remember their material reality that we will earn the right to ask the deeper questions he wants us to consider."

McMillin is an English faculty member at Oberlin College. He is the author of "Our Preposterous Uses of Literature: Emerson and the Nature of Reading."

"The Meaning of Rivers" is part of the UI Press American Land and Life Series for which Franklin is the series editor:

The book will be available at bookstores or directly from the press, 800-621-2736 or Customers in Europe, the Middle East or Africa may order from Eurospan Group at It is also available as a pdf e-book:

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: UI Press:; Winston Barclay, University News Services,