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University of Iowa News Release


May 23, 2011

Writing University streams May 31-June 2 Prairie Lights readings

Live streams of "Live from Prairie Lights" readings on the University of Iowa's Writing University website -- -- May 31 through June 2 will include an event featuring John Sayles, renowned screenwriter/director, MacArthur "genius grant" winner and former nominee for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Originating in free events at 7 p.m. in Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St. in downtown Iowa City, the line-up will be:
--Former public radio reporter Lisa Napoli, reading from her memoir, "Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth," on Tuesday, May 31.
--Sayles, reading from his new American epic, "A Moment in the Sun," on Wednesday, June 1.
--Iowa Writers' Workshop alumna Tayari Jones, reading from "Silver Sparrow," her just-released novel, on Thursday, June 2.

A successful journalist working for public radio in Los Angeles, Napoli hit a wall. Burned out and overwhelmed by regret, she wondered how to recharge her life.

Enter a friend of a friend with connections to the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan. In 2006 this Buddhist kingdom, long cocooned against the outside world, launched a new youth radio station, Kuzoo FM ("kazoo zap" means "hello"). Would Napoli like to volunteer as a consultant?

So began a love affair with a land unlike any other, a bond that lifted Napoli out of her blues and enriched the lives of the young people with whom she worked. The stories she recounts create a portrait of a society that measures its achievements not with a Gross National Product but, rather, with Gross National Happiness.

Napoli was a reporter and back-up host for public radio show "Marketplace," and she covered the Internet revolution and the cultural impact of technology as a columnist and staff reporter for the New York Times CyberTimes, and as a correspondent for MSNBC.

Sayles has been dubbed the "King of the Indies" for his many successful films created outside the Hollywood studio system -- beginning with "The Return of the Secaucus 7," featuring UI playwriting alumnus Adam LeFevre in one of the primary roles.

"A Moment in the Sun" is connected by time -- and partially by location -- with his latest film, "AMIGO," about the Philippine/American War. You can follow his coast-to-coast promotional tour at

"A Moment in the Sun" has drawn favorable comparisons to epics including Doctorow's "Ragtime," Pynchon's "Against the Day" and Dos Passos' "USA" trilogy. In 1897 gold has been discovered in the Yukon. New York is under the sway of Hearst and Pulitzer, and in a few months, an American battleship will explode in a Cuban harbor, plunging the United States into war.

A starred review in Booklist commented, "In his most spectacular work of fiction to date, filmmaker Sayles combines wonder and outrage in a vigorous dramatization of overlooked and downright shameful aspects of turn-of-the-19th-century America... Crackling with rare historical details, spiked with caustic humor, and fueled by incandescent wrath over racism, sexism, and serial injustice against working people, Sayles' hard-driving yet penetrating and compassionate saga explicates the 'fever dream' of commerce, the crimes of war, and the dream of redemption."

Learn more about Sayles at

A review in Publishers Weekly described Jones' "Silver Sparrow" as "the not-quite-parallel lives of Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon in 1980s Atlanta.

"Both girls -- born four months apart -- are the daughters of James Witherspoon, a secret bigamist, but only Dana and her mother, Gwen, are aware of his double life. This, Dana surmises, confers 'one peculiar advantage' to her and Gwen over James's other family, with whom he lives full time, though such knowledge is small comfort in the face of all their disadvantages.

"Perpetually feeling second best, 15-year-old Dana takes up with an older boy whose treatment of her only confirms her worst expectations about men. Meanwhile, Chaurisse enjoys the easy, uncomplicated comforts of family, and though James has done his utmost to ensure his daughters' paths never cross, the girls, of course, meet, and their friendship sets their worlds toward inevitable (and predictable) collision."

Victor LaValle, the author of "Big Machine," wrote "Silver Sparrow brings to mind John Irving in the ways it makes an epic story out of ordinary lives. The good, the bad, and the ugly all happen in this marvelously moving tale." —

Jones, the author of two previous novels, serves on the faculty at Rutgers University and blogs on writing at

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

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Subscribe or Unsubscribe," then follow the instructions.

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

MEDIA CONTACTS: Jan Weissmiller, Prairie Lights,; Winston Barclay, University News Services,