Tuesday, March 11, 2014

In the News: American Afterlife

Want to sample Kate Sweeney's AMERICAN AFTERLIFE before buying the book? Then check-out the spring 2014 issue of the Oxford American. The magazine contains an excerpt from her chapter on burials at sea. In its March 2 edition, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (subscription required for online access) featured a multi-page spread for the book, including photos of Sweeney at Oakland Cemetery and chapter 3 ("The Cemetery's Cemetery") of AMERICAN AFTERLIFE. According to Atlanta Magazine (March 2014), "Sweeney's wicked sense of humor renders the topic of death not so scary, and her good-natured affection . . . make[s] her a bewitching tour guide."

"Sweeney writes the perfect story for our time, in the best possible way—with brisk, clear prose, unobtrusive but unflinching," describes Paste Magazine.

For more on AMERICAN AFTERLIFE, check out this interview with Sweeney in Deep South Magazine:
How long have you been fascinated with death? Does this go back to your childhood or did it develop later?
I am not a morbid person. I’ve never been somebody who goes around wearing black and hanging out in cemeteries listening to Goth music, but at the same time I think I’ve always been concerned with — and I think we all are to some extent — what is the best way to live life and how to get the most out of it. I worry about that all the time, and I think that my artistic response to that is to try to investigate that through my writing.
So, really what was happening was there were two different levels of interest going on. I was drawn to a lot of this stuff, because it was stuff I didn’t know about before. I didn’t know what Victorian hair jewelry was all about, this jewelry that people made out of human hair and then would hold onto as memorial jewelry. I didn’t know what went into putting together a conventional funeral. If you’re looking for sort of a world full of little known facts, funerals and memorialization, death is really ripe with it. As I went on, I sort of had to ask myself, why are you really doing this? What’s going on here? And I realized I was somebody in her late twenties and thirties working on this book who had never experienced catastrophic loss. I knew that sooner or later in all likelihood, this is going to happen to me. I think that on some level, I was looking for some ideas for how people cope with it. There’s no hard and fast answer for how to cope with loss when it happens to you, how to memorialize your loved ones, so what I did was turn to stories.
Or, you can see Sweeney answer questions about AMERICAN AFTERLIFE on WXIA 11 Alive's "Atlanta and Company." Watch to learn why a home's "parlor" is now called a "living room."

Ivory Owl Reviews gives an overview of the book, while ArtsATL pairs it with fellow Atlantan Jessica Handler's new book, BRAVING THE FIRE. Here they discuss how the internet touches on both of their books' topics:
Though how people grieve has changed over the years, no medium has transformed the discussion of grief more than the Internet. Both writers reference Death Café, a website that organizes group-directed discussions about death, and has meet-ups in cities all over the country, including at the historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
“There is very good content about the grief experience [online],” says Handler. She cites Lisa Bonchek Adams’ personal blog about her experience with stage IV breast cancer, and writer Suleika Jaouad’s New York Times blog about her breast cancer diagnosis at age 22, her subsequent treatment and recovery.
Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, says Sweeney, help to “open the door” to discuss loss. “It may be that it’s easier to discuss something so difficult with people you can’t see, and don’t have to see in your day-to-day life. I’d venture to say that in an era when we might be expected to put on more of a brave public face while facing grief, these spaces may be more valuable than ever.”