Friday, August 30, 2013

Q&A with author Cynthia Lowen

In her new book, THE CLOUD THAT CONTAINED THE LIGHTNING, Cynthia Lowen uses the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the "father of the atomic bomb," as a jumping-off point for her collection of poetry. The collection explores the kinds of ethical choices we face as individuals and as a society with respect to the innovations and inventions we pursue. Of these poems, Pultizer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes writes, "No biographer in 600 pages has come closer to understanding him [Oppenheimer]—and the bomb—than does Cynthia Lowen in these subtle, resonant poems."

Here is a Q&A with Lowen about her new book.

Q: Why did you want to write about the atomic bomb and Oppenheimer in particular? 

Although I never met him, I understood from a very young age that my grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project. He was a young physicist in Eugene Wigner’s theoretical group at Met Lab in Chicago. When the scientists began to clash with the military over the management of the Project—the scientists were convinced it would only take one atomic bomb to beat the Nazis, while the military wanted to develop an entire industrial production line of bombs—my grandfather leaked the Manhattan Project’s existence to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, in the hopes she would take up the scientists’ cause. For this security breech, he was kicked of the Project, followed by the FBI who suspected him of communist sympathy, and died shortly after the war at the age of 38, of causes my family has never determined.

Having the atomic bomb as part of my family history was something that I always felt deeply conflicted about. It also prompted me to wonder, what drove these scientists to create such a terrible weapon? What were the fears, prejudices, hubris and very human qualities that came together at that juncture in history, to produce such a thing? And furthermore, what prompted it to be used? While the earliest drafts of the poems in the book were originally about my grandfather, I soon decided that I wanted this collection to revolve, rather, around the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Although the atomic bomb had thousands of creators, it was Oppenheimer who came to be known as ‘the father of the atomic bomb,’ and I wanted to use this emblematic status as a way to explore these questions. Oppenheimer is such a complicated, rich figure, and the more I found out about him, the more I felt his life encapsulated the intersection of ambition, violence, conscience, and ultimately, tragedy, that touched so many people involved with the atomic bomb’s creation and use.

Q: Richard Rhodes, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his landmark book The Making of the Atomic Bomb, has said “No biographer in six hundred pages has come closer to understanding him—and the bomb—than does Cynthia Lowen in these subtle, resonant poems.” What kind of research did you do into Oppenheimer’s life in order to get this close? 
Richard Rhodes’s own watershed book is where my research began—in fact, years before I ever started the poetry collection, when I was trying to learn more about my grandfather, who is mentioned therein. I continued to turn to this book often in the course of writing the collection, not just for information about Oppenheimer, but also to develop an understanding of the science behind the bomb, and the timeline leading up to its use. Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus was absolutely instrumental in learning about Oppenheimer’s personality, character, beliefs, insecurities, relationships, and really, in developing a sense of him as a person. From there I watched documentaries, clips I found of Oppenheimer online, I read papers, letters, articles—really, anything I could get my hands on. Both the plays In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer and Copenhagen helped me look at the scientist from a dramatic standpoint, and think about how to develop the distinct voice that would become that of Oppenheimer’s in the book. I also read biographies about other scientists working on the Manhattan Project, such as Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard, and the military heads of the project, including General Groves and Vannevar Bush, and histories of life at Los Alamos. Of course, in writing a book of poetry, rather than hard history, I was able to take the historical record as a jumping-off point to imagine the psychological dimensions of this man and his work.

That said, as I was learning more about Oppenheimer and the making of the bomb, I felt it was essential to write also from the perspective of the hibakusha, Japanese for “explosion-affected people.” The Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima has done an incredible job of archiving the testimonies of the people who witnessed the bombing on August 6, 1945, many of whom lost their children and loved ones. I also read several collections of essays by the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as poems by authors including Sankichi Toge, an activist who used poetry to advocate for peace.

Q. What were the most surprising things you came across during your research? 
There were many things that surprised me in the course of researching this book. One of the things that really stands out—though I suppose it’s not really surprising at all—is that documentary footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki filmed shortly after the bombings and bearing witness to the human toll, was suppressed and confiscated by the Americans and taken out of the country. A ban was also imposed in Japan on the publication of written works referring to the atomic bombings, as well as criticism of the Allied forces. This lasted throughout the U.S. occupation and reconstruction, until the early 1950s. As a result, during the ban, poetry and art became an important way to talk about the bomb, and to write critically of the U.S. and Japanese governments.

I was also surprised to discover the extent to which the hibakusha were discriminated against, as reminders of defeat and humiliation. They often had a difficult time finding jobs, getting married, and even getting support for their medical needs from the government.

In terms of Oppenheimer, I was surprised to discover that he himself wrote and loved poetry. Of course, he famously quoted the Bhagavad Gita upon the first testing of an atomic bomb at Trinity, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” I think his passion for poetry gave me a kind of permission to address his life through this form, and gave me hope that perhaps, from somewhere in the great beyond, he might approve.

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Short Takes

Over on today's Wall Street Journal Japan blog, Japan Real Time, poet Cynthia Lowen talks about her new book, THE CLOUD THAT CONTAINED THE LIGHTNING.
JRT: What prompted you to write poetry about the atomic bomb?
Lowen: Initially, I thought I would be writing about my own family history. I knew from a very young age that my grandfather was involved with the Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb–he was a nuclear physicist on the Project in the earlier phases, and I remember feeling terrible that my own family was part of something so horrific. As I started to uncover my grandfather’s history, I was looking for ways to write about it, ways to find out about the bomb, and the human feelings attached that led to the creation of this book.
My family history is what led me to write the material, but J. Robert Oppenheimer was the figure that I wanted to be the central force because he’s so emblematic. He became a metaphor for something much larger than he was, and I thought it would be a good way to enter the material. From there, I did extensive research into his life, and I got into the psychology of the bomb, using the splitting in fission as a way to talk about our own departures from our conscience.
Kirkus Reviews describes THE SMALL HEART OF THINGS as a "sharply observed" and "deeply felt book."

KATHARINE AND R. J. REYNOLDS is both a "tour de force" and "top-notch study," according to the Journal of American History.

ISLAND TIME author Jingle Davis had a talk and book signing at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA this past Saturday. Athens Patch recommended the event to its readers, saying "If you love St. Simon’s, the beach, or just good writing, be there." Thanks to everyone who came and to Avid for hosting it!

"[Novey's] modes vary from flashes of anecdote to surreal narrative, from prose to brief lyrics to long-lined poems. The effect is one of an extended reach toward concretions, routines and environments that won't yield to mere wishes to understand or change them. . . . In Exit, Civilian, the thing is the prison, intractably present—and freedom, more than simply a life outside a jail, comprises an infinite speculation on the meaning of itself. The tonal gives way to the atonal, the fuzzy."—Ron Slate's review of EXIT, CIVILIAN on his website, On the Seawall.

WFPL 89.3 talks with Frank X Walker about his new book, TURN ME LOOSE. Listen to the interview here:

Southern Spaces features an excerpt from Candace Waid's new book, THE SIGNIFYING EYE.

CHICKEN DREAMING CORN author Roy Hoffman has a piece in the New York Times in which he comments on the experiences from his youth. In particular, he reminisces on hitchhiking in the 1970s.

From left to right: Saisha Grayson, Judy Chicago, and Jane Gerhard
A few weeks ago, the Brooklyn Museum of Art hosted an event for author Jane Gerhard and artist Judy Chicago to promote the new book, THE DINNER PARTY. Below is a YouTube video from Judy Chicago that features audio of the conversation between Chicago and Gerhard, moderated by Saisha Grayson, Assistant Curator.

Don't forget about our Flannery O'Connor Award 30 Years | 30 Books Giveaway!

Sign up for our newsletter and qualify for our Flannery O’Connor Award 30 Years | 30 Books Giveaway! Stop by our booth at the Decatur Book Festival to enter in person or sign up online by noon EDT September 1st—winners will be announced later that day. You need not be present to win.

Prize includes:
• 30 titles from the acclaimed short fiction series
• Our great new UGA Press canvas tote

Winners will be announced at 2 pm and notified by telephone and email.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Short Takes

Pomegranate Books lists NORTH CAROLINA'S AMAZING COAST in their Summer Reading List 2013 for Our State Magazine. The book is a "delightful . . . resource for the amateur naturalist."

Make sure to pick up a copy of the latest issue of Victorian Homes. It features a multi-page spread of OLD LOUISVILLE, along with tips on how to achieve these looks in your own home. For example, "Dial up the details on [staircase] rails, flooring on stairs, or windows over the landing for a grand entrance."
photos from

Counterpunch reviews BEYOND WALLS AND CAGES in an article on incarceration in the United States. "This is a radical book that strips away any pretense that prisons and policies designed to place as many people as possible in them can be humane. The writers herein issue a clear and thoughtful call to reconsider the entire concept of prisons."
Southern Spaces features an excerpt from Jon Smith's FINDING PURPLE AMERICA. In the excerpt and newly written afterword, Smith tells of his efforts to create a garden in Birmingham, AL.

The Springfield News-Leader features a condensed version of Eileen Crist's chapter in LIFE ON THE BRINK, arguing that humans must be environmentally-conscious in order to survive.

Listen here for PROPERTIES OF VIOLENCE author David Correia's Santa Fe Radio Cafe, KSFR 101.0 FM interview about his new book.

You can also check out this video interview with David Correia on the New Mexico Mercury website.

SHORT STORIES OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT editor Margaret Earley Whitt has a Letter to the Editor in a recent issue of the New Yorker.

The Bowling Green Daily News summarizes several essays from SIGNPOSTS, calling them "a sample of the high caliber of research studies included in this comprehensive work."

The Monroe News Star selects NATHALIE DUPREE'S COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING as one of the recent must-have Southern cookbooks of the summer. "Now reissued in paperback, the cookbook that allowed people to be comfortable while entertaining will reach a whole new audience."

Over on his Inside Higher Ed blog, John Griswold announces the forthcoming publication of his new book, KILLING PIRATES, due out this spring.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Want to win a free book? Take our new survey

Like to read? Want to win a free book?

Tell us all about your reading and book-buying preferences in our new survey and you could win one of our new Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction books before it hits shelves next month.

After you complete the survey, email us your response to question #10. You'll then be entered into a drawing to win an advance reader's copy of the forthcoming Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction winner, THE VIEWING ROOM, by Jacquelin Gorman.

Based on author Jacquelin Gorman's personal experience as a hospital chaplain and pastoral counselor, the stories in THE VIEWING ROOM share a unique view of people who are misunderstood and unseen. The book lays bare nine parallel worlds of suffering in stories of unflinching detail that follow two hospital chaplains who work to console survivors of patients in a large urban hospital in Los Angeles.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Spring 2014 Sneak Peek

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, scholars continue to shed new light on the Civil War and its effects. The New York Times Disunion blog, for example, regularly hosts posts that include first-person accounts of the war. In a recent post for the blog, Megan Kate Nelson, author of RUIN NATION, shares the plight of Napoleon Perkins, a young Union soldier, who, like tens of thousands of other soldiers, lost a leg as a direct result of the war. During the nineteenth-century, men lost more than a limb when faced with amputation.
[M]any Union and Confederate soldiers recoiled at the thought of amputation. Mid-19th-century gender conventions invested a great deal of meaning in the whole white male body; the loss of an arm or leg, they well knew, would result in the loss of masculinity, and of status and power. . . . As Perkins and other veteran amputees recovered from their surgeries, they had to renegotiate their place in society. Could a veteran amputee woo women, marry, procreate and work to support his family? During a time in which citizenship was seen as 'embodied' in adult white males, could an amputee be considered a full citizen?
Joining Perkins in this new life was Union Army corporal, James R. Tanner. Tanner is the subject of a book coming out next spring: AMERICA'S CORPORAL: JAMES TANNER IN WAR AND PEACE by James Marten. Perhaps the most famous nineteenth-century American that almost no one has heard of, Civil War corporal James Tanner fought at the Second Battle at Manassas, was injured, and lost both of his legs above the knees. He later served as stenographer at Abraham Lincoln's deathbed. AMERICA'S CORPORAL is both a biography of James Tanner, as well as a historiography of the Civil War. The book looks at the life of Corporal Tanner, his humble beginnings, unfortunate tragedy, impressive fortitude, and the controversy and accomplishment of his long-lived career.

This injured Civil War vet became an early advocat and public speaker for veterans' rights. AMERICA'S CORPORAL is crucial as an examination of the dynamics of disability, the reinvention of Tanner and the crafting of a cultural image, his work for veterans’ causes, the culture and politics of the Gilded Age, and a look at the aftereffects of the Civil War, including the philosophical and psychological changes that it prompted. Tanner is a prominent and influential, but often overlooked, figure.

AMERICA'S CORPORAL will be joining Nelson's RUIN NATION and Stephen Berry's WEIRDING THE WAR in the UnCivil Wars series. UnCivil Wars is a series dedicated to new ways of seeing and telling the American Civil War.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Big Game Fishing This Week

Did you hear about the 920-pound, 9-foot long tuna recently caught in a Massachusetts harbor, as reported by CBS News?

Or, did you miss out in participating in this year's Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament? In its 54th year, the tournament is held off the Kona coast and ends today. (A video from Sunday's opening ceremonies is below.)

Do these stories inspire you to grab a reel, sail into the open waters, and fish? If so, you need to read the soon to-be-released THE BILLFISH STORY.

Unlike other books on specific members of the billfish family, THE BILLFISH STORY is a passionate, readable, informative account of all billfish—sailfish, marlin, spearfish, and swordfish—and the bonds formed with this unique group of fish by anglers, biologists, charter-boat captains, and conservationists through their pursuit, study, and protection of these species.

This accessible book is for those readers who want to take the next step in understanding billfish. Anglers and armchair adventurers alike will read of the continued fascination of catching a trophy billfish within the modern-day angling community, as well as the angling adventures of noted luminaries such as Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway.

THE BILLFISH STORY is not only intended as a tale of the most important billfish discoveries, but as a means of demonstrating that billfish occupy a position of unique importance in our culture and society. Select chapters focus on sustainable fishing practices with regard to ocean resources, as well as the influence of climate change on marine ecosystems. Billfish are more than discreet objects to be probed and measured, caught and discarded, but rather they are at the center of a story that links natural history, angling adventure, and human history.  This multi-faceted approach will allow readers to achieve a higher level of appreciation of billfish, which will only enhance their journey into the natural world.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Short Takes

The Summer 2013 issue of Emory Magazine features an article on ATLANTA'S OAKLAND CEMETERY, highlighting the recent awards it has received.

Are you a resident of St. Simons, GA? A frequent visitor? Or, have you never been but would like to visit? Then ISLAND TIME is the book for you! Flagpole Magazine backs up that claim in a recent review of the book: 
If you don’t know St. Simons, this book is like a visit needing no sunscreen or mosquito repellant. Every period in the island’s history is fascinating, all the way up to modern times, and Ben Galland’s camera catches it all: the ruins, the marshes, the beach and, yes, the sunsets, which we have all tried to photograph.
If you do know St. Simons, you know how, when you are there, you feel surrounded by history, and it makes you want to know more about this beautiful and mysterious place of moss and marshes and scattered, nameless ruins.
Upcoming events:

August 14, time tba
Fountainhead Bookstore
Hendersonville, NC
A MESS OF GREENS by Elizabeth Engelhardt
Talk and signing

August 20, 10:30am
St. Simons Literary Guild
St. Simons, GA
ISLAND TIME by Jingle Davis, photographs by Benjamin Galland
Talk and signing with both Jingle Davis and Benjamin Galland at the casino

August 24, 6:30-7:30pm
Avid Bookshop
Athens, GA
ISLAND TIME by Jingle Davis, photographs by Benjamin Galland
Talk and signing with Jingle Davis

August 31, 3:00-3:45pm
Decatur Book Festival
Decatur, GA
Presentation and signing in the Marriott Conference Center Ballroom B

September 1, 12:00-12:45pm
Decatur Book Festival
Decatur, GA
EAT DRINK DELTA by Susan Puckett
"Have Food, Will Travel" panel with Christopher Bakken, author of HONEY, OLIVES, OCTOPUS; followed by book signing

September 3, 7:00pm
The Ivy Bookshop
Baltimore, MD
THE QUARRY by Harvey Grossinger, BLACK ELVIS by Geoffrey Becker, and LOVE, IN THEORY by E. J. Levy
Flannery O'Connor Award 30th anniversary event

Congratulations to our business manager, Phyllis Wells, for winning the "Other Duties, As Assigned" award on July 24 at the 2013 Asset Awards! Phyllis was nominated primarily because of her leadership as Interim Director of the Press from December 2011 to June 2012.

The Asset Awards Program (Acknowledging Staff Skills, Effort and Time) began in 1992 to provide UGA Libraries with a way to formally recognize staff and faculty for contributions that have kept both the core functions and the innovative endeavors of the University Libraries on target over the past year. UGA Press is part of the University Libraries.

Elizabeth Engelhardt, author of A MESS OF GREENS, has a series of video interviews related to food studies. Check out the ones below for a taste of what her forthcoming book, THE LARDER, will feature. THE LARDER is edited by John T. Edge, Elizabeth Engelhardt, and Ted Ownby.