Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts

5 Questions for Robin Wolfe Scheffler, author of “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine”

May 16, 2019
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5 Questions for Robin Wolfe Scheffler, author of “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine”

In his new book, A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine, Robin Wolfe Scheffler explores the United States’s century-long search for a human cancer virus and reveals the ways in which the effort, while ultimately fruitless, profoundly shaped our understanding of life at its most fundamental levels. We sent Scheffler a few questions to learn more about his research, his motivations for writing the book, his recent reads, and more.  How did you wind up in this academic field, and what do you love about it? A British scientist named CP Snow once claimed that the sciences and humanities were two separate cultures, but I’ve never felt that way. I studied history and chemistry as a student at the University of Chicago. I was drawn to these two subjects because they each connected things—chemistry bridged biology and physics, history bridged the humanities and the social sciences. I explored everything from the economic geography of grain elevators to the mathematical modeling of dimerization before a professor suggested to me that studying the history of science might allow me to connect all of my interests. He was right!   Years later I still enjoy working in . . .

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5 Questions for Connie Voisine, Poet and Author of The Bower

April 25, 2019
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In honor of National Poetry Month, we sent Phoenix Poet Connie Voisine a few questions to delve into her writing and reading life and her thoughts on poetry today. Describe your ideal reader. My ideal reader never changes (ideal is ideal), but the person I write to is quite specific and variable. My old mentor, James McMichael, recommended directing a poem to a specific person, to make it rhetorically focused, urgent. I have some writer friends who represent the best of poetry with their rigor, intelligence, wit, and devotion to craft, and to each I have addressed poems and whole books to. My last book, however, was for the reader my daughter will be some day . . . to thank her. Do you see poetry as having a “moment” right now? And if so, why? I can’t answer that question. Probably. But I am more curious about what the moment produces than what generated it. I used to teach a group of women writers whose average age was perhaps 80. Those women could really read poems because they had done it all their lives. I could throw anything at them—language poetry, conceptual poetry, spoken word, as well as John . . .

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5 Questions for Karen Routledge, author of “Do You See Ice?: Inuit and Americans at Home and Away”

April 24, 2019
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Many Americans imagine the Arctic as harsh, freezing, and nearly uninhabitable. But as Karen Routledge shows in Do You See Ice?, the living Arctic—the one experienced by native Inuit and others who work and travel there—is a diverse region shaped by much more than stereotype and mythology.  We sent Routledge some questions recently to delve into exactly how she came to study this unusual topic. How did you end up working as a professional historian, and what do you love about it? I’m a historian for Parks Canada, the Canadian national park service. I was lucky to end up here. When I was a graduate student, I thought I wanted a tenure-track job, and feared I’d be a failure if I didn’t get one. Near the end of my PhD, a Parks Canada historian (my now-colleague Meg Stanley) told me they were hiring. I realized I badly wanted the job. Thankfully I got it, and I’ve been here since 2010. This has ended up being an ideal job for me. I love that Parks Canada projects can reach a wide audience, and that so many local people and visitors are passionate about our sites. I work mostly on project teams . . .

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Earth Day: Read the Entry for Today from “A Year with Nature”

April 22, 2019
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Herpetologist and natural history writer Marty Crump is a collector of wild tales; and in this bedside book for nature lovers, her treasure chest of stories opens wide. Gathering science and lore, wit and wisdom into a day-by-day, charmingly illustrated wander through the year, A Year with Nature is a quotidian companion that doesn’t eschew conservation issues even as it encourages contemplation, awe, and fun. On April 17, we read a dispatch from the annual Black Bear Festival in Louisiana; on August 12, we learn about World Elephant Day; and on November 13, the day that Coleridge published his famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner, we fly with the albatross (of course). From pythons to oceans, from the moon to the Hope Diamond, the world that this joyful book celebrates is one that is still wild and wonderful—and worth protecting. This Earth Day, read on for A Year with Nature’s inspiring April 22 entry celebrating photographer and preservationist Ansel Adams, who died thirty-five years ago today. APRIL 22 Photography and Wilderness Preservation You don’t take a photograph, you make it. —ANSEL ADAMS, photographer Naturalists, conservationists, environmentalists, and others who dedicate their lives to preserving landscapes strive to accomplish their goals in different ways . . .

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Exploring Chicago’s Maxwell Street with Tim Cresswell

April 17, 2019
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To study the disappearing past of Chicago's Maxwell Street neighborhood and acquaint himself with its present, Tim Cresswell explored the area on foot, photographing everything he saw. Here are a few of our favorite photos, from Cresswell's newly released book, Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Place. . . .

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Write That Book: Exercises for Creative Thinking from Janet Burroway

April 12, 2019
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In 1972, Janet Burroway was assigned to teach a “narrative techniques” class at Florida State. But when she went to find a text to use with the class, she could not find anything that spoke to fiction writing. “There were (it is difficult now to imagine) virtually no books to serve as guidance,” she explains in the introduction to the tenth edition of Writing Fiction, which publishes at the end of April. “Strunk and White’s Elements of Style was a mainstay, but it took, as White notes, a barking tone toward its writer novices. I reread E. M. Forster’s lovely Aspects of the Novel, but it was mostly too abstract and too advanced for my Florida eighteen-year-olds. I combed Eric Bentley’s The Life of the Drama for clues to plot. I read another how-to, the name and author of which I no longer remember, but which memorably assured me that women use a lot of exclamation points but men should not.” So Burroway, a writer of novels herself, decided to create a guide of her own. Three decades later, Writing Fiction has sold more than a quarter million copies and remains the go-to book for aspiring writers. And despite the . . .

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7 Questions for Andrew Hartman, author of A War for the Soul of America

April 9, 2019
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When it was published in 2015, Andrew Hartman’s history of the culture wars was widely praised for its compelling and even-handed account. Yet, what received nearly as much attention was Hartman’s declaration that the culture wars were over—and the left had won. In the wake of Trump’s rise, which was driven in large part by aggressive fanning of those culture war flames, Hartman has brought A War for the Soul of America fully up to date for this second edition, which look towards the signs of a new politics to come. We sent him a few questions recently to find out what it feels like to be wrong and what he sees for the future. The first edition of A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, argued that the culture wars had basically played themselves out. There would still be skirmishes, but the larger struggle had reached its endpoint, and that endpoint represented an overwhelming victory by the left. Two months after the book was published, Donald Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce he was running for president. So . . . how’s it feel to be wrong? Ha! Well, it’s . . .

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5 Questions for Joy McCann, author of Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean

March 27, 2019
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In her new book, Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean, Joy McCann reveals the secrets of elusive Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean, weaving together sea captains’ journals, whalers’ log books, explorers’ letters, scientific research, and ancient beliefs with her own travels there while researching the book. We sent McCann a few questions recently to learn more about her motivations for writing the book. First, just where is the Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean? This might seem a straightforward question of geography, but you explain in the book that the exact borders have actually been contested since the early twentieth century. The simple answer is that the Southern Ocean flows completely around the Antarctic continent in the high southern latitudes, uninterrupted by any landmass. Unlike the Arctic region, where ocean is surrounded by land, the Antarctic region comprises land surrounded by ocean and encircled by twenty tiny sub-Antarctic island groups. It is the world’s only circumpolar ocean, and it was formally recognized as the world’s fifth major ocean in 2000 because of its distinctive physical and biological characteristics. As I discuss in Wild Sea, however, the question of Southern Ocean geography is complicated. The northern limits of the ocean are indistinct . . .

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Women’s History Month: Let’s Talk about Sexual Division of Labor

March 13, 2019
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Feminist linguist Deborah Cameron's new book isn't out until May, but we're giving you a sneak peek in celebration of Women's History Month. . . .

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Magic, Mayhem, and Maps in the Harlem Jazz Age

October 10, 2018
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  Historian Susan Schulten takes us on a deep dive into the fascinating story behind a favorite map from her new book, A History of America in 100 Maps. In 2016, the Beinecke Library at Yale University paid $100,000 to add Elmer Simms Campbell’s energetic profile of interwar Harlem to its celebrated collection of black history and culture. The Library described Campbell’s image as a “playful rendering” of the age, but it also captures the complex dynamics that made Harlem the cultural capital of black America. Campbell’s success may even have surprised him. After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, he moved to Manhattan in 1929 to seek work, though faced a string of rejections due to his race before catching a break at the newly founded Esquire magazine in 1933. For the next four decades, Campbell supplied the magazine with cartoons and illustrations that shaped its knowing, urban, and often cheeky sensibility. Though he initially struggled to find work, Campbell immediately found in Harlem’s jazz scene. He quickly befriended Cab Calloway, who, along with Duke Ellington, presided over legendary performances at the Cotton Club. The men became drinking buddies and regulars at Harlem’s famed clubs and speakeasies, all of . . .

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