Hello Iowa City readers, writers and bibliophiles – this sweltering week in the middle of June is the perfect week for you. A fantastic selection of readings are coming your way in the next few days, and whether you’re a veteran of Iowa City’s long tradition of literary readings, or you’ve been timidly waiting on the sidelines, there are several authors visiting who are definitely worth getting excited about. As always, you can use the Prairie Lights website, or the website of the Writing University for a full forecast of events, but I’ll be highlighting three particular readings I think will be well worth the trip: a novel, a memoir and a book of poetry. All of the following readings take place at 7:00 p.m. at Prairie Lights.
This Tuesday, author Florencia Mallon will be reading from her debut novel, Beyond the Ties of Blood. The novel follows Eugenia Aldunate, a student in Chile who becomes involved with leftist rebels during Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 rise to power, an involvement which has dire and lasting effects on her life. Florencia Mallon was herself born in Chile. While the author may be new to fiction, she is certainly distinguished in her own field. Having been educated at Harvard and Yale, Mallon is now the chair of the University of Wisconsin’s history department. Fears that the prose would thus be dry or overly academic are unfounded; early reviews of the book commend the author on her ability to weave a thoroughly engrossing narrative using her extensive knowledge of (and personal experience with) Chilean history and culture.
On Thursday, Gulf War Veteran and Iowa Writers’ workshop graduate Anthony Swofford will be returning to Iowa City to read from his new memoir, Hotels, Hospitals and Jails. You may have read Swofford’s previous memoir, Jarhead, or you may perhaps have seen the author played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film of the same name. Hotels, Hospitals and Jails documents Swofford’s life after Jarhead’s success. Swofford, still fractured from his experiences in the war, writes about his brother’s death and frustrating relationship with his father, as well as the hedonism and self-destruction he practiced all the while. Early reviews agree that the quality of Anthony Swafford’s language is the book’s strongest asset, although some suggest the narrative is too disjointed. And while Swofford’s tales of heavy boozing and constant sex may be seen as an honest account of a pained and struggling life, Nancy Rommelmann of The Oregonian suggests that Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails is often juvenile, redundant and self-obsessed. Even if this is the case, I think Swofford’s memoir should make for an intriguing reading.
Finally, this Friday, neurologist and poet Dawn McGuire will be reading from her third, most recent book of poetry, The Aphasia Café. Aphasia, as defined at the opening of the book, is “A disorder in which there is partial or total loss of the ability to express and/or understand language as a symbol system, resulting from brain injury or disease.” This collection of poems, then, explores how human beings can communicate when their primary form of communication is impaired or blocked entirely. Dr. McGuire’s poems extend from the clinic and spread to the rest of the world, as she writes of the “everyday aphasias we all share.” That is, it doesn’t take brain damage to make communication via language difficult, we have minor aphasias every day, even with (or especially with) the ones we love the most. This should be a fascinating reading for those interested in both literature and science, and how the two are able to intersect in often-wonderful ways. Dawn McGuire is Adjunct Professor of Neurology at the Neurosciences Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine. Expect a full article on Dr. McGuire and her new collection later this week.