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October 15, 2007

Author of “Reading with Oprah” to lecture at ULM Oct. 18

Kathleen Rooney, author of “Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America,” will spend Thursday, Oct. 18 at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, answering questions and discussing her work in collaborative poetry at 1 p.m. The evening lecture, where the author will read from her works, is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the ULM Library Conference Center (7th floor). Both events are open to the public.

“Reading with Oprah” offers an analysis of book clubs and how Winfrey's has affected American society. Rooney has yet to meet the famous titular entertainer, but she said, “Hope springs eternal.”

The English department, College of Arts and Sciences, and literary magazine “turnrow” will host Rooney as the inaugural “turnrow” Lecture, the first in an annual series to bring an author to campus to read from creative pieces, in addition to working closely with writing students. “Institutions of higher learning are such wonderful places, full of so much curiosity and potential, and I feel grateful to have been given the opportunity to spend time at ULM,” Rooney said.

The author intends to remind her listeners that “it's an exciting time in contemporary American publishing. A lot of us just see best-sellers from enormous publishers, but there are actually a multitude of smaller, independent presses, some of which have been around for years and some of which are brand new, and these venues afford all kinds of opportunities for emerging writers to get involved.”

She became aware of ULM’s “turnrow” when her husband, the writer Martin Seay, picked up a copy at the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Austin, Texas in 2005. “When I had the chance to look it over after we brought it home, it was so pretty and interesting that I decided to submit an essay,” Rooney said.

Rooney favors book clubs as institutions that give new life to a culture of reading in the United States, partially by making reading a social activity, bringing people together to discuss complicated subjects.

“With [it] comes a culture of acknowledging and appreciating the value of the lives of others, and of the value of the practices involved in being an avid appreciator of literature,” Rooney said in a turnrow interview with Claudia Grinnell, assistant professor of English at ULM. “Some of these practices, I would argue, are analysis, empathy, and the apprehension of the gray areas of life, the situations where things cannot be boiled down to Us versus Them, Good versus Evil.”

Rooney believes that Oprah’s Book Club, particularly in its fiction stage, “managed to emphasize these values without making them seem like a bitter pill. She made reading beneficial, but also fun.”

The author, a poet and essayist, is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, an independent publisher dedicated to hybrid genres. Her first book, “Reading with Oprah” (Arkansas, 2005), was a finalist for a 2006 Independent Publisher Book Award. A paperback edition featuring new material will be released in 2007.

Her essay “Live Nude Girl” appears in the collection “Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers” (Random House, 2006), and her non-fiction and criticism have appeared in “The Nation,” “Boston Review,” and “Contemporary Poetry Review.”

A past recipient of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship from “Poetry” magazine, Rooney’s poems have appeared in dozens of journals, including “Agni,” “Smartish Pace,” and “Harvard Review.”

Rooney lives in Tacoma, Wash., where she is a visiting assistant professor of English and creative writing at Pacific Lutheran University.

“I found her to be a very precise, very funny at times, and very
challenging poet,” Grinnell said. “When I read the book, I was happy to see that these qualities translated into a book that was engaging to read. The interview and her resultant visit to ULM, I think, are important markers to indicate ULM's growing role as a literary center of gravity.”

Published by the ULM English Department, turnrow is a biannual journal that prints nonfiction of general interest, short fiction, poetry, visual art, and interviews.

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