Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Eleanor Ross Taylor Emerges

What’s new in Tennessee books—and at Chapter 16—on January 28, 2010

Eleanor Ross Taylor becomes a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry, Heather Armstrong signs a deal with HGTV, buzz is already building for Adam Ross‘s first novel, which isn’t due in stores till June, Abraham Verghese lands on yet another best-of list, and The Huffington Post likes the look of Michael Sims‘s latest book.

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One-Term Wonder

Journalist Robert W. Merry considers the expansionist presidency of James K. Polk

When James K. Polk, the one-term president from Columbia, Tennessee, took the Oath of Office, the United States was an Atlantic power beset by the British to the north and Spanish and French interests to the south; by the time he left, the country had secured its dominance over North America and set in motion the economic boom that would drive it to global preeminence in the next century. Yet for all the importance of the Polk Administration, the man himself presents historians with a problem: How do you write a compelling narrative about one of America’s all-time boring politicians? In his new book, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent, journalist Robert W. Merry gives it a shot.

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Cellular Communication

A line of immortal human cells, crucial to medicine for decades, leads Memphis author Rebecca Skloot to ask fascinating questions about race, culture, and science

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks follows two principle story lines—one the biography of a virtually unknown, uneducated woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951; the other a scientific account of her still-living cells. Commonly known in biology circles as HeLa, these cells and the research they allow have directly affected much of the human race, yet their source remained a mystery even to most researchers. For decades not even the children of Henrietta Lacks knew their mother lived on in thousands of labs around the world, and in medicines and treatments that have saved countless lives. Rebecca Skloot‘s masterful new book has changed all that.

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Fanning the Fire

Essayist, scholar, and novelist Randall Kenan responds with passion to the legacy of James Baldwin

In an interview with Chapter 16, author Randall Kenan discusses his latest book, The Fire This Time—an essay collection in which he considers the contemporary African American experience with passion—and in a voice that’s all his own. On January 28, Kenan will discuss his work in Room 101 of Buttrick Hall on the Vanderbilt University campus.

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Escaping the Tiger

Jid Lee remembers her harsh Korean childhood

MTSU English professor Jid Lee remembers a Korean childhood marked by violence and despair. Urged to cultivate a warrior spirit but also to accept without question the patriarchy of her culture, Lee was trapped: “I felt I was in a tiger’s stomach. I wanted to get out.” To Kill a Tiger: A Memoir of Korea is the story of her release.

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The Chains of Love

In her deeply original debut novel, Dolen Perkins-Valdez looks at the interior lives of the enslaved women kept as mistresses by Southern planters

Wench, a story of enslaved concubines and their white male masters, is a surefooted and engrossing work of historical fiction. While debut novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez grounds her story in compelling nineteenth-century research, the book finds its center and momentum not in reams of facts but in one woman’s impossibly conflicted heart. Deeply interior and elegantly written, this novel reveals shades of emotional complexity in the slave-owner relationship, one often portrayed as a classic battle of good and evil, heroes and villains.

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