UW-Madison journalism Prof. Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-winning science writer, has just published Ghost Hunters: Williams James and the Scientific Search for Life After Death. Her Wisconsin Book Festival appearance is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
Isthmus: A century after its chronological setting, how is Ghost Hunters relevant to contemporary readers?
Blum: Well, for one thing, we're still hunting for ghosts. Our interest in the supernatural remains as strong as ever ' witness the abundance of popular television and radio shows devoted to the subject, paranormal investigators, reportedly haunted buildings. I happen to think that the paranormal investigations ' then called psychical research ' were smarter than they are now. But the questions were remarkably similar to ours: Does science define the world? Can one believe in both facts and faith? Are we limited to a mechanical existence? We fight those same battles today ' in schools, politics and science ' and the roots of them can be found in my story.
Marge Piercy's new novel, Sex Wars, addresses the social and moral issues at play in New York after the Civil War. Her Wisconsin Book Festival appearance is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Orpheum Theatre.
Isthmus: How did you conceive Sex Wars
Piercy: I had wanted for years to write about feminist pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but I needed some framework in which to do so. It was realizing how many of the hot-button issues of that period were the hot-button issues of our time that made me finally decide to tackle that project. Passionately debated then were the rights of women and minorities, censorship, freedom of speech, election fraud, immigration, the economy, abortion, contraception, sexual freedom, alternative health therapies, should Christianity be the established religion and should the Bible be taught in schools.
A best-selling master of the horror genre, Peter Straub is the author of 17 novels, three volumes of short fiction and two poetry collections. At the Wisconsin Book Festival, Straub will be a panelist for 'The Evolution of Horror and Fantasy,' scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22, at the Orpheum Theatre.
Isthmus: Do you have any tattoos?
Straub: Of course I have tattoos. On my back ' the whole of my back ' is a tattoo of a mountain pass at night, with a thick yellow lightning bolt sizzling down past a huge white dog. On my right forearm is a saber elaborately inscribed with the slogan HONI SOIT QUI MAL E PENSE. My right bicep is covered with a black heart, a dripping syringe and the legend ART PEPPER DIED FOR YOUR SINS, JACK. Across my chest is a vividly colored portrait of Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer arm-wrestling on a poker table in a children's cemetery at midnight on Halloween. I'm still working on my legs, so I can't describe the effect, but let me tell you, the next time I go out in shorts, a living fable will walk the streets.
Anthony Grooms' novel, Bombingham, is framed by the Vietnam conflict but set primarily in suburban Birmingham during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A professor of creative writing and American literature at Kennesaw State University outside Atlanta, Grooms will read from Bombingham at noon on Saturday, Oct. 21, in Overture Center's Promenade Hall.
Isthmus: Your appearance at this year's Wisconsin Book Festival falls under 'To Establish Justice,' the theme for the festival's cornerstone program track, 'A More Perfect Union.' What is your definition of justice, and how is it established?
Grooms: What is just is a question that societies constantly struggle with, or at least they ought to. Luckily, there are some well-established guidelines. First there is the concept of 'unalienable rights,' as our forefather Thomas Jefferson put it. For Jefferson, one of the rights was the pursuit of happiness, and I do think that the pursuit of happiness, though not necessarily happiness itself, is a right. But it is a right that grows out of the provision of more basic rights.
These rights might be summed up as the right to be free from poverty. We can argue whether this right is God-given, but it certainly should be a birthright of a person born into a just society that the society should do all in its power to provide the basic nutrition, education and so forth. After all, to do so is fundamentally beneficial for the society as a whole. A rich society like ours, where 12% of the population is poor, then is profoundly unjust.