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Australian-American and Fiction-Journalism

Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks brings novels from history



Geraldine Brooks, who joins the OSU-Cascades Camps Low Residency in Creative Writing MFA faculty this summer, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, but that genre really is too confining. Her four books are each a fiction, but each is also exhaustively researched, and often inspired by an actual historical event.

No surprise that the Australian-born writer's early career was as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

"March," the 2005 title that earned her a Pulitzer, appropriates the absent father from Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic "Little Women." March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the backwater battlefields of the Civil War, who struggles with the moral complexity of war, a test of his faith in himself and the Union cause, and his fear that he won't return to his family the same man. Brooks used the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's father, to draw out the character of March, and the result is a powerfully resonant story of longing and loss.

Brooks' 2008 "People of the Book: A Novel," takes readers on a journey (in reverse chronological order) through five centuries of history following a rare illuminated Hebrew manuscript from its creation in Muslim-ruled medieval Spain, through inquisition-era Venice, fin-de-siècle Vienna, and the Nazi sacking of Sarajevo. Hanna Heath, the contemporary manuscript conservator who becomes the custodian of the book (which is inspired by the real Sarajevo Haggadah), seeks out the origins of the book and the people who crafted it.

Her most recent novel, "Caleb's Crossing," is similarly inspired by an actual event. In Martha's Vineyard, where she lives with her family, Brooks discovered a notation on a Wampanoag map, marking the birthplace of the first Native American graduate of Harvard in the 17th century. It was a story treasured by the Wampanoag, but not widely known in the wider community. "Caleb's Crossing" changed that, and sheds new light on the period that precedes the conquering of the continent and the Native American genocide that would follow.

Foremost in Brooks' work, which includes "Years of Wonder," a novel that takes place in a 17th century English town ravaged by plague, and her nonfiction writing on the lives of Muslim women in "Nine Parts of Desire," is an adventurous spirit and meticulous literary research. Her skill in breathing life into historical characters to help readers understand the compelling, if little known, aspects of our history has made her one of the most insightful storytellers in contemporary literature.

Author! Author!

7 pm, Thurs., June 19

Bend High School Auditorium, 230 NE 6th St.


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