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ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — The memoir of a woman who grew up in a small Colorado town close to Rocky Flats, a secret nuclear weapons plant once designated “the most contaminated site in America,” has been chosen as St. Bonaventure University’s All Bonaventure Reads selection for 2013.
“Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats” by Kristen Iversen has been praised as “gorgeously written and impressively researched.”
Growing up in Arvada, Colo., near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Iversen’s family and most of her blue-collar neighbors thought Rocky Flats made household cleaning supplies. Under the backdrop of the Cold War, Rocky Flats spent more than 30 years secretly producing plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs. (The title refers to the amount of radioactive material at any time in a human body.)
In the late 1970s, “as the truth began to spread, people protested at the bomb plant and worried about radioactive and toxic waste in surrounding neighborhoods,” wrote Iversen. But production of the triggers would continue until 1989 after the FBI and EPA raided the plant.
Described as part investigative journalism and part memoir, “Full Body Burden” explores secrets — not only of the government’s cover-up of nuclear contamination, but of Iversen’s own family’s silences, too, where her father’s drinking and her mother’s denial were routinely disregarded.
“We have looked for, in past years, books that had an environmental theme; ‘Burden’ is the first of that ilk that captured our attention,” said Jean Trevarton Ehman, director of the Teaching and Learning Center on campus and chair of the All Bonaventure Reads Committee.
Iversen will create a short video introduction of herself and the book that will be shown to new students at Orientation. Students will also receive their copy of “Full Body Burden” at this time and will be encouraged to complete it prior to the start of school in the fall. Students will engage in conversations and activities throughout Welcome Days, University 101 courses and various campuswide events, which traditionally include an All Bonaventure Views film festival and an ABR-themed exhibit at the arts center.
A highlight of the fall semester will be Iversen’s Sept. 30 visit to campus when she will address freshmen, campus members and community residents at an evening talk in the Reilly Center Arena. She also plans to speak with students in freshman-level classes throughout the day. “Our ABR ’13 theme is taken from the book’s last sentence: ‘To speak out or to remain silent is the first and most crucial decision we can make.’ We are excited to springboard programming from this theme that will engage our new students,” said Ehman.
Iversen teaches nonfiction and fiction, specializing in memoir and literary journalism, at the University of Memphis, where she is an associate professor of English and directs the MFA program in creative writing. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Denver.
She is the author of two other books, “Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth” and a textbook, “Shadow Boxing: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction.” Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, Reader’s Digest, Fourth Genre, and many other literary journals and publications.
Iversen has appeared on C-Span and NPR’s Fresh Air, and she has worked extensively with entities such as A&E Biography, The History Channel, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which have created a number of documentaries based on her work.
“Full Body Burden” is a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. It also was chosen by Kirkus Reviews and the American Library Association as one of the Best Books of 2012 and named 2012 Best Book about Justice by The Atlantic.
Rebecca Skloot, author of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which was the university’s ABR selection for 2010, describes “Full Body Burden” as “one of the most important stories of the nuclear era — as personal and powerful as ‘Silkwood,’ told with the suspense and narrative drive of ‘The Hot Zone.’”
“With unflinching honesty, Kristen Iversen has written an intimate and deeply human memoir that shows why we should all be concerned about nuclear safety, and the dangers of ignoring science in the name of national security,” said Skloot.
About the University: Inspired for more than 150 years by the Catholic Franciscan values of individual dignity, community inclusiveness, and service, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them.
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