University News

Essayist John D’Agata shares eclectic writing

By
Staff Writer
Friday, April 16, 2010

Essayist John D’Agata read from his latest book, “About a Mountain,” to a crowd of about 60 people in the English department’s McCormack Family Theater Thursday night. D’Agata, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, merges ordinarily separate literary techniques, such as fictional storytelling, reporting and personal anecdotes, together into a book that a Los Angeles Times review described as a “meditation on post-millennial issues.”

“I think you need to stop the racist segregation of genres,” D’Agata joked to the audience.
D’Agata read from the end of “About a Mountain,” an excerpt that focused on the Yucca Mountain Project — the plan of the U.S. Department of Energy to store the nation’s nuclear waste in Yucca, a mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, where it is expected to decay for 10,000 years.

The author, whose writing wove together a set of eclectic topics that included the number nine and Norwegian inbreeding, linked the story of the Yucca Mountain Project to his work for a suicide prevention hotline at the time he was writing the book. He then went on to describe the suicide of Levi Presley, a 16-year-old Las Vegas resident. D’Agata had spoken to a young man who called the hotline earlier on the day of Presley’s suicide, and D’Agata immediately believed — mistakenly, as he later discovered — Presley was that young man.

Despite the heavy and tragic themes of his writing, audience members laughed in reaction to the absurdity of D’Agata’s work. The author also told audience members not to feel uncomfortable laughing during these moments.

Thursday’s reading, sponsored by the Program in Literary Arts and the Department of English’s Nonfiction Writing Program, was the final stop on D’Agata’s book tour of over a dozen colleges since his novel was published in February. D’Agata, who had spoken at Brown previously, said he appreciated the literary atmosphere of the University.

“I don’t mean to flatter you, but I really feel I’m saving the best for last,” D’Agata said.