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‘Tortilla Curtain’ Selected For ‘One Community’ Reading Project

The Tortilla Curtain” (Viking Penguin 1995) by T. Coraghessan Boyle has been selected by “One Community, One Book-Johnson County Reads” for its 2006 reading project promoting new insights on human rights in the United States. The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) coordinates the project in conjunction with representatives from other sponsoring organizations from Johnson County and the UI.

“The Tortilla Curtain” explores Topanga Canyon, home to two couples on a collision course. Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an ordered sushi-and-recycling existence in a newly gated hilltop community: he is a sensitive nature writer, she an obsessive realtor. Mexican illegals Candido and America Rincon desperately cling to their vision of the American Dream as they fight off starvation in a makeshift camp deep in the ravine. From the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact, these four and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragic comedy of error and misunderstanding. In the United States, which defines itself as a nation of immigrants, the novel questions who gets to slam the door on whom?

Boyle is the author of 17 books of fiction. He received a Ph.D. in 19th Century British Literature from the UI in 1977, his MFA from the UI Writers’ Workshop in 1974 and his B.A. in English and history from SUNY Potsdam in 1968. He was the 1997 winner of France’s Prix Medicis Entranger for “The Tortilla Curtain” as the best foreign language novel illuminating the many potholes along the road to the elusive American Dream.
The book project will run Sept. 17 through Nov. 11. Teachers, students, librarians, book groups and others are encouraged to participate. By announcing the selection now, the project sponsors hope to allow time for groups to plan to read the book, participate in fall community discussion forums and for teachers to plan discussions around the book.

The goal of the Johnson County Reads project is to encourage people to read the selected book and, through public and private discussion, to develop a greater community awareness of human rights issues locally, nationally and internationally. Discussion questions will be available online at at the start of the 2006-2007 academic year.

A new sponsor this year, the UI Alumni Association (UIAA), will provide a university online resource site linked to other project websites for the 18,000 UI alumni and readers who live in Johnson and nearby counties. UIAA also plans to include the project in its Lifelong Learning Series and highlight the project in the August issue of Iowa Alumni Magazine. The public community forum discussions of the book — scheduled at different locations during the project’s eight-week period — will be announced in early September.

In addition to UICHR, other project sponsors are the UI International Writing Program, Prairie Lights Books, Coralville Public Library, Hancher Auditorium, Hills Bank & Trust Company, Iowa Book LLC, Iowa City Human Rights Commission, Iowa City Public Library, Iowa State Bank & Trust Company, UI Alumni Association, UI Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, UI Charter Committee on Human Rights, UI Department of History, UI International Programs and University Book Store. City High School and the West High School Library are also participating.

UI Libraries To Exhibit Art Made From Old Catalog Cards

What can you do with one million old library cards?
How about make a crown out of them. Or a small Buddhist temple. Or weave them into a tie. Or string them together to make a mobile that will stretch across the ceiling of an entire exhibit hall.

These are a few of the ideas that artists came up with when the University of Iowa Libraries announced its cARTalog project last fall as part of its sesquicentennial celebration. Faced with stacks of obsolete catalog cards, the Libraries invited the community at large to participate in a giant public found-art project; and hundreds of thousands of cards were sent to anyone who asked for them.

Those artists have since returned hundreds of pieces of original art, artist books, collage, poetry and sculpture, all made from old library cards. Their work will be on display starting March 27 in the Main Library’s North Hall exhibit space. The exhibit will be open through June.

“Participants of all ages made this project what it is; their enthusiasm and love for libraries clearly shows in the innovative and remarkable pieces they created,” said Kristin Baum, curator of the exhibit. “It is truly a testament to how influential libraries are; how they fill our hearts and minds with ideas bigger than a 3 x 5 card. Each participant took these cards in and made their own heartfelt mark upon them, thereby paying homage to all of the things which those cards represent. It is amazing what one can create out of a humble library catalog card.”
Some of the projects are fairly simple, such as cards with little more than scribbles returned by pre-school children. But many are complex and elaborate, such as a three-dimensional puzzle, a knit pillow or a crown “jeweled” with small bells and baubles, made out of cards listing the publishing information of books about royalty.

Once a mainstay of libraries, card catalogs have become extinct because of advances in technology. The information once kept on a card for the library’s holdings of books, periodicals and other volumes is now maintained on a searchable computer database so the paper cards have been destroyed and the massive wooden catalogs that held them sold. The cards adopted by the cARTalog project represent the libraries’ last cards, Baum said.

The cARTalog exhibit will be open during regular Main Library hours. Online you can see a selection of submitted cARTalog projects.

UI Libraries To Help Preserve Historic Documents In Biloxi, Miss.

The Preservation Department of the University of Iowa Libraries will preserve historical documents damaged by Hurricane Katrina, starting with documents and manuscripts from the Jefferson Davis Library in Biloxi, Miss., and the Biloxi Public Library.

Library officials hope the project will provide a template for other preservation departments that want to assist Gulf Coast cultural institutions still struggling to clean up after Katrina. Already the department has conserved and returned correspondences from the Davis family. Later projects will include the local history collection at the public library, which suffered serious damage and needs to be cleaned and restored.

The idea for Project CALM (Conservation Attention for Libraries of Mississippi) came from Gary Frost, a conservator in the library’s preservation department who visited the Gulf Coast region in September as part of a team assessing post-hurricane damage. Frost said libraries and archives of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi were extensively damaged by the strong right side of hurricane Katrina. A tsunami-like storm surge drove inland up to six miles destroying coastal communities. Cultural collections of family history and municipal records were particularly devastated.

Frost has remained in touch with several contacts in Mississippi. Frost said more assessment will be performed in June, when the American Library Association holds its annual conference in New Orleans. Frost and Nancy E. Kraft, head of the UI Libraries’ preservation department, will travel to Biloxi following the conference and arrange for additional preservation projects that the UI Libraries can perform for the Davis library and the Biloxi library. Frost said the work is badly needed because the Gulf Coast region is still devastated and little of the massive restoration and reconstruction has even begun.

“The news cycle may be over but the need is still there,” Frost said. “The social, economic and municipal recovery will require many years of national resolve and assistance. Cultural renewal depends in part on the survival of historical records.”

He said the relationship with the Davis and Biloxi libraries will last for three years. Frost said the UI may create similar relationships with additional Gulf Coast organizations in the future, but the real value in Project CALM may be in showing other preservation departments how to establish similar relationships.

“We’re doing this one library at a time, one manuscript at a time,” Frost said. “It’s something that any preservation department at any major research library could do.”

In addition, he said several professional organizations have taken the lessons of Katrina to heart and are formulating rescue plans for historic documents after potential disasters in other parts of the country.

“For instance, what if there’s an earthquake on the West Coast?” he said. “These plans will mean there’s a timely and efficient response using national organizations and resources.”

Those who wish to support organizations that are helping reclaim damaged manuscripts and documents in the Gulf Coast region can donate through the American Library Association’s Adopt-a-Library Program. More information on the program can be found on the Web at

To make a gift to Project CALM, visit

Printmaker Walter Hamady Visits UI Libraries

Playing to a standing room only crowd in the North Hall of the Main Library on Tuesday, April 20th , Walter Hamady1 discussed his work2, the creative process3 and working with students4. Drawing a cadre of graphic design students, Center for the Book students and faculty, local printmakers, bibliophiles from near and far5 and even Hamady’s aunt and uncle, the lecture was an open forum of questions from the audience, followed by a gallery walk and talk.

When asked about is “Gabberjabbs” and extensive use of footnotes, Hamady responded that he wanted to take a non-scholarly approach to the scholarly medium of footnoting. He discussed one of his collaborations, where the footnotes take over the page and eventually the poem disappears. He also noted that much to his delight writer Mary Lydon had taken on the task of defining “Gabberjabb6,” so that he could later refute her definitions.

A second “Conversation with Walter Hamady” sponsored by the Graduate Art Congress was held on Wednesday morning in the Main Library’s Second Floor Conference Room.

Having Walter Hamady come to the Libraries to talk about his work and walk us through the exhibition was time well spent. The exhibition “Four Decades of Walter Hamady and the Perishable Press Limited” will run In the North Exhbition Hall of the Main Library during regular hours7 through July 2004.