Book offers readers chance to talk back

October 1, 2010

On Oct. 1, the long wait will be over: “Voice From the Planet: An Anthology of Living Fiction,” a collection of short stories from writers around the world, will be on bookstore shelves. (A story by ASU professor of English Jay Boyer is included.)

Should you put it on your reading list, or recommend that your local library add a copy to its shelves?

The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why.

“Voice From the Planet” represents an unusual way of publishing an anthology. Instead of having one editor solicit manuscripts, the call for stories sort of “oozed” around the world, via networks of writers who knew other writers who knew still other writers.

The two editors, J.L. Morin from Brussels and Charles Degelman, who lives in Los Angeles, also posted announcements on university bulletin boards and in writers’ resources. And the stories started pouring in.

From the 150 total submissions, 30 were chosen for the book, published by Harvard Square Editions, a press founded by Harvard graduates in 2009.

The 30 stories came from authors in Congo, Peru, the United States, Bulgaria, Belgium, Canada, Brazil, Scotland, Finland, England and other countries. Some are published, award-winning writers, such as Boyer, and some are working on their first novels or story collections.

“Planet” is designed to be a conversation as well as a collection of short stories. At the end of each story there is a biography of the author – and his or her e-mail address. Love the story, or disagree with something? Drop the author a note.

The stories are as different as the authors, and each story is complete in and of itself. Therefore, reading “Voice from the Planet” is like reading 30 novels, each with a different character, theme and plot.

In Joel Willans’ “Estella and the Gringo,” for example, Estella, a young woman, is shelling peas in he courtyard when a young gringo shows up at her home. Turns out Estella’s mother had invited Doug to stay while he taught school in a nearby valley.

Estella’s Mama – who also has a relationship with the town priest – makes a play for Doug, as does Estella. When Mama learns about Estella’s relationship with Doug, she kicks them both out. They take the bus to Cuzco, find a hotel, and begin to think about the future – which Doug had not planned to include Estella.

Do they end up together? The story takes a surprising turn, and just one of them will turn out happy, it seems.

Willans, originally from Suffolk in the UK, has won the Yeovil Prize and Global Short Story award. His stories have been broadcast on BBC radio and published in more than a dozen anthologies. He now lives in a converted hospital in the Finnish countryside.

Maria Pavlova’s “The Fire Dancer” is about fire-dancer Joanna, a youngish widow who always receives “the power” when she walks on the coals. She and her husband had wanted children, but they had none when he was killed in the war.

St. Constantine appears to Joanna to tell her she must “go to little Milenka and help her!” But Joanna has no idea who little Milenka is. She soon learns that Milenka is from a nearby village, and that she is an orphan. Milenka goes to meet her, and must make a decision: does she obey St. Constantine, or give in to her own fears and worries?

Pavlova was born in the second largest city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv. She has a degree in Slavic studies and has worked as a journalist for various Bulgarian newspapers. She is working on her second novel, and she also writes essays, poetry and short stories.

The authors’ varied nationalities marks a new era in fiction, according to the editors.

“For centuries, much of world literature has been published within particular cultural, national, or regional boundaries. The results are varied but often reinforced,” said Degelman.

“For example, national interests limit most major English-language book prizes: the Pulitzer Prize for fiction goes strictly to American authors, preferably ones writing about American life; the Orange Prize is limited to U.K. authors; and only Commonwealth Country citizens are eligible for the Man Booker Prize.

“Conversely, a rich canon of international literature has long been denied to many English-speaking readers, because the possibility of disseminating new writing across cultural, national, and language barriers was limited by geographical isolation, cultural centrism, and now-obsolete technology.

“Enter the Information Age — the cyber apocalypse, a communication revolution. The publishers and authors involved in ‘Voice from the Planet’ have set about to change all that by interacting via the World Wide Web in an effort to bring you a new fiction without borders, a contemporary, living fiction.”

And, remember that’s now a two-way street. The authors are waiting to hear from you.

Net proceeds from the sales of “Voice From the Planet” will be donated to Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. The organization received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. Copies of the book are $14.95 (U.S.A.)

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ASU engineering doctorate programs rated highly

October 1, 2010

Three programs in the Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering rated highly in a report by the National Research Council that assesses the quality of doctorate programs in the United States.

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Among the most highly rated engineering doctoral programs in the council’s report are the electrical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and material science and engineering programs at ASU.

The ratings put the programs on par with doctorate programs at peer institutions such as Carnegie Mellon, Ohio State University, Johns Hopkins, the University of South California, Cornell, Duke and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Maria Allison, ASU vice provost and dean of the Graduate College, said the quality of the university’s doctoral programs is due in large part to the number of faculty who are exceptional both as researchers and teachers, as well as dedicated student mentors.

She points in particular to Terry Alford, a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy and a recent winner of ASU’s Outstanding Doctoral Mentor Award.">

href="Read">">Read the full story about the report and the ratings of ASU’s doctoral programs.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering