Monday, August 20, 2012

Lois Leveen, whose dissertation, The Race Home: Difference and Domestic Space in American Literature and Culture, was awarded CSW’s Jean Stone Dissertation Fellowship in 1997 and the George Elliot Dissertation Prize in 1999-2000, has taken her dissertation project in a unique and valuable new direction.  Leveen, who received her Ph.D. from UCLA’s English department in 1999, recently completed a historical novel partially based on her dissertation work, The Secrets of Mary Bowser.  The novel, published by HarperCollins/William Morrow, has been selected by Target as their August book club pick, an honor that will ensure that a huge number of people will read her book.

“Buried deep in my dissertation was a brief reference to Mary Bowser, a former slave who became a Union spy,” writes Leveen, in recent e-mail correspondence with CSW.  “My life hasn’t taken the usual path of tenure-track job, although I’ve worked in education in many forms and done lots of ‘public humanities’ programs along the way.  The latest, and greatest of which is that rather than turn the dissertation into a scholarly tome, I wrote a novel…to introduce non-academic readers to Bowser, and to what her story represents in terms of the roles women played in the anti-slavery [movement].”

Leveen is thrilled that converting her academic research into a popular novel has allowed the work to reach such a wide and varied audience. 

“I am bursting at the seams at the idea that folks will be learning this bit of black women’s history, as they pick up their usual Target run of supplies,” writes Leveen.  “There are more Targets than there are Barnes and Nobles in this country, and Target book shoppers are often people who don’t otherwise wander into a bookstore.  Target lets a book club of its store employees pick each month’s selection, so it’s a populist vote in the truest sense.  Thanks to them, the nation at large will be learning some of what I learned in grad school.”

Indeed, Leveen points out that she’s still a teacher at heart.  “It's exciting to know that colleagues--including some of my fellow UCLA graduates--will be teaching the book,” says Leveen.  She has prepared an interdisciplinary teaching guide that can be downloaded from her website (see link below).

Leveen emphasizes that her achievements have been strongly influenced by CSW and its efforts to bolster the work of graduate students.  She writes: “I remain indebted to the support you provided, long before I ever imagined I’d be a novelist.”

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Download Leveen’s teaching guide for The Secrets of Mary Bowser:
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