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November 2, 2007

Purdue colloquium explores humanity of cancer through literature

Terry Tempest Williams
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The Oncological Sciences Center in Discovery Park and the Purdue University Department of English on Nov. 15 and 16 will lead the inaugural Cancer Culture and Community Colloquium, an event that will explore cancer through literature and the arts.

Terry Tempest Williams, author of "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place," a novel inspired by her family's struggle with cancer, is the keynote speaker at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 in Stewart Center's Fowler Hall.

Sue Ellen Thompson
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Poet Sue Ellen Thompson, author of "The Golden Hour," a collection of poems dedicated to her mother and her struggle and death from gastric cancer, will give a reading and discuss the "Poetry of Cancer" from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-2:30 p.m. Nov. 16 in the Hicks Undergraduate Library.

Breast cancer survivor S.L. Wisenberg, author of "The Sweetheart Is In" and "Holocaust Girls: History, Memory & Other Obsessions," will lead a workshop called "Capture Your Stories" and read from her work at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 16 in the West Lafayette Public Library, 208 W. Columbia St.

S. L. Wisenberg
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"With the launch of Purdue's Cancer Culture and Community Program, we hope to provide a venue where nationally renowned writers and artists who have a keen interest in cancer can intersect with Purdue students, faculty and members of our local community," said Marietta Harrison, director of the Oncological Sciences Center and a Purdue professor of medicinal chemistry. "We are excited about launching this unique dialogue as revealed through literature and the performing arts."

Colloquium co-sponsors are the Purdue Cancer Center, Purdue Liberal Arts Community Engagement (PLACE), Purdue Office of the Provost, Discovery Park's Center for the Environment, Purdue Libraries and the West Lafayette Public Library. All events are open to the public.

"This event is an example of the role that Purdue, through collaborations among Discovery Park, the College of Liberal Arts and the Purdue Libraries, can play in educating our community about cancer's far-reaching impact," said Donald Platt, a professor of English who specializes in poetry. "Cancer touches all of our lives, and we must grow our understanding of cancer through words and pictures, illustrating why we must work more aggressively to find a cure."

Williams studied environmental education at the University of Utah and is best known as an advocate for wilderness preservation, her feminist viewpoints and her writings on health. Her works focus largely on the environment and Western deserts, but she also delves into her family, her Mormon roots and confronting cancer.

The book "Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place" chronicles her family's battles with cancer as well as her native Utah. Its epilogue, "The Clan of One-Breasted Women," explores whether her family's high incidence of cancer might be due to their proximity to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's aboveground nuclear testing in the 1950s and '60s.

Among her other books are "Pieces of White Shell," "An Unspoken Hunger," "Leap, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert" and "The Open Space of Democracy." She also has written two natural history books for children.

In conjunction with the two-day event, Williams will participate in a public question-and-answer session from noon to 1:15 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Hicks Undergraduate Library. She will have a book signing from 2-3:30 p.m. that day at the West Lafayette Public Library.

Thompson has been a scholar and fellow at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and a visiting writer at Central Connecticut State University and Binghamton University. She has taught at Middlebury College and Wesleyan University, and in 1998 was resident poet at the Frost Place in Franconia, N.H. Her other works of poetry include "This Body of Silk," "The Wedding Boat" and "The Leaving: New & Selected Poems." She also edited "The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry."

Wisenberg, a native of Houston who lives in Chicago, received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's of fine arts from the University of Iowa. A former newspaper reporter for the Miami Herald, she co-directs Northwestern's creative writing graduate program and teaches at the University of Chicago's Graham School of General Studies.

During the past year, Wisenberg's blog on The Huffington Post has centered on her battle with breast cancer, and she has read excerpts on the topic on Chicago Public Radio.

Purdue's Oncological Sciences Center, launched in July 2005 and located in Gerald D. and Edna E. Mann Hall, is integrating broad areas of the research communities in life sciences, liberal arts, engineering, pharmacy and chemical sciences to focus on wider aspects of the cancer problem.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, (765) 496-3133,

Sources:   Marietta Harrison, (765) 494-1442,

Donald Platt, (765) 494-3740,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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