* Porter Shreve

September 3, 2008

Professor's novel parallels family's trials with 1970s politics

Porter Shreve
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Purdue University associate professor and author Porter Shreve's latest novel looks at how a family's struggles mirror 1970s politics.

"When the White House Was Ours" is Shreve's third novel, and it is loosely based on his own childhood growing up in the Washington, D.C., area. The book ($12.95), published by Mariner Houghton Mifflin, is available Tuesday (Sept. 9).

The story is set in 1976, the year of the country's bicentennial, and focuses on teenager Daniel Truitt. He lives with his father Pete, who has been fired from another teaching job, while his mother Valerie continues to threaten to leave the family.

"The father moves everyone into a crumbling mansion in the nation's capital, and he makes a bold plan to start a school under his own roof where students and teachers will be equals," says Shreve, who also is director of the Purdue's creative writing program.

Shreve's idea for the novel was sparked by his own family's roots, as well as the alternative school in Philadelphia his parents started in 1973. The school was named "Our House" after the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song of the same name.

"I've used this true story as the basis for my novel, but I've moved the setting to Washington, D.C., during the Carter administration, filled the house with a ragtag group of teachers and students: misfits and dreamers; disciples of social activist and lord of misrule Abbie Hoffman; and visited all kinds of troubles on my characters, including poverty, marital strife, infidelity, illegal narcotics, theft, more theft and false imprisonment," Shreve says.

This political novel's release, which is less than two months before the 2008 presidential election, is mostly a coincidence, he says.

"I do, however, think there are connections between 1976 and 2008," Shreve says. "The Middle East is the dominant subject, gas prices are out of control, and everyone's worried about the economy and rising costs. People also seem tired of Washington insiders, and the candidate who appears to be more of an outsider and who seizes the mantel of change will probably have the best shot at winning. But I didn't think about any of this while I was writing my novel.

"I was focused on whether the Truitt family would stay together or fall apart and what kind of havoc the kids who enrolled in the school would wreak. Politics is definitely part of the novel, but it's more in the texture than on the forefront."

Shreve's first book, "The Obituary Writer," was published in 2000, and it was partly inspired by his work on the night city desk at the Washington Post. The book was named a New York Times Notable Book. His second book, "Drives Like a Dream," was released in 2005. Shreve also is co-editor of six anthologies on topics including the American short story, justice and education. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Witness, Northwest Review, Salon, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Source: Porter Shreve, (765) 494-3740,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in review copies of Porter Shreve's new novel can contact Megan Wilson, publicist at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, (617) 351-3377,

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