Carnegie Mellon University

Covers of notable books by Alumni.

March 26, 2018

English Alumni Coming to a Bookshelf Near You

By Daniel Hirsch

The list is long of Department of English alumni who have a book or two published and out in the world. But, every once in awhile, it’s worth noting a few notable titles and authors. Over the past several months, English alumni have made best of lists for their incisive looks at class in America and have struck movie deals for their sci-fi novels, among other things. Below you’ll find a few of titles and authors worth knowing about and adding to your bookshelf.

The Sum of Small Things

By Elizabeth Currid-Halkett - B.A., Professional Writing and Creative Writing, 2000
(Princeton University Press)

Elizabeth Currid-HalketNamed by the Economist as one of the “Best Books of 2017,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s examination of what she calls the “aspirational class” argues that rather than Bentleys and Rolexes today’s generation of elites are defined by how organic their farmers market haul might be— to say nothing of the NPR tote bags, yoga retreats, or minimalist home decor. Currid-Halkett, who is the James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning at USC, argues that with the increasing availability of traditional luxury goods, the consumption habits of those aspiring for high social status has shifted to from “conspicuous consumption” to quinoa consumption.

What readers are saying
: “Rather than filling their garages with flashy cars, today’s rich devote their budgets to less visible but more valuable ends: education, domestic services and cultural capital. A professor at the University of Southern California shows why it is so difficult to stop the privileged position of the elites becoming more entrenched.” — Books of the Year in "The Economist"

Of note
: Currid-Halkett recently appeared on NPR to discuss why she argues one shouldn’t go to Las Vegas if they want to look like an A-Lister, listen below.

The Gone World

By Tom Sweterlitsch - B.A. Creative Writing, 2000, M.A., Literary & Cultural Studies, 2001
(Putnam/Penguin Books)

Tom SweterlitschA time-bending, sci-fi, noir set in Western Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, Tom Sweterlitsch’s novel “The Gone World” follows the story of Shannon Moss a detective tasked with investigating the grisly murder of a Navy SEAL’s family and the disappearance of his teenage daughter. However, as Moss digs deeper into the murky case, she learns the Navy officer in question is part of secret time travel unit. It’s a twisty, surreal narrative that explores questions of time and contingency and has readers comparing it to both "True Detective" and "Inception." 

What readers are saying
: “This is big-idea fiction that defies genre in the best possible way. Epic and mind-bending in scope, it carries the reader through on beautifully rendered, human moments.”—Blake Crouch, author of “Dark Matter” and the “Wayward Pines” trilogy.

Of Note: Sweterlitsch has developed a relationship with the film director Neill Blomkamp, who was behind the allegory heavy, action-packed, science fiction hit District 9. Blomkamp has optioned “The Gone World” to be developed for film. Read Sweterlitsch in conversation with Blomkamp in Entertainment Weekly

The Flicker of Old Dreams 

By Susan Henderson - B.A. English, 1989
(Harper Collins)

Susan HendersonThis second novel from four-time Pushcart Prize nominee Susan Henderson takes place in the unglamorous, but deeply emotionally resonant town of Petroleum, Montana, an economically depressed community where all the jobs are gone. However, the novel’s protagonist Mary Crampton is still in work—she’s a mortician. When an old acquaintance returns to town, Mary’s quite, solitary life is stirred up with old passions and long held secrets.

What readers are saying
: “Like the wind scours paint from an old grain silo, Susan Henderson’s writing scours away all the pretend niceness of small town life in Montana to reveal the frayed and patched nature of humanity. Nobility, ragged resilience and hope compete with small-minded ignorance in a story of unlikely friendship that is sharply detailed and so beautifully written.” — Helen Simonson, New York Times bestselling author of “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand”

Of Note
: Henderson went in deep with her research for “Flicker of Old Dreams.” A resident of Long Island, New York, Henderson spent a month staying in the hometown of her father Winnett, Montana (population 180) to do research for her book. During her stay in the half abandoned town she didn’t have internet access, a phone line, or TV. She explains why she did it and how it shaped her writing in a profile in Publisher’s Weekly

The Jaws of Life  

By Laura Leigh Morris - B.A. Creative Writing and English, 2001
(West Virginia University Press)

Laura Leigh MorrisIn this debut collection of short fiction, Laura Leigh Morris, an assistant professor at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, aims her author’s eye to examine the people and themes that occupy the place she grew up, West Virginia. Her stories are filled with dark themes that loom large in Appalachia at this moment—loss of coal mines, the environmental impact of fracking, drug abuse—but also ones that cut to the core of the human experience—friendship, grieving, and love.

What readers are saying:
“Laura Leigh Morris proves to us that stories are, indeed, everywhere. She tells them with the sharp eye and wit of a master storyteller. Superb.” —Larry Heinemann, winner of the National Book Award for "Paco’s Story."

Of Note:
In “Jaws of Life,” Morris writes about the lives of incarcerated West Virginians, and she does so from a place of real first-hand experience. Prior to joining the faculty at Furman University, Morris spent three years as the National Endowment for the Arts/Bureau of Prisons Artist-in-Residence at Bryan Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas.