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University of Iowa News Release

June 10, 2005

Pulitzer Winner Cunningham Returns To Read From New Novel On WSUI June 23

University of Iowa Writers' Workshop alumnus Michael Cunningham, who won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Hours," will return to Iowa City to read from his acclaimed new novel, "Specimen Days," at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23, on the "Live from Prairie Lights" series on University of Iowa radio station WSUI, AM 910. Listen on the Internet at

The reading, hosted by Julie Englander, will be a free event in Shambaugh Auditorium of the UI Main Library.

David Thomson wrote for the New York Observer, "Michael Cunningham's 'Specimen Days' is an extraordinary book, as ambitious as it is generous and the depth of its kindness, or grace, is to convey that it is we ourselves, the multitude, who are extraordinary, or might be."

A starred review in Publishers Weekly explained, "Engaging Walt Whitman as his muse (and borrowing the name of Whitman's 1882 autobiography for his title), Cunningham weaves a captivating, strange and extravagant novel of human progress and social decline. Like his Pulitzer Prize-winning 'The Hours,' the novel tells three stories separated in time. But here, the stage is the same (the 'glittering, blighted' city of Manhattan), the actors mirror each other (a deformed, Whitman-quoting boy, Luke, is a terrorist in one story and a teenage prophet in another; a world-weary woman, Catherine, is a would-be bride and an alien; and a handsome young man, Simon, is a ghost, a business man and an artificial human) and weighty themes (of love and fear, loss and connection, violence and poetry) reverberate with increasing power. . . . With its narrative leaps and self-conscious flights into the transcendent, Cunningham's fourth novel sometimes seems ready to collapse under the weight of its lavishness and ambition -- but thrillingly, it never does. This is daring, memorable fiction."

In a starred review for the American Library Association's Booklist, critic Donna Seaman wrote, "In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel 'The Hours' (1998), Cunningham boldly improvised on 'Mrs. Dalloway,' Virginia Woolf's masterpiece. Here Walt Whitman is his literary muse as the poet's cosmic sensibility inspires unexpected revelations and courses of action. Once again, Cunningham has constructed an elegant triptych of tales about a trio of characters in different times and guises, but he has taken a quantum leap imaginatively, stylistically, and thematically in this bewitching novel of a metamorphosing New York City . . . . Brilliantly conceived, empathic, darkly humorous, and gorgeously rendered, Cunningham's galvanizing novel about the quest for justice and freedom, the parameters of the soul, the hunger for beauty, and the fluid interface between the natural and the engineered is a genuine literary event."

Cunningham's "The Hours" not only won both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner award, but also became an Academy Award-winning film starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep. An earlier novel, "A Home at the End of the World," was recently made into a film starring Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright Penn.

Cunningham earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the UI, where he won a Michener Fellowship, after receiving his bachelor's degree in English literature from Stanford University. His work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Redbook, Esquire, the Paris Review, The New Yorker, Vogue and Metropolitan Home. His story "White Angel" was chosen for Best American Short Stories 1989.

The Writers' Workshop is an academic unit of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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