Yucca Mountain as metaphor


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The prospect of a potential environmental disaster near his mother’s new home inspired UI Associate Professor John D’Agata’s latest book, About a Mountain.

Several years ago, he helped move his mother to Las Vegas. He heard about the Yucca Mountain project through his mother’s involvement in environmentalism. The plan to store the nation’s nuclear waste in the mountain was an “absolutely dangerous and ridiculous” prospect to D’Agata, resulting in years of research.

About a Mountain will be the subject of the Mattapoisett, Mass., native’s reading at 7 p.m. today in Van Allen Lecture Hall 2. Admission is free.

Anticipating a large crowd, organizers moved the reading from Prairie Lights Books, which is sponsoring the event, to Van Allen.

Jan Weissmiller, a co-owner of Prairie Lights, said D’Agata contributes “incalculably” to the city’s literary culture because he lives in Iowa City.

“He is widely seen to be breaking new ground in the literary essay,” Weissmiller said.

The more he researched and conducted interviews regarding Yucca Mountain, the more he realized just how faulty a plan it was. But more than an account of the project, About a Mountain also serves as a metaphor for cultural issues in America.

About a Mountain pushed him to gather information in ways he had not yet experienced.

Investigative reporting became an important mechanism, conducting his first interviews during the process.

“At first I didn’t know how to do what I needed to do or write the way I needed to write,” he said.

D’Agata’s career in writing began during his junior year at Hobart College in New York when he picked up an English major.

He eventually received MFAs in both nonfiction and poetry at the UI, and he now teaches 21st Century Nonfiction and an Essay Writing Workshop.

UI visiting Professor Honor Moore will formally introduce D’Agata. She first became acquainted with him as an instructor during his graduate studies.

For her, the chance to see him develop as a writer is a rewarding experience.

“If you have a really talented student, you can learn as much as the student does, and we’ve had a wonderful exchange,” Moore said. “I’ve read [About a Mountain] in various stages, and it’s thrilling to see it come together. He manages to have a unique, complex, intense style that’s completely his own, without sacrificing meaning.”

Tonight’s reading will provide the opportunity for D’Agata to share his work with the community and work toward the goal of entertaining his audience.

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