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Dr. Margaret Lazarus Dean and Astronaut Scott Kelly to Speak at Life of the Mind Event

On Monday, August 15th, Associate Professor and Director of the Creative Writing Program, Dr. Margaret Lazarus Dean will be joined by Astronaut Scott Kelly, who recently returned from a year in space, will speak at a Life of the Mind event. This year’s Life of the Mind book is Dean’s Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight.  The event will take place at 5:30pm in Thompson-Boling Arena.  A limited number of tickets are available to the general public. These tickets are free and will be available from the ticket office in Thompson-Boling Arena and at Union Avenue Bookstore, 517 Union Avenue, Knoxville.

Kelly’s visit celebrates the Life of the Mind program, part of First-Year Studies 100, a zero-credit pass-fail class that gives new students their first taste of college studies. As part of the 2016–17 program, freshmen are asked to read Leaving Orbit and to complete a written response to the book.  They then participate in a Welcome Week discussion session on the book and attend the August 15th event. Dean and Kelly, who is a UT graduate, are currently collaborating on a book that will explore the future of space travel and tell Kelly’s story about his historic mission. Endurance: My Year in Space and Our Journey to Mars is scheduled for publication in November 2017.

Dr. Margaret Lazarus Dean’s Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight was selected as the 2016-2017 Life of the Mind Book last spring.  Dean’s book, which was named one of the Top Books of 2015 by New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani, marks the first time a book by a UTK faculty member has been selected in the fourteen year history of the program.

“This is the first time we’ve chosen a book written by one of our own faculty members,” said Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of first-year studies. “Margaret’s book has gotten great reviews and garnered a lot of national attention. And space travel is a hot topic for Volunteers right now with one of our own—UT Space Institute alumnus Scott Kelly—spending this year aboard the International Space Station. There are a lot of exciting programming possibilities on this topic, and we look forward to seeing what our campus community might come up with.” Jason Mastrogiovanni, Director of First-year Studies (read more on TN Today)

The Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, Dean’s book looks at the waning days of the human spaceflight. In the 1960s, humans took their first steps away from the earth, and for a time our possibilities in space seemed endless. But in a period of austerity and in the wake of high-profile disasters like Challenger, that dream has ended. In early 2011, Margaret Lazarus Dean traveled to Cape Canaveral for NASA’s last three space shuttle launches in order to bear witness to the end of an era. With Dean as our guide to Florida’s Space Coast and to the history of NASA, Leaving Orbit takes the measure of what American spaceflight has achieved while reckoning with its earlier witnesses like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Oriana Fallaci. Along the way Dean meets NASA workers, astronauts, and space fans, gathering possible answers to the question: what does it mean that a spacefaring nation won’t be going to space anymore?

The New York Times Book Review praised the book as “a joy to read. . . . [Dean] describes her experiences in superb prose that is perhaps the next best thing to being there.”  Lynn Sherr, author of Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, describes Leaving Orbit as “an eloquent farewell to NASA’s space shuttle program” that “celebrates the extraordinary optimism that lifted humans off the Earth, dreaming of worlds far beyond.”

Dr. Margaret Lazarus Dean’s first book, The Time it Takes to Fall, is a novel set near Cape Canaveral that follows a fictional NASA family through the aftermath of the Challenger disaster.

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