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Common Reading Experience explores legacy of nuclear weapons

Common REading Experience book at Fort Lewis College for 2013-14: Full Body Burden

War, nuclear weapons, toxic waste, government cover-ups, and family secrets – these are difficult topics to tackle. Which is exactly why Full Body Burden, by Kristen Iversen, is this year's choice for the Fort Lewis College Common Reading Experience: because it asks hard questions and doesn't offer easy answers. And so the book inspires reflection, analysis, and discussion.

Iverson, director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Memphis, will speak and sign copies of her book at the Community Concert Hall at 7 p.m., Thursday, October 3. The event is free and open to the public.

The Common Reading Experience program, now in its eighth year, gives every incoming freshman a free copy of that year's book selection at the Fall Orientation. The book is then integrated into many courses, and is used as the basis for on-campus films, lectures, panel discussions, concerts, plays, and more throughout the Fall.

"The goal is to provide a common intellectual experience for faculty, staff, students, and community alike," says CRE Coordinator Bridget Irish. "It's a meeting place for ideas, where you can hear a variety of opinions and perspectives. It also introduces freshmen into that world of ideas by providing opportunities to discuss the ideas in the book both inside and outside the classroom."

Iversen grew up in Arvada, Colorado, near the Rocky Flats Plant, a nuclear weapons production facility that manufactured plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs. Today the site is considered one of the most contaminated places in America. Growing up close to the plant, Iversen, along with her family, friends, and neighbors both breathed the poisons and lived with the government’s cover-up of the effects of radiation contamination.

Full Body Burden – the term refers to the maximum load of plutonium the human body can carry, as set by the U.S. Department of Energy – is both investigative journalism and personal memoir. Iversen writes of the secrets of Rocky Flats – the risks, the so-called “incidents,” and the plant's potentially devastating legacy for the entire Denver metro area – while exploring the damage personal secrets can inflict on a family.

“Kristen Iversen’s book is a good book for our student body because our students are passionate activists. They will be galvanized into action and scholarship by this story of cover-up and secrecy,” says Irish. “And many students will also relate to the story Iversen tells of growing up shadowed not only by a secretive government but by a secretive family.”

“This book is also relevant to many of our academic departments and programs on campus, including Geosciences, Environmental Studies, Political Science, Psychology, and English,” Irish adds. “No matter what a student majors in, this book will have relevance.”

Other CRE events include:

  • “Making a Difference” weekly radio interviews related to the CRE, every Wednesday, 5:30 - 6 p.m., through November 20, on KDUR at 91.9 & 93.9 FM, or at
  • "Assaulted Lands," an exhibit running October 2 - December 10 at the Center of Southwest Studies.
  • The film "Promised Land," followed by a discussion and trivia competition. Two showings October 9, at 4 and 7 p.m., in the Vallecito Room in the Student Union.
  • A panel discussion "Life in the Shadows: Cultural and Environmental Health in the Four Corners," in the Student Unioin, October 29, at 7 p.m.

For more information, visit the Common Reading Experience website.

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