March for Science

Here is a chant already underway for Saturday’s March For Science, a protest in D.C. and nationwide against the anti-science policies of the Trump Administration:

“What do we want???  Evidence-based science!!”

“When do we want it?? After Peer Review!!!!”

Even with the future of humankind and the Earth in the balance, scientists demonstrate their sense of humor too.


The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea: A Discussion

Welcome to our IFN discussion of  The Devil’s Highway:

With the border between the U.S. and Mexico front-and-center in the news under the current administration, an immersive look at life and death in the desert and border towns offers us insights into the actual situation on the ground. The history. The players. The conflicts. And the story of the Yuma 14, men and boys crossing into the United States illegally, and what happens to them.

Urrea captures the story of death and despair in the Arizona desert, and asks how the tragedy of the “biggest die-off” on the border could have been prevented. Here are a few questions to launch our discussion (Feel free to offer up other comments, ideas and questions regarding the book’s language, theme, characterization, structure, pace or flow, etc.:)

  1. How does the landscape–the desert, the Granite Mountains, Sonoita and elsewhere–serve as character(s) in this story? What details or reflections on setting or space offer visual depth and insights into the story itself?
  2. Urrea often uses the vernacular of personas–the Border Control officers; the Coyote/guide, Mendez; Don Moi the ‘godfather;’ and the Mexican immigrants themselves–in various sections where they are introduced. This use of free indirect style (a story told in third person yet in the style of the character) can be tricky. How effective are these shifts? For example, does the harshness of words like “tonks” or “polleros” (p. 60) used on both sides to describe migrants reflect the harshness of border life? Overall, does Urrea still maintain a sense of an omniscient narrator?
  3. Urrea is a strong researcher and, as a novelist, a lyrical writer. List a few passages that reveal either the depth of his reporting, or his mastery of language and compelling images. For example, one powerful line that resonates for me: There are no illegal people on the Earth.
  4. Much of the story is told narrative-style, with the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards. Only at the end does Urrea delve deeper into the chaotic politics and organizational flaws that have led to an untenable situation. Was that approach effective? How would you describe his underlying tone throughout?
  5. How does Trump’s current concept for A Wall fit into this dialogue? (Urrea himself is flummoxed by suggestions to build a similar wall between Honduras and Mexico, for many of the same claimed reasons, jobs, etc.  (p.229). So now what?

IFN Discussion: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara


Welcome to our discussion of the Civil War classic novel The Killer Angels, based on the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  Through the lens of fiction, Shaara depicts the chief commanders and soldiers on both sides of the conflict, Union and Confederate. To do so, Shaara projects the real-time thoughts and conversations of such figures as General Robert E. Lee, Lt. General James Longstreet and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. With a writer’s and researcher’s eye, he brings to life factual material culled from journals, biographies, memoirs, and numerous other historical documents.

To start off our discussion, here are a few questions (below.) Feel free to respond to these, add your own thoughts, and comment on observations by your fellow writers. Because the issues here are Big, be sure to converse with the kind of mutual respect many of these figures seemed to display even in the throes of war:

1.) Describe the voice of a few of the characters, such as Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlain, Major General Pickett, Major General John Buford or others. Does the author’s narrative voice change when we see the battle through these men’s eyes? What elements of their character are shown via their gestures, words, action, or internal musings?

Is this multi-character viewpoint effective or not?

2.) Name a few transformational moments for the primary characters–as well as the battle itself and the plot of the story. (The events unfold in many ways like fiction even in the historical retelling. Why?) In the end, what themes did the outcome of the battle predict for the remainder of the war, and the trajectory of the nation?

3.) What parallels do you see between the Battle of Gettysburg/Civil War and the current political landscape? What do these three days tell us about modern history-in-the-making?

5.) What elements of figurative language do you find in the book, such as simile, metaphor, or symbolism? What passages of language are especially effective, or problematic?

6.) Overall, any other thoughts or points you’d like to make… (Also, please use first names or monikers when responding to a comment so we can keep track…I am jcscribe)


Francis Bacon Fellowship Speaker Series

The Spring 2016 Francis Bacon Fellowship presents bestselling authors Dr. Mario Livio and Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison

FREE / No registration required

Saturday, April 16

Dr. Mario Livio, astrophysicist, scientist essayist, author Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein — Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

Lecture and Q & A

When: 6:30 p.m. Reception

7. p.m. Lecture

Where: Hodson Hall 210, Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts Innovation Grant

For detailed info see the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance’s Culture Fly site


Saturday April 23

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, renowned author and professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Author of the best-selling memoir An Unquiet Mind, as well as many other books, including Exuberance, and Touched with Fire, now the inspiration for a major motion picture.

Reading and Q & A


When: 6:30 p.m. Reception

7. p.m. Reading

Where: Hodson Hall 210, Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts Innovation Grant

For more details: see GBCA’s Culture Fly


The Hub at Hopkins

Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, Lecturer, The Writing Seminars, Johns Hopkins University,

Dr. Jocelyne DiRugierro, Associate Professor of Biology, Johns Hopkins






Attention: Hopkins Science Majors Who Get the Lit

Announcing the Francis Bacon Fellowship

Scientist Essayists: The Next Generation

I do now publish my essays, which, of all my other work, have been most current. For that, as it seems, they come home. –Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

Sir Francis Bacon—father of empiricism—welcomed the scientific revolution. Bacon also launched a modern tradition of scientists and physicians who eloquently frame questions sparked via their studies. Via the personal essay, these thinkers examine the universe, the Earth, or the living cell.

A select group of undergraduate fellows will attend a four-part Saturday seminar series in April 2016.

The goals:

● Learn the stylistic techniques of the essay form via workshop review, revision and feedback from professors and visiting writers.

● Create a polished essay to submit for publication.

Fellowship grants (ranging from $100 to $400) awarded based on merit.

● Earn a writing-intensive 1 credit in Independent Study.

● Evening events, open to the Hopkins community and public, will feature prominent scientist essayists for Readings and Discussion.

Francis Bacon Fellows will be selected from undergraduate science and engineering majors (including dual writing majors) who demonstrate excellence in writing—an eye for clarity, an ear for language. Peruse the work of biologist Lewis Thomas, surgeon Atul Gawande, astrophysicist Mario Livio, or psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison.

To apply:  Submit 1) a writing sample, such as a short science-oriented personal essay (< 700 words),  as well as 2) a brief statement of purpose (< 300 words) re: why you should be chosen, passion for your field, future interest in writing, etc. to Writing Seminars Lecturer Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, Please send as Word attachments and copied into the email.

Faculty affiliate: Johns Hopkins Associate Research Professor Biology, Jocelyne DiRuggiero

Funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Arts Innovation Grant