Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Author Fair

Looking for that gift for a favorite mother, father, uncle, aunt, cousin, friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, or next-door neighbor? Come on down to the Indiana Historical Society's seventh annual Holiday Author Fair from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, December 5, at the Indiana History Center, 450 West Ohio Street, Indianapolis.

I will join approximately 74 other talented writers of fiction, nonfiction, history, gardening, poetry, and children's books who will be there signing copies of their books. Among the authors set to attend are such award winners as James H. Madison, Susan Neville, Mary Mackey, Philip Gulley, Lou Harry, James Alexander Thom, Norbert Krapf, and Alan Garinger.

I have been lucky enough to be a part of all seven Holiday Author Fairs at the IHS (here I am with fellow political junkie Geoff Paddock at last year's Author Fair). It's always a great experience for the authors and public alike. There will be speakers throughout the day, holiday music, and refreshments and free gift wrapping.

The schedule of speakers, presented in the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater, are:

12:30 p.m. "My Indiana Adventure" Student Writing Contest Awards Presentation

1 p.m. Lou Harry, author and journalist, "The Lou Harry Write-About-Anything Lecture and Game Show Extravaganza"

1:30 p.m. Jane Fortune, author, "To Florence, Con Amore"

2 p.m. Dick Wolfsie, author and humorist, "Mornings with Barney and Indiana Curiosities"

2:30 p.m. Terry Border, author and artist, "Bent Objects"

3 p.m. Ingrid Cummings, author and journalist, "the Vigorous Mind: How to Cross-train Your Brain and Why it Matters"
Posted by Indiana Historical Society Press at 12:09 PM

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Evening with May Wright Sewall

Join me as I take a trip back to the nineteenth century and talk to one of Indianapolis's most inspiring women, May Wright Sewall, as we discuss her remarkable life and contributions to the city in a Spirit and Place program at 7 p.m. Friday, November 13, at the Indianapolis Propylaeum Club.

The program, free and open to the public, will feature Jan Wahls, former president of the Propylaeum Club, portraying Sewall. After the discussion, there will be refreshments and historic preservationist Ron Zmyslo will lead a guided tour of the Propylaeum.

The program is sponsored by the Propylaeum Club; the American Association of University Women, Indianapolis Branch; and the Indiana Historical Society.

For more information, call (317) 638-7881, or e-mail

Thursday, October 22, 2009

IU Press Hoosier Book Club Sale

Looking for a great book to give that special someone a gift this holiday season? Indiana University Press is having a sale on its Indiana and Midwest titles in its annual Hoosier Book Club sale.

In addition to great sale prices (my Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary is on sale for just $15; regular price $21.95), you can receive free shipping on orders of $25 or more.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Kennedy Book Wins State Book Award

Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary was a winner in the Indiana Center for the Book's Best Books of Indiana Awards at a ceremony Saturday, August 29, at the Indiana State Library.

My RFK book won in the nonfiction historical/biographical category against books by such Indiana authors as Norbert Krapf, Michael Marton, and Nancy Kriplen. I had a great time at the ceremony, held in the lovely Indiana Authors Room at the Indiana State Library. Sat next to Norbert, whose memoir I helped to edit at the IHS Press. Norbert had a busy day, as earlier he participated in a poetry reading, also at the ISL. Kudos to the Indiana Center for the Book staff, especially Drew Griffis, and Roberta Brooker, Indiana State Librarian, for hosting a great event.

Winners in other categories for 2009 were:

* Children's/Young Adult
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (Fort Wayne). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York, NY

* Fiction
Anathema by Colleen Coble (Wabash). Thomas Nelson Books.  Nashville, TN

* Nonfiction Creative/Instructional
Home Grown Indiana by Christine Barbour (Bloomington) and Scott Hutcheson (Lebanon). Indiana University Press. Bloomington, IN

* Poetry
A Matinee in Plato's Cave by Rob Griffith (Evansville). Water Press & Media. Argyle, TX

The five winning authors were all first-time winners in the Best Books of Indiana Awards. The honor was my first Best Book Award in my record-setting fourth year as a contest finalist. University of Evansville Professor Rob Griffith was victorious in the poetry category that included finalist entries by former Best Book winner (2005) David Shumate (Marian University) and Indiana's Poet Laureate, Norbert Krapf. However, Krapf became the first author in competition history to be selected as a finalist in two different categories in the same year. A complete listing of 2009 Best Books of Indiana entrants, including all category finalists, is available at the Indiana Center for the Book's Web site.

Each entry was judged on the quality of writing, with organization and interpretation also considered. Books by Indiana authors or about Indiana and published in 2008 were eligible. This year's winners will be engraved on a plaque in the Indiana Authors Room where one copy of their book will remain indefinitely. Three copies of all 2009 competition entries have been added to the State Library's collection. Two copies of each entry will circulate. Indiana citizens can borrow any Best Books of Indiana title at the State Library or request it via interlibrary loan at their local public library. 

The Indiana Center for the Book started the Best Books of Indiana Awards in 2005 to strengthen interest in Indiana's strong literary heritage. The 2009 competition featured 61 titles published between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008. The 2010 competition for books published in 2009 will begin accepting entries on October 2, 2009.

The Indiana Center for the Book is a program of the Indiana State Library and an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The Indiana Center for the Book promotes interest in reading, writing, literacy, libraries, and Indiana's literary heritage by sponsoring events and serving as an information resource at the state and local level. The Center supports both the professional endeavors and the popular pursuits of Indiana's residents toward reading and writing.

Friday, August 7, 2009

RFK Book Finalist in Best Books Contest

I learned yesterday that my book Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary is a finalist in the nonfiction-historical/biographical category of the Indiana Center for the Book's 2009 Best Books of Indiana competition.

In addition to my Kennedy book, other finalists are:

* Norbert Krapf for The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood
* Nancy Kriplen for The Eccentric Billionaire: John D. MacArthur–Empire Builder, Reluctant Philanthropist, Relentless Adversary
* Michael Martone for Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins

Award-winning titles of all former, current and future Best Books finalists will be featured in the State Library's Indiana Authors Room indefinitely. In addition, each category winner will be engraved on a plaque placed in the Indiana Authors Room. Also, three copies of each 2009 contest entry have been added to the Indiana State Library's collections. One of the copies will circulate; the other two copies are available to all Hoosiers at the ISL and via interlibrary loan at their local public library.

An awards ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. on August 29 at the ISL, 315 West Ohio Street, Indianapolis, to announce the winners in the nonfiction-historical/biographical category, as well as finalists in children/young adult, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction-creative/instructional.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Flight of Liberty Bell 7

On this date in 1961 Hoosier astronaut Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom became the second American and the third human to rocket into space as a Redstone rocket blasted his Libert Bell 7 spacecraft into a suborbital flight lasting approximately fifteen minutes.

Grissom's flight, however, is best known today for what happened after he successfully splashdowned in the Atlantic Ocean. As I noted in my biography of Grissom, written as part of the Indiana Historical Society Press's Indiana Biography Series, the astronaut was lying flat on his back waiting for the helicopter’s call that it had hooked onto the spacecraft, Grissom turned his attention for a second to the knife he had placed in his survival pack, wondering if he could carry it out with him as a souvenir instead of leaving it in the spacecraft. “I heard the hatch blow—the noise was a dull thud—and looked up to see blue sky out the hatch and water start to spill over the doorsill,” he told National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials. Acting on instinct, Grissom quickly tossed his helmet to the floor, grabbed the right side of the instrument panel, and exited the spacecraft. “I have never moved faster in my life,” he noted. “The next thing I knew I was floating high in my suit with the water up to my armpits.”

Inside NASA there existed “two vehement camps” with opinions on what happened. One side believed Grissom had either panicked or hit the switch by accident, causing the hatch to blow. Another faction pointed to some unknown problem with the machine and held the astronaut blameless for the accident.

The debate on the question of whether or not Grissom was to blame for the hatch’s firing seemed about to be put to rest for good in May 1999 when Curt Newport, whose twin passions as a child had been spaceflight and undersea exploration, found the long-abandoned spacecraft on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. In July, Newport, joined by Guenter Wendt, a German engineer known as the "Pad Leader" by American astronauts and Jim Lewis, the helicopter pilot on the original Liberty Bell 7 recovery, returned to the site and, at 2:15 a.m. July 20—thirty-eight years almost to the day it had been blasted into space—hoisted the capsule off of the ocean floor and onto the deck of the ship Ocean Project.

As a restoration team at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center cleaned and reassembled the spacecraft’s 27,000 separate parts, they discovered some intriguing material to help the case that Grissom had not panicked on his flight and prematurely blown the hatch. The museum team, which completed its work in March 2000, discovered Grissom’s waterlogged checklist, which had been about a third of the way completed before the hatch blew. “As far as I’m concerned, that checklist pretty much cleared Grissom of any wrongdoing in connection to what happened,” said John Glass, who supervised the capsule’s restoration at the Cosmosphere.

In addition, Greg “Buck” Buckingham, a key figure in the restoration effort, pointed out that there were no burn marks from the explosive cord that had been intended to trigger the hatch’s release. If the explosive cord never detonated, Buckingham theorized that the spacecraft had slammed hatch-down into the ocean when it returned to earth, causing a titanium strip along the hatch sill to buckle and the seventy explosive bolts to fire one by one. “Most telltale to me are the lack of burn marks,” said Buckingham.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nominees Named for New Indiana Authors Award

The inaugural Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award recipient has been named. Indiana native James Alexander Thom was chosen as the national recipient, and finalists in all categories were named. The winning author in the regional and emerging author categories will each be named on September 26 among the finalists.

This new award seeks to recognize the contributions of Indiana authors to the literary landscape in Indiana and across the nation by the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation, and is funded by the generosity of The Glick Fund, a fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Nominations were submitted from across the state in early spring. Any published writer who was born in Indiana or has lived in Indiana for at least five years was eligible. A seven-member, statewide Award Panel selected the national winner and finalists in three categories from the pool of publicly nominated authors:

• National Author - $10,000 prize: a writer with Indiana ties, but whose work is known and read throughout the country. National authors were evaluated on their entire body of work. Winner: James Alexander Thom; Finalists: Scott Russell Sanders and Margaret McMullan

• Regional Author - $7,500 prize: A writer who is well-known and respected throughout the state of Indiana. Regional authors were evaluated on their entire body of work. Finalists: Jared Carter, James H. Madison and Susan Neville

• Emerging Author - $5,000 prize: A writer with only one published book. Emerging authors were evaluated on their single published work. Finalists: Kathleen Hughes, Christine Montross and Greg Schwipps

Award finalists in all three categories will be honored on September 26, 2009 at the Central Library in downtown Indianapolis. The day’s events will include free public programming such as author lectures, “how to get published” workshops for aspiring writers, and more. An award dinner/fund raiser benefiting the Library Foundation will follow that evening where the winner of the Regional Author and Emerging Author categories will each be named. Thom will serve as the dinner’s keynote speaker. Ticket information for the award dinner is available by contacting the Library Foundation at (317) 275-4700.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Indiana Author Series

I will be examining the career of famed Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle as part of a special Indiana Author Series sponsored by OASIS and the Indiana Historical Society from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 10, at the Glendale OASIS office, 6101 North Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis. My lecture comes from my book Ernie Pyle: The Soldier's Friend, published by the IHS Press in 2006.

The series, which also includes authors Wes D. Gehring and Michael S. Maurer, is an exclusive offer to IHS and OASIS members. A book sale and signing will follow each presentation. From 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, July 17, Gehring will examine the life and times of Indiana comedian Red Skelton. Maurer will discuss contemporary female Hoosier leaders from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 24.

Call (317) 233-5659 to register for the programs or to purchase an IHS membership prior to registration.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Carmel Clay Public Library Children's Book Festival

I will be one of a number of authors/illustrators to appear at the Carmel Clay Public Library Foundation's inaugural Children's Author & Illustrator Festival from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 16, at the library, 55 4th Avenue S.E., in Carmel. The library is located across Main Street from Carmel High School. All book sale proceeds will benefit the library's foundation.

At the event, I will be signing copies of my three youth biographies published by the Indiana Historical Society Press:

* The Sword and the Pen: A Life of Lew Wallace
* The Soldier's Friend: A Life of Ernie Pyle
* Fighting for Equality: A Life of May Wright Sewall

In addition to book signings by the authors at the festival, there are a number of programs scheduled during the day. For a complete list of programs, visit the foundation's Web site. Call (317) 81403905 for more information.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Kennedy Book Wins Honor

My book Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary won first place in the book category of the Indiana Pro Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists, annual Best of Indiana Journalism contest. I received the award at the award banquet on Friday, April 24, at the Indianapolis Marriott North hotel.

Monday, March 30, 2009

RFK Speech Site to Receive Upgrades

Saturday, April 4, marks the forty-first anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 speech at Seventeenth and Broadway streets in Indianapolis announcing to a crowd that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed. Kennedy's poignant remarks that evening helped avert potential violence in the community, as the crowd returned peacefully to their homes. In a number of major American cities, the news of King's death had sparked riots and destruction; Indianapolis remained peaceful.

In conducting research for my book on Kennedy's 1968 campaign in the Indiana Democratic presidential primary, I examined how and why Kennedy was in Indianapolis for his emotional speech. Indianapolis has paid homage to Kennedy's speech with a memorial at Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 1702 North Broadway Street that includes a Landmark for Peace sculpture of King and Kennedy. Unfortunately, the site is away from the hustle of the downtown area, and many visitors to the city are unaware of its existence.

The memorial's isolation may soon end if community leaders have their way. Organizers recently announced a $3 million fund-raising campaign to improve and expand the memorial. According to an article in the Indianapolis Star, the expansion would include:

* An eternal flame incorporated into a new sculpture or sculptures by Greg Perry, the artist who designed the existing memorial.

* An amphitheater to seat 75 to 200 people, depending on the final design.

* Twin elliptical walkways, one for King and one for Kennedy, that slope along a wall that abruptly ends to symbolize the sudden end of their lives.

A ceremonial groundbreaking will be held at the memorial from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 4.

Radio Show Appearance for Grissom

I will be appearing on Nelson Price's live call-in radio program "Hoosier History Live!" at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 4, on WICR-FM 88.7 to discuss the life and times of Hoosier astronaut Gus Grissom.

Here is what the program has to say about my appearance:

"April 4 Gus Grissom Remembered

We will be back, live with listener call-in and our Hoosier History Trivia Mystery, as we explore the life, legacy, and tragic death of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, the day after what would have been his 83rd birthday--and 50 years after the Mitchell, Ind., native was selected by NASA as one of the original seven American astronauts in 1959.

Nelson will be joined in studio by Grissom expert Ray Boomhower, editor of the award-winning Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History magazine, which is celebrating a milestone of its own. Traces, published by the Indiana Historical Society, is turning 20 years old. During those years, Ray has written a cover story and other articles about Grissom, who became the first person to travel in space twice when he orbited the Earth in 1965. For that mission, Grissom was in a Gemini spacecraft, a chapter that Ray says often is a “lost” part of NASA history because it came between the excitement surrounding the first men in space (those were the Mercury missions, which also involved Grissom) and the moon landings.

Sadly, the Hoosier astronaut wasn’t involved in the latter because Grissom was killed in the explosive fire of his Apollo spacecraft during what was supposed to be a routine test at Cape Kennedy in 1967. A Purdue grad who had been an Air Force fighter pilot during the Korean War, Gus Grissom was just 40 years old.

Ray is the author of Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2004).

Fun fact: Still widely remembered as a hero in his home state, Grissom was selected as one of the “10 Greatest Hoosiers of the 20th Century” in a reader participation project by the Indianapolis Star, which Nelson oversaw at the end of the millennium when he was a feature writer/columnist at the newspaper. (Others on the list included Eli Lilly, James Whitcomb Riley, Cole Porter, Madam Walker, Ernie Pyle, and Hoagy Carmichael.)"

Friday, February 27, 2009

New Indiana Author Award

Great news for Indiana authors. Yesterday, February 26, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation announced that nominations for the inaugural Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award are now being accepted. This award seeks to recognize the contributions of Indiana authors to the literary landscape in Indiana and across the nation, and is funded by the generosity of The Glick Fund, a fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Nomination forms are available now through April 8 at Complete information and eligibility guidelines are included on the nomination forms.

Any published writer who was born in Indiana or has lived in Indiana for at least five years is eligible for the nomination. A seven-member, statewide award panel will select winners in three categories from the pool of publicly nominated authors:

* National author ($10,000 prize): a writer with Indiana ties, but whose work is known and read throughout the country. National authors will be evaluated on their entire body of work.

* Regional author ($7,500 prize): a writer who is well-known and respected throughout the state of Indiana. Regional authors will be evaluated on their entire body of work.

* Emerging author ($5,000 prize): a writer with only one published book. Emerging authors will be evaluated on their single published work.

In addition to a cash prize, each author's Indiana hometown public library will receive a grant of $2,5000 from the Library Foundation.

Those serving on the award panel are: Roberta Brooker, Indiana State Library director; Tracy Haddad, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation board director; Bruce Haines, WFWA-Channel 39 president/general manager; Sharon Kibbe, Eugene and Marilyn Glick Family Foundation executive director; Ricardo Parra, poet; Janet Rabinowitch, Indiana University Press director; and Thomas Wilhelmus, University of Southern Indiana professor of English.

Award finalists will be honored on September 26, 2009, at the Central Library in downtown Indianapolis. The day's events will include free public programming such as author lectures, "how to get published" workshops for aspiring writers, and more. An award dinner/fund raiser benefitting the Library Foundation will follow that evening to support library programs and services. Ticket information for the award dinner is available by contacting the Library Foundation at (317) 275-4700.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Apollo 1 Talk at Gas City Library

I'll be lecturing on the subject "Tragedy at Pad 34: Gus Grissom and the Apollo 1 Fire" at 5 p.m. on Thursday, February 26, at the Gas City-Mill Township Public Library, 135 East Main Street, Gas City. The program is free and open to the public.

Copies of my Grissom biography, Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut, will also be available for purchase. Autographs are always free!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Apollo 1 Tragedy

January 27, 2009, marks the 42nd anniversary of one of the American space program's worst tragedies, the fire onboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft.

On Friday, January 27, 1967, the National Aeronatuics and Space Administration was engaged in yet another step on the long journey to the moon by attempting a simulated countdown of the three-man Apollo spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center's Pad 34.

At one o'clock in the afternoon astronauts Roger Chaffee, a rookie and the youngest person ever selected to join the astronaut corps; Ed White, the first American to walk in space; and Hoosier native Gus Grissom, the first American to fly in space twice; entered the Apollo command module, built by North American Aviation. They never made it out alive. At 6:31 p.m., flight controllers on the ground heard an astronaut, probably Chaffee, calmly announce: "Fire. I smell fire." Seconds later, White more urgently stated: "Fire in the cockpit."

According to NASA procedures, an emergency escape from the Apollo spacecraft took at a minimum 90 seconds. The crew, however, had never accomplished such a difficult feat in that time. To escape the troubled capusle, Grissom had to lower White's headrest so White could reach above and behind his left shoulder to use a ratchet-type device to release the first in a series of latches to open the hatch.

The astronauts performed their tasks bravely in spite of the inferno raging around them. White, with Grissom struggling to help him, actually made part of a full turn with the ratchet before being overcome by smoke. Chaffee, the rookie, had carried out his duties by turning up the cabin lights as an aid to vision and turning on the cabin's internal batteries for power.

The intense heat and smoke hampered rescue efforts, but pad workers finally were able to open the hatch. They were too late; the three astronauts were dead, killed not by the fire, but the carbon monoxide that filled the cabin and entered their spacesuits after flames had burned through their air hoses. Doctors treated 27 men involved in the rescue attempt for smoke inhalation. Two were hospitalized.

It took NASA more than a year after the accident, during which time the spacecraft underwent extensive modification, to launch another manned mission. Apollo 7, commanded by Grissom’s friend Wally Schirra, an original Mercury astronaut, made 163 orbits during its eleven-day mission in the redesigned command module; America was back on its way to the moon.

There were a number of ironies associated with the Apollo 1 disaster, the most obvious being that three astronauts had been killed not on a hazardous trip into space, but on the ground during what was believed to be a relatively safe test involving an unfueled rocket.

Also, there were many in NASA who believed that the fire, great a tragedy as it was, might have been one of the best things that could have happened for the American space program. "I think we got too complacent in the manned program," one Apollo engineer said. "The fire really woke people up." And if there had not been a fire on the ground, there may have well been one in space. If that had happened, if a fire had occurred while Apollo was in orbit or on its way to the moon, the American space effort might have been set back for a decade.

For more on the tragedy, and the life of hard-luck astronaut Gus Grissom, see my biography Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Meet Mr. Wallace

Juvenile delinquent, artist, musician, soldier, lawyer, politican, general, writer, and diplomat. Lew Wallace of Indiana was all of these in his remarkable life. I'll be examining Wallace's life and times in a free talk at 2 p.m. Saturday, January 10, at the New Castle-Henry County Public in New Castle, Indiana.

My talk is based upon my book The Sword and the Pen: A Life of Lew Wallace, published in 2005 by the Indiana Historical Society Press. This event is part of the Civil War series presented by New Castle-Henry County Public Library in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The series is made possible by a grant from Wal-Mart to Friends of the Library.

Growing up when much of Indiana was still a wilderness, Wallace frequently fled from his classroom studies to wander the woods and fields he loved. The son of an Indiana governor, Wallace became passionate about books and combat. He tried to win lasting fame through service for the Union cause on the battlefield during the Civil War, but instead won honor and glory through a quieter pastime: writing. His novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, became one of the country’s best-loved books and was made into two successful Hollywood films.

At various times in his life, Wallace also was a lawyer, an Indiana state senator, vice president of the court-martial that tried the conspirators behind the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, governor of the New Mexico Territory during the days of outlaw Billy the Kid, and a diplomat who represented the United States in Turkey.

Wallace dreamed always of glory and lived a life full of adventures, triumphs and tragedies. Through it all, he believed in himself and always was never afraid to accept new challenges. He remains one of the most colorful and important figures in the Hoosier State’s history.