Press kit for I Hear Voices

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I Hear Voices
A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio
Jean Feraca
Published September 2007
160 pp.  6 x 9
ISBN-13: 978-0-299-22390-8 Cloth $24.95 t
(ISBN-10: 0-299-22390-6)
Memoir / Media / Ethnic Studies


"The people who inhabit this book are emotionally unkempt, blunt, ruthless, charming forces of nature, and Feraca shows them to us with both eyes open and with a generous heart. I Hear Voices belongs on a shelf with some of the best memoirs of the last twenty or thirty years."–Dwight Allen, author of The Green Suit and Judge

"A completely captivating memoir: the Voices of the title come from séances with dead family members, past marriages and beaux, listeners to Feraca's radio programs, a plurality of selves (including the current crew and some outgrown or castaway), among many others. Beautifully written, and wise, this book manages to be both tragic and funny, a combination hard to wrangle."–Diane Ackerman, author of An Alchemy of Mind and Cultivating Delight


Publishers Weekly | ForeWord

Publishers Weekly review

I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio
Feraca, Jean (Author)
ISBN: 0299223906
University of Wisconsin Press
Published 2007-09
Hardcover, $24.95 (176p)
Biography & Autobiography | Personal Memoirs; Religion | Spirituality - General; Family & Relationships | Emotions
Reviewed 2007-07-30 PW

"As a poet and Wisconsin Public Radio's "Distinguished Senior Broadcaster," Feraca knows the power of the well-chosen word. Feraca (South from Rome ) grew up attuned to language, with her flamboyant, "Old World Italian patriarch" father defiantly reciting poetry to her mother's cold criticism. Feraca's traditionally Catholic upbringing was full of stories of "saints and virgin martyrs," which gave her "an enduring template of courage and heroism," even if they imparted a taste for suffering that left her "vulnerable to abuse." Feraca tells stories of her dearly eccentric brother, her demented mother, her wretched first and second marriages, her attempt to live the monastic life, her passion for her third husband and his taste in wine. Most remarkable, however, is her account of that pivotal moment when she took Donald Hall's creative writing seminar. Ignoring her disastrous marriage as she immersed herself in writing, she was "Rapunzel, spinning straw into gold." Blending the spiritual and the profane, Feraca is beguiling.(Sept.)"—Publishers Weekly Copyright © 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

ForeWord review

"Another voice in the national dialogue is Jean Feraca, poet, essayist and host of the National Public Radio show, Here On Earth. I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio (University of Wisconsin Press 978-0-299-22390-8) begins with a strike at the concept of "a calling," or inspired purpose. It addresses failed marriages and the uncertainty regarding chosen and unchosen life pathways. Those concerns are eclipsed, however, when Feraca's cultural affairs show spurs positive change, such as construction of a medical clinic in the Amazon.

After a blistering indictment of a "monster" mother's failings, appreciation surprisingly develops in conjunction with dementia: "it's possible to be attached and estranged at the same time." The memoirist also forgives a difficult, self-contradictory brother and bolsters their connection as his terminal illness progresses. Leavening comes from the family's Bronx stories that read as street-ready urban legends. For example, Feraca's Grandma Jenny beat up Casey Stengel when he maligned her Italian heritage. Resolution and clemency replace bitterness in this sandpaper valentine of a book."—ForeWord


My brother Stephen died of lung cancer on June 29, the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. To watch someone with a life force that verged on the diabolic reduced to a box of ashes overnight was a shock. I am grieving.

I was with him for five days before he died, all by myself toward the end, when my son, Dominick, staggered into the waiting room from a brutal two-week hike with the boy scouts in the Southwest in time to deliver an eagle feather into my brother's hands just hours before he died.

It wasn't as if we didn't know he was dying. The question was, did he know? He had been dying all his life. He was born dehydrated, and my mother couldn't nurse him. If it hadn't been for penicillin, he would have died of pneumonia in the hospital. He went under the knife so many times in his adult life he was like St. Sebastian, full of arrows. They opened him up last Christmas and found the tumor too close to his heart to operate. But this was his third cancer. There was something about the way he stood up to it that made us think maybe the old reprobate might just scrape by." –excerpt from Chapter 1.

"My mother was a monster who lived well into her nineties. Toward the end of her life, much to my surprise, I grew to love her. I loved her fiercely, in fact. It was the monster in her that kept her alive, and the monster that made me love her. I had moved far away, but a turn of events brought us together again, let me face her, let me, finally, in a strange way, love her to death.

But in childhood, we all hated her–my brother, my sister, and I. When we moved out of our cozy neighborhood in the Bronx into a big sprawling house my father built in Scarsdale, she spent the better part of each day cleaning house in her nightgown, climbing a kitchen stool to scrub the walls she cursed, and polishing the oak floors down on her hands and knees until they seemed to burn. She was angry and spiteful most of the time, and none of us quite knew why. Once, she threatened to scald me with a steam iron. Another night she picked up a pitchfork and carried it out of our two-car garage, intent on sticking it into her brother-in-law.'"–excerpt from Chapter 2.

"It is dark in the Amazon where it is often overcast and raining, and vision is obscured by mists and downpours. The river T. S. Eliot called the "brown god" is muddy along most of its four-thousand-mile epic length, and when the silt clears in the dark-water tributaries, the river runs black. Very little light ever penetrates the gloom. In the forest, the great trees that soar over 150 feet in their race for the light are intertwined and laced with lianas and epiphytes. A tree might hoard as many as two thousand epiphytes, clustered on a single branch. When the sky breaks open, illuminating the crowns, light is deflected, entering in the face of things. To reach the forest floor, the sun must zigzag and deviate, making its way through an immensity of tangled, interwoven layers. In such a miasma, one can never be sure that what one sees is real. Animals move through vapors disguised by spots and stripes, matching, melting, and blending into their shadowy element. The jungle is a shape-shifter, a place of mimicry, trickery, and camouflage where the anaconda and the jaguar may be conjured by the ayajuasca, and where the jaguar and the shaman are said to regularly switch places."–excerpt from Chapter 6.

"He likes clean lines. I like rococo clutter. We have tchotchke wars. Soon after we were married and I moved in and began redecorating, he imposed the Tchotchke Rules. Rule #1 (adapted from William Morris): A thing must be beautiful and/or useful before it's allowed in the house. Rule #2 (also known as the Steady State Tchotchke Rule): For every tchotchke that comes in, one must go out. He wants to keep things simple. That way he can think better, he says.

He thinks about science. Mostly, when he is at home, he sits on the porch in his big tan overstuffed armchair and thinks. My son's cubist painting of him, thinking, with his whole head a jumble of nuts and bolts and widgets, hangs right above the chair.

I like claw feet, cushions, carved furniture, candlesticks on the mantel. I want paintings on the walls, baskets and pottery above the kitchen cabinets, my mother's parrot lamps perched on both ends of the sofa. I like to shop. He hates to shop. On those rare occasions when we go in search of something for the house, his brain goes into overload; he gets sleepy and has to come home to take a nap."–excerpt from Chapter 6.

Author's bio:

Jean Feraca, Wisconsin Public Radio's Distinguished Senior Broadcaster, is host and executive producer of Here on Earth: Radio without Borders. Feraca has received several honors including the Nation's Discovery Award and two Hopwood Awards. Recipient of an Ohio State and Gabriel Award for her Women of Spirit radio series on female leaders in the early Christian Church, she also received the National Telemedia Council's Distinguished Media Award for her radio advocacy of people with mental illness. She is author of three collections of poetry: South from Rome: Il Mezzogiorno, Crossing the Great Divide; and Rendered into Paradise.

Author's blog:

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