FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Iowa City writer Larry Baker often refers to himself as a "stealth" writer, real but not seen on any national radar. That might change this Fall.
The Iowa Center for the Book has selected Baker's first novel, THE FLAMINGO RISING (Knopf-1997), to be the representative Iowa book for the National Book Festival, to be held September 25 in Washington. A popular feature of the Festival is a free USA "Literary" map. Each state is allowed one title for inclusion on that map. When people enter the Pavilion of the States (organized by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress) they can pick up a map and have it stamped/stickered at each state's table. 10,000 maps will be printed, and FLAMINGO will be on each one.
In past years, books such as Marilynne Robinson's GILEAD and Leif Enger's PEACE LIKE A RIVER were the ICB choice for national recognition in Washington.
The Iowa Center for the Book is a program of the State Library of Iowa and an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. It's mission is to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy and libraries. The ICB Advisory Council also provides advice to the State Librarian and the Coordinator of the Iowa Center for the Book about activities and policies and helps implement programs.
Robin Martin, Coordinator for the ICB, was enthusiastic about the selection of FLAMINGO. "When I got the call from the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book to name Iowa’s book title for this year’s “National Book Festival USA Map,” I thought immediately of Larry’s The Flamingo Rising. It remains one of America’s best-loved coming of age novels, both joyous and heartbreaking. Written by a celebrated Iowa author, it is the perfect choice for young adults and their families who are the primary audience for this popular map."
FLAMINGO will join the recommended readings list “Great Reads About Great Places,” compiled from each of the states’ and territories’ Centers for the Book. Martin added, "The time seemed right to call the attention of the broader reading community to a new classic: The Flamingo Rising, by one of Iowa’s renowned authors, Larry Baker."
Baker describes his selection as an honor and a thrill. "FLAMINGO is a very special book to me. Not only my first, but also about the bond between adoptive children and their parents." He and his wife Ginger Russell have two children, Ben Russell and Jenny Baker, each of whom was adopted from Korea when they were infants, and who were the inspiration for two of the characters in FLAMINGO.
FLAMINGO is the story of a family that lives inside the screen tower of the world's largest drive-in theater, along with the theater's employees and a crazy dog named Frank. The book was adapted by Hallmark for a Hall of Fame television movie in 2001.
Baker managed movie theaters as a young man and can recall when he first thought of using that job as the subject of a book. "I was in Tulsa, standing in a phone booth outside my concession stand at the Admiral Drive-in, watching the lighting almost hit the giant screen tower, and telling myself this would make a great story. I never imagined adopting children or living in Iowa. Iowa, me in Iowa? I wasn't even sure that Iowa actually existed. But all those parts had to come together before I could actually tell the story."
Baker moved to Iowa City in 1980 and earned his PhD from the University of Iowa in 1986. He served two terms on the City Council ("Losing more elections than I won," he is quick to point out.), and is currently an adjunct instructor of American History at Kirkwood Community College.
Steve Semken, of Ice Cube Books, is the Iowa publisher of Baker's latest novel, A GOOD MAN. He is almost as excited as Baker himself. "I know that FLAMINGO is a wonderful book, and Larry is a great writer who deserves all the attention he can get."
A GOOD MAN is a continuation of FLAMINGO, using many characters from that first book. Semken, however, did not know about the FLAMINGO connection until after he agreed to publish A GOOD MAN.
"I thought GOOD MAN was a compelling story with great writing and a profoundly moving conclusion," Semken said. "I bought it a few days after reading it, and then Larry told me how some of my favorite characters in it had been introduced in his first book, ten years earlier. The two stories do not depend on each other to be appreciated, but when you put them together I think that any reader will see a brilliant synthesis."
The National Book Festival will occur on September 25, but Baker will not be able to attend. "I've already committed to an appearance at the Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine on that date." FLAMINGO and GOOD MAN are both set in St. Augustine. Thus, an Iowa author will be speaking in the nation's oldest city while his book is being honored in the nation's capitol.
Causes Larry Baker Supports
Holt International Adoption Services
Harry Chapin Foundation
National Public Radio