Submitted by Mike Gavin
SPINDALE (Feb. 12, 2020) – Isothermal Community College’s Dean of Arts and Sciences and Writer-in-Residence, Kathy Ackerman, is the winner of the 2019 Lena Shull Poetry Book Award sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society. The award is given annually for a new collection of poetry by a North Carolina poet. Her book, A Quarrel of Atoms, was published in November by St. Andrews University Press.
The poems in much of A Quarrel of Atoms are written from the point of view of Madame Marie Curie and tell the story of her discovery of radium at the end of the 19th Century. Through extensive research, Ackerman explores Curie as a scientist facing discrimination because of her sex and ethnicity; as a wife who tragically loses her husband at the peak of their career; and as a mother of two extraordinary daughters. The mother-daughter relationship is the thread that connects the poems in the first part of the book to those in the second, in which radium’s role in treating cancer is woven into the author’s own story of loss.
“This is a book of astonishment and wonder,” contest judge Allison Joseph said. “I was hesitant at first–poems about science and scientific history can often seem cold and distant. Not so with A Quarrel of Atoms. This finely written collection breathes with human life–with awe, with the doubts we all feel in making decisions (whether we are scientists or poets). It reads like a novel, has the drama of a stage production, yet the poems are lyrical and precise. The book is a love affair with Marie Curie, and we’re invited along for the investigation that compels us into a life of inquiry and curiosity.”
Asked why she chose to write about Marie Curie, Ackerman said her fascination with Curie began when she saw the 1943 film about her life. “I remember lying on the living room floor after school watching that old movie and being struck by how brave Marie was. She didn’t let anyone else define her. She embodied intelligence and perseverance.” Ackerman sees Curie as a role model whose entire story ought to be better known, especially the obstacles she faced. “It’s remarkable that more than a century later, science careers are still dominated by men. Curie’s story is an inspiration for girls and women who want to pursue careers in science and other STEM related fields.”
Ackerman also wants her book to show that the arts, including poetry, do not exist in opposition to science and technology. “There is poetry in science, and there is science in poetry.”
Entering her 20th year at ICC, Ackerman is grateful for the support the college has provided through its Writer-in-Residence program. Established in 2003, the program supports “intellectual efforts through recognizing serious academic and/or creative writers … who are publishing their work primarily through non-commercial or low-return venues … It is also designed to make a statement about the college’s quest for excellence, its mission to improve life through learning, and its reputation for fostering professional development.”
Ackerman’s other books include Coal River Road, The Heart of Revolution, and three poetry chapbooks.