Turning Pages: Kathleen Rooney

We asked university presses to tell us about authors under 40 publishing significant works. Our debut is a 24 year old who studied Oprah.
February 22, 2005

Kathleen Rooney was in the audience the day in 2002 when Oprah Winfrey announced that she was ending her televised book club. Publishers were horrified, as was Rooney, who at the time didn't even own a television, but was studying the impact of the Oprah Book Club.

Rooney wrote about her experiences at the show for The Nation. Oprah has since revived her book club, and Rooney did much additional research to turn that article into a 230-page book, Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America, published this month by the University of Arkansas Press.

The press nominated Rooney for "Turning Pages," a periodic feature that debuts here, looking at significant work being published by authors under 40. Rooney, who is finishing up her MFA and teaching two writing courses at Emerson College, can hope for a return appearance in this column, as she doesn't turn 25 until next month.

Her book offers analysis of the novels Oprah selects and explores the impact of being selected on a novel and its author. While Rooney questions some of Oprah's literary analysis, she praises the book club for encouraging more people to read serious works.

In an e-mail interview, Rooney writes that she focused on Oprah because she is "intrigued by the position Oprah occupies as a mediator between relatively small-circulation mid-list fiction and the classics and corporate mass media. I have always been fascinated by phenomena that defy categorization as high- or low-brow, and by individuals and institutions who strive to give people the tools to educate themselves and to transform their own lives."

Rooney's book notes the way some literary figures have trashed her efforts, but Rooney says Oprah should be taken seriously by literary scholars: "Oprah is an intellectual force whose positive influence on active readership in America must not be underestimated. What she and her club have managed to do -- to take advantage of the way television can be used to promote literary culture -- is nothing short of revolutionary."

At Emerson, Rooney is teaching sections of research writing and writing personal essays, as well as serving as editor of Redivider, a literary journal. The emphasis of her writing, however, is poetry, which she hopes to teach in the future.

Rooney says she enjoyed working on her book while also teaching and taking courses. "I do not believe that working on one's own projects and working with one's students are mutually exclusive endeavors." she says. "I feel that my own work has been nourished by regular contact with the lively and always outspoken students of Emerson College."


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