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Novelist Ruth Ozeki talks about her work in meat and potatoes

Ruth Ozeki
Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki first took on meat. Now it's potatoes.

In her first novel, "My Year of Meats," she exposed the dangers of the meat industry's use of growth hormone. Her latest book, "All Over Creation," tackles potato farming, genetic engineering and eco-terrorism.

The award-winning filmmaker and novelist will read from "All Over Creation" on Monday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m in Room 6-120. The reading will be followed by a question-and-answer session and a book signing.

As artist in residence at MIT February 28 to March 3, Ozeki will visit classes, tour labs and share informal meals with faculty, staff and students.

Ozeki's work has been characterized by USA Today as "ardent and passionate���rare and provocative." Her first novel won numerous awards and has been translated into 10 languages and published in 14 countries.

"All Over Creation," called a "modern epic" by the Boston Globe, is the story of a prodigal daughter's return to the family's Idaho potato farm. Once there, she must deal with her aging parents, old friends and lovers, and radical environmentalists who are protesting genetically engineered potatoes and corporate agriculture. The book won a 2004 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the Willa Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction.

Born and raised in New Haven, Conn., by an American father and a Japanese mother, Ozeki studied English and Asian Studies at Smith College and traveled extensively in Asia. She received a Japanese Ministry of Education Fellowship to do graduate work in classical Japanese literature at Nara University. During her years in Japan, she worked in Kyoto's entertainment or "water" district as a bar hostess, studied flower arrangement, Noh drama and mask carving, founded a language school, and taught in the English department at Kyoto Sangyo University.

Ozeki returned to New York in 1985 and began her film career as an art director. After several years in television production, she started making her own films. "Body of Correspondence" (1994) won the New Visions Award at the San Francisco Film Festival and was aired on PBS. "Halving the Bones" (1995), an award-winning autobiographical film, tells the story of Ozeki's journey as she brings her grandmother's remains home from Japan.

A frequent speaker on college and university campuses, Ozeki currently divides her time between New York City, where she serves on the board of Women Make Movies, and British Columbia, where she writes, knits socks, and raises exotic chickens with her husband, artist Oliver Kellhammer.

Ozeki's residency is sponsored by the Alan W. Katzenstein Memorial Fund, established in 1998 in memory of alumnus Katzenstein by his wife Rhoda. The reading is co-sponsored by the Center for New Words.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 16, 2005 (download PDF).

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