A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arizona writing programs, Ann Cummins is the author of Red Ant House, a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Best Book of the Year. She has had her stories published in The New Yorker, McSweeneys, Quarterly West, and the Sonora Review, among other publications, as well as The Best American Short Stories 2002. The recipient of a Lannan fellowship, she divides her time between Oakland, California, where she lives with her husband, and Flagstaff, Arizona, where she teaches creative writing at Northern Arizona University.
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Ann Cummins discusses her first novel, Yellowcake
Why is your novel titled Yellowcake?
My novel is set in the uranium-rich lands of the American Southwest, the Four Corners area, including the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and the Navajo Indian reservation in northern New Mexico and Arizona. My subject is the lives of Navajos and Anglos for whom the mining and milling of uranium was a way of life from the fifties through the early seventies. Yellowcake, a controversial energy source used to power both nuclear bombs and power plants, comes from processed uranium ore. I titled my novel Yellowcake in part because the making of yellowcake was such an important element of my characters' lives, but also because it's a long-lived energy source emitting radiation for years after the ore is mined. My novel is set in 1991, twenty years after the closing of many uranium mines and mills on the Colorado Plateau, but my characters continue to feel the industry's effects in many ways physically, emotionally, and spiritually. History and the present converge in the characters. Yellowcake, or rather the "half-life" of the processed ore, represents the echoes and consequences of historical events and ...
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