LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 7, 2018) — Hannah Pittard, associate professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Kentucky, is known for captivating readers with her intricate storytelling. Those who have been awaiting the release of her highly anticipated fourth novel, "Visible Empire," don't have to wait any longer.
The page-turner, which hit bookstore shelves June 5, examines the aftermath of a real-life tragedy: the crash of Air France 007. On a summer day in 1962, the Boeing 707 crashed in Paris shortly after takeoff. The crash, known as the second deadliest in aviation history, killed more than 100 of Atlanta's most prominent citizens. In one fell swoop, many of the city's elite were wiped out. Left behind were spouses, children and friends faced with renegotiating their lives.
Against a background of grief, Pittard takes readers on the journey of those who must rebuild their city and their lives. Depicted are fictional characters who have just inherited vast sums of money, and some who realize their families didn’t really have money after all. The book, which takes place over the course of a sweltering summer, intertwines themes of history, race, class, grief and love.
"I write to make sense of (or try to make sense of) the world around me. Sometimes that world is very nearby, sometimes it’s far away, sometimes it’s no further my own psyche," Pittard said. "But here’s what’s undeniably fascinating about the incident: at the time, it was the most devastating accident in the history of aviation involving only one plane. For a writer, when something is the biggest, the most, the worst, there’s automatically interest."
Pittard was born in Atlanta but wasn't alive when the crash occurred. In fact, she was a decade and a half away from being born, but the terrifying incident had a long-lasting impact on Pittard's hometown and those close to her, including her mother.
"After that crash, she began making audio recordings on tiny handheld tape recorders before traveling anywhere by plane. She would make a tape, box it up, heavily seal it (masking tape, etc. — they’re insane, I’ve seen them, they still exist) and then leave a note on the outside of the box that said something along the lines of, to be opened only in the case of my death."
Pittard is no stranger to writing about profound loss. She has published three novels: 2011’s "The Fates Will Find Their Way," which received a rave review in The Washington Post. Her second novel, "Reunion" (in 2014), was an editor’s choice by the Chicago Tribune. In 2016, she released "Listen To Me," which was New York Times Editors' Choice.
In "Visible Empire," Pittard explores the competition between self and society, which she believes is a complex and timely topic.
"When you lose something — a baby, a dog, a father, 100 friends — your worldview is automatically put to a kind of test. In the past I’ve kept my focus narrow, looking at an individual’s relationship to loss, maybe at a family’s. I felt I was ready — and frankly I felt compelled, given the state of the world, to try with this novel to tackle large-scale loss," Pittard explained.
You can meet Pittard on her "Visible Empire" tour. She will be at the Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 20.
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