I Hear Voices
A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio
Published 2007 by University of Wisconsin Press
Get a copy: I Hear Voices
“The people who inhabit this book are emotionally unkempt, blunt, ruthless, charming forces of nature, and Feraca shows them to us with both eyes open and with a generous heart. I Hear Voices belongs on a shelf with some of the best memoirs of the last twenty or thirty years.”
—Dwight Allen, author of The Green Suit and Judge
Jean Feraca’s road to self-fulfillment has been as quirky and demanding as the characters in her incredible memoir. A twenty-five-year veteran of public radio broadcasting, Feraca is also a writer and a poet. She is a talk show host beloved for her unique mixture of the humanities, poetry, and journalism, and is the creator of the pioneering international cultural affairs radio program Here on Earth: Radio without Borders.
In this searing memoir, Feraca traces her own emergence. She pulls back the curtain on her private life, revealing unforgettable portraits of the characters in her brawling Italian American family: Jenny, the grandmother, the devil woman who threw Casey Stengel down an excavation pit; Dolly, the mother, a cross between Long John Silver and the Wife of Bath who in battling mental illness becomes the scourge of a Lutheran nursing home; and Stephen, the brilliant but troubled older brother, an anthropologist who was adopted into a Sioux tribe.
While building a career and raising two sons, Feraca learns empathy when she faces her brother’s cancer and her mother’s dementia. As she finds her voice and sense of self, her story moves far afield: a sojourn in a Benedictine monastery, a courtship through the California wine country, a dip into Dante’s hell in Italy’s Appalachia, an expedition in the Peruvian Amazon, a day under a huppah as she marries a Jewish scientist.
Unique, eccentric, and distinctive, I Hear Voices is a memoir that tells a universal story of a woman evolving to fully embrace her life and the world. Best of all, from the many voices in Feraca’s life emerges one that will be familiar to old fans–and delightful to new ones–leaping off the written page as compelling, eloquent, and surprising as ever.
“A completely captivating memoir: the Voices of the title come from séances with dead family members, past marriages and beaux, listeners to Feraca’s radio programs, a plurality of selves (including the current crew and some outgrown or castaway), among many others. Beautifully written, and wise, this book manages to be both tragic and funny, a combination hard to wrangle.”—Diane Ackerman, author of An Alchemy of Mind and Cultivating Delight
“As a poet and Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Distinguished Senior Broadcaster,” Feraca knows the power of the well-chosen word. Feraca (South from Rome ) grew up attuned to language, with her flamboyant, “Old World Italian patriarch” father defiantly reciting poetry to her mother’s cold criticism. Feraca’s traditionally Catholic upbringing was full of stories of “saints and virgin martyrs,” which gave her “an enduring template of courage and heroism,” even if they imparted a taste for suffering that left her “vulnerable to abuse.” Feraca tells stories of her dearly eccentric brother, her demented mother, her wretched first and second marriages, her attempt to live the monastic life, her passion for her third husband and his taste in wine. Most remarkable, however, is her account of that pivotal moment when she took Donald Hall’s creative writing seminar. Ignoring her disastrous marriage as she immersed herself in writing, she was “Rapunzel, spinning straw into gold.” Blending the spiritual and the profane, Feraca is beguiling.”—Publishers Weekly
“Another voice in the national dialogue is Jean Feraca, poet, essayist and host of the National Public Radio show, Here On Earth. I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio begins with a strike at the concept of “a calling,” or inspired purpose. It addresses failed marriages and the uncertainty regarding chosen and unchosen life pathways. Those concerns are eclipsed, however, when Feraca’s cultural affairs show spurs positive change, such as construction of a medical clinic in the Amazon.
After a blistering indictment of a “monster” mother’s failings, appreciation surprisingly develops in conjunction with dementia: “it’s possible to be attached and estranged at the same time.” The memoirist also forgives a difficult, self-contradictory brother and bolsters their connection as his terminal illness progresses. Leavening comes from the family’s Bronx stories that read as street-ready urban legends. For example, Feraca’s Grandma Jenny beat up Casey Stengel when he maligned her Italian heritage. Resolution and clemency replace bitterness in this sandpaper valentine of a book.”
Crossing the Great Divide
Published 2007 by University of Wisconsin Press
Get a copy: Crossing the Great Divide
“One of the most promising poets of her generation.” —Grace Schulman, poetry editor of The Nation
Author of the recent and critically acclaimed memoir I Hear Voices, Jean Feraca is also an award-winning poet. Her second collection of poems, Crossing the Great Divide, has not been widely available until now but forms a fascinating counterpoint to the story of emergence she reveals in her memoir. Brilliant, passionate, sexual, these poems travel into mythic ancestral landscapes in southern Italy and Sicily, on a psychic journey of self-discovery, sometimes luminous, sometimes harrowing, leading ultimately to deliverance, as in the title poem of the collection:
I shall live out my life rejoicing ribboning under the jagged shadow of the hawk. There is no reason for this joy eagle-bald, knifing through me like a canyon. There is nothing in this landscape that defines me.
Jean was the recipient of the Nation’s Discovery Award and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a two-time finalist for the Pushcart Prize and a National Poetry Foundation Prize. I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio, was selected as the 2011 winner of the Kingery/Derleth Book-Length Nonfiction Award, sponsored by the Council for Wisconsin Writers. It was also named an OutstandingBook by the American Association of School Librarians, and one of the year’s Best Books for General Audiences by the Public Library Association.