'Look Both Ways' With Katharine Coles On Wednesday's Access Utah

Dec 12, 2018

Katharine Coles' book, "Look Both Ways: A Double Journey Along My Grandmother's Far-Flung Path."

Walter Link and Miriam Wollaeger, a young geologist couple in 1920s Wisconsin, set out to find oil to supply the surging U.S. demand. This exciting work will allow them to build their lives in South and Central America, Indonesia, and Cuba. But from the first posting in Columbia, they quickly discover that no women are working in the field in these places. While Walter faces the hardships and thrills of exploration in the jungles and mountains, and eventually becomes chief geologist for Standard Oil, Miriam is left behind in the colonial capitals during Walter’s often lengthy times away. She defines herself through the limited means left to a woman within their small societies: playing bridge or polo by day and dancing into the wee hours with early KLM pilots, diplomats, and the footloose sons of moneyed Americans and the European aristocracies. She also raises three children, has intimate involvements, learns the local languages, and takes up teaching. But she is not satisfied. And finally she does something about it. 

Following in her grandparents’ footsteps, author Katharine Coles looks backward and forward, through documents and imagination. She looks at their journeys and hers, and mingling their words with her own, examines the delicate balances that must exist in a successful marriage and a feminist life.

Coles says of her travels, "One of the things that really opened up for me was understanding the frustrations that my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother faced, as brilliant, gifted, totally thwarted women -- what it must have been like for them. And to be myself, exerting my own freedom now, and even now feeling the resistance that the culture puts up against a woman exerting the kind of freedom I was insisting on."

Katharine Coles’ fifth poetry collection, The Earth Is Not Flat (Red Hen 2013), was written under the auspices of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program.  Ten poems from the book, translated into German by Klaus Martens, appeared in the summer 2014 issue of the journal Matrix; she has also been translated into Spanish, Italian, and Dutch.  Her chapbook, Bewilder, was published this fall by the International Poetry Studies Institute at the University of Canberra, and her sixth collection, Flight, is due out from Red Hen in 2016.  She is also the co-PI on the Poemage project, which develops software for analyzing and visualizing sonic relationships in poetry; she has written a number of scholarly articles and presentations based on this work.  A professor at the University of Utah, she served from 2006 to 2012 as Utah Poet Laureate and in 2009 and 2010 as the inaugural director of the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute.  She has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation.