Our planet, solid as it may seem, actually is a seething mass of molten rock – sometimes benign, sometimes deadly to the species that walk the landscape. With his curiosity, imagination and flair for describing the natural world, English Professor John Calderazzo explores the earth’s volcanoes that have inspired poetry and terror, legend and nightmares, in his new book, "Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives" (The Lyons Press).
In his literary reflection on the natural world, Calderazzo shows us the rivers of underworld fire and the ceremony and ritual of which humans partake on the thin skin of Earth: "Over the long arc of time, volcanoes heave themselves up into high, holy mountains and haunted summits, burst apart, erode back down.
Their lavas leap and turn with the grace of sandhill cranes in their mating dance; they breathe, roar and sing. And singing, volcanic rocks and fires can deeply affect the way we see and act in the world, the stories we tell about the world."
John Calderazzo will read from and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at Gallery 233, 233 Jefferson St. in Fort Collins. The reading, free and open to the public, is a benefit for the non-profit Rocky Mountain Land Library.
A consummate storyteller, Calderazzo leads us on trips throughout the world, from the infamous Vesuvius to the radically altered Mount St. Helens, the 25th anniversary of which is coming in May next year. He describes the devastating 1815 eruption of Tambora in Indonesia that killed 10,000 people, plus 80,000 more who died from crop loss and famine. He shadows local people on volcanic islands in the Caribbean and scientists working at the edge of disaster in Alaska, and he stands close enough to lava flows to feel the intense heat of newly forming land. He tells the story of Maurice and Katia Krafft, who had filmed more than 500 active volcanoes and died with 36 journalists on live television while covering the explosion of Mount Unzen in Japan in 1991.
Although volcanoes can cause complete destruction in the blink of an eye, Calderazzo sees how those natural forces simultaneously give birth to the newest earth on the planet. He suggests that volcanoes can be sources of optimism, places where the world truly begins again. And in his travels exploring the movement of rock, he also takes a close look at the trials and joys of his own life. He marvels at how the world changes on a grand scale, and how, in doing so, it can change people, too: "The natural world can revolutionize the human heart."
An English professor at Colorado State since 1986, Calderazzo received CSU’s Best Teacher Award in 1998 and a Colorado Council on the Arts Creative Nonfiction Fellowship. His work has been cited in "Best American Essays" and "Best American Stories" and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His essays have appeared in many anthologies and dozens of magazines, including Audubon, Georgia Review, Orion and Coastal Living. His other books include a how-to writing guide, "Writing from Scratch: Freelancing," and a children’s science book, "101 Questions About Volcanoes," from which his new book drew inspiration.
For more information on the Sept. 17 reading, contact Gallery 233 at (970) 484-7500 or John Calderazzo on campus at 491-6896 or at 493-6995.
Calderazzo also will read from "Rising Fire" and host a discussion at 2 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Tattered Cover Book Store, 1628 16th Street, Denver, Colo. Call 303-436-1070 for more details.