Professor Kim Barnes’ Latest Novel Sold on Proposal to Alfred A. Knopf

Friday, February 13 2009

Feb. 13, 2009 Written by Donna Emert MOSCOW, Idaho – Author and University of Idaho creative writing professor Kim Barnes recently learned that her third novel, “American Mecca,” has sold based on a proposal submitted to renowned New York publishing house, Alfred A. Knopf. Knopf also published her 2008 novel, “A Country Called Home.” Barnes currently is at work on “American Mecca.” She has previously published two memoirs: “In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country,” which was a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize and winner of the PEN/Jerard Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award; and in 2000, “Hungry for the World.” She received a 2001 Pushcart Prize for her essay, "The Ashes of August." Her first novel, “Finding Caruso,” was published in 2003 and she co-edited “Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by 25 Women Over 40,” a collection of essays by contemporary women writers, with award-winning fiction writer Claire Davis. The collection was published in 2006. Barnes served as Idaho Writer-in-Residence from 2004-07. In her newest novel, Barnes’ intricately woven tale is told by a narrator who describes herself as “a barefoot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma.” The young woman, wife of a drilling foreman employed in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, has followed her husband into the Arabian Desert, leaving behind a life defined by poverty. The story is set in the 1960s in a gated compound of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), where the couple takes up residence in a seemingly utopian society as adopted members of the Aramco “family.” The corporate family is comprised of largely American and European professionals and Arab, Pakistani, Indonesian, Indian, Italian and Spanish laborers. As they occupy a new life of unprecedented luxury, the narrator’s husband is accused of killing a young Arabian woman. That tragedy, and the intrigue surrounding it, take place in a time of political and social upheaval in Saudi Arabia, when definitive features of an idealized American culture, transported to a foreign desert, collide with centuries-old values. The story explores the failures and successes of the Aramco utopia, offering insights into American values as well as those expressed through the distinctively different Wahhabi and Bedu cultures that coexist in Saudi Arabia. Barnes’ describes her story as “an intense narrative of a place defined by both magnificent progress and utter chaos. It is part love story, part adventure story, part tragedy and intrigue. It is the story of the stunning brilliance of the House of Saud to create a triangle of power between the Kingdom, the Wahhabi and the Bedu. It is a story of the “Aramco family,” its visions and its failures, set in a time when the American dream became the dream of the world.” As in the past, Barnes will share with her Master’s of Fine Arts creative writing students the process of writing, revising, publishing, and promoting her novel, as she continues to guide them through that process with their own work. “Because I’ve placed this book on proposal, I’m just in the beginning stages of discovering and developing my characters inside this story,” Barnes said. “I have months and months of research, writing and revision ahead of me. Inviting my students to observe my process teaches them that writing is not about magic and immediate gratification – it’s about learning the craft and trusting the process. Writing is not a hobby or even a job – it’s a discipline that I will practice every day for the rest of my life. This may be the most important thing that we can teach our students.” News of the sale of Barnes’ novel will be listed in the "Hot Deals" section of Publisher's Weekly in the coming weeks. The University of Idaho’s unique MFA program is delivered by the writers and poets producing some of Idaho’s greatest contemporary literature. Much of that work has been recognized nationally and globally. University of Idaho MFA faculty also nurture a next generation of great writers. For more information on the program, visit # # # About the University of Idaho Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit Media Contact: Joni Kirk, University Communications, (208) 885-7725,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit