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Tuesday June 6th

'All art is political': UNC professor publishes debut novel about the opioid crisis

Department of English and Comparative Literature Teaching Assistant Professor Karen Tucker is publishing her debut novel, "Bewilderness." Photo courtesy of Karen Tucker.
Buy Photos Department of English and Comparative Literature Teaching Assistant Professor Karen Tucker is publishing her debut novel, "Bewilderness." Photo courtesy of Karen Tucker.

UNC professor Karen Tucker’s debut novel, "Bewilderness," explores the opioid epidemic through an uncommon lens – the raw truth.

"Bewilderness" tells the story of two young women struggling with addiction. The book focuses on the friends' inseparable bond and their problems against the backdrop of a small Appalachian town.

Tucker, who is a teaching assistant professor in the department of English and comparative literature, hoped to display the story of two women who are trying to live a pain-free existence. 

"Anyone on this planet understands the impossibility of living without pain, whether or not their individual experience includes compulsive behavior," Tucker said in an email. 

Just as Tucker rejects the glorification of addiction within popular media, she also rejects the categorization of her novel as women’s fiction. 

“If a comparable term existed for fiction written by people who identify as men, it might feel more equitable," Tucker said. "As it stands, the term women's fiction establishes male authors as the norm, reduces women authors to a sub-genre, and erases nonbinary authors altogether."

 A press release from Catapult, Tucker's publishing service, stated that Tucker’s novel is a moving look at how intense, intimate friendships can shape every young woman’s life.

Megan Fishmann, Tucker's publicist, said the novel is a heartbreaking take on the opioid crisis rather than a glamorized version.

"Now more than ever, Karen Tucker's debut novel 'Bewilderness' is a vitally important read," Fishmann said in an email. "As the opioid epidemic continues to surge, Karen gives a voice to those who suffer from addiction, painting an incredible portrait of two best friends who are addicted to the powerful drug, and also to each other."

Sam Park, a political science and contemporary European studies major at UNC, thinks the book offers a unique perspective to Southern fiction.

“People within academia tend to write off the South and overgeneralize, so it’s good to uplift those voices as is done within this book," Park said. "And as someone who has lived in several different regions of the United States, addiction is a universal issue."

Tucker emphasized that people should focus on the good that art, including written work, has the potential to do. 

"All art is political, and in 2021 there's no shortage of opportunities to work toward equity and justice," Tucker said.

Tucker advises other writers to read often and diversely, have persistence and write what you want to know. 

“Rather than telling stories in an effort to present acquired knowledge to readers, it's the active pursuit of knowledge that has sustained me through the leanest, most brutal years of writing – as well as those perilous moments when you think you've finally figured things out,” Tucker said.

The book will be released June 1 and can be purchased online or through your local independent bookstore.


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