By CAMERON MOORE
Ryan McIlvain, an assistant professor of English and writing at UT, held a release party for his latest book, The Radicals, at Inkwood Books on Tuesday, Feb. 13. McIlvan’s book is a novel focusing on how politics can consume a person and become part of their identity.
This novel about friendship, empathy and suspicion follows Eli as he meets Sam Westergard. Eli soon realizes that he and Sam have a lot in common and they bond over their love for poetry, idealism, and their commitment to the practice of socialism. However, as they become part of an Occupy-like group, Eli realizes that some are willing to go further for their cause than others.
McIlvain was inspired to write the book by a friendship he had with a man named Paul, who he described as a pure socialist, and who was very committed to politics.
“His passion and conviction to a political cause began to feel religious to me, and I know religion, so I thought, ‘What would happen if a Paul-like character got so hooked on politics that it became his religion, and he became zealous about it? Could that turn violent?’ Well I think so.”
The Radicals is McIlvain’s second novel; his first, Elders, was published in 2013. Exploring religion and stumbles in faith, Elders established McIlvain in the writing community. He began writing The Radicals the year after he published his first novel in 2014 and completed it in 2017.
“I always wanted to write another [novel], and the first one was successful enough to justify a second one,” McIlvain said. “Though I don’t really have books cued up or planned.”
McIlvain grew up in a very immersive, conservative Mormon environment, where those around him began to learn of his love of writing. According to his publisher, Stefani Beddingfield, his mom said that he’s always loved to write, ever since he was capable of holding a pen and paper as a little boy.
A student of McIlvain’s, junior writing major Adam Benalla, said that McIlvain inspires him to follow his dreams by teaching him to spread his own wings.
“I sort of just watch him and think, ‘Oh okay, so this is how it’s done,’” Benalla said. “Now I have a new perspective on where to start and where to go next.”
McIlvain hopes that this reading shows his students that writing and literature is not an ancient, dusty, dying art, but something that is still very much alive and has a lot to offer the modern world.
“Literature isn’t something that happened in the 19th or 20th century, it’s happening now. It’s like concert to a music lover.”
Cameron Moore can be reached at email@example.com