From Piracy to Poetry

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A 1615 painting of Barbary pirates confronting a French ship
Barbary pirates confront a French ship, in a work that Aert Anthoniszoon painted around 1615.

Buccaneers in search of Spanish doubloons had home lives, too. That’s the conclusion of a Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences alumna who spent years studying the private lives of pirates.

Daphne Palmer Geanacopoulos (English ’79) became interested in pirates while researching an article for The New York Times. After transcribing more than 250 documents and identifying 80 pirates who were married, she wrote a book, The Pirate Next Door: The Untold Story of Eighteenth Century Pirates’ Wives, Families and Communities.

“I developed a more complete and nuanced history of piracy and discovered that the lives of pirates, while indeed colorful, were often quite different from those of their literary and cinematic counterparts,” Geanacopoulos said in an interview.

Other College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences alumni have recently recreated other real worlds beyond the high seas. In her memoir Boisterous Bird of Paradise: Nonfiction Tales of Travel, Sailing, Swimming, and Love, for example, Robin Dalmas (English ’82) tells tales of everything from struggling to sleep in a Bali bungalow to a French ancestor’s harrowing escape from Napoleon.

Inspiration takes a different form in The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Every Day, the most recent book by executive coach Kristi Hedges (Communication ’92). As she prepared to write the book, Hedges said, “My research found that inspirational leadership isn’t about captivating personalities or grand visions. It’s about small moments of real connection.”

An alumni book that bridges the authentic and the imagined is The Unquiet Grave, by Sharyn McCrumb (English MA ’85). The bestselling author of dozens of novels based her latest on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in U.S. history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost. Drawing on genealogical material and other historical documents, McCrumb brings to life the courtroom drama of nineteenth-century West Virginia, in which the spectral testimony of the murdered woman condemned her husband to death.

Another novel based on a true crime hits close to home for Allan Wolf (English ’85; English MA ’88). In Who Killed Christopher Goodman?, Wolf writes about a teenager’s inexplicable murder and the fateful summer leading up to it. The author based the novel on the senseless abduction and murder of a high school friend.

In A Land of Permanent Goodbyes, Atia Abawi (Communication ’03) offers a fictional account of refugees escaping from war-torn Syria. The novel is the second by the Middle East–based foreign news correspondent and author; she published The Secret Sky, a novel of forbidden love in Afghanistan, in 2014.

A forensic anthropologist’s confirmation that the Shroud of Turin is indeed the burial cloth of Jesus sets The Shroud Conspiracy in motion. In this thriller, authored by John Heubusch (Political Science ’80), the unwitting protagonist must fight off evil forces to avoid earth-shattering consequences.

In her debut book of poems, Speak, My Tongue, Carrie Meadows (Creative Writing MFA ’08) explores spiritual complexities amid the landscape of the American South. In reviewing the book, Erika Meitner, director of Virginia Tech’s MFA program in creative writing, wrote, “These poems are luminous, tight, wondrous songs that give voice to artists who were outsiders of all kinds—self-taught, on the margins of society, often perceived as crazy—and limn their prayers, confessions, declarations, stories, and exclamations with force and grace.”

The newest alumni offering is a forthcoming book by Hoda Kotb (Communication ’86). I’ve Loved You Since Forever is her celebration of the timeless love felt between parent and child, inspired by her recent adoption of a baby girl, Haley Joy.

“In the universe,” Kotb wrote in the richly illustrated children’s book, “there was you and there was me, waiting for the day our stars would meet.”

Other books by College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences graduates can be found on the college’s online Alumni Bookshelf.