Brown, Nancy Marie
Brown, Nancy Marie
Married to Charles Fergus (a writer); children: William. Education: Pennsylvania State University, B.A., M.A.
Home—East Burke, VT. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer and editor. Research/Penn State magazine, PA, science writer and editor, 1981-2003.
A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse, Stackpole Books (Mechanicsburg, PA), 2001.
(With Nina V. Fedoroff) Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods, Joseph Henry Press (Washington, DC), 2004.
The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.
Contributor to various periodicals, including Canter, Dartmouth Medicine, Eidfaxi International, Highlights for Children, News from Iceland, Penn Stater, Pennsylvania Game News, Pennsylvania, Scripps Endeavor, Spektur, Town & Gown, Tuck Today, Tuck Forum, and Vermont.
Nancy Marie Brown was educated at Pennsylvania State University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in English and then her master's degree in comparative literature. Both a writer and editor, she spent more than two decades as part of the staff of the Research/Penn State magazine, where she focused primarily on science and multi-subject scholarship and contributed numerous articles over the years. Over the course of her tenure, she wrote on topics ranging from the sagas of Iceland, to the science of glass as it pertains to art, to the wild horses that roam on Assateague, to the risks inherent in gambling. She has also contributed writings to a number of other periodicals, including Canter, Dartmouth Medicine, Eidfaxi International, Highlights for Children, News from Iceland, Penn Stater, Pennsylvania Game News, Pennsylvania, Scripps Endeavor, Spektur, Town & Gown, Tuck Today, Tuck Forum, and Vermont. In 2001, Brown published her first book, A Good Horse Has No Color: Searching Iceland for the Perfect Horse. Since that time, she has left the staff of Research/Penn State and moved to Vermont where she lives with her husband, writer Charles Fergus, and continues to focus on her full-length work.
A Good Horse Has No Color relates the story of Brown's fascination with and desire to own an Icelandic horse. While in graduate school, Brown was particularly interested in the heroic medieval sagas of the Icelandic culture, and her studies led her to journey to Iceland repeatedly. While visiting the country, she had the opportunity to ride Icelandic horses on several occasions, and she quickly fell in love with the animals. She considered them to be extremely friendly, and in addition, she found them to be particularly comfortable for her to ride; they are of smallish size and have five gaits—walk, trot, canter, tolt, and pace—whereas most American horses have only the first three gaits. Although she had never had a horse of her own, her kinship to this particular breed sparked a desire to own one that continued well past her studies of the region's literature. Her desire to own an Icelandic horse was solidified during the summer of 1996, when she spent a period of time on the west coast of Iceland at an abandoned farm. Both riders and loose horses rode past the property each day, and on one occasion Brown had the opportunity to make the trek herself along with her neighbor, who introduced her to the path and the joys of swimming her horse across a stream and then riding along the sand to dry off and get warm again. She returned the next year to visit her neighbor and to struggle with her few words of Icelandic to buy her own horse, which she would then have shipped back to Pennsylvania. The book recounts her experiences, offering readers something of a travelogue but also an adventure story, as a woman in her mid-thirties, a wife and mother, ventures into a situation where her own desires fluctuates and where she is forced to trust in her original intentions even as circumstances make her doubt her plan and her own wishes. Brown admits to having been out of her element. As she described herself at the Icelandic Horse Connection Web site, she was "a writer without my usual command of words," and the experience of making this major purchase altered the course of her life.
Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods, which Brown wrote with Nina V. Fedoroff, addresses the question of global agriculture and what steps are necessary to ensure that the world's supply of agricultural crops is both sufficient to support the world's population and also provides healthy substances as opposed to those of questionable quality and origin. In direct relation to these issues, Brown and Fedoroff look at the controversies that have sprouted around the concept of genetic engineering as it pertains to the improvement of sustainable crops. Fedoroff, a geneticist and molecular biologist, along with Brown, provides the scientific background necessary to offer readers a solid understanding of what precisely it means to genetically engineer or modify foods, and what the differences might be between this altered agricultural product and one that is grown through more traditional means. They illustrate how genetic engineering has been used in agricultural over a long period of time, and how it is only the improvements in technology and the ability to make large-scale changes that have put these scientific methods into the public eye. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote of the book: "Though likely to be controversial, the authors' clear and rational presentation could well change the opinions of some readers." Irwin Weintraub, writing for Library Journal, praised the volume for its straightforward argument that "when applied responsibly with appropriate scientific oversight, genetic engineering plays a vital role in sustainable agriculture."
In The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, Brown recounts the ancient Icelandic story of Gudrid, a female Viking sailor known in the Icelandic sagas of medieval times. Brown tells the story in relation to her own experiences traveling to Iceland as part of a University of California at Los Angeles archaeological expedition, the purpose of which was to dig at Glaumbaer, where it was speculated that Gudrid might have lived at a later point in her life. While there was no conclusive proof that Gudrid had lived there, Brown herself ultimately believed that she had, and she tells both stories interwoven against the backdrop of her travels, using both archaeological findings and centuries' worth of Icelandic mythology and folklore to build her case. Beyond the question of whether or not the location was accurate, Brown provides a fascinating overview of what life was like for Viking women of the time and their roles within the infrastructure of their society. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "this impressively researched account will interest serious students of Icelandic archeology, literature and women's history." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews dubbed the volume "a nimble synthesis of the literary and the scientific that will charm even readers who didn't know they were interested."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2007, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, p. 19.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April 1, 2005, N. Duran, review of Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods, p. 1424.
Crop Science, July 1, 2005, Istvan Rajcan, review of Mendel in the Kitchen, p. 1682.
Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, November-December, 2005, Kathy Hosig, review of Mendel in the Kitchen, pp. 329-330.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of The Far Traveler.
Library Journal, October 15, 2004, Irwin Weintraub, review of Mendel in the Kitchen, p. 85.
Natural History, March 1, 2005, Laurence A. Marschall, review of Mendel in the Kitchen, p. 67.
Nature, April 21, 2005, "Seeds of Discord: A Useful, Though Partial, Survey of How We Breed the Plants We Eat," p. 957.
New York Times Book Review, October 14, 2007, Elizabeth Royte, "A Girl of the North."
OnEarth, January 1, 2005, "Harvest of Hope? Agriculture Is a Colossal Environmental Problem; Genetic Science Could Be Part of the Solution," p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 2004, review of Mendel in the Kitchen, p. 66; July 16, 2007, review of The Far Traveler, p. 154.
Science, October 29, 2004, "Changing Genes to Feed the World," p. 815.
Science Books & Films, July 1, 2005, Edward R. Kossmann, review of Mendel in the Kitchen, p. 166.
SciTech Book News, June 1, 2005, review of Mendel in the Kitchen, p. 160.
Curled Up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (October 1, 2007), Benet Exton, review of The Far Traveler.
Icelandic Horse Connection Web site,http://iceryder.net/ (June 16, 2008), Nancy Marie Brown, teaser for A Good Horse Has No Color.
National Organization of Science Writers Web site,http://www.nasw.org/ (June 16, 2008), author profile.
Pennsylvania State University Web site,http://www.science.psu.edu/ (June 16, 2008), author profile.