When Kerry Howley attended her first cage fights, she sometimes thought “I can’t look, I can’t look!” but later decided “I can’t look away.” Her interest began when she was pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa, located in a state where many men who wrestled in high school later become cage fighters.
She was drawn into the fights on television during the moments that are “somehow outside of civilization.” Howley was interested in how the brutality pushed the participants to “abandon themselves to the fight.”
Howley followed the careers of two men, one up and coming fighter with the potential to become part of the televised Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and another who competed in the Midwest at county fairs and high school gyms. She wrote a factual essay told by a fictional female graduate student, a character the author says is “naïve, hyper-analytical, and ridiculously academic in her interpretation.”
Thrown is number two on Time magazine’s “Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2014.” It is included in the “Best Books 2014” by Slate, and it is a New York Times “Notable Book, 2014.” The literary buzz about Thrown began when Howley began teaching creative writing in the Department of English at UTC in fall 2014. She shares her personal success with her students.
“When Thrown came out, they had questions about book signings, how to find an agent, and how your agent approaches a publisher,” Howley explained.
She tells her students how important it was for her to put herself in an uncomfortable situation and act as if everything is fine. Though cage fighting is now open to women fighters, her work was with men.
“I say to my students, ‘if you act like you belong somewhere, you can get away with almost anything,’” she said.
Howley became an expert at walking past security many times. She only recalled being taken out of a room once.
Now that Howley is settling in on campus and at home with her husband and six-month-old son, she’s glad her family has come to Chattanooga, remarking on the beauty of the area. Though she finds it more difficult to find time to write, she’s thinking about a second book. She wants to more directly examine the ways we “express our wildness” with a collection of essays.
You can also listen to an interview with Kerry Howley aired on WUTC-FM 88.1.