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UCA professor promotes new book with 12-foot-long alligator gar | Arts & Culture

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UCA professor promotes new book with 12-foot-long alligator gar
UCA professor promotes new book with 12-foot-long alligator gar

CONWAY, Ark. (UCA) - Fish-writer and University of Central Arkansas writing professor Mark Spitzer is driving around Arkansas with a 12-foot-long alligator gar on top of his car to promote his new book, Return of the Gar, just out from the University of North Texas Press.

The last stop on his statewide tour will be at Hastings Books and Music in Conway on Saturday, May 9, from 1-3 p.m. Return of the Gar continues the conservationist crusade Spitzer began 13 years ago to de-stigmatize this monstrous-looking prehistoric fish. Alligator gar, the largest member of the gar family, can grow 11 feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds ― and they’re right here in Arkansas.

In fact, that’s where the book begins. In 2011, Spitzer made national news when he clashed with Conway Corporation over its building of the city’s new sewage treatment plant, which was constructed in one of the oldest traditional spawning grounds in the state. Through a combination of science, folklore, history, ecology, photographs and first-hand experience, Return of the Gar documents this conflict, then incorporates research Spitzer has done with US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and UCA biologists to preserve and propagate alligator gar in the state. Through action-packed narratives, Spitzer also paints a portrait of other gar species and their struggles in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.

“The book has an international aspect as well,” Spitzer said. “I go to Nicaragua and Costa Rica to fish for tropical gar and assess fisheries in Central America, and then I go to Thailand, where I catch a gator gar and assess their fisheries too. But I also go to the state of Tabasco in Mexico where people are now farming gar for food, and to sustain a culture based on gar, because the petro-chemical industry compromised the environment.”

Ultimately, the new book focuses on the 2012 Mayflower oil spill, which Spitzer uses as a metaphor for challenges that both humans and gar are facing during a time of environmental crisis. Still, the book is optimistic, and it details the work of the international gar community, especially in the United States, where extirpated populations of alligator gar are now making a comeback.

Spitzer, whose appearance on Animal Planet’s River Monsters made him the virtual rock star of this fish, has published 21 books. He teaches creative writing at UCA and is the editor in chief of the literary journal Toad Suck Review.

Return of the Gar is available at Hastings, the UCA Bookstore and online.  Hastings Books and Music is located at 1360 Old Morrilton Hwy. in Conway. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Ashley Orsak at (501) 329-1108.

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