Many professors on campus have been published in one way or another. Some write extensive and knowledgeable textbooks, while others have had essays printed in literary magazines and written several books. Associate professor of English Bob Cowser has recently published a book that is part crime novel and part coming-of-age story involving the murder of one of his childhood classmates. The intensity and attention to detail within the story forms a piece of literature that is worth taking the time out of your busy day to read.
Bob Cowser’s book, entitled Green Fields: Crime, Punishment, and a Boyhood Between, focuses deeply on the abduction and murder of his classmate Cary Ann Medlin and the man who was found guilty of the crime, Glen Coe. Bob originally had written a shorter version of the story as an essay in a collection when he showed the draft to a friend who in turn asked the question, “How does the mother feel about this?” “I figured it needed to be about ten times as long which lead me to calling the mother and ultimately getting the trial transcripts from the state, ” Bob said. “The book depends heavily upon the trial transcripts, this was a crime and punishment story that just haunted me.”
When asked if the book was difficult to write, Bob responded, saying, “The trial transcript was helpful because of the detail including crime scene photos and eyewitness accounts, but when I first saw the crime scene photos, I had to leave the courthouse and come back at a later time.” He needed to look at the worst of it in order to write the best that he could. Bob mentioned that members of his family and friends seemed to have a harder time reading the story than he did writing it.
Besides the justice that was served for his classmate, the most important theme present within the book was the respo
nsibility of a community in aiding in a person’s development. “I looked at how a community could be responsible for crime and criminals and if there is a limit to free will and personal choice.” A brief excerpt from his book provides a great insight into how this tragic event shaped him as he looks back on his childhood:
“It wasn’t until twenty-one years later, long after I’d left Tennessee, after Martin and Greenfield had became only places in my mind and that Lover’s Lane a Memory Lane that I began to consider the murder’s place in a childhood which I now see as violent in so many other ways. As the state of Tennessee prepared to execute Coe for the Medlin murder (its first execution in forty years), I began to understand Bean Switch Road as a rutted track in memory which might run between me and many people I loved and respected, separating me from them. It seems at times to run through the heart of me, cleaving it in two.”