AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts history professor Stephen B. Oates has just sold the film rights to his book "A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War" to two California producers who plan to make a theatrical film comparable to the recent movie "Glory." Barton assisted the wounded in the Civil War and went on to establish the American Red Cross.
"I am highly optimistic that a film will be made," Oates said. If it is, the book’s publisher, The Free Press, will publish a new paperback edition, tying the book to the film. The producers are Bill Thielen, of Thielen Productions, Palo Alto, and Mir Bahmanyar, of Los Angeles.
"I can’t tell you how delighted I am," Oates said. He also said that he was surprised to have this particular book optioned. "I didn’t think anyone would be interested in Clara," he said. "Most people think of the Civil War almost entirely as a man’s war."
In October, Oates sold the film rights to "To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown." The book tells the story of the abolitionist who tried to end slavery in the United States by force of arms, and, while failing, became a folk hero.
Oates said interest in historical dramas has been building in Hollywood, spurred by Steven Spielberg’s recently released film "Amistad."
He added that while "Amistad" has been criticized by some historians, he thought it was a masterpiece. "People forget that a theatrical drama is a work of fiction, not a documentary," he said.
Also, Oates said, the second volume of his "Voices of the Storm" trilogy on the Civil War era is due out on July 1, the anniversary of the first day of the battle of Gettysburg. The book is titled "The Whirlwind of War: Voices of the Storm, 1861-1865." The paperback edition of the first volume of the trilogy, "The Approaching Fury: Voices of the Storm, 1820-1861," will be published at the same time. Oates said the publisher of both books, HarperCollins, plans a major campaign for the books and Oates himself will undertake an extended book tour. He is now working on the concluding volume of the trilogy, also under contract with HarperCollins, which covers the years of Reconstruction, 1865-1877.
In "Voices of the Storm," Oates employs the Faulknerian technique of telling the story from multiple points of view, recounting the era in the voices -- and from the viewpoints -- of various figures as different as Thomas Jefferson and John Wilkes Booth.
"A Woman of Valor" was a History Book Club choice and was excerpted in "Civil War Times Illustrated." A synopsis of the book appeared in "World: The Journal of the Unitarian Universalist Association."
Oates has been teaching at the University since 1968, and holds the title of Professor of History and Paul Murray Kendall Professor of Biography. He is an elected member of the Society of American Historians, whose membership is restricted to 250 Americans who have demonstrated "literary distinction in the writing of history and biography." He has won numerous fellowships and awards and was a consultant in Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary "The Civil War," which appeared on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). He was also a consultant to -- and appeared in -- a 1993 segment of the "Civil War Journal" that was devoted to abolitionist John Brown on the A & E network.
Combining his research and teaching over the years, Oates has excelled in each. In 1986 and 1987, respectively, he was a semifinalist and silver medal winner in the national Professor of the Year competition, sponsored by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, Washington, D.C. He also holds a Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Massachusetts.
In 1992, he received the Kidger Award of the New England History Teachers Association, in recognition of his publications and his commitment to teaching. In 1993, he won the Nevins-Freeman Award of the Chicago Civil War Round Table, the largest and most prestigious Civil War group in the world. The Nevins-Freeman Award is given annually to a Civil War historian for lifetime achievement in the field.
Besides teaching courses on the Civil War era, Oates also teaches a popular course on the Kennedys, which drew about 500 students for the spring semester. He says: "I’ve never had such rapport with students as I do now, and I like to think that I am at the top of my form as a classroom teacher."