Sunday, November 10, 2002

Writer-activist won't give up the fight

Catching up

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Dr. Martha Stephens says she's heard from people worldwide since the release of The Treatment.
(Stephen M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
Martha Stephens has not abandoned the picket line.

When we talked to Dr. Stephens in March, the novelist and retired University of Cincinnati English professor was celebrating the release of her new book, The Treatment (Duke University Press; $28.95), a nonfiction account of the whole-body radiation experiments secretly carried out on cancer patients by UC researchers. At least 89 men and women, mostly poor and black, were exposed to lethal doses of radiation.

Dr. Stephens uncovered the experiments in 1972, but it was more than 25 years before many people paid any attention.

Her book, she says, has been well-received.

"It's been used in college classes. I've heard from people from all over the world about it. Not huge numbers, but some."

Dr. Stephens continues working to focus attention on what she considers injustices.

When President Bush visited Cincinnati last month, Dr. Stephens was there, protesting against attacking Iraq.

When the protesters decided to march in Washington at the end of October, she helped pack up a bus of people and even bought a ticket for one person who couldn't afford to go otherwise.

There was a time she would have gone herself. "I can't take the overnight bus ride anymore," she says.

With the looming threat of war and the shaky economy, Dr. Stephens says, more and more Americans are picking up protest signs and taking to the streets. Cincinnati is no exception.

"Some days we feel like we're on the edge of an abyss," she says.

She works for economic and racial justice in the United States and abroad and remains a supporter of the economic boycott of downtown Cincinnati.

The chasm between blacks and whites in the city, both economic and social, is "greater than it's ever been," Dr. Stephens says.

Today, she is working on a novel about a retired college professor who looks back on her life and tries to decide if she's been successful.

"I try to get in two hours a day at my word processor. I don't always manage it," she says. "I'm a slow writer. I write a scene, and then I try to revise it. It's coming along."

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