THIS ALL STARTED WITH TWO SIMPLE QUESTIONS.
Vlad the Astrophysicist is a real person: Dr. Vladimir Chaloupka, physics professor at the University of Washington. I met him at the National Youth Science Camp in Bartow, West Virginia, where I have been playing every summer for sixteen years.
And I really did ask Vlad "Are there intelligent civilizations out there other than ours, and if so why haven't they contacted us?" And he really did answer, and my whole world-view was altered in that moment — I was, looking up at the stars, changed.
As it was happening, the writer in me knew I owed it to myself, and maybe to the rest of the world, to capture this story and pass it along. So I framed it as a spoken-word piece, and wrote music to go underneath. I put it out on my "Letters from a Flying Machine" record, I've been performing it ever since, including one performance at TEDxKC:
And one performance that has had a startling life on YouTube:
Seven years later, the story is still living, and finding a place in the world.
Peter Nevins's artwork is perfect for this book. The tactile, human touch of his linocut art grounds the high-flown intellectualism of the story with heart and bodily sense. I'm beyond grateful to know him and his work. You can find it on Anais Mitchell's records, you can find it on Gillian Welch's posters, you can find it on the marquee of the New York Theater Workshop production of Hadestown... and it's my sincere hope that this book brings his beautiful art to tens of thousands of eyes and hands.
Blooming Twig is run by my friend Kent Gustavson, himself a TEDx speaker, and a songwriter and storyteller. He saw me play when he was a teenager, and when he called and asked if I was interested in his company putting this book out, I knew we were on to something very promising. His publishing company believes in 'books that matter' and 'intelligent children's books', and he believes this project is in both categories.
Also, I'm just plain psyched that there's a Vlad T-shirt:
Finally, it means so much to me that this book can bring some attention to the National Youth Science Foundation. I have met, over the sixteen years I've played at the NYSC, close to two thousand extraordinary young people. Every time I'm there, my worry about the future evaporates. These young men and women are open, curious, kind, smarter than your average bear, and deeply enthused about creating a better world, just because. Every time I'm driving away from the camp with a new year of memories, I find myself thinking "We are going to be all right. We have a real chance to survive and prosper as a sustainable, ethical, even, dare I say it, a kind and beautiful species."
This book has been years in the making. It's been a labor of love for me, and I truly hope you enjoy it and read it to yourself, and to your children, nieces, nephews, and students.
Risks and challenges
We need your help. If we get the book into enough hands, and by extension hearts and minds, we can make a real difference in the minds of kids, and with this work, ripples will go out. If you read this book with your kids, pass it along to another family, a school library, or anyone else, you will be passing on the spark that Vlad passed along to me. That is the goal of our Kickstarter.
The book has already been written, illustrated, and will be published by Blooming Twig. Our challenge is to get it to every "old soul" we can, whether kids, parents, teachers, astrophysicists, songwriters, or the media. That will be our job, but we need feet on the ground to support this mission, and if you pre-order a copy of the book through this campaign or choose any of the other levels of support, you will be part of this team, spreading the spark of this story, in hopes of reaching as many people as possible. Let's show the world that when an astrophysicist and a folksinger meet, it can be a powerful moment.
One final goal of ours is to make a new video of "Vlad the Astrophysicist" that has the original music, a new audio of the whole story, and the beautiful pictures by Peter Nevins. It will be available in full length online. We want as many people as possible to read, listen, and think about intelligent life and the universe. The video should arrive just as the campaign closes, and we would love you to share it far and wide. Are you with us?
We need your help to make this movement a success. It's been my lifelong pleasure to work with artists of all kinds, and Peter Nevins is one of the greatest. Blooming Twig has a wonderful mission, and the National Youth Science Foundation is one of the most valuable organizations in the United States.
All of us believe that this story will awaken a sense of wonder, curiosity, and compassion in people who read it. And if you feel the same, please join this movement.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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