McMasters shares memoir on hometown devastated by radiation, lab’s negligence

By Samantha Greenfield II 

     This past Common Hour Kelly McMasters, visiting assistant professor of English, shared her story of survival and activism. McMasters told the audience the story of her hometown Shirley, Long Island through a reading from her book titled, Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town. Shirley, she explained, was a blue collar town that bordered the Brookhaven National Laboratory, a lab that had a deep effect on McMaster’s life and the entire town of Shirley for its life threatening pollutants.

     McMasters read a section of her memoir that told the story of her childhood in the town and also of the loss she experienced as a result of the negligence at the Laboratory. Jerry, a neighbor and the father of McMasters’ best friend, became ill with brain cancer after working in the Lab for a number of years. He questioned the safety and standards of the facility but never saved up enough money to be able to leave his job there. The loss that swept over Shirley after Jerry’s death sparked something inside McMasters.

     McMasters explains that she wrote her memoir as a “love letter to Shirley.” She wanted to portray it honestly and depict how normal the community was. She showed the audience a picture that is in her book of her and her friends as normal kids. She explains how the fact that the kids in this picture are so “normal” is so powerful because the negligence of the Brookhaven National Laboratory had the power to invade the lives of these children and their community.

     McMasters tells the audience that activism comes in all types. She explains how writing is a silent and solitary form of activism but can be just as powerful as a loud group.

Senior Samantha Greenfield is a staff writer. Her email is sgreenfi@fandm.edu.

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