The Lines We Draw eBook is the first release from the eBook publishing arm of Our Hen House - a short eBook written by civil engineer Sangamithra Iyer. A story about boundaries - physical, biological, and ethical - it evolved out of a conversation with the late Dr. Alfred Prince, a hepatitis researcher, about the use of chimpanzees in medical research, and expanded into a larger discussion about ethics. Prince left New York University's Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) in the 1970s to establish New York Blood Center's chimpanzee research colony in Liberia. The story weaves various threads and makes connections among logging, the Liberian Civil War, and vivisection.
Chimpanzees are slowly being phased out of research in the United States, and the New York Blood Center has ceased testing in Liberia, but questions remain about the fate of laboratory chimpanzees. By shedding light on the psychological impacts on both the chimpanzee victims of vivisection and those who experiment on them, Iyer has found her way to change the world for animals. She answers a few of my questions:
Why did you decide to write your book?
As a writer and activist, I am interested in the connections between animal advocacy, environmentalism and social justice. This story evolved from a conversation I had in 2008 with Dr. Alfred Prince, a hepatitis researcher, after returning from a visit to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, which had rescued seven chimpanzees formerly involved in hepatitis research. At the time, I was also researching the use of children in armed conflict for a documentary project. I didn’t yet know what the shape of this story would be when I met Prince.
Over the span of the ten years prior, I had visited and volunteered at primate sanctuaries in the North America and Africa and met chimpanzees who had been rescued from research, entertainment and the illegal bushmeat trade. I wanted to do a larger piece about chimpanzees, drawing from these various experiences. I had heard that New York Blood Center’s chimpanzee colony in Liberia had terminated its research. I was interested in speaking with Prince, who had helped to establish the lab in Liberia, about the beginnings and the ends of this research. Our conversation left me with a lot to think about. It had some surprising twists and revelations that I really wanted to unpack and explore, as well as place the story within the larger context of the Liberian civil war and the logging of forests, which fueled that violence.
What has the response been like so far? What do you hope to achieve with the release?
I am really thrilled to be working with Hen Press and the flock at Our Hen House. They have been championing this piece and rallying to get it read. The initial response so far has been positive, and it's still early, so looking forward to hearing more thoughts. I have heard that some college professors are considering teaching the piece in their classes, which is exciting. I would love to hear more about those classroom discussions as well.
What’s the message you want people and to take from your book?
This is a story about boundaries and connections. The ethical discussions around the use of chimpanzees in vivisection extend beyond just the species border, to all the other animals used in research and other industries. It’s also a larger story about recognizing violence masked in its various forms - environmental destruction, war, and the ways we harm the other animals with whom we share the planet.
As a writer, you never know how your piece will resonate. As a reader, I have been affected by stories in ways an author may not have imagined. I look forward to hearing more feedback.
What are your future plans?
I am working on a couple of similar long form narrative nonfiction pieces that explore animal and environmental issues and activism, as well as a full length book project that blends memoir, reportage and history (family, environmental and animal histories) that is set in Burma, India and the U.S. At some point, I’d love to teach a course in animal and environmental literature and writing.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss this project with Viva La Vegan! Readers.
- If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you. Podcast
- Sister Species: Women, Animals and Social Justice (University of Illinois Press)
- Primate People: Saving Nonhuman Primates through Education, Advocacy and Sanctuary (University of Utah Press).
Hen Press, a division of Our Hen House, has arrived! Their goal is to bring the animal rights-related books and essays that you have dreamed of reading, but that mainstream publishers have missed out on. Thought-provoking, eye-opening, and inspiring, the works released by Hen Press have the power to truly transform human conceptions of non-human others — and to therefore change the world for animals! Hen Press publishes both fiction and non-fiction, and its works can be purchased through Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.
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