The University of Wisconsin Press

Memoir / Media / Ethnic Studies


I Hear Voices
A Memoir of Love, Death, and the Radio
First Edition
Jean Feraca

Terrace Books

"The people who inhabit this book are emotionally unkempt, blunt, ruthless, charming forces of nature, and Feraca shows them to us with both eyes open and with a generous heart. I Hear Voices belongs on a shelf with some of the best memoirs of the last twenty or thirty years."
Dwight Allen, author of The Green Suit and Judge

Jean Feraca's road to self-fulfillment has been as quirky and demanding as the characters in her incredible memoir. A twenty-five-year veteran of public radio broadcasting, Feraca is also a writer and a poet. She is a talk show host beloved for her unique mixture of the humanities, poetry, and journalism, and is the creator of the pioneering international cultural affairs radio program Here on Earth: Radio without Borders.

In this searing memoir, Feraca traces her own emergence. She pulls back the curtain on her private life, revealing unforgettable portraits of the characters in her brawling Italian American family: Jenny, the grandmother, the devil woman who threw Casey Stengel down an excavation pit; Dolly, the mother, a cross between Long John Silver and the Wife of Bath who in battling mental illness becomes the scourge of a Lutheran nursing home; and Stephen, the brilliant but troubled older brother, an anthropologist who was adopted into a Sioux tribe.

While building a career and raising two sons, Feraca learns empathy when she faces her brother's cancer and her mother's dementia. As she finds her voice and sense of self, her story moves far afield: a sojourn in a Benedictine monastery, a courtship through the California wine country, a dip into Dante's hell in Italy's Appalachia, an expedition in the Peruvian Amazon, a day under a huppah as she marries a Jewish scientist.

Unique, eccentric, and distinctive, I Hear Voices is a memoir that tells a universal story of a woman evolving to fully embrace her life and the world. Best of all, from the many voices in Feraca's life emerges one that will be familiar to old fans–and delightful to new ones–leaping off the written page as compelling, eloquent, and surprising as ever.

"A completely captivating memoir: the Voices of the title come from séances with dead family members, past marriages and beaux, listeners to Feraca's radio programs, a plurality of selves (including the current crew and some outgrown or castaway), among many others. Beautifully written, and wise, this book manages to be both tragic and funny, a combination hard to wrangle."—Diane Ackerman, author of An Alchemy of Mind and Cultivating Delight

"As a poet and Wisconsin Public Radio's "Distinguished Senior Broadcaster," Feraca knows the power of the well-chosen word. Feraca (South from Rome ) grew up attuned to language, with her flamboyant, "Old World Italian patriarch" father defiantly reciting poetry to her mother's cold criticism. Feraca's traditionally Catholic upbringing was full of stories of "saints and virgin martyrs," which gave her "an enduring template of courage and heroism," even if they imparted a taste for suffering that left her "vulnerable to abuse." Feraca tells stories of her dearly eccentric brother, her demented mother, her wretched first and second marriages, her attempt to live the monastic life, her passion for her third husband and his taste in wine. Most remarkable, however, is her account of that pivotal moment when she took Donald Hall's creative writing seminar. Ignoring her disastrous marriage as she immersed herself in writing, she was "Rapunzel, spinning straw into gold." Blending the spiritual and the profane, Feraca is beguiling."—Publishers Weekly
Copyright © 1997-2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

"Another voice in the national dialogue is Jean Feraca, poet, essayist and host of the National Public Radio show, Here On Earth. I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio begins with a strike at the concept of "a calling," or inspired purpose. It addresses failed marriages and the uncertainty regarding chosen and unchosen life pathways. Those concerns are eclipsed, however, when Feraca's cultural affairs show spurs positive change, such as construction of a medical clinic in the Amazon.

After a blistering indictment of a "monster" mother's failings, appreciation surprisingly develops in conjunction with dementia: "it's possible to be attached and estranged at the same time." The memoirist also forgives a difficult, self-contradictory brother and bolsters their connection as his terminal illness progresses. Leavening comes from the family's Bronx stories that read as street-ready urban legends. For example, Feraca's Grandma Jenny beat up Casey Stengel when he maligned her Italian heritage. Resolution and clemency replace bitterness in this sandpaper valentine of a book."

this is a photo of Jean Feraca. She has medium-long brown hair, is wearing a beige blazer and what looks like American Indian silver jewelry.Jean Feraca, Wisconsin Public Radio's Distinguished Senior Broadcaster, is host and executive producer of Here on Earth: Radio without Borders. Feraca has received several honors including the Nation's Discovery Award and two Hopwood Awards. Recipient of an Ohio State and Gabriel Award for her Women of Spirit radio series on female leaders in the early Christian Church, she also received the National Telemedia Council's Distinguished Media Award for her radio advocacy of people with mental illness. She is author of three collections of poetry: South from Rome: Il Mezzogiorno, Crossing the Great Divide; and Rendered into Paradise.

Listen to Jean Feraca's radio program at
She also has a blog at

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

The cover of Feraca's book is illustrated with a photo illustration of a wheat field under a red sky. A gauzy garment or window curtain blows errily in the upper right, brushing the title of the book, I Hear Voices.

Fall 2007
First Edition
LC: 2007011786 PN
176 pp.  6 x 9

Book icon
ISBN 978-0-299-22390-8
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A paperback edition, with a new chapter and poems, is available in Fall 2011, see
I Hear Voices.

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