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Department of Languages and Literatures

Final Thursday Reading Series featuring Scott Cawelti

Think you know the story behind the Mark family murders?

The Final Thursday Reading Series invites you to hear the true story told by Scott Cawelti, returning to read from his hit book, Brother’s Blood: A Heartland Cain and Abel on Thursday, November 29, at 7:00 p.m. at the Hearst Center for the Arts.

In his book Brother’s Blood: A Heartland Cain and Abel, Cawelti delves into the untold story of the 1975 Mark family murders, which occurred in rural Cedar Falls. Cawelti knew Jerry Mark; they’d gone to high school together. So when news of the murders rocked the state, Cawelti was just as shocked as everyone else. When asked in an interview what inspired him to write the book, Cawelti begins with hearing of the murders and states, “This was not the Jerry Mark I knew . . . I thought it’d be interesting to hear his side of the story, and maybe I could help him.”

Upon interviewing Mark and separating his lies from the truth, Cawelti soon came to the conclusion that Mark was indeed guilty, though he still felt driven to tell the tale in his own way, as well as convey Mark’s side of the story. When asked about the intrigue of darkness, Cawelti responds, “I think villains in general are more interesting. Satan’s more interesting in Milton’s Paradise Lost. My real interest all my life has been transformation. It’s not so much the dark side, it’s moving from one state to another.” In a way, Cawelti has watched Mark transform from the good guy he knew in high school to the serial liar and cold-blooded murderer Cawelti contends he is today.

Cawelti employs creative nonfiction to portray Mark’s plans and events leading up to the four execution-style murders of his brother, sister-in-law, and young niece and nephew in their beds in the first half of the book, while the second half is devoted to Cawelti’s sources—including the interviews with Jerry Mark himself—all to present an exploration of the mystery as to why, or how, Mark could possibly have committed such atrocities. Readers are compelled to fly through this ‘whydunit’ to make their own decision regarding the story—whether Mark is innocent or guilty—though Cawelti professes his own belief in Mark’s guilt.

Born and raised locally, Scott Cawelti is well-known in the Cedar Falls area. From 1968-2008, he’s been a professor at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), teaching literature, writing, and film courses. He continues to stay on at UNI as an adjunct instructor. Since the late 1970s, he’s been writing opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. For years, he’s played in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and can still be found performing regularly as a singer/songwriter and guitarist.

Recently, Cawelti’s been creating a website titled Cedar Valley Chronicles where virtual visitors can access archived columns that he has written for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier as well as his new blog entries. The site also showcases his talents as musician. To see his latest work, visit his website at

Now in its twelfth season, Final Thursday Reading Series
provides a forum where local writers can share their own work at an open mic. Attendees are invited to share their best five minutes of original poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction. The open mic begins at 7:00 p.m., and the featured author takes the stage at 8:00 p.m. There is a short question and answer period as time allows. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. Sponsors include the Hearst Center for the Arts, Final Thursday Press; University of Northern Iowa College of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences; and Cup of Joe. More information on the Final Thursday Reading Series is available at