Abigail Foerstner’s biography, James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles, takes a fresh, fast-paced look at the dawn of the space race when Van Allen and rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun matched wits on America’s first satellite after Sputnik beat the U.S. into orbit. Her seven years of research and writing capture the drama as Van Allen’s discoveries across 8 billion miles and 60 years helped remap the solar system. The book is available in hardcover and paperback from Amazon or the University of Iowa Press, www.uiowapress.org.
Foerstner did some embedded reporting this summer with archaeological digs at Cahokia, the greatest Ancient American metropolis in North America where an earthen pyramid rises to a 100-foot pinnacle. Her research is for a book – already under contract - to bring the story of culture and climate change past and present home to our own backyard. Cahokia, in Southern Illinois, grew from a village settled about 700 A.D. into a powerful city of 20,000 with a sphere of influence from Oklahoma to Florida. But it lay abandoned by 1400.
Foerstner is currently completing a biographical and critical essay for an art book to accompany the 2011 retrospective exhibit of Chicago artist Joseph Jachna, former chair of the photography department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her previous book, Picturing Utopia, documents a lost way of life in a 19th century religious utopia through rare collections of photographs that she recovered, researched and helped preserve. The book also was published by the University of Iowa Press.
She has freelanced hundreds of articles on the arts, photography, science, history and education for the Chicago Tribune, CityTalk, Pioneer Press, the Detroit News, Camera Arts, North Shore magazine and other publications. She is currently a columnist reporting on culture and Chicago area history for Quintessential New Trier magazine.
Foerstner’s 34-year career as a journalist began when she initiated science and environmental coverage as a staff reporter for the Suburban Trib sections of the Chicago Tribune and received awards for investigative and environmental reporting. She later wrote weekly photography articles and reviews as a freelance art critic for the Chicago Tribune. Covering the visual arts and the sciences offers her two parallel visions for approaching the truths of the universe.
Academic Commitments and Philosophy
I coordinate and teach health, environment and science reporting in the Chicago newsroom and helped develop this career-focused specialization at Medill.
My goal for every class is to coach journalism that inspires creativity, analytical thinking and a dedication to integrity. I work to give students an edge in a competitive media environment and applaud Medill’s innovative directions in teaching multi-media storytelling and audience understanding to prepare students for a new era of opportunities in reporting. Lots of exciting changes are expanding our curriculum and taking our classrooms into Chicago neighborhoods and neighborhoods across the world. And the traditions that I feel symbolize Medill - commitments to outstanding reporting and watchdog journalism - just keep growing stronger. I revere those traditions as an alum of Medill’s undergraduate and graduate programs. I returned here to teach as an adjunct faculty member for several years in the 1980’s and again in 2002, joining the fulltime faculty in 2006.