Friday, October 22, 2010

For Women, Poetry is Not a Luxury....

Writing of Sapphire's Push in the Women's Review of Books in 1996, Gayle Pemberton invokes Audre Lorde who passed away in 1992 during her term as State Poet under the auspices of the New York State Writers Institute.

"For women, then, poetry is not a luxury," wrote Audre Lorde. "It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought."

"Claireece Precious Jones, the protagonist of Sapphire's remarkable novel Push, is a living embodiment of Lorde's dictum. Precious, as she prefers to be called, learns to survive a life of horrific trauma by learning to read and write. Through her own poetry she gives voice to her soul, revealing a fortitude and an indomitable human spirit rarely equalled in any fiction."

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sapphire on Katie Couric

Sapphire, who visits the Writers Institute this coming Tuesday, October 26, spends 45 minutes with Katie Couric discussing her life and work last year on the CBS interview program, @katiecouric. A major American poet, Sapphire is also the acclaimed author of Push, an international bestseller that was adapted as the Oscar-winning film, Precious.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Brilliant and bizarre....

In the journal Kinoeye: New Perspectives on European Film, James Kendrick reappraises the silent 1922 "horror documentary," Häxan, to be screened this Friday, 10/22.

"The single, persistent question with which viewers are often left after viewing Benjamin Christensen's 1922 film Häxan (The Witch) is, what is it? Part illustrated exploration of the history of witchcraft, part grisly horror film, part burlesque comedy and part condescending reappraisal of the ignorant past, Häxan is nothing if not utterly unique, a compelling oddity that still retains its often shocking effectiveness and, despite being left out of many conventional film histories, is one of the most artful and influential of all silent films." More.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shaker Heritage

In a Times Union interview with Elizabeth Mair, Ilyon Woo (who visits the Writers Institute and the Albany Shaker site this Thursday) explains how she became passioniately interested in the Shakers as a young child:

"Well, my parents have been design-obsessed always. My father's an architect, and my mother's a concert pianist. They've always been into visiting these quirky, interesting historical places. Especially ones that feature interesting design. So they started taking me to Shaker villages -- which were really mostly museums -- when I was a very young girl. They would of course look at all these beautiful things that the Shakers made and marvel over all these inventions. But for me -- maybe because I was traveling there with my family -- I couldn't help wondering what it was like to actually live there. That, for me, and not the design, is where the obsession began." More.

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Little House on the Prairie for Adults

Jeannette Walls (author of The Glass Castle) published a "true life novel" in 2009, Half-Broke Horses, based on the oral histories of her grandmother who grew up in a muddy dug-out on the Texas prairie at the turn of the 20th century. Favorably reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, the novel has been widely described as Wilder's Little House with a lot more grit and hardship.

It also helps answer a riddle, according to Liesl Schillinger of the Times: "Anyone who devoured Walls’s incandescent 2005 memoir, The Glass Castle, has wondered: How did such untamed characters come to exist in America, in the not-so-distant 1960s and ’70s? Walls’s new book, Half Broke Horses, a novelistic re-creation of the life of her maternal grand­mother, Lily Casey Smith, in the first half of the 20th century, told in her grandmother’s voice, gives a partial answer to that perplexing question." More.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lydia Davis triumphs with Madame Bovary

New York State Writers Institute Writing Fellow Lydia Davis is receiving raves the world over for her new translation of Madame Bovary (2010).

Writing in the New York Times, Kathryn Harrison says, "It is a shame Flaubert will never read Davis’s translation of 'Madame Bovary.' Even he would have to agree his masterwork has been given the English translation it deserves. " More.

For an account of Davis' heroic struggle with Flaubert's work, read Sam Harris in New York: "Knee-deep in 'Bovary.'"

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Dawn of Color Film

Here's the Chicago Reader's capsule review of the 1926 silent The Black Pirate (to be screened with live piano accompaniment at Page Hall this Friday, 10/15):

"Two-strip Technicolor—in which red orange and blue green exposures of the same action were fused into a single length of celluloid—was being used in silent films as early as 1922, but this rousing 1926 swashbuckler was the first full-length two-strip feature." More.

You can also read about the rocky beginnings of color film on the website of The American Widescreen Museum:

"Since the print was actually two strips cemented back to back, the side facing the projector's arc lamp would heat up and expand more than the side towards the lens. This caused the film to 'cup' and replacement reels were constantly being supplied while the folks back in the lab 'ironed' the cupped reels flat."

Also, its nice to know that the Fairbanks family is still in the business of swashbuckling three generations on....

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The Nobel Peace Prize

Kwame Anthony Appiah, who will visit the New York State Writers Institute on Thursday, November 11, successfully nominated Chinese author Liu Xiaobo of China for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize last week. The text of Appiah's letter of nomination may be found here.

The President of the PEN American Center, the American branch of the world's oldest human rights organization, Appiah was one of several thousand individuals privileged to submit nominations worldwide. Qualifications for nominators are posted on the website of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Appiah will speak in Albany about his new book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010).

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The Women behind "The Woman Behind Little Women"

The American Library Association's Booklist magazine named Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women, the "Best Video of 2009." The film also took "Best Documentary" at the Reel Women Festival in Los Angeles.

Mary McNamara of the L. A. Times said, "[The] documentary gives life and texture to a woman of extraordinary talent and determination who became as great a celebrity in her day as J.K. Rowling is in ours.... More than that, the film captures the intellectual foment of the time, which, though revolutionary in many ways, did not extend to a woman becoming a novelist or essayist under her own name unless she was writing for children."

Harriet Reisen and Nancy Porter-- the women behind The Woman Behind Little Women-- will be making public presentations on Thursday, October 14th and Friday, October 15th (the latter will be a 3 hour long seminar on historical writing and filmmaking for general audiences, 9AM-12PM, entirely FREE and open to the public.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sartre in the Age of Obama

Acclaimed Jean-Paul Sartre biographer Annie Cohen-Solal-- who speaks today at the University Art Museum about her book on Leo Castelli-- delivered the Sartre Society's keynote address last November, with a paper entitled "Sartre Reconsidered in Light of the Obama Era."

"Why did I submit a paper to the North American Sartre Society this year?... I did it because of Memphis and Martin Luther King, Jr. I did it because of Barack Obama. Then, I did it because of my own debt to Sartre, as being someone educated as a colonized Jew in Algeria, who managed to decipher my own cultural identity through Franz Fanon and Sartre. Finally, I did it because of the links that I always felt existed between African American leaders or intellectuals and Sartre. Because I decided it was now time for me to proceed in that direction."

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Annie Cohen Solal on Charlie Rose, Sept. 15, 2010

Charlie Rose interviews Annie Cohen Solal, French author who will be visiting the University Art Museum this coming Tuesday, October 12, about her new biography of her friend Leo Castelli, the New York art dealer who helped to create and shape the Pop and Minimalist movements in American art.

View the interview here.

Rose previously interviewed Cohen Solal in 2001 about Painting American, her book on the rise of American art in New York City, and how it came to displace Paris as the center of the art world. Cohen Solal conducted much of her research for that book as cultural attache of the French Embassy under the tutelage of Leo Castelli.

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Paul Grondahl on Hugo Perez in the TU

Paul Grondahl contributes a profile of Hugo Perez in yesterday's Times Union, featuring photos of Hugo with Hunter Thompson and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (pictured here)....

"You may not have known his name, but you couldn't have missed Hugo Perez at Writers Institute readings at the University at Albany between the mid- to late-1990s.

He was the dark-haired, bespectacled and stylishly dressed young man, often sporting a vest and fedora. He stood silently behind a video camera, hour after hour, still as a statue. He focused, zoomed and panned on Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood and a parade of literary luminaries."

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NOT Science Fiction

Among other things, Sigrid Nunez talks in the Times Union about the absence of futuristic technology in her novel.

"Be forewarned; Nunez does not consider her tale to be science fiction. 'Because I'm not interested in changes in technology, I didn't see it as a futuristic novel. Political polarizations, extreme weather changes -- we have all of that now,' she says in a phone interview, adding of her fictional near-apocalypse: 'It was a What if?.'"

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sowing Seed

Watch Seed, Hugo Perez's 15-minute scifi short about America's genetically modified future on ITVS (Independent Television Service).

"The year is 2022. After a decade of world famine and food riots, the Mendelian Corporation now bioengineers the world’s entire commercial supply of genetically modified seeds...."

Perez visits the Writers Institue tomorrow, Friday 10/8. Note room change for 4:15 event (Recital Hall, PAC). Evening event still in Page.

Also check out Hugo's July 2010 interview on the ITVS "Beyond the Box" blog in which he mentions that there is a feature length version of the film in the works.

And speaking of scifi, read Hugo's September 2010 interview with William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and the father of "Cyberpunk" fiction, here.

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William Kennedy on Mario Vargas Llosa

From the New York Times Book Review, read William Kennedy's 1982 review of newly-crowned Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa's novel, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1977, English translation 1982).

"Vargas Llosa once said he didn't like novels with a moral, and he hasn't imposed one here, though any book which is so well wrought, which defines a world with such unarguable accuracy, is moral; and what's more, it made me laugh out loud. Perhaps it carries an antimoral - that soap opera is good for you. It is a work that celebrates story: story that gives pleasure to a large number of people, story also as a pleasure principle for the writer."

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Reinventing the Apocalypse

Writing on the Bookslut blog, Guy Cunningham argues that Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez (who visits the Writers Institute today) reinvents the "Post-Apocalyptic Novel."....

"Salvation City repudiates its own genre -- because the 'apocalypse' of this post-apocalyptic novel isn’t the end of the world. And it’s this that separates Nunez’s novel from The Road or Stephen King’s The Stand (which also centered on the aftermath of a flu outbreak). Cole is interested not in surviving, but in living. And as a result, his story is really about a young man’s efforts to navigate two homes: that of his parents -- secular, intellectual, tumultuous -- and that of Pastor Wyatt and Tracy in Salvation City -- religious, focused on homeschooling, serene. It’s to Nunez’s credit that this conflict is far more engrossing than the apocalypse that sets it in motion."

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Castelli Book Makes Second Cut for Prix Femina

Annie Cohen-Solal's new biography of New York art dealer Leo Castelli has made the second cut for the Prix Femina, a prestigious French prize honoring literature written by women. The winners will be announced on Wednesday, November 3rd.

Cohen-Solal will visit UAlbany, October 12 (Tuesday) at 7PM [NOTE EARLY START TIME]. The event is in the University Art Museum, Fine Arts Building, Uptown Campus and is cosponsored by the Art Museum.

BTW: That's Andy Warhol's "Leo Castelli 1975" on the right.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Louisa May Alcott in Print and On Screen

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Woefully Unsung"

In a discussion of literary politics, particularly regarding race and gender, The Economist's "Prospero" blog yesterday lamented the fact that Sigrid Nunez's The Last of Her Kind (among other works by women and minority authors) is not widely acclaimed as a "Great American Novel."....

"'When men write books about family life,' observed Katha Pollit recently, 'they are read as writing about America and the Human Condition. When women write books that are ambitious, political and engaged with the big world of ideas, they are seen as stories about the emotional lives of their characters.' I'm reminded of the way I felt when I first read The Last of her Kind, a fine novel by Sigrid Nunez, a woefully unsung author. Here was a smart, ambitious book—a Great American Novel of sorts—which spanned decades in the lives of two women who first met in college in the 1960s. It was about love, friendship, history and ideas, all from a female perspective. It felt thrilling to feel a real sense of familiarity with the characters on the page. But is it any wonder that Ms Nunez has been marginalised as a women's author? Read more.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

UAlbany Authors at Fall Festival, Sat., Oct. 9

The Physics of Sailing, Garlic and Other Alliums, The Nature and Nurture of Giftedness, Toolbox for Sustainable City Living....

These are just a handul of titles for books that will be showcased by UAlbany authors at outdoor presentations during the University's 2010 Fall Festival, from 10:30AM to 3PM. In association with the Homecoming and Alumni Weekends, the festival is free and also features abundant children's activities, a tailgate party for the Danes' football opener, running races for adults and kids, a huge farmers market, and student performances. Signs on campus will direct visitors to events and parking. Click here for a detailed schedule.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Dear Werner...

One of our favorite critics in the popular media, Roger Ebert, has been suffering from papillary thyroid cancer and its complications since 2002. In 2007, while sitting in the audience at the Toronto Film Festival, Ebert was surprised and delighted to discover that Herzog had dedicated his Antarctic documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, to Ebert. Unable to speak, as a consequence of multiple surgeries, Ebert composed a letter to Herzog that beautifully sums up the maverick director's work and career.

The Writers Institute will open its Fall 2010 series with a screening of the same film, followed by a talkback with Herzog's friend and producer of the film, Henry Kaiser, and with cellular biologist Samuel Bowser, a star of the film who is affiliated with Albany's own Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Harold Gould (1923-2010)

We mark with sadness the recent passing of Harold Gould, one of Hollywood's great character actors, an alumnus of our University (Albany Teachers College), and a child of the Capital Region-- born in Schenectady and raised in Colonie.

On May 6, 2003, Gould delivered the 7th Annual Burian Lecture of the Department of Theatre, cosponsored by the Institute.

Read the New York Times obituary here.

A 2003 profile by Michael Lisi appeared in the Schenectady Gazette at the time of Gould's visit.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Poetry Workshop Offered this Fall

New York State Writers Institute Writing Fellow Rebecca Wolff, editor of FENCE magazine, will conduct an intermediate to advanced poetry workshop during the Fall 2010 semester. The workshop will give students opportunities to develop and revise poems; emphasis will be on taking each poem on its own terms, and some work will be done to determine those terms. This work will include presentation to and discussion with the group of influences and interests vis à vis poetic lineage.

The workshop is scheduled for eight Monday nights (September 20, 27, October 4, 11, 18, November 1, 8, 15) from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The class will take place on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. The workshop is limited to ten writers and is open to UAlbany English graduate students as well as members of the general community.

Admission is based on the submission of writing samples. To be considered, submit manuscripts to the Writers Institute according to the guidelines listed on our website. The application deadline is Wednesday, August 25, 2010.

For more information contact the Writers Institute at

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer Readings at Skidmore

The New York State Writers Institute is proud to announce the reading schedule of the Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore University in Saratoga. All events, apart from the opening event with former U. S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, take place in Palamountain Hall. For directions to Skidmore, click here. Call (518) 580-5599 for more information. All events are free and open to the public.


An Evening of Poetry and Jazz Robert Pinsky (former US Poet Laureate) with Skidmore Jazz Institute faculty members June 28, 8:00 pm Gannett Auditorium

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Jim Shepard (Like You’d Understand, Anyway) and Mark Strand (Pulitzer Prize, Poetry) June 29, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Joseph O’Neill (novelist, Netherland, 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction) and Frank Bidart (poet, Desire) June 30, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Poetry and Fiction Reading, Charles Simic (Former U. S. Poet-Laureate, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet) and Lydia Davis (author, The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis) July 1, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Poetry and Fiction Reading, Carolyn Forché (winner, Lamont Poetry Prize; author, The Angel of History) and Elizabeth Benedict (novelist, Almost) July 2, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction Reading, Francine Prose (novelist, A Changed Man) and Victoria Redel (author, The Border of Truth) July 5, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Allan Gurganus (author, White People) and Franz Wright (Pulitzer Prize, Poetry) July 6, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, William Kennedy (Pulitzer Prize, Ironweed; Roscoe) and April Bernard (poet, Romanticism), July 7, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Caryl Phillips (novelist, A Distant Shore, The Nature of Blood) and Campbell McGrath (poet, American Noise) July 8, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction Reading Phillip Lopate (author, Waterfront) and Claire Messud (author, The Emperor’s Children), July 9, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Poetry and Fiction Reading, Richard Howard (Pulitzer Prize, Poetry, Talking Cures) and Danzy Senna (author, Caucasia) July 12, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Ann Beattie (novelist, Love Always) and Honor Moore (author, Red Shoes, The Bishop’s Daughter) July 13, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Russell Banks (novelist, The Darling) and Chase Twichell (poet, Dog Language) July 14, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction Reading, Joyce Carol Oates (National Book Award, them; We Were The Mulvaneys) July 15, 8:00 pm Gannett Auditorium

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Mary Gaitskill (author, Veronica) and Tom Healy (poet, What the Right Hand Knows) July 16, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Amy Hempel (fiction writer, The Dog of the Marriage) and Henri Cole (poet, Middle Earth) July 19, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Rick Moody (fiction writer, Demonology) and Peg Boyers (poet, Honey with Tobacco, Hard Bread) July 20, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

"In Conversation: What We Write About When We Write 'Creative' Non-Fiction" with Geoffrey O’Brien (The Fall of the House of Walworth) and James Miller (Democracy is in the Streets) July 21, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Jayne Anne Phillips (author Termite & Lark, Fast Lane) and Mary Kinzie (poet, Summers of Vietnam) July 22, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

Fiction and Poetry Reading, Howard Norman (novelist, The Bird Artist) and Lloyd Schwartz (Pulitzer Prize, Criticism; author, Cairo Traffic) July 23, 8:00 pm Davis Auditorium in Palamountain Hall

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Chang-Rae Lee on Tavis Smiley

Chang-Rae Lee talks about writing, the self, and the relationship between his father's experiences during the Korean War and the events of his harrowing new novel, The Surrendered (2010), on Tavis Smiley last week, March 18, 2010.

"In some ways, this book is a response to all the silence that I had met about the Korean War, both from my family and from a lot of people. Most people who are inside that kind of trauma, inside that kind of conflict, never want to talk about it. So for the purposes of the book, of course, I turn that inside-out. I take that silence and completely peel away every layer of anguish and scarring."

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Nobody Wanted Me Respectable

Jules Feiffer talks about his inability to become a mainstream hack in a 2009 interview with

"There was no way of doing what I was doing in the mainstream. The mainstream was not interested in anyone with my opinions and certainly anyone working in the form I did. No one was working in the form I was working in at that time except me. I made up that form to fit the direction I was moving in. "
"I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew what I had to do. I knew I needed an outlet for my political rage and I knew that in this time -- but it’s true of any time -- in this particular time of suppression, I had to be entertaining. I had to be funny. It couldn’t be a polemic. It couldn’t be, as one sees in alternative forms today, confessional moralizing. It had to in a sense be disguised as something else in order to make the point I wanted to make and also fit the talents that I had begun to learn at Will Eisner’s."
"So at the start -- and “Munro” was the start -- I started fooling with a form which was essentially narrative and long, and such things generally weren’t published. And it told what were considered subversive stories at the time if someone really got the point. And so I knew I was entering foolishly in terms of making a living, or in terms of a potential career, this field with no outlets at all. There was no books publisher, there were no comics publishers. There were no newspapers. And I tried all over. By the time I was trying this I had tried the more conventional routes. I had tried very hard to be a hack. I had tried very hard to have a traditional career. No one was interested in me doing that. When I went for broke I wasn’t risking anything. Nobody wanted me. Nobody wanted me respectable. "

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rediscovering Djuna Barnes (1892-1982)

A "rediscovered" short play by Djuna Barnes, Kurzy of the Sea (1920), will be featured as part of the upcoming Authors Theatre program, "Women Playwrights of the Early 20th Century," on March 11, 2010.

Barnes's work in general is currently a subject of rediscovery by readers, writers and scholars. New editions of Nightwood (1936), The Book of Repulsive Women (1915), The Antiphon (1958), and other works have appeared in recent years.

Here is an appreciation in the Guardian (UK) of Nightwood by major avant-gardist Jeanette Winterson, who wrote the foreword to the new 2006 edition of Nightwood (which also retains the original foreword by T. S. Eliot).

"Certain texts work in homeopathic dilutions; that is, nano-amounts effect significant change over long periods of time. Djuna Barnes's Nightwood is not much more than a couple of hundred pages long, and more people have heard about it than have read it. Reading it is mainly the preserve of academics and students. Others have a vague sense that it is a modernist text, that TS Eliot adored it, that Dylan Thomas called it "one of the three major prose works by a woman" (accept the compliment to Barnes, ignore the insult directed elsewhere), that the work is an important milestone on any map of gay literature - even though, like all the best books, its power makes a nonsense of any categorisation, especially of gender or sexuality."

"Nightwood is itself. It is its own created world, exotic and strange, and reading it is like drinking wine with a pearl dissolving in the glass. You have taken in more than you know, and it will go on doing its work. From now on, a part of you is pearl-lined." Read more....

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Frenchest of All Our Fiction Writers

Novelist Lydia Millet presents the argument that Lydia Davis is the "Frenchest of all our fiction writers" in a review of the Collected Stories that appeared recently in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

"She's a commander of white space, an expert at sly insinuation and the meticulous craftswoman of a self-deprecating introspection that always manages to seem more metaphysical than mundane. By “our” fiction writers, I mean not only those writing in English but the collective mass of all non-French writers; I mean any writers not native to France, to say nothing of all the actual French writers who are, in fact, less demonstrably French than Davis (herself born in Northampton, Mass.). "

See the full review.

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Lydia Davis: "A Deeply Satisfying Precision of Expression"

Chris Power in his Brief Survey of the Short Story, a running feature of the Books Blog since October 2007, devotes his most recent, 24th entry to Lydia Davis:

"As well as exquisite similes... a deeply satisfying precision of expression is sustained throughout her work, and an arresting facility for capturing the circling, convoluted progressions and digressions of thought.... She elicits emotion; she generates suspense and engenders surprise, pleasure and revelation. She does all the things it is in a good writer's gift to do, but in ways that most writers don't think of."

Davis will speak about her new Collected Stories on March 4, 2010 as part of the Visiting Writers Series.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Fred Lebrun on Gadflies and Flyfishing

Fred Lebrun, one of the Capital Region's foremost print journalists and political commentators, wrote in 1993: "A gadfly, my Webster tells me, is 'a person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism.' Not exactly a glowing term of endearment, granted. But I've never thought of the term gadfly as anything but a positive appellation regardless. Which may be a little self-serving, because columnists are professional gadflies. How a person evolves into a gadfly, as opposed to a curmudgeon, or village scold, is a process I cannot pretend to fathom. I have a feeling it depends on who's doing the judging at the moment."

Though technically retired from the Times Union for the past two years, Fred LeBrun keeps up the good work as a freelancer, publishing multiple times per week.

Here's a selection:

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

A "precociously self-aware writer" and her "gifted explicator."

Among the many noteworthy reviews of Anne Frank by Francine Prose is this one by Janet Maslin in the New York Times.

"If there is a central point about Anne here, it is that she was a precociously self-aware writer rather than a spontaneous, ingenuous diarist. It takes a real writer, Ms. Prose points out, to hide the mechanics of her work and make it sound as if she is simply talking to her readers. Similarly, it takes a gifted explicator to make it sound as if she is presenting her arguments conversationally rather than creating elaborate, research-heavy diatribes to back them up."

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Francine Prose on Miep Gies (1909-2010)

Miep Gies, who risked her life for two and a half years sheltering eight Jews, including Anne Frank, from the Nazis, passed away on January 11, 2010 at the age of 100.

Francine Prose, author of Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, has written a memorial essay in the Wall Street Journal.

Quote: "Even or especially now, she might be the person we think of first during those moments when we ask ourselves if the actions of one person can make any difference."

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Reading Like A Writer

Emily Barton asserts in a New York Times review that Francine Prose's 2006 nonfiction bestseller, Reading Like a Writer, makes a much-needed contribution to the small but influential genre of writers' manuals.

"Useful teaching texts are few. For all the wisdom in John Gardner’s Art of Fiction, his sallies against 1970’s experimentalism are aging poorly, and undergrads seem to dislike his curmudgeonly tone. E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel is likewise yellowing at the edges. Classic reference books like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and William K. Zinsser’s On Writing Well are thorough sources for writers of both fiction and nonfiction, but their focus on grammar and other supposedly arcane topics makes them slow going. (Maira Kalman’s illustrations for the new edition of The Elements of Style at least illuminate the Strunkian demands with quirky panache.) Eudora Welty's One Writer’s Beginnings, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing are heartening, but perhaps because they’re so personal, the advice to be gleaned from them is scattershot.

"Another difficulty faced by writing teachers is, paradoxically, the lack of interest many students show in reading. And those who do read often lack the training to observe subtle writerly clues. There’s a real need, then, for Reading Like a Writer — a primer both for aspiring writers and for readers who’d like to increase their sensitivity to the elements of the writer’s craft.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Aupres de ma blonde

Don't miss Dr. Allen Ballard-- who kicks off the Fall schedule on Feb. 2-- accompanying himself to Aupres de ma blonde on YouTube. And while you're at it, preview some of the gospel songs on his new CD, "Early This Morning."

UAlbany has a profile of the beloved faculty member on it's "People" page. And if the Philadelphia of Ballard's new novel piques your interest, you may wish to read One More Day's Journey, a memoir of his family's Great Migration from rural South Carolina to the mean streets of the City of Brotherly Love.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Writers Institute Announces Spring 2010 Visiting Writers Series and Classic Film Series

Francine Prose, Walter Mosley, Chang-rae Lee, Lydia Davis, Michael Ondaatje, and Jules Feiffer among Spring 2010 visitors to the New York State Writers Institute....

Albany, NY — The New York State Writers Institute at the University at Albany announces its Spring 2010 schedule of visiting writer appearances and film series screenings. Events take place on the UAlbany uptown and downtown campuses and are free and open to the public (unless otherwise noted).

Visiting Writer Series

February 2 (Tuesday): Allen Ballard, novelist

Reading — 7:00 p.m., [Note early start time] Assembly Hall, Campus Center

Allen Ballard, novelist, historian and UAlbany Professor of History and Africana Studies, earned national attention with the publication of Where I’m Bound (2000), a Washington Post Notable Book, and one of the first novels to address the Civil War from the perspective of Black soldiers. His new novel is Carried by Six (2009), an urban thriller about a group of ordinary African American citizens determined to rid their Philadelphia neighborhood of drugs and violence.

Cosponsored by UAlbany’s Departments of Africana Studies and History, EOP Program, and Affirmative Action Office

February 4 (Thursday): Francine Prose, novelist and nonfiction writer

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center

Reading — 8:00 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center

Francine Prose, novelist and nonfiction writer, is author of Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife (2009), a work of literary history and criticism that celebrates the under-appreciated artistry of the well-known diarist. Prose’s work includes the novels A Changed Man (2005), winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction and Blue Angel (2001), a finalist for the National Book Award, and the nonfiction New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer (2006).

Cosponsored by UAlbany’s Center for Jewish Studies

February 11 (Thursday): Fred LeBrun, journalist

Reading/Talk — 8:00 p.m. Assembly Hall, Campus Center

Fred LeBrun, one of the defining voices of the Albany Times-Union for more than forty years, has served the newspaper as suburban beat reporter, city editor, arts editor, restaurant critic, and foremost commentator on state politics. LeBrun is also known for his “Hudson River Chronicles,” in which he recounts an 18-day adventure downriver from Mount Marcy to New York Harbor in 1998— a portion of which he repeated in 2009 to commemorate the Hudson 400.

Rescheduled from Fall 2009

Cosponsored by the Women’s Press Club of New York State

February 18 (Thursday): Norberto Fuentes, journalist

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Standish Room, Science Library

Reading — 8:00 p.m. Assembly Hall, Campus Center

Norberto Fuentes, Cuban journalist, Hemingway scholar, early friend and confidante of Fidel Castro, and sometime political prisoner of the Castro regime, is the author of the satirical faux-memoir The Autobiography of Fidel Castro (2004, English translation 2009). Fuentes is also the author of Hemingway in Cuba (1985) and Ernest Hemingway: Rediscovered (1988).

March 4 (Thursday): Lydia Davis, short story writer and novelist

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center

Reading — 8:00 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center

Lydia Davis, leading artist of the short story form, New York State Writers Institute Fellow, and 2003 MacArthur Foundation fellowship winner, has been called “the best prose stylist in America” (Rick Moody). Her newest book is The Collected Stories (2009), a compilation of stories from four previously published volumes including Varieties of Disturbance, Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001), Almost No Memory (1997) and Break it Down (1986).

March 11 (Thursday): AUTHORS THEATRE: Women Playwrights of the Early 20th Century

Staged Reading — 7:30 p.m. [Note early start time], Assembly Hall, Campus Center

The Writers Institute will present staged readings of short, rediscovered, early 20th century plays highlighted in the new volume Women Writers of the Provincetown Players (2009) by UAlbany English Professor Judith E. Barlow. Enormously influential in American drama, the Provincetown Players (1915-22) featured a number of notable women among its playwrights including Susan Glaspell, Djuna Barnes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Neith Boyce, Louise Bryant, Rita McCann Wellman, and Alice Rostetter.

March 16 (Tuesday): Jules Feiffer, editorial cartoonist and author

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center

Reading — 8:00 p.m., Terrace Gallery, 4th Floor, Cultural Education Center, Albany

Jules Feiffer, one of the most influential editorial cartoonists of the last half century, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for work that appeared as part of his long-running strip in the Village Voice. A writer as well as an artist, Feiffer has earned distinction in many genres, including fiction, children’s literature, drama, and screenwriting. His new book is a memoir of his Bronx childhood and early career, Backing into Forward (2010).

Cosponsored by Friends of the New York State Library

March 18 (Thursday): American Place Theatre performance of Three Cups of Tea

Performance — 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center

Pre-performance discussion at 7:00 p.m.

$15 general public; $12 seniors and faculty/staff; $10 students

Box Office: (518) 442-3997;

American Place Theatre presents a one-person theatrical adaptation of the uplifting true story of renowned humanitarian Greg Mortenson who, following a failed attempt to scale Pakistan’s K2 (the world’s second highest mountain), went on to found girls’ schools throughout mountainous regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The program includes pre- and post-show discussions with a teaching artist from American Place Theatre.

Presented by the Performing Arts Center in conjunction with the New York State Writers Institute. Support provided by University Auxiliary Services and Holiday Inn Express.

March 23 (Tuesday): Rebecca Goldstein, philosopher, fiction and nonfiction writer

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Science Library 340

Reading — 8:00 p.m., Science Library 340

Rebecca Goldstein, writer, MacArthur Foundation Fellow, and professor of philosophy, is the author of the new novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God (2010), the humorous tale of a celebrity psychologist and his struggles with fame, truth, illusion, atheism, and belief. Goldstein is also the author of the novels Properties of Light (2000), Mazel (1995), which won the National Jewish Book Award, and The Mind-Body Problem (1983).

Cosponsored by UAlbany’s Center for Jewish Studies

April 8 (Thursday): Chang-rae Lee, fiction writer

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Campus Center 375

Reading — 8:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center

Chang-rae Lee, Korean American novelist whose work explores the modern Asian immigrant experience, received the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for his first novel, Native Speaker (1995), and was named one of the 20 best American novelists under 40 by the New Yorker in 1999. His new novel is The Surrendered (2010), the epic story of a Korean orphan, an American GI, and a troubled missionary wife who meet during the immediate aftermath of the Korean War. His other books include A Gesture Life (1999), a national bestseller and New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and Aloft (2004).

April 12 (Monday): Authors Theatre: Stephen Adly Guirgis, playwright

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Campus Center 375

Reading — 8:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center

Stephen Adly Guirgis, 1990 UAlbany graduate, is one of the leading playwrights of his generation. His works include “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” (2005), named one of the “10 Best Plays of the Year” by Time and Entertainment Weekly, and “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” (2000) winner of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe First Award.

April 14 (Wednesday): Michael Ondaatje, poet and novelist, and Linda Spalding, fiction and nonfiction writer

Seminar — 4:00 p.m., Rensselaer (RPI) Campus, Troy (exact location TBA)

Reading and McKinney Award Ceremony — 8:00 p.m., Darrin Communication Center 308, Rensselaer (RPI), Troy

Michael Ondaatje, who has received critical acclaim for both his fiction and poetry, is best-known for his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient (1992), later adapted as an Oscar-winning film.

Sri Lankan by birth, Ondaatje is a four-time winner of the Governor General’s Award in Literature in his adopted home country of Canada. He is married to Linda Spalding, with whom he coedits the literary journal, Brick.

Linda Spalding, Kansas-born Canadian fiction and nonfiction writer, often explores world cultures and the clash between contemporary life and traditional beliefs. Her most recent book is Who Named the Knife (2007), the true story of the murder trial of Maryann Acker, a teenager sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed while on honeymoon in Hawaii. Spalding’s earlier books include the novels The Paper Wife (1996), and Daughters of Captain Cook (1989), and the nonfiction book A Dark Place in the Jungle (1998), about renowned orangutan expert Birute Galdikas.

Cosponsored in conjunction with Rensselaer’s 69th McKinney Writing Contest and Reading

April 22 (Thursday): Walter Mosley, novelist

Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Campus Center 375

Reading — 8:00 p.m. Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown campus

Walter Mosley, award-winning author of 30 books, is one of America’s leading writers of hardboiled detective fiction. Mosley is best-known for a series of eleven mystery novels set in L. A. featuring the African American private investigator Easy Rawlins. Devil in a Blue Dress (1990) received the Shamus Award from Private Eye Writers of America and was adapted as a film starring Denzel Washington in 1995. His latest novel, Known To Evil (2010), is the second in a new series featuring Leonid McGill, a Black criminal-turned-detective who plys his trade in New York City.

Classic Film Series

February 19 (Friday): LOLA

Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Jacques Demy

Starring Anouk Aimée, Marc Michel, Jacques Harden

(France, 1961, 90 minutes, b/w, in French with English subtitles)

With spectacular camera work, Jacques Demy pays tribute to the “Lolas” of Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes and Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 The Blue Angel in this New Wave reinterpretation of the classic tale of a beautiful cabaret singer and the men in her thrall.


Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Ousmane Sembene.

Starring Sidiki Bakaba, Hamed Camara, Philippe Chamelat

(Senegal, 1987, 157 minutes, color, in Wolof and French with English subtitles)

A group of African soldiers who fought valiantly for France during World War II are detained in a prison camp at war’s end because their French colonial masters have grown uneasy with the equality the men have achieved on the battlefield. Sembene’s semi-autobiographical film received the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.


Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Marco Bellocchio

Starring Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora, Marino Masé

(Italy, 1965, 105 minutes, b/w, in Italian with English subtitles)

A shocking and influential black comedy of the Italian New Wave, Fists in the Pocket features the exploits of a disturbed young man who kills off members of his peculiar family to “save” them from various medical afflictions. In the words of one Italian critic, “When it came out, it ripped the collective film imagination to shreds.”


Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Assia Djebar

Starring Sawsan Noweif, Mohamed Haymour, Zohra Sahraoui

(Algeria, 1977, 115 minutes, color, in Arabic with English subtitles)

In her inventive, experimental debut as film director, major Maghrebi fiction writer Assia Djebar borrows the structure of the nouba, a five-part traditional song, to tell the story of a woman who returns to the town of her childhood fifteen years after the violent War of Independence.


Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda

Starring Arata, Erika Oda, Susumu Terajima

(Japan, 1998, 118 minutes, color, in Japanese with English subtitles)

A deliberately spare, thoughtful work, After Life presents a kind of antechamber to heaven in which the recently deceased are asked to choose a single cherished memory to preserve for all eternity. Stephen Holden of the New York Times called it a “brilliant, humorous, transcendently compassionate film.”

April 9 (Friday): LE JOUR SE LÈVE [DAYBREAK]

Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Marcel Carné

Starring Jean Gabin, Jules Berry, Arletty

(France, 1939, 88 minutes, b/w, in French with English subtitles)

A factory worker kills his rival in love, then barricades himself inside his apartment to weather an armed siege by the police, all the while recalling the events that led to the crime. A masterpiece of “realist” cinema from major French director Marcel Carné.

April 16 (Friday): THE TALES OF HOFFMANN

Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Starring Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tchérina, Anne Ayars

(United Kingdom, 1951, 128 minutes, color)

A young man’s dreams of past romantic adventures come to life on the screen in this exquisite blend of music, ballet and cinematic effects. Directed by the famous team of Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes), and based on the 1881 opera by Jacques Offenbach and the stories of E. T. A. Hoffmann.

April 23 (Friday): LITTLE OLD NEW YORK

Film Screening—7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Sidney Olcott

Starring Marion Davies, Stephen Carr, J. M. Kerrigan

(United States, 1923, 106 minutes, b/w)

SILENT with live piano accompaniment by Mike Schiffer

An Irish immigrant lass comes to New York City disguised as a boy to claim her dead brother’s inheritance in this charming historical drama set against the background of real events, including the 1807 launch of Robert Fulton’s steamboat on the Hudson River.

For additional information contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at

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