Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Becoming Acquainted with the People My Parents Were

In her new book, When People Wrote Letters: A Family Chronicle, Shakespeare scholar Martha Rozett talks about "becoming acquainted with the people my parents were before I was born" as she reviews their letters and other memorabilia.

"After my mother's death my father reduced the accumulations of a lifetime-- two lifetimes-- to the contents of a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. It is now six weeks after his death, and I have begun the sifting and sorting process once again...."

Rozett presents her book today at 4:15 p.m. in the Standish Room, Science Library.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

John Sayles on "The Black Stallion"

John Sayles offers some close analysis of the 1941 children's novel, The Black Stallion, in a videotaped Writers Institute interview partially available on YouTube.

He credits the novel, which he read at the age of 10, with making him aware of how to structure plot.

Sayles visited the Writers Institute on February 27, 2012.

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New Event: Poets Harry Staley & George Drew

Harry Staley, poet, beloved UAlbany Professor Emeritus, and noted scholar of the works of James Joyce, along with one of  his former students, award-winning poet George Drew, will read from their new poetry collections on Wednesday, May 2, 2012  at 4:15 p.m. in the Science Library Room 340  on the University at Albany uptown campus. The event is sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute and SUNY Press and is free and open to the public.

Stayed tuned for more updates.....
Staley's new collection is Truant Pastures: The Complete Poems of Harry C. Staley (2011), published by Excelsior Editions, SUNY Press. In advance praise, literature scholar Todd F. Davis said, “The portrait of the speaker in the majority of these poems is one of a man conflicted in his religious faith, in his faith in his fellow human community, in the wars that religion has persuaded his fellow humans to take part in…. Staley demonstrates an understanding that is deeply spiritual, yet does not yield to easy, forgiving answers.

Drew is the author most recently of The View from Jackass Hill (2010), a collection that mourns, eulogizes, and celebrates deceased friends, family members, and favorite poets. The book received the 2010 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, from Texas Review Press. In bestowing the prize, series judge and poet Robert Phillips said, “Here is a poet with a real voice, brave and original…. This is a collection of friendship and vodka, and I can only say, Enjoy!”

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Dear God, I Hated This Book....

Shalom Auslander, who visits today, writes a perverse and (eventually) wholly positive introduction to Chaim Potok's The Chosen. The introduction appears in a wholly imaginary Modern Library edition of Potok's book, and begins this way:

"Dear God, I hated this book. I hated this book more than Shakespeare and I really hated Shakespeare. The only work I hated more than Shakespeare's was the Old Testament, and I hated this book even more than I hated the Old Testament...."  More.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

David Sedaris Reading Shalom Auslander

What book is on your night stand now?

I was a judge for this year’s Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, so until very recently I was reading essays written by clever high school students. Now I’ve started Shalom Auslander’s “Hope: A Tragedy.” His last book, “Foreskin’s Lament,” really made me laugh.

Read more about what Sedaris is reading in the New York Times.

Auslander visits tomorrow, Tuesday, April 24th.

Sedaris visited October 1998.

Picture: Sedaris as Santa's helper for the Santaland Diaries.

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Martha Rozett: On Teaching Historical Fiction

SUNY English professor Martha Rozett talked to NPR's Weekend Edition,May 30, 2004 about teaching historical fiction:

"When I teach historical novels to my students, I think one thing we're doing is we're debunking some of the old characterizations about the past. So I think our knowledge of history might get better, actually, and more complicated and less stereotypical when we read these terrific historical novels that are out there."

"They're the novels that look at the history of technology, of architecture, of science, things that are a little off the beaten track for conventional historical novelists. But then there are contemporary historical novels, and interesting ones, that take an oblique perspective on a well-known event. A good example of that would be "Cold Mountain," which was a best-seller. It takes a different take on the Civil War."

Rozett visits Wednesday, April 25 to present her new family memoir, When People Wrote Letters (2011).

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shalom Auslander: Hating Houseplants

"I’ve never liked houseplants, I don’t know why. They make me angry. I am, however, a man of much irrational hatred, and only realized why houseplants infuriate me so much this past weekend."

Humorist Shalom Auslander, whose events have been rescheduled for this coming Tuesday, April 24th, talks about his complicated relationship with houseplants in the New York Observer.

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Shalom Auslander Rescheduled, Tuesday, April 24

Shalom Auslander, as luck would have it, was prevented from visiting Albany during the year's only snowstorm.

His events have been postponed to Tuesday, April 24th....

April 24 (Tuesday)Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown CampusReading — 8:00 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

Shalom Auslander, ex-Orthodox Jew, humorist, cultural renegade, and contributor to NPR’s This American Life, received both notoriety and praise for his story collection, Beware of God (2005), and the memoir, Foreskin’s Lament (2007). Hope: A Tragedy (2012), his first novel, tells the story of a troubled man who discovers—living in the attic of his upstate New York home—a decrepit old woman who claims to be Anne Frank. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said, “Cultural anthropologists trying to figure out if there really is a recognizably Jewish voice and sense of humor ... should consider Auslander’s debut novel.”

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Silent Film, "Bed and Sofa," Friday April 20, 7:30, Page Hall

"Liuda, a bored housewife who could not be more unlike the prototypical Bolshevik “New Woman,” lives in a one-room basement apartment on Third Meshchanskaia Street (the literal translation of the film’s original title), a petty-bourgeois neighborhood in Moscow. She spends her days idly, mainly reading magazines, notably the popular movie fan magazine Soviet Screen (Sovetskii ekran). Her husband, Kolia, is a charming and good-natured but dictatorial and egocentric stonemason."

"The couple is soon joined by Kolia’s old war buddy, Volodia, a printer who cannot find an apartment in Moscow due to the severe housing shortage that was still a major social problem ten years after the revolution. Liuda is quite understandably annoyed by the addition of yet another person to their cramped apartment; of course she has not been consulted. Yet Volodia, ingratiating and helpful, quickly wins her over by proving the perfect lodger. The sexual tension between Liuda and Volodia is palpable from the beginning, so when Kolia is called to a job out of town, it is scarcely surprising that Volodia takes advantage of the opportunity to woo Liuda openly."

Read more of the article on by Denise J. Youngblood, Professor of Russian and Soviet History at the University of Vermont.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Pulitzers and Us

Karen Russell (pictured here), who visited in February 2011, was a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize in Fiction (no winner this year).

Diane Ackerman, who visited in 1992, was a finalist for General Nonfiction.

Michael Cunningham, who visited in 2001, was a fiction judge.

Jean Valentine, who served as New York State Poet (2008-2010) under our auspices, and recent visitor Philip Schultz served as poetry judges.

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YouTube Sensation Sorab Wadia at UAlbany

Sorab Wadia, who stars Wednesday, April 18th in a one-man theatrical adaptation of the bestselling novel, The Kite Runner, became a YouTube sensation in 2007 with his show-stopping number, "I Wanna Be Like Osama" in "Jihad: The Musical" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To date, the video has received more than 400,000 hits.

See the video here.

Wadia also performed as Ali Hakim in the U.S. national tour of Trevor Nunn’s production of Oklahoma!. Other credits include the film Suburban Girl (2006) with Sarah Michelle Gellar, the TV sitcom 30 Rock, and the video game Grand Theft Auto IV, in which he plays the voice of an Indian pedestrian who curses graphically in Hindi. More.

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Anne Enright Shortlisted for Orange Prize

It was announced today that The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (who visits RPI tomorrow) was shortlisted for the United Kingdom's Orange Prize for Fiction, which comes with an award of 30,000 British pounds (approximately 48,000 U.S. dollars).

The novel is a tale of adultery and its consequences.

The prize is awarded for "excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world."

Other authors on the shortlist include Cynthia Ozick, now 84 years old, who visited the Writers Institute in March 2005, as well as Ann Patchett, Madeline Miller, Georgina Harding and Esi Edugyan.

Read more in the Irish Independent.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Introductory Remarks for Jospeh Lelyveld by Tara Needham

Introductory Remarks for Jospeh Lelyveld, Written and delivered by Tara Needham April 3, 2012, Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, University at Albany.

"Gandhi is enshrined in many ways: in the dominant narrative of the Indian nationalist movement; in the theory and literature of peace and conflict studies; as the gaunt, bespectacled man draped in white, and as Joseph Lelyveld consistently point out in Great Soul, in the landscape and iconography of modern South African and India. It is this enshrinement that punctuates and propels his investigation into Gandhi with an urgency, lest Gandhi be enshrined to the past, to impenetrable and even dangerous myth...."

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Silent Movie "Faust" on Friday

From Roger Ebert's 2005 reappraisal of Faust, which will be screened Friday 4/13 at 7:30PM in Page Hall:

"The greatest master of horror in the silent era was a cheerful man, much loved by his collaborators, even though they might lose consciousness from time to time [from asphyxiation] while enveloped in clouds of steam or surrounded by tongues of flame. F. W. Murnau (1888-1931) made two of the greatest films of the supernatural, Nosferatu (1922) and Faust (1926), both voted among the best horror films of all time on the Internet Movie Database: Faust surprisingly in fourth place, just ahead of The Shining, Jaws and Alien.


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Monday, April 9, 2012

If It Hadn't Been for the Child: Anne Enright

Anne Enright, who visits RPI on April 18th, writes in her new novel, The Forgotten Waltz (2011), about a child caught in the strife caused by an adulterous love affair:

"IF IT HADN'T BEEN FOR THE CHILD then none of this might have happened, but the fact that a child was involved made everything that much harder to forgive. Not that there is anything to forgive, of course, but the fact that a child was mixed up in it all made us feel that there was no going back; that it mattered. The fact that a child was affected meant we had to faceourselves properly, we had to follow through. "

"She was nine when it started, but that hardly matters. I mean her age hardly matters because she was always special—isn’t that the word? Of course all children are special, all children are beautiful. I always thought Evie was a bit peculiar, I have to say: but also that she was special in the oldfashioned sense of the word. There was a funny, offcentre beauty to her. She went to an ordinary school, but there was, even at that stage, an amount of ambivalence about Evie, the sense of things unsaid. Even the doctors—especially the doctors—kept it vague, with their, 'Wait and see.'" More in Caravan magazine.

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A Journey Through Language: Fady Joudah

Fady Joudah, Palestinian-American poet who visits the Institute tomorrow, was the subject of a New Yorker interview in 2008 regarding his award-winning translation of leading Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's The Butterfly's Burden:

Q:What do you hope Darwish’s legacy will be?

FJ:I think it will continue to become clearer to the world of letters that Darwish’s poetry is beyond historico-political readings (like certain hackneyed readings of his poem “I’m an Arab”). He was able to forge new rhythms out of contemporary Arabic, and while this is difficult to render in translation, the focus in his work remains, as ever, his belief in the perpetual rebirth of aesthetic. Reading Darwish is a journey through language. Read more.

At UAlbany, Joudah will discuss his translation from the Arabic of Ghassan Zaqtan's Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (Yale University Press, 2012).

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Humor and Brutality in Moscow's Red Square

Masha Gessen, Russian investigative journalist who visited us March 8th, is back in Moscow (against the advice of her friends, family and readers).

Here's a recent post from the "Latitudes" blog of the New York Times / International Herald Tribune.

MOSCOW — We spent most of April Fool’s Day laughing. My friends and I started right around midnight on Saturday when, sitting around my kitchen table, we began talking about the protest scheduled for the next day, April 1: Strolling in Red Square while wearing white ribbons....


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Some Drivel Is Best Left Unpublished

An interesting meditation on writers, their memoirs and their scandalized parents appears in a recent issue of the Irish Independent. Though short, the piece mentions four of our past visitors: Colm Toibin, Edna O'Brien, Toni Morrison (who was in residence at UAlbany at the Institute's inception) and Anne Enright (who visits a second time, this coming April 18th at RPI).

"Upset by the domestic revelations in her son's novels, Colm Toibin's mother threatened to write a book of her own. Nora Joyce got round the problem through the simple expedient of not reading her husband's work, but Edna O'Brien's family were so scandalised by her early books that they burnt them."


Picture: Edna O'Brien in The Guardian in 2011.

Read an interview with O'Brien by former Institute Director Tom Smith here.

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PEN and ACLU Press for Visa for Ghassan Zaqtan

Ghassan Zaqtan, leading Palestinian poet due to be a guest of the Writers Institute on this coming Tuesday, April 10th, has been prevented from launching his U.S. book tour because of unexplained State Department delays in processing his VISA application.

The situation has attracted the attention of PEN and the ACLU:

PEN Presses for Visa for Palestinian Poet

April 4, 2012 Larry Siems

Yesterday, we got word through our Translation Committee that Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, whose collection Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me is being released by Yale University Press this month, is still waiting for a visa to travel to the U.S. for a planned two-week book tour. The tour was to kick off yesterday with an event featuring Zaqtan and Fady Joudah, his translator, at Claremont McKenna College in California, followed by readings at UCLA today and the San Francisco State University Poetry Center tomorrow.

Worried that the United States might been delaying visa processing for political reasons, PEN joined with the ACLU, our partners in challenging a number of post-9/11 instances of ideological exclusion to send a letter to U.S. State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh asking for urgent action on Zaqtan’s visa application. It is our hope that Zaqtan will receive a visa in time to participate in an April 9 event at the University of Houston and subsequent planned events at SUNY Albany, Columbia, Georgetown, Poets House in New York, and Yale University.

See more.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Love Destroys Everything in Its Path-- Anne Enright

Writing in Oprah's O. magazine, Lizzie Skurnick reviews The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, who comes to RPI on April 18th:

"In America we like our adultery straight up: a bubble of illicit passion that ends in regret. That's not what Irish novelist Anne Enright is serving in The Forgotten Waltz (Norton), which forgoes the simple morality tale for something more complex and satisfying. The novel begins as the otherwise involved Gina first sees the love of her life, the also-spoken-for Seán. Detailing the standard stuff of clandestine affairs—tawdry hotels, wife-stalking—Enright does not hide the ugliness of betrayal. But her real story is about the once illicit lovers' fraught attempt to live as a family—one that includes Seán's alarmingly strange preadolescent daughter, Evie. Casting aside cultural bromides about the immorality of affairs, Enright puts us squarely in the center of a terrible truth: Love can be miraculous—and still destroy everything in its path."

Original posting.

Picture: At her home near Bray, Ireland (from the New York Times)

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An Adventure in Letters-- Martha Rozett

Martha Rozett, a new addition to our schedule, will present When People Wrote Letters, a family history told through letters, photographs, clippings and pamphlets, excerpts from an unpublished autobiography and from a family history narrative, along with other saved objects.

The main characters are Betty and Edith Stedman, two eloquent and adventurous women whose relationship serves as the book’s central narrative. Their travels, and the travels of other family members, take the reader from 19th and early twentieth century New England, to Key West in the 1830s, to the Minnesota Territories in the 1860s, to France during World War I, to small towns in Texas and to China in the 1920s, to Spain in the early 1930s, and across America during World War II.


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Fady Joudah: The Tea and Sage Poem

Fady Joudah, award-winning poet who visits 4/10 to discuss his translation of Ghassan Zaqtan's Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (2012), received the Yale Younger Poets prize for his own collection, The Earth in the Attic (2008).

Here is a poem from that collection "The Tea and Sage Poem," which appears on the Poetry Foundation website:

At a desk made of glass,
In a glass walled-room
With red airport carpet,

An officer asked
My father for fingerprints,
And my father refused,

So another offered him tea
And he sipped it. The teacup
Template for fingerprints.

Poem continues....

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Gandhi: Was He a Spectacular Political Failure?

In a New Yorker review of Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India (2011), by Joseph Lelyveld (who visits today), Pankaj Mishra says:

"Mohandas Gandhi was the twentieth century’s most famous advocate of nonviolent politics. But was he also its most spectacular political failure? The possibility is usually overshadowed by his immense and immensely elastic appeal.... And yet the Indian leader failed to achieve his most important aims, and was widely disliked and resented during his lifetime." Read more.

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The Vindication of Joseph Lelyveld

Son of Duanesburg, NY, Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics fame) writes a long article in New York magazine about Joseph Lelyveld (who visits today) and his long career at the New York Times. Lelyveld met with a variety of criticisms from both within and outside the newspaper organization for his long term of leadership of the Times after his retirement as executive editor in 2001.

"Long before he became executive editor of the New York Times, Joe Lelyveld was a writer, a very fine writer, who as a scrawny, overeducated 23-year-old traveled through Southeast Asia on a Fulbright and, along with his young bride, became enamored of the writer’s expat life, concluding that he would like to become the Times’ man in New Delhi. It wasn’t long before he did exactly that. Starting out as a copy boy, he rose and rose and rose at the Times, a quite unlikely ascension given Lelyveld’s reluctance to do what was expected of him and a writerly arrogance that could be extreme. He also had a manner so awkward that it bordered on antisocial. He was given to painfully long pauses; his intended drolleries fell flat, or were too sharp...." More.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Gandhi in South Africa

Here's an exerpt from Great Soul, Joseph Lelyveld's bestselling new biography of Gandhi, which he presents tomorrow at the New York State Writers Institute:

Prologue: An Unwelcome Visitor

"It was a brief only a briefless lawyer might have accepted. Mohandas Gandhi landed in South Africa as an untested, unknown twenty-three- year-old law clerk brought over from Bombay, where his effort to launch a legal career had been stalled for more than a year. His stay in the country was expected to be temporary, a year at most. Instead, a full twenty-one years elapsed before he made his final departure on July 14, 1914. By then, he was forty-four, a seasoned politician and negotiator, recently leader of a mass movement, author of a doctrine for such struggles, a pithy and prolific political pamphleteer, and more-a self-taught evangelist on matters spiritual, nutritional, even medical. That's to say, he was well on his way to becoming the Gandhi India would come to revere and, sporadically, follow."

More on the Powell's Books website.

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Surviving Killer Asteroids

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, who visited the Writers Institute in 2004, discusses ways of coping with killer asteroids, today in Wired.

"Solar System debris rains down on Earth in vast quantities — more than a hundred tons of it a day. Most of it vaporizes in our atmosphere, leaving stunning trails of light we call shooting stars. More hazardous are the billions, likely trillions, of leftover rocks — comets and asteroids — that wander interplanetary space in search of targets." More.

Tyson came to Albany to discuss The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist (2000), Tyson. In the memoir, he traces the arc of his remarkable life, from his beginnings as an eccentric African-American kid who loved to study the night sky from the roof of his Bronx apartment building, to his role as one of the most influential scientists in his field.

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