Friday, September 29, 2017

Video: Madeleine Thien

Here is a nicely-produced video of Madeleine Thien speaking on her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

Madeleine Thien and Peter Ho Davies will discuss their novel on Tuesday, October 3, at 8:00 p.m. in the Huxley Theatre, NYS Museum, Cultural Education Center, in downtown Albany. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m., Thien and Davies will lead an informal seminar in the Standish Room, Science Library on the UAlbany uptown campus.

Free and open to the public, the events are cosponsored by the NYS Writers Institute, NYS Office of Cultural Education, and the Friends of the New York State Library.

Video produced by John Kenney of the Montreal Gazette.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

NPR Audio: The Unconventional Poetry Of Tyehimba Jess

Listen to an interview with Tyehimba Jess by NPR's Dan Wanschura, first aired July 15, 2017.

Tyehimba Jess, who won this year's Pulitzer Prize for poetry, will read from his work and discuss its origins as part of a celebration of spoken word poetry, which will also feature readings by UAlbany students, at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 14 in the Main Theatre of the Performing Arts Center, on UAlbany’s Uptown campus.

Earlier that day at 4:15 p.m. Jess will hold an informal seminar in the Recital Hall in UAlbany’s Performing Arts Center. More details

Free and open to the public, the events are cosponsored by the New York State Writers Institute, UAlbany’s Student Association, Division of Student Life, and The Writing Center of the English Department.

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Interview: James Hart, author of "Lucky Jim"

Author James Hart did not want to harm anyone else in the writing of his heartbreaking memoir "Lucky Jim," (Cleis Press, 238 pages, $17.95), which he will read from Thursday at the State Museum, part of the New York State Writers Institute fall programming.

"But I also knew I needed to be completely honest," said Hart, who grew up in Troy, "and that was going to be tricky. Many of the people in my story were famous. I love and care about a lot of them."

One of the most important people in his life he did not want to harm was his ex-wife, singer Carly Simon. They were married for 20 years.

"I called her early on in the writing of the book," he said in an interview. "I was terrified that my words were going to hurt her and she said, 'I don't care. Just write the truth. That's all I wanted from you from day one.' "

The book, which was released in April, begins on a train platform in Hudson. Hart had just spent the day with his severely handicapped son, Eamon, at a camp for disabled children, and now he was returning to New York City, where he lived. Simon was standing on the same platform with a mutual friend of Hart's, who introduced the two of them.

"I was single at the time, and I knew she was somebody, an actress maybe. I was stunned by her beauty right away," he said. "There were 20 other people at the Hudson train station staring at her as well. They were staring at the celebrity Carly Simon. They knew who she was, but I was looking at her as a beautiful woman."

Hart writes honestly about his love for Simon and the happiness they had together, but he also writes about his many addictions and his increasing struggle to confront his sexuality.

"Carly has read the drafts of the book all along. I know it's difficult for her to read about her then-husband exploring the gay world with crack and cocaine. That's not something Carly would be rushing to read, but she understands that's the story. The two of us were so right together and so wrong, so perfectly matched and so perfectly unmatched."

Hart admits that he and Simon had options. "I suppose I could have stayed in the closet and maintained some sort of deep relationship with Carly, but that would have been extraordinarily unfair to both of us. We really tried hard to keep our lives together, but in the end Carly and I couldn't live that kind of lie."

In the writing of this book Hart came to realize how the various parts of his life were connected in ways he had never thought about before.

"Despite all my psychological defenses, I've been attracted to honesty my whole life," he said. "As a young man, my trip to the seminary to become a priest was a search for honesty and discovery. I've had to do a lot of 12-step work on myself, not because I wanted to, but because I had to in order to survive."

Hart writes about a lot of personal pain in this book. His early life was filled with brutal violence on a daily basis delivered by his alcoholic father. His son suffered from a seizure disorder that brought about many physical challenges every day that made loving him difficult, and Hart is unsparing in writing about the degradations he brought on himself with alcohol, drugs and sex.

When Hart met Simon, he was an insurance salesman, an everyman. When they were married, he entered the elite world of Martha's Vineyard with its fame and celebrity. He met the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, film director Mike Nichols and author William Styron.

"Carly and I didn't have a thousand celebrity friends. We had 10 celebrity friends. We weren't searching for celebrity friends," he said. "The truth is a lot of celebrities are people you really don't want to hang out with."

Hart believes fame and celebrity was not the great gift of his life; it was his son.

"On a daily basis, Eamon displayed a terrifying grace, even though he was physically broken. I didn't want to go there. He forced me to find the ways to love him, and he found the ways to love me."
The word "lucky" in the title refers to the many mentors and friends who have helped to save and shape him into the man he is today. "Mike Nichols and Bill Styron didn't have to be my friend, but they were. They didn't need me. Bill Kennedy has also been a close friend of mine since 1974, long before he was the famous writer. He's helped a lot in my development as a writer. He's very rare. Once you're his friend, he never lets a friend go. He's an incredibly positive guy, and he has a great deal of humility."

Hart said he is looking forward to his reading on Thursday.[Editor's note: James Hart visited the NYS Writers Institute on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.]

"It's kind of a homecoming for me," he said. "So much of my life was spent in Albany. My son lived there through the years. I have many good friends there. I can't imagine a place I'd rather do a reading at. It's like reading to my family."
Jack Rightmyer is a regular contributor to the Times Union. 

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Awkwafina Makes Splash in West Addition

“I took a chance, you know, and it worked out,” said comedic rapper, soon-to-be movie star, and University at Albany alum, Nora Lum, also known as “Awkwafina.”

Lum walked through the Science Library halls, reminiscing about being a student here. She remembered walking down Fuller Road, walking through Stuyvesant Plaza, and living on Empire Commons. This was Lum’s second time back on campus since she graduated.

She made her way to her meet-and-greet, where she signed autographs and took pictures with students, before having an on-stage interview with Steve Barnes, a journalism professor and senior writer at the Times Union.

Lum first gained fame after releasing a music video for her song “My Vag” on YouTube back in 2012. It gained almost two million views.

“I was sitting on it for quite a while,” said Lum. “I was 19 when I wrote it. I actually wrote it here.” She released the song after graduation. About six or seven years after writing it, her friend heard it and decided that they needed to make a music video.

“It took a while,” she said. “I was working in a full-time job at the time, so I was scared to put it out.”
But Lum took a chance. Read more in the Albany Student Press.

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