Thursday, December 27, 2012

Institute in the Times Union's "Year in the Arts"

"What stood out the most, though, was the New York State Writers Institute's fall season. To name just of few of the visitors from one of the best Writers Institute seasons of recent memory: Nobel Prize-winning novelist J. M. Coetzee and novelist Paul Auster lead a seminar on Herman Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" in the afternoon on Oct. 12 and shared a conversation that night; Pulitzer-winner Junot Diaz, who was also named a MacArthur "genius" grant winner just days before his Oct. 4 appearance, led a seminar and a reading; and National Book Award-winner Denis Johnson gave a seminar and had his new play "Des Moines" presented as a staged reading on Nov. 12."

So writes Steve Barnes in today's Times Union.  Read more in "2012: Year in the Arts"--

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Friday, December 7, 2012

We're on C-SPAN 2's Book TV This Weekend

The Institute will be featured this weekend on C-SPAN 2, Book TV at 12PM, Saturday, December 8th, and at 9AM Sunday, December 9th. Included among the interviews with various authors are segments with Institute Executive Director William Kennedy, and with Institute Director Donald Faulkner.

Here is a link to the Book TV schedule:

And here is a link to C-SPAN’s Albany webpage:

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

J. Hoberman at the Movies this Friday

We invite you to attend our final event of the season, a special opportunity to view and discuss film clips and the future of cinema with major film critic J. Hoberman, a contributor at the Village Voice for more than three decades, and author of the new book about trends in 21st century cinema, Film After Film (2012).

Among other films, Hoberman will be showing clips from animated adult feature, Waking Life, and the Polish-Japanese video game digital feature, Avalon.

J. Hoberman, film critic
December 7 (Friday)
Reading/Discussion — 8:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus
J. Hoberman, one of the most influential American film critics of recent decades, is admired for his wit, intellectual energy and incomparable knowledge of experimental, international, independent, and Hollywood cinema. His new book is Film After Film (2012), which argues among other things that the future of film is animation and digital-image-making, ending “the need for an actual world, let alone a camera.” Senior film critic at the Village Voice from 1988 to 2012, Hoberman started with the paper in the 1970s as a third stringer under critic Andrew Sarris. Jessica Winter of Time magazine praised his work as “elegant, erudite, ambitious, and wondrously droll arts and media criticism,” and credited him for teaching her generation of critics “how to think and write about popular culture.” A portion of the Writers Institute’s fall 2012 Classic Film Series was based on Hoberman’s list of his favorite 21st century films
see Classic Film Series Listing).

For more information contact 518-442-5620 or, or visit us online at . You may also wish to visit our blog at, or to friend us on Facebook. 


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Thursday, November 29, 2012

New York Times 100 Notable Books

Numerous Writers Institute visitors are featured in this year's edition of the New York Times 100 Notable Books.

Recent visitors (who have discussed the new books featured on the list) include Lauren Groff (Arcadia), Shalom Auslander (Hope: A Tragedy), Junot Diaz (This is How You Lose Her), David Quammen (Spillover), and Robert Caro (Passage of Power).

Other past visitors with new books on the list include Colm Toibin, Nathan Englander, Sherman Alexie, Steve Stern, Richard Ford, Barbara Kingsolver, Dave Eggers, Toni Morrison, John Irving, Louise Erdrich, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Kevin Young and David Nasaw.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Writers Institute on Jeopardy! and C-SPAN

Two notable television events for the New York State Writers Institute are coming up that may be of interest:

Our graduate assistant Josh Bartlett will appear on Jeopardy! with Alex Trebek on Thanksgiving Day, 7:30 p.m. on News10.

“The waiting, which began with the tryout in January, extended through the taping in August and then through all the months Joshua Bartlett had to smile and say nothing, is over: The University at Albany graduate student will finally appear Thursday on Jeopardy!”

A special program on the City of Albany, in which the Writers Institute, William Kennedy, Donald Faulkner and The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza are prominently featured, will air on C-SPAN2's Book TV and C-SPAN3's American History TV on the weekend of Dec. 8 and 9. The program is part of C-SPAN’s LCV (Local Content Vehicle) 2012 Cities Tour of all of America’s state capitals.

"The idea is to look at a city's rich history and unique literary life," said producer Debbie Lamb, whose three-member crew will fan out across the city all week. "We wanted to get outside Washington and highlight medium-sized cities that a national audience normally wouldn't get to see."

Here’s a link to the C-SPAN Local Content page:

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lincoln Fans are "Just Nutty"

The TU's Paul Grondahl writes about David W. Blight's current project, a new biography of Frederick Douglass based on newly discovered sources, as well as Blight's opinion of people who are obsessed with Abraham Lincoln. Blight visit Albany tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. at the State Museum.

[Blight] is currently immersed in writing a biography of Frederick Douglass, scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013, a subject he has been researching since his doctoral dissertation 23 years ago.

"You have to make a subject an obsession to write seriously about it, although I have moments I'd like to get Frederick Douglass out of my life," Blight said. What spurred him to sign a book contract for a biography of the abolitionist, orator and writer was his discovery three years ago of nine personal scrapbooks kept by Douglass' sons, mostly newspaper clippings that documented the final 35 years of the life of their father, who died in 1895. The scrapbooks are owned by a collector in Savannah, Ga., who made them available to Blight.

"I figured if there can be more than 11,000 books on Lincoln, I can write the fifth or sixth biography of Douglass," Blight said.

He added, "I've only written essays on Lincoln, but I've encountered a lot of Lincoln people and their obsession is crazy. They need a shrink. They're just nutty."

More in the Times Union:

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Civil War Historian David Blight in the Times Union

Civil War historian David W. Blight will visit tomorrow to speak about the Civil War in the American imagination at the New York State Museum, 7:30 p.m., Clark Auditorium.

Paul Grondahl wrote an article about Blight this past Sunday in the Times Union:

"Even after 150 years, the Civil War exerts a powerful and conflicting hold on the collective American imagination unlike any other event in the nation's history."

"David Blight, a professor of American history at Yale University and author of two books on the Civil War that have been called 'memory studies,' will present a lecture titled 'America Divided, Then and Now: The Civil War in our National and Local Imagination.'"


More on the event:

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Crazy Brave Review

Elizabeth Wilkinson reviews Joy Harjo's new memoir, Crazy Brave, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Joy Harjo, Native American performance poet and musician visits Albany today.

"Readers familiar with Joy Harjo's poetry, or, better, who have experienced her live performances, will recognize a familiar cadence and overarching mythic quality in the voice she creates for her newest work, Crazy Brave. In a memoir steeped in her Mvskoke (also known as Muscogee) worldview, Harjo relates narratives of abuse, persistence and reclamation that tap into universal human emotions. Harjo's text resonates for and with readers, whether longtime fans or not; as she asserts, 'A story matrix connects all of us.'"

Read more:

More about the Writers Institute events:

You are invited to attend a free catered reception with Harjo, sponsored by SUNY Press, after the evening event at approximately 9:30 p.m.

Joy Harjo, Native American poet and musician
November 1 (Thursday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Campus Center Room 375, Uptown Campus
Reading — 8:00 p.m., Campus Center Room 375, Uptown Campus

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Taiwanese Film Friday

"This is one of the most gorgeous and maturely composed movies you'll see this year. I've rarely held my breath in anticipation of a director's next shot, each being a small movie unto itself. Working with the cinematographer Liao Ben-bong, Tsai finds a dozen amazing ways to experience a movie, like the scene where we find our intrepid ticket-taker watching ''Dragon Inn" so close that its projected image pours through the perforations in the screen and dots her face. There are so many textures that are exposed in a mere decision about how near to or far from a person to place a camera. You're reminded, in a way that only a great movie can, that such decisions produce an inexplicable magic, and that Tsai Ming-Liang, in addition to being a sterling director, is a superior magician."

Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe reviews Goodbye, Dragon Inn, which will be screened this Friday....

Read more:

More on the film series:

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Sandy's Impact on NYC Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

"The wind and rain may have died down in New York City, but the metropolis is far from recovered. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which has left thousands throughout the tri-state without power, many publishers are struggling to get their systems back online, and some are reporting issues at their warehouses, as well."


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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NPR Interview with Joy Harjo

On how to get your artistic voice back, if you've lost it...

"I [had] felt like I had lost my voice, too. And sometimes, to find it ... what I've learned is it needs to be lost for a while. And when it wants to be found, you'll find it.

"But I would say is that you just put yourself in the place of poetry. You just go where poetry is, whether it's in your heart or your mind or in books or in places where there's live poetry or recordings.

"And, you know, it's like looking for love. You can't look for love, or it will run away from you. But, you know, don't look for it. Don't look for it. Just go where it is and appreciate it, and, you know, it will find you."

Read more or listen to the interview:

Harjo visits UAlbany tomorrow, 4:15 and 8pm, Campus Center 375, with a catered reception by SUNY Press to follow the evening event.

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The Big Read in Albany

The Big Read in Albany will feature a number of events inspired by Tim O'Brien's book of stories about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried.

You may have missed the kick-off event yesterday at The Palace, but there are also two panel discussions, a documentary screening and a musical performance.

You may also be interested in this:

American Place Theatre performance of The Things They Carried
November 7 (Wednesday)
Pre-Performance discussion at 7 p.m.
Performance — 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus

$15 general public / $12 seniors & faculty-staff / $10 students Box Office: (518) 442-3997

Tim O’Brien’s masterwork of contemporary literature about the Vietnam War is taken from book to stage by American Place Theatre, the award-winning New York City based company. The verbatim adaptation of this compassionate tale of the American soldier includes five of the short stories from the book including “The Rainy River” and “The Man I Killed.” With original cello music as underscoring, the audience plays witness to the complex issues of war and the universal struggle of the soldier.

For more about the Big Read, visit the website of the Albany Public Library:

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Poet Joy Harjo talks about her tattoo...

Joy Harjo, who visits tomorrow, explains her remarkable hand tattoo on her website:

What do I have on my hand and what does it mean?

The tattoo on my hand is a tattoo. It’s not henna. The style is from the Marquesas Islands. The Marquesas are north of Tahiti.
Roonui, a Tahitian artist, did the tattoo freehand in Moorea, Tahiti. He is now living in Canada. It took two-and-a-half hours. (And yes, it hurt.)
I’d seen the tattoo there on my hand for sometime. The tattoo represents assistance for my work. I use my hands for music, writing, and everything else I do. The tattoo reminds me of the levels of assistance. I am also carrying a beautiful piece of art with me wherever I go.
Roonui says: "Polynesian tattooing is not a simple exercise in aesthetics. Polynesian carve into their body the symbols of their actions (past present or future), their promises, their games."
The part inside my wrist, close to my heart, resembles ancestral designs of my tribal people.
The 8PM reading will be followed by a free catered reception and book signing with Harjo sponsored by SUNY Press (at approximately 9:30 p.m.). The reception is in association with the annual John G. Neihardt lecture celebrating Native American literature.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Joy Harjo: A Poem to Get Rid of Fear

Watch Joy Harjo, who visits this coming Thursday, Nov 1st., perform her poem "I Give You Back" as part of HBO's Def Poetry Jam....

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Joy Harjo coming Thursday

“Joy Harjo is a giant-hearted, gorgeous, and glorious gift to the world. Her belief in art, in spirit, is so powerful, it can’t help but spill over to us — lucky readers. Wildly passionate and honest as a hound, Crazy Brave invites us into a whole new way of seeing—deeper, less cluttered, and vastly more courageous than our own. It’s a book for people who want to re-fall in love with the world.”-- Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness

Joy Harjo, Native American poet and musician
November 1 (Thursday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Campus Center Room 375, Uptown Campus
Reading — 8:00 p.m., Campus Center Room 375, Uptown Campus

Joy Harjo
is an award-winning poet and musician of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. The author of seven collections of poetry, she was praised by the late Adrienne Rich for her “breathtaking complex witness and world-remaking language.” Her poetry collections include How We Became Human (2002), The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (1994), and In Mad Love and War (1990), which received the American Book Award and the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America. Her new book is the memoir, Crazy Brave (2012), about her journey from a troubled childhood and teenage motherhood to her accomplishments in the arts.

Cosponsored by SUNY Press in conjunction with the annual John G. Neihardt Lecture

Read more:

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Edwin Torres: A Startling Performer, Tonight in the Ballroom

Edwin Torres, one of the most startling performers of the Nuyorican poetry scene, will participate in UAlbany's Diasporican Poetry Cafe, tonight in the Campus Center Ballroom, 5:30-7:45 p.m.

"I have seen Edwin Torres dancing to the sound of a musical saw while wearing a hat of dirt on his head in a store window, and once wearing pure white with the painter/poet Elizabeth Castagna on New Year's day 1999. I've always wanted to be Edwin Torres for a day, to think like him, to wear cool glasses, to be as tall and thin, to have Puerto Rican soul so I could write 'I'm near a tiger's smooch, BURP!'"

Read more of Brenda Coultas' Electronic Poetry Center review of Edwin Torres' poetry collection, Fractured Humorous here:

Get a taste of Torres' performance style on YouTube here:

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Larry La Fountain-Stokes on Sexual Persecution and Migration

Larry La Fountain-Stokes, Puerto Rican poet and performer who will participate in tonight's "Diasporican" Cafe at UAlbany, speaks in San Juan at a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference about the persecution of people for their sexuality, and the profound effect this has on international migration (emigration and immigration).

View his talk on YouTube:

Books by La Fountain-Stokes include the scholarly work, Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora (2009), and the bilingual fiction collection, Uñas pintadas de azul/Blue Fingernails (2009).

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Cascade Of Words: Jesus Papoleto Melendez

On the "Artists on the Cutting Edge" program of UCTV (University of California), Jesus Papoleto Melendez, a founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe who will visit Albany tomorrow, talks about a variety of subjects, including how performance is more satisfying than writing, and about his formative years as a kid in Harlem and as a teacher in San Diego.

More about the Diasporican Poets Cafe tomorrow at UAlbany:

Photo: Melendez on the Boricua Poetry website.

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Giannina Braschi this Friday at the Diasporican Cafe

Giannina Braschi, major contemporary bilingual poet and fiction writer, will join a number of other "Diasporican" poets on stage 5:30-7:45 p.m., Friday, October 26th in the Campus Center Ballroom.

Written in inventive mixtures of English, Spanish and Spanglish, Braschi's work explores collisions of language, culture and history with regard to the lives and experiences of 50 million Hispanic-Americans living in the United States.

In the Evergreen Review, Barney Rosset said of Braschi's 2011 novel, The United States of Banana, “Revolutionary in subject and form, United States of Banana is a beautifully written declaration of personal independence. Giannina Braschi’s take on U.S. relations with our southern neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean, most especially Puerto Rico, is an eye-opener. The ire and irony make for an explosive combination and a very exciting read.”

In advance praise of Braschi's bilingual novel, Yo Yo Boing! (2011), Harvard scholar Doris Sommer said, “A bilingual rollercoaster....A rush of gloriously nuanced sentences that teeter between the grotesque and burlesque…the text transmutes poetry into novel, into screenplay, dialogue, and by extension to more and sometimes unidentified variants.”

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The Literature of Bullying-- Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions, and Catharsis

In addition to her work as poet and playwright, Magdalena Gomez (who visits UAlbany tomorrow) is the coeditor of a new anthology written by survivors of being bullied:  Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions, and Catharsis (2012, with Maria Luisa Arroyo). The book features a variety of original essays, poetry, plays, and commentary by parents, teachers, children and assorted adult survivors on how bullying has affected their lives.

Gomez will participate in two events on Friday:

Conversations with Diasporican Writers — 2:15 – 3:45 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown CampusModerator: Tomás Urayoán Noel, University at Albany
Guest Writers: Magdalena Gómez, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, and Edwin Torres

Diasporican Café: Performing Voices of the Puerto Rican Diaspora — 5:30 – 7:45 p.m., Campus Center Ballroom

Guest Writers: Giannina Braschi, Magdalena Gómez, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, and Edwin Torres

Five internationally known U.S. Puerto Rican writer-performers will discuss their work in an afternoon panel discussion and present readings/performances in the evening. Both events are part of the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Puerto Rican Studies Association, which is being held at UAlbany October 24 – 27. For more information on the Conference go to: 

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Upstate Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Some key figures of New York City's historic Nuyorican Poets Cafe (pictured here), perhaps the most vibrant institution of U.S. Hispanic literary culture, will visit Albany to participate in a "Diasporican Cafe," free and open to the public, as part of the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Puerto Rican Studies Association.

Featured performers will include Jesus Papoleto Melendez, one of the founders of the Cafe in the 1970s, Edwin Torres, a transformational figure at the Cafe in recent decades, and Giannina Braschi and Magdalena Gomez, both leaders of the Nuyorican poetry movement.

More on the event in Albany:

More on the Nuyorican Cafe:

And here's a recent article about a newly announced $7 million renovation of the cafe:

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Poet Joy Harjo profile in High Country News

"The poet Joy Harjo claims to remember her struggle through the birth canal –– leaving a past world as a warrior with weapons in hand and entering this one "puny and female and Indian in lands that were stolen. Most people don't wonder about the lives they might have lived before they were born into this one; most of us don't go beyond abstractions such as "heaven" or "spirit" when we wonder about what follows our departure from this earth. But Harjo has spent decades exploring the connections between worlds in story and song."

Native American poet and musician Joy Harjo, who visits Albany on Thursday, Nov. 1, is profiled in High Country News, a Colorado based magazine about public policy and culture in the American West:

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The Hungry Ear: Kevin Young

Poet Kevin Young, who visited us in 2005, is making news with his new book on poetry and food:

"It delivers such a groaning board of things to love, from Seamus Heaney on oysters and Lucille Clifton on collard greens to Theodore Roethke on root cellars and Jane Kenyon on shopping at an IGA."


More on Young's 2005 visit to Albany:

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Performing Voices of the Puerto Rican Diaspora

Dear Readers, Writers, Teachers, Students and All Members of the General Public:

We invite you to attend the following free events:

Performing Voices of the Puerto Rican Diaspora
October 26 (Friday)
Conversations with Diasporican Writers — 2:15 – 3:45 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus
Moderator: Tomás Urayoán Noel, University at Albany
Guest Writers: Magdalena Gómez, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, and Edwin Torres

Diasporican Café: Performing Voices of the Puerto Rican Diaspora — 5:30 – 7:45 p.m., Campus Center Ballroom

Guest Writers: Giannina Braschi, Magdalena Gómez, Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez, and Edwin Torres

Five internationally known U.S. Puerto Rican writer-performers will discuss their work in an afternoon panel discussion and present readings/performances in the evening. Both events are part of the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Puerto Rican Studies Association, which is being held at UAlbany October 24 – 27. For more information on the Conference go to:

Giannina Braschi
is the author of the collection of poetry and fiction El imperio de los sueños (1988; Empire of Dreams, 1994) and the novels Yo-Yo Boing (1998) and United States of Banana (2011).

Magdalena Gómez, poet, playwright, and actor, is the co-founder and artistic director of Teatro V!da, a performing arts collective that explores multicultural and multigenerational issues.

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is a poet, fiction writer, playwright, and performer. His publications include the story collection Uñas pintadas de azul (2009, Blue Fingernails), and the play Escándalo! (2003).

Jesús Papoleto Meléndez is one of the founders of New York’s Nuyorican Poets Café. An award-winning poet, his forthcoming book Hey Yo/Yo Soy! 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry, is the first volume of his collected work.

Edwin Torres is known internationally for his experimentalist performance poetry that incorporates sound, visual theatre, and audience participation. He is the author of the poetry collection In the Function of External Circumstances (2010).

Sponsored by the Center for Latino, Latin American, and Caribbean Studies; the Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latino Studies; and the College of Arts and Sciences at UAlbany

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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Execution of Wanda Jean in the news....

One of the stars of tonight's film, The Execution of Wanda Jean (7:30pm at Page Hall with discussion) is death penalty opponent Jesse Jackson, who has recently taken his fight to the African nation of The Gambia.

There's an article on Jackson's fight that mentions Wanda Jean Allen in an October 2012 issue of The Nation:

Photo: Jackson with Gambian president Yahyah Jammeh.

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Coetzee Event: UAlbany Photo of the Day

Nobel Visit

NYS Writers Institute Director, Donald Faulkner moderates a panel discussion with Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee from South Africa, along with novelist Paul Auster, and a select group of UAlbany students participating in a seminar discussing the work of American author Herman Melville in the Performing Arts Center.
Photo credit: Mark Schmidt

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vivien Ng and James Acker at the Movies

Vivien Ng (pictured here) will join James Acker at Page Hall on Friday 10/19 at 7:30 PM to lead audience discussion following a screening of The Execution of Wanda Jean, a documentary about the first African American woman to be executed in modern times, and a finalist for the Grand Jury Prize of the Sundance Film Festival.

Vivien Ng is chair of the UAlbany Women's Studies Department and the first president of the National Women's Studies Association (1993-4). More on Vivien:

James Acker is Distinguished Teaching Professor of the School of Criminal Justice and author of the standard textbook, Criminal Procedure: A Contemporary Perspective (1999, now in its 3rd edition, 2012). More on Acker:

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The Next Big One, Tonight with David Quammen

"By the Next Big One, I mean a murderous pandemic that sweeps around the planet, killing millions of people, as the so-called 'Spanish' influenza did in 1918-19, as AIDS has been doing in slower motion, and as SARS might have done in 2003 if it hadn’t been stopped by fast science, rigorous measures of public health, and luck. Experts I’ve interviewed over the past six years generally agree that such a Next Big One is not only possible but probable.... From where will the Next Big One emerge? Answer, as I’ve noted: Most likely from wildlife. It will be a zoonosis — an animal infection that spills over into humans."

Read more in Yale Environment 360:
Quammen visits today at 4:15 and 8PM in the UAlbany Campus Center:

Photo from the 1918 flu pandemic.

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Quammen on Fact vs. Fiction

Science writer David Quammen, who visits today, talks to about the responsibility of nonfiction writers not to take creative liberty with the facts:

"Fact or truth, yeah, that question. I utterly distrust the word truth. I detest it when writers claim they are hedging on factuality in service to higher truth. Or sometimes it's the essential truth of a situation. Bullshit. Nonfiction should be composed, artfully but conscientiously, like a mosaic, from bits of accurate fact. Is it an art form? well, it can be, it should be. Artful, imaginative, accurate: this combination of adjectives is not contradictory. Readers should demand this of their nonfiction, and not settle for self-indulgent, falsified jive. The form in which this boundary has been most egregiously violated recently is the memoir. Ugh."

Read more:

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Of Bats, Pythons and the Marburg Virus

Read an excerpt from Spillover, David Quammen's new book about emergent pandemics.

Quammen visits the Writers Institute tomorrow, Thursday.

"Astrid Joosten was a 41-year-old Dutch woman who, in June 2008, went to Uganda with her husband. At home in Noord-Brabant, she worked as a business analyst. Both she and her husband, Jaap Taal, a financial manager, enjoyed annual adventures, especially to Africa. The journey in 2008, booked through an adventure-travel outfitter, took them to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to mountain gorillas. While there, the operators offered an optional trip, to a place called the Maramagambo Forest, where the chief attraction was a peculiar site known as Python Cave. African rock pythons lived there, languid and content, grown large and fat on a diet of bats."

More in The Guardian:

More on Quammen's visit:

Picture:  Egyptian fruit bats, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

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They're Coming!... The Zoonotic Diseases

Here's a 2007 National Geographic article by David Quammen, who visits Albany tomorrow, about the rise of zoonotic diseases, which "jump" from animals to people-- the subject of his new critically acclaimed book, Spillover (2012).

"In September 1994, a violent disease erupted among racehorses in a suburb of Brisbane, Australia. The place, called Hendra, was a quiet old neighborhood filled with racecourses, stables, newsstands that sell tip sheets, corner cafés with names like The Feed Bin, and racing people. The first victim was a pregnant mare named Drama Series, who started showing symptoms in an outlying pasture and was brought back to her trainer's stable for doctoring, where she only got worse. Three people worked to save her—the trainer himself, his stable foreman, and a veterinarian. Within two days Drama Series died, leaving the cause of her trouble uncertain. Had she been bitten by a snake? Had she eaten some poisonous weeds out in that scrubby, derelict meadow? Those hypotheses were eliminated two weeks later, when most of her stablemates fell ill. This wasn't snakebite or toxic fodder. It was something contagious."

Read more:

More about his visit:

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Capital Punishment Documentary and Discussion Friday

Dear Readers, Writers, Teachers, Students and All Members of the General Public,
We invite you to attend the following free film event, which will be followed by an audience discussion led by UAlbany professors Vivien Ng, Chair of the Women’s Studies Department, and James Acker, Distinguished Teaching Professor of the School of Criminal Justice:

October 19 (Friday)
Film Screening — 7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus
Directed by Liz Garbus
(United States, 2007, 94 minutes, color)
A spare and unsentimental documentary about the first African American woman to be put to death in modern times, EXECUTION follows the clemency appeal of mentally-impaired death row inmate Wanda Jean Allen. NY Times reviewer Julie Salamon said the film “offers an unusual opportunity to observe the inequities in the death penalty, not just the inherent immorality but also the haphazard administration of it.... In the end, Execution achieves a torturous, race-against-time desperation. Against a well-captured background of extended-family grief, the film inflates with optimism and then helplessly watches the state squeeze the air out. As Allen’s execution date closes in, the documentary gives an especially poignant portrait of her friendship with the never flagging legal investigator David Presson. For all his chin-up attitude, he slowly comes apart, sweating, sighing, laughing uncontrollably at Allen’s good-natured faith that all will end well….” The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.



For more information contact 518-442-5620 or, or visit us online at . You may also wish to visit our blog at, or to friend us on Facebook. 

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An Embarrassment for the Pulitzer Jury

"Mr. Quammen... is not just among our best science writers but among our best writers, period.... That he hasn’t won a nonfiction National Book Award or Pulitzer Prize is an embarrassment."

So writes Dwight Garner this month in the New York Times.

Read the article here:

Quammen visits us tomorrow:

David Quammen, nature writer and author
October 18 (Thursday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus
Reading — 8:00 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

David Quammenis one of America’s leading nature writers. His new book is Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012), about his travels in the remote corners of the globe with field researchers investigating disease outbreaks in rats, monkeys, bats, pigs, and other species, with the potential to “spillover” to humans. Walter Isaacson described the book as “a frightening and fascinating masterpiece of science reporting that reads like a detective story.” A widely-travelled contributing writer for National Geographic, and the author of the column, “Natural Acts,” for Outside magazine for 15 years, Quammen has written several nonfiction bestsellers, including The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (2006), Monster of God (2003), The Boilerplate Rhino (2001), and The Song of the Dodo (1996).

Cosponsored by UAlbany’s School of Public Health

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Poet Without Borders

Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah, a practicing physician in the ER unit of a VA Hospital in Houston, Texas, published his first poem while working abroad for Doctors Without Borders in Zambia (he has also worked for that organization in Sudan).

Winner of Yale University's Younger Poets Series prize, Joudah will visit with major Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan tomorrow October 16th (rescheduled from April 10th).

Joudah served as translator for Zaqtan's first collection in English, Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (2012) from Yale University Press.

Joudah was profiled and interviewed by David Thies in the Texas Observer in 2008:

"Poetry comes from a pre-evolutionary space," he says when asked about the origins of his work. He looked back to the Arabic poetry he had shared with his father and began working at translating the cadence-the feel-of that language into English. "I told myself that if I could reproduce that childhood cadence in English, I could be a poet."

Why didn't he write poetry in his native Arabic? Joudah describes the decision to write in English as an embrace and a rebuke. Writing in English is "a way to embrace the world," he says, and a riposte to the "Orientalist" view of Arabic culture that it is exotic and underdeveloped. More.

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Zaqtan in the Times Union

Paul Grondahl of the Times Union profiles major Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, and interviews Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah. Both will visit Albany tomorrow:

Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, whose application for a visa was held up in a case described as "ethnic profiling," has rescheduled a hastily canceled April U.S. tour and will visit the University at Albany on Tuesday on a triumphant note.

"We are so happy to have him here finally, but it was a disappointing and frustrating case of an entrenched and bizarre U.S. bureaucracy," said Dr. Fady Joudah, a Houston physician who also is a Palestinian-American poet, winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize and a translator of the poetry of Zaqtan (pronounced ZOCK-tawn), who writes in Arabic.

Read more:

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Ghassan Zaqtan on PBS NewsHour

Tomorrow's visitor to UAlbany, Palestinian poet and Director General of the Literature Department of the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, is featured on the Poetry Series web page of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer with audio of readings in both English and Arabic.

NewsHour link:

Here are the event details:

Ghassan Zaqtan, Palestinian poet, with Fady Joudah, Palestinian-American poet and translator
October 16 (Tuesday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Campus Center Room 375, Uptown Campus
Reading — 7:00 p.m. [Note early start time], Campus Center Room 375, Uptown Campus

Ghassan Zaqtan, poet, novelist, journalist, screenwriter, and playwright, is a major Palestinian poet and a leading representative of the avant-garde in Arabic literature. His most recent collection—the first to appear in English—is Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me (2012), which was translated by Fady Joudah, a Palestinian-American poet and winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition for his own collection, The Earth in the Attic (2008). A past participant in numerous panels and colloquia with leading Israeli writers on peaceful coexistence and mutual concerns, Zaqtan is also the co-founder and director of the House of Poetry in Ramallah and is currently the Director General of the Literature and Publishing Department of the Palestinian Ministry of Culture.

Note: This event has been rescheduled from April 10, 2012.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Animal Rights Activist and Nobel Laureate to Speak

J. M. Coetzee is an animal rights activist and ethical vegetarian, in addition to being a Nobel Prize winning novelist.

He is a leading figure of the Australian organization, Voiceless-- The Animal Protection Institute, and co-selected the stories and essays that appear in the 2013 Voiceless Anthology, which will be published in December 2012.

Coetzee calls animal protection, "one of the more urgent social and philosophical issues of our times." His bestselling novel, Elizabeth Costello (2003), explores many of these issues.

More on the anthology:

Coetzee will share the share with his friend Paul Auster twice today at UAlbany.

More about the events:

Photo of pigs in an industrial farming facility from an op-ed piece by Coetzee in the Sydney Morning Herald decrying Biblical justifications for the eating of meat:

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

John Malkovich in Coetzee's "Disgrace"

J. M. Coetzee's 1999 novel about racial strife and a father-daughter relationship in South Africa was adapted as a 2008 movie starring John Malkovich as a troubled college professor who resigns his position after an affair with a student and moves to his daughter's remote farm house in the South African hinterlands to make sense of his life.

See the trailer here:

Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, visits UAlbany tomorrow, Friday, 10/12:

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Cycling with Coetzee

Paul Grondahl writes in the Times Union about how our event came to be with publicity-shy Nobel Prize winning author J. M. Coetzee tomorrow (a spectacularly rare event, by the way).

ALBANY — The literary coup that the University at Albany scored by bringing Nobel Prize-winning South African novelist J.M. Coetzee to campus on Friday began with a bike ride in Oklahoma a decade ago


More about Coetzee's visit:

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Nobel Prize for One of Ours?

British oddsmaker Ladbrokes gives their odds for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Needless to say, many of our previous guests are feature.

The most noteworthy at the moment is Paul Auster (100:1 odds), who shares the stage on Friday with actual Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee. Link here.

Ladbrokes gives the following authors among our visitors a 16:1 chance:  Philip Roth, Amos Oz and Margaret Atwood.

At 20:1, we have Les Murray and Chinua Achebe.

At 33:1, Adam Zagajewski, Don DeLillo, Nurrudin Farah, Joyce Carol Oates and New York State Author E. L. Doctorow.

At 50:1, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chang-Rae Lee, Peter Carey, Bei Dao, Ernesto Cardenal and
A. B. Yehoshua.

At 66:1, Kazuo Ishiguro, Colm Toibin, William Gass, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Julian Barnes and New York State Poet John Ashbery.

At 100:1, in addition to Auster, Michael Ondaatje, New York State Author Mary Gordon, Marge Piercy and Louise Gluck.

If you have any nominations of your own, feel free to post!

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Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity! on Friday afternoon 10/12

Two master writers will discuss "Bartleby the Scrivener," with your participation, this coming Friday afternoon in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, free and open to the public.

You can prepare for the event by reading the story here:

J. M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize winner from South Africa, and Paul Auster, bestselling author, will present a rare opportunity to discuss one of the classic and most influential short stories of modern times:

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street by Herman Melville

"I AM a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written:—I mean the law-copyists or scriveners."  More.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Insight into How We Pick Our Visiting Writers

A couple of years ago we were approached at an event by James Mann's mother (an Albany resident who is now 92 years old). She told us in no uncertain terms that we needed to feature her son in our series.

Since that time, we have been trying to work out a suitable date with Mann, who was born and raised in Albany, and who attended the Albany Academy.

Mann visits this coming Tuesday. His mother plans to attend both events.

James Mann, journalist and nonfiction writer
October 9 (Tuesday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus
Reading — 8:00 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

Born and raised in Albany, NY, journalist James Mann is a sought-after authority on the behind-the-scenes deliberations over foreign policy within recent American presidential administrations. His newest book is The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power (2012), an insider’s guide to the events, ideas, personalities, and conflicts that have defined Barack Obama’s foreign policy. In a New York Times review Michiko Kakutani said, “Drawing upon some 125 interviews…Mr. Mann writes with shrewdness and insight about the evolution of the president’s thinking, tensions among his staff…and contrasts and continuities between his conduct of foreign policy and that of the previous two presidents.” Mann achieved international renown with Rise of the Vulcans (2004), a revelatory and much-cited study of George W. Bush’s war cabinet. A former Beijing Bureau Chief for the L. A. Times, Mann is also the author of three award-winning books on America’s evolving relationship with China.

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On the "Paradox" of Teaching Writing at MIT

Q: You teach creative writing at MIT. Isn't that like teaching astrophysics at Juilliard?
Junot Diaz:  It's more like teaching cooking in a state penitentiary.
Picture:  Cooking at the Arizona State Prison-Perryville Desert Rose Cafe, from the Arizona Republic.

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