Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let Us Now Praise Satirical Jews

"Let us now praise satirical Jews. It's a noble tradition that includes such luminaries as Groucho Marx, Fran Lebowitz and Jon Stewart, outsiders who mock society with a surgical scalpel of wit to reveal the ridiculous in sharp relief. To that illustrious group some may consider adding writer Shalom Auslander. In his debut collection of short stories, Beware of God, Auslander takes his knife to the pious veneer of modern-day religious Jewish life and makes sport of exposing its underbelly. For the Gen-X and Gen-Y Jews who wear 'Moses Is My Homeboy' T-shirts and read Heeb magazine, a poet laureate may be in the making."

Ruth Andrew Ellison reviewed Shalom Auslander's debut story collection, Beware of God, in the L. A. Times in 2005. Read more.

Auslander visits the Institute tomorrow, Thursday, 3/1.

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Electric Edwardians, This Friday at Page Hall

"Discovered in the basement of a photographer's shop in Blackburn, England, the Mitchell and Kenyon collection was an astounding find: more than 800 reels of camera negative from 1900 to 1913, packed in two sealed barrels that kept the films nearly perfectly preserved. Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon were itinerant showmen who traveled through the north of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, taking shots of local events and then presenting them as programs in local theaters, which the locals would attend in the reasonable hope of seeing themselves on screen, through a medium that was still astonishing and new."

Read more of Dave Kehr's review of Electric Edwardians in the New York Times.

The silent film compilation with modern soundtrack will be screened this Friday, March 2nd, in Page Hall (and take note of the fact that we are back in Page Hall).

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Shalom Auslander: Hating His New Car

Shalom Auslander, who visits Thursday 3/1, regrets his purchase of a "carbon-frugal" car in a piece that appeared in The Guardian in 2008:

"I hated my new car. I hated Japan. I wanted a gas-guzzler. I wanted a car with negative miles per gallon. I wanted a Ford F-150. I wanted a Ford F-350. I wanted a Ford F-550, with an extra engine strapped to the top that didn't even attach to anything, it just ran continuously, all day and all night, doing nothing but spreading toxins and poison into the atmosphere of a planet full of people I loathed. I wanted a car that ran on CFCs, and I wanted to drive it across the planet with "Bite me, mankind," written across the back window. And when, a few weeks later, I returned home, all mankind would be gone and I would laugh and laugh and choke and die. Happily."


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New York Sings!

Capital Rep in downtown Albany will host a free program of songs and folklore, unticketed and open to the general public, Saturday, March 24, 1-2:30PM. The program features musicologist Rena Kosersky and folklorist-musician George Ward.

"Join us for a lively exploration of New York’s musical traditions, including 19th and early 20th century songs and folklore gathered in the Schoharie region, such as “A Dutch Lullaby” and “Billy Boy,” that reflect the roots of New York's earliest settlers. This event is cosponsored with the University at Albany’s Department of History and Documentary Studies Program and Researching New York 2012, and is scheduled to coincide with the regional premiere of Frank Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings!, at Capital Repertory Theatre from March 13 through April 7."

Contact 518‐445‐SHOW (7469) for more info.

Picture: George Ward with concertina.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nick Flynn on the Big Screen with Robert DeNiro

Nick Flynn, who visited the Writers Institute in 2004 to present Another Bulls**t Night in Suck City, a memoir of his relationship with his troubled father, served as Executive Producer for Being Flynn, the screen adaptation of that memoir, set to premiere on March 2.

Robert DeNiro plays the author's father.

From the film's website:

Can one life story have two authors?

Being Flynn is the new dramatic feature from Academy Award-nominated writer/director Paul Weitz (About a Boy). Adapted from Nick Flynn’s 2004 memoir Another Bulls—t Night in Suck City, the movie explores bonds both unbreakable and fragile between parent and child.

Nick Flynn (portrayed in the film by Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood) is a young writer seeking to define himself. He misses his late mother, Jody (four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore), and her loving nature. But his father, Jonathan, is not even a memory, as Nick has not seen the man in 18 years. More.

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The Short Story: The "Cat of Literary Form"

Anne Enright, who visits RPI 4/18, writes about the shortcomings of the short story as a literary form in The Guardian:

"I am not sure whether the novel is written for our convenience, but it is probably written for our satisfaction. That is what readers complain about with short stories, that they are not 'satisfying'. They are the cats of literary form; beautiful, but a little too self-contained for some readers' taste. Short stories are, however, satisfying to write, because they are such achieved things. They become themselves even as you write them: they end once they have attained their natural state. "

"Or some of them do. Others keep going. Others discard the first available meaning for a later, more interesting conclusion. In the interests of truth, some writers resist, backpedal, downplay, switch tacks, come back around a different way. Poe's famous unity of impulse is all very well, but if you know what the impulse is already, then it will surely die when you sit down at the desk." More.

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William Kennedy: Summer Tuxedo in February

Salmagundi magazine recounts a recent Havana-themed celebration of William Kennedy's new novel Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes held at Skidmore. The event also featured musicologist Howard Fishman and his trio playing some of the period songs that appear in the novel, as well as period performances by other musicians.

"On the first of February, William Kennedy sported his white 'summer tux' for the first-ever Salmagundi Salon. He wasn’t committing an off-season fashion faux pas but dressing the part for a night at 'La Floridita North,' a club conjured out of the crush of mint for mojitos, hot jazz, and two-tone shoes."

"The weather cooperated (a practically tropical 52 degrees in the dead of an Upstate New York winter), making the conceit of a night in Old Havana c. 1958 feel like more than a species of wishful thinking. Dressed to kill, we gathered for a night of music, theatrical business at the bar, and top-shelf literature courtesy of William Kennedy’s most recent novel, Changó’s Beads and Two-Toned Shoes with its compelling frame of revolution and racial tension." More.

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Thanks Grayce!

We wish to thank Grayce Burian and the Jarka and Grayce Burian Endowment for helping to make possible yesterday's amazing events with John Sayles, and for endowing the Burian Lecture Series.

Other leading personalities of stage and screen who have come to the Writers Institute under the sponsorship of the Burian Endowment have included John Patrick Shanley, Rita Moreno, A. R. Gurney, Michael Mayer, Wally Shawn, Ruby Dee, the late Mary Henderson, the late Harold Gould, John Lahr, John Simon, Tina Howe, and a number of others.

Picture: John Sayles and Grayce Burian.

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Stuck Upside Down in a Septic Tank

Inspired (or frustrated) by Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie, Shalom Auslander travels to Iowa to meet an elderly man who spent Christmas Eve stuck upside down in a septic tank. He hopes the man (like Albom's Morrie) will be able to offer him some spiritual advice, and serve as a mentor or guru for Auslander, but things turn out differently.

Auslander visits this coming Thursday, March 1st.

The interview appears in GQ:

"I have something of a negative view of the world. People suck, sure, but that’s just the beginning; call it Fate, call it God, call it Chance—I call it life, with a capital Crappy. Of course my best friend’s cancer has returned. Of course my incontinent dog pees on my couch. Of course my new car is lousy in the snow and of course it snows three feet the day I pick it up from the dealer and of course it gets stuck in a ditch and of course it’s now making a weird engine noise and of course the dealer says it’s not covered." More.

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Gandhi Book and A Firestorm of Controversy

Joseph Lelyveld, former editor of the New York Times, visits April 3rd to present the paperback edition of his new biography, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. The book caused a firestorm of controversy in India last year, and was banned in Gandhi's home state of Gujarat.

NPR's Bilal Qureshi discussed the controversy in March 2011:

"Sir Ben Kingsley in a universally acclaimed bio-epic? Definitely not this time around."

"Joseph Lelyveld's new biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India hasn't even hit bookstores in India, but it has already unleashed a firestorm of controversy."

"The state of Gujarat, where the icon of the Indian Independence movement was born, has already banned the book. There are some Indian leaders now calling for a national boycott of Great Soul, the latest work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who once covered India for The New York Times." More.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

John Sayles: Literary Child of John Dos Passos

Maverick movie-maker John Sayles, who takes your questions tonight at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center uptown, is the author of A Moment in the Sun, newly out in paperback.

Ben Crair of The Daily Beast compares the sprawling historical novel, set during the upheavals of the late 19th century, to the work of Great American novelist John Dos Passos:

"A Moment on the Sun looks past its contemporaries on the New Releases shelf and takes a page instead from John Dos Passos, whose gigantic U.S.A. trilogy is a stylistic and spiritual forebear. The book blends invented characters—like an African-American soldier named Junior and a drifter named Hod—with historical figures, including Mark Twain and McKinley's assassin. Chapters jump between perspectives in a narrative montage—one of the few techniques that fiction writers have successfully appropriated from film. Sayles sometimes tosses in letters, newspaper headlines, and advertisements. The sum total is a sprawling, mosaic portrait of the nation. "If human beings have a way of looking at the world, nations do, too," Sayles explains.


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Sayles on Creating Music Videos for Bruce Springsteen

The "Golden Age of Music Video" website has a detailed interview with John Sayles (who visits today) about creating classic music videos for Bruce Springsteen in the 1980s.

In the case of the “Born in the U.S.A.” video, the only real mandate we had was “This should be gritty,” and we do gritty. So we shot it in 16 millimeter, it was mostly documentary footage. Ernest Dickerson, who was Spike Lee’s cinematographer, actually had shot [Sayles’ film] Brother from Another Planet. We shot most of it in Jersey — we were living in Hoboken at the time — and we shot some of the Vietnamese neighborhood in L.A. For the concert footage, we shot four nights at whatever that venue is down by USC. They obviously wanted to use the record track for the video, but Bruce didn’t want to have to lip-synch to it for a performance in front of an audience. We just figured if he wears the same clothes night after night for at least that song and we shoot in from many different angles, maybe we’ll be able to rough synch it, and, you know, match the drummer, try to keep the same beat as the record. Bruce was not a guy who was having a rhythm machine drumming for him – every night it was something different, and that’s great! Every night, you get into the groove, and the song has a slightly different character than the night before. But the great thing was that we got to go to four Bruce Springsteen concerts! (laugh).... More.

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About the Brontes

Margot Livesey, who visits 3/20, writes about the Bronte siblings in The Millions this week....

"Judging by the dresses on display at the Bronte Museum, Charlotte Bronte was less than five feet tall but, like her famous heroine Jane Eyre, she was the opposite of meek. When she was ten years old her brother, Branwell, appeared at her bedroom door with a box of toy soldiers he’d just been given by their father. Charlotte immediately seized a soldier and named him the Duke of Wellington. Her sisters, Emily and Anne, followed suit, naming their soldiers Gravey and the Waiting Boy. Together the four siblings appointed themselves the Genii and dispatched the soldiers to the Glass Town confederacy in Africa. Later Emily and Anne developed the country of Gondal while Charlotte and Branwell created Angria. All four wrote about these imaginary kingdoms. Their passionate juvenilia, much of it according to the Bronte Museum Guide repetitive and poorly spelled, paved the way for the novels we cherish." More.

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Sayles: Racial Military Coup in North Carolina, 1898

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviews John Sayles (who visits today) about his new novel, A Moment in the Sun, which features many forgotten events of late 19th century history, among them the seizure of power by white militants from duly elected Black officials in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898.

AMY GOODMAN: There are so many stories in this. I mean, how does Wilmington, North Carolina, relate?

JOHN SAYLES: Yeah, Wilmington was, in 1898, a city that was probably two- or three-to-one African American to white. Because African-American men could vote—women of no race could vote at that point—they had city councilmen who were African American, firemen, policemen, who had the right, even if they didn’t exercise it very often, to arrest white people. And that didn’t sit well with the kind of old bourbon Democrats, who planned a secret coup that started with intimidating black voters from coming out. Eventually, they purchased a Gatling gun. It was demonstrated to the leaders of the black community, and then told, "Tell your people not to vote tomorrow." On the day after election day, the Gatling gun was kind of wagoned around town. A lot of people were killed. And pretty much anybody they didn’t like, black or white, was put in handcuffs, put on a train, and sent into exile. And after that, a new government was sworn in that day. So it was a racial military coup, that was countenanced by the federal government, because, by this time, they really had decided, "OK, we want Southerners to vote for us. We’ve already pulled our troops out." You know. And I think, in certain cases, just, "Well, things must have been out of control there. I’m glad the white people got them back under control." More.

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The Artist(s): Classic Silent Film Series

The New York State Writers Institute is pleased (possibly even smug) to announce that the next five films in the Classic Film Series will be rediscovered masterpieces of the SILENT CINEMA.

We also wish to note that (in a move that demonstrates our remarkable ability to anticipate public taste in cinema, or maybe just plain luck) the films for our silent film series were selected in October 2011, well in advance of any Oscar buzz for The Artist.

Films will include a compilation of some of the very first silent films ever made, Electric Edwardians on 3/2, Mary Pickford's Daddy-Long-Legs on 3/30, F. W. Murnau's Faust on 4/13, the pioneering Soviet satire Bed and Sofa on 4/20, and the Swedish sex comedy, Erotikon on 4/27.

Picture: Erotikon.

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Auslander: Touching the Touchiest Subjects

"I knew from reading the jacket copy that Shalom Auslander's debut novel, Hope: A Tragedy, would touch on all sorts of taboos. Indeed, it contains many a joke on topics that are usually way off-limits, including Anne Frank, the Holocaust, and Jesus' last words on the cross. But I had no idea just how intelligent and beautifully written it was also going to be."

So writes Elizabeth Floyd Mair in the Times Union. Read more.

Auslander visits this coming Thursday, March 1st.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Masha Gessen: Breasts Old and New

Masha Gessen, who visits 3/8, wrote an extraordinary series of articles for Slate in 2004 in advance of undergoing a double mastectomy in 2005 after discovering that she possessed a genetic mutation that predisposed her to a deadly form of breast cancer.

"All of this abstract talk about breasts—other women's breasts, breasts in general—is of limited application when I am trying to think about cutting off my own. So, it's time for full disclosure. For years, other people liked my breasts more than I did. The usual pubescent discomfort with a changing body lasted longer for me than it does for many women: I thought my breasts were too large, and, looking androgynous and liking it, I didn't particularly enjoy having breasts. Over the years, as I got into better shape, they actually got a bit smaller...." More.

A fuller discussion of her experiences (before and after) is presented in her book, Blood Matters: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene (2008).

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

John Sayles: Good Guys Shouldn't Always Win

John Sayles, the "grandfather of indie cinema" who visits UAlbany on Monday 2/27, talks to the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

“The studios realize that most people don’t go to movies for complexity,” he says. “Most people want escapism, and white hats, and bad guys who are so bad you can cheer at the end when they get torn to pieces by wild dogs. Movies that are complex are rarer and they confuse audiences at first. Honestly, we figure it’s going to take the average moviegoer who doesn’t necessarily go to this sort of thing 10 or 15 minutes to decide if they’re going to stay or walk out. And maybe they’ll stay and say, well, that was interesting, that was cool. Or they say, what the hell was that? The good guys didn’t win.”

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Margaret Fuller: Too Fierce to Fit In

"Fuller was the recipient of her father Timothy's ambition. A brooding thinker who was disappointed that his first child was female, Timothy gave his daughter an incredibly rigorous education that left her with nightmares and robbed her of her childhood. And though she was lauded as a prodigy, she was keenly aware as she matured that her father rued his role in developing her mind. She suffered from spinal curvature and migraines and was plain-featured, nearsighted, an unmarried mother at age 38, in love with an Italian man a decade younger and regularly criticized in private and public for her inability to be deferential in the slightest degree. Fuller was, quite simply, too fierce to fit in."

So writes Laura Skandera Trombley in a review of John Matteson's The Lives of Margaret Fuller. The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer visits on 3/22.

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John Sayles: The Script Doctor

John Sayles, who visits Monday, is best known as an independent filmmaker, but he also happens to be one of Hollywood's most sought-after script doctors, renowned for his ability to make characters come alive with just a few lines of dialogue.

Much of his script work is uncredited, especially if he decides he doesn't like the project. Films he has worked on include The Fugitive, Apollo 13, Mimic, The Quick and the Dead, Piranha 3-D, and The Spiderwick Chronicles.

In 2004, Sayles was asked to do a rewrite of the as yet unreleased Jurassic Park IV.

Picture: The Spiderwick Chronicles.

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Top Ten Novels of Solitude

In her "Reckonings" column in Metroland, Jo Page meditates on the shortage of women novelists listed in Teju Cole's "Top Ten Novels of Solitude," which appeared in the Guardian in August 2011.

"It seems to me there are few novels in which women might opt for a kind of voluntary isolation similar to the Invisible Man or the Underground Man. Instead it is far more common for female protagonists to struggle to find their place amidst a obstacle course of social mores—Jane in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is as restricted in her choices as Rochester’s first wife, Bertha, is as Jean Rhys portrays her in Wide Sargasso Sea." More.

Page will visit on 3/20. Cole visited on 2/10.

Institute visitors who appear on Cole's list include Writers Institute Fellow Lydia Davis at #5, Colm Toibin at #9 and Kazuo Ishiguro at #10.

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John Sayles School of Fine Arts

In case you didn't know, Schenectady High School has a School of Fine Arts named (since 1998) for its most famous filmmaking alum (who visits the Writers Institute on Monday 2/27).

The John Sayles School of Fine Arts

Awarded the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Schools of Distinction in Arts Education

The John Sayles School of Fine Arts (SSFA) is a smaller learning community of approximately 650 students at Schenectady High School. We carry the name of one of our famous district graduates internationally known filmmaker, John Sayles. The school provides an integrated Regents high school curriculum with an interdisciplinary focus in visual art, music, theatre, and dance. Schenectady High School, with an enrollment of approximately 2900 students, is divided into five communities, including the Sayles School. The Sayles School of Fine Arts provides unique arts opportunities in the region. The John Sayles School of Fine Arts was recently awarded the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Schools of Distinction in Arts Education and its students performed on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center.


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John Sayles: A Tornado of Voices

John Sayles, who visits Monday, is interviewed by Alec Michod of The Rumpus about his new historical novel, A Moment in the Sun.

The Rumpus: Your new novel, A Moment in the Sun, is written in—I wouldn’t say English, exactly, because you’ve taken and twisted the language to make it your own. It reads like a tornado of voices.

John Sayles: Every character has their own language, voices and styles. There’s a chapter from the point of view of a correspondent, and it’s written like the correspondence of that time. I read a bunch of those guys, Richard Harding Davis, and picked up on their locutions, which aren’t locutions we use anymore. More.

Picture: American writer Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916)

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

John Sayles on Bill Kennedy's "Chango"

In case you missed it back in September, here's John Sayles's review of William Kennedy's latest novel, Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, which appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review.

Sayles visits Monday, February 27th.

"Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, is his most musical work of fiction: a polyrhythmic contemplation of time and its effects on passion set in three different eras, a jazz piece unafraid to luxuriate in its roots as blues or popular ballad or to spin out into less melodic territory."


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Alan Lightman Talks About God, fiction, etc.

Alan Lightman, novelist and physicist, talks on YouTube about God, books, physics and other weighty matters during his recent visit to the New York State Writers Institute on February 2, 2012.

"I let books choose me. I like to let ideas thrash around in my mind for a year or two...."

Lightman presented his new book, Mr. g: A Novel About the Creation (2012).

See the video.

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John Hodgman: I Don't Really Have an Attic

Shalom Auslander, who visits Thursday, March 1st, asks fellow humorist John Hodgman to hide him in the event of a second Holocaust in a book trailer for his new novel, Hope: A Tragedy.

Hodgman explains that he doesn't have an attic in his New York City apartment but that he does have three small storage units. Regarding the logistics, he wonders whether Auslander is fond of both his children. See the YouTube video.

Hodgman, who played the uncool PC in Apple's long-running "Get a Mac" advertising campaign, visited the Institute in 2005.

Picture: Hodgman and Justin Long in a "Get a Mac" ad.

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John Sayles: Filmmaker for the Environment

John Sayles, who visits UAlbany this coming Monday, Feb. 27, is this year's recipient of Duke University's LEAF Award for Lifetime Environmental Achievement.

"Nicholas School Dean Bill Chameides said the LEAF Award does not necessarily go to artists whose work is explicitly environmental, but goes to those who explore environmental themes on a profound level."

"'[Sayles examines] the theme of our connection to land, to the earth and to the difficulties we have in trying to balance the various needs and desires for the resources of that land,' Chameides said." More.

Picture: Water buffalo in Amigo, to be screened Friday, Feb. 24 in the Performing Arts Center uptown.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Killing People for Their Moscow Apartments

Masha Gessen, who visits Thursday, March 8, writes on the New York Times blog about Russian "raiders" who seize valuable Moscow real estate by force and intimidation.

MOSCOW — A text message woke me up Friday morning: “Masha, Michael Shulman has had his head bashed in. He is in intensive care. Three attackers in view of a video camera — Kashin-style. A neurosurgeon is needed.”


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Orphan Master Cracks PW Bestseller List

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, who visited last Tuesday, has made it to the Publishers Weeekly hardcover bestseller list.

PW says: "Following lots of bookseller and sales rep love early on, Random House built a 13-city tour for Johnson's second novel, which was selected for eight signed first edition clubs. A September 21 media lunch for the author spurred several extravagant notices...."

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Raising Renee Premieres Tonight on HBO 2/22/2012

If you missed our screening of Raising Renee back in October 2011 (and the talkback with Oscar-nominated filmmakers Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan), you can still catch the premiere on HBO 2 tonight at 8PM.

The story of acclaimed artist Beverly McIver and her promise to take her sister Renee (who is mentally disabled) when their mother dies — a promise that comes due just as Beverly's career is taking off.

"In a notable fusion of subject and film, the same themes that fuel the artist’s distinguished body of work—race, class, family, disability—propel this cinematic portrait. Both are a testament to the transformative power of art. " -- Full Frame


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Great Expectations at the PAC

In celebration of Charles Dickens's 200th birthday, the UAlbany Performing Arts Center will host the world premiere of a new theatrical adaptation of Great Expectations.

Opening Thursday, February 23 at 8pm February 24, 25, 29 March 1, 2 at 8pmFebruary 25, 26*, March 3 at 2pm

New adaptation by Chad LarabeeBased on the novel by Charles DickensDirected by Chad LarabeeThis world premiere production celebrates the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. Orphaned as an infant and thrust into a childhood of cruel poverty, Pip clings to the hope of a brighter life. A chance meeting with a prisoner and an eccentric old woman sets into motion a life's journey beyond his wildest imaginings as he struggles to realize the American Dream.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

More Than a Match for Jane Eyre

Writing in The Daily Beast, Jane Ciabattari names Margot Livesey's new book a "Must Read."

Livesey visits Tuesday, March 20.

"Reinventing a beloved classic is a risky business, but it will come as no surprise to Margot Livesey’s admirers—a small but fervent group likely to be greatly enlarged by her wonderful new novel—that this abundantly gifted writer is more than a match for Jane Eyre. It’s not necessary to have read Charlotte Brontë’s protofeminist masterpiece to enjoy The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which works splendidly on its own terms, but the resonances and dissonances between these two compelling works enrich our appreciation of both." More.

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The Mind of God

Physicist and bestselling author Michio Kaku, who visits the Writers Institute Tuesday 2/21, is at work on a "theory of everything" as proposed by Einstein.

Kaku approaches the issue via string theory, to which he is a major contributor:

"Chemistry is nothing but the melodies you can play on vibrating strings, and the mind of God, the mind of God that Einstein worked on for the last 30 years of his life, the mind of God would be cosmic music. Cosmic music resonating through 11 dimensional hyperspace. You see, our universe is a symphony. It's a symphony of vibrating strings and possibly membranes, but when it was born, it was born as a perfect entity in 11 dimensional hyperspace. That may eventually give us 'a theory of everything.'"

"So, people come up to me and say, 'Professor, if this is a theory of everything, what's in it for me? What's in it for numero uno? Why should I care?' Well, let me tell you why you should care about a theory of everything." More.

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An Old-Fashioned Narrative on Film

"Although John Sayles’s new film Amigo is set in what seems to be a remote time and place — a hamlet called San Isidro, in the Philippines, around 1900 — it bridges the gap in a hurry. This is not the kind of movie, and Mr. Sayles is not the type of director, to linger in the picturesque past, savoring antique details and restaging bygone conflicts."

Read A. O. Scott's New York Times review of Amigo by John Sayles, who visits Albany on Monday, 2/27. Amigo will be screened 2/24 at the Performing Arts Center uptown.

Honeydripper, another Sayles film will be screened tonight, PAC uptown, 7:30PM.

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The War on Science

Physicist and media star Michio Kaku, who visits this coming Tuesday 2/21, talks about the new war on science by scientifically illiterate politicians and their constituencies, and the obligation of scientists to speak out persuasively in favor of their fields.

The new 3-minute Big Think video is entitled "How Physics Got Fat (And Why We Need to Sing For Our Supper)."

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Love, Dark and Doomed

As her favorite Valentine's Day reading choice, New York Times Preview Editor Jen McDonald chose Anne Enright's The Gathering (2007).

Enright visits RPI under the cosponsorship of the Writers Institute on April 18th.

"I tend to like my literary love dark and doomed, so my pick is Anne Enright’s “The Gathering,” a novel whose tragedy unspools from a pulse-quickening romantic scene in the third chapter. It’s a flashback to the moment the narrator’s grandmother, Ada Merriman, first laid eyes on Lambert Nugent, who would not become her husband but would play an outsize role in the lives of her descendants...." More.

Enright also visited us in 2008.

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A Character Walks Out of a Short Story

[Elston Gunn]: HONEYDRIPPER is based on your short story "Keeping Time," correct?

[John Sayles]: I consider HONEYDRIPPER to be an original screenplay, though it is inspired by a character who appears in "Keeping Time," just as MATEWAN was inspired by a character who appears (in about four pages) of my novel UNION DUES. The only time I've adapted a short story I've written into a movie was CASA DE LOS BABYS.

Elston Gunn of Ain't It Cool News interviews director/screenwriter John Sayles about the sources of inspiration for HONEYDRIPPER, his film about the birth of rock and roll in the American South.

HONEYDRIPPER will be screened this Friday, Feb. 17 at the Performing Arts Center uptown. John Sayles himself will visit on Feb. 27.

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Will You Hide Me?

Anticipating a second Holocaust, Shalom Auslander, who visits on March 1st, asks fellow humorist Sarah Vowell whether she will shelter him and his family in her New York City apartment.

The video is part of a series of book trailers for Auslander's novel, Hope: A Tragedy (2012). The trailers feature a number of Auslander's co-contributors to NPR's This American Life.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Build Your Own Lightsaber!

Michio Kaku, who comes to Albany on 2/21, offers some practical advice on how to build a light saber in a video that appeared in 2010 on the Science Channel.

The video is based on Kaku's 2008 book, Physics of the Impossible.

Kaku will speak about the sequel to that book, Physics of the Future (2011), in the Campus Center Ballroom.

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Utopia in the New York Forests

"In the fields and forests of western New York State in the late 1960s, several dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what becomes a famous commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this lyrical, rollicking, tragic, and exquisite utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and beyond."

Read reviews of Lauren Groff's Arcadia on her website.

Lauren visits Tuesday, March 27th.

Picture: Pine Forest by art photographer Justine Kurland

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Thinking in Pictures

John Sayles, who visits 2/27, wrote one of the bibles of independent filmmaking in 1987-- Thinking in Pictures after making the movie Matewan. Here's an excerpt:

"It's like there's this house you want to build and you know certain specifications you want, sometimes very specific, like the kitchen counter should be 45 inches high, and others more vague, like the living room should be comfortable and--you know--have a lot of light or something. You raise a certain amount of money to build this house and maybe you draw a picture of it or tell somebody who can draw what to put down, and then you hire people who know about plumbing and wiring and roofing and windows and all that. You know you want the tub here and the sink here and maybe the plumber tells you it would work much better here and here, and maybe you do it his way or maybe yours. When the house is finished you hope it feels like the one you imagined way back when, but of course the oak was too expensive and you had to go with yellow pine and they don't make kitchen counters that height and customizing was out of the question, but then the woman who put in the windows had this great idea--you never would have thought of it in a million years. The closet on the second floor is always going to be a problem and you try not to think about it when you think about the house. After a bit the house takes on its own character, and though you had a lot to do with how it is, it exists as this thing and it's hard to imagine it any other way." More.

Picture: A scene from Matewan.

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Mother Nature Has a Ph.D. in Nanotechnology

Michio Kaku, who visits Tuesday, 2/21, explains the nanotechnological feats already accomplished by nature that are currently being attempted by scientists in the field of nanotech.

See the nine and a half minute BBC clip on on Facebook here.

Kaku also explains nanotech in greater detail on the Big Think website here.

Kaku's visit is cosponsored by UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

#7 on the Bestseller List

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, who visits today, Tuesday, Feb. 14th, is #7 on the Washington Post's hardcover fiction bestseller list.

Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post review by David Ignatius:

"A great novel can take implausible fact and turn it into entirely believable fiction. That’s the genius of The Orphan Master's Son. Adam Johnson has taken the papier-mache creation that is North Korea and turned it into a real and riveting place that readers will find unforgettable."


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Monday, February 13, 2012

A Trillion Frames Per Second

MIT researchers have invented a camera that can take pictures at the rate of a trillion exposures per second.

In his latest video on Big Think, Michio Kaku, who visits on 2/21, explores the implications of this new technology.

See the video.

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Graphic Novels for Credit

In 2010, Playboy magazine named Adam Johnson's course on graphic novels at Stanford (co-taught with Dan Archer) one of the 20 Best College Courses in America.

From Stanford University News, Oct. 28, 2010: Last month Playboy magazine named the project one of the 20 best college courses in America, hailing Johnson and Archer as "graphic pioneers" among those who are "reinventing the classroom."

"What we're seeing is a rise in what graphic art can do as a type of activism and as an education tool," Archer told Playboy.


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Adam Johnson in the Times Union

"Johnson's research for the book [The Orphan Master's Son] included a closely monitored 2007 trip to North Korea. In an article for The Daily Beast, he described the odd sensation upon discovering that many of the photos he'd taken were slight variations on innumerable images taken by other tourists on a strictly controlled path."

"When you walk up to a North Korean and say, 'Hey, how are you doing?' or 'What's going on?' — those are aggressive, dangerous questions in a totalitarian state," Johnson said.

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Johnson visits this Valentine's Day, 2/14.

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Can North Korea Be Fictionalized?

"In the stories we tell ourselves in the West, we expect to be the central character in our own narrative; we are a society of individuals and no matter how much we love others, they're secondary characters. The DPRK is exactly the opposite. There's one national narrative, tailored and maintained by script writers and censors. In a totalitarian world that script writer is responsible for everything that happened."

"If you're a secondary character in North Korea, your aptitude for certain things and your class background sends you down paths, maybe to be a doctor, or a peasant farmer, or a soldier, or a music player. Your own wants and desires are only going to get in the way of the role you've been given and that you have to play if you're going to survive."

Isaac Stone Fish interviews Adam Johnson in the journal Foreign Policy.

Johnson visits Tuesday, Feb. 14th.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

North Korean Love Story for Valentine's Day, 2/14

"Jun Do's mother was a singer. That was all Jun Do's father, the Orphan Master, would say about her. The Orphan Master kept a photograph of a woman in his small room at Long Tomorrows. She was quite lovely-eyes large and sideways looking, lips pursed with an unspoken word. Since beautiful women in the provinces get shipped to Pyongyang, that's certainly what had happened to his mother. The real proof of this was the Orphan Master himself. At night, he'd drink, and from the barracks, the orphans would hear him weeping and lamenting, striking half-heard bargains with the woman in the photograph. Only Jun Do was allowed to comfort him, to finally take the bottle from his hands."

"As the oldest boy at Long Tomorrows, Jun Do had responsibilities - portioning the food, assigning bunks, renaming the new boys from the list of the 114 Grand Martyrs of the Revolution. Even so, the Orphan Master was serious about showing no favoritism to his son, the only boy at Long Tomorrows who wasn't an orphan. When the rabbit warren was dirty, it was Jun Do who spent the night locked in it. When boys wet their bunks, it was Jun Do who chipped the frozen piss off the floor. Jun Do didn't brag to the other boys that he was the son of the Orphan Master, rather than some kid dropped off by parents on their way to a 9-27 camp. If someone wanted to figure it out, it was pretty obvious- Jun Do had been there before all of them, and the reason he'd never been adopted was because his father would never let someone take his only son. And it made sense that after his mother was stolen to Pyongyang, his father had applied for the one position that would allow him to both earn a living and watch over his son."

To read more, visit your local bookstore and buy the book!

Adam Johnson talks about his North Korean love story this coming Valentine's Day, Tuesday, February 14th.

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Apologizing to Syria

Masha Gessen, who visits from Moscow on 3/8, apologizes to the people of Syria on behalf of the people of Russia in the New York Times.

She also talks about what it's like to attend a Moscow protest in temperatures of minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

"I cannot speak for all Russian citizens, but I can tell you this much: the government that on Saturday blocked the U.N. Security Council’s resolution on Syria does not represent the people of Russia. It holds power in my country because it has rigged elections and has used money and fear to keep tens of millions of people in line for years — you know how that goes. Russians were far too complacent for far too long, and for that I am sorry." More.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Jersey Fat Guy Authenticity Thing

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum, who visited the Writers Institute in 2006, offers a critique of an American cultural phenomenon he calls "fat guy authenticity" in Slate this past Monday.

"Jersey fat-guy authenticity is a subcategory of Generalized Fat-Guy Authenticity, and you can trace the roots of Generalized Fat-Guy Authenticity all the way back beyond Falstaff to the Buddha with his fat bellyful of aphorisms. I always wondered about that: The Buddha preached abolition of worldly appetites, yet judging by the many representations of his bloated belly, the guy seems never to have missed a meal. Maybe there’s a mystic lesson there."

"But let us not get lost in the mists of time. Let us look at the evolution of fat-guy authenticity, and the recent rise of the Jersey Fat Guy as an icon of authenticity, the trope that has endowed Chris Christie with his heavyweight hubris." More.

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