Friday, March 30, 2012

Lelyveld-- Abandoned by Over-Achieving Parents

In his 2005 memoir, Omaha Blues, Joseph Lelyveld (who visits Tuesday) recalls his charismatic Reform Rabbi father and his ambitious actress-scholar mother who abandoned him to be raised by other people so they could pursue their divergent ambitions. His father travelled the country in the 1940s drumming up American support for the State of Israel. His mother gratefully abandoned the duties of a clerical wife to pursue graduate studies in Shakespearean scholarship (and an extramarital affair) at Columbia University.

At various times, the boy Joseph was turned over to a Seventh Day Adventist farm family, the Jensens, in Tekamah, Nebraska, and to his Brooklyn grandparents.

An excerpt of the book's first chapter appears on the Barnes and Noble website (you'll need to scroll down).

Picture: Lelyveld (middle) with the Jensen boys.

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Gandhi-- A Tough Nut to Crack

Joseph Lelyveld, who visits the Writers Institute this coming Tuesday, April 3rd, talks about his new biography of Gandhi this week in a video interview on the New York Times blog "India Ink."

Gandhi was “a tough nut to crack,” Mr. Lelyveld said.

“I thought the book might be controversial because here is a foreigner lecturing Indians on what Gandhi might have meant for India, and telling them that India had disappointed the father of the nation,” he said.

Read more on the New York Times "India Ink" blog and watch the video clip.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Richard Selzer: Life Imitates Art

Frederic Hellwitz MD, radiology professor at Albany Medical College shared a recent article that reminded him of a short story by author and Troy native Richard Selzer MD, "Luis," about a junkyard scavenger in a Brazilian slum who discovers radioactive material, cesium, from a discarded x-ray machine in the city dump. Luis treasures his find, believing it to be a piece of a star, as it rapidly destroys him and everyone around him.

The article about a discarded, antique radiation device (pictured here) appeared in Imaging Technology News,

A friend of the Writers Institute, Selzer last visited for a staged reading of a theatrical adaptation of his Doctor Stories in February 2004.

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Mary Pickford: The Child-Woman

Watch a 2-minute video featuring America's first movie star "America's Sweetheart," silent actress Mary Pickford (a Canadian actually), who rose to fame portraying little girls well into her thirties.

As the YouTube poster notes, over-sized sets were built to accentuate her already petite frame in order to make her look as childlike as possible.

At the age of 26, she portrays both child and woman in the 1919 feature, Daddy-Long-Legs, to be screened this Friday, March 30, 7:30PM at Page Hall, University at Albany downtown. Free as always.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Peter Bogdanovich on "Daddy-Long-Legs"

Major Hollywood director, critic and son of Kingston, NY, Peter Bogdanovich talks about

Daddy-Long-Legs, the 1919 silent film that will be screen this Friday, March 30th, 7:30PM at Page Hall, in a piece that appeared in IndieWire, May 11, 2011:

"Neilan’s easy, casual grace, his daring, his ability to evoke extraordinarily simple yet complex reactions, his flair for human comedy, is apparent throughout. And for those who ever wondered if Mary Pickford was just a goody-two-shoes playing one childlike note, this single film—-of the scores of good ones she starred in between 1909 and 1933-–would blow that uninformed misconception away. She was brilliantly expressive, absolutely real, equally on the money at every second in comedy, drama and all points between. You want to see good modern movie acting, check out Mary Pickford in Daddy-Long-Legs."

More on IndieWire.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Not Appalled By Fairy Tales

"I just read this article in a UK paper about how appalled people are by Grimm's fairy tales, how they would never read them to their children, but I think they're marvelous. They create these worlds of horror that at the same time are containable. You get to the end of the story and it's almost always happily ever after. People can learn about a certain amount of pain, and it always ends fine in the story. They're amazing tools for children—I wouldn't give every story to a child because there are a lot of anti-Semitic and flat out bad stories, but I don't see the harm in a smart kid reading Grimm's tales."

Lauren Groff, who visits today, talks about finding inspiration in fairy tales for her new novel Acadia in Interview magazine.

Picture: An illustration by Arthur Rackham from a 1909 edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

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The Beginnings of His Literary Education

Teju Cole talks about how his literary education really began when he grabbed books randomly off the shelf to read during his morning commute to a short internship as an exchange student in Boston.

The three books (The Old Man and the Sea, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and The Catcher in the Rye) that he read during this time left an impression not only on him but also on his new, award-winning novel, Open City.

See the YouTube video of Cole's archival interview at the Writers Institute, February 10, 2012.

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Junk DNA as Cultural Metaphor

French cultural theorist and genetic engineer (specializing in the DNA of beans) Thierry Bardini will be the keynote speaker of the 10th Annual English Graduate Student Conference, 5:30 PM, Friday 3/30.

The conference, entitled "WASTE," at the University at Albany downtown campus, all day, Friday 3/30.

Thierry's new book is Junkware (2010): "Examining cybernetic structures from genetic codes to communication networks, Thierry Bardini explores the idea that most of culture and nature, including humans, is composed of useless, but always potentially recyclable, material otherwise known as ‘junk.’ Junkware examines the cultural history that led to the encoding and decoding of life itself and the contemporary turning of these codes into a commodity."

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Groff's Arcadia a Must-Read in This Week's Daily Beast-Newsweek

Chloe Schama rates Arcadia a must-read in this week's Daily Beast-Newsweek:

"I discovered Lauren Groff while I was on the elliptical machine at my gym. It was early in the morning, but I was already running late; the out-of-date magazine in front of me was one of many that had piled up in my apartment, kept in futile hopes of staying on top of material that is pertinent to my job as a magazine editor." More.

Lauren Groff visits today!
March 27 (Tuesday) Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus Reading — 8:00 p.m., Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Haggadah: A Never-Ending Conversation

"It's a wonderful conversation to have, a never-ending conversation," Foer says of the Passover story. (In an AP interview).

Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander have collaborated on a new version of the Passover Haggadah-- The New American Haggadah (2012). In the days running up to Passover, the book has become a bestseller.

The haggadah features running commentaries by novelist, philosopher and atheist Rebecca Goldstein, who visited the Writers Institute in March 2010, and children's author Lemony Snicket, among others.

Englander was a guest of the Institute early in his career in March of 2000. Foer never officially visited the Institute, but he waited around in Albany "wearing" his infant son in a baby carrier while his wife, Nicole Krauss, participated in our series in May 2006 (she also visited more recently in September 2011).

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"William Kennedy's Prohibition Story" on NY History Blog

NYH: What was it like working with William Kennedy?

DS: Kennedy himself will relate that researching the ‘true’ history of Jack Legs Diamond was a mammoth undertaking, and fraught with dead ends and bogus accounts of people who supposedly knew him. We interviewed Kennedy for 5 marathon hours in one day. For a man in his 80’s Kennedy was a complete gentleman, and was as sharp as a tack. It was a great experience. His encyclopedic knowledge and really his performance in the delivery made every edit difficult. I hated to have to leave anything on the cutting room floor.

Read more of the New York History Blog's interview with PBS documentary filmmaker Dan Swinton.

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Not a Greatest Hits Package-- Bob Nickas

Tom Keyser, in a "Best Bets" entry in the Times Union, quotes art critic Bob Nickas (who visits today) on his new combination-memoir-and-art-retrospective, Catalogue of the Exhibition:

“I did not put the book together in the way a band might assemble a greatest hits package.” Instead, it’s an “idiosyncratic” collection that includes lesser-known artists, such as the now-defunct duo Wallace & Donohue, rather than, say, Jeff Koons.

Picture: "Changing My Tune" by Wallace & Donohue, 1980s.

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Lauren Groff in the Times Union

Elizabeth Floyd Mair interviews Lauren Groff in the Times Union.

Q: What was it like to write half of the book or so from the perspective of a small child?

A: I wrote the first draft in the first person. And it's very different to write in the first person from the perspective of a child versus in the third person. And I found, when it was in the first person, that it was just incredibly limited. Working in the third person, I was able to add elements that would help to make sense of Bit's experiences.

Groff visits tomorrow, Tuesday, March 27th.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stephen King on Lauren Groff

"I was sorry to see this rich and wonderful novel come to an end, and there is no higher success than that."

—STEPHEN KING on Groff's 2008 surprise bestseller, The Monsters of Templeton.

Lauren Groff visits Tuesday, March 27th to talk about her new novel, Arcadia.

4:15PM Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus
8PM Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

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Friday, March 23, 2012

"Stunningly Sensual and Visceral"-- Groff's Arcadia

Janet Maslin is take by surprise by (and gives a rave review in the New York Times to) Lauren Groff's new novel. Groff visits this coming Tuesday, March 27th.

Lauren Groff’s “Arcadia” is so immersed in the life of a hippie commune that patchouli ought to waft off its pages. It’s a novel of the 1960s and ’70s in which acid is dropped, groats are served, “Froggie Went A Courtin’ ” is sung, a cult leader is worshiped and somebody literally hugs a tree. An outhouse at Arcadia smells like wet muskrat. Children are reared in a Kid Herd. This does not sound like everyone’s cup of rose-hip tea.

So the transporting magic of “Arcadia” comes as a surprise. Ms. Groff has taken a quaint, easily caricatured community and given it true universality, not just the knee-jerk kind that Arcadian platitudes espoused. Even more unexpectedly, she has expanded this period piece so that it stretches from 1965 to 2018, coaxing forth a remarkable amount of suspense from the way her characters change over time. And a book that might have been small, dated and insular winds up feeling timeless and vast. Full article.

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Writing Life: I Wake to a Screaming Toddler

Lauren Groff, who visits the Writers Institute on Tuesday, March 27, describes her normal day in a 2010 New York Times interview:

"I wake to a screaming toddler, go for a run to keep the screaming toddlers who live in my head at bay, eat a hasty breakfast of eggs and coffee, and go out to my wee little space that my husband carved out of the back of our garage. We call it a studio, but that’s being kind. I have very indifferent temperature control back there. It’s a swamp in the Florida summer, and in the chilly winter I lose the use of my hands after two hours. So I take many, many trips inside for coffee or popsicles, depending on the season. Once in a while, I’ll look up to find skittering across my desk a palmetto bug — which, as everyone knows, is just high-euphemism for cockroach. And skinks! There are tons of skinks in my studio. I love their little pulsing necks." More.

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Dissing the Patrons of Art-- Bob Nickas 3/26

Bob Nickas, art critic who visits 3/26, has no problem biting the hand that feeds Art:

Wealthy and powerful people—and boring people, and famous people—use art and artists to legitimize themselves. Or they use culture to say, “Look how cultured I am. I gave all that money to the museum.” Or, “Look, I bought this painting for however many millions of dollars at that auction.” People in the art world, people around artists, they all do the same thing. They use art to advance themselves, to advance their careers, for fame, power, money, and all those things. The art world doesn’t function any differently from the business world, the banking world, the real estate world, the military, or politics. And all those people in banking and real estate? They’re all involved in art. And why are they involved in art? Because in banking and real estate, there are all these oversights. People can go to jail. People can pay fines. The art world is the only unregulated market of its kind. I mean, what are the other unregulated markets? Drugs, arms, and slavery? Prostitution and gambling? Art is the only white-collar, legitimized market that is completely unregulated. There are no penalties. The only thing that you’ll ever get caught for is tax evasion.

Read the interview with Jesse Pearson in Vice.

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Advance Praise for Ghassan Zaqtan

Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, the first collection in English translation by Ghassan Zaqtan, major Palestinian poet, won't officially be published until April 24, but we will have copies on sale from Yale University Press in time for his visit on April 10. Zaqtan will share the stage with his translator, poet Fady Joudah.

Here's some advance praise on Amazon:

“Zaqtan’s poems are uncompromising in their direct engagement with daily life, detailing the way in which the quotidian is, after all, the grand narrative of history. Joudah’s brilliant translations capture not only sense, sound, and rhythm, but also pulse, infusing the English language with a new sensibility.”—Cole Swensen, Iowa Writers’ Workshop

“Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me’s generous selection of Ghassan Zaqtan’s poems, masterfully and compellingly translated by Fady Joudah, is a gift. Zaqtan is not only the most important Palestinian poet alive, but one of the most important poets of our time, embodying in various sophisticated and cosmopolitan forms of expression depths of feeling, complexity, compassion, and witness beyond compare.”—Lawrence Joseph, author of Into It

“The poet’s trade is exile, & a Palestinian poet’s trade thus a double exile: Ghassan Zaqtan’s work is exemplary in that its lyrical intensity simultaneously hides & foregrounds this quest’s epic dimensions.”—Pierre Joris, author of A Nomad Poetics

“Reading Fady Joudah’s remarkable translations of Zaqtan, I was thinking of the great poet and mythmaker of Yugoslavia, Vasko Popa, who also saw violence and wrote the dream-time of his nation. Like Popa, Zaqtan is unafraid to claim his roots, but also to see the “secret builders Cavafy had awakened / passing through the hills,” digging by his pillow. For this bravery and lyric skill, I am grateful.”—Ilya Kaminsky

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Man and Woman: "Two Halves of One Thought"

Margaret Fuller articulates her view of man and woman in her 1845 feminist manifesto, Woman in the 19th Century.

"By Man I mean both man and woman; these are the two halves of one thought. I lay no especial stress on the welfare of either. I believe that the development of the one cannot be effected without that of the other. My highest wish is that this truth should be distinctly and rationally apprehended, and the condition of life and freedom recognized as the same for the daughter and the sons of time; twin exponents of a divine thought." More.

John Matteson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his double biography, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father (2007), will present his new biography, The Lives of Margaret Fuller (2012) today at UAlbany and the State Museum.

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Neither Male Nor Female

"Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But in fact they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman."

--Margaret Fuller, Woman in the 19th Century (1845)

Pulitzer-winning biographer John Matteson will visit today to discuss his new biography of radical 19th century thinker Margaret Fuller who died in a shipwreck off Fire Island at the height of her powers at the age of 40.

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An Invitation from Lauren Groff

Bestselling Cooperstown author Lauren Groff has published an open invitation on her website for a book party in her home town this Saturday, March 24. If you can't make it out to the Birthplace of Baseball, you can meet her here at UAlbany on Tuesday, March 27th.

Templeton Hall; Cooperstown, NY. 5 pm. –
24 March 2012
My gorgeous, lovely, beautiful parents are hosting a book party at Templeton Hall on Pioneer Street in my hometown of Cooperstown. The food is always stunning there, and there will be a thoughtful conversation about writing and ARCADIA with one of my favorite people, Dr. Bill Streck. It would please me immensely if you could come. Cooperstown is the place I love the most in the world, and it's tremendously moving how supportive of me the villagers have been.

Link to website.

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Lorrie Moore on Lauren Groff

“The Monsters of Templeton is a bold and beautiful hybrid of a book. Lauren Groff is gifted with an elegant prose style and a narrative ambition as deep and as serious as the human mysteries she sets out to explore." --Lorrie Moore

Lauren Groff visits Tuesday, March 27th to talk about her new novel, Arcadia.

4:15PM Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

8PM Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Beginning with the End-- Biographer John Matteson

Joanna Scutts of the Washington Post writes about John Matteson's choice, as a biographer, to begin his new book with Fuller's death. Matteson visits UAlbany and the NYS Museum tomorrow.

"Matteson begins his story of Fuller’s 'lives' at the premature end. Along with her 1-year-old son and his Italian father, she was killed in a shipwreck off Fire Island, N.Y., during a freak hurricane in July 1850. She was 40 years old. By beginning with Fuller’s death — as he puts it, “Think first of endings” — Matteson purposely overshadows the book with a sense of loss. It works to subtly emphasize Fuller’s own most passionate and important theme, that human potential wasted by social injustice is no less a tragedy than death. Lost in the wreck was the manuscript of a book that might have transformed her legacy: her eyewitness account of the failed revolution in Rome in 1848-49." More.

Picture: Memorial marker for Margaret Fuller Ossoli, her husband, and their son. Located at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Your Brain on Fiction

The New York Times has an interesting op-ed piece by Annie Murphy Paul about the neurological experience of reading fiction:

"The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings." More.

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Margot Livesey and Jo Page Yesterday

We had a wonderful pair of events with Margot Livesey and Jo Page yesterday.

In case you neglected to get your book signed by Margot, here's a photo.

Read more about Margot Livesey and Jo Page here.

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In Celebration of "Difficult Women"

Pulitzer-winning biographer John Matteson comes tomorrow to discuss Margaret Fuller, one of the great "difficult women" of the 19th century.

"Arrogant, condescending and vain, Fuller was (as she knew altogether too well) the best-educated American woman of her time. In The Lives of Margaret Fuller, John Matteson tells us that Ralph Waldo Emerson thought she exhibited 'an overweening sense of power, and slight esteem of others'; Nathaniel Hawthorne found her, as Matteson puts it, 'exquisitely irritating'; and Edgar Allan Poe portrayed her acidly. Habituated to deference from others, she was unaccustomed to dealing with people on an equal footing, and she bristled when she did not receive the respect she thought was her due."

Read more in Mary Beth Norton's review of Matteson's new book in the New York Times.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

"Any Similarity is Coincidental"

"This is an artwork by Richard Prince. Any similarity to a book is coincidental and not intended by the artist."

Copyright-wronging contemporary artist Richard Prince features the above disclaimer on his controversial "sculpture," a precise facsimile edition of J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, with the attribution, "a novel by Richard Prince."

Bob Nickas, art critic and curator who visits on Monday, March 26th, writes about Prince and Salinger, their respective works of art and their various legal battles, in Vice.

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A Devilish and Dutiful Daughter

John Matteson, who visits Thursday, contributes a review of the PBS film, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (2009) in the journal, Humanities.

Matteson received the Pulitzer for his dual biography, Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father (2008), about the father-daughter relationship between Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, and Bronson Alcott.

Clips of the film aired at the Writers Institute in October 2010 with a discussion by Nancy Porter, the film's director, and Harriet Reisen, the author of the biography upon which the film is based.

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On Fact and Fiction

"One of my own writing teachers, Richard Price, used to caution us students not to be too attached to facts. 'God’s a second-rate fiction writuh,' he’d say dismissively in thick Bronx-ese."

"I think he’s right. Some things are too perfect to be believable:
When I lived in New York I was dating a guy whose brother was a resident at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens. One night we smuggled him out—apparently he didn’t have off-site privileges—and took him for Chinese food. When the fortune cookies came, Robbie and I read ours. But when Brian broke open his own fortune cookie, there was nothing for him to read; the paper inside it was blank. I remember wanting to cry and not crying. I also remembered knowing that a scene like that, occurring in a novel or a short story, would seem heavy-handed, lugubriously symbolic. "

Jo Page, who speaks tomorrow at UAlbany and the Albany Public Library, published a meditation on what stories are and how they are told in her "Reckonings" column in last week's issue of Metroland.

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"I Had a Very Severe Stepmother"

Elizabeth Floyd Mair interviews Scottish author Margot Livesey (who visits tomorrow) in the Times Union:

Q: What has the book Jane Eyre meant to you, and how is it connected to "The Flight of Gemma Hardy?"

A: I read Jane Eyre precociously when I was 9 years old. I pulled it out of my father's bookshelf, because it had a girl's name on the cover. And then, of course, it turned out to be about someone who was just about my age, and that was very appealing.

At the time, I was living with my father and stepmother on the grounds of the boys' school where my father taught in the Scottish Highlands. I could see the moors outside our living room window, and the school itself was a Gothic building with battlements that I could easily imagine as Thornfield Hall. I had a very severe stepmother, and it wasn't hard to turn her into Jane's aunt. Then, the year after I read the book, we moved to the south of Scotland, and I went to a very difficult boarding school. More.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Writers Institute on C-SPAN This Weekend

C-SPAN came to Albany to film our evening event with Russian journalist Masha Gessen on Thursday, March 8th.

The show will be broadcast over the weekend on C-SPAN 2/BookTV.

Saturday evening, March 17th at 7pm (ET)

Sunday morning, March 18th at 4am (ET)

We don't expect too many of you to be watching at 4am on Sunday morning, but please tell us about it if you do!

Link to the C-SPAN website.

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See the Abstract Show Before Visit With Bob Nickas

You may wish to visit "Material Occupation," the UAlbany Art Museum's current exhibit on contemporary abstract art, in advance of a Bob Nickas's visit on Monday, March 26th.

The contrarian art critic and curator is widely regarded as America's leading authority on recent abstract art. He is also the author of the highly praised 2009 book, Painting Abstraction.

The reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle called it, "a wild ride of a reference book.” The New York Times called it, “a lively survey… a useful tool in forming a sharper, broader sense of what is going on in the world of abstract painting.”

"Material Occupation" runs through April 7, 2012.

"The artists represented in Material Occupation challenge the idea that abstraction is a rarified concept that bears little relation to everyday experience. Using familiar patterns, structures, designs, and systems, these artists explore the cultural associations inherent in prosaic materials. Traditional art-making gestures are replaced by actions equated with manual labor, such as staining, pasting, bleaching, mending, stretching, taping, daubing, recycling, and tearing. Drawing on a wide range of materials and references, these artists apply a keen eye and a steady hand as they transform house paint, thread, old and newly woven fabric, industrial tape, and other ordinary materials into poetic abstract forms. The decorative, the contemplative, and the marginalized thus take precedence in work that proposes an alternative relationship to Modernist abstraction." More.

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Gothic Novels on Tuesday March 20th

Gothic novels will be the featured subject at multiple events on Tuesday, March 20th.

You are invited to two events with Margot Livesey, whose new novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, reimagines Charlotte Bronte's 1847 Gothic romance Jane Eyre in Scotland in the 1950s and 1960s. Livesey will share the stage with Jo Page, 4:15 PM in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center on the UAlbany uptown campus, and 7:30 PM in the Albany Public Library, Main Branch, 161 Washington Ave. in downtown Albany. The events are cosponsored by the Friends of the Albany Public Library.

Earlier that day, the Eighteenth-Century Reading Group and the English Department will sponsor a talk by Princeton University Professor Sophie Gee at 1 PM in HU 354. Professor Gee will be presenting a paper that connects Jane Austen’s satirical Gothic horror and romance novel, Northanger Abbey to questions of faith and belief in eighteenth-century novels. There will be a Q & A session and refreshments after the talk.

In 2007, Sophie Gee published her first novel, The Scandal of the Season, a comedy of manners set in eighteenth-century London and a retelling of Alexander Pope’s "The Rape of the Lock." The novel was named one of the Best Books of 2007 by the Washington Post and the Economist and is published in 13 countries.

For more information on the Gee event contact Michael Amrozowicz of the English Dept. at 518/442-4099 or .

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

New York Sings!

New York Sings! Awarded Grant from NY Council for the Humanities

Capital Repertory Theatre and the UAlbany Department of History and Documentary Studies Program are thrilled to announce receipt of a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities, to support their presentation of New York Sings!, an afternoon event featuring musicologist Rena Kosersky and folklorist/musician George Ward.

Saturday, March 24, 2012
1 pm – 2:30 pm
Capital Repertory Theatre
111 North Pearl Street, Albany (free on-street parking and various paid lots nearby)

Discussion with visuals by Rena Kosersky; music performances by George Ward
Q&A session to follow
Free and open to the public
No tickets required

For details:

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Bill Kennedy in The Guardian

"Fiction has to come up from below," he says, frowning in the late afternoon light. "It has to be generated out of what is not necessarily the consequence of surface events. I talked to myself about this when I was trying to write my early short stories and even my first novel." He smiles. "It was a long conversation."

Emma Brockes of the British newspaper, The Guardian, came to Albany to interview William Kennedy. The article appeared February 24th.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shalom Auslander Rescheduled!

The Auslander events have been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 24.

4:15PM Seminar in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

8PM Reading in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, Uptown Campus

For a not yet updated page on Auslander, click here.

Auslander's events on 3/1 were cancelled because of snow.

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Films About the Holocaust at UAlbany

The Center for Jewish Studies and the Documentary Studies Center are collaborating on a film series about life during the Nazi Holocaust.

Films include A Film Unfinished (Yael Harsonski, 2010, b/w, 90 mins) on Tuesday, March 20; Respite (Harun Farocki, 2007, b/w, 40 mins) on Tuesday, March 27; and About a Village (John C. Swanson, 2010, color, 69 mins) on Tuesday, April 3.

Screenings are at 7:00pm
UAlbany Standish RoomScience Library 3rd Floor
Free & open to the public

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hemingway/PEN Award Goes to Teju Cole

The 2012 Hemingway/PEN Award was given this week to Teju Cole who visited the New York State Writers Institute on February 10th.

Teju Cole, writer in residence at Bard College, has won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, which honors outstanding first works of fiction, for his novel Open City. Previous winners of the prize include Bobbie Mason, Renata Adler, Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri and Dagoberto Gilb. Read more in the New York Times.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Undergraduate Meets Legendary Director

UAlbany sophomore Marisa Mazart (pictured with maverick movie director John Sayles) writes about her experiences at the John Sayles events on February 27th:

Hi readers! My name is Marisa Mazart and I am a volunteer at the Writers Institute. I had the pleasure of meeting the independent film director, screenwriter and novelist John Sayles after the seminar on February 27th. The seminar was question-and-answer based. It was housed in the Campus Center of the University at Albany, and was open to the public. John Sayles was able to captivate the audience with every answer he gave, and his intelligence and sense of humor shined. After attending the seminar I was extremely eager to meet him. Interested in pursuing a career in film, I immediately grasped the opportunity to discuss film production with John. My main passion is film editing. I asked John how he edited his own films. And to my surprise he started editing films before they became digital. He wrote, directed and edited most of his films, like the 1980s movie Return of the Secaucus Seven which focuses on a the reunion of a group of college students. With no previous experience, he had to learn how to edit his film right on the spot. Even though this might have been a limitation in how his early works were edited, he spoke about his early movie career with a big smile. His advice to me was to look into film school. Unfortunately, this option is costly so he also advised me to make sure I am familiar with the new editing softwares that are now available like Final Cut Pro, and to also seek out internships in order to get my foot in the door.
John Sayles is very friendly, and responded to my question about why his movie Passion Fish is named what it is with the utmost honesty. Towards the end of the movie one of the characters cuts open a fish and calls the smaller fish inside its stomach “passion fish.” What an odd name! I had to ask John why it is called passion fish and why the movie is called the same name. I mistakenly thought there might have been a symbolic meaning, but when John revealed the name was chosen because it was the winner of a contest I was presently surprised. I couldn’t help but chuckle at his response. Importantly, he emphasizes that naming a movie is a very difficult process and sometimes the best way is to collaborate.
I learned a lot the night I met John Sayles, and not just information relating to film. Being a novelist he also divulged how he is able to get into the minds of his characters not just in film but in novels as well. He said it is because of his acting experiences in college. Being able to play many characters and get a feel for how they act in certain situations influenced how he portrayed his characters in his recent novel A Moment in the Sun.
I am extremely happy I was able to meet John Sayles, and as my friends can report I was jumping up and down all night with the adrenaline rush from meeting such a respected and experienced director and writer.

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Reading vs. Gazing Out the Window

Geoff Dyer, former UAlbany Writer-in-Residence who just received the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, writes his difficulties finding the motivation to read in his award-winning new book, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. The excerpt is from the FSG website.

"....I find it increasingly difficult to read. This year I read fewer books than last year; last year I read fewer than the year before; the year before I read fewer than the year before that. The phenomenon of writer’s block is well known, but what I am suffering from is reader’s block. The condition is creeping rather than chronic, manifesting itself in different ways in different circumstances. On a trip to the Bahamas recently I regularly stopped myself reading because, whereas I could read a book anywhere, this was the only time I was likely to see sea so turquoise, sand so pink. Somewhat grandly, I call this the Mir syndrome, after the cosmonaut who said that he didn’t read a page of the book he’d taken to the space station because his spare moments were better spent gazing out of the window."

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On Refusing to Read Joan Didion's "Blue Nights"

As the mother of daughters, Metroland columnist Jo Page, who shares the stage with Margot Livesey on 3/20, meditates on her own refusal to read Joan Didion's excruciatingly painful book, Blue Nights (2011), about the death of her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne.

".... I will not be reading Blue Nights for more reasons than the obvious one: that the subject matter is brutally sad. It’s more complicated than that and more personal. I’m a mother watching the slow ascent into adulthood of my two daughters and I find it a difficult and sometimes heart-wrenching job."

"In parenting—or at least in mothering—there are always two constants: fear for your child’s welfare and doubt about whether or not you are doing a good job in loving them and raising them. These twinned constants—fear and doubt—are absolute states. Why I ever thought this would lessen as they grew up I have no idea." More.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Masha Gessen on Charlie Rose, See the Video

Masha Gessen, Moscow-based journalist who visits the Writers Institute today 3/8, appeared on Charlie Rose yesterday. The 23-minute video has been posted online.

Her schedule today is as follows:

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

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

The events are free and open to the general public.

The show with Charlie Rose will be rebroadcast today at 1 p.m. on Albany's PBS affiliate WMHT.

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One of Newsweek's "150 Fearless Women"

Masha Gessen, Moscow-based investigative journalist who visits today 3/8, was recently named one of "150 Fearless Women" by Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

She's the fourth face down in the leftmost column in a mosaic of faces on the Daily Beast webpage.

The text makes note of the fact that "she's been subjected to robberies, threats and intimidation" and that a number of her fellow journalists have been assassinated.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Our Summer Program for Teen Writers

The next session of the New York State Summer Young Writers Institute will be held July 1-7, 2012.

2011 participants in the Summer Young Writers Institute for teenage authors write about their experiences:

"This was my first time away from my parents, so I was kind of nervous, and I wasn't sure I was going to make friends, but I did, despite being somewhat socially awkward. From all different parts of the country, everyone was friendly talented and unique." --Cynthia Gerber

"This past week I have learned to open up to others about my writing whether I was confident about my piece or not.... It's truly amazing how passionate we all are about writing and it's clear how tightly woven by this passion we are." --Erin Carden

"The instructors here, instead of pushing a set curriculum, help to build upon the students' creations, turning ideas into works of art." --Matteo Mobilio

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Masha Gessen: Declaring War on Her Own Body

Masha Gessen, who visits this coming Thursday, writes candidly about her genetic history and her painful decision to have a double mastectomy after discovering that she is predestined to develop a fatal form of breast cancer.

Jennifer Senior reviews her 2008 book Blood Matters in the New York Times.

"One of the wonders of the genome is how it enables us to time-travel, both backward and forward. Scribbled within it are clues to our ancestry, which can give us an emboldening sense of continuity, coherence, place — how marvelous to imagine ourselves the sons of Levi, the daughters of African queens! But scrawled within it, too, are clues about our future, which can be downright terrifying. Rather than expand our sense of possibilities, they foreshorten them. There are dread mutations slumbering in our cells. From our genes, we learn how we may die." More.

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Doug Blackmon's Slavery Book Banned in Alabama Prison

A current court case concerns the decision of Alabama prison officials to bar inmates from reading Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon, who visited Friday, Feb. 3rd.

CNN) — The Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II," by Douglas Blackmon, tells the story of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction south who were imprisoned and forced into involuntary servitude after being convicted of trifling crimes.

Now a modern-day prisoner in Alabama is suing for his right to read the book.
The lawsuit, filed in September, alleges that when officials at the Kilby Correctional Facility in Mt. Meigs, Ala. denied prisoner Mark Melvin access to the book, it was a violation of his rights to "freedom of speech, equal protection and due process." The case is currently in the discovery phase.

The Alabama Department of Corrections declined comment for this story, citing the pending litigation. In their answer to the lawsuit, they admitted that Melvin had been denied access to the book, but denied any violation of his rights.

The Department said the book was in violation of its rules about what kind of reading material can be sent to inmates — namely that "the book, its title, its contents and/or its pictures could be used (or misused) by the plaintiff or other inmates to incite violence or disobedience within the institution." They also noted that the book, which describes the forced labor of African Americans in detail, "could also be used (or misused) in a manner which is inconsistent with legitimate peneological objectives, for instance the rehabilitation of inmates through prison work details and/or the inculcation of a work ethic." More.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Two Soviet Jewish Grandmothers

Katha Pollitt reviews Ester and Ruzya, a dual biography of two Soviet Jewish women and their harrowing stories, told by their granddaughter, Masha Gessen (who visits Thursday) in 2005 in the New York Times:

"Reviewers sometimes call a work of nonfiction ''as exciting as a novel,'' but that would be an understatement applied to this extraordinary family memoir. Masha Gessen, a gifted Russian-American journalist, narrates the intertwined lives of her two Soviet Jewish grandmothers, best friends for over 50 years, as they confront some of the 20th century's worst ordeals: Stalin's terror, Hitler's mass murder of the Jews, World War II, the bewildering twists and turns of the post-Stalin era. If your idea of a memoir runs to family dysfunction and authorial disgruntlement, or to people going on about their houses and travels, ''Ester and Ruzya'' will remind you how much life, history and emotional and moral complexity the genre can convey in the hands of a wonderful writer. " More.

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Eric Kandel on Erasing Memories

Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist Eric Kandel, who visited the Writers Institute in 2006, is featured in a New York Times interview today.

He talks, among other things, about his childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna and about the prospect for using new developments in neuroscience to erase unpleasant memories:

"I have no difficulty about enhancing memory. Removing memory is more complicated. If it’s to reduce the impact of a particular trauma, I have no difficulty with that, but there are other ways to deal with it — cognitive behavior therapy, exposure therapy, drugs. To go into your head and pluck out a memory of an unfortunate love experience, that’s a bad idea. You know, in the end, we are who we are. We’re all part of what we’ve experienced. Would I have liked to have had the Viennese experience removed from me? No! And it was horrible. But it shapes you."


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What is Theft? What is Art? What is Theft of Art?

"Is there anything worse than being sued? How about being sued and losing. No, even worse than that. What about never having the chance to sue someone? Exactly. Because the way it used to be, the worst that could happen was that someone took your work away from you, and then profited at your expense. Nowadays, if your career could use a real boost, you can't ask for a more golden opportunity than the chance to take someone to court."

Bob Nickas, art critic and curator who visits Monday 3/26, talks on about the lawsuit of French photographer Peter Cariou against artist Richard Prince, which the New York Times has called "one of the most closely watched copyright cases ever to rattle the world of fine art."

Nickas writes a regular column for Vice: "KOMP-LAINT DEPT." Read more.

Photo: Prince's collage "Inquisition" which appropriates and alters Cariou's photographs of Rastafarians.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Margaret Atwood on Science Fiction

Joyce Carol Oates, who appears annually at the New York State Summer Writers Institute, reviews Margaret Atwood's essay collection, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2012) in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books.

Atwood spoke to a stand-room-only Page Hall crowd in November 2005.

In her admiring essay on Le Guin—“The Queen of Quinkdom”—Atwood notes that Le Guin speaks of science fiction as a genre that “should not be merely extrapolative” and should not attempt “prophetic truth”: “Science fiction cannot predict, nor can any fiction, the variables being too many.” Atwood concurs with Le Guin that “the moral complexity proper to the modern novel need not be sacrificed” in what is called “science fiction.” “Thought and intuition can move freely within bounds set only by the terms of the experiment, which may be very large indeed.” More.

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'Suffering Into Self-Knowledge' at Harvard Law School

"[I]f one has a character flaw, Harvard Law will expose it. The long hours, the quantity and difficulty of the work, and the pressure to excel are a recipe for frayed nerves, shortened tempers and durable frustrations. I maintained very respectable grades for a semester but lagged thereafter. To my considerable pain, my argumentative agility and my competitive fire — qualities I thought I possessed in abundance — were not strong enough to place me at the top."

John Matteson, professor of legal writing at John Jay College and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer talks about "suffering into self-knowledge" at Harvard Law School in the New York Times. Matteson visits Thursday, March 22nd.

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