Thursday, February 28, 2013

Christa Parravani of Guilderland, Acclaimed Memoir

New author Christa Parravani, who graduated from Guilderland High School and spent parts of her childhood in Albany and Schenectady will present her first book, Her, a highly acclaimed memoir about the life and death of her twin sister, Cara Parravani, at UAlbany, Thursday, March 7.

Novelist Jayne Anne Phillips said, “Christa Parravani’s lyrical, no-nonsense Her ranks with the best American memoirs of the decade… an uncompromising love poem to the joys and dangers of shared identity, and an unforgettable treatise on addiction, trauma, survival, and triumph.” Author Nick Flynn called it, “reckless yet delicate, familiar yet otherworldly, precise yet with the soul of a fairytale, and deeply moving in surprising ways.” Novelist Julie Orringer said, “With a photographer’s sharp eye and a gifted writer’s penetrating insight, Parravani writes about being torn apart and then about piecing her life back together, brilliantly illuminating along the way what it means to be a sister, a daughter, a wife, an artist, and— ultimately, and triumphantly— herself.”

More about her visit:

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"The Most Remarkable New Movie"-- Tomorrow 3/1

"If there's a tougher sell than a Romanian movie by a hitherto unknown director, it's a Romanian movie by an unknown director that takes two and half hours to tell the tale of a 62-year-old pensioner's final trip to the hospital. Does it help to add that The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was the great discovery of the last Cannes Film Festival and, in several ways, the most remarkable new movie to open in New York this spring?"

Read more by J. Hoberman in the Village Voice, April 18, 2006:

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Knitting Saved My Life"-- Ann Hood

Ann Hood, author of the major bestseller, The Knitting Circle, will share the stage with UAlbany Professor Emeritus Eugene Mirabelli this afternoon and tonight.

Ann Hood speaking about The Knitting Circle: "A few years ago I was afraid I would never be able to write again.... During that time when I wasn't reading or writing, I learned how to knit. Knitting, I believe, saved my life. But it also introduced me to a new world of yarn and colors and textures and of people. Sitting in various knitting circles, I slowly learned that knitting had rescued other women too. Bad marriages, illness, addiction-knitting gave comfort and even hope through life's trials."


More about the visit:

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Ann Hood's Makes the ABA "Great Reads" List

Ann Hood visits today to present her new novel (just published yesterday!). The book was also just listed on the March 2013 American Book Association's "Indie Next Great Reads" list, reviewed and recommended by independent booksellers across the nation.

Here's the review:

The Obituary Writer: A Novel, by Ann Hood (W.W. Norton & Company, $26.95, 9780393081428)
“Vivien, who suffered an incredible loss in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, helps others cope with their grief by making their lost loved ones come alive on the page. Claire, a young wife and mother in suburban Washington, D.C., who is caught up in the excitement of the 1960 Kennedy inauguration, wants ‘more’ but she’s not quite sure ‘more’ of what. Theirs are compelling lives of love and loss, romance and friendship, marriage and motherhood, promises made and unreasonable hopes kept alive, and the mystery that is their connection. Literary mystery, love story, and historical fiction — all beautifully told with expertly drawn characters make this one great novel!”

More about the visit:

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Monday, February 25, 2013

The Art of the Obituary

"Novelist, short story writer, and essayist Ann Hood loves obituaries. She says that they are a difficult form to write, since they must bring a character 'back to life' in a very compressed space."

Elizabeth Floyd Mair of the Times Union interviews Ann Hood about her new novel, The Obituary Writer (2013):

Ann Hood shares the stage with novelist Eugene Mirabelli tomorrow, Tuesday, 2/26:

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TU Review of George Saunders Event

"Your main job as a writer is to grab by the lapels and compel. I always tell students drop the facade, relax into the idea that the essential you is there and you have to let it come in."

Nana Adjei-Brenyah reviews George Saunders' presentation at UAlbany in the Times Union:

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Friday, February 22, 2013

On Losing a Child

No writer has confronted the reality of losing a child more bravely than Ann Hood, whose 2007 novel, The Knitting Circle, and 2008 memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, seek meaning and healing where both would seem unattainable-- in the death of her five year old daughter, Grace.

Hood, who visits the Writers Institute on 2/26, explores grief and loss and paths to emotional survival in all of her subsequent work, including her new novel, The Obituary Writer (2013).

Here is a 2011 article from Salon, "What I never told anyone about her death":

More on her visit:

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Praise for Ann Hood, Who Visits Tuesday

Bestselling author Ann Hood's soon-to-be-released novel, The Obituary Writer (Feb. 25, 2013) has earned high praise from some recent visitors to the NYS Writers Institute:

Andre Dubus III: “It is a rare novelist who can summon the creative nerve to plumb the depths of grief, but that's just what Ann Hood does here with such compassion and grace. The Obituary Writer is an unflinching exploration of loss and the love that somehow remains, one that both wounds and heals. This is a deeply engaging and moving book.”

Tom Perrotta:  “In this poignant and incisive novel, Ann Hood brings history back to life in the most intimate way, chronicling the love affairs and heartbreaks of two very different women in two very different times. Moving gracefully and persuasively between post-earthquake San Francisco and the early 1960s, The Obituary Writer makes unexpected connections between these two bygone eras, and in the process, manages to illuminate the present as well as the past.”

More on Ann Hood's upcoming visit with Gene Mirabelli, Tuesday, Feb. 26:

More on Dubus' 2008 visit:

More on Perrotta's 2011 visit:

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The Kennedys of Troy

On his Troy-centric website, "A Small American City," Duncan Crary has produced some audio podcasts about the Albany Kennedy clan's Troy connections.

The first of two episodes features Bill's son Brendan and his family, who live in historic downtown Troy. The second episode profiles Bill and his wife Dana in their capacity as grandparents of Brendan's three little girls-- Annabella, Scarlett and Evelyn.

“I love this house. I love this neighborhood. I love Troy! I love their life here” — William Kennedy

For the first episode:

For the second:

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Writing About the Old; Gene Mirabelli on WAMC

Acclaimed novelist and beloved UAlbany professor emeritus Eugene Mirabelli (who reads on Tuesday) talked to WAMC's Joe Donahue about his most recent novel, Renato, the Painter: An Account of His Youth & His 70th Year in His Own Words.

Mirabelli says:  "I also wanted to write about someone who is old. Most novels it seems to me are about people in their 30s or 40s. At the time that I thought of the idea for this novel, I thought 70 was old. As it turns out now, I'm 11 years older than he is, and he seems like a young man."

Listen to the full interview here:

More about Mirabelli's visit with bestselling novelist Ann Hood:

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Theory of Humor

Providing a glimpse into the mysteries of the American mind for British readers, George Saunders wrote a column entitled "American Psyche" for the Guardian, 2004-8.

Here is a piece on humor from June 2008:

"Let's attempt to derive a theory of humour. Enabled by our theory, everyone could be funny, not just people who are actually funny. And since being funny is an asset - in business, in romance, when one has broken the law - it's hardly fair that "funny people" enjoy a monopoly.

"Let's begin with animals. Which animals are funny? Not an eagle. Unless the eagle is wearing a top hat. And walking stiffly through a supermarket, muttering grumpily to itself about how the world used to be a better place. The addition of a top hat makes any animal funnier. Put a top hat on an already funny animal (a pig, say), and the effect is hilarious, especially if the pig topples over for no reason and can't get up. And the eagle in the top hat stiffly steps over the fallen pig, muttering further reactionary platitudes. Then the pig puts out one of its stumpy pink legs, and down goes the eagle.

More in the Guardian:

Saunders visits UAlbany today:

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The Aching Banality of Our Times-- George Saunders

"Short story master George Saunders is fascinated by one of the great stories of the modern age — and it’s not climate change, not the world at war. Rather: It is the aching banality of our times. The pervasive McCulture. And how it robs us of our humanity, contorts our moral bearings, separates us from true feeling."

"In fiction and his essays, Saunders examines the ways in which the forces of corporate capitalism — and our own material urges — numb us, dumb us and humiliate us. He commands us to take a hard look at the absurd logic-language of Group Think or Management Speak. Then, in the spirit of communal recognition, he invites us to laugh out loud at it."

Read more by Brad Buchholz in the Austin American-Statesman:

Saunders visits UAlbany today:

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Friday, February 15, 2013

George Saunders, An Old Friend As It Turns Out

Next week's guest, bestselling short story writer George Saunders used to visit the Writers Institute office from time to time in the 1980s, when Toni Morrison shared our space in the Humanities Building. Here's why (via an interview in the New Yorker):

"When we had our first daughter, Paula was on a fellowship, studying with Toni Morrison at SUNY Albany, and I had just started working for a pharmaceutical company as a tech writer. But then her fellowship ended and that job played out, and, at the same time, it started to dawn on us that this writing thing might take longer to pay off than we’d expected."

More in the New Yorker:

More on Saunders' upcoming visit:

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"The Best Book You'll Read This Year"

George Saunders, who visits Albany this coming Wednesday, is achieving a kind of popular renown and name recognition that is usually unknown to literary short story writers.

This January 2013 New York Times article certainly helped introduce him to a wider readership:

George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year

It’s the trope of all tropes to say that a writer is “the writer for our time.” Still, if we were to define “our time” as a historical moment in which the country we live in is dropping bombs on people about whose lives we have the most abstracted and unnuanced ideas, and who have the most distorted notions of ours; or a time in which some of us are desperate simply for a job that would lead to the ability to purchase a few things that would make our kids happy and result in an uptick in self- and family esteem; or even just a time when a portion of the population occasionally feels scared out of its wits for reasons that are hard to name, or overcome with emotion when we see our children asleep, or happy when we risk revealing ourselves to someone and they respond with kindness — if we define “our time” in these ways, then George Saunders is the writer for our time.

Read more here:

Read more about Saunders' visit to the New York State Writers Institute on Wed., Feb. 20th here:

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Criminal Justice Scholar to Moderate Film Discussion

Dr. Christina Lane will lead audience discussion following this Friday's screening of Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action, as part of the Justice & Multiculturalism in the 21st Century Film Series, cosponsored by the NYS Writers Institute and the School of Criminal Justice.

A faculty member at the College of Saint Rose and alumna of the UAlbany School of Criminal Justice doctoral program, Professor Lane is a multiple year honoree in America’s Who’s Who Teachers of Excellence. She teaches courses in Criminal Justice, Behavior & Law, Forensic Psychology, and Forensic Science.

February 15 (Friday)Film screening — 7:30 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus

Directed by Roberta Grossman
(United States, 2006, 88 minutes, color)

An artful and moving example of documentary filmmaking, HOMELAND follows the stories of Native American activists fighting to protect their lands against corporate exploitation and environmental destruction. Variety called the film, “Beautifully crafted...,” and said “Roberta Grossman skillfully intersperses vastly varied archival clips with quietly impassioned testimonials by tribal leaders and stunning lensing showcasing both the natural wonders and the man-made degradation of the landscape.”

More on the film series:

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Valentine's Day Cocktails from Women Authors

Bestselling novelist Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle) who visits the Institute 2/26, offers her favorite Valentine's Day cocktail:

“A lime mint Rickey: I recently returned from Cartagena Colombia and fell hard for their local concoction of fresh lime juice, mint and simple syrup over crushed ice. Also very tasty with dark rum in it!”

Cowboys Are My Weakness author Pam Houston, who visited in 2005, offers this: “Pretty in Pink: San Pellegrino (2 parts), pomegranate-cherry juice (1 part), slice of Meyer lemon, and lots of ice in a tall tumbler. It’s pretty, pink, and comforting (in case Valentine’s Day sucks).”

For more cocktails, go to

More on Hood's upcoming visit:

More on Houston's 2005 visit:

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Homeland Film Tomorrow: "Visually Stunning"

Tomorrow, Friday 2/15 at Page Hall, 7:30PM, we will screen Homeland, winner of numerous prizes at documentary festivals around the world. The film follows the battles of Native American activists to save the natural beauty and resources of their reservations from corporate exploitation.

"Beautifully crafted... Roberta Grossman skillfully intersperses vastly varied archival clips with quietly impassioned testimonials by tribal leaders and stunning lensing showcasing both the natural wonders and the manmade degradation of the landscape... Homeland merits a wider audience than provided by scattershot PBS airings... At a time when 30 years of environmental protection laws are being rapidly dismantled, Homeland militantly proposes America's First Peoples as the vangaurd of resistence." -- Variety

"Visually stunning... [Homeland] is a perfect blend of visuals, words, musical background, and thought-provoking issues related not only to Native Americans but to the environmental crisis facing America. " -- School Library Journal

"The story of a U.S. tragedy -- multinational companies doing their deadly work in Native peoples' backyards -- and of the brave few who stand up to combat it." -- The Utne Reader

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jorgen Randers Last Night

Influential futurist Jorgen Randers, author of 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (2012), spoke last night to a packed Lecture Center audience of approximately 400.

Audience members remarked on the sharp contrast between Randers' sunny disposition and the terrifying implications of his data.

For more on Randers, go to

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Jorgen Randers in New Film

Jorgen Randers, who visits UAlbany tonight, stars in a new documentary about the impending collapse of the Earth's ability to sustain human life, The Last Call.

View a trailer of the film:

Visit the film's website:

Find out more about Randers' visit today to UAlbany:

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Colman Domingo Meets With Students

2011 Tony Award nominated actor Colman Domingo took time to give words of encouragement to students and struggling theatre people in the audience after his presentation of the Burian Lecture at the University at Albany on Monday.

Read more about Colman Domingo here:

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Jamaica Kincaid and Writers Institute in NYT

The New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore is mentioned in a New York Times profile of Jamaica Kincaid-- though not by name!

"When Ms. Kincaid read from the book last summer at a writers’ institute at Skidmore College, the mostly student audience peppered her with questions about 'whether the novel is a suitable vehicle for working through the personal this or that,' said Robert Boyers, the director of the institute."

Read more in the Times:

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Broadway Star Colman Domingo's Visit

Colman Domingo received more than one standing ovation at UAlbany on Monday for his inspirational message to students and clips of his riveting performances, not to mention his pledges to revive the soon-to-be-cut UAlbany Theater Department.

Domingo talked about his inner city boyhood in West Philadelphia, his improbable success on stage and screen, his indefatigable pursuit of his personal goals as an actor and playwright, his role in the opening scene of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, and his friendship and close working relationship with beloved former UAlbany Theater faculty member Lisa Thompson, whom he called his "soul sister."

Domingo last visited the Institute in February 2007 to direct excerpts from Thompson's plays, prior to many of his recent triumphs.

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Will Humanity Survive? Maybe Not.

Jorgen Randers, who visits Albany today, raises questions about humankind's near-term prospects. His report was delivered to the influential global thinktank, The Club of Rome.

The following is a summary of the report, which appears on The Club of Rome's website:

New Report issues warning about humanity’s ability to survive without major change

(Rotterdam, the Netherlands): 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, by Jorgen Randers, launched by the Club of Rome on May 7, raises the possibility that humankind might not survive on the planet if it continues on its path of over-consumption and short-termism.

In the Report author Jorgen Randers raises essential questions: How many people will the planet be able to support? Will the belief in endless growth crumble? Will runaway climate change take hold? Where will quality of life improve, and where will it decline? Using painstaking research, and drawing on contributions from more than 30 thinkers in the field, he concludes that....

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Jorgen Randers In the Times Union

Jorgen Randers, who visits today, Wednesday, Feb. 8th, is interviewed by Elizabeth Floyd Mair in the Times Union:

Global thinking, global warning

Norwegian environmental scientist sees a bleak future unfolding if nations do not change course
   Jorgen Randers has spent much of his adult life worrying about the future. Not his own, but that of the planet.The environmental scientist co-authored the classic "The Limits to Growth" in 1972, which examined humanity's overuse of the Earth's finite natural resources and discussed a variety of scenarios that could result over the next four decades.
   Fast-forward 40 years to 2012, when Randers issued a new book, "2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years." In it, Randers, displaying a curious mix of passion and resignation, takes a hard look at what he believes the future is likely to be.

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More on Randers' visit:

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