Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Exterminating Angel: "Like rats in an overpopulation study"

Friday's film at Page Hall is Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel (1962)-- part of the Food, Crime and Justice film series, cosponsored by the School of Criminal Justice. William Kennedy, novelist, screenwriter and Institute Executive Director, and Donald Faulkner, Institute Director, will provide commentary after the film.

Here's a review and reassessment by the late Roger Ebert that appeared in May 1997:

The dinner guests arrive twice. They ascend the stairs and walk through the wide doorway, and then they arrive again--the same guests, seen from a higher camera angle. This is a joke and soon we will understand the punch line: The guests, having so thoroughly arrived, are incapable of leaving.

Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" (1962) is a macabre comedy, a mordant view of human nature that suggests we harbor savage instincts and unspeakable secrets. Take a group of prosperous dinner guests and pen them up long enough, he suggests, and they'll turn on one another like rats in an overpopulation study.


More about the event:

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Douglas Bauer on Marriage, Aging, Life, Death

Douglas Bauer, who visits the Writers Institute tomorrow, 10/29, to present his new book, What Happens Next, Matters of Life and Death, is interviewed by Elizabeth Floyd Mair in the Times Union.

Q: What was the most surprising thing that you learned in the course of writing this book?

A: That I could write it. Until now, all my nonfiction has been about other people. Or it's concerned itself with literary matters. And I struggled in this book to find a balance between what seemed necessary to reveal about myself and my great reluctance to reveal anything, however important to the narrative.

More in the TU:

More about Bauer's visit:

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"Essayist Douglas Bauer examines future exquisitely"

Douglas Bauer's new collection of essays about life and death and his Iowa farm boyhood is reviewed in his hometown newspaper, the eastern Iowa Gazette, October 27, 2013:

"While it’s common to wonder what happens after we die, it’s not as common — or as pleasing a discussion at a party, say — to speculate on how we will age and eventually pass."

"However, this question posed itself quite plainly to author and essayist Douglas Bauer when, in his early sixties, he found himself needing a series of routine surgical procedures. As he was waking up from the first of two cataract surgeries, Bauer received word that his mother passed away.This experience was the catalyst for Bauer’s moving collection of personal essays, 'What Happens Next?' (University of Iowa Press)."

Read more in The Gazette:

Read more about Douglas Bauer's event tomorrow, Tuesday, 10/28:

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Stig Dagerman Celebration Tonight

Impressive praise blurbs grace the cover of Sleet, a new collection of stories in English translation by Swedish author Stig Dagerman, translated by former Writers Institute grad assistant Steven Hartman. The book also features an introduction by National Book Award winner Alice McDermott. The collection will be available for sale tonight at Page Hall at a celebration of Stig Dagerman's life and works, featuring films and readings, and a discussion with Steve Hartman and Lo Dagerman, Stig's daughter.

Picture: Steve Hartman

More about tonight's event:

Dagerman wrote with beautiful objectivity. Instead of emotive phrases, he uses a choice of facts, like bricks, to construct an emotion. --Graham Greene

An imagination that appeals to an unreasonable degree of sympathy is precisely what makes Dagerman s fiction so evocative. Evocative not, as one might expect, of despair, or bleakness, or existential angst, but of compassion, fellow-feeling, even love. --from the preface by Alice McDermott

Stig Dagerman writes with the tension that belongs to emergency—deliberately, precisely, breathlessly. To read Dagerman is to read with your whole body—lungs, heart, viscera, as well as mind. At once remote and intimate in tone, these works by one of the great twentieth-century writers come fully to life in a remarkable translation by Steven Hartman.
—Siri Hustvedt, author of The Summer Without Men

Stig Dagerman s fearless, moving stories should be placed alongside the short fiction of such luminaries as James Joyce, Anton Chekhov, and Raymond Carver. You ll find yourself holding your breath in wonder as you read, grateful to Dagerman (and Steven Hartman) for the gift of these stories. --Edward Schwarzschild, author of The Family Diamond

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goli Taraghi in the Times Union

Susan Comninos interviews Goli Taraghi, major voice in Iranian literature who visits Albany today.

"An intriguing time warp exists in the fiction of Persian expatriate author Goli Taraghi. While many fear rising nuclear capability in today's Iran, Taraghi, 74, remains gripped by her homeland's past. Decades after the 1979 revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Taraghi, in her new collection of short stories, "The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons" (W.W. Norton, Oct. 23, 2013), continues to chronicle the lives of exiles like herself, who fled to Western countries from the Islamic Republic. For Taraghi, their exodus is a trauma that never ended, but keeps getting painfully re-enacted."

More in the Times Union:

More about Goli Taraghi's visit:

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Profile of Luis Gutierrez in Rolling Stone

Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Latino civil rights leader who visits Albany tomorrow to talk about his new memoir, Still Dreaming, is profiled and interviewed by Ed Morales in a recent issue of Rolling Stone:

"I wish a had a nickel for every time I had to write 'I will not talk in class' on the blackboard in grade school," says GutiĆ©rrez, 59, calling from his office in Washington. "Some people are born talkers, and I wrote this book as though you were having a conversation with me." Fully conversant in Spanglish, GutiĆ©rrez switches from Chicago street mode to island Spanish easily because of his family's move back to Puerto Rico while he was still in high school. While the transition was a little awkward – island locals were quick to call him a "gringo" because of his imperfect Spanish – he learned something important about himself there.

More in Rolling Stone:

More about Gutierrez's visit:

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National Book Award Finalists

Finalists for the 2013 National Book Award have been announced.

Among them are five past visitors to the New York State Writers Institute: James McBride and George Saunders for Fiction; Jill Lepore for Nonfiction; and Frank Bidart and Lucie Brock-Broido for Poetry.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for November 20.

Full list in the New York Times:

Picture: Jill Lepore.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Looking back, and ahead, at journalism

Paul Grondahl talks about Bill Kennedy's appearance at the 40th anniversary celebration of UAlbany Journalism Program founder Bill Rowley last week:

Bill Kennedy was talking last week about his late, great friend Bill Rowley founding the University at Albany journalism program in 1973 — he was Rowley's first hire — and as the newspaperman-turned-novelist assessed the current state of journalism, his mood turned dark.

"Newsweek is gone. Time magazine is just a tattered print unit of Time Warner Cable," he said. "All the TV networks seem to have slid into the swamp of celebrity. The Times seems to be surviving, but I don't know how small papers can survive."

His talk was the centerpiece of what was billed as a 40th anniversary celebration, but as a truth-teller addressing an auditorium of professional skeptics and aspiring cynics, his forecast was stormy with a chance of extinction.

Kennedy quoted the prophecy of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, new owner of the Washington Post, who once said that newspapers as we know them will be gone in 20 years. "That does not seem unreasonable to me," Kennedy added.

More in the Times Union:

Picture: UAlbany undergraduate intern Michelle Checchi, a junior journalism major at UAlbany.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Grayce Burian-- Love, Europe, Stage

Bill Buell contributes an article to the Schenectady Gazette discussing Grayce Burian's book about her 54 years of marriage to the late theatre scholar Jarka Burian.

"Writing it was a kind of healing, and I'm glad I did it and I'm glad I could do it," said Burian. "Just to have if for my family was important. Originally I had no intention of publishing it."

Grayce Burian is a retired theatre scholar herself, and a key figure in the Capital Region's theatre community. Through the Jarka & Grayce Susan Burian Endowment, she supports the annual Burian Lecture Series on the Theatre, cosponsored by the NYS Writers Institute and UAlbany Department of Theatre.

Picture: Grayce with filmmaker John Sayles at the Writers Institute, February 2012.

Full article here:

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Luis Gutierrez Coming This Friday

Luis Gutierrez, Congressman and major figure in the immigration reform movement will visit the
Writers Institute on Friday, October 18, to present his new memoir, Still Dreaming (2013).

Elizabeth Floyd Mair published an interview with Gutierrez over the weekend in the Times Union.

Q: Your first successful election in Chicago as alderman helped begin to dismantle the Democratic machine that had controlled local politics for decades. We know something about political machines here in Albany, too. What are some of the key points in dismantling one?

A: Ending patronage, No. 1. And patronage comes in two types: There is the seating your unqualified buddy for a job, a buddy whose qualification is the work he does politically — not how talented he is as a carpenter or as an architect or as a city planner, but how talented he is at raising money and making sure that people vote for you. The other kind is pin-striped patronage, when it isn't the person with the lowest bid and the best product who gets the work, but the person with the closest relationship politically with those at City Hall.

More in the Times Union:

More about the Congressman's visit:

Picture: House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., gives his opening remarks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, during the committee's hearing on America's Immigration System: Opportunities for Legal Immigration and Enforcement of Laws against Illegal Immigration. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice Munro Wins Nobel Prize

STOCKHOLM (AP) - Alice Munro, a Canadian master of the short story revered as a thorough but forgiving chronicler of the human spirit, won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.

Munro is the first Canadian writer to receive the prestigious $1.2 million award from the Swedish Academy since Saul Bellow, who left for the U.S. as a boy and won in 1976.

Seen as a contemporary Chekhov for her warmth, insight and compassion, she has captured a wide range of lives and personalities without passing judgment on her characters. Unusually for Nobel winners, Munro's work consists almost entirely of short stories. "Lives of Girls and Women" is her only novel.

"I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win," the 82-year-old said by telephone when contacted by The Canadian Press in Victoria, British Columbia.

Munro is beloved among her peers, from Lorrie Moore and George Saunders to Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen. She is equally admired by critics. She won a National Book Critics Circle prize for "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage," and is a three-time winner of the Governor General's prize, Canada's highest literary honor.

More from the Associated Press:

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Monday, October 7, 2013

William Kennedy Celebrates the UAlbany Journalism Program

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of UAlbany’s Journalism Program
October 9 (Wednesday)
Lecture/Discussion by William Kennedy — 4:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus 

Picture:  Bill as a young reporter.

William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and founder of the New York State Writers Institute, will help the UAlbany Journalism Program celebrate its 40th anniversary with a lecture on “William Rowley: Journalism and Social Justice.” Rowley, a former editor at the Knickerbocker News and Professor of English at the University, founded the Journalism Program in 1973. An anti-war activist who also taught in the prisons, Rowley believed that journalism and social justice were natural allies, with journalism being a useful tool for developing “imagination, critical intelligence, and intellectual independence.” His first hire to teach in the Journalism Program was a local writer named Bill Kennedy. For almost a decade Kennedy taught a course in Advanced Journalism and Magazine Writing. Kennedy will reflect on his years teaching at Albany and the current state of journalism.
Sponsored by UAlbany's Journalism Program in celebration of its 40th anniversary

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T. C. Boyle Visits Tomorrow

Q: A lot of your stories in this volume present characters, usually men, who are so self-absorbed that they necessarily veer toward disaster. Is your view of human nature more dark than light?

A: I have lived one of the most fortunate of human lives, surrounded by light and love. I have known my closest friend since I was 3 1/2 years old, my children are slim and tall and beautiful and smarter than all the computers in the world combined, and I remain the only writer in history only to have one wife, the legendary Karen Kvashay, my college sweetheart at SUNY Potsdam.

Still, I do suspect that the universe doesn't care much about any of this or any of us and that accident rules the world. Fiction is a place for examining the darker scenarios, the ones we hope to avoid.

Read more of Elizabeth Floyd Mair's interview in Sunday's Times Union:

T. C. Boyle, fiction writer
October 8 (Tuesday)
Seminar — 4:15 p.m., Standish Room, Science Library, Uptown Campus
Reading — 8:00 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus
T. C. Boyle, “one of the most inventive and verbally exuberant writers of his generation” (New York Times), is the bestselling author of fourteen novels and nine short story collections. His newest book is T. C. Boyle Stories II (October 2013), a 944-page sequel to T. C. Boyle Stories (1998), winner of the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction. Michael Anderson of the New York Times Book Review described the latter as “700 flashy, inventive pages of stylistic and moral acrobatics.” Boyle’s novels include San Miguel (2012), Drop City (2003), The Road to Wellville (1993), and World’s End (1987).

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Bill Bryson Visits Saturday

Bill Bryson, bestselling nonfiction author, to read from his new book October 5, 2013

"One Summer: America, 1927" tells the story of a pivotal time in America's national "coming of age"
Bill Bryson, one of the best-loved nonfiction writers in the English-speaking world, will read from his new book, One Summer: America, 1927 (2013), the story of a pivotal year in America's national "coming of age," on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. in the Clark Auditorium, NYS Museum, Cultural Education Center, in downtown Albany. The event is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute, the New York State Library, and Friends of the New York State Library.

Bill Bryson is one of the best-loved nonfiction writers in the English-speaking world. Laugh-out-loud funny and astonishingly scholarly, Bryson's many books on travel, history, science, culture, and the English language have earned him a large following of readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Born and raised in Iowa, Bryson has spent much of his adult life in England, where he was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2006 for his contributions to British arts and letters. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society and served as Chancellor of Durham University, England's third oldest university, from 2005 to 2011.

Bryson's new book, One Summer: America, 1927 (2013), tells the story of a pivotal time in America's national "coming of age," when media spectacles became the country's obsession. The book features a large cast of colorful characters including celebrity "flyboy" Charles Lindbergh, homerun king Babe Ruth, husband-killer Ruth Snyder, flagpole sitter Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly, gangster Al Capone, jazz singer Al Jolson, do-nothing president Calvin Coolidge, and Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. In a starred review, Booklist called it, "Glorious," and said, "Bryson offers delicious detail and breathtaking suspense about events whose outcomes are already known." Kirkus called it, "A distinctively drawn time capsule from a definitive epoch."

Bryson's most recent book was the international bestseller, At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010), an epic chronicle of innovations in domestic architecture, from bathrooms to kitchens. The New York Times Book Review called it "Delightful...," and said, "Bryson's enthusiasm brightens any dull corner... He is fascinated by everything, and his curiosity is infectious." People magazine said, "If this book doesn't supply you with five years' worth of dinner conversation, you're not paying attention." The book will be reissued shortly in a new illustrated edition featuring more than 300 drawings and photographs.

Bryson's bestselling travel books include Bill Bryson's African Diary (2002), about visits to humanitarian projects sponsored by CARE International (which received all proceeds); In a Sunburned Country (2000), about Australia; A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998); Notes from a Small Island (1995), about Great Britain; and The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989). Notes from a Small Island was voted the book that best represented Great Britain in a 2003 poll of BBC radio listeners. The New York Times Book Review said of A Walk in the Woods, "Bryson is...great company right from the start-a lumbering, droll, neatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley, and...Dave Barry.... a satirist of the first rank, who writes (and walks) with Chaucerian brio."

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2004), Bryson's book on the history of science, earned the Royal Society's Aventis Prize, as well as the Descartes Prize, the European Union's highest literary award. His books on English language and literature include Shakespeare: The World as Stage (2007), Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words (2002), Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States (1994), and The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (1990).

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at



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Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Haunting, Friday at Page Hall


The Haunting

(UK/US, 1963, 112 min., b/w)
7:30 p.m. Page Hall, UAlbany downtown campus, 135 Western Ave., Albany
Listed first in a list of the “11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time” by director Martin Scorsese in the Daily Beast, October 28, 2009
Ranked #13 of the “25 Best Horror Films of All Time” by the critics of The Guardian (UK), October 22, 2010
Steven Spielberg regards The Haunting as one of the “seminal films” of his youth and reportedly told director Robert Wise that it was “the scariest film ever made.” – Judy Sloane in Film Review, June 1995
Between his phenomenally sunny musical successes West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), director Robert Wise found time to make this brooding, low-key shocker, based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. The material seemed to free up Wise’s baser talents:  The off-kilter, black-and-white photography goes a long way in intensifying the production’s minimal special effects, and the actors uniformly overplay their parts, giving the film a streamlined momentum it might have lacked otherwise. Though the story’s lesbian subtext was toned down for the film, the sleek Claire Bloom injects some much-needed sexual tension into the proceedings; the film is less about the group’s battle against poltergeists than about the inner struggle between the virginal Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) and her conflicting desires. Jackson’s story would be adapted for the screen again, in 1999’s sub-par The Haunting. Michael Hastings,  All Movie Guide

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