Thursday, February 27, 2014

Stumbling Upon an Undiscovered Archive

"Turse opened a box — it was dusty and looked untouched — and began thumbing through reports of more than 300 allegations of massacres, murders, rapes, torture, assaults, mutilations and other atrocities committed by U.S. military personnel and substantiated by Army investigators."

Paul Grondahl describes Nick Turse's discovery of unknown Pentagon documents, and the subsequent investigations that led to his 2013 bestseller, Kill Anything That Moves, in the Times Union.


Turse visited the Writers Institute last week:

Picture:  National Archives in Washington, D.C.

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Kendra Smith-Howard discusses Grapes of Wrath

Kendra Smith-Howard, who moderates a discussion after our Friday 2/28 screening of The Grapes of Wrath, is Assistant Professor in the UAlbany Department of History. Her research focuses on environmental history in the twentieth-century United States, particularly in its intersection with histories of agriculture, consumer culture, technology and public health.

Her 2013 book, Pure and Modern Milk, calls attention to the ways in which new standards of purity and changing consumer practices reconfigured the work and material environment of the dairy farm in the twentieth century.

STARRED REVIEW in Publishers Weekly: “Smith-Howard succeeds as both historian and storyteller in developing an essential narrative about American industrialization and how both nature and technology have been romanticized. Her coherent and complex view of the 20th century is both informative and enjoyable.”

More about the film series:

More about the book:;jsessionid=C0F0A2675F9402DD7D8FBBE506F268A5?cc=us&lang=en&#


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Today is John Steinbeck's Birthday

Steinbeck gets his own Google doodle today in honor of his birthday:

Tomorrow, 2/28, we will screen the film adaptation of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath:

Historian Kendra Smith-Howard will moderate a discussion afterward.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Elizabeth Floyd Mair interviews E. L. Doctorow in the Times Union

Q: Some critics might say that the focus of this novel is smaller and more confined than some of your earlier works, since it doesn't feature a large cast of characters but is just the voice of one man talking about his life. Yet to me it seemed vast anyway, because of the unexpected twists that Andrew's stories take. What's your sense of whether or not the story is smaller?

A: I would say rather that this novel is not formulaic fiction — it is not a linear narrative that has at its context a recognizable social reality — the world of business, say, or of domestic life, or of war. It is large on its own terms, as is an installation, or a cubist canvas that turns everything inside out.


Doctorow comes to UAlbany tomorrow, Thursday, 2/27:

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Fiction Without Formula-- E. L. Doctorow

Here are some recent reviews of Andrew's Brain (2014) by E. L. Doctorow, who visits us tomorrow.

More about the visit:

Review in the Washington Post, "E.L. Doctorow moves to fiction without formula in ‘Andrew’s Brain’":

Review in the Australian, "Mind games from EL Doctorow, a master storyteller":

Review in th National of the United Arab Emirates:

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Monday, February 24, 2014

"A Highly Original Experiment in Historical Fiction": Doctorow's Ragtime.

In 1975, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times is awed by E. L. Doctorow's novel, Ragtime:

"It works so well that one devours it in a single sitting as if it were the most conventional of entertainments. And the reviewer is tempted to dispense with heavy breathing and analysis and settle down to mindless celebration of the pure fun of the thing.... But Ragtime works--and works so effortlessly that one hesitates to take it apart. Still, the questions persist: How does it work? Why do these historical images--half documentary-half invented--seem truer than the truth? And the answer is, for one obvious thing, they reflect all that is most significant and dramatic in America's last hundred years or so...."

More in the Times:

Doctorow visits Albany to present his new novel, Andrew's Brain, this coming Thursday, February 27:

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nick Turse on Bill Moyers

Nick Turse, investigative journalist who comes to UAlbany today, was interviewed two weeks ago by Bill Moyers:

“American culture has never fully come to grips with Vietnam,” Turse tells Bill Moyers, referring to “hidden and forbidden histories that just haven’t been fully engaged.”

Come see Nick this afternoon in the UAlbany Performing Arts Center uptown:

He'll be talking about his newest book, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (2013).

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Nick Turse Today on WAMC with Joe Donahue

Nick Turse, who visits UAlbany this afternoon, was interviewed this morning by Joe Donahue on the WAMC Roundtable.

Audio should be up soon.

More about Nick's visit:

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Trapped Inside the Human Brain-- E. L. Doctorow

E. L. Doctorow, one of the towering American novelists of the last 50 years, will visit the Writers Institute next week, to present his new novel, Andrew's Brain (2014), about the human mind and its puzzlements.

More about the visit:

Terrence Rafferty reviewed the novel on the front page of the New York Times Book Review:

"The sense of being trapped in your own consciousness is, of course, an occupational hazard for writers, but it’s not a problem you’d expect Doctorow to worry himself much about. His fiction has always seemed driven by intense curiosity about the world outside him, about the people of other times and how they lived. So it’s odd that in the past few years he has seemed so interested in characters like the Coll­yers and Andrew, who prefer to look inward and shun the wider view. They’re exotic specimens, baffled and lonely and pacing in their cages. It’s touching that Doctorow should want to study them, and although they’re essentially comic figures, he’s strangely solicitous of them; he respects the narrow space they find themselves living in."

More in the NY Times:

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lorrie Moore has a new book

Charles McGrath profiles major American writer Lorrie Moore and her new book of short stories (her first in 15 years) in yesterday's New York Times.

From the article:  Lorrie Moore doesn’t much resemble a Lorrie Moore character. She’s shy and self-deprecating but not melancholy, witty but not jokey. Her conversation doesn’t bristle with wordplay or throwaway one-liners; there are no zingers. Two of her favorite expressions are “I don’t know” and, added to the end of a sentence, “Or maybe not.”


A Glens Falls native, Moore visited the Writers Institute in 2009 and shared the stage with fellow upstater Richard Russo (of Gloversville) to celebrate the New York State Writers Institute's 25th Anniversary.

More on their visit:

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On Writing and Erasing History-- Nick Turse

Nick Turse, who visits the NYS Writers Institute tomorrow, calls out the Pentagon for its selective rewriting of Vietnam War history, and makes some dark predictions about the future of propaganda:

"It’s 2053 -- 20 years since you needed a computer, tablet, or smartphone to go online. At least, that’s true in the developed world: you know, China, India, Brazil, and even some parts of the United States. Cybernetic eye implants allow you to see everything with a digital overlay. And once facial recognition software was linked to high-speed records searches, you had the lowdown on every person standing around you. Of course, in polite society you still introduce yourself as if you don’t instantly know another person’s net worth, arrest record, and Amazooglebook search history. (Yes, the fading old-tech firms Amazon, Google, and Facebook merged in 2033.) You also get a tax break these days if you log into one of the government’s immersive propaganda portals. (Nope, “propaganda” doesn’t have negative connotations anymore.) So you choose the Iraq War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Experience and take a stroll through the virtual interactive timeline."

More on Huffington Post via

More about Turse's visit:

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James Redwood's tales of Vietnam to be presented today

James Redwood, prizewinning author of short stories based on his experiences in Vietnam, visits the Writers Institute today:

Jack Rightmyer offers a portrait of Redwood in the Schenectady Sunday Gazette:

If James D. Redwood had not gotten such a high draft number in 1970, his view of the Vietnamese people would most likely be very different today, and his award-winning short story collection “Love Beneath the Napalm” (University of Notre Dame Press, $24, 183 pages) might have never been written. “With such a high number I knew I would never be drafted,” said Redwood in a recent phone interview from his office at the Albany Law School, where he has been a professor since 1989. Most undergraduates would be relieved to get such a number, but Redwood, who graduated from Oberlin College in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in English, wanted to do some type of service to help the war-torn nation.

More in the Schenectady Gazette:

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nick Turse on the Fog of War

Nick Turse, author of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves (2013), visits us on
Wednesday, Feb. 19th.

In The Nation's Investigative Fund's "The Backstory" project (about the art and practice of investigative journalism), Turse talks about the challenges of collecting data on civilian casualties in war zones, and in particular the challenges of writing his feature article for the October 7, 2013 issue of The Nation, "America's Afghan Victims."

Original article here:

Backstory interview here:

More about Turse's upcoming visit to Albany here:

Photo:  Troops on patrol in Afghanistan Photo: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

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Film Showcases Jerome Kern's Songwriting

Lovely to Look At (1952) will be screened this Friday in honor of Valentine's Day as part of the New York State Writers Institute's Classic Film Series.

The film features 10 songs by major American songwriter Jerome Kern including "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "I Won't Dance," the title song "Lovely to Look At," "I'll Be Hard to Handle," "Opening Night," "Lafayette," "Yesterdays," "You're Devastating," "The Most Exciting Night," and "The Touch of Your Hand."

Complete film series:

From Jerome Kern tribute page at Stanford University:

More than fifty years after his passing, the music of Jerome Kern remains a cornerstone of the Great American Songbook, having survived the fads and fashions of four generations—it continues to be performed on the Broadway stage and recorded by major artists. Known for creating the musical Show Boat, Jerome Kern composed his enduring classics for both stage and movie musicals; works such as “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Old Man River,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and more.



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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Guirgis Talks About Philip Seymour Hoffman

Playwright and UAlbany alum Stephen Adly Guirgis talks about his close friend and artistic collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman during his visit to the Writers Institute in 2010.

A theater director as well as an actor, Hoffman directed five plays written by Guirgis for New York City's award-winning LAByrinth Theatre Company.

The Oscar-winning actor and upstate New York native died earlier this month of a drug overdose.

Watch the YouTube video:

More about Guirgis:

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Maxine Kumin (1925-2014)

Maxine Kumin, one of the greatest poets of her generation, passed away on February 6, 2014 at the age of 88 at her home in New Hampshire.

Kumin visited the New York State Writers Institute and UAlbany on March 15, 2005.

Among other things, she spoke about recovering from her catastrophic horseback riding accident at the age of 73 (she broke her neck), her close friendship with the poet Anne Sexton (they had a dedicated phone line which they left connected all day long), and her hatred of woodchucks (because of the hazards their holes pose to horses).

Here's a short video clip from her visit:

Here's our dedicated page:

Here's the New York Times obit:

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Amazon's 100 Books to Read Before You Die

Perhaps we don't need Amazon telling us what to read, and their new list of "100 Books to Read Before You Die" is based on nothing but the arbitrary selections of marketing executives. On the other hand, it's difficult to argue with many of the choices on this new list, including several (22 to be exact, more than 1 in 5 overall) by past guests of the Institute.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
All the President's Men by Bob Woodward (no) and Carl Bernstein (yes)
Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (more than a visitor, a long-time friend)
Beloved by Toni Morrison (more than a visitor, a colleague)
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (before she was famous)
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (an early pal of Bill Kennedy)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (before and after he was famous)
The Color of Water by James McBride
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Complete list here:!slide=aol_1260760

Visit the Writers Institute Visiting Writers Archive here:

Amazon has also announced that it will compile a new reader-driven list based on a Goodreads readers' poll.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Black Boy" next week-- One Actor, 15 Characters!

The “Literature to Life” program of American Place Theatre presents a verbatim one-man adaptation of the first half of Richard Wright’s classic autobiographical work, Black Boy. The performance, in which the actor plays more than a dozen characters, dramatizes Wright’s journey from childhood innocence to adulthood in the Jim Crow South, exploring issues that still resonate in today’s cultural dialogue.

American Place Theatre performance of Black Boy
February 12 (Wednesday)
Performance — 7:30 p.m., Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus
Pre-performance discussion at 7 p.m.
Tickets: general public $15 in advance, $20 day of; students/seniors/UA faculty & staff $10 in advance, $15 day of
Box Office: (518) 442-3997;

Presented by the Performing Arts Center in conjunction with the Writers Institute; with support provided by the Diversity Transformation Fund, administered through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion; and the Holiday Inn Express

More about it here:

Picture:  Tarantino Smith in the one-man show.

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Bill Bryson at the New York State Museum

Here's a photo of Bill Bryson during his visit to the NYS Museum under our sponsorship on October 5, 2013.

As you might imagine, he was amazing.

We apologize to the angry crowds that couldn't fit inside the Museum (and if anyone would like to fund the rental of larger spaces, please get in touch).

Here's 38 minutes of footage from the event on YouTube:

More about his visit here:

Psst:  You may want to show up bright and early for some of our upcoming events (say, E. L. Doctorow or Christopher Durang or Julia Glass). 

Full schedule here:

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Ebert on Ragtime

We will screen the film Ragtime tomorrow 2/7 in anticipation of a visit by E. L. Doctorow, major American novelist, on Thursday, 2/27.

More about the film series:

Roger Ebert reviewed Ragtime in 1981:

"Ragtime is a loving, beautifully mounted, graceful film that creates its characters with great clarity. We understand where everyone stands, and most of the time we even know why."


Picture:  James Cagney in his final movie performance as New York Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New HBO Series Based on Mosley's Novels

A new HBO series, currently in production and starring Laurence Fishburne, will be based on the "Socrates Fortlow" novels by crime fiction author Walter Mosley (who visits UAlbany today, 2/4). Fishburne reprises his role as Fortlow, an ex-con trying to redeem himself, in an HBO film back in 1998.

From Variety, Nov. 2013: Laurence Fishburne is joining forces with HBO to bring back to life character Socrates Fortlow from the net’s 1998 pic “Always Outnumbered” — this time, as a TV series.


More about Walter Mosley's visit tonight at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center:

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On Crime and Fashion-- Frankie Bailey

Frankie Bailey, who shares the stage tonight with bestselling author Walter Mosley, discusses her forthcoming book on crime and fashion in an interview last year in the Times Union:

The police scanner crackles with a report of a liquor store stickup. The suspect was last seen fleeing on foot, wearing a black hoodie and Yankees cap.

It’s become a uniform of sorts for today’s young, urban street-level criminal with a hip-hop sensibility.

Frankie Y. Bailey, associate professor of criminal justice at the University at Albany, is not surprised by the scanner chatter. She’s been tracking the trend as part of her research for a book-in-progress, tentatively titled “Strip Search: Crime, Justice and Clothing in American Culture.”

More from Paul Grondahl in the Times Union:

More about today's events:

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