Jonathan Franzen: March 5, 2012

Report by Engram Wilkinson:

Audience members filed into McAlister Auditorium Monday night–most clutching copies of The Corrections or Freedom–eager for Tulane University’s sixth reading in its Great Writer Series. Franzen joins the league of Toni Morrison, Salmon Rushdie, Joan Didion, Carlos Fuentes and Michael Ondaatje as a reader in the series, sponsored by the Department of English’s Creative Writing Fund.

Tulane Professor Zach Lazar introduced Franzen with praise for his recently published novel, Freedom. “Franzen has established himself as leading a new wave of psychological realism, rich with the nuances of individual experiences,” Lazar said. Channeling Walt Whitman, Lazar concluded: “In Freedom, Franzen is no stander above men and women, or apart from them,” beautifully articulating what he called the “sheer energy” Franzen uses to produce such kinetic fiction.

As if reading from Lazar’s introduction, Franzen himself “kinetically”leapt from a stage curtain, skipping–or perhaps hopping–over a wire on his path to the podium. Before reading from a chapter in Freedom titled “Mountaintop Removal,” Franzen described the auditorium as “frighteningly vast.” The audience chuckled, and, despite the space’s size, never broke focus with the novelist as he began reading. Franzen’s voice–and the inflections employed for his character Richard Katz–was more than capable of filling the auditorium’s vastness, and got several genuine laugh-out-loud moments from audience members. In a description of a teenager named Zachary (no relation to Professor Lazar, as discussed in during the post-reading interview), Franzen comically and piercingly writes:

“Rather than thwarting his father’s vicarious rock ambitions by pursuing entomology or interesting himself in financial derivatives, Zachary dutifully aped Jimi Hendrix. Somewhere there had been a failure of imagination.”

Professor Lazar conducted an interview with Franzen on-stage after the reading, which Franzen prefaced by describing what he called a “post-reading remorse.” The two novelists talked about the difficulty of writing about sex and sex scenes in fiction–“There’s only so many things people can do to one another,” Franzen observed–commenting that, like the trust required between reader and writer, good sex relies on trust between two parties. “You can’t be safely ironic,” Franzen stated later in the interview. “I’m committed to closure,” he said, echoing his earlier assertion, “I love structuring novels. I’d be so happy if I could just structure them every day without, you know, writing them.”

In the evening’s final fifteen minutes, audience members were allowed to ask Franzen questions. The first question about Twitter has attracted media attention in Slate and The Guardian but, along with his prompted response to social media, Franzen discussed various topics, including: German literature; readership for contemporary American fiction; the state of American literature (“there’s been something goofy about American literature since Modernism,” he said); the task of adequately developing characters in his own work; his growing-up in the Midwest; Enid, from The Corrections; and the challenges of adapting The Corrections into a screenplay. “We’ve got to make writing friendly,” he concluded. “You’ve got to dare to try to be moving.”

Jonathan Franzen is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including: The Twenty-Seventh CityStrong MotionHow to Be AloneThe Discomfort ZoneThe Corrections, winner of the National Book Award; and, Freedom selected in December as one of the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2010.

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Naomi Shihab Nye: November 17, 2011

Report by Engram Wilkinson:

At approximately 7:03 pm Thursday night, as a crowd prepared themselves for Professor Peter Cooley’s introductory remarks for Tulane’s Fall 2011 Poet Laureate Series visiting poet Naomi Shibab Nye, the Lavin-Bernick Center’s fire alarms begin to sound. “Please evacuate the building,” an automated voice said over the Kendall Cram Ballroom’s speakers. The confused audience filed out, Ms. Nye laughing and commenting to a group of students: “It’s going to be an exciting evening.”

After the crowd stood outside the building for roughly twenty minutes waiting for the deactivation of what was later revealed to be a false alarm, Professors Cooley and Zachary Lazar escorted everyone back inside and to their seats. “Now we can begin,” said Professor Cooley, taking the stage.

He continued: “It’s a cliché in our time to say the personal is political, but in the work of Naomi Nye, author of more than thirty books, the personal is political is incarnational. Her poetry is a needed poetry.”

Nye thanked Professor Cooley before saying it was a “precious time” to be in the city of New Orleans. “It’s everyone’s favorite city!” she said, evoking head-nods from everyone in the audience. Before reading her poem “Every Window,” Nye read W.S. Merwin’s “Native Trees,” commenting also that she was glad “the building didn’t burn down.”

From here she read poems about her father, poems about lost pets, and a poem she was requested to write by prisoners she once taught in a workshop in an upstate New York prison. Entitled “Maximum Security,” Nye read: “There are one hundred ways we could go wrong/ and they are very close by.”

During the Question and Answer session, an audience member asked Nye about her poem “Kindness,” about Nye’s experiences in South America after being robbed in Colombia. Begins the poem “Before you know what kindness is/ you must lose things…” Nye continued to talk about her personal travels, saying that “when you write—or, when you experience kindness or grief—you’re learning how to carry a body of voices. We may lose things, but more continues to be given to us.”

 

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Sherman Alexie: October 24, 2011

Report by Engram Wilkinson:

“When reading Alexie’s work, you’re jolted by contradiction,” said Zachary Lazar, Tulane’s new Professor of Creative Writing, in his introductory remarks for the evening. Professor Lazar continued: “You approach Alexie’s work with what Hemingway called a Bullshit Detector, and, well, Alexie’s fiction has a sense of what really matters. He writes in a Bullshit-Free Zone.”

Upon taking his place on the stage in the Kendall-Cram Ballroom, Alexie responded to the introduction with, “Zach is such a sweetheart. I could never imagine him telling anyone, ‘Hey, I’m gonna kick your ass!’”

Alexie told the packed house of audience members he’d left his manuscript on the airplane, and would therefore be reading poems from his iPad. Before any poems were read, however, Alexie reflected on an incident he’d seen while driving from the New Orleans airport—catching what he called the “interracial eroticism” of “black, Drew Brees-jerseyed” women grinding on older, similarly jerseyed white males. “Is Drew Brees some sort of sex symbol for interracial eroticism?” he asked an audience already bent over in laughter. “Everyone is so sexual in New Orleans,” he continued. “This morning in the hotel I woke up to the housekeeper grinding on me in my bed.”

Like Alexie’s hilarious remarks on race, Drew Brees and Saints fans, his poetry rides the beautiful line that bridges comedy and serious concerns for contemporary social issues. From his crowd-pleasing and laughter-inducing poem “The Facebook Sonnet,” Alexie read:

Welcome to the endless high-school

Reunion. Welcome to past friends

And lovers, however kind or cruel.

Shortly after reading “The Facebook Sonnet,” Alexie took questions from the audience. When asked about the hilarity of both his poetry and his performance that night in the LBC, Alexie said: “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.” The magic of Alexie’s work, and his reading on October 24th, cannot be more succinctly described.

Sherman Alexie is Tulane’s visiting Writer’s Writer for the Fall 2011 semester. He is the author of Reservation Blues, Indian Killer; The Toughest Indian in the World, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. His 2009 collection War Dances won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

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Robert Hass: January 24, 2011

Report by Engram Wilkinson:

Before he took the stage at Dixon Auditorium last night, Professor and English Department Chair Molly Rothenberg said, “Robert Hass is appropriate for our region.” Referring to the recent oil spill, Rothenberg welcomed the former Poet Laureate and environmental activist to Tulane.

Professor Peter Cooley praised Hass’ poetry for its “sensual qualities and political engagements.” Before reading selections of his own work, bespectacled Hass told the audience that, as a medium, “poetry can do anything.” His first poem was “Iowa, January,” a selection from his book Time and Materials. On the short poem he said: “sometimes all you want to do is capture a moment.” Hass peppered his reading with short anecdotes, recalling his friendship with Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, whose work Hass himself has translated into English. Discussing his own poetry in the context of Milosz and Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa, Hass said the poet’s task is to “capture lightning in a bottle.”

Hass told personal stories as well, recounting his job of writing a poem on the state of the planet for Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s fiftieth anniversary. “State of the Planet” is a poem that juggles and unifies many elements—a schoolgirl walking in the rain, the speaker’s conversation with long-dead Roman poet Lucretius, and the luminescent properties of jellyfish, to name a few—and, at one of the readings most intense moments, proclaimed:

It must be a gift of evolution that humans

Can’t sustain wonder. We’d never have gotten up

From our knees if we could.

Following “State of the Planet” Hass read a four-part poem entitled, “August Notebook: A Death.” “I like to keep journals of poetry and ideas for each month of the year,” said Hass. He concluded the reading with a poem about the California coastline—“an elegy, of sorts,” he said—which began:

Late afternoon in June the fog rides in

across the ridge of pines, ghosting them,

and settling on the bay to give a muted gray

luster to the last hours of light and take back

what we didn’t know at midday we’d experience

as lack…

After the reading Hass took questions from the audience. In response to a question about his own writing process and experiences as a poet, Hass echoed his earlier statement to students in Professor Cooley’s advanced poetry workshop by saying: “I work a little everyday—to do “work,” properly speaking. I like to show the Muse I’m showing up. But really, I’d like to become a better reader.” “To make art,” Hass said, addressing another student, “you’ve got to be dedicated to it.”

Robert Hass served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. He was awarded the Yale Younger Series of Poets Award for Field Guide in 1972, the William Carlos Williams Award for Praise in 1979, and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2008 for his collection Time and Materials. Hass has translated the works of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz and Japanese haikus in his book The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa. His other awards include the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship. He is the Distinguished Chair of Poetry and Poetics at the University of California, Berkeley.

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James Salter: November 10, 2010

Report by Engram Wilkinson:

In her welcoming remarks for the evening, Professor Molly Rothenberg called James Salter “a national literary treasure.” James Salter, Tulane University’s Fall 2010 visiting writer in the “Writer’s Writer” series, took the stage after a more personal introduction by creative writing Professor Thomas Beller. “There’s something about Salter’s prose,” Beller said, “that lingers in the imagination. His writing has a magic feel, where individual lines are talismans.”

Salter shuffled onto the stage and comically proclaimed, “I won’t fulfill all that.” As audience members chuckled and speculated as to what story or excerpt was inside the manila folder Salter brought to the podium he said, “I’m going to read something new tonight. It’s called “Charisma.””

The unpublished short story traces the observations of male and female characters around the relationship between Paolo, whose face is “beyond age,” and Leila, “whose beauty was ennobling.” In characteristically deft strokes Salter painted the volcanic relationship between these two characters, his narrator making the observation: “To know someone, you must know what they fear.” Salter’s narrator said later of Paolo, “you could not enter his world without him.” The same could be said for Salter the author who, like his character, “ignores ordinary reality, the kind everyone knows.”

Following the reading, Salter conducted an interview with Professor Kevin Rabalais, answering questions on his history as a writer, serviceman, and screenwriter. “I spent about twelve years in the service, twelve in the movies, and twelve writing,” said Salter. When asked specifically about his novels and short stories, Salter had to say: “There’s a little bit of luck involved in getting published. When you’re young you have the energy to write—to stay up late into the night.” Rabalais asked of Salter’s early days as a pilot secretly writing fiction, keeping it, “his third life,” hidden away in a drawer. “What kept me writing?” Salter replied. “Well, you just can’t stop.”

James Salter is Tulane’s visiting Writer’s Writer for the Fall 2010 semester. His novels include A Sport and a Pastime, Light Years and Solo Faces. Dusk, one of his short story collections, received the PEN/Faulkner Award. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000.

 

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Michael Ondaatje: October 25, 2010

Report by Engram Wilkinson:

In her introduction of Michael Ondaatje Professor Molly Travis said of his work, “his are haunting and haunted characters.” Her introductory remarks summarized the whole of Ondaatje’s work and his October 25th reading beautifully. With Dixon Hall filled by students, professors and members of the community, Michael Ondaatje took the stage as Tulane’s most recent participant in the Great Writers series.

Ondaatje began by reading two poems, “The Cinnamon Peeler” and “The Great Tree.” One line from “The Great Tree,” a poem about 14th century Chinese artists, spoke of “no flamboyant movement.” There exists no better description of Michael Ondaatje as a public speaker: there was nothing flamboyant as he read line by line, his voice powerfully unassuming and quiet, never once rising to loud theatrics.

When finished with “The Great Tree,” Ondaatje read an excerpt from Anil’s Ghost, his Giller Prize-winning fourth novel. His passage focused on the character Gamini, a doctor performing surgery on a small child whose heart “was the size of a guava.”

A reading from Ondaatje’s most recent novel and Governor General’s Award recipient Divisadero concluded the evening’s reading. Ondaatje read three passages from the novel, each about the adolescence lives of three different characters. “It’s my way of giving this reading an odd structure,” he said facing the audience. The first passage dealt with Anna, a girl living in California who, in a field at night, “counted the seconds between meteor showers.” The second character, Raphael, was caught on a runaway horse during a storm as an eleven-year-old boy. The final character presented from Divisadero was Lucien the poet, who observed his stepfather the clockmaker and concluded—in contrast to a clockmaker and his rolled-up sleeves—“the skill of a writer offers little to a viewer.” The large audience in Dixon Hall clearly refuted Lucien’s claim as all sat ensnared by the imaginary worlds and characters of Ondaatje’s prose.

Ondaatje’s reading was followed by an interview with Professor Molly Travis and questions from the audience. When asked about film and film editing, Ondaatje called himself a “child of film” and said of the creative process: “editing is as important as creating…that the quiet act of writing is part learning.”

Michael Ondaatje is Tulane’s visiting Great Writer for the 2010-2011 academic year. He is the author of the novels Anil’s GhostThe English PatientComing Through Slaughter, In the Skin of a Lion, and Divisadero. His works of poetry include The Cinnamon Peeler, Handwriting, There’s a Trick with a Knife I’m Learning to Do, and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. He edits the literary journal Brick with his wife Linda Spalding.

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Prizewinners, May 2010

From left: Sara Tobin, Daniel Grossberg, Emily Couvillon, Joanna Kauffmann, Chanel Clarke. Photo: Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo.

Paula Morris here, posting from New Zealand.

This picture was taken on the stage of McAlister Auditorium during the Newcomb-Tulane College Prizegiving ceremony last Friday, May 13. I was very sorry to miss this.

Four of the above won creative writing prizes. Sara Tobin: the Academy of American Poets Prize. Daniel Grossberg: the Writer’s Residency Award for an Outstanding Senior in Creative Writing. Joanna Kauffmann: the Quarante Club Prize for the Best Short Story by a Woman. Chanel Clarke: the Senior Achievement Award for Excellence in Creative Writing. Chanel will be moving to Austin, TX soon, to take up her three-year MFA fellowship at the Michener Center for Writers at UT Austin.

Also pictured is Emily Couvillon, who won the Henry Clay Stier Award in English, for the highest GPA in the major. Coincidentally, Emily is a native of Marksville, Louisiana, where Daniel Grossberg will be spending his week-long residency in June. Daniel won a second prize this year – the Donald Pizer Award in American Literature, I think.

Not pictured here is another prizewinner, Kenneth Lota, who was the department’s Senior Scholar. Kenneth is taking up a place this fall in the MA program at the University of Virginia.

Another coincidence: Sara Tobin, Joanna Kauffmann and Kenneth Lota were all students (as freshmen) in my first-ever TIDES class at Tulane, on ‘Literary New Orleans’. That was a lovely class, and I’m delighted to have seen them develop into such smart, articulate, accomplished individuals.

Congratulations to all our brilliant seniors.

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Amy Hempel: March 15, 2010

Report by Sara Sands:

With her long, white hair framing her face, she looked exactly like the photo on the cover of The Collected Stories.

But her voice – serious but playful, frank but inviting – spoke to Amy Hempel’s power as a writer, reader, and overall master of her craft.

As the 25th Zale-Kimmerling Writer-in-Residence, Hempel read seven of her short and short-short stories to about 200 people on Monday. The reading ended with a brief Q&A session that provided yet another means for the audience of Tulane affiliates and community members to connect to the critically acclaimed writer.

Hempel began the night with a reading of “The Harvest,” a two-part story published in her second book At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom. In both her anecdotes before the story and the story itself, Hempel entertained, engaged and amused the attentive crowd.

By her third story, “Memoirs,” a one-sentence narrative that Hempel celebrates as her “shortest published story,” it seemed as though she was engaged in an intimate conversation, sharing her secrets with a group of friends.

In addition to “The Harvest” and “Memoirs,” Hempel read “The After Life,” which was published in Playboy; “Weekend,” a story from her third book Tumble Home; and three new works entitled “I Stay with Syd,” “The Correct Grip,” and “Sing to It.” The questions that followed her reading included queries on the challenges of teaching, the importance of setting in stories, and her favorite recent reads.

During the reception, Sarah Manthey, a senior and English major, commented on just how enjoyable the reading was. “She created a very intimate atmosphere even though there were a lot of people. It just felt very natural, like she was talking to the audience.”

As this year’s Zale-Kimmerling Writer-in-Residence, Hempel joins a growing list of stellar visiting writers, including recent guests Claire Messud, Elizabeth McCracken, and Curtis Sittenfeld.

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Poet Laureate Series: Rita Dove, 3/8/10

Report by Nicola Wolf

In a much-anticipated public appearance at Tulane’s McAlister Auditorium on March 8, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove read thirteen poems from her latest book Sonata Mulattica, a book she said she hadn’t expected to write.  In 2003, while watching IMMORTAL BELOVED, a fictional account of Beethoven’s life, Dove noticed a black violinist in an orchestral scene.  Her subsequent investigation lead to George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, a prodigy of African and European descent, who at age twenty-three, had met and befriended Beethoven, who named his ninth violin sonata “The Bridgetower.”  Later, they fell out over a woman, and Beethoven removed the dedication, renaming his famously difficult masterpiece “The Kreutzer Sonata” after another acclaimed violinist of the day.

Dove couldn’t let Bridgetower go.  Fascinated by what it was like to live as a prodigy, as an outsider of mixed race, and to have encountered the pinnacle of one’s career so early in life, she embarked on what would become years of meticulous research, “following the direct line” wherever it took her.  Sonata Mulattica blends fact with fiction.   In the poem “What Didn’t Happen,” Dove slyly places Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson in the audience of Bridgetower’s first Parisian concert.

After the reading, Dove took questions.  She spoke of the challenge of writing from so many different voices, of “capturing the rhythm and cadence” of Bridgetower, Beethoven, a street musician, the Mistress of the English queen’s wardrobe, and many others.   Anxious about whether she could pull it off, she wrote a poem in Beethoven’s voice first.  While Dove had “obsessively” immersed herself in research, once she started writing the poems, she didn’t touch her notes until a final fact check right before deadline.  The same was true about the Kreutzer; she listened to it repeatedly, but stopped once she began writing her own composition.

When asked about spoken word, Dove called it “poetry for the stage – for performance” which, while sometimes too simplistic, may need to be so, because “you can’t go back.”  However, she also commented that “poetry for the page can be a bit too elusive.”

Continuing on the subject of poetic elusiveness, Ms. Dove addressed her remarks to a class of high-school boys who had come to the reading with their teacher.  In her opinion, students become conditioned to “approach poetry with fear … because so many of us are given poems to read, asked to analyze them, and then told we are dead wrong … that because poems are made of words, we tend to address poetry at the intellectual as opposed to the gut level.”  She recommended approaching poetry like music, “because nobody makes us analyze that,” and “we can just take it in.”  When first encountering a poem, one should read it aloud to yourself, “in a voice like you are talking to a friend,” and not to worry if you don’t understand it.   She cited her own high-school English class experience with Ezra Pound’s Cantos as an example of having to let go of the need to know exactly what a poem meant.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Dove had valuable advice for college students when she attended Professor Peter Cooley’s advanced poetry class.  Her warm manner, radiant smile, and wry sense of humor quickly put students at ease.   She also sported a festive set of gold, green, blue, red, and orange-striped fingernails.

Each semester, the advanced poetry students must complete a set of poems around a specific project or theme.  Ms. Dove approved, saying that a project “gives you a wall to butt up against, to trick the unconscious.  A wall is the edge of something that is new and dangerous, where you are scared but ecstatic, and this is where you are full of life.”

On the subject of getting published, Dove acknowledged that “you do want to touch someone, a stranger” – that this is one of the reasons we write.  However, she cautioned that “none of us know if we are going to survive as a poet,” explaining that history is full of poets who were immensely popular in their time but are now all but forgotten.

She advised student poets to learn other genres like fiction or playwriting “to see how you push up against it.”  Dove considers playwriting the closest to poetry “because of all the things that must be left out.” The pivotal point in Sonata Mulattica, where Bridgetower and Beethoven disagree, is written as a short play, complete with detailed stage directions.  She also told students that they should learn another language because they will learn more about English in the process.  A fluent German speaker, Dove observed that “every language does something that no other language can.”

Ms. Dove is an accomplished ballroom dancer.  She sees dance as an application of the physicality of music, and like poetry, is iambic, with stress and non-stress on the beat.  She noted that “we tend to syncopate because that’s the way we talk.”   She has been a musician for most of her life (cello and viola da gamba), and considers the music of poetry a tool for engaging the reader.  “You must create your own music so the reader breathes when you breathe.”  In comparing poetry to visual art, Ms. Dove said the visual often “gives it to you immediately,” whereas poets must go “one step at a time,” using the medium of “the word, the silences on the page, and the density of the language.”

On the creative process: Dove writes what moves her at the moment, but the struggle is always in how to communicate.  She drafts her poems in longhand, saying that “it gives her time to think,” and because she “needs the tactile, to feel it.”  The instancy of computers and internet, “fractures one’s attention,” and that screens lead us to read faster.   She pointed out how we usually tend to think of e-mail as “provisional.”  With typewriters and computers, she found herself “coming up against the tyranny of the right-hand margin.”  She also does not want to read online.  However, she thought computers can be very useful, because when a student is struggling, they can play with the font, turn a poem sideways, and use other techniques “to make it strange,” which can help them make a breakthrough.  When she puts poems together for a book, she spreads them out on the floor and continually rearranges them like tiles to see which ones naturally come together.

On poetry in the schools:  Dove offered this recommendation – “Read a poem to the kids at the end of every day, and then just send the kids home.  Don’t talk about it.”  When the kids are ready, they will naturally start talking about the poem, discovering, engaging, and learning on their own terms.  For Dove, “to love poetry was one of the luckiest things to happen to me in my life.  Poetry is the ultimate – it is the pearl.”

Rita Dove’s visit to campus was sponsored by the Great Poets Series of the Tulane Creative Writing Fund. This was the third annual event in the Poet Laureate Series, following visits by Louise Gluck and Billy Collins.

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Edmund White 02/01/10

Report by Katie McGinnis:

When contrasted against the commanding power of his work, Edmund White is surprisingly genial in person. Students, faculty and community members were treated to his reading on February 1st in the LBC’s Kendall Cram Room. White read from his famous work City Boy, an autobiographical documentation of the New York gay scene in the 1960s and 70s, and then answered audience questions.

Edmund White has lived an extraordinary life, which needless to say has influenced his writings. Born in Cincinnati, he was raised in Dallas, Texas with virtually no connection to the art scene. He explained that the first published writer he met was in New York when he was thirty, and that before then he had fantastical expectations of writers. He thought them to be sacred, wealthy people who never left their limousines. However, what White proves is that writers are everyday people, with pasts of struggle, hardship, and self-discovery.

Penniless, White moved to Paris, and then to Rome. He returned to America after going broke again by “taking people out to dinner.” After this, he drove a fruit-juice delivery truck to support himself in New York until finding a job with Time Life Books. His first job as a paid writer, he said, was writing three one-thousand page textbooks on history and psychology.

The subject of City Boy is uniquely important to White. He described his first biography, My Lives, as difficult to construct because it required dividing his life into sections and drawing conclusions about choices in his life, which he often found himself unable to make. City Boy is not only an autobiography, but a sketch of a New York that has been forgotten to history. In terms of sexuality, White said, “the 80s were a total step backward.” The freedom allowed during the previous thirty years, when AIDS was nonexistent, religion lax, and society accepting, was gone in a moment.

In the years to come, many of the most outspoken members of the gay scene succumbed to AIDS, allowing a very different crowd—which demanded not just acceptance, but the rights to marriage and adoption—to take the stage. He suggested that the rally we see today for equality of marriage and family is “not always what it used to be like.” City Boy documents this, and also explores the literary fixations of New York in the 60s and 70s – when it was, White says, “a junkyard, with serious artistic aspirations.”

During the Q&A session, the author provided words of wisdom to the new generation of writers sitting before him. He expanded on a statement made during a dinner with students, when he asserted that being a writer means being a failure. White explained that “writing does not fit into normal life” and that one must “make time for it by taking away from other things.” He bravely claimed that when “a writer is born into a family, a family is destroyed.”

White also warned about the uniqueness of our literary generation: more is being produced than is being read. Aside from technological phenomena such as blogs, the tradition of the past—where friends would hurry out to read a book so they could discuss it—has degenerated into our present literary world of numerous genres produced in unreadable amounts. “The world is becoming more fragmented,” White contended, “not specialized.”

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