Category Archives: Biography

Joan Didion, Tonight, 7PM: McAlister Auditorium

This evening, April 6, Joan Didion will speak at Tulane University in McAlister Auditorium at 7pm. Her visit is expected to fill the venue and it’s highly recommended that those interested in attending the event arrive early. The doors will open at 6:00pm.

Personally, I’m enthused for the event to finally be underway. Her visit, and the work planning and leading up to it, has been the culmination of work of the Literary Event Management class and the greater Tulane faculty for months now. Posters have been tacked up throughout the city, local high schools in the community visited, radio announcements broadcasted, and newspaper advertisements published, each of which has presented their own unique set of challenges. So, by the way, if anyone has been confused by recent, conflicting advertisements in one of the publications we chose to advertise in: The event has NOT already occurred, in fact, it’s tonight at 7PM in McAllister Auditorium on Tulane’s campus.

Let me give directions:

If you’re headed from I-10W I suggest you take the Carlton Exit. Then follow Carlton until you hit St. Charles. If you’re not familiar with the city of New Orleans, then remember: do not over shoot St. Charles and take it too far to River Rd. Just turn left as soon as you cross over Streetcar tracks, or as soon as you pass La Madeleine on your left. Next, follow St. Charles all the way to Broadway St., Turn left and drive about ½ a mile until you reach Freret St. From here you will take a right turn and drive until you reach Willow. Then turn left and find the next available parking space. McAlister Auditorium will be on your right side.

If you’re driving from I-10E please follow the directions above once you exit onto Carlton.

If you’re a local New Orleans resident, I suggest you take Claiborne as traffic could be a problem. Once you reach Broadway turn onto the street driving towards the Tulane campus. You will drive until you reach Freret and then turn left following the street to Willow where you will make a left hand turn. McAllister Auditorium will be on your right, find parking as soon as possible.

Other suggested parking spots: Tulane Library, Audubon Blvd, Calhoun St (though it may be a walk).

Didion INFO:

In 2007, Didion was honored with the National Book Foundation’s prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, joining the ranks of literary legends like Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Eudora Welty, Philip Roth and John Updike.

Didion’s visit is the third in Tulane’s annual Great Writer Series, sponsored by the Creative Writing Fund of the Department of English. Since its establishment in 2006, the Creative Writing Fund has enhanced literary programming both at Tulane and in New Orleans, hosting visits by Toni Morrison in 2007 and Salman Rushdie in 2008.

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Claire Messud: If You Don’t Know Her, You Should

Claire Messud, the current Zale Writer-In-Residence at Tulane University, gave a reading this past Monday, March 9th, from her novel The Emperor’s Children. She stayed to sign books and chat after her reading, more than willing to talk with anyone and everyone, and doing so with a wide smile. On Thursday evening, Professor Paula Morris interviewed her, asking questions about her writing, and how she came to be a novelist.
Born in Toulon, France, Messud is the daughter of a French-Algerian and his Canadian wife. Her interest in her Algerian heritage is reflected in her 1999 novel The Last Life, which tells the story of 3 generations of a French-Algerian family. Told from the point of view of a teenage girl, Sagesse, the story is at times poignant and precise, imbued with distinct voices for each of its characters. As for the author’s voice, Messud speaks softly, almost timidly, and corrects herself as she talks. She writes by hand, on graph paper, with an ultrafine-tipped pen, and types portions of her manuscripts as she progresses.

One of the things that stands out about Messud’s novels is her ability to bring characters to life, whether they are lovable, despicable, or somewhere on the hazy middle ground—and Messud’s characters are almost always on that middle ground. In an earlier interview, Messud said, “I adamantly believe that characters should be interesting, rather than nice.” After reading The Emperor’s Children, and currently being in the middle of The Last Life, I and other creative writing students wanted to know how Messud crafted her characters (and how she kept them straight, as there are at least five main characters and countless supporting cast). In her interview with Paula Morris, Messud said that she chooses the point of view of her novels before she begins writing. She “gets to know” the characters more as she writes, and sometimes they end up being different people. Messud doesn’t believe that books must always have a distinct message, saying she is “resistant to a utilitarian notion of art.”

On writing and becoming a writer, Messud points out that “almost anything will get in the way of writing. And if you let it, it will take up all the room writing would occupy.” Messud would know—she balances her writing with her family, two children and a husband. She writes carefully, her precision embodied in both her chosen method of pen and paper and in her thoughtful, arching sentences. Each of her books, with the exception of her two novellas, The Hunters, has taken around four years to write.

When talking to Claire Messud, one gets the impression of an author who writes because she loves people and what they do, whether their actions are benevolent or not. There’s no question that Messud succeeds in capturing reality within her fiction. Her flair for sentence-crafting and acute knowledge of her characters make reading her work a true pleasure— one that I highly recommend to you.

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African Writers’ Symposium Biographies

Niyi Osundare is a poet, dramatist, critic, essayist, and media columnist. He was born in 1947 in Ekere-Ikiti, Ondo State, Nigeria. He taught English at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria from 1989 to 1993, when he became Head of the Department. During General Abacha’s dictatorship, Osundare, a champion of free speech, regularly contributed poems to a Nigerian national newspaper, and thus was often visited by national security agents. In 1997, Osundare was appointed professor of English at the University of New Orleans. He has published more than a dozen books, including Commonwealth Poetry Prize-winner The Eye of the Earth.

Short story writer Mohammed Naseehu Ali was born in Ghana in 1971, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy and Bennington College. Ali’s fiction and essays have been published in a number of prominent newspapers and magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Essence. The New York Times described  his first collection of short fiction,  The Prophet of Zongo Street (2005), asmoving, subtle and ingeniously constructed.”

Sefi Atta is a short-story writer and novelist from Nigeria, born in Lagos in 1964, and educated in Nigeria, Britain and the US. A former chartered accountant and CPA, she is a graduate of the creative writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, and now lives in Mississippi. Her short fiction has won prizes from Zoetrope, Red Hen Press, the BBC and PEN International. In 2006 she was short listed for the Caine Prize for African Literature, and her debut novel, Everything Good Will Come, was awarded the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.

Dinaw Mengestu is the author of the novel The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears: currently shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, this novel is a Los Angeles Times bestseller, won the 2007 Guardian First Book Award, and was the Seattle Reads pick of 2008. Dinaw was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. In 1980, he immigrated to the United States with his mother and sister, joining his father, who had fled Ethiopia during the Red Terror. A graduate of Georgetown University and Columbia University’s MFA program in fiction, he received a 2006 fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts and a 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation in 2007. He has written for Rolling Stone and Harper’s, among other publications. He lives in New York City and Paris.

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