Category Archives: Fiction

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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Filed under Creative Writing Fund, Events, Fiction, Screenwriting, Tulane in the Media, Visiting writers

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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