Marie Howe - 10/1/17 - 6:00pm
Marie Howe is the author of four volumes of poetry: Magdalene: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2017); The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton, 2009); What the Living Do (1997); and The Good Thief (1988). She is also the co-editor of a book of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Agni, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, and The Partisan Review, among others.
Magdalene: Poems imagines the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene as a woman who embodies the spiritual and sensual, alive in a contemporary landscape. Between facing the traumas of her past and navigating daily life, the narrator of Magdalene yearns for the guidance of her spiritual teacher, a Christ figure, whose death she continues to grieve. Of this new work, Alicia Ostriker says “Marie Howe is among our most gifted poets of trauma and healing, and of where the everyday encounters the world of the sacred. In Magdalene, Howe raises the ante. She now channels the ‘woman taken in adultery’ of New Testament legend, and she is also her questing self, lover and mother, risen to the exaltation of the possible.” And Mark Doty writes, “Each book of Marie Howe’s is a singular accomplishment, but none is as wildly alive as this. How does she see with such devastating clarity? Or allow so much of ‘what the living do’ onto the page: avoidance, longing, tenderness, resentment and desire? What makes the engine go? The wry, knowing, seeking voice of Mary Magdalene, worn like the most transparent of masks. The experience of mothering a daughter, a long arc of love building its house in the years. Howe sweeps up a life and fixes it on the page, and stands here before us, the stunned and grateful witness of all that’s taken and granted by love and time.”
The Kingdom of Ordinary Time was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; of the collection playwright Eve Ensler said, “These poems made me gasp. Each one a revelation, a lifeline, a domestic galaxy. This is the poetry of our times, a guide to living on the brink of the mystical and the mundane.” What the Living Do addresses the grief of losing a loved one and is a transparent, accessible documentary of loss. Publishers Weekly named the book one of the five best poetry collections of 1997, saying “The tentative transformation of agonizing, slow-motion loss into redemption is Howe’s signal achievement in this wrenching second collection.” In large part an elegy to her brother who died from AIDS, her intimacy and bravery in laying bare the music of her own pain—but never the pain alone—is part of its resonance. Inside each poem there is also a joy, a new breath of life, some kind of redemption. “Each of them seems a love poem to me,” says Howe. The Good Thief (1988) explores the themes of relationship, attachment, and loss in a uniquely personal search for transcendence, and was selected by Margaret Atwood for the National Poetry Series. In making her selection, Atwood said, “Reading it you feel interest always, delight often, and occasionally that cool wind at the back of the neck that makes you think there’s one more person in the room than there actually is. These poems are intensely felt, sparely expressed, and difficult to forget; poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.”
Part of the urgency and importance of Howe’s poetry stems from its rootedness in real life. Her mentor Stanley Kunitz once said, “Whether she is confronting the joys or terrors of existence, the light that falls on the page is suffused with grace and charity. In essence she is a religious poet, that rarity among writers of her generation.” Marie Howe sees her work as an act of confession or of conversation. She says simply, “Poetry is telling something to someone.”
In 1988, Kunitz selected Howe for a Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the American Academy of Poets. She has since been a recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. In 2015 she received the Poetry Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, an honor that recognizes distinguished poetic achievement—in the word of the Academy Chancellor Arthur Sze, “Marie Howe’s poems are remarkable for their focused, intense, and haunting lyricism. Her poems characteristically unfold through a series of luminous particulars that gather emotional power as they delve into the complexities of the human heart. Her poems are acclaimed for writing through loss with verve, but they also find the miraculous in the ordinary and transform quotidian incidents into enduring revelation.”
She lives in New York City and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and has taught at Columbia University. From 2012-2014, Howe served as the Poet Laureate of New York State. During her tenure, she worked with the MTA and Poetry Society of America on a series of Public Poetry events, including The Poet is IN: a celebration of poetry in public settings—such as Grand Central Terminal or the Fulton Street Landing—where an array of award-winning poets sit in a booth (inspired by Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip) and write a poem for passers-by who request one. It is Howe’s hope that this will become a perennial event in New York City. In her final days as State Poet Laureate, Howe organized, with Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang, the Say Something NYC Poetry Rally: Justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown—A Call for Unity, Equality, Empathy, Imagination and the End of Oppression, held in Washington Square Park.
Marie Howe lectures and gives workshops on the topics of Faith, Poetry, and Prayer.
George Saunders - 2/2/18 - 7:00pm
The recipient of a 2006 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (“Genius” Award), George Saunders is the author of a novel, four collections of short stories, a novella, a book of essays, and an award-winning children’s book. His long-awaited novel and most recent book, Lincoln in the Bardo, was published in 2017; which Colson Whitehead noted as: “A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.” In 2017, Saunders won the Man Booker Prize for his novel Lincoln in the Bardo. His collection, Tenth of December (Random House, 2013), was a finalist for the National Book Award, and winner of the 2014 Story Prize for short fiction and the 2014 Folio Prize, which celebrates the best fiction of our time. Chair of the Judges for the Folio Prize, Lavinia Greenlaw, said: “George Saunders’s stories are both artful and profound. Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them. His subject is the human self under ordinary and extraordinary pressure. His worlds are heightened versions of our own, full of inexorable confrontations from which we are not easily released. Unflinching, delightful, adventurous, compassionate, he is a true original whose work is absolutely of the moment. We have no doubt that these stories will prove only more essential in years to come.” Tenth of December was also named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, and the collection, and Saunders’ work, was highlighted in a New York Times Magazine cover story.
Saunders’s other collections include the bestselling Pastoralia, set against a warped, hilarious, and terrifyingly recognizable American landscape; CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, a Finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and In Persuasion Nation, one of three finalists for the 2006 Story Prize for best short story collection of the year. Pastoralia, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and Tenth of December were all New York Times Notable Books.
Saunders is also the author of the novella-length illustrated fable, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, which takes us into a profoundly strange country called Inner Horner, and the New York Times bestselling children’s book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, illustrated by Lane Smith, which has won major children’s literature prizes in Italy and the Netherlands. The Boston Globe lauds Saunders’ ability to “construct a story of absurdist satire, then locate within it a moment of searing humanity.” Congratulations, by the Way (Random House, 2014) is a book containing the funny yet uplifting graduation speech Saunders gave at Syracuse University, which went viral shortly after its delivery.
Saunders’ book of essays, The Braindead Megaphone (2007), received critical acclaim and landed him spots on The Charlie Rose Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and The Colbert Report. Vanity Fair wrote of the book, “Saunders’s bitingly clever and compassionate essays are a Mark Twain-syle shot in the arm for Americans, an antidote to the dumbing down virus plaguing our country. Well, we live in hope.” His work appears regularly in The New Yorker, GQ, and Harpers Magazine, and has appeared in the O’Henry, Best American Short Story, Best Non-Required Reading, and Best American Travel Writing anthologies.
In 2001, Saunders was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of the one hundred top most creative people in entertainment, and by The New Yorker in 2002 and one of the best writers 40 and under. In 2006, he was awarded both a MacArthur Fellowship, for “bring[ing] to contemporary American fiction a sense of humor, pathos, and literary style all his own,” and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2013 TIME Magazine listed Saunders on its list of 100 Most Influential People in the World. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University.
Richard Blanco - 5/6/18 - 6:00pm
Richard Blanco’s mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid where he was born on February 15th, 1968. Forty-five days later, the family emigrated once more to New York City. Only a few weeks old, Blanco already belonged to three countries, a foreshadowing of the concerns of place and belonging that would shape his life and work. Eventually, the family settled in Miami, where he was raised and educated. Growing up among close-knit Cuban exiles instilled in him a strong sense of community, dignity, and identity that he’d carry into his adult life as a writer and as a consummate storyteller—both on the page and the stage. Today, Blanco is a sought after speaker who delights audiences around the nation and the world with his dynamic storytelling and dramatic readings. Supporting diversity, marriage equality, immigration, arts education, cultural exchange, and other important issues of our day, Blanco routinely speaks at a variety of venues and functions, including fundraisers and galas, professional development conferences, middle and high schools, universities, commencement ceremonies, writing conferences, and literary festivals.
Though possessed by a strong creative spirit since childhood, Blanco also excelled in math and the sciences. As such, his parents encouraged him to study engineering, believing it would ensure a more stable and rewarding career for him. He took their advice, earning a degree from Florida International University in 1991, and began working as a consulting civil engineer in Miami. In his mid-20s he was compelled to express his creative side through writing, prompted by questions of cultural identity and his personal history. He returned to Florida International University, where he was mentored by poet Campbell McGrath and earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing in 1997.
Blanco’s first book of poetry, City of a Hundred Fires, was published in 1998 to critical acclaim, winning the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press. The collection explored his cultural yearnings and contradictions as a Cuban-American, and captured the emotional details of his transformational first trip to Cuba, his figurative homeland. After the success of his first book, Blanco took a hiatus from his engineering career, and accepted a position at Central Connecticut State University as a professor of creative writing. While living in Connecticut, he met his current life-partner, Dr. Mark Neveu, a renowned research scientist.
Driven by a curiosity to examine the essence of place and belonging, Blanco became an extensive traveler; and eventually moved with Mark to Guatemala, then to Washington, DC in 2002. In DC, Blanco taught at Georgetown and American universities, The Writers Center, and at the Arlington Country Detention Facility. Poems relating to his journeys through Spain, Italy, France, Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, and New England comprised his second book, Directions to The Beach of the Dead (2005), which received the Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center for its explorations of the ideal of home and connections sought through place, culture, family, and love.
But soon Blanco was on the move again, returning in 2004 to Miami, his home away from home, where he resumed his engineering career. Engineer by day, he designed several town revitalization projects; poet by night, he completed an electronic chapbook of poems, Place of Mind. He also began working on another collection before moving once again. This time to Bethel, Maine, a ski resort town on the foothills of the White Mountains, where he sought the peace and tranquility of nature, which he considers a universal home. While in Maine, he completed Looking for The Gulf Motel, published in 2012; it related the author’s complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities.
After the re-election of President Barack Obama, Blanco was chosen to serve as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, following in the footsteps of such great writers as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. Blanco wrote “One Today,” an original poem for the occasion, which he read at Obama’s inauguration ceremony at the Capitol on January 21, 2013. That day confirmed him as a historical figure: the first Latino, immigrant, and gay writer bestowed with such an honor, as well as the youngest ever, at the age of 44. In his first prose publication, For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey, Blanco shared the emotional details of his experiences as inaugural poet, reflecting on his understanding of what it means to be an American and his life-changing role as a public voice.
Since the presidential inauguration, Blanco was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and a Phi Beta Kappa Alumnus Member; has received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, the University of Rhode Island, and Colby College. His most recent book, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Memoir, is a poignant, hilarious, and inspiring memoir that explores his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants and his attempts to understand his place in America while grappling with his burgeoning artistic and sexual identities. In Collaboration with renowned illustrator Dav Pilkey, Blanco has also published a children’s book of his presidential inaugural poem, One Today, which was selected as the 2016 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People by the National Council for the Social Studies and Children’s Book Council. And in 2015, the Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador. His latest project, co-created with Ruth Behar, is a blog, Bridges to/from Cuba: Lifting the Emotional Embargo, providing a cultural and artistic platform for sharing the real lives and complex emotional histories of Cubans across the globe.
Blanco continues connecting communities through the art of his occasional poetry. To help heal the emotional wounds of the Boston Marathon bombings, Richard wrote “Boston Strong,” a poem he performed at the TD Boston Garden Benefit Concert and at a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. He has also written and performed occasional poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba, Freedom to Marry, the Tech Awards of Silicon Valley, and the Fragrance Awards at Lincoln Center.
Whether speaking as the Cuban Blanco or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the scared boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the inaugural poet, Blanco’s writings possess a story-rich quality that easily illuminates the human spirit. His captivating images and accessible narratives invite readers and audiences to see themselves in his poems, which for him are like mirrors in front of which we stand side by side with him—each one of us gazing into our respective lives blurred together with his, connecting us all across social, political, and cultural gaps. For in the end, his work asks himself those universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?
Junot Díaz - 8/5/18 - 6:00pm
JUNOT DÍAZ was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. He is the co-founder of the Voices of Our National Arts Foundation. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and a Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at MIT. His forthcoming book, Islandborn, will be released by Dial in the spring of 2018.
Edwidge Danticat - 11/4/18 - 6:00pm
EDWIDGE DANTICAT is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist, and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner, and the novel-in-stories, The Dew Breaker. She is the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States and The Beacon Best of 2000: Great Writing by Men and Women of All Colors and Cultures, Haiti Noir and Haiti Noir 2, and Best American Essays 2011. She has written sixbooks foryoung adults and children, Anacaona, Golden Flower, Behind the Mountains, Eight Days, The Last Mapou, Mama’s Nightingale, and Untwine, as well as a travel narrative, After the Dance, A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel. Her memoir , Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a2008 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. Her next book, The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story will be published by Graywolf Press in July 2017. She is a 2009 MacArthur Fellow.