Fall Series 2008
September 25th Thursday 8:00 pm Amherst Books
In Sons and Other Flammable Objects, novelist Porochista Khakpour explores ethnicity, nationalism, and post-9/11 fear—themes she addresses with what the New Yorker calls “the exuberant originality of her style. The characters burst from the page in fiery exchanges, while their chaotic inner lives are conveyed with witty precision.” Similarly, The New York Times Book Review praises the book’s “Punchy conversation, vivid detail, [and] sharp humor.” Born in Tehran, and raised in Los Angeles, Khakpour lives in New York and teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
William Jay Smith
October 8th Wednesday 8:00 pm Pruyne Lecture Hall
Richard Wilbur has called William Jay Smith, “A most gifted poet… one of the very few who cannot be confused with anyone else,” and Elizabeth Frank, writing for The Atlantic Monthly, has said, “That Smith has written poems with rhythm, rhyme, wit, and melody… is cause for celebration, homage, and gratitude.” Smith is the author of more than fifty books of poetry, children’s verse, literary criticism, translation, and memoirs, as well as the editor of numerous anthologies. Born in 1918 in Winnfield, Louisiana, Smith currently makes his home between Cummington, Massachusetts, and Paris, France.
Stephen Haven ‘79
October 22nd Wednesday 8:00 pm Pruyne Lecture Hall
Harold Bloom called Stephen Haven's Dust and Bread “an intensely moving and eloquent book of poems… It is a book, not just individual elegies and meditations, and portrays the authentic awakening to self of a poet's soul through experiential crisis." Haven is the author of three poetry collections, as well as The River Lock: One Boy’s Life along the Mohawk, a memoir that explores boyhood in a dwindling factory town. Twice a Fulbright Lecturer at universities in Beijing, Haven is Director of the Creative Writing Program at Ashland University, where he also directs the Ashland Poetry Press.
November 5th Wednesday 8:00 pm Amherst Books
In a starred review, Kirkus called South African poet Yvette Chritiansë’s novel Unconfessed “A gorgeous, devastating song of freedom that will inevitably be compared to Toni Morrison’s Beloved.” The book was a finalist for the 2007 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for a distinguished first book of fiction, and Caroline Leavitt described it as a “stunningly intimate, heart-wrenching history of slave life in Africa.” Christiansë is Associate Professor of literature and postcolonial studies at Fordham University.
November 13th Thursday 8:00 pm Pruyne Lecture Hall
Hailed by The New York Review of Books as “one of the most gifted and multifaceted and original of American poets,” Richard Kenney has published four books of poems, including, most recently, The One-Strand River, which the Kenyon Review described this way: “There are incantations and meditations—the dawns, moons, births, and funerals—but there are also comic scenes, nursery rhymes, takes on myth, glosses on current events, and verdant hallucinations.” A recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, among numerous other honors, he currently teaches at the University of Washington.
November 19th Wednesday 8:00 pm Amherst Books
Tayari Jones’ first novel, Leaving Atlanta, received multiple awards and honors, including the Hurston/Wright Award for Debut Fiction. Continuing a vibrant preoccupation with the urban south, her second novel, The Untelling, followed one family’s struggle to overcome a fatal car accident—and caused Essence magazine to call Jones, "a writer to watch," while The Atlanta Journal Constitution proclaimed her "one of the best writers of her generation." The recipient of numerous fellowships, Tayari is an Assistant Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University.
Spring Series 2009
February 5th Thursday 8:00 p.m. Pruyne Lecture Hall
Thom Gunn praised the poet Craig Arnold as "Energetic, cool, and stylish. He should have been a gang-leader." Arnold is the author of a debut collection, Shells, as well as his recent volume, Made Flesh—a mythological rhapsody on the themes of love, death, and madness that has received rave reviews: Publishers Weekly called it "a delayed depth charge [...] erotic and ever-alert [...] the strangest and most instinctively powerful poetry book of the season.” Arnold teaches poetry at the University of Wyoming when he’s not in Japan working on lyric essays about volcanoes and the end of the world as we know it.
February 19th Thursday 8:00 p.m. Amherst Books
Amity Gaige is the author of two novels, O My Darling and her recent The Folded World, which The New York Times called, “stirring” and Entertainment Weekly called “Exquisitely written [. . .] The bitterness and disillusion of marriage have been thoroughly plumbed in contemporary fiction; Gaige is one of the rare novelists who is more interested in its potential for happiness and grace.” Gaige, who was recognized in 2006 as one of “5 Under 35” outstanding emerging writers by the National Book Foundation, lives in Amherst and teaches creative writing and literature at Mt. Holyoke College.
Seventh Annual Five College PoetryFest
Monday February 23rd 7:00 p.m. Pruyne Lecture Hall
The PoetryFest celebrates the quality and range of student poetry in the Valley with two writers representing each of the colleges and the University of Massachusetts.
This year's poets are:
Amherst College: Rachel Edelman and Catherine Champion
Hampshire College: Unique Robinson and Cassandra de Alba
Mount Holyoke College: Sarah Coates and Emily Yates
Smith College: Kate O'Connor Morris and Stephanie Woodruff
UMass Amherst: Sarah Levine and Susan Thorpe
March 5th Thursday 8:00 p.m. Center for Russian Culture (Webster, 2nd floor)
Honoring poet Ilya Kaminsky with a Metcalf Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters wrote, “With his magical style in English, poems in Dancing In Odessa seem like a literary counterpart to Chagall in which laws of gravity have been suspended and colors reassigned, but only to make everyday reality that much more indelible.” Anthony Hecht called him “A superb and vigorous imagination, a poetic talent of rare and beautiful proportions.” Kaminsky, who was born in Odessa and lives in California, writes award-winning poetry in both Russian and English. He teaches creative writing and translation at San Diego State University.
March 12th Thursday 8:00 p.m. Amherst Books
Alex Chee has described Nami Mun as “easily one of the most important new talents in American fiction.” Her novel, Miles from Nowhere, which chronicles the life of a Korean immigrant teen living on the streets of New York in the 1980’s, was described by People magazine as “[A] searing debut […][Mun] writes with lovely precision, lending a hallucinatory beauty to the bleak world she has created.” Peter Ho Davies called it “A starkly beautiful book, shot through with grace and lit by an off-hand street poetry.” The recipient of a Pushcart Prize as well as many other honors, Mun lives and teaches creative writing in Chicago.
March 25th Wednesday 8:00 p.m. Amherst Books
Writing for The New York Observer, Adam Begley called Emily Barton "A copiously talented, daring writer,” and Thomas Pynchon has described her work as "blessedly post-ironic, engaging and heartfelt." Her novel Brookland imagines an 18th-century gin distiller who dreams of a bridge that might connect Brooklyn with Manhattan.
The New York Times called Brookland “[m]arvelous,” and named it a 2006 Notable Book. Barton lives in the Hudson River Valley, and teaches at Yale University and Bard College.