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Butler Visiting Writers Series Spring 2011

January 10, 2011 by Reader's Connection

The Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series at Butler University will commence for Spring 2011 on January 31st. All programs are open to the public free of charge.

Michael Dahlie

Monday, Jan. 31
Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall
5:30 p.m.

A Gentleman's Guide to Graceful Living


Michael Dahlie was a cipher to me before I read his wonderful new novel, A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living, and a cipher he shall remain. It’s funny, but not Carl Hiaasen-Christopher Buckley funny. Dahlie takes bigger risks, not pushing down so hard on the pedals, not pulling out the comic stops. He trusts the reader to be smart, relax and laugh. I did, a lot. —Alex Beam, International Herald Tribune








George Saunders

Tuesday, Feb. 8
Atherton Union Reilly Room
7:30 p.m.   

The Braindead Megaphone: Essays

The Braindead Megaphone: Essays

All the qualities that make Saunders’ bristling, inventive short stories distinctive and affecting are present in his rollicking yet piercing essays: droll wit, love of life, high attention to language, satire, and “metaphorical suppleness,” which is what he credits Mark Twain with in his penetrating homage “The United States of Huck.” A MacArthur fellow whose fiction includes In Persuasion Nation (2006), Saunders also pays tribute to another guiding light, Kurt Vonnegut. A number of essays explicate Saunders’ predilection for acrobatic parody and attunement to language’s moral dimension, including the exhilarating title essay, which uses an ingenious analogy to explain the precipitous dumbing down of the media and the pernicious results. Saunders is also uncommonly funny, dynamic, and incisive in his reporting on his adventures on the border with a group of quirky and inept Minutemen, his visit to the spanking-new and massively opulent city of Dubai, and his participation in a mystifying vigil in Nepal. With a keen sense of the absurd, incandescent creativity, and abiding empathy, Saunders catapults the essay into new and thrilling directions. — Booklist 


In Persuasion Nation

In Persuasion Nation

Saunders reaffirms his sharp, surreal vision of contemporary, media-saturated life, but keeps most of the elements within his familiar bandwidth. In the sweetly acerbic “My Flamboyant Grandson,” a family trip through Times Square is overwhelmed by pop-up advertisements. In “Jon,” orphans get sold to a market research firm and become famous as “Tastemakers & Trendsetters” (complete with trading cards). “CommComm” concerns an air force PR flunky living with the restless souls of his parents while covering for a spiraling crisis at work. The more conventionally grounded stories are the most compelling: one lingers over a bad Christmas among Chicago working stiffs, another follows a pair of old Russian-Jewish women haunted by memories of persecution . . .Saunders’s vital theme–the persistence of humanity in a vacuous, nefarious marketing culture of its own creation–comes through with subtlety and fresh turns. — Publishers Weekly


Mark Halliday

Wednesday, Feb. 23
Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall
7:30 p.m.

Keep This Forever

Keep This ForeverKnown for garrulously comic moments and dead-on versions of modern Americans’ colloquial speech, Halliday (Jab ) begins his fifth book of verse with purposely flat and intensely serious poems reacting to the death of his father, who lived “not without some gladness till he was eighty-nine,/ nourished as well as ravaged by irresistible wishing.” That personal sadness inspires reflections on mortality more generally, at the start as at the end of this striking collection. In between, though, Halliday flaunts his gift for informal humor, poking fun at contemporary ephemera while finding the element of memento mori in each. “Google Me Soon,” one poem invites: “You and I, we could have a connection.” “I’m the little cup of overcooked beans,” another poem decides, “somebody covered with plastic wrap and pushed to the back of/ the fridge.” It can be hard to know when Halliday is kidding–but that difficulty is part of his point: in a world full of people whose stories we may never know, who may or may not have urgent messages for us, Halliday seeks a style sad enough to describe those missed connections, and surprising enough to let us have fun with them, too. –Publishers Weekly   


Alicia Erian

Tuesday, March 1
Atherton Union Reilly Room
7:30 p.m.

Towelhead: A Novel


Forced to leave home in upstate New York when her mother’s boyfriend gets a little too chummy, 13-year-old Jasira ends up living with her Lebanese-born father in Texas. There she must adjust to her father’s restrictive code of conduct, get used to a new neighborhood and school, and survive the anti-Arab climate that prevailed during the first Gulf War. More rejected than loved by her parents, Jasira is a confused little girl with a grown-up body who finds herself craving the inappropriate attention of other adults, even as a motherly neighbor keeps a protective eye on her. The sexual abuse of children is a delicate theme to handle-how do you write about it without actually contributing to such exploitation? In her first novel, Erian solves the problem by having Jasira narrate her own story, so that readers come to understand her desperate need for affection, overwhelming sense of guilt, and confusion over the difference between what her head and her body tell her. The result, if not exquisitely written, is both poignant and engaging. — Library Journal 


The Brutal Language of Love: Stories

The Brutal Language of Love

Elegant, deadpan prose, engaging scenarios and a host of sexy, resilient characters distinguish Erian’s superb debut collection. The nine vibrant stories are narrated by a host of inwardly sensitive but outwardly tough females, each learning to adjust to the disappointments of adult life. In “Stand Up to the Superpowers,” Beatrice rejects the notion of emotional love with an admirer, concentrating instead on seducing her college professors for better grades. Divorce and makeshift home arrangements complicate the emotional lives of most of Erian’s characters. In the moving “Still Life with Plaster,” Patty is reared by strict yet loving grandparents and becomes physically sick after her mother’s intermittent visits. In the title story, 25-year-old Penny must contend with both the discovery of a breast lump and her obstinate father’s refusal to help pay for a biopsy . . . The stories have a mesmerizing, addictive quality, and Erian’s characters are believable and endearing. Refreshingly, there are no swift epiphanies; most of these tales end abruptly and unexpectedly, with plenty of loose ends for readers to ponder. Erian gets kudos for never making victims of her independent, resourceful women. Seductive, erotic, smart and tartly humorous, these tales are true gems. — Publishers Weekly


Bob Hicok

Monday, March 7
Robertson Hall, Johnson Room
7:30 p.m.

This Clumsy Living

This Clumsy Living

I like so many things about Bob Hicok. For starters? Common language. I also enjoy his subtle humor and gentle political commentary that is not off-putting at all. But most of all I appreciate the fact that when I read this collection, specifically Switching to Deer TIme, I agree with Hicok in his feeling that everything, everything, everything is flawed – but to CHOOSE be optimistic and not fall into the negativity that is conformity might not be an absolute step forward, but it isn’t a step backward either. Knowing that peace isn’t real but believing in it anyway? Wonderful. — Alicia at Powell’s Books



Animal Soul: Poems

Animal Soul

Chosen alongside celebrated poets Louise Glück and Czeslaw Milosz, Bob Hicok’s Animal Soul was the standout surprise of the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award nominations. According to author David Wojahn, a three-time winner of the Pushcart Prize, this collection of poetry “is the best collection yet by a poet who has become one of the most individual and necessary voices of his generation. An almost prophetic rage seems to inhabit these poems, which present us with a speaker who is tender and brutally rueful by turns. Bob Hicok asks to be a voice of conscience in a conscience-less world. And, like all true prophets, his rage and consternation in the end transform themselves into a form of prayer, what one of his poems calls a ‘mad . . . devotion.’ Hicok is able to instruct and console us, and that is a very rare thing indeed —



Taylor Mali

Tuesday, March 22
Atherton Union Reilly Room
7:30 p.m.

IMCPL will be ordering books by Taylor Mali in short order. In lieu of cover art & reviews, here’s Mali himself, with “The Impotence of Proofreading.”


Marilyn Chin

Monday, March 28
Krannert Room of Clowes Memorial Hall
7:30 p.m.

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen : A Manifesto in 41 Tales

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen : A Manifesto in 41 Tales

Double your pleasure, double your fun. The “Double Happiness” twins, Moonie and Mei Ling Wong, are delivery girls for the family’s takeout Chinese restaurant by night and avatars of pop culture by day. Whether dressed in “Hello Kitty” pj’s or red-satin hapi coats, when the girls cruise the beaches and biker bars, strip-mall churches and McMansions of southern California, raucous insanity and mayhem ensue. Raised in a hailstorm of colorful epithets strewn venomously by their cleaver-toting grandmother, Mei Ling and Moonie represent both the sweet and sour of Chinese American life, honor bound to maintain their heritage, yet expected to obtain the American dream of professional and personal success. Chin captures their diametrically opposed personas through a series of lightning-quick snapshots bearing such intriguing titles as “After Enlightenment, There Is Yam Gruel,” and “The Ghost of Gas Pig Illusions.” Based on classical Chinese mythology, ghost stories, and legends, Chin’s unconventional coming-of-age novel is a frothy and tart exploration of the Asian immigrant experience — Booklist


The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty

The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty

 Chin writes with a toughened lyricism that persuades us of the poet’s firm life knowledge: she never imputes to experience (or poetry) a false or wishful glamour. Yet Chin refuses to sacrifice her sensibility to cynicism, either, though at times she is willing to acknowledge bitterness, contempt or disappointment as her lot. Instead, she seems to strike a balance between ideal and tatty, pure and spoiled, a balance that is literary and also cultural, considering her own position as one whose father, “a petty thug, / who bought a chain of chopsuey joints / in Piss River, Oregon,” named his Asian American daughter after Marilyn Monroe: “And there I was, a wayward pink baby, / named after some tragic white woman / swollen with gin and Nembutal.” Chin’s habit of stalwart declaration gives the poetry a grounded force, line to line; and her imagery, simple and spare, lifts up those same lines. Directness and indirection can be tools of equal use, she shows. — Publishers Weekly  


Richard Russo

Tuesday, April 12
Atherton Union Reilly Room
7:30 p.m.

That Old Cape Magic

That Old Cape MagicAs Jack Griffin drives up to Cape Cod for a wedding, he is assailed by memories of his past, for not only is the cape the site of his childhood summer vacations with his embittered parents, it is also the place where he honeymooned with his wife, Joy, some 30 years prior. Their marriage has hit a rough patch, which is particularly painful for Jack, since he long ago vowed to keep his marriage free from the rancor that marked his parents’ relationship. And yet his parents, failed academics consigned to the “Mid-fucking-west,” are very much with him, since his father’s ashes are in the trunk of his car, and his mother is constantly on his cell phone, still hectoring him with acerbic advice. In the turbulent year that follows, Jack must face the fact that he may have inherited his parents’ endless yearning for a better life. In this wryly funny, introspective novel, Russo eschews the broad social canvas and small-town milieu that have been mainstays of his work. The scope may be narrow, but the result is an impressively expansive analysis of familial dynamics between not only spouses but also in-laws, parents, and children. Russo is writing in a lower key here than in his two previous prizewinning novels, but it’s Russo all the same, and his many fans are sure to savor the journey — Booklist  


Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of SighsWith the same humor and pathos that turned Empire Falls and Straight Man into best sellers, Russo’s latest tale unravels the tangled skein of love, regret, hope, and longing that wraps itself around friends and family in a small upstate New York town. Russo’s multigenerational tale follows the fortunes of two families, especially the careers of the respective sons. Although Louis Charles Lynch and Bobby Marconi come from very different backgrounds, they bond over Bobby’s defense of Lou in elementary school. As they grow older, they drift apart, with Bobby changing his name to Robert Noonan and moving to Venice, where he becomes a world-famous artist. Louis stays in Thomaston, marries high school sweetheart Sarah (also an artist), and helps out his family in their grocery store. Although Louis reluctantly agrees to visit Venice with Sarah, several events converge to alter their plans (including Sarah and Bobby’s possible love for each other), and their lives change in ways that neither could have anticipated. While Russo’s tale gets off to a slow start and the attempt to tell the parallel stories of Louis and Bobby is not always successful, Russo’s novel is nevertheless a winning story of the strange ways that parents and children, lovers and friends connect and thrive. — Publishers Weekly



  1. Linda Lee says:

    Butler’s writer’s series contact posted this link and I am glad they did. Now I can choose which programs I want to attend. Well done! The you tube link is hilarious.

  2. dahja poindexter says:

    i like this because it gives you a summary about the books that they put on the screen

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