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Butler Visiting Authors Series Fall 2014

August 18, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Jonathan Franzen and Kaui Hart Hemmings (author of The Descendants, on which the movie was based) and other prize-winning authors will be part of Butler University’s Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series this fall.

If the author’s name is a live link here, it will take you to a list of their works available at IndyPL.


Tracy K. Smith
September 17, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

Life on Mars: Poems (2011)

Life on Mars: Poems

Hypnotic and brimming with irony, the poems in Smith’s latest [Pulitzer Prize-winning] volume aren’t so much about outer space as the interior life and the search for the divine. The first poem sets the direction, asking, “Is God being or pure force? The wind/ Or what commands it?” and there are strong religious overtones throughout. Poems bear titles like “The Savior Machine,” “Sacrament,” and “The Soul,” and whether the poet is alluding to Arthur C. Clark’s 2001 or memorializing her father, the whole feels reminiscent of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Smith, a Cave Canem Poetry Prize winner for The Body’s Question, works mostly in free verse, with a few terza rima and several sonnets mixed in, and her poems are grounded in everyday experiences like eating or walking on a street or in the woods. This soon leads to dreamlike states of consciousness in which the dead communicate with the living. Smith channels the voice of her deceased father, her unborn child, or people in the news who send postcards to those who killed them. VERDICT The spiritual motif running through these poems adds a stunning dimension that will please many readers. — Library Journal


Kaui Hart Hemmings
September 30, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

The Possibilities (2014)

The Possibilities

Three months after her 21-year-old son, Cully, is killed in an avalanche, Sarah St. John decides to go back to work. But her job as cohost of Fresh Tracks, a program that is piped into the hotel rooms of Breckenridge, Colorado, now seems inane. Added to that, when Sarah and her best friend, Suzanne, clean out Cully’s room, they find evidence that he was selling pot. More surprises about Cully come to light when a girl named Kit appears on Sarah’s doorstep. Soon it is revealed that Cully and Kit had a relationship, and Sarah and her father, Lyle, with whom she shares her house, are drawn to Kit because she seems to make Cully more reachable. The whole of what Sarah calls her “tribe”–Sarah, Lyle, Suzanne, and Kit, along with Cully’s dad, Billy, whom Sarah never married–go on a road trip to Colorado Springs to attend a memorial service for Cully, and the trip helps them find a way to move forward and achieve a measure of peace. As she did in The Descendants (2007), Hemmings deftly deploys her idyllic setting, leavens tragedy with humor, avoids sentimentality, and offers characters whom readers will find very appealing. — Booklist


Carl Phillips
October 7, 7:30 p.m.
Robertson Hall, Johnson Board Room

Double Shadow (2011)

Double Shadow

This 11th collection continues Phillips’s assays into the connections between sex, attachment, and love, and the ways that, despite ecstatic moments, adult life means reconciling oneself to one’s collective inadequacy. Phillips’s peculiar fusion of classical figures, biblical imagery, and contemporary alienation is in full flower in poems like “Ransom,” to startling effect: “come/ clean again, from a thicket all thorns…. And how the stars/ swelled the dark, guiding the man whose whip made the mules go faster, though they would have/ run, I think, even had there been no whip, being mules, and/ broken long ago, and with no more belief than disbelief in rescue.” The poems repeatedly delve into intrarelationship incarnations of big moral quandaries. “Sacrifice Is a Different Animal Altogether” ends: “One of us is going to have to say it first”; in “Master and Slave,” a partner offers a tender admonition: “If you can’t love everything, he said/ Try to love what, in the end, will matter.” But on the whole, the collection works, carefully and deliberately, to affirm the rhetorical question of “Sky Coming Forward”: “What if, between this one and the one/ we hoped for, there’s a third life, taking its own/ slow, dreamlike hold, even now–blooming, in spite of us.” — Publishers Weekly


David Levien and Brian Koppelman are screenwriters and film producers & directors, and Levien is a novelist.
October 21, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

13 Million Dollar Pop (2011)

13 Million Dollar Pop

In Levien’s latest, fallout from the Great Recession is affecting almost everyone. Indianapolis’ first “racino,” a combination horse-race track and casino, is going under; Frank Behr, soon to be a father, has very reluctantly left his lone-wolf PI work for a corporate security agency. And even the contract killer who tries to kill the business tycoon Behr is guarding has scrimped, working solo in order to cut costs. Investigation of the unsuccessful attack is squelched, and Behr goes off the corporate reservation to learn why, leading him toward a confrontation with a skilled and vicious ex-mercenary determined to secure his retirement with one more big payday . . . The financial desperation that fuels the characters is vivid and plausible. The plot is appropriately convoluted. The body count is respectable, and the result is a ripping-good thriller. — Booklist


Jonathan Franzen
October 28, 7:30 p.m.
Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University

Farther Away: Essays (2012)

Farther Away: Essays

Franzen follows up his 2010 blockbuster novel, Freedom, with a collection of recent essays, speeches, and reviews, in which he lays out a view of literature in which storytelling and character development trump lyrical acrobatics, and unearths a few forgotten classics. Franzen’s easy dismissal of a few canonical works, such as Ulysses, may invite contention, but when in his native realm–books that revel in the frustrations, despairs, and near-blisses of human relationships–he is an undeniably perceptive reader. In other essays, he confronts an epidemic of songbird hunting in the Mediterranean, tracks a novelty golf club cover back to a Chinese factory to investigate that nation’s notoriously ambivalent stance toward environmental conservation, and withdraws to a remote South American island to meditate on Robinson Crusoe and the suicide of his friend and rival David Foster Wallace. He also weighs in on Facebook’s narcissistic death spiral and the way the “sexy” new gadgets that never seem to leave our fingertips get in the way of real life and relationships, as well as the uneasy subject of autobiographical fiction and the effect a failed marriage had on his early novels. This intimate read is packed with provocative questions about technology, love, and the state of the contemporary novel. — Publishers Weekly


Mary Szybist 
November 5, 7:30 p.m.
Robertson Hall, Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall

Incarnadine: Poems (2013)

Incarnadine: Poems

In this [National Book Award-winning] book . . . love poetry and poetry of religious faith blend and blur into one transcendent, humbled substance, in which a beloved is asked, “Just for this evening, won’t you put me before you/ until I’m far enough away you can/ believe in me?” Also blended and blurred are the biblical and the contemporary, the divine and the self, as in “Update on Mary,” a quiet pun on the author’s name and that of her namesake, in which “It is not uncommon to find Mary falling asleep on her yoga mat when she has barely begun to stretch.” “Annunciation” poems spread throughout the book discover god in all sorts of unlikely places, such as beneath the clothes of a cross-dressing man: “And when I learned that he was not a man–/ Bullwhip, horsewhip, unzip, I could have crawled/ Through thorn and bee.” Finally, though, whether or not readers are attuned to the religious content, these are gorgeous lyrics, in traditional and invented forms–one poem is a diagrammed sentence while another radiates from an empty space at the center of the page–which create close encounters with not-quite-paraphrasable truths. This is essential poetry. — Publishers Weekly


Zadie Smith
November 11, 7:30 p.m.
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

NW (2012)


In her first novel since On Beauty (2005), Smith draws on her deepening social and psychological acuity and her intimacy with North West London to portray a quartet of struggling men and women linked by blood, place, affinity, and chance. Of Jamaican descent, Keisha, who renames herself Natalie, is smart, disciplined, ambitious, and duplicitous. Anglo Leah is unconventional, fearful, compassionate, and devious. They were close growing up together in public housing but are now leading somewhat divergent lives. Natalie is a corporate lawyer with a wealthy husband, two children, and a big, flashy house. Leah works for a not-for-profit organization and is married to a sweet French African hairdresser. As girls, they had crushes on schoolmate Nathan; now he’s mired in drugs, violence, and rage. Noble and ambitious biracial Felix crosses their paths just as his radiant integrity and kindness become liabilities. With exceptional discernment, wit, empathy, and artistry, Smith creates a breathtakingly intricate mesh of audible and interior voices while parsing family relationships, class and racial divides, marriage, and friendship. In this quintessential twenty-first-century urban novel depicting a vibrant, volatile multicultural world, Smith calibrates the gravitational forces of need and desire, brutality and succor, randomness and design, dissonance and harmony, and illuminates both heartbreaking and affirming truths about the paradoxes of human complexity. — Booklist


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