December 31, 2009 by Reader's Connection
The spring installment of Butler University´s Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series gets underway on January 13th with Edwidge Danticat. Click on the authors´ names to see which of their books are owned by IMCPL. All events in the series are free and open to the public. Call (317) 940-9861 for more information.
Thanks as always to Butler for hosting this series, and Go Bulldogs! Defeat Green Bay tonight!
7:30 p.m. Jan. 13
Haitian-born American writer Danticat is at her best–fearless, persuasive, and captivating–in recounting her family history. We meet the author as a child in her native country when she is left in the care of her pastor uncle, Joseph, after her parents and brothers immigrate to America. Fast-forward several years, and a teenage Danticat joins the family she barely remembers in New York City, leaving behind her beloved “second father” and island country. What comes next are not uncommon threads in an immigrant narrative–political uncertainties and the colorful figures imposing them, rogues empowered with guns to protect the interests of a self-serving dictator, visa aspirations, cultural woes, and the soothing power of family . . . Most readers will likely recognize a kindred spirit or something familiar in this family account, brought so vividly to life and captured for the ages by a fine writer. — Library Journal
Three Haitian women living in New York drink to “the terrible days behind us and the uncertain days ahead,” thus succinctly denoting the resonant theme of Danticat’s beautifully lucid fourth work of fiction: the baffling legacy of violence and the unanswerable questions of exile. In compelling and richly imagined linked stories of the Haitian diaspora, the author portrays the children of parents who either perpetuated or suffered the cruelties of the island’s bloody dictatorships, young women and men who struggle to make sense of the madness that poisoned their childhoods. The book’s pivotal, and most riveting, sections portray a man who works for the state as a torturer, or “dew breaker,” until a catastrophic encounter with a heroic preacher induces him to flee to New York, where his sculptor daughter finally learns of his past under caustically ironic circumstances. Danticat’s masterful depiction of the emotional and spiritual reverberations of tyranny and displacement reveals the intricate mesh of relationships that defines every life — Booklist
7:30 p.m. Feb. 11
Díaz’s gutsy short story collection Drown (1996) made the young Dominican American a literary star. Readers who have had to wait a decade for his first novel are now spectacularly rewarded. Paralleling his own experiences growing up in the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, he has choreographed a family saga at once sanguinary and sexy that confronts the horrific brutality at loose during the reign of the dictator Trujillo. Díaz’s besieged characters look to the supernatural for explanations and hope, from fukú, the curse unleashed when Europeans arrived on Hispaniola, to the forces dramatized in the works of science fiction and fantasy so beloved by the chubby ghetto nerd Oscar Wao, the brilliantly realized boy of conscience at the center of this whirlwind tale. Writing in a combustible mix of slang and lyricism, Díaz loops back and forth in time and place, generating sly and lascivious humor in counterpoint to tyranny and sorrow. And his characters–Oscar, the hopeless romantic; Lola, his no-nonsense sister; their heartbroken mother; and the irresistible homeboy narrator–cling to life with the magical strength of superheroes, yet how vibrantly human they are. Propelled by compassion, Díaz’s novel is intrepid and radiant. — Booklist
The 10 tales in this intense debut collection plunge us into the emotional lives of people redefining their American identity. Narrated by adolescent Dominican males living in the struggling communities of the Dominican Republic, New York and New Jersey, these stories chronicle their outwardly cool but inwardly anguished attempts to recreate themselves in the midst of eroding family structures and their own burgeoning sexuality. The best pieces, such as “Aguantando” (to endure), “Negocios,” “Edison, NJ” and the title story, portray young people waiting for transformation, waiting to belong. Their worlds generally consist of absent fathers, silent mothers and friends of questionable principles and morals. Diaz’s restrained prose reveals their hopes only by implication. It’s a style suited to these characters, who long for love but display little affection toward each other. Still, the author’s compassion glides just below the surface, occasionally emerging in poetic passages of controlled lyricism, lending these stories a lasting resonance. — Publishers Weekly
7:30 p.m. Feb. 22
Krannert Room of Clowes Memorial Hall
National Book Award-winner Clifton has long enjoyed national acclaim for her careful, colloquial, compact renditions of African-American voices, in memoirs, books for children and more than a dozen books of poems. This relatively short new collection excels in its opening pages, with wry comic verse in the voices of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and a devout raccoon: “oh Master Of All Who Take and Wash/ And Eat lift me away.” Clifton’s more serious poems, where she speaks as herself, address her late parents, her delights as a grandmother and her mixed feelings about memory and her own body as she begins her eighth decade . . . Clifton retains an undeniable sincerity, an openness to her own emotions, and a rare warmth. — Publishers Weekly
With numerous awards and publication credits under her belt, Lucille Clifton has more than proven her worth over a long poetic career. In her twelfth collection, Clifton again showcases her gifts of a musical ear attuned to everyday language, a Zen-like minimalism of form and sentence structure, and keen perception that sees beyond obvious realities to a deeply spiritual realm. From the wreckage of what is lost in life to such forces as cancer and terrorism, to the redemption of what remains, like birth and otherworldly assistance, Clifton’s voice speaks truth and sings hope. One can see a bit of Dickinson here, as well as Gwendolyn Brooks. And in the last section of Mercy, “The Message from the Ones” (a kind of angelic channeling), there is poignancy akin to Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Clifton is a poet who should attract a diverse audience. In fact, her poems are so accessible, and appear so straightforward, that one could easily mistake them as simplistic; but that is something her work will never be. — Booklist
7:30 p.m. March 23
Raab’s poems are plainspoken, open in their cadences, conversational and confiding. They seem, at first read, to be rather modest and matter-of-fact, easygoing and affable. But just as still water runs deep, Raab’s lyrics are actually quietly intent poems of inquiry into both the state and the sense of being. Often humorous, always radiant, they perfectly capture the persistent inner voice that provides a play-by-play account of one’s life, the self-consciousness that makes one aware of one’s own awareness, and the strange facet of the psyche that makes us crave escape from ourselves, leading to the habit of fantasy and the hunger for art and entertainment. In a set of 21 vivid, provocative new poems, as well as stellar selections from five previous collections . . . Raab draws on the revelations of science, the grace of music, and the magic of movies to elucidate nature’s beauty and mystery, the haunting presence of absent loved ones, and the ongoing amazement of being alive. — Booklist
Raab speaks with the plainness and commonsensical calm of a New Englander, but he isn’t bleak, nor does he take himself too seriously. His poems, simultaneously gentle and robust, provide the mental equivalent of a brisk walk across a field on a bright autumn morning. Raab is interested in what we perceive as normal, how we dream of the dead, and what we find in movies. Distrusting the grandiose, he doesn’t like to look at paintings of vast hordes of people, believing as he does that paintings portraying individuals tell us far more about what we need to know. Art can only go so far, he implies, and then we’re on our own. It is fitting that Thoreau appears in a poem about friendship, because Raab is his heir with his down-to-earth wisdom and quiet passion that begins locally, with one window, one memory, and then opens steadily, exhilaratingly, toward the universal. — Booklist
7:30 p.m. April 13
This is poet Richard Howard, writing in Publishers weekly: It is no surprise, rather a sort of consolation, that . . . most of these poems scrupulously record the actions and adventures of that wonderful “I,” the character whose accents it has been Strand’s genius to create in book after book: “I went to the middle of the room and called out,” “I closed my eyes briefly,” “I filled page after page,” “I am not thinking of death,” “…there would be a fire and I would walk into it,” “I said that the dawning of the unknown was always before us,” “I ran downstairs and called for my horse” . . . Strand . . . winnows a familiar comfort from “My Name,” one of the loveliest and humblest poems he has yet written, from whose 12 lines I cite only the final few as a sort of hostage to greatness:
…and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.
Strand’s 1980 Selected Poems has probably long had a home on most contemporary poetry readers’ shelves. That book proclaimed Strand’s status as a major poet writing in a sometimes surreal, humorous, oracular mode . . . This new volume extends that book to encompass the intervening two and a half decades and four collections of poems . . . offers the first panoramic view of the ongoing career of a poet who has mattered deeply to poets and readers alike. Strand’s is one of the contemporary voices that will not fade. — Publishers Weekly
Simpson’s previous novels . . . chronicle quests and odysseys. Her newest, and most concentrated, is all about staying put. In the opening scene, her heroine, dutiful doctor’s daughter Bea, comes home to Green Bay, Wisconsin, on winter break from school in 1956 and goes to pick up a friend, June Umberhum, who lives on Keck Road amid a cluster of rundown houses just outside the city limits . . . Both Bea and June move back home after their brief forays out into the wider world: Bea to care for her ill mother, who frets that she did too good a job scaring her wholesome daughter away from men, and June to raise her daughter on her own. Then there’s the indomitable Shelley, also of Keck Road, the last of the town’s denizens to contract polio, and Bill, a wealthy, jazz-loving, and ebullient man who brings zest to their lives. As Simpson weaves together their meshed stories just like Bea knits her sweaters and throws, she pauses often to contemplate the beauty of the land as its disappears beneath the hard edges of subdivisions and malls, an internment emblematic of how love is buried deep in the hearts of her modest but strong characters, figures profound in their rootedness and dignity.
Simpson’s first novel opens with its two heroines, Adele and her daughter Ann, fleeing their provincial hometown in Wisconsin for a fresh start in California. The story of their journey and new life is fast-paced and entertaining, but it is Simpson’s fine characterizations that are most impressive. Adele is both protector and manipulator, encouraging Ann’s success as a child star but also displaying her own unrealistic expectations and selfish motives. Ann tolerates her mother’s lying and eccentricity, but she longs for a rootedness her mother cannot give her. The skillfully written flashbacks to stories told by Adele’s Wisconsin relatives give us a sense of the home they have left behind, and the disparity between it and their new home is immense and profound. This is an excellent novel. — Library Journal