Saturday, October 27, 2007

New interviews, inspiring conversations

We've posted new interviews in fiction and poetry. Some are freshly recorded conversations with three significant and very different writers: Junot Diaz, George Saunders, and Ann Patchett. The others are interviews from our archives with no less remarkable writers. All are worth listening to.

I've had the great pleasure and privilege of speaking with readers and writers this week at two distinctive and, each in their own way, historic venues. The Nineteenth Century Club in Oak Park, Illinois, and the Guild Complex in Chicago. One a venerable, Corinthian-columned philanthropic institution founded in 1891 and dedicated to lifelong learning and community building; the other a vibrant and arty neighborhood literary center established in 1989.

You can learn a lot about a place by visiting its rest room. The ladies' lounge at the Nineteenth Century Club, which was founded by women for women, is a gracious parlor with wall fixtures, Victorian furniture, old photographs and intricate lace under glass made by the founders. And a recently created plaque listing some of the famous women who have used this ladies' room in the past, among them Amelia Earhart, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Indira Gandhi, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ruth Page, and Jane Addams. After reading this illustrious roll call, I corrected my posture, felt like an impostor, and went in to the lovely dining room to partake of a luncheon well-served on good china. The room was filled with a symphony of bright conversation. Then the talkers and diners were transformed into an attentive, receptive, and smart audience of book lovers concerned about the shrinking space accorded books in newspapers, and desirous of an ongoingly vital "culture of the sentence," to use Cynthia Ozick's phrase. How would we know who we are without literature?

The Guild Complex is on busy Division Street in the Chopin Theater. The Chicago/International Writers Exchange was held downstairs in an art-filled, low-light room furnished with vintage couches and chairs. The short description of the exchange is: "A discussion of literary cultures and literary practices between writers from Australia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Russia, and Chicago." First, we served box luncheons which we balanced on our laps. Twelve incisive writers, one in-awe moderator. More on the amazing conversation anon, but for now a big big thank you to our international guests: Linsday Simpson, Aziz Nazmi Shakir-Tash, Hamdy El Gazzar, Lawrence Pun, Nirwan Dewanto, Ksenia Golubovich, our international guests. And to Chicago's Francisco Aragon, Rosellen Brown, Tom Montgomery-Fate, Tyehimba Jess, Alex Kotlowitz, and Bich Minh Nguyen.

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