Skip to Content

Department of English Language and Literature


Past Authors

Host

 

Authors

2017

The Master

Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, including The Blackwater Lightship, Brooklyn, and The Testament of Mary, as well as two story collections. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín has been selected for the Costa Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and many other accolades. The Master tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America’s first intellectual families who leaves his country to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers. While the decision by a contemporary Irish novelist to portray the creative struggles of nineteenth-century American writer may appear bold, the result is a triumph. The New York Times Book Review writes, "The Master is unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist: artful, moving, and very beautiful." John Updike declares the novel "a marvel," and Michael Cunningham concludes that "Tóibín takes us almost shockingly close to the mystery of art itself. A remarkable, utterly original book." In addition to being a brilliant novelist, Colm Tóibín is a warm and charming speaker. Colm Tóibín spoke at The Open Book on March 29, 2017.

 

Euphoria

Lily King

Lily King, recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award, is the author of four critically hailed novels, most recently the national bestseller Euphoria. Set between World War I and II and inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, the novel tells the story of three young, gifted anthropologists in 1933 caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and ultimately their lives. Declaring King "brilliant," the New York Times Book Review described the novel as “A taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace—a love triangle in extremis." In 2014, Euphoriawon both the coveted Kirkus Prize for Fiction and the New England Book Award and was named one of the best books of the year by the National Book Critics Circle, National Public Radio, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, Time, and many other publications. It went on to become a book club favorite as well as a national bestseller. Lily King spoke at The Open Book on Wednesday, April 5, 2017.

 

Sonata Mulattica

Rita Dove

Rita Dove is one of our country's most important and well-known poets. A former poet laureate, she has received almost every major award, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Heinz Award, the Common Wealth Award, and the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, as well as more than two dozen honorary doctorates. An elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Clinton, and President Obama presented her with the National Medal of the Arts in 2011. In her remarkable Sonata Mulattica, Dove imagines the life of the biracial violinist George Bridgetower, best remembered as the first performer and the dedicatee of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata. The New Yorker describes this amazing book as "A virtuosic treatment of a virtuoso's life, the poems use all registers—nursery rhymes, diary entries, drama—and are stuffed with historical and musical arcana. Yet the book remains highly accessible, reading much like a historical novel." The Los Angeles Times concurs: "Sonata Mulattica brims with passion for the music, the era and its major and minor characters, resulting in a complete portrait of Beethoven, Bridgetower, and their milieu. But more important, Dove's masterful collection illuminates the life of a musical genius who might have been lost forever in the braying cacophony of our celebrity-driven times." Rita Dove spoke at The Open Book on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.

 

The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen

When The Corrections was published, Jonathan Franzen was probably better known for his nonfiction than for his novels. In an essay for Harper's, Franzen lamented the declining cultural authority of the American novel and described his search for reasons to persist as a fiction writer. "The novelist has more and more to say to readers who have less and less time to read," he said. The Corrections was an international bestseller, with translations in 35 languages, U.S. hardcover sales of nearly one million copies, and nominations for nearly every major book prize in the country, including the National Book Award, which it won. The author's profile was further raised by controversy surrounding the novel's selection for Oprah's book club. Franzen has gone on to publish several more award-winning books and to appear on the cover of Time. During his visit to USC, he will revisit the book that made him famous. “You will laugh, wince, groan, weep, leave the table and maybe the country, promise never to go home again, and be reminded of why you read serious fiction in the first place," writes the New York Times Review of Books about the experience of reading The Corrections. Jonathan Franzen spoke at The Open Book on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

 

The Tragedy of Arthur

Arthur Phillips

Arthur Phillips is the author of five critically hailed novels—and the first five-time Jeopardy champion to visit The Open Book. His books have been widely translated as well as celebrated by readers and critics, including a shortlisting for the prestigious IMPAC International Literary Prize. The Washington Post calls his fifth novel, The Tragedy of Arthur, "an emotional and elaborately constructed tour de force" from "one of the best writers in America." Its doomed hero (who happens to be named Arthur Phillips) is a young novelist struggling with a con artist father who works wonders of deception. Imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, Arthur’s father reveals a treasure he’s kept secret for half a century: The Tragedy of Arthur, a previously unknown play by William Shakespeare. Is the manuscript Arthur and his sister inherit the Bard's last gift to humanity, or is it their father's last and greatest con? This witty and virtuosic novel, which includes Shakespeare’s (?) lost play in its entirety, challenges our notions of truth, fiction, genius, and identity, as the two Arthurs—the novelist and the ancient king—play out their strangely intertwined fates. The Tragedy of Arthur was a New York Times Notable Book as well as a New Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite of the Year, and was named to the best-of-the-year lists of the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, Library Journal, Kirkus, and Salon. Arthur Phillips spoke at The Open Book on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

2016

Crossbones

Nuruddin Farah

Somali novelist, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter Nuruddin Farah is one of the most prolific writers to come out of Africa in several decades. His many awards include the Lettre Ulysses Award and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and he is rumored to be on the Nobel shortlist annually. Farah’s “Past Imperfect” trilogy about Diaspora returning to Somalia was conceived when he was held incommunicado by a minor warlord the first time he visited his home country after a twenty-two year absence. Crossbones—the third in the trilogy but very much a stand-alone novel—offers a complex portrait of a recent Somali history that includes sea piracy, renewed tensions with Ethiopia, and the rise of al-Shabaab. Nuruddin Farah spoke at The Open Book on March 23, 2016.

 

Dept. of Speculation

Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation was named one of the “Ten Best Books of 2014” by the New York Times Book Review, and it would probably be briefer to list the “best of” lists it didn’t make than those it did. This novel—peculiar in form and very short—offers a sad and funny portrait of contemporary marriage. Writing in the New Yorker, James Wood says: “Dept. of Speculation is all the more powerful because, with its scattered insights and apparently piecemeal form, it at first appears slight. Its depth and intensity make a stealthy purchase on the reader.” Its author comes highly recommended as an engaging speaker. Jenny Offill spoke at The Open Book on March 30, 2016.

 

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr is the author of two novels, two story collections, and a memoir. His writing has been widely anthologized and recognized with numerous honors, including the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, four O. Henry Prizes, four Pushcarts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award. His most recent novel, All the Light We Cannot See, recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Booklist called this gorgeously written novel, set during World War II, “A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned.” PLEASE NOTE: Doerr's April 6 talk has been moved to the USC Law School Auditorium (701 Main St.). Anthony Doerr spoke at The Open Book on April 6, 2016.

 

Everything I Never Told You

Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng’s critically hailed debut Everything I Never Told You is both a literary novel and a family mystery about grief, ethnicity, assimilation, and gender in a small American town. It was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and Amazon’s Best Book of the Year 2014. Entertainment Weekly calls it both a propulsive mystery and a profound examination of a mixed-race family.” Ng is a graduate of Harvard as well as the University of Michigan’s MFA program. Her stories and essays have been widely published, and she is recipient of a Pushcart Prize. Celeste Ng spoke at The Open Book on April 13, 2016.

 

The Book of Illusions

Paul Auster

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Sunset Park, Invisible, Man in the Dark, and The New York Trilogy, among many other works. He has been award the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature, the Prix Médicis Étranger, and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 2006 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and his books have been translated into forty-three languages. In what critics have called his “nearly flawless” The Book of Illusions, a grieving professor searches for a missing silent-film comedian, setting off what Booklist describes as a “delectably Hitchcockian tale of mayhem, murder, and myriad illusions within illusions.” Paul Auster spoke at The Open Book on April 20, 2016.

2015

Tenth of December

George Saunders

Admired immediately by critics and other writers, George Saunders was gradually discovered by the general reading public across the publication of his first four books and the frequent appearance of his short stories in best-of-the-year anthologies. But it is his most recent book—Tenth of December—that cemented his national reputation and saw him celebrated in the popular press. National Public Radio declared it a “book for everyone,” and it received glowing reviews far and wide. The stories in Tenth of December cut to the quick of contemporary experience. In turns sad and funny, they tackle our most pressing personal questions and challenge us to think about what it means to be human and what it means to be decent. Saunders is also a fascinating person off the page. He’s worked in convenience stores and slaughterhouses, traveled to Africa with Bill Clinton, reported on the “Buddha Boy” in Nepal, and written undercover from the armed Mexican border, the theme hotels of Dubai, and a homeless tent city in Fresno. Saunders has been awarded a Guggenheim as well as a MacArthur Fellowship, inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and named by Time as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. George Saunders spoke at The Open Book on March 18, 2015.

 

Incarnadine

Mary Szybist

When asked which poet she would like to introduce to The Open Book, Nikky Finney selected Mary Szybist, whose collection Incarnadine was awarded the 2013 National Book Award. Szybist received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of one previous book, Granted, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Syzbist’s individual poems have been widely published, and her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Great Lakes Colleges Association, the MacDowell Colony, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. The National Book Awards judges’ citation describes Incarnadine this way: “In her gorgeous second collection, Mary Szybist blends traditional and experimental aesthetics to recast the myth of the Biblical Mary for this era. In vulnerable lyrics, surprising concrete poems, and other forms, and with extraordinary sympathy and a light touch of humor, Szybist probes the nuances of love, loss, and the struggle for religious faith in a world that seems to argue against it. This is a religious book for nonbelievers, or a book of necessary doubts for the faithful.” Mary Szybist spoke at The Open Book on March 25, 2015.

 

The Great Man

Kate Christensen

Also widely known for her delicious writing on food, Kate Christensen is the author of six novels, including The Epicure’s Lament and The Astral. The Chicago Tribune says of her: “Nimble, witty, and discerning, Kate Christensen is single-handedly reinvigorating the comedy of manners with her smart and disemboweling novels of misanthropes, cultural and aesthetic divides, private angst, social ambition, and appetites run amok.” In The Great Man, which claimed the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Christensen turns her pen on the peculiar inhabitants of the New York art world. USA Today credits this novel with breaking the stereotype of aging female protagonists, and the New York Times calls The Great Man “Mischievous, funny, and astute…. As unexpectedly generous as it is entertaining.” On the connection between her two great passions, Christensen says this: “I am a cook of the improvisational, what’s-in-the-cupboard school, which is also, possibly not coincidentally, my strategy with writing. Just as the ingredients at hand can dictate the dish, the characters who arise in my imagination and are set in motion at the beginning of a novel can dictate its plot, tone, and themes. It’s crucial to both enterprises to keep on hand excellent spices, oils, and produce.” Kate Christensen spoke at The Open Book on March 30, 2015.

 

Mercy 6

David Bajo

David Bajo has followed up his two critically acclaimed literary novels (The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri and Panopticon) with a literary novel that also happens to be a medical thriller. Bajo’s novels have been called everything from ethereal and engrossing to ambitious to sexy. Mercy 6 is all these things, yet it also Bajo’s most accessible novel to date. Set in a newly renovated Los Angeles hospital locked down when four bodies are discovered inside with no sign of injury and no obvious connection other than an identical time of death, Mercy 6 explores the uses and misuses of power, the control of information, and what it means to act on belief. Bajo holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of California-Irvine and worked for eight years as a journalist on the San Diego-Tijuana border. Literary agent Peter Steinberg, founder of the Steinberg Literary Agency, will give the Monday lecture on Mercy 6 ahead of the author’s Wednesday talk. (Note: this book will be released in early September 2014.) David Bajo spoke at The Open Book on April 8, 2015.

 

Open City

Teju Cole 

Writer, art historian, and photographer Teju Cole was born in the United States to Nigerian parents and raised in Nigeria. He currently lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of two books, a novella, Every Day is for the Thief, a New York Times Editors’ Pick, and a novel, Open City, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New York City Book Award for Fiction, the Rosenthal Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Internationaler Literaturpreis, and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, and the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. Cole is a contributor to the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and several other magazines. Time magazine has this to say about Cole’s beautifully disturbing novel: “Cole has earned flattering comparisons to literary heavyweights like J.M. Coetzee, W.G. Sebald, and Henry James, but Open City merits higher praise: it’s a profoundly original work, intellectually stimulating and possessing of a style both engaging and seductive.” Teju Cole spoke at The Open Book on April 15, 2015.

 

On Such a Full Sea

Chang-rae Lee

Born in South Korea, Chang-rae Lee immigrated to the United States as child and went on to study English at Yale before receiving a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Oregon. He is the author of four previous novels (Native Speaker, A Gesture Life, Aloft, and The Surrendered), which have garnered a full array of literary awards, including the Asian American Literature Prize, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award, and a Pulitzer nomination. Fascinated by cultural dissonance, Lee says of his work, “The characters may not always be Asian Americans, but they will always be people who are thinking about the culture and how they fit or don't fit into it.” His most recent novel, travels to new territory for Lee: the future. Set in a dystopian future Baltimore, On Such a Full Sea centers on a Chinese-American fish farm diver and poses the question of what it means to be an individual. In the New York Times, Andrew Sean Greer writes, “Watching a talented writer take a risk is one of the pleasures of devoted reading, and On Such a Full Sea provides all that and more.” Like all great dystopian novels, Lee’s ultimately tells us more about our present than our future. Chang-rae Lee spoke at The Open Book on April 22, 2015.

2014

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her stories and essays have been published in the New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, O Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships and awards from Lannan Foundation and Whiting Foundation. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction; it was also shortlisted for Kiriyama Prize and Orange Prize for New Writers. Her novel, The Vagrants, won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by the New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. MacArthur Foundation named her a 2010 fellow. Of her most recent book, which will be the first short story collection we read at The Open Book, Junot Díaz writes, “Li is extraordinary ... a storyteller of the first order ... each tale in this collection is as wild and beautiful and thorny as a heart ... Li inhabits the lives of her characters with such force and compassion that one cannot help but marvel at her remarkable talents.” Yiyun Li spoke at The Open Book on March 19, 2014.

 
 

Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell

David Mitchell is the acclaimed author of the novels Black Swan Green, which was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Time; Cloud Atlas, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist; Number9Dream, which was short-listed for the Man Booker as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Ghostwritten, awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for best book by a writer under thirty-five and short-listed for the Guardian First Book Award; and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. He lives in Ireland. In Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre, and time to offer a meditation on humanity’s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us. Newsday described is as “revolutionary,” while the Washington Times said, “[Mitchell’s] exuberant, Nabokovian delight in word play; his provocative grapplings with the great unknowables; and most of all his masterful storytelling: All coalesce to make Cloud Atlas an exciting, almost overwhelming masterpiece.” David Mitchell spoke at The Open Book on March 26, 2014.

 

A Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan is the author of The Invisible Circus, which was released as a feature film by Fine Line in 2001, Emerald City and Other Stories, Look at Me, which was nominated for the National Book Award in 2001, and the bestselling The Keep. Her most recent book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, a national bestseller, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Also a journalist, Jennifer Egan writes frequently in the New York Times Magazine. The Irish Independent described her Pulitzer-winning “novel in stories: this way: “A Visit from the Goon Squad is a tremendous novel: thoughtful, subtle, funny, wacky, energetic, profoundly authentic.” The New Republic said, “It ends in the same place as it starts, except that everything has changed, including you, the reader.” And the New York Review of Books weighed in this way: “Jennifer Egan’s new novel is a moving humanistic saga, an enormous nineteenth-century-style epic brilliantly disguised as ironic postmodern pastiche.” Jennifer Egan spoke at The Open Book on April 2, 2014.

 
 

Middle Passage

Charles Johnson

Charles Johnson is a prolific philosopher, novelist, essayist, short story writer, scholar, and political cartoonist as well as an inspiring speaker about both fiction and Western Buddhism. His books include: Black Humor, Half-Past Nation-Time, Faith and the Good Thing, Oxherding Tale, The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Tales and Conjurations, Being and Race: Black Writing Since 1970, Dreamer, Soulcatcher: And Other Stories, and Turning the Wheel. His novel Middle Passage, which was awarded the 1990 National Book Award, has achieved the status of classic. Set in1830, it presents a personal and historical perspective of the U.S. slave trade, telling the story of Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave who unknowingly boards a slave ship bound for Africa in order to escape a forced marriage. The New York Times Book Review called it “A novel in the honorable tradition of Billy Budd and Moby Dick…heroic in proportion… fiction that hooks into the mind,” while the Chicago Tribune wrote “Long after we’d stopped believing in the great American novel, along comes a spellbinding adventure story that may be just that.” Charles Johnson spoke at The Open Book on April 9, 2014.

 

Time's Arrow

Martin Amis

Martin Amis is the bestselling author of many books, including Money and London Fields. In 2008, he was named by The Times as one of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945. His other accolades include the Man Booker shortlist and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Many consider Time’s Arrow Amis’ greatest work and marvel that in it he found an entirely fresh, even surprising way, to write about the Holocaust, working chronologically backward in the point of view of former Nazi doctor Tod T. Friendly, starting with his death. Newsday raved, “The narrative moves with irresistible momentum.... [Amis is] a daring, exacting writer willing to defy the odds in pursuit of his art.” Though short, playful, and frequently comic, Time’s Arrow is also an arresting indictment of the logic of genocide. The Los Angeles Times sums up this unusual book this way: “The book is a sweeping return to form, gripping from start to finish, completely free of the pall of gray London soot that seemed to have settled over the writer's soul, yet as morally upright as even he could wish. Martin Amis has finally managed to integrate his early literary and his grown-up moral ferocities, to their mutual benefit.” Martin Amis spoke at The Open Book on April 16, 2014.

2013

Gilead

Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson has written three highly acclaimed novels (Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home) as well as two works of nonfiction (Mother Country and The Death of Adam). Gilead won the both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Critic Michael Dirda describes the novel as “so serenely beautiful, and written in a prose so gravely measured and thoughtful, that one feels touched with grace just to read it.” Robinson is highly sought after as both an essayist and a public speaker and is revered by a generation of young writers for her difficult but ultimately consoling advice on writing and living as a writer. Marilynne Robinson spoke at The Open Book on March 20, 2013.

 

The Sea

John Banville

John Banville is the author of more than twenty novels, including The Book of Evidence, The Untouchable, Shroud, and Eclipse. Critics have compared Banville to masters as varied as James, Proust, Beckett, and Nabokov. He has won many awards, including the 2005 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sea. A gorgeous meditation on love, loss, and memory, The Sea was also chosen as a New York Times Notable Book and was named one of the best books of its year by the Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe, among others. Banville lives in Ireland and also writes mysteries under the name of Benjamin Black. John Banville spoke at The Open Book on March 27, 2013.

 

Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of two novels and a story collection. She has been awarded MacArthur Fellowship, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Orange Broadband Prize, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Set during the Biafran struggle for independence, Half of a Yellow Sun tells a story at once harrowing and tender, panoramic and personal. Chinua Achebe writes, “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless.” Adichie divides her time between the United States and her native Nigeria. Her next novel, Americanah, will be published in May 2013. Due to unforeseen circumstances Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was forced to cancel her appearance. Téa Obreht appeared instead.

 

The Lazarus Project

Aleksandar Hemon

Aleksandar Hemon was marooned in Chicago during a 1992 visit when his native city of Sarajevo came under siege. Of Bosnian ethnicity, Hemon wrote his first story in English in 1995 and went on to publish three collections in addition to his novel The Lazarus Project. Hemon has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. The Lazarus Project was a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. Occasionally caustic and always witty, the novel explores the nature of violence, religious and ethnic division, and what it means to remake a life after displacement. Junot Diaz describes it as incandescent: “When your eyes close, the power of this novel, of Hemon’s colossal talent, remains.” Sasha Hemon spoke at The Open Book on April 10, 2013.

 

Great House

Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss is the author of three novels: Man Walks into a Room, The History of Love, and Great House. Translated into more than thirty-five languages, her books have garnered many accolades, including the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Ėtranger. They have been shortlisted for the National Book Award and the Orange, Médicis, and Femina prizes. Beautiful and powerful, Great House reveals deep human truths as it narrates the story of a desk across decades and continents. In its glowing review, the New York Times Book Review says of Krauss’ accomplishment, “It is a high-wire performance, only the wire has been replaced by an exposed nerve, and you hold your breath, and she does not fall.” Nicole Krauss spoke at The Open Book on April 17, 2013.

2012

Let the Great World Spin

Colum McCann

Colum McCann is the award-winning author of seven books. His most recent novel, Let the Great World Spin, takes Philip Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center as the starting point for a dazzling, multilayered symphony for Manhattan. Hailed as an American masterpiece, the novel is at once heartbreaking and uplifting - as death defying as Petit's high-wire artistry. Let the Great World Spin was a bestseller on four continents and won both the National Book Award and the International IMPAC Literary Award. "I believe in the democracy of story-telling," says Dublin-born McCann. "I love the fact that our stories can cross all sorts of borders and boundaries. I feel humbled by the notion that I'm even a small part of literary experience. I grew up in a house, in a city, in a country shaped by books. I don't know of a greater privilege that being allowed to tell a story, or to listen to a story. They're the only thing we have that can trump life itself." Colum McCann spoke at The Open Book on March 14, 2012.

 

Into the Beautiful North

Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea is the author of thirteen books whose awards include the Lannan Literary Award, the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize, and an American Book Award. He is a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea uses his dual-culture experiences to explore universal themes of love, loss, and triumph. Into the Beautiful North imagines a town in Mexico where all the men have immigrated to the U.S. After Viewing The Magnificent Seven, a group of women travel north to persuade them to return. A national bestseller, Into the Beautiful North earned a citation of excellence from the American Library Association and has been widely praised for its unforgettable characters. Urrea says, "I set out to make myself happy. I confess: this book was utterly selfish. But I also thought that if I made myself laugh out loud every day, perhaps you would laugh too." Luis Alberto Urrea spoke at The Open Book on March 21, 2012.

 

State of Wonder

Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is the bestselling author of five novels and two books of nonfiction. She is a recipient of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and her novel Bel Canto won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Patchett has written for many publications, including the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Gourmet, the New York Times, and Vogue. Her newest book, State of Wonder, spins a tale of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazonian jungle. Both a gripping adventure and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love, the novel quickly received widespread critical and popular acclaim. On the choice of the book’s setting, Patchett says, “The Amazon is a giant open canvas for the imagination. You feel like anything could happen there, and that’s a great place from which to tell a story.” Ann Patchett spoke at The Open Book on March 28, 2012.

 

The Marriage Plot

Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides’ novels include The Virgin Suicides, which was translated into thirty-four languages and made into a feature film, and Middlesex, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, France’s Prix Medici, and the International IMPAC Literary Award. His greatly anticipated new novel, The Marriage Plot, tackles books, love, and coming of age in the 1980s. On display are Eugenides’ characteristic intelligence, wit, and affection for his flawed characters. The Marriage Plot asks whether the great love stories of the nineteenth century are dead, or whether there can be a new kind of romantic tale for a world changed from Jane Austen’s day by sexual freedom, prenuptial agreements, and no-fault divorce. “Most people still dream of finding the one,” Eugenides says. “The marriage plot goes on, just in a different form, and it was my job to figure out how it influences the lives of my three heroes.” Jeffrey Eugenides spoke at The Open Book on April 4, 2012.

 

Atonement

Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan is widely considered to be England’s greatest living novelist. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize numerous times, winning the Booker for Amsterdam. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award, the National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award, the Los Angeles Times Prize, and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel, and was adapted into a feature film. John Updike called Atonement, “A staggering book—something no American could have published.” On a hot summer day in 1935, a thirteen-year-old girl’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that alters the lives of all around her. McEwan describes the novel as a love story. “Like all love stories,” he says, “the love has to be threatened.” Sweeping and psychologically penetrating, the novel follows the repercussions of a single act through the chaos of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century. Ian McEwan spoke at The Open Book on April 11, 2012.