One of the most recognizable names in contemporary literature, Chabon is a prolific
writer of fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays, perhaps best known for his Pulitzer
Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Moonglow, a gorgeous fictionalization of the mysterious lives of the author’s grandparents,
is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of marriage and desire, of existential
doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of
American technological accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive
impact—and the creative power—of keeping secrets and telling lies.
NoViolet Bulawayo’s first novel, We Need New Names, established her as an important literary voice and was awarded the Hurston/Wright
Legacy Award and the Pen/Hemingway Award as well as shortlisted for the Man Booker
Prize and the International Literature Award. Her new novel, Glory, takes a cue from Orwell’s Animal Farm and was inspired by the unexpected fall by coup of Robert G. Mugabe in Bulawayo’s
native Zimbabwe. Glory depicts a country's implosion, narrated by a chorus of animal voices that unveil
the ruthlessness required to uphold the illusion of absolute power, as well as the
imagination and the bulletproof optimism necessary to overthrow such power completely.
Born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, Natalie
Diaz—with only her first two volumes of poetry—has become one of the most decorated
and prominent contemporary poets. She has been a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, a Lannan
Literary Fellow, and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow, and her books
have won or been shortlisted for nearly every major poetry award. The New York Times Book Review called her Pulitzer Prize-winning second collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, “one of the most important poetry releases in years.” An anthem against erasure,
the book explores both historical and contemporary experiences of Native Americans
in language that is both wrenching and exquisitely lyrical.
Richard Powers is the author of more than a dozen novels, including The Echo Maker and The Overstory, which explore the implications of science and technology on human beings and non-human
nature. He is the recipient of such accolades as the National Book Award (Echo Maker)and the Pulitzer Prize (Overstory). His most recent novel, Bewilderment, is a moving story about an astrobiologist whose efforts to help his troubled son
lead him into the strange territory of experimental neurofeedback. Kirkus has called the book “a taut ecological parable … a touching novel that offers a vital
message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence.” (While in town, Powers will also
narrate a performance of “A Forest Unfolding,” the collaborative musical project inspired
by his novel The Overstory.)
Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest whose books have garnered
international acclaim for their ability to integrate issues of science, technology,
religion, environmental politics, and global pop culture into unique, hybrid, narrative
forms. We’ll be discussing her two most recent novels. A Tale for the Time Being won the Los Angeles TimesBook Prize, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics
Circle Award, and has been published in over thirty countries. The publication of
her newest, The Book of Form and Emptiness, has been one of 2021’s major literary events. The novel tells the story of a young
boy who, after the death of his father, finds solace in the companionship of his very
Danticat is the internationally acclaimed and bestselling author of more than twelve
books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, The Farming of Bones, and Brother, I’m Dying. Her stunning collection Everything Inside contains vividly imagined stories about community, family, and love set in locales
from Miami and Port-au-Prince to a small unnamed country in the Caribbean and beyond.
The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Story Prize, and the 2020
Vilcek Prize in Literature and was named a Best Book of 2019 by NPR, Time, and Esquire. It has been widely lauded for both its skilled storytelling and enduring emotional
Muldoon is an Irish poet, editor, playwright, lyricist and translator. A Fellow of
the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the
American Academy of Arts and Letters, Muldoon is the author of fourteen full-length
collections of poetry, whose many awards include the Shakespeare Prize, the Pulitzer
Prize for Poetry, the European Prize for Poetry, and the Seamus Heaney Award. Muldoon
is currently editing a book of the lyrics of Paul McCartney and has played with Warren
Zevon as well as Muldoon’s own occasional musical group, Rogue Oliphant. The title
of his newest collection, Howdie-Skelp, refers to the slap a midwife gives a newborn. A wake-up call for us all, its poems
include a nightmarish remake of The Waste Land, an elegy for fellow Northern Irish poet Ciaran Carson, and a crown of sonnets about
the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel is the author of five novels, including The Singer’s Gun, Last Night in Montreal, and the international bestseller Station Eleven. Her newest book, The Glass Hotel, is a both a ghost story and a tale of white-collar crime that moves between a ship,
the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia as it paints
a surprisingly poetic portrait of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the
haunting of memory. It was selected by former President Barack Obama as one of his
favorite books of 2020, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has been
translated into more than twenty languages. NPR declared it “a masterpiece,” and it
was named one of the best books of the year by such wide-ranging places as the New Yorker, Time, Elle, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, the Economist, and the BBC.
From the Booker Award-winning author ofThe English Patient,Warlightis an elegiac thriller set in immediate post-WWII London. A pair of siblings, seemingly
abandoned by their parents, have been left in the care of an enigmatic figure they
call The Moth. They suspect that he may be a criminal and grow more convinced but
less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends. This is a lyrical
mystery about espionage, the afterlife of war, memory, and what it means to live a
life partially in the dark.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitudestudies the wisdom of the garden and orchard as places where loss is converted into
what might, with patience, nourish us. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award
in Poetry and the Kingsley Tuft Poetry Award and was a finalist for the National Book
Award. Ross Gay is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a
non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. His collection of essays,The Book of Delights, was released this year and makes an excellent companion volume to his poems.
Two strangers collide on Waterloo Bridge: Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist, and Jean,
an American studying the habits of urban foxes. From this chance encounter in the
midst of bustling London, connections span out and interweave, bringing disparate
lives together. In this powerful novel of loves lost and new, of past griefs and the
hidden side of a multicultural metropolis, Aminatta Forna asks us to consider the
values of the society we live in, our relationships with each other and other living
creatures, and the true nature of happiness.
Laura van den Berg
A widow tries to come to terms with her husband’s death—and the truth about their
marriage—after seeing him apparently alive outside a Havana theater. As she tracks
his movements, the distinction between reality and fantasy blurs, and she must face
her own role in his death and reappearance. Laura van den Berg’s story of psychological
reflection and metaphysical mystery won the Literary Star for Excellence, was a finalist
for the Young Lions Fiction Award, and was named a best book of 2018 by more than
a dozen publications.
An unforgettable cast of small-town characters copes with love and loss in the most
recent book by bestselling author Elizabeth Strout. Recalling her Pulitzer-winning
workOlive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity, Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling
to understand themselves and others.
For twelve generations, the inhabitants of a remote island in Newfoundland have lived
and died together. Now they are facing resettlement, and each has been offered a generous
compensation package blocked by one hold out: Moses Sweetland. Written by one of Canada’s
most charming and beloved writers—himself a Newfie—Sweetland is a wistful eulogy for a dying way of life.
It’s not often that a poet is named the “it poet” by Entertainment Weekly and also praised by the great John Ashbery, who said of Timothy Donnelly’s most decorated
book, “This is an extraordinary collection—the poetry of the future, here, today.” The
second collection by Columbia University professor and poetry editor of Boston Review, Cloud Corporation explores the possibilities of language—by way of a traditional and abiding faith
in poetry—to illuminate personal, political, and social contingency.
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Celebrated for its rich characters as well as its author’s deep knowledge of the city
she writes about,A Kind of Freedomfollows three generations of a Crescent City family as its members navigate the World
War II years, the 1980s, and the post-Katrina present. When selecting this book as
an Editor’s Choice, the New York Times Book Review wrote, “This luminous and assured first novel shines an unflinching, compassionate
light on three generations of a black family in New Orleans, emphasizing endurance
more than damage…. The force of this naturalistic vision is disquieting; it is also
moving. One could say that it has the disenchanting optimism of the blues."
While The Open Book loves to find under-the-radar books or visit the past, sometimes
a recent "it book" is too good not to include.The Underground Railroadwon the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, and
the Heartland Prize for 2016. It was a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, became a #1New York TimesBestseller, was picked by Oprah, and was a Best Book of the Year for theNew York Times,Washington Post,Wall Street Journal,Newsday, Esquire, and many others. The National Book Award judges' citation describes it well: "The Underground Railroadconfirms Colson Whitehead’s reputation as one of our most daring and inventive writers.
A suspenseful tale of escape and pursuit, it combines elements of fantasy and the
counter-factual with an unflinching, painfully truthful depiction of American slavery....
He has given us an electrifying narrative of the past, profoundly resonant with the
present." A graduate of Harvard, Whitehead is the author of five earlier novels, a
book of essays about New York City, and a nonfiction work on the World Series of Poker.
(Monday, March 26: Talk on The Underground Railroad; Wednesday, March 28: Colson Whitehead
El Comandante, an aging Castro-like dictator shambles about his mansion in Havana,
visits a dying friend, tortures hunger strikers, and grapples with the stale end of
his life that is as devoid of grandeur as his nearly sixty-year-old revolution. Across
the waters in Florida, Goyo Herrera, a Miami exile in his eighties, plots revenge
against his longtime enemy—the very same El Comandante—whom he blames for stealing
his beloved, ruining his homeland, and taking his father’s life. Shifting between
the two men with great resonance and humor, and peppered with other Cuban voices to
create a patchwork of history’s unofficial stories, García’s novel plumbs the passions
and realities of these two Cubas—on the island, and off. Cristina García’s work has
been nominated for a National Book Award and translated into fourteen languages. Author
of six other novels as well as works in other genres, she is the recipient of a Guggenheim
Fellowship, a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University,
and an NEA grant. Though it's difficult to name García’s finest work, King of Cuba is her greatest contribution to our understanding of twentieth-century Cuban history
and what it means for this century. (Monday, April 2: Talk on King of Cuba; Wednesday, April 4: Cristina García visits)
This remarkable debut novel, set in rural Chechnya, moved hardened book critics to
tears, led others to announce the arrival of a new Tolstoy or a contemporary Chekhov.
Ron Charles of the Washington Post describes A Constellation of Vital Phenomena this way: “A flash in the heavens that makes you look up and believe in miracles....Here,
in fresh, graceful prose, is a profound story that dares to be as tender as it is
ghastly, a story about desperate lives in a remote land that will quickly seem impossibly
close and important." The novel won the National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John
Leonard Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction, the Barnes and Noble Discover
Award, and appeared on over twenty year-end lists. It was a National Book Award long
list selection as well as a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and France’s
Prix Medicis. Marra holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a Stegner
Fellow at Stanford University, where he teaches as the Jones Lecturer in Fiction.
Also author of the story collectionThe Tsar of Love and Techno, Tony Marra is known for being thoughtful, wise, and authentic when interacting with
readers. (Monday, April 9: Talk on A Constellation of Vital Phenomena; Wednesday,
April 11: Anthony Marra visits)
Juan Felipe Herrera is author of more than a dozen collections of poetry as well as
short stories and children’s literature. He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction,
the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award.
His honors include the UC Berkeley Regent’s Fellowship as well as fellowships from
the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Stanford
Chicano Fellows. The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was educated at UCLA and
Stanford and earned his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He was
named California's poet laureate in 2012 and the U.S. poet laureate in 2015.Notes on the Assemblagecombines erasure, translation, and elegy in a challenging but immensely rewarding
collection that reveals the fraught places where lives fuse and cleave and people
are marked by both violence and tenderness.The Washington Postcalls the volume a splendid introduction to this poet's expansive work. In its starred
review,Library Journal writes, "As he assumes his post as the 21st U.S. Poet Laureate—Herrera is releasing
a visually acute, punch-in-the-gut collection that shows off both his craft and his
heart. Wound even more tightly than his previous collections … As always, Herrera’s
signature language is immediate, visceral, in the moment, sometimes razzy-jazzy, and
compacted to create intensive feeling. Urgently written and important to read, even
if Herrera weren’t in the Library of Congress limelight.” (Monday, April 16: Talk
on Notes on the Assemblage; Wednesday, April 18: Juan Felipe Herrera visits)
Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, includingThe Blackwater Lightship,Brooklyn, andThe 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, theLos Angeles TimesBook Prize, and many other accolades.The Mastertells 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. TheNew York Times Book Reviewwrites, "The Masteris 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.
Lily King, recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award, is the author of four critically
hailed novels, most recently the national bestsellerEuphoria. 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," theNew York Times Book Reviewdescribed 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, theNew 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.
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 remarkableSonata 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. TheNew Yorkerdescribes 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 Timesconcurs: "Sonata Mulatticabrims 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.
WhenThe Correctionswas published, Jonathan Franzen was probably better known for his nonfiction than
for his novels. In an essay forHarper'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 Correctionswas 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 ofTime. 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 theNew York Times Review of Booksabout the experience of readingThe Corrections. Jonathan Franzen spoke at The Open Book on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
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. TheWashington Postcalls 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 Arthurwas aNew York TimesNotable Book as well as aNew Yorker Reviewers’ Favorite of the Year, and was named to the best-of-the-year lists of theWall Street Journal, theSan Francisco Chronicle, theChicago Tribune,Library Journal,Kirkus, andSalon. Arthur Phillips spoke at The Open Book on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.
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.
Jenny Offill’sDept. of Speculationwas named one of the “Ten Best Books of 2014” by theNew 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 theNew Yorker, James Wood says: “Dept. of Speculationis 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.
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.Booklistcalled 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.
Celeste Ng’s critically hailed debutEverything I Never Told Youis both a literary novel and a family mystery about grief, ethnicity, assimilation,
and gender in a small American town. It was aNew York Timesbestseller, aNew York TimesNotable Book, and Amazon’s Best Book of the Year 2014.Entertainment Weeklycalls 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.
Paul Auster is the bestselling author ofSunset Park,Invisible,Man in the Dark, andThe 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 whatBooklist 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.
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 inTenth of Decembercut 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 byTimeas one of the world’s 100 most influential people. George Saunders spoke at The Open
Book on March 18, 2015.
When asked which poet she would like to introduce to The Open Book, Nikky Finney selected
Mary Szybist, whose collectionIncarnadinewas 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.
Also widely known for her delicious writing on food, Kate Christensen is the author
of six novels, includingThe Epicure’s LamentandThe Astral. TheChicago Tribunesays 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.” InThe 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 Todaycredits this novel with breaking the stereotype of aging female protagonists, and
theNew York TimescallsThe 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.
David Bajo has followed up his two critically acclaimed literary novels (The 351 Books of Irma ArcuriandPanopticon) 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 6is 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 6explores 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 onMercy 6ahead 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.
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, aNew York TimesEditors’ 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 theNew York Times, theNew Yorker, theAtlantic, and several other magazines.Timemagazine 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, butOpen Citymerits 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.
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, andThe 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 Seacenters on a Chinese-American fish farm diver and poses the question of what it means
to be an individual. In theNew York Times, Andrew Sean Greer writes, “Watching a talented writer take a risk is one of the
pleasures of devoted reading, andOn Such a Full Seaprovides 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.
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 byGrantaas one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by theNew 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.
David Mitchell is the acclaimed author of the novelsBlack 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; andThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. He lives in Ireland. InCloud 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 makeCloud Atlasan exciting, almost overwhelming masterpiece.” David Mitchell spoke at The Open Book
on March 26, 2014.
Jennifer Egan is the author ofThe 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 bestsellingThe 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 theLos Angeles TimesBook Prize. Also a journalist, Jennifer Egan writes frequently in theNew York Times Magazine. TheIrish Independentdescribed her Pulitzer-winning “novel in stories: this way: “A Visit from the Goon Squadis a tremendous novel: thoughtful, subtle, funny, wacky, energetic, profoundly authentic.”
TheNew Republicsaid, “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.
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, andTurning the Wheel. His novelMiddle 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. TheNew York Times Book Reviewcalled it “A novel in the honorable tradition ofBilly BuddandMoby Dick…heroic in proportion… fiction that hooks into the mind,” while theChicago Tribunewrote “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.
Martin Amis is the bestselling author of many books, includingMoneyandLondon Fields. In 2008, he was named byThe Timesas 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 considerTime’s ArrowAmis’ 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 Arrowis also an arresting indictment of the logic of genocide. TheLos Angeles Timessums 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
Marilynne Robinson has written three highly acclaimed novels (Housekeeping,Gilead, andHome) as well as two works of nonfiction (Mother CountryandThe Death of Adam).Gileadwon 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.
John Banville is the author of more than twenty novels, includingThe Book of Evidence,The Untouchable,Shroud, andEclipse. 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 novelThe Sea. A gorgeous meditation on love, loss, and memory,The Seawas also chosen as aNew York TimesNotable Book and was named one of the best books of its year by theChristian Science Monitor,Los Angeles Times, and theBoston 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.
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 Suntells 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.
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 novelThe Lazarus Project. Hemon has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as a “genius grant” from
the MacArthur Foundation.The Lazarus Projectwas 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.
Nicole Krauss is the author of three novels:Man Walks into a Room,The History of Love, andGreat 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 Housereveals deep human truths as it narrates the story of a desk across decades and continents.
In its glowing review, theNew York Times Book Reviewsays 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.
Let the Great World Spin
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 Spinwas 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.
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 Northimagines a town in Mexico where all the men have immigrated to the U.S. After ViewingThe Magnificent Seven, a group of women travel north to persuade them to return. A national bestseller,Into the Beautiful Northearned 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.
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 novelBel Cantowon 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 theAtlantic Monthly,Harper’s,Gourmet, theNew York Times, andVogue. 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.
Jeffrey Eugenides’ novels includeThe Virgin Suicides, which was translated into thirty-four languages and made into a feature film,andMiddlesex, whichwon 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 Plotasks 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.
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 forAmsterdam. His novelAtonementreceived the WH Smith Literary Award, the National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award,
theLos Angeles TimesPrize, and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel, and was adapted into a feature
film. John Updike calledAtonement, “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.
Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.