“This is my hope—to create an art that can catalog the phenomenon of our nature, all of it, without sentimentality, but rather by leaning into transformation…so that we can all have that terrible but necessary confrontation with all of ourselves.”
, from his essay “Ethics and Narrative: the Human and Other” (Witness
Chris Abani with The Cabin's Executive Director Dede Ryan, in the green room at The Egyptian
Thanks to everyone who joined us for the reading despite the entirely unexpected eleventh-hour author switch. We truly appreciate your flexibility and open-mindedness. Lives were changed by Mr. Abani’s words Tuesday night. The applause during his question and answer period was unprecedented; the standing, cheering ovation, extraordinary. The caliber of questions our audience generated and the quality of Mr. Abani’s answers--to quote a number of people who’ve called us with but one word for the night--“fabulous.”
We’ve received numerous requests for more information, for a link to the essay he read, and a general outpouring of enthusiasm. Carolyn Wolfe had this to share: There aren’t words to properly thank you for the gift that was/is Chris Abani. I’ve never been so moved as I was by him last night. Everything about him – his eloquence, his humanity, his humility, his glowing presence – made it a magical night. I have to think Nicole Krauss’ flight was delayed just to bring Chris Abani to Boise. We needed him. And I think the Cabin should think of a way to bring him back again, perhaps this time to offer a class? I’m attaching the link to Chris Abani’s essay that he read last night so you could add that to your website if you so desire. (Witness) And here are two other links of powerful interviews: (UTNE) (Ethan Zuckerman) Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Other attendees are spreading the word about Abani through social media. Here’s a blog post with notes from Nathaniel Hoffman at Paleomedia
. Tracy Sidell had this to say: Thank you so much for bringing Chris Abani to Readings and Conversations last night as Nicole Krauss' substitute. He was truly inspiring. I have watched him on TED this morning and plan to read his books. I also posted him on my Facebook page. Too bad others did not show up because of the cancellation as Mr. Abani was truly one of the best speakers I have seen at The Cabin. Thanks again!
As Mr. Abani stated during his Q&A period, “Things we cannot say about ourselves we find in literature.” That’s why we’re all here; why we read, why we write, and why we’re so moved when someone like Chris Abani shows up unexpectedly and teaches us a thing or two about the human condition.
We got the call Tuesday morning, 11 a.m.: Nicole Krauss, our scheduled Readings & Conversations speaker for that evening, was forced to cancel last minute due to a flight delay. That two-hour delay out of New York set into motion a series of events that brought author Chris Abani to Boise; and after seeing his performance, we would like to thank the weather, the airline, or whatever unforeseen force that allowed Mr. Abani to share his incredible warmth and eloquence with the audience.
“I applaud your quick response in getting Chris to speak, and feel sorry for all the people who weren’t there last night…I left last night with lots of things to ponder. Chris did a fantastic job, and provided a huge amount of food for thought.”
“One word about last night: Bravo!”
“…such a surprise and such a thoughtful and thought-provoking speaker. I would say that he is one of the best we have had at Readings, and it seems it was pure serendipity! Thank you and the board for taking a deep breath and going with the unknown!”
“I have never been more touched nor understood something I’ve been trying to learn.”
“What a memorable evening…a true reading and conversation. A big Wow!”
More responses from the audience, excerpted from the glowing emails and calls we’ve been pleased to receive:
“What is fiction, after all, but a kind of purposeful dreaming?”
--Jonathan Franzen, from his Readings & Conversations lecture
We’re setting the bar high with our first Readings and Conversations 2011-2012 season author, Jonathan Franzen. In preparation, we’d like to share Five Franzen Facts: little literary tidbits we’ve gleaned from the interwebs.
Franzen’s signature glasses were stolen right from over his nose at a literary event in London. During a Freedom book launch, two 20-somethings crashed the party, lifted the spectacles, left a $100,000 ransom note and ran. A (successful) police chase immediately ensued. Glasses thief James Fletcher later wrote in explanation, “I’d mentioned several times to my accomplice how much I admired Franzen’s frames and thought that they deserved to be the subject of a hostage-ransom situation” (GQ, October 2010).
He was on The Simpsons, so you know he’s famous.
Franzen guest-starred on an episode of The Simpsons along with other well-known authors Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal and Fanzen’s good friend (and Readings and Conversations 2009-2010 season author) Michael Chabon. While they appear together on a literary panel, at one point in the episode Chabon exclaims, “That’s it, Franzen! I think your nose needs some corrections!” After Chabon’s fighting words the two animated authors begin pummeling each other.
Franzen studied at Freie Universität in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar and speaks fluent German. In 1986 he was paid $50 by Swarthmore College’s theater department to write an English translation of Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening. Twenty years later, after being deeply disappointed by a Broadway musical version of the play, Franzen published his long-shelved translation.
The (missing) Corrections
Thousands of copies of Franzen’s latest novel, Freedom, were distributed in the United Kingdom starting in October of last year. Unfortunately, those thousands of copies omitted more than 200 changes Franzen had made to the manuscript. Publisher HarperCollins tried to do a recall but many copies had already sold.
Did he just call Kafka a cockroach?
UK’s The Guardian
asked Franzen to list ten indispensable rules for fiction writers (February 2010). The full article can be found here
, with other author responses including a list by 2007-2008 season Readings and Conversations author Richard Ford. Here are Franzen’s suggestions:
- The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
- Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
- Never use the word "then" as a conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
- Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
- When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
- The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than "The Metamorphosis".
- You see more sitting still than chasing after.
- It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
- Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
- You have to love before you can be relentless.