UC Berkeley News


A preview of poetry and prose readings
For literature lovers, Lunch Poems and Story Hour deliver the goods

| 27 August 2008

Last semester, the Library launched Story Hour, a new reading series, giving the campus’s venerable Lunch Poems series a prose companion. Here we provide a rundown of the readers and writers who will appear in the two series this fall. (Our annual preview of other fall-semester events appears next issue.)

Each fall, Professor of English (and former U.S. Poet Laureate) Robert Hass and University Librarian Tom Leonard host a Lunch Poems series kickoff that features introductions and readings by faculty and staff of their favorite poems.

This semester’s inaugural event takes place on Thursday, Sept. 4, at 12:10 p.m. in the Morrison Library in Doe Library. Participants include Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri, humanities librarian Michaelyn Burnette, Linda Norton (Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library), Tim Zuniga (UC Police Department), and faculty members Walter Hood of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design; Claire Kremen of environmental science, policy, and management; Francine Masiello of Spanish and Portuguese and comparative literature; Beth Piatote of ethnic studies; Jiwon Shin of East Asian languages and cultures; and Nobel laureate George Smoot of physics.

Lunch Poems gets down to business on Oct. 2 with Ilya Kaminsky, who won the Whiting Writer’s Award for his first book of poetry, Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004). Kaminsky, who immigrated to America from Odessa, Russia, when his family was granted asylum by the U.S. government in 1993, writes poetry in English and Russian. He teaches comparative literature, poetry, and literary translation at San Diego State University. Kristen Sbrogna, who coordinates the Lunch Poems series, calls Kaminsky “a breathtaking reader.”

On Nov. 6, Robin Blaser, a celebrated Canadian poet, essayist, and translator, will read from his work. This year, at 83, he received Canada’s prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser (University of California Press, 2007), an honor that carried a $100,000 (Canadian) stipend. Along with Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, Blaser first became known as a member of the Berkeley Renaissance of the 1940s and ’50s.

Tracy K. Smith

Lunch Poems closes out the semester on Dec. 4 with Tracy K. Smith, who teaches creative writing at Princeton University. Smith’s collection, The Body’s Question (Graywolf Press, 2003), won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book by an African American poet. About her second collection, Duende (Graywolf Press, 2007), which won a Laughlin Award, Publishers Weekly wrote: “The poet’s lyric brilliance and political impulses never falter under the considerable weight of her subject matter.”

Prose, but not prosaic

Michael Chabon

This semester, Story Hour begins with a high-profile bang on Sept. 18, at 5 p.m. in the Morrison Library, with Michael Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Other works by Chabon include Wonder Boys, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Gentlemen of the Road, and the second Spider-Man screenplay. In her review of his recent book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (HarperCollins, 2007), novelist Elizabeth McCracken called Chabon “one of the best writers of English prose alive.” This event will be followed by a book sale and reception.

“We’re very excited to have lined up a great mix of local and national writers who write about such diverse topics. We’ll also be inaugurating an annual student reading at the end of the year, so audiences can look out for the next Michael Chabon and Bharati Mukherjee,” says Melanie Abrams, who coordinates the series with Vikram Chandra, her husband. Both Abrams and Chandra are novelists and lecturers in the English department.

Bharati Mukherjee

Mukherjee herself will be reading on Oct. 9 in 101 Doe Library (across from Morrison Library), at 5 p.m.; she will be joined by Clark Blaise. The pair, who have been on the English department faculty, have been married for 45 years. Mukherjee was born in Calcutta in 1940 and spent her childhood in India and Britain before moving to the United States. Her most recent novel is The Tree Bride (2004). Other works include Desirable Daughters, Days and Nights in Calcutta, and The Middleman and Other Stories. Blaise has published numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including If I Were Me and Lunar Attractions.

Berkeley alum Cornelia Nixon, who will read at Story Hour on Nov. 13, recently completed a Civil War novel, and is working on both a surfing novel and a memoir. A faculty member at Mills College, Nixon is the winner of two O. Henry Awards, two Pushcart Prizes, a Nelson Algren Award, and the Carl Sandburg Award for Fiction. An early novel, Now You See It (1992), elicited this praise from the New York Times: “[Nixon] combines Alice Munro’s sympathetic understanding of character with Ann Beattie’s radar-sharp eye for the dislocations of contemporary culture.”

Story Hour’s final reader for the semester, Sylvia Brownrigg, has written five works of fiction. Her most recent novel, The Delivery Room, was first published in the U.K., with Counterpoint scheduled to publish the U.S. edition in October. London’s Guardian wrote about The Delivery Room: “If you spend time in Brownrigg’s world, you find yourself in a place that is refreshingly attuned to the small things of life, the things that make it worth living.” Brownrigg’s reading, on Dec. 11, will be in 101 Doe Library at 5 p.m.

All Lunch Poems readings are held on the first Thursday of the month from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m., at Morrison Library in Doe Library. Story Hour takes place on a selected Thursday each month, 5 to 6 p.m. Check the Berkeleyan or online campus calendar (events.berkeley.edu) for each reading’s location.

For further information, visit lunchpoems.berkeley.edu or storyhour.berkeley.edu.

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