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ArtsBeat calls it a day; content to move to new Gusto Blog

The ArtsBeat blog, home since 2007 to our bite-sized coverage of art, theater, literature, classical music and film, has reached the end of its road. From now on, updated and improved bloggy coverage of the arts from Buffalo News critics Jeff Simon, Mary Kunz Goldman and Jeff Miers, along with arts writer Colin Dabkowski and literary blogger R.D. Pohl, can be found on the new Gusto blog. Thanks for being loyal readers of ArtsBeat, and please join us over at the Gusto blog for a new series of regular features and updates on the local arts and cultural scene.

--Colin Dabkowski

The Masque of V.S. Naipaul

The 2010-2011 BABEL SERIES of lectures by and discussions with leading international authors opened Tuesday evening in Kleinhans Music Hall with a talk by the writer many readers and critics take to be one of the greatest English language novelists of the last half century.

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (shorn of its honorific, that's V.S. Naipaul on the bookshelf) is the 1971 Booker Prize and 2001 Nobel Prize-winning Indo-Trinidadian author of A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), In a Free State (1971), A Bend in the River (1979), The Enigma of Arrival (1987) and nearly 30 other titles that have made him one of most admired English prose stylists since Conrad, the great chronicler of the post-colonial experience in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, and a major voice on the rootlessness of the "foreigner" in a Western society.

Owing to what is perceived by some readers as his persistent cultural pessimism, broad criticisms of Islam and the "half-made societies" of the developing world, perceived insensitivities and biases concerning race, ethnicity, and social class in his work, and a decidedly untidy personal life, he is also considered one of the most complicated and controversial figures in the contemporary literary world.

Much of that untidiness was well documented in Patrick French's National Book Critics Circle Award-winning The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul (Random House, 2008) --a book that took its title from the first line of A Bend in the River ("The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it") -- which depicts Naipaul as a brilliant and uncompromising writer, but also as a thoroughly "tormented and tormenting" literary subject.

That "tormented" Sir Vidiadhar was nowhere in evidence in his appearance in Kleinhans on Tuesday night. Indeed the frail, but clear-voiced 78-year-old author seemed positively genial and (as one written questioner noted) downright avuncular in talking and answering questions about his work. Now on a brief U.S. tour in support of his newly released The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (Knopf) -- another of his nonfiction travel narratives, in this case in search of the vestiges of traditional (i.e., pre-Abrahamic) "earth religions" of central and south Africa -- he seemed more animated when discussing this current book than when revisiting books he had authored in the past.

Continue reading "The Masque of V.S. Naipaul" »

Live chat with Jeff Simon begins at 3 p.m. Thursday

UB hosts "Olson at the Century: A Symposium"

"An American is a complex of occasions, themselves a geometry of spatial nature," wrote Charles Olson in "Letter 27 [withheld]," of The Maximus Poems, enlarging on a theme he first introduced in Call Me Ishmael, his book-length study of Melville: "I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy."

Now, as we approach the centenary of Olson's birth (on Dec. 27), scholars and critics of 20th century American poetry around the world are gathering to reassess what this cartographer of the imagination and self-described "archeologist of morning" left us in his work and thought that informs our contemporary poetics and remains useful as a moral project.

Although it's been four decades since his death in January 1970, anyone searching for evidence of Olson's continuing influence on contemporary American poetry in general, and the Buffalo literary community in particular, will find it in abundance here this weekend as the University at Buffalo presents "Olson at the Century: A Symposium" that brings Olson scholars and enthusiasts together to examine the legacy of the towering (6 foot, 8 inch) author of The Maximus Poems through the lens of his brief (1963-1965) but momentous appointment to the University at Buffalo's English Department.

The hiring established Buffalo (both the university and the city) as a beachhead for innovative writing, postmodern thinking, and a spirit of collaboration and experimentalism between and across the arts.  Just as he had been a decade earlier as rector of Black Mountain College in North Carolina, in Buffalo, Olson became a catalyst for transformation whose best known line "What does not change/ is the will to change" could be read as his personal credo.

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Poet Wanda Coleman to read at Buffalo State on Thursday

Los Angeles-based poet, fiction writer, reviewer, essayist and activist Wanda Coleman will read from and sign copies of her books at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in the Assembly Hall of Campbell Student Union on the Buffalo State College campus. The event, sponsored by Buffalo State College's School of Arts and Humanities and the English Department, is free and open to the public. 

Ms. Coleman, who grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in the 1960s, is widely celebrated for the jazz and blues influences on her spoken work performance style. She is also notably the author of 16 books of poetry and fiction, perhaps the best known of which are Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), which received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of the American Poets; Mercurochrome: New Poems (Black Sparrow, 2001), a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry; and Ostinato Vamps, a  Pitt Poetry Series selection for 2003-04.

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The conjectural poetics of Carl Dennis' "Callings"

        ...Learn to take pleasure in the effort itself

        And you won't be sorry if you can't step back
        Far enough from your handiwork to see it whole...
                                              --Carl Dennis, from "Style"                                      
The 41 poems in Carl Dennis' new collection Callings (Penguin Poets Series) are full of hypothetical particularities, conversational voices speculating on the nature of free will, moral decision making, and whether one finds or loses one's self in one's work. At 2 p.m. Sunday, Dennis will read from and sign copies of the book at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on the Buffalo State College campus. The event is free and open to the public.
Nominally, Callings is about "vocations": the work we believe defines us as much as we define it.  But more specifically, it is a book about how we talk through, rationalize and ultimately come to arrive at the life decisions we make.
If this is not entirely new ground for Dennis, it's turf he revisits with a certain urgency and directness more prominent than in his previous ten collections. Now 71, the longtime professor at the University at Buffalo and 2002 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection Practical Gods, has perhaps been our foremost practitioner of a kind of conjectural poetics in which ordinary speech and commonplace observation give rise to a cosmologist's dream of possible worlds of intention and outcome. Taken in this way, poetry is not only linguistic construct of plausibly voiced speech acts, but also a liminal art of empathic and moral possibility that attempts to transcend the particularity of its occasion.

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What's on: our weekly theater roundup

Greetings, theater-lovers of Western New York. The current season is well underway, with many a worthwhile production running through Sunday. Next week, we'll see the openings of American Repertory Theatre of Western New York's production of "Twilight Zone Redux," Jewish Repertory Theatre of Western New York's "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" and, of course, the touring production of the massively popular Disney musical known as "Mary Poppins" at Shea's Performing Arts Center (look for a preview of that in Sunday's Spotlight section).

But for now, check out these recommend shows now approaching the end of their runs:

"The Pride," through Oct. 9 in the Buffalo United Artists Theatre. From the review: " of Campbell’s many skills as a playwright is seamlessly weaving together the characters in a way that drives his point thoroughly home. His writing, though it sometimes leans too heavily on one or another melodramatic formula, is at once utterly believable and infused with a sweet and rhythmic poetry that puts one in mind of Tony Kushner." --Colin Dabkowski

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill," through Oct. 10 in the Paul Robeson Theatre. From the review: "Joyce Carolyn tells Billie [Holiday's] story on stage at the Paul Robeson Theatre in Lanie Robertson’s biographical revue, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” She does so carefully, and with respect for the material of this household name. Where many resort to impersonation, Carolyn gives her interpretation of that raspy, caged voice. Occasionally a note or trill sneaks in the fragility of Holiday’s vibrato, but never without musical merit and hardly in abundance... The same cannot be said for Robertson's script." --Ben Siegel

Irish Classical 

Brian Mysliwy and Patrick Moltane in the Irish Classical Theatre Company's production of "The Cant." Photo by Bill Wippert / Buffalo News.

"The Cant," EXTENDED THROUGH OCT. 8 in the Andrews Theatre in an Irish Classical Theatre Company production. From the review: "...a well-plotted thriller that gets to the heart of the Irish Traveller’s intrinsic sorrow, their abuse at the hands of the powerful and the survivalistic instincts that keep them forever on the run." --Colin Dabkowski

"Trace," through Oct. 10 in the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle in a Torn Space Theater production. From the review: "Like [Dan Shanahan's] previous pieces, the consumerist critique “Stivale” and the horrifying quasi-mystery 'AREA,' the piece occupies a fertile realm somewhere between visual art and performance. It includes the odd piece of pointed dialogue ('I have come to accept in these hours the rules of efficient terror,' one character says), but more often derives its haunting and visceral power from the indelible and thoroughly unsettling images it creates." --Colin Dabkowski

"Ruined," through Oct. 10 in TheatreLoft in a Ujima Theatre Company production. From the review: "Inspired in part by Bertolt Brecht’s 'Mother Courage and Her Children,' Nottage’s play is an exploration of the way in which men’s battles, as its characters demonstrate with unsettling clarity, play out on the bodies of women. Though the pulsating poetry of Nottage’s writing spins off on rare occasions into the realm of melodrama, the play manages to sustain a near-constant tone of realism and tension that kidnaps our attention and doesn’t let go until long after the final word of dialogue is spoken." --Colin Dabkowski

Also, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. is entering its final weeks. Check out the shows our reviewers recommended here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa wins 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature

Peruvian novelist, short story writer, playwright, journalist and literary critic Mario Vargas Llosa is the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature it was announced by Professor Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, this morning in Stockholm.

In his announcement of the selection, Englund spoke for the Literature committee in hailing Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat."

Vargas Llosa, born in 1936 and widely celebrated as the youngest of the generation of great Spanish language modernist and postmodernist writers associated with "El Boom" in Latin American literature of the 1960s and 1970s, is the author of more than 30 books, including the novels The Time of the Hero (1966), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982), The War of the End of the World (1984), The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta (1985), In Praise of the Stepmother (1990), Death in the Andes (1996), and The Feast of the Goat (2002).

He is also author of a celebrated study of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (García Márquez: Story of a Deicide (1971) and another on Flaubert's Madame Bovary titled The Perpetual Orgy (1975), as well as the nonfiction collections Letters to a Young Novelist (1997), The Language of Passion (2001) and The Temptation of the Impossible (2004).

Born into a middle-class family in Arequipa, Peru, he spent his childhood in Bolivia with his maternal family, moving back with his father's family in Lima at age 10 following the end of World War II.  He studied at a Christian middle school and a Lima-based military academy during his teen years. While still in the academy, he contributed articles to the local newspaper and saw the production of his first literary work, a play titled La huida del Inca.

He entered the National University of San Marcos in 1953, married his maternal uncle's sister-in-law, began publishing his early short stories and writing on politics for two Peruvian newspapers. Upon his graduation from the University of San Marcos in 1958, he was awarded a scholarship to study at Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, where he remained until 1960. When his scholarship ran its course, he moved to Paris -- where his career as an international author and intellectual was effectively launched -- and later London, where he became a lecturer at King's College.

A close friendship with Garcia Marquez, with whom he shared much in terms of his politics and literary taste and regarded as a mentor, came to an abrupt end when the two writers came to blows (Llosa reportedly got the better of the fisticuffs, and famously gave Marquez a black eye) in a Mexico City theater house in 1976. The two writers have dropped their feud in recent years, but have yet to be reconciled publicly.

Vargas Llosa's politics have shifted from the far left to the moderate right over the decades, to the consternation of some of his former colleagues from his Marxist, anti-colonialist years of political exile from the right wing regimes of Latin America during the 60's and 70's. He is now regarded as one of the literary world's leading spokespersons for a "neoliberal" political philosophy, and was a co-founder of the tripartite center-right coalition known as "Frente Democrático" (or simply, FREDEMO) in 1988. He ran for the presidency of Peru in 1990 as the candidate of the FREDEMO coalition, but was defeated in a run-off election with the now infamous Alberto Fujimori, who fled from Peru in the wake of a corruption scandal in 2000.

Vargos Llosa would reflect back on his campaign for President of Peru in his 1993 memoir, A Fish in the Water.

Among the authors associated with the "Boom" generation of Latin American writers, Vargas Llosa is perhaps the least representative of the narrative technique known as "magical realism" that came to be popularized as a literary style. Aside from Marquez, he has acknowledged European authors such as Flaubert and Jean Paul Sartre as influential in his approach to writing, but reserves his greatest praise for an American Nobel Prize winner, William Faulkner, for shaping his method of plot and character development, and parsing his sense of time in a work of fiction.

The Nobel Prize award to Vargas Llosa 28 years after Gabriel Garcia Marquez won it in 1982 forms a fitting book-end for the literary moment that was perhaps the most influential one in world literature in the second half of the 20th century.

--R.D. Pohl

Sam Hoyt on cultural funding cuts

New York State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt. Buffalo News file photo / Derek Gee.

Much more to come on Erie County Executive Chris Collins' decision last week to slash funding for all but 10 local cultural groups. But I wanted to post some comments made today by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt at a press conference protesting yet more funding cuts (this time from the New York State Council on the Arts) to local arts education groups. Here's what Hoyt had to say (audio of Hoyt's comments is also posted above):

As a state assembly member who represents a good portion of the city of Buffalo, I can say that it appears to be an assault on the city. I did an inventory of those organizations whose funding was cut and I’d say about 95 percent of the organizations who received funding cuts were in the city of Buffalo. I hope that the mayor of Buffalo and that the county legislators who represent the City of Buffalo will stand up and express their outrage as well. Again, there isn’t a person in this room who doesn’t acknowledge that during tough times, we all have to tighten our belts. As we said about the main topic of this discussion today, when New York City is receiving virtually 100 percent funding and the City of Buffalo is receiving a 69 percent cut, that’s unacceptable.

Secondly, on top of that, the dramatic, draconian cuts that Mr. Collins has proposed for these arts organizations is the most short-sighted thing I’ve seen from this county executive, and there’s been a lot since he became county executive. Why? Because we’ve watched, over the years, our city struggle. We’ve watched the manufacturing base leave, we’ve watched our economy in a downward spiral. We’ve watched the population flee this city. And one of the most consistent and steady and stable, positive forces in the City of Buffalo is its extraordinary arts and cultural environment. It’s not just recognized here in this room; it’s not just recognized in New York State. It’s recognized nationally and internationally.

That a city of our size can have the incredible inventory and collection of magnificent arts and cultural organizations, large and small, large and small, is really something that we need to embrace, celebrate, promote and invest in. And to divest now, as has been done at the county level and at the state level through these arts in education programs, is at the very least short-sighted, at worst disastrous. Because we’re recognized as an extraordinary center of a healthy and vibrant and prospering arts and cultural community. And to strip that away, which is what you do when you cut the funding? The age old question of, 'Whoever the last one out is, please turn out the lights,' will be answered.

--Colin Dabkowski

No "Corrections": Franzen's "Freedom" recalled in the U.K.

Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom is already the most talked about and fiercely debated book release of the year here in the United States.  As of this past week, it has also become the most talked about book in the U.K., but for entirely different reasons.

On Friday, two of London's leading newspapers, The Telegraph and The Guardian reported that the UK division of the book's publisher HarperCollins had mistakenly sent to press an uncorrected, draft version of the novel containing hundreds of editorial and typesetting mistakes.  Over 80,000 copies of the book were produced in its first printing, of which approximately 8,000 of which have already been sold to readers.

Curiously, the book has also already been extensively reviewed in the U.K. as well, although none of the reviewers noted the unusual number of errors.  Uncorrected page proofs are not unusual in review copies of many books, but errors in these drafts typically number in the dozens, not the hundreds.

HarperCollins UK has recalled the entire first edition of the book, and will replace those copies that have already been sold with a corrected edition that it has rushed to press and promised to have available as early as next week.  The balance of unsold and returned copies of the first printing will reportedly be "pulped."

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