Celebrated Author Bret Anthony Johnston Named New Michener Center Director

Image of man in gray shirt and glasses

This month, award-winning author Bret Anthony Johnston has assumed the directorship of the Michener Center for Writers, one of the most selective and prestigious writing programs in the country.

Johnston has directed the creative writing program at Harvard University for the past 12 years. A native Texan, his fiction titles include the story collection Corpus Christi and the novel Remember Me Like This.

For the past 12 years, he has directed the creative writing program at Harvard University.  A serious skateboarder for over 30 years, he also wrote the documentary film about the sport, Waiting for Lightning, which was released by Samuel Goldwyn Films and premiered at Austin’s SXSW.

Johnston was born and reared in Corpus Christi, Texas, and attended Miami University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  His many honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a “5 Under 35″ honor from the National Book Foundation, the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and both the Stephen Turner Award and Kay Cattarulla Prize from the Texas Institute of Letters.  Most recently, he won the $30£ Sunday Times EFG Award, the world’s richest and most prestigious prize for a single short story for his “Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows about Horses,” originally published in American Short Fiction.

Johnston replaces outgoing director James Magnuson  who retired in May after 23 years at the helm of the Michener Center.  Magnuson was responsible for bringing the program from its inception to national prominence among MFA programs.

“Bret’s going to be great for the Center,” says Magnuson.  “He’s walking into a situation where there are extraordinary faculty and resources, and amazing students.  The students at the Michener Center have been the joy of my life, and I’m sure they will be for Bret, too.”

“With Mr. Michener’s original vision and Jim’s inspired leadership,” Johnston says, “the Michener Center for Writers has had, since its start, a hand in shaping contemporary literature. The opportunity to be part of the Center’s future is an honor and a privilege.  It’s a gift.  The students, faculty, and staff are unparalleled, and their commitment to art-making is contagious.  In most respects, my job is simply to keep the lights on and get out of their way.”

The Michener Center for Writers is a three-year interdisciplinary Master of Arts program. Admitting fiction writers, poets, playwrights, and screenwriting for fully-funded graduate study, it was created by a $20-million endowment from James A. Michener, philanthropist and author of over 50 books.

Free Digital E-Book Features UT’s Collections of Cultural Artifacts

The University of Texas at Austin has released a digital edition of The Collections, the first encyclopedic account of the university’s repository of cultural artifacts. With more than 170 million objects, the university outpaces the largest collections in America and rivals many in variety and importance. The full 720-page volume is published at thecollections.utexas.edu. Available for free download, the broad distribution of the e-book and searchable PDF enables worldwide access to the university’s distinguished collections.

“This is the first time a publication of this kind has been produced by a public university,” said Andrée Bober, the book’s editor and director of the university’s public art program, Landmarks. “By making it available for free and online, we are putting the collection before a greater public. It’s our hope that this digital edition will increase awareness of these materials and inspire other universities to make their collections known.”

The book, released in print in January 2016, spotlights more than 80 collections — some familiar and others virtually unknown outside their fields of research — acquired since the university’s inauguration in 1883. It reveals the scale and diversity of the holdings by bringing these materials together for the first time, offering a new perspective on collections at public universities. The Collections offers an account of all the university’s irreplaceable artifacts, introducing each collection by outlining its history, highlighting its strengths and suggesting its educational function.

Highlighting materials held by some 40 academic and administrative units, The Collections covers a radical range of subjects — archaeology, ethnography, fine and performing arts, rare books and manuscripts, decorative arts, photography, film, music, popular and material culture, regional and political history, natural history, science and technology – providing insights on the formation of collections at institutions of higher learning.

Visit UT Austin’s news site for more information.

Faculty Authors Showcase their Works at the 20th Annual Texas Book Festival

image of logoBookworms, foodies, artists and scholars will partake in an annual rite of fall here in Austin: The Texas Book Festival! This Texas-size literary event will take place in and around the State Capitol and nearby venues on Oct. 17-18.

A record 300 authors are coming to the festival—the largest number in its 20-year history.  Here are just few highlights featuring education outreach events and top faculty authors from colleges and schools throughout the Forty Acres. Dates, times and locations will be available on the Texas Book Festival website later this month. Use this hashtag to join the conversation: #TXBookFest

Special Events

image of book and authorThe Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken Wendell Pierce, Actor and Tony Award-Winning Producer
Moderated by Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement

On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina barreled into New Orleans, devastating many of the city’s neighborhoods, including Pontchartrain Park, the home of Wendell Pierce’s family and the first African American middle-class subdivision in New Orleans. Pierce and his family were some of the lucky ones: They survived and were able to ride out the storm at a relative’s house 70 miles away. Read more here…

About the author: Wendell Pierce was born in New Orleans and is an actor and Tony Award-winning producer. He starred in all five seasons of the acclaimed HBO drama The Wire and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for the role. He also starred in the HBO series Treme and has appeared in many feature films including Selma, Ray, Waiting to Exhale, and Hackers. Since Hurricane Katrina, Pierce has been helping to rebuild the flood-ravaged Pontchartrain Park neighborhood in New Orleans.

15th Annual Youth Fiction Writing Contest
Co-hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement

writingcontestThe Fiction Writing Contest encourages and rewards creative writing in Texas schools. Junior and high school Texas students are invited to submit a piece of original fiction, no more than 2,000 words in length. The submissions are judged by Texas Book Festival authors, local educators, and leaders in the publishing industry. Read more here…

Place and Race, a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Leonard Moore, senior associate vice president, DDCE 

image of authorsAuthors Wendy S. Walters and Jason Sokol discuss the dynamic and complicated course of civil rights over the past several decades in America. Racism emerges in unexpected locations, and the ways in which people resist, cope, and consent are not predictable.

Negroland
Margo Jefferson
Moderated by Shirley Thompson, Departments of Anthropology and Africa and African Diaspora

image of author Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and memoirist Margo Jefferson recounts growing up in a small region of African-American upper class families in Chicago during the civil rights movement and the genesis of feminism. With this point of view, Jefferson discusses race, identity, and American culture, through her own lens. Read more here…

 

Author Appearances

image of book and author Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City
Javier Auyero, Department of Sociology

Austin, Texas, is renowned as a high-tech, fast-growing city for the young and creative, a cool place to live, and the scene of internationally famous events such as SXSW and Formula 1. But as in many American cities, poverty and penury are booming along with wealth and material abundance in contemporary Austin. Rich and poor residents lead increasingly separate lives as growing socioeconomic inequality underscores residential, class, racial, and ethnic segregation. Read more here…

Reagan: The Life
H.W. Brands, Professor, Department of History

Image of author and bookRonald Reagan today is a conservative icon, celebrated for transforming the American domestic agenda and playing a crucial part in ending communism in the Soviet Union. In his masterful new biography, H. W. Brands argues that Reagan, along with FDR, was the most consequential president of the twentieth century. Reagan took office at a time when the public sector, after a half century of New Deal liberalism, was widely perceived as bloated and inefficient, an impediment to personal liberty. Reagan sought to restore democracy by bolstering capitalism. In Brands’s telling, how Reagan, who voted four times for FDR, engineered a conservative transformation of American politics is both a riveting personal journey and the story of America in the modern era. Read more here…

Destiny of Democracy: The Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library Mark K. Updegrove, Director, LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

image of book and authorPresident Lyndon B. Johnson played a monumental role in America’s quest for civil rights. The legacy of those efforts reached a crescendo from April 8 through 10, 2014, as the LBJ Presidential Library hosted a historic Civil Rights Summit to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. A host of luminaries—including President Barack Obama, the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office, and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter—came to the LBJ Library to recognize the progress made in the country’s long, often troubled, journey toward civil rights. Read more here…

 

Michener Center reading by 2013 residency author Colm Toibin

The University of Texas at Austin Michener Center for Writers will host a reading by our fall 2013 residency author, COLM TOIBIN, on Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 7:30 pm in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302.

Toibin, a native of Ireland, is the author of two novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Blackwater Lightship and The Master, as well as Brooklyn, 2009 Costa Novel of the Year, The Empty Family, a collection of stories, and The Testament of Mary, adapted to stage on Broadway this past year.  He is as well a prolific essayist and journalist.

The Peter O’Donnell building, formerly known as the ACES building, is on the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway on UT Campus.  Parking is available in the nearby UT garage at San Jacinto and 24th.

UT Press’ Texas Bookshelf to capture the state’s culture and history

Texas Bookshelf is a major initiative by UT Press that will chronicle the Texas mystique and the state’s history through a series of 16 books over five years. According to Brady Dyer, UT Press marketing, communications and sales manager, this is the first such project undertaken by a university press to capture the culture and history of a state in such an in-depth way.

Stephen Harrigan, NY Times bestselling author and a professor in the University of Texas at Austin Michener Center for Writing will pen write the first book, a full-length history of Texas. Harrigan said, “My goal is to make the events of the modern history of Texas–the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, the collapse of Enron–as compelling to read about as the siege of the Alamo or the Comanche wars.”

authors of Texas Bookshelf books

UT Austin faculty who will pen the 16 titles as part of the Texas Bookshelf.

Fifteen additional titles will follow Harrigan’s. All are to be written by UT Austin faculty and will focus on such topics as politics, art, architecture, film, music, photography, sports, fodoways, business, books and theatre as well as the African American experience, a history of the Texas Borderlands and the Tejano/a experience. Read more about the project and the participating faculty authors on the UT Press blog.

Peter LaSalle’s new novel looks at life in the shadows

M song smPeter LaSalle uses a single book-length sentence in his new novel, “Mariposa’s Song,” to tell of a twenty-year-old Honduran woman in the United States without documentation.  Mariposa is working as a B-girl and taxi dancer in a scruffy East Austin nightclub called El Pájaro Verde in 2005, and her story takes readers into the shadowy world that undocumented workers are too often forced to live in due to current immigration laws.

“‘Mariposa’s Song’ is a tragedy that rings distressingly true to the bone,” says novelist Madison Smartt Bell in a prepublication comment, “and never has Peter LaSalle’s prose sung so melodiously.”  And Publishers Weekly notes: “LaSalle’s new novel is brief, but it feels expansive with its continued breathlessness.”

The novel is published in The Americas Series from Texas Tech University Press.  Edited by Irene Vilar and with a national advisory board, the series issues mostly work by Latin American writers in translation—recent releases include Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal and Brazilian novelist Moacyr Scliar—but also the occasional original book on a Latino subject that reflects the series’ stated mission of “cultivating cross-cultural and intellectual exploration across borders and historical divides.”

LaSalle will talk about “Mariposa’s Song” at the Texas Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 27 in a three-author panel discussion on immigration narratives, “Nunca Volver: New Lands, New Lives,” moderated by Melissa del Bosque.  An excerpt from the novel will be featured in the December issue of The Texas Observer.

PeteAs the Susan Taylor McDaniel Regents Professor in Creative Writing at UT, LaSalle teaches in both the English Department’s New Writers Project and the Michener Center for Writers. He’s the author of several books of fiction, including the story collection “Tell Borges If You See Him,” winner of the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award, and his work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Travel Writing, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, among many others. A new short story collection, “What I Found Out About Her and Other Stories,” is forthcoming from University of Notre Dame Press.

ShelfLife@Texas asked LaSalle a few questions about “Mariposa’s Song.”

Did you do intensive research, or how did you come to know about the lives of undocumented workers?

In recent years I got to know quite a bit about the world of the undocumented. I did so through time spent in the Mexican bars and nightclubs that used to line 6th Street in East Austin and now have all but vanished—almost overnight, actually, in the sudden so-called gentrification of the area. I also spent some time in the home of an immigrant family in Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood, where I went with a friend who volunteered as an English instructor to new arrivals from Latin America. I think that those experiences, meeting the people I did in the course of it all, made me begin to better understand what it’s like to survive in the United States without documentation.

So you decided to write about it?

Looking back on it, I guess I almost had to write about it.  I remember that I saw a rather absurd locally produced TV show celebrating the supposed urban wonders of downtown Austin.  One sequence showed a group of happy young professionals (does anybody say “yuppie” anymore?) who had just come out of a trendy bar at maybe 2 a.m., guys and girls. They were filmed standing on the sidewalk, gazing up at what they saw as the wondrous beauty of a scene—men working construction on a new downtown high-rise, the site lit up bright in the darkness. I realized that those people, and a lot just like them, had no idea what life was really like for such workers, that there was nothing romantic about their long hours of hard labor, sometimes even right through the night. Having worked a job in construction myself at least one summer during college, I could assure them of that. More significantly, many of those workers were probably without documentation, facing life every day with the added threats posed by our outdated and thoroughly contradictory immigration policies. I don’t know if that was exactly when I decided to start writing “Mariposa’s Song,” but it was one thing that contributed to my decision to use a novel to maybe tell others what I knew about such lives, including those of the young women who worked in the East Austin bars, hustling drinks for the owners or dancing with customers, like the old dime-a-dance arrangement.

And the entire novel is basically a single book-length sentence. Can you explain how that works?

Well, first of all, I hope it does work. I’ve written and published several short stories that use just a single sentence, though this is my first time trying it on something longer. The novel takes place in the course of one Saturday night in a rough East Austin nightclub, where my protagonist—a gentle, pretty, and very hopeful young woman from Honduras named Mariposa—works as a bar girl and gets in a nightmarishly bad situation when she meets the wrong guy at the decidedly wrong time, a smooth-talking Anglo from out of town who calls himself Bill. In starting to write, I soon found that a single continuing sentence captured perfectly the cadence of a night at that club, where the norteño and cumbia music the DJ plays goes on uninterrupted, no breaks between songs, flowing. It also seemed to capture the way Mariposa’s own thoughts meander through her mind, maybe her soothing personal song of herself, very much a music, too.

Well, it certainly seems like a fresh idea.

As said, I sure hope so.

Yellow Birds Soar

Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers

Just four months after his graduation from UT’s Michener Center for Writers alum Kevin Powers is rocking the publishing world with his first novel. “The Yellow Birds” was released in the U.K. last week and Little, Brown and Company brings it out to U.S. readers next week, on Sept. 11. The book tells, in alternating chapters, the story of a young American GI’s experiences in Iraq and his difficult assimilation back home. Powers served as a machine-gunner in Mosel and Tal Afar in 2004-2005.

In effusive reviews from The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani and London’s Guardian, Powers’ debut is compared to iconic books of our time and in literary history. “Its depiction of war,” writes Kakutani, “has the surreal kick of [Tim] O’Brien’s 1978 novel, ‘Going After Cacciato,’ and a poetic pointillism distinctly its own.” The Guardian, who long-listed the novel for its 2012 First Book Award, says, “while few will have expected the war in Iraq to bring forth a novel that can stand beside ‘All Quiet on the Western Front or The Red Badge of Courage,’ ‘The Yellow Birds’ does just that.”

YB 9:11:12Both reviews quote Powers’ hypnotic prose at length, calling his language “brilliantly observed,” and “the mark of an artist of the first order.” Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch, who acquired the manuscript last November and brought it into print in record time, calls the work “a voice from inside the fire.” Powers joined the Michener Center’s MFA program in 2009 as a poet and continues to write and publish poetry.

The U.S. launch will be celebrated with an event in Austin next Tuesday, Sept. 11, when the Michener Center for Writers, Texas Monthly, and the Texas Book Festival co-sponsor a conversation with Kevin Powers and TM editor Jake Silverstein—also a Michener alum— at Lambert’s Downtown BBQ from 6-8 p.m. An RSVP is required in advance through the magazine’s web page.

A Mark Twain for Our Age

AllanGAllan Gurganus, author of “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” “Plays Well with Others,” and other works of fiction, will teach on campus as Michener Residency Author this February for three weeks.  He is slated to meet with MFA students in weekly craft seminars and to hold manuscript conferences to discuss their work individually.

He will also read at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 9, 2012 in the Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302, on the southeast corner of Speedway and 24th Street on campus.  The event is free and open to students and the public.  Parking is available in the nearby UT Garage at San Jacinto and 24th.

Gurganus’s work has been translated into twenty languages. His first novel sold two million copies. Adaptations of the fiction have won four Emmys, his books awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the O’Henry Short Story Prize.  Paris La Monde said of Gurganus, “A Mark Twain for our age, hilariously clear-eyed, blessed with perfect pitch.”

With this type of endorsement we thought no one would be a more suitable interviewer for his Q&A than Gurganus himself. ShelfLife@Texas is proud to present an interview with Gurganus, by Gurganus.

Welcome to campus. You yourself studied with authors as gifted and various as Grace Paley, John Irving, Stanley Elkin and John Cheever. Do you bring their examples into your classroom?

Their voices and wisecracks go with me everywhere. Sentence by sentence, I know what each of them would say about my next line. This holds true in my own classes and student conferences.  I can literally hear what the now-deceased Grace Paley is urging me to tell a given student.  The one way to repay great teaching is trying to perfect that art yourself.

By now, my students are growing famous as my teachers were. Elizabeth MacCracken of the Creative Writing Department here, was my own pupil a few decades back at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She remains not only among the most gifted students I’ve ever taught; she is also easily the kindest.  I remember where I was sitting when I read certain of her start-up stories.

Have you looked over the fiction of your UT students you’ll work with during your residency?

Oh yes. I’ve covered pages with many checkmarks and, to earn my keep, some questions. I’m now eager to see if each of them resembles the person I imagined wrote each tale. (Sometimes I can pick a writer out of a group of other strangers on the basis of her prose. Just showing off!)

One thing that wowed me—how different each writer is. Here there is no median talent or typical story. Everybody seems wildly themselves. Talent! For me, that is the holy of holies. I literally worship it, valuing it over physical beauty. It sure lasts longer.

Though I will be in Austin less than a month, I hope to encourage students to build upon their own best instincts. Everybody is launched already, and obsessed.

After writing myself for forty-four years, I’ve bumped into certain technical shortcuts, some simple insights that—if presented dramatically and modestly—might prove useful.

You are slated to give a reading on campus on February 9th. Will you be offering a selection of “Oldest Living Widow,” your most famous work?

Oh no. Just as students find the nerve to show me brand-new work as yet unpublished, I’ll return the favor. Only fair. No matter how many books a writer has in print, the blank page never grows less abashing. In fact, that whiteness leaves you ever more snowblind. You have used up all your charm and tricks; you fear you’ve already plundered the true ore of autobiography.

It is important to demonstrate to students that I’m still a student. I’ll read from a long novel in progress called “The Erotic History of a Rural Baptist Church.”  It investigates the confusion between spiritual longing and the raw upsurge insistence of sexual desire. That makes for a combustible mix. I plan to read a passage based on an actual incident from my hometown circa 1900. A baby elephant escapes from a visiting circus. It gets pursued by a posse of local boys and girls and farmers. It takes a local preacher to pray over this event, to try and justify or explain the random violence we all wade in daily.

What advice can you offer beginning or graduate writers? It seems a field with one long apprenticeship, then rewards unevenly distributed.

Well-said. Yes, people write because they have to. There is no other excuse for it. American culture only valued Faulkner once he’d won the Nobel, once Hollywood hired him to make his own brilliant novels terrible movies. His books were out of print. Suddenly he became ‘hot’ then valid.

I’ve been needing to put things on paper since 1966. If tomorrow I learned that no other word I wrote would ever be published, my daily schedule would not change. I’d still rise at six thirty and cohabit with my desk till early afternoon. I rarely even take the Sabbath off. Stopping and starting is the hardest part of writing. Far better never to turn off the tap.

Universities provide one essential ingredient all writers need: an interested enlightened audience. I encourage people to find a group of others, working at their same level of experience. To meet alternate weeks at least and read new work aloud. Sometimes our ears know more than our brain does. There are two of them! Music is truly what we seek to write. Fiction rests somewhere between being a Law and a Song. By hearing other people hear your work, you learn to make it rock or sway or pound. The goal is helping others Laugh, Cry, Wait and Know.  Seeing that happen, in real time, thanks to sound-waves, is one great reason to endure all its attendant tortures.

University of Texas at Austin Faculty Authors Discuss their Books on C-SPAN2 Book TV

This weekend, be sure to tune in to C-SPAN2 Book TV to watch two University of Texas at Austin professors discuss their books.

American Studies Professor Julia Mickenberg will discuss her book “Tales for Little Rebels” on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 12:45 p.m., and on Monday, Nov. 14 at 12:45 p.m.

Little_Rebel_webSynopsis: Rather than teaching children to obey authority, to conform, or to seek redemption through prayer, 20th century leftists encouraged children to question the authority of those in power. “Tales for Little Rebels” collects 43 mostly out-of-print stories, poems, comic strips, primers, and other texts for children that embody this radical tradition. These pieces reflect the concerns of  20th century leftist movements, like peace, civil rights, gender equality, environmental responsibility, and the dignity of labor. They also address the means of achieving these ideals, including taking collective action, developing critical thinking skills, and harnessing the liberating power of the imagination.

Sanford Levinson, professor of law, will discuss his book “Constitutional Faith” on Sunday, Nov. 18 at noon and 7:15 p.m., and on Monday, Nov. 19 at 12 p.m.

Constitutional_Faith_cover

Synopsis: In this intriguing book, Levinson examines the history and the substance of our ‘civil religion’ of the Constitution. Echoes of this tradition are still heard in debates over whether the constitutional holy writ includes custom, secondary texts and history or is restricted to scriptural fundamentalism. Of equal age and intensity is the battle over the proper role of the priests. Is the Constitution what the Justices say it is or does it have a life of its own?

Interviews scheduled for broadcast the following weekend include:

· Steven Weinberg, professor in the departments of physics and astronomy, will discuss “Lake Views” on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12 p.m.

· Lewis Gould, professor emeritus of history, will discuss “My Dearest Nellie” and “Theodore Roosevelt” on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 10:30 a.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12:30 p.m.

· Robert Auerbach, professor of public affairs, will discuss “Deception and Abuse at the Fed” on Nov. 20 at 10:40 a.m., and on Nov. 21 at 12:40 p.m.

A C-SPAN film crew interviewed the faculty members in the university’s Main Building on Oct. 24 following a weekend of covering the annual Texas Book Festival in Austin. Broadcast dates and times for the other faculty members interviewed for the C-SPAN2 Book TV program will be announced later.

The other faculty members are:

Martha Menchaca, professor  in the Department of anthropology, discussing “Naturalizing Mexican Immigrants”
James Galbraith, professor in the Department of Government and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussing “The Predator State”
Jeremi Suri, professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussing “Liberty’s Surest Guardian”
Ami Pedahzur, professor in the Departments of Government and Middle Eastern Studies, discussing “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Toward Terrorism”
Neil Foley, professor in the Departments of History and American Studies, discussing “Quest for Equality”


Michener Center Hosts New York Times Book Review Editor

SamheadshotSamT Tanenhaus has the dream job of many bibliophiles:  editing the New York Times Book Review. He not only gets access to all the latest, he’s in a position to influence what may become the greatest books of his time.

Luckily, the job has fallen to man of voracious intellectual curiosity, who has written widely on politics, literature and culture.  His 1997 biography of Whittaker Chambers was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and a new volume, The Death of Conservatism, is winning great acclaim.  UT Michener Center for Writers’ Director James Magnuson, who has invited Tanenhaus to campus to work with writers in the MFA program, calls him simply, “a person who knows everything about everything.”

That Tanenhaus produces remarkable prose and brilliant criticism of his own is even more impressive in light of the fact that the NYTBR receives as many as 1000 new books each week,  20 to 30 of which will get reviewed.  Deciding just who gets that coveted coverage involves a massive and highly subjective winnowing which he has overseen since 2004, when he took over as editor-in-chief after having been on its staff for several years, a former editor at Vanity Fair, and a long-time freelance journalist and author. Eight to ten pre-reviewers, each working in an area of specialization — literary or experimental fiction, poetry, economics, geopolitics, children’s literature, etc. — cull the hundreds down to perhaps a few dozen which are assigned to on-staff and outside reviewers who write what eventually appears in the Sunday section each week.

The Times has run a book review section since 1896, and while there are dozens of equally prestigious reviews in the United States alone today, it remains the gold standard. A bad review in its pages can be, for an emerging author especially, as useful as a rave:  It at least brings a book into the public eye, not an easy feat in an industry that cranks out millions of titles each year, 1 percent of which are ever reviewed anywhere.  The power of any criticism to make or break an author’s fortunes and to influence what the reading public buys means that Tanenhaus’s tastes and predilections are parsed endlessly for clues to a marketplace that has always been chimerical, but is now shape-shifting as quickly as the technology and socioeconomic forces that fuel it.

Sam Tanenhaus will share his unique perspective on the book world in a lecture, “Does the Novel Still Matter?” at 7:30 pm on Thursday, November 3, 2011 at Avaya Auditorium, ACE 2.302.  He’ll discuss the state of the novel today and the authority of the novelist in what he calls a “post-literary” culture. The lecture is sponsored by the Michener Center for Writers, where Tanenhaus is in residence to work with students in Stephen Harrigans “Long-Form Journalism” seminar, co-taught by Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein.  While on campus, he’ll also hold a seminar with Plan II Honors students, “Recognizing Good Writing:  A Critic’s Criteria.”

The auditorium is located on the southeast corner of 24th and Speedway on campus.  Parking is available in the nearby San Jacinto Garage and the event is free to students and the public.