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J. Robert Lennon kicks off spring Raymond Carver Reading Series

SU series features six guest writers, including NBA finalist Rachel Kushner, March 19

Jan 28, 2014 | Article by: Renée K. Gadoua

Photo of J. Robert Lennon

J. Robert Lennon


Fiction writer J. Robert Lennon kicks off the spring 2014 Raymond Carver Reading Series at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, in Gifford Auditorium. A question-and-answer session will precede the reading from 3:45-4:30 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in SU’s paid lots.

“Over the last decade, J. Robert Lennon’s literary imagination has grown increasingly morbid, convoluted and peculiar—just as his books have grown commensurately more surprising, rigorous and fun,” The New York Times Book Review said of “Castle” (Graywolf Press, 2009) and “Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes” (Graywolf Press, 2009). “'Castle,'” the reviewer concludes, “tells a terrific story, dire and confusing and convincing.” It adds, “'Pieces' is eccentric and “deserves reading even more.”

Both books, and other work by Lennon, are set in Upstate New York, possibly a fictional Ithaca, where he lives and teaches writing at Cornell University. The reviewer describes Lennon’s fictional locale as a “town that lies somewhere at the intersection of Shirley Jackson and Russell Banks. … Lennon’s world is stained with a Cheeverish sense of dislocation—between what people desire (and doesn’t make them happy) and what they end up getting (and can’t live without).”

His other novels include “Happyland” (Open Road Media and Dzanc Books; 2013), “Familiar” (Graywolf, 2012), “Mailman” (W.W. Norton, 2003) and “On the Night Plain” (Henry Holt,” 2001).

“Happyland” satirizes the actions of  Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl doll empire. Rowland created controversy after investing heavily in revitalization efforts in Aurora, N.Y., home to her alma mater, Wells College. Harpers Magazine published a serialized version of the story in 2006, but Norton canceled publication, apparently over concerns about possible libel charges.

Lennon’s short fiction has appeared in publications that include The New Yorker, Harper's, Playboy, Granta, The Paris Review and Electric Literature, among others. He has been anthologized in "Best American Short Stories," "Best American Nonrequired Reading" and "Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards," and his story "The Rememberer" inspired the CBS detective series “Unforgettable.”

He hosts the podcast Writers at Cornell and co-hosts the podcast Lunch Box with poet Ed Skoog. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian and The London Review of Books.

Lennon, who has played in several rock groups, wrote about the connection  between writing and music in a 2013 New York Times Magazine piece. “The fewer functional labels we have to compartmentalize what we do, and the more porous the boundaries between forms, the more likely we will be to resist ideas that don’t seem to fit,” he wrote. “If this makes it harder for the critical establishment to determine what is important and what isn’t, well, so what? And if it makes the creation of literature and music more challenging, it’s a change we ought to welcome.”

SU’s reading series is named for Raymond Carver, the great short story writer and poet who taught at SU in the 1980s and died in 1988, and is presented by the Creative Writing Program in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences. The series is presented as part of the popular undergraduate course Living Writers. The series each year brings 12 to 14 prominent writers to campus to read their works and interact with students. Students read an author’s book, write about it, and discuss it before the author’s visit.

Photo of Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner (Photo by Lucy Raven)

Spring 2014 Series Schedule

The series will continue with the following authors. Further information is available by calling 315-443-2174.

Feb. 12: Corey Zeller is a poet whose work has appeared in outlets including The Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, The Colorado Review, Diagram, Puerto del Sol, Salt Hill, West Branch and The Literary Review.

March 19: Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers” (Scribner, 2013) was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and was chosen as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times. Her debut novel, “Telex from Cuba” (Scribner 2008), was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She is a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow.

March 27: Jim Shepard is the author of six novels, including “Project X” (Knopf, 2004) and four story collections, including “You Think That’s Bad” (Knopf, 2011) and "Like You’d Understand, Anyway" (Knopf, 2007). His short stories have appeared in outlets including Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, DoubleTake, the New Yorker and Granta. He teaches at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

Shepard will visit campus as the Richard Elman Visiting Writer. The Richard Elman Visiting Writer is supported by a generous gift from Leonard Elman in honor of his late brother Richard. In addition to the Raymond Carver event, Shepard will conduct a seminar for M.F.A. students and critique their work.

April 16: Brooks Haxton G’81 is the author of eight books of original poems and translations from the French and ancient Greek. His books include “They Lift Their Wings to Cry” (Knopf, 2008) and “Uproar: Antiphonies to Psalms” (Knopf, 2004). He is translator for “Selected Poems” by Victor Hugo (Penguin Classics, 2002). His forthcoming book, “Fading Hearts on the River” (Counterpoint, May 13, 2014), follows his son Isaac’s unlikely career as a poker player. Haxton  teaches English at SU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

April 23: Ellen Bryant Voigt is the author of several poetry collections, including “Headwaters: Poems” (Norton, 2013); “Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006” (Norton, 2007); and “Shadow of Heaven” (Norton, 2002). Voigt served as the Vermont State Poet from 1999 to 2003.

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Contact Information

Rob Enslin
315-443-3403
rmenslin@syr.edu