Art Spiegelman, A. S. Byatt headline new Pen Pals series

Friends of the Hennepin County Library have announced this year’s author lecture series – known as Pen Pals – and it’s an impressive one.

The season begins with short story master George Saunders, the author of “Tenth of December.”  The New York Times writes that Saunders’ best stories “are animated by true fellow feeling and an anthropologist’s cool eye for the quirks of human behavior… Saunders hears America singing, and he knows it’s ridiculous, and he loves it all.”

A.S. Byatt

November brings one of my favorite authors of all time, A.S. Byatt. The creator of “Possession” and “The Virgin in the Garden” is known for writing works rich with literary history and complex family dynamics. The Paris Review writes of Byatt:

No novelist, perhaps, has done so much to widen the range of English fiction. The current, almost bewildering gusto of inquiry in contemporary English writing owes an enormous amount to the example of Possession, which is the first, grandest and best example of that alluring form, the romance of the archive; the scientific fantasy of “Morpho Eugenia,” too, has proved enormously instructive to younger writers. If English writing has stopped being a matter of small relationships and delicate social blunders, and has turned its attention to the larger questions of history, art, and the life of ideas, it is largely due to the generous example of Byatt’s wide-ranging ambition. Few novelists, however, have succeeded subsequently in uniting such a daunting scope of mind with a sure grasp of the individual motivation and an unfailing tenderness; none has written so well both of Darwinian theory and the ancient, inexhaustible subject of sexual passion.

Luis Alberto Urrea, the author of “The Devil’s Highway” and “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” comes to town in February. Urrea writes about everything from modern day immigrants lost in Arizona to Mexico’s own version of Joan of Arc – and Luis’ ancestor – Teresa Urrea.  Luis Urrea was the 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and is a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame.

Artist and illustrator Art Spiegelman is best known for his graphic novel “Maus,” which portrayed Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. The influential cartoonist, editor and comics advocate will speak on April 24 and 25.

The series comes to a close in May with noted poet Tracy K. Smith.  Smith’s collection “Life on Mars” won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. Poet Joel Brower writes: 

Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition. It’s not easy to be so convincing in both the grand gesture and the reverent contemplation of a humble plate of eggs… As all the best poetry does, “Life on Mars” first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.

You can find out more about the Pen Pals series here.