95th Birthday Reading to Honor Renowned Writer and Professor Emeritus James McConkey

By: Linda B. Glaser,  A&S Communications
August 15, 2016

 The Cornell Department of English Creative Writing Program launches the Fall 2016 Barbara & David Zalaznick Reading Series on Thursday, September 14:30pm, inRhodes-Rawlings Auditorium, Klarman Hall, with a celebration of the life and work of Goldwin Smith Professor of English Literature Emeritus James McConkey on the occasion of his 95th birthday.

James McConkey has been one of the most important and outstanding members of the literary and creative writing community at Cornell. After arriving in Ithaca in 1956, he became instrumentally involved with the new creative writing program and Epochmagazine, as well as the English department at large where he taught courses in modern fiction and nonfiction.  

In 1965, McConkey founded the Cornell Council of the Arts. In the late 1970s, he organized one of the most memorable cultural events in Cornell history, the Chekhov Festival, bringing in a succession of prominent writers including Eudora Welty, John Cheever, Denise Levertov, and Walker Percy, to speak about the Russian author, give readings from their own work, and meet with students and faculty. Few other events have matched that program for its impact on students and the larger community. 

McConkey has been known as one of the finest prose stylists of our era. His autobiographical essays, collected in volumes such as The Night Stand, Crossroads, andCourt of Memory, are powerful and profound meditations on his own life and the culture of our times. With unflinching honesty and incisive precision, he has probed his own experience, contemporary history, and the ongoing struggle to understand our lives and the moral exigencies of art and the craft of writing. In the 1970s and 1980s McConkey published essay after essay in The New Yorker, establishing a national reputation for the depth and accessibility of his memoirs.  

In celebration of his 95th birthday, his long career and commitment to the Creative Writing Program and English Department, and countless other contributions to our literary community, three of McConkey’s award-winning former students will read from their own works in his honor: Diane AckermanGilbert Allen, and A. Manette Ansay

Up next in the series is a reading on September 15 in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium by poet and memoirist Joy Harjo. Harjo’s poetry collections include Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and She Had Some Horses. Her memoir Crazy Brave won several awards, including the PEN USA Literary Award and the American Book Award. She is the recipient of the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Also a renowned musician, Harjo is Professor of English and American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

The series continues on September 29 in Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium with the Creative Writing Program’s annual Alumni Reading, which showcases the ongoing contributions of the program and its graduates to the wider literary world. Fiction writers H.G. Carrillo ’07 and Adam O'Fallon Price’14 will team up with poets Sally Wen Mao’12 and Emily Rosko ’03 to read from works published in their thus far promising careers.   

Fourth in the series is a reading on October 13 in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium by David Madden, the Robert Penn Warren Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Emeritus at LSU. Among Madden’s many novels are Sharpshooter and The Suicide’s Wife, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Madden’s most recent book of short stories,The Last Bizarre Tale, was published in 2014, and his forthcoming collection of novellas,Marble Goddesses and Mortal Flesh, will appear in 2017.  

The series concludes on November 3 in Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium with poet and writer Chris Abani. Abani’s fiction includes The Secret History of Las Vegas, Song for Night, and Becoming Abigail. His poetry collections include Sanctificum, and There Are No Names For Red. Abani, whose work has been translated into over a dozen languages, has garnered many honors for his work, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the PEN Beyond the Margins Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. 

All events are free and open to the public and take place on Thursdays at 4:30pm in either Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium (132 Goldwin Smith Hall) or Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium (G70 Klarman Hall). For more information visit http://www.arts.cornell.edu/english/creative/readings/, email creativewriting@cornell.edu, or call 607-255-7847.

 

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