Three superstars of the written word and one literal rock star, who also happens to be an accomplished author, will visit Buffalo during the coming season of the Babel series, sponsored by Just Buffalo Literary Center.
“I am very excited about this season,” said Laurie Dean Torrell, executive director of the literary center, which launched the Babel series in 2007.
The series will begin Oct. 9 with a talk by Colum McCann, the acclaimed Irish author of nine books, including “Let the Great World Spin,” which won the 2009 National Book Award. On Nov. 19, the series will present David Henry Hwang, a playwright who has won many Tony Awards and whose plays, “M. Butterfly” and “Yellow Face,” have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer and author of “Americanah,” which won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, will speak on March 26. And iconic punk singer-songwriter Patti Smith, whose memoir, “Just Kids,” won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction, will speak on April 17.
McCann, Torrell said, is the first Irish writer to be featured in the series. Although his newest book is “TransAtlantic,” Torrell said the appearance will focus on “Let the Great World Spin.” She said, “The more we investigated and talked with people, the more we felt this novel would offer a very rich opportunity for discussion and would be very resonant.”
However, the book or books selected and promoted by local libraries and bookstores are just a starting point, Torrell said. “We always select a book to encourage the city to do ‘If All of Buffalo Read the Same Book,’ and we let the author know, but their talks don’t tend to be overly focused on the book. They did usually touch on the book, but most of them get into more far-ranging conversation and remarks, especially through the Q and A at the end of the reading. It’s amazing, the questions that come up that allow you to get a really personal feel for these authors.”
In 2009, a few weeks before “Let the Great World Spin” was published, McCann spoke at the Albright Knox Art Gallery as a guest of the North American James Joyce Conference held at the University at Buffalo.
Hwang is just the third playwright to be invited to the series. The wide-ranging success of Suzan-Lori Parks on March 11 emphasized the power of affiliating with the active local theater community, Torrell said. “It was really rich and interesting, having that intersection with our theater colleagues, given what a strong theater scene we have here in Buffalo. It culminates with the author lecture, but in the time leading up to it, we really look for ways to do community-building. With Parks we saw a couple of the theaters do staged readings, and we did see what a neat intersection it was with the theater community to have a playwright.”
Barbara Cole, artistic director for Just Buffalo, had been trying to schedule Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for a while, Torrell said. “She is hot, she is a real up-and-comer. She was someone that we have had our eye on for a while, and it was so hard to get her, because she is just out there everywhere, she is short-listed for awards and winning awards and a relatively new and important voice on the literary scene.”
Torrell said, “We were absolutely thrilled to be able to get her. And her work is so rich and interesting. ‘Americanah,’ is just glorious.”
The series will end on April 17 with Patti Smith. “I mean, what can you say?” said Torrell. “She was someone so different than anyone we have ever presented. We think she is going to offer a whole unique, exciting event because of being so different from anyone we have ever featured before.”
Smith will speak and possibly do more, Cole said. “My understanding is that her guitar will be with her on the stage,” she said. “I think she is going to do some combination and there might be some music. Many people know her music reputation, but she is a National Book award winner, and her writing is really strong,” said Cole.
Tickets for the series, which is held in Kleinhans Music Hall, are available at justbuffalo.org or by calling 832-5400. General admission subscriptions are $95 for all four events, $175 for a pair, with more expensive options offered. After May 15, prices increase to $110 for a person and $190 for a pair.
Individual event tickets will be offered in September if the series is not sold out.