Gary Shteyngart is often wickedly funny. And it’s certainly no curse for a writer to be funny in this world. In his last – and to some best book “Little Failure: A Memoir” – just read the number he does on vintage American television, especially “Gilligan’s Island” where he asks us all “is it really possible that a country as powerful as the United States would not be able to locate two of its best citizens, lost at sea, to wit the millionaire and his wife?”
But he is vastly more than a comedian in all his books but especially in the often lacerating family and life memoir “Little Failure,” a book whose title comes from his mother’s Russian/English nickname for her son, “Failurcha.” It was her cheery way of greeting the news that the ambitious writer in this emigre Russian family had written a novel that had failed to get him into the University of Iowa writing program.
Shteyngart, born in 1972, is, along with Junot Diaz and some others, part of the leading edge of a great literary phenomenon in contemporary America – superb writing giving evidence that the immigrant experience is almost as rich and primal in American books as ever, even in a selfie age.
At 8 p.m. Friday in Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Shteyngart will lead off an extraordinary first edition of a Humanities Festival from the University at Buffalo Humanities Department. It continues Saturday on the campus of SUNY Buffalo State in Ketchum Hall and the Burchfield Penney Arts Center. A full festival program is available at http://buffalohumanities.org.
– Jeff Simon