Buffalo is a poetry town. We have poetry in our transit stations, poets in our schools, poetry slams in the taverns and coffeehouses.
Fiction has taken a back seat to poetry here, particularly over the past decade, but all of that is about to change. This fall, seven prominent American fiction writers will visit Buffalo.
Leading the way is Canisius College's Contemporary Writers Series, a significant addition to the area literary scene founded with major support by the John R. Oishei Foundation and the cooperation of Just Buffalo Literary Center and Talking Leaves Books. The series, coordinated by novelist and Canisius College Professor of English Mick Cochrane, will present four leading voices in contemporary fiction in Thursday night readings on the Canisius campus.
The series will open with acclaimed novelist/memoirist Mary Gordon at 8 p.m. Sept. 23. Gordon, whose poetic and intense prose style is a good match for the range and depth of the themes her work takes on, emerged as a major figure in American fiction with the publication of her first novel, "Final Payments," in 1978.
With the successful novels that followed, "The Company of Women" (1981) and "Men and Angels" (1985), Gordon acquired a reputation as a "Catholic" writer, a label she resists, her interest in spiritual and religious themes notwithstanding.
Perhaps the most compelling work of Gordon's career, however, is not a novel. Her 1996 memoir "The Shadow Man: A Daughter's Search for Her Father" is one of the most curious and self-questioning texts to emerge from the personal memoir boomlet of recent years. After discovering some ugly and unsettling facts about her father's life, Gordon undertook to discover the truth about the father who died when she was just 7. To her astonishment, the man she idolized and took as her intellectual role model was not only not the person she imagined him to be, but not even the person he pretended to be.
Novelist Richard Russo, perhaps best-known as the author of "Nobody's Fool" and the much-praised comic novel "Straight Man," will continue the series on Oct. 7. Russo is a native of Gloversville, and much of his work including the early novel "Mohawk" is set in a fictionalized upstate New York.
Lorrie Moore, one of the most distinctive new talents to emerge in American fiction over the past decade, will give her first public reading in Buffalo on Nov. 4. Moore debuted in the late 1980s with a startling short story collection titled "Self-Help," and proceeded to revive the prevalent minimalist style of that era with an infusion of edgy narrative irony. Her novels "Anagrams" and "Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?" have placed her near the head of the class of novelists of her generation.
The fall portion of the series will conclude with a reading by Charles Baxter on Dec. 2. Baxter is the author of four collections of short stories, the most recent of which is "Believers," and two novels, "First Light" and "Shadow Play." A former Buffalo resident who earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Buffalo, Baxter is a frequent contributor to the major literary magazines.
Just Buffalo will feature three leading novelists with Western New York roots in readings and appearances over the next month. At 8 p.m. Sept. 17, first novelist Lauren Belfer, whose justly praised "City of Light" (set in Buffalo in 1901) is the literary sensation of this year (and likely this decade) on the Niagara Frontier, will read from the novel in UB's Allen Hall. The reading will be broadcast live by WBFO-FM 88.7.
On Sept. 19 at 2 p.m., novelist, poet, playwright, essayist and literary iconoclast Ishmael Reed will read and discuss his work at the Langston Hughes Center, 25 High St. Reed, born and raised in Buffalo, is the author of 18 books, including "Mumbo Jumbo," "Flight to Canada," "Japanese by Spring" and his "New and Selected Poems."
And on Oct. 1, Lockport native Joyce Carol Oates will read from her most recent novel, "Broke Heart Blues" -- the story of a young male heartthrob set in a small town in Western New York -- in Canisius College's Grupp Lounge.