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Connection to a teacher attracts Oates for lecture

Thanks to her connection to a now-deceased Lockport High School English teacher, world-renowned author Joyce Carol Oates will be giving a free lecture here next month.

Oates will speak in the Historic Palace Theatre at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 in the first of what is hoped to be a series of lectures under the auspices of a memorial fund for John S. Koplas.

Koplas got in touch with Oates through the author's late parents, Fred and Carolina Oates, who lived on Transit Road, south of Lockport.

Koplas' widow, Diane Koplas, said her husband taught adult education classes in literature at several area venues after retiring from Lockport High School. Oates' parents took one of his courses, in which Koplas happened to use one of Oates' works as a subject for the class.

Diane Koplas said Oates' parents were impressed with John's class and mentioned it to their daughter, who lives in Princeton, N.J. Before long, the author got in touch with John Koplas, and the two began a friendship, which saw the author autographing books and bookplates for the retired teacher.

When John Koplas died May 26, 2008, at age 76, his obituary mentioned that donations could be made to the Lockport Public Library in his memory. Library Director Marie Bindeman said that about $5,000 was donated and that the library and the Koplas family decided to set up a lecture series.

"We agreed it would be a fitting tribute," Bindeman said. "Joyce Carol Oates happened to be one of John's favorite authors."

When it came to seeking a speaker to inaugurate the series, "she was unquestionably our first choice. We were elated when she said yes," Koplas said.

Dinner with the Koplas family is also on the agenda for Oates, 71, whose 37th novel, "Little Bird of Heaven," is about to be published. Add in her many volumes of short stories and essays, and Oates is easily one of the most prolific major authors ever.

Oates has spoken recently in Western New York, including appearances last year at the Chautauqua Institution and in 2004 at the University at Buffalo. Diane Koplas said she was self-deprecating when asked to speak in Lockport.

"She jokingly said, 'I don't think there'd be too many people because John was one of my few fans in Lockport,' " Koplas chuckled.

Despite Oates' disclaimer, Bindeman said a free appearance by an author frequently mentioned as a prospect for the Nobel Prize in literature and the Booker Prize is expected to draw a substantial crowd.

Although the event is free, tickets will be required. They will be available starting Sept. 25 at the Lockport Public Library, the Palace and Mills Jewelers here.

The topic of Oates' talk is not yet certain. "She has just told us it will be readings and commentaries," Bindeman said.

A book sale and signing by the author will follow the lecture.

Oates' appearance is the first of two events featuring prominent writers set up by the library in October. David Ebershoff will speak about his novel "The 19th Wife" at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 in the library to open the "One Book, One Community" program.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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