Tonight saw the premiere of Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series. What is being billed as a yearly event, (at least for 3 years at the moment), the series sees award-winning authors coming to Buffalo for a reading. The venue is Babeville’s Asbury Hall and I must saw it is a great choice. While I can’t speak for the balcony, I don’t think there is a bad seat in the house. Holding maybe a thousand people allows for even the back row to have prime visibility towards the stage. Some side seats are blocked by columns, but they aren’t too wide and thus can be dealt with.
After a lengthy opening describing the event and shouting out to the sponsors, the Spree being one of course, Nobel Prize in literature award-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk took the stage. His almost hour and a half presentation, including a rather in depth Q&A from audience questions gathered during the show, dealt with his last fiction novel Snow. Being that I had never heard of the author before receiving the ticket for the reading, I was apprehensive that I would be totally lost. Thankfully, though, Pamuk mostly spoke about what the role of a novelist was to him, his process, influences, politics, and literature’s power on the world. His thick Turkish accent and occasional fumbling of words/tenses added to the spectacle of listening to a world-renowned artist. This is not a John Grisham type writing books by numbers, but instead a force whose works have been translated in 40 languages.
Averaging 3 to 4 years to write a book, taking him most to “find his voice” and then maybe the last 12 months to complete the final 50% of the story, Pamuk spoke of the power of story. “Great literature speaks to our ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. Not to pass judgment, but to understand. We imagine to identify with people other than us…a start to compassion, love, and tolerance.” Infused with some nice moments of humor, much like his novels–“not funny, but ironic”–the lecture was more an insight into the working of a detail-oriented novelist and the journeys his writing takes him.
If this opening speaks for the series on a whole, I am very impressed. Next time I will hopefully purchase the work being discussed, Ariel Dorfman’s play “Death and the Maiden”, with more than an hour to spare so I can read it. This is truly an event that is unique and worthwhile to experience. I credit all involved for bringing these legends of their field to speak a bit about their work. As Pamuk says, “literature will always survive, it’s the form of communication that may change. As long as there is pen and paper, people will look to express themselves.”
Logistically speaking: Get there early as parking is very limited and lots surrounding the Church are mostly private and laughing at you with their emptiness. I ended up just parking in the $2 M&T lot, its just a couple blocks away. Also, bring a book or money to purchase one at the show for an autograph. The organizers were working the system out, but it appears post-show will always include a signing from a very willing artist. It’s also good because I found standing in that line helps with the exit strategy, as it is the one problem with the venue. With a major bottlenecking at the door, waiting for a “John Hancock” is the perfect way to not have to fight the masses to leave.
Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel
Ariel Dorfman 12/7/07 8pm
Derek Walcott 3/13/08 8pm
Kiran Desai 4/24/08 8pm
Courtesy of Bruce Jackson.