Babel’s Toni Morrison on “keeping the reader alive and worried”

Leave it to the Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize in Literature, and Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning Toni Morrison to get me back into Kleinhans Music Hall for Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series after two years away with special thanks going to Artistic Director Barbara Cole for letting Cultivate Cinema Circle piggyback onto the occasion with a screening of Jonathan Demme‘s cinematic adaptation of Beloved. Our presentation of the movie last month was but one of many events put on as part of the center’s Civil Writes Project that culminated in…

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Babel’s Patti Smith and her “monastic mess”

After waxing on about the “Lovecraftian” look of downtown Buffalo—the morning’s fog still hadn’t lifted by 6:45pm during my drive along the 190 to Kleinhans—Patti Smith disarmed the largest crowd in Just Buffalo Literary Center‘s Babel history with the words: “If you get bored or tired just tell me. We can talk about anything.” It’s amazing how honest they felt, especially in context with a lecture season seeming more like a publicity tour than look into the minds of artists. Smith conversely arrived to give us a piece of her…

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Overtaken by the story … Babel’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The change was gradual, but 2014-2015 really cements it for Just Buffalo Literary Center‘s Babel series. What began as a venue for renowned writers to read their works and engage the audience in a conversation about story genesis and process has become somewhat of a publicity tour. Is this a natural evolution? Perhaps this year’s lecturers’ star power and familiarity with Hollywood and PR is to blame? Whatever the case, the Buffalonians who come love it. There are more people than ever attending and the applause given while the guests…

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Writing holds a mirror to your inner self … Babel’s David Henry Hwang

Two plus months and a few snowstorms later, David Henry Hwang finally made it to Buffalo. The second speaker in Just Buffalo Literary Center’s 2014/2015 Babel Season, Hwang probably would have waited even longer if the elements necessitated. He’s that generous a human being. Artistic Director Barbara Cole illustrated such with an anecdote concerning a local teacher wishing on social media that she could take her class to Syracuse for a performance of the playwright’s Chinglish and his contacting her personally to offer answers to whatever questions her students might…

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Babel’s Abraham Verghese teaches Buffalo the difference between curing and healing

It is interesting to see how Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series has evolved over the years. Beyond locale (now residing at Kleinhans Music Hall after its origins in Asbury Hall at Babeville), artistic director (Barbara Cole seamlessly transitioning on from Michael Kelleher), and audience (last night’s crowd had to be the largest since Salman Rushdie and the season’s total far and away the best in its seven years), we now are beginning to see how expansive the title of “writer” truly is. The announcement of next season’s final speaker…

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You are the ambassador of your race: the human race … Babel’s Suzan-Lori Parks

It wasn’t until Just Buffalo Literary Center‘s Artistic Director Barbara Cole took the stage that I noticed something out-of-place: a microphone stand. I’m not entirely sure when its last appearance was, but I distinctly remember the vehemence of the audience when whoever used it couldn’t be heard. Everyone else seemed cognizant of the problem too because Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks acknowledged she was warned that “dead spots” might occur if she chose not to use the wireless kit. Unfazed and ready to move, however, the accomplished yogi laughed it…

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Don’t let *blank expletive blank* affect your inner calm … Babel’s Amy Tan

As Just Buffalo Literary Center‘s Laurie Dean Torrell went through her thank yous before Artistic Director Barbara Cole’s introduction of the night’s speaker, she gave us a statistic that posited how ticket sales for the event only fulfilled about a third of the costs incurred to produce it. While I’m sure it was an accurate breakdown, I couldn’t help look around at the packed lower level of Kleinhans Music Hall and remember how far Babel has grown since the less than one thousand people who packed into Babeville’s Asbury Hall…

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Never give a Cuban a microphone … Babel’s Richard Blanco

The 2013-2014 season of Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel series start a tad late as the largest contingent of audience members since Salman Rushdie (or perhaps ever) shuffled into Kleinhans to see Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco talk about his career and inspiration. Even after a nice poem written and read by one of the artists who use the Genesseo Migrant Center to hone her artistic skills and the usual introduction from Just Buffalo Artistic Director Barbara Cole (one that brought Blanco to the verge of tears) push the evening farther,…

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Nothing human is alien to us … Babel’s Julia Alvarez

The last installment of Just Buffalo Literary Center‘s sixth season of Babel made for an intriguing night. From the Talking Leaves Books counter being moved farther from the parking lot doors for the first time since being at Kleinhans to the playing of a Christmas song while waiting for Barbara Cole to take the stage to the electronic painting over of the Buffalo News logo on one slide of a completely overhauled PowerPoint presentation with the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library logo prominently placed throughout—things were slightly askew. But…

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Starting and ending in doubt … Babel’s Nuruddin Farah

Deliberately enunciating his words, novelist Nuruddin Farah used a calculated cadence to talk about his tireless ability to find trouble. The second speaker in Just Buffalo Literary Center‘s 2012-2013 Babel series, his Somali roots provide a very interesting connection to Buffalo considering the nation’s past two prime ministers came from here. His own history with the country isn’t quite as auspicious, however, as the subject of his work actually provoked the dictatorship to sentence him to death in absentia after fleeing to England in self-exile years ago. Farah chose his…

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All new homes come with a clarinet … Babel’s Alexander McCall Smith

The Michael Kelleher-less era of Babel began tonight with one of the biggest crowds the series has ever seen. If Alexander McCall Smith didn’t find himself standing before more audience members than Salman Rushdie two years ago, the numbers must have been close. But while the popular kilt-wearing author is probably used to the spotlight at such a large venue like Kleinhans Music Hall, new Just Buffalo Literary Center Artistic Director Barbara Cole’s was ushered in at a definite peak. Assured and unafraid to talk at length, Cole’s introduction played…

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