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Rakha's "The Crying Tree" wins PNBA award

Naseem Rakha, the Oregon based author and broadcast journalist who visited Western New York last year in late July and early August for an appearance at the Chautauqua Institution and a book signing at Talking Leaves Books, received some exciting news last week.  Her first novel The Crying Tree (Broadway Books), a powerful story of how a random act of violence can shatter a family but forgiveness can redeem the loss--was one of five books to win the 2010 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award.
Previous winners of the award have included Raymond Carver, David James Duncan, Diane Abu-Jaber, David Guterson, and Sherman Alexie.  Among the other authors to receive 2010 PNBA awards are New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Timothy Egan for The Big Burn, his account of the Great Wildfire of 1910 that established Teddy Roosevelt's legacy as a land conservationist, Boneshaker, Cherie Priest's "steampunk" novel set in Seattle during the early weeks of the Civil War, Jack Nisbet's The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest, and All In A Day, Newbury Medal winner Cynthia Rylant and illustrator Nikki McClure's book of poems and paper-cut art for young readers.
You can read more about The Crying Tree, which has inspired some comparisons to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones and added a new chapter to our ongoing societal debate around the issue of capital punishment, at Naseem Rakha's author website.  For more information about the other books mentioned and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association itself, see its 2010 Awards page.
--R.D. Pohl

'Emerging Leaders in the Arts' kicks off

Anyone under 40 who works or is interested in working in the arts sector is invited to the launch of Buffalo's chapter of "Emerging Leaders in the Arts" at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The event, organized by Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County's Lauren Albrecht, aims to create a local community of current and aspiring arts professionals.

The event, which takes place at Sample Restaurant in Allentown, will be facilitated by Kimberly Billoni, the chief executive of SPLiCE, a product licensing company.

The text of a release about the event follows after the jump.

--Colin Dabkowski

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The wisdom of Harold Clurman

"The Collected Works of Harold Clurman" has turned out to be one my better purchasing decisions ever. After taking in a tedious production of "84: A Tribute to Orwell's Dystopia!" last night in the Subversive Theatre Collective's Manny Fried playhouse, I came across this pearl of insight about one of Jean-Paul Sartre's plays, which Clurman wrote about in 1951:

A play may be well-written, intellectually stimulating, socially significant and still not be good. This is the case with Sartre's "Le Diable et le Bon Dieu," a big machine, as the French phrase it, which churns up a great deal of interesting and perhaps important matter without ever imparting the feeling of a vital experience.

My thoughts exactly. See my review of "84" in Tuesday's News.

--Colin Dabkowski

Buffalo's arts council still kicking post-Lawson

The arts are alive, as the Web site of the embattled Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County proclaims. But what about the Arts Council itself?

Following Monday's announcement that Celeste Lawson was dismissed from her post as Executive Director at the arts advocacy organization, the local arts community is scratching its collective head over the future of the organization. But rest assured, the group isn't going to evaporate into thin air just yet.

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Tale of Two Conventions: Social Media and the MLA

I've never been to one of the annual conventions of the Modern Language Association, and would likely feel as out of place there as at a monster truck rally. But I've always found reports of what takes place at these annual professional gatherings of  language and literature scholars from across the United States to be useful intelligence on what's up and what's down, who's in and who's out, and what the larger ideas and trends are in how literature and the humanities are taught, discussed, and written about in our culture. 
Reports from such conventions usually involve multiple narrative threads and several levels of discourse, but as Jennifer Howard reports in this account published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the big story coming out of last week's 2009- 2010 convention in Philadelphia was not necessarily the convention's presidential theme --"The Tasks of Translation in the Global Context"-- chosen by MLA president Catherine Porter, or even the standing room only crowds for the various programs involving the emerging field of the "Digital Humanities," including panels on collaborative research and "New Models of Authorship."
No, the MLA presentation that "went viral" was Brian Croxall's paper The Absent Presence: Today’s Faculty, a particularly trenchant first-hand account of his impoverishment as a non-tenure track visiting assistant professor of English at Clemson University backed up by some sobering statistics about the contraction of the job market for college level teachers with Ph.Ds in the Humanities. The paper was delivered in absentia by a colleague as Croxall was unable to afford attending this year's conference (attendance at which was down 13% from 2008-2009), even with the travel subsidy offered by his university.

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Wonder falls

"Falls 26," a 2005 photograph by Alec Soth from his "NIAGARA" series. Photo from

Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes has a post on Niagara Falls in art. Check it out.

--Colin Dabkowski

A soundbyte from Bychkov


Semyon Bychkov, one of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's more colorful former music directors, is in the news again today. Specifically, he is in the Wall Street Journal.

Bychkov — shown above with his pianist wife, Marielle Labeque — gets top billing in an essay alluringly titled "In Praise of Infidelity," by the noted concert pianist Byron Janis.

Don't jump to salacious conclusions: Knowing Janis is a pianist, you could probably guess that the story is not about Tiger Woods but about infidelity to a composer's score. Janis begins by quoting something Bychkov said before conducting Wagner's romantic medieval tale "Lohengrin" last April in London. Bychkov, who got his start in opera as a young man conducting Verdi's "Il Trovatore" at Artpark, has become one of the world's foremost Wagner conductors.

In an interview last April, before his performance of Wagner's "Lohengrin" at London's Covent Garden, the noted opera and orchestral conductor Semyon Bychkov stated: "You start trying to be faithful to a composer's score, but great masterpieces give you enormous possibilities for interpretation. You can serve the music without being subservient." The statement of St. Augustine could apply: "Love God and do what you will."

That is how the essay begins. It might be the only time Bychkov is quoted in tandem with St. Augustine. Considering the maestro's sense of humor, I imagine he likes that.

Byron Janis was a student of Vladimir Horowitz's and will be publishing his memoirs next fall. Perhaps we will be able to read more about Bychkov.

Meanwhile, you can keep on top of Bychkov's music-making and globe trotting on his attractive Web site.

— Mary Kunz Goldman


Our man in Honolulu


 JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, recently conducted a free performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Hawaii with the Honolulu Symphony. Falletta is artistic adviser to the Honolulu Symphony. The concert was the orchestra's thank you to the people who had supported it through the years. The orchestra has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has canceled the remainder of its concerts for the season.

Falletta's Beethoven's Ninth, performed Dec. 27, had an additional Buffalo connection. The singer scheduled to sing the baritone part had to back out because of a scheduling conflict. So Valerian Ruminski, the opera singer from our town, took his place. That is Ruminski pictured above, last summer when his Nickel City Opera staged "The Barber of Seville" at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda.

Falletta learned Ruminski was coming to Hawaii to perform in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," which is what gave her the idea to ask him to sing the Beethoven. In case anyone from Buffalo is fleeing our winter for the warm breezes of Hawaii, Ruminski is singing the part of Don Bartolo in "The Marriage of Figaro" for the Hawaii Opera Theatre (HOT). Performances are Jan. 29, Jan. 31 and Feb. 2.

Ruminski was overjoyed to sing the Ninth. When the concert was over, he and Falletta found time to have lunch. "We sat down amidst the blue sky, sun and palm trees and talked about possible projects to be shared by the BPO and Nickel City Opera in the coming year," he told The News in an e-mail.

He added: "What those projects are can only be guessed at. :-) ."

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


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