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GustoTV: Edible Books Festival is Sunday

The Western New York Book Arts Center's annual Edible Books Festival is Sunday. Colin Dabkowski explains what this event is all about:

Kelleher's not-so 'Aimless Reading' made for many Big Nights

Tonight's Just Buffalo BIG NIGHT event features readings by poets Joel Lewis and Ryan Eckes, music by the five-piece Buffalo-based rock band The Mordaunt Sisters, and the food creations of gourmet chef and BlazeVOX Books publisher Geoffrey Gatza.  The festivities start at 8 p.m. at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington St. (near Mohawk St.).   Admission is  $5, $4 for students, Just Buffalo members, and members of its affiliate organizations.

Lewis, a New Jersey native and literary anthologist, has taught creative writing at the Poetry Project, The Writer’s Voice and Rutgers University.  He is the author of “House Rent Boogie” (1992), “Vertical’s Currency” (1999), “Learning From New Jersey” (2007), and the forthcoming “Surrender When Leaving Coach” (Hanging Loose Press).  Eckes, a Philadelphia native, is the author of “Old News” (Furniture Press, 2011) and “When I Come Here (Plan B Press, 2007).

The program will be preceded, at 7:30 p.m., by a special farewell to Just Buffalo Artistic Director Michael Kelleher, who has accepted a new position at Yale University where he will become Program Director of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes, one of the most significant new series of literary awards to be established in the United States in recent decades.  The Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes will award seven to nine $150,000 prizes annually, in fiction and non-fiction categories, beginning in 2013.

Kelleher's 14 years with Just Buffalo Literary Center--at first as program director, and subsequently, for the past dozen years as Artistic Director--have elevated the organization and the entire Buffalo area literary community to unprecedented levels of visibility and support on the national, and even international literary scene.

While many of us who've tried our hands as literary programmers over the years in Buffalo may have thought that the audience for literature here was sizable and sophisticated enough to sustain a regular series of appearances by world-class authors, it was Kelleher and Just Buffalo Executive Director Laurie Torrell who did the heavy lifting necessary to make the BABEL SERIES the enormous contribution to intellectual life of this community that it has become over the past five years.

Also to Kelleher's credit is the too-little-noted fact that BABEL has not simply been a "great authors" series, but rather, that it has pursued a consistent theme: namely, America's unfamiliarity with many of the cultural issues outside our own borders, including post-colonialism and its legacy, globalisation and its consequences, and the attempt of contemporary English language literature to address the individual and societal challenges facing us in the 21st century.  Quite apart from his skills as series host and as a live interviewer, where he has succeeding in engaging even notoriously irascible Nobel Prize winning authors in surprisingly candid and revealing exchanges, Kelleher's greatest achievement may have been helping to make this mid-sized, Rust Belt city and its readers viable participants in the conversation that is world literature.

Kelleher's other laudable programming coup has been the series he hosts for the last time tonight.  Now in its third season, BIG NIGHT is at once both a showcase for important new trends and voices in contemporary writing and poetics, and an interdisciplinary event that always incorporates some additional elements of music, performance or media art.  Its real secret, however, is that it is as much a social event as it is a literary one, and is, in that sense, a throwback to the early days of Just Buffalo and the literary scene here in the 1960's and 70's, when every reading eventually evolved into a party, and every party featured an impromptu reading.  Kelleher, a cinephile whose own writing frequently includes film references, opened the first installment of the series in September of 2009 wearing a tuxedo--a homage to the character played by Stanley Tucci in the movie "Big Night"--and his stewardship of the monthly series (with the capable assistance of Aaron Lowinger) has been as refreshing an addition to the area cultural mix as it has been a triumph of his curatorial savvy and wit.

One of the more intriguing projects Kelleher has worked on in his own writing in recent years is his  Pearlblossom Highway blog, particularly the series of postings he began in December of 2008 under the facetious title "Aimless Reading".  Basically, the premise of the series is that Kelleher, having recently moved, is unpacking, archiving, and shelving his substantial personal library in his new apartment.  "I need a new project to help me produce blog entries, and this is it," he writes in the first posting, "I am going to photograph all of the books in my recently unpacked library, in alphabetical order, by last name of author, as they are mostly organized on my shelves, with brief entries on each."

What follows from this seemingly modest premise unfolds in daily or near-daily installments as a kind of Borgesian project--quite literally, The Library of The BABEL Series, and them some--in which Kelleher photographs the cover of each book (usually obscuring his own face in the process), describes the circumstances under which he obtained it, his relationship to the author and/or, in the case of a classic, the course and teacher or professor with whom he studied it.  Each entry concludes with a brief excerpt--usually 250 words or less--from the book.

Nearly all of these entries have a certain anecdotal quality, and many of them plunge headlong into a kind of personal narrative: Kelleher writing about his youth, his education, even aspects of his current life in terms of the books he has acquired and read.  Occasionally, as in this past week's entry on J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, we catch a glimpse of what his life was like as teen-ager, how a single book can sometimes speak uniquely to an individual reader, changing his or her life utterly.

As a reader about a decade and a half older than Kelleher, but someone with a similar educational background, literary tastes and many of the same  books (though mine are organized "totemically" rather than alphabetically), I found myself following "Aimless Reading" closely and occasionally commenting on it. It took me about six months, however, to figure out that what this project was actually about was not the books per se, but rather, Kelleher's identity as a reader.  

Without the formality of constructing an "auto-biographical subject"--surely the most problematic aspect of mainstream memoir writing--Kelleher has discovered a way of telling the story on his own "languaged self" in a way that connects his writing directly with us as fellow readers.  It is that penchant for the prerogatives of the "languaged self," quite apart from literature's traditional sources of "power" or "authority" that has been the hallmark of Kelleher's work here in Buffalo.

As he, his wife Lori Desormeau, and their lovely baby daughter Emily prepare for their new life together in New Haven, we wish them the best and trust that the contribution they will make to their new community will be as substantial and lasting as the one they made here.

--R.D. Pohl

Courtin all music lovers

We know Christina Courtin by the three v’s: voice, viola and violin.

Here’s another apt descriptive of the Buffalo native: diverse. Not only has the Juilliard School of Music graduate appeared at such varied locations as Carnegie Hall, the Spoleto Music Festival and the Melbourne Arts Festival, she’s performed with pop stars Beyonce and Kayne West, violin superstar Yo-Yo Ma and classic rock icon Marianne Faithful.

Courtin returns home for a concert at 8 p.m. today (march 31) in the Burchfield Penney Art Center (1300 Elmwood Ave.). Opening is the S.B. Reeves Outfit. Tickets are $15 (box office, www.Ticketweb.com or call (866) 468-7619).

-- Toni Ruberto

BPO "Creates" beautiful music

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Conductor Yoav Talmi leads the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra through Haydn’s "The Creation."

Haydn’s "The Creation" was a massive hit as soon as it was written, in 1798. Letters from the time show that tickets were hard to come by -- people were wheeling and dealing, trying to get them. Audiences would emerge from performances in tears, overwhelmed by what they had heard, unable to speak. 

More than 200 years later, we can see what moved these people. Haydn had taken on a supernatural subject -- the Book of Genesis -- that many composers would have seen as impossible. He reaches toward the future, toward Beethoven and on to the tone colorings of Richard Wagner, as he depicts the creation of light, the blazing of the sun, the rising of the moon. The great choruses are pure majesty. The music also reflects Haydn’s earthy humor -- when God creates the animals, you can hear the honking of the steers. 

Marvel at "The Creation" this weekend when the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus joins the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, all led by Israeli conductor Yoav Talmi, for a full-scale performance of the masterpiece at Kleinhans Music Hall. Performances are at 8 p.m. today (March 31) and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (April 1). Admission is $25-$72. For info, call 885-5000.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Eye openings: New exhibits opening in CEPA Gallery

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A photograph by Aaron Ingrao is part of the CEPA Gallery exhibition "Milton Rogovin at 100."

Two new exhibitions are slated to open in CEPA Gallery (617 Main St.) today (March 31), including a collection of photographs featuring the late photographer Milton Rogovin and a preview of the gallery’s popular biennial fundraising auction.

"Milton Rogovin at 100," a series of photographs by Aaron Ingrao curated by Gerald Mead, is described as "a unique and reverential portrait study" of Rogovin, who died in 2011 at the age of 101. Ingrao, a commercial photographer and Buffalo State College graduate, shot the photos in 2009 in Rogovin’s North Buffalo home and darkroom as well as at a birthday celebration in the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the weekly peace protest Rogovin attended at Elmwood and Bidwell avenues.

CEPA’s annual auction, scheduled for April 21 in the Market Arcade Building, will feature work by local and national artists, including Rogovin, John Baldessari, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Ken Heyman, Charles Clough, Julian Montague, John Pfahl, Ellen Carey and Alice O’Malley.

The opening reception, free and open to the public, runs from 7 to 10 p.m. today. For more information on the exhibitions, visit www.cepagallery.org or call 856-2717.

-- Colin Dabkowski

"Spam" filter: "Monty Python's Spamalot" in town for a short run at Shea's

The Knights of the Round Table (Photo by Scott Suchman 2011).JP
The Knights of the Round Table deliver the goods during the production of "Monty Python's Spamalot."

"Spamalot," the cheeky Broadway musical based on the even cheekier cult comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," is returing this weekend (March 30 and 31) to Shea’s Performing Arts Center (646 Main St.) in order to, as Shea’s puts it "taunt Buffalo for a second time."

The last time the show approached our general direction was in 2007, when the cast’s renditions of now-classic numbers like "Knights of the Round Table," "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and "The Song That Goes Like This" delighted crowds already familiar with the completely absurd humor of the British comedy troupe that spawned the original film.

The show, which tells a fractured version of the King Arthur legend, stars Arthur Rowan as King Arthur, Abigail Raye as the Lady of the Lake and Kasidy Devlin as Sir Robin. This production, a non-Equity (or non-union) version of the production that dropped into Buffalo in 2007, will stay for three performances only, at 8 tonight (March 30) and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (March 31), before heading off to enchant (and lovingly offend) new audiences. Tickets are $27.50 to $57.50, with more information available online at www.sheas.org or by phone at 847-1410.

-- Colin Dabkowski

Spring music: The Orchard Park Symphony performs

The Orchard Park Symphony has a spring concert planned for tonight. Music Director David Rudge is conducting the orchestra in the overture to Rossini’s "The Barber of Seville" and Brahms’ luminous Symphony No. 2.

In between, the Orchard Park Symphony welcomes one of Buffalo’s finest homegrown musicians, pianist Claudia Hoca. A graduate of the Curtis Institute, she has been heard numerous times with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, as soloist and resident pianist. She has played 20 different concertos with the BPO and a variety of conductors including Semyon Bychkov, Christopher Keene and Maximiano Valdes. For her Orchard Park appearance, Hoca is performing the piano concerto by Robert Schumann.

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. today (March 30) at Orchard Park High School (4040 Baker Road, Orchard Park). Admission is $12 at the door, $9 for seniors. For info, call 474-5843.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

GustoTV: 'Wish You Were Here' opens at Albright-Knox

News Arts Critic Colin Dabkowski describes the Albright-Knox's new exhibit "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo avant-garde in the 1970s." Be sure to check out his Gusto cover story on the new exhibit.

GustoTV: Who is film's best Zeus?

Who is the best Zeus in movie history — Laurence Olivier or Liam Neeson? In the video below, Jeff Simon reviews "Wrath of the Titans" opening Friday in theaters. Also, be sure to check out tomorrow's GustoTV when Colin Dabkowski discusses the Albright-Knox's new exhibit "Wish You Were Here: The Buffalo avant-garde in the 1970s."

Writer Carole Maso to read in Exhibit X Fiction and Prose series

The University at Buffalo Exhibit X Fiction and Prose Series will present a reading by Carole Maso at 7 p.m. Thursday at Hallwalls Cinema, 341 Delaware Ave. (at Tupper St.) in Buffalo.

Maso is a leading postmodern essayist and fiction writer best known for her writing in experimental, fragmentary, and hybridized narrative forms. 

She is the author of ten books including the novels "Ghost Dance" (1986), “The Art Lover” (1990) , “Ava” (1993) , and “Defiance” (1998), which was originally published by Dutton and nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  

Maso's exploration of variant narrative and non-narrative prose forms is foregrounded in her prose poem collections "Aureole: An Erotic Sequence" (1996) and “Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo” (2002).

Her non-fiction writing includes the essay collection “Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire" (2000), and the memoir “The Room Lit by Roses: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth” (2002).  

About her work, Maso has written:

"Often I have had to resort to a form of my own making, exploring various literary, musical, philosophical and visual modes in order to get close to what my subject and my world require. Because the shapes I make are often not the conventional ones, I am sometimes dismissed by the mainstream. I believe my books, darkly imagined, deeply emotional, are no less accessible than others, and require only a certain faith and willingness to surrender in order to be entered. My desire is to create spacious fields of narration in which the reader might feel alive and vibrant and possible and free...

She is Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University, and the winner of numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Grant, the Pushcart Prize, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction.

Maso's novel “Mother & Child” will be published this spring by Counterpoint Press.  Another forthcoming book, "The Bay of Angels"--which she also describes as a novel--incorporates various narrative types—essay, memoir, prose poems, and graphics—representing nearly 15 years of her recent work. Parts of "The Bay of Angels" have appeared in several leading journals and anthologies over the past decade.

--R.D. Pohl

 

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