My name is Brian Edwards, and I’m the Crown Professor in Middle East Studies and a professor of English and comparative literature at Northwestern. I am also the founding director of the Program in Middle East and North African Studies (MENA), which partners with EPL in a monthly lecture series on the region.
My wife Kate Baldwin, also a Northwestern professor and author, and I moved here originally because of work. We were both born in New York City, but I grew up mostly in Connecticut, she in California (we met in graduate school at Yale). After more than a decade in Evanston, and raising four children ranging from a high school senior to a pre-kindergartner, we have deep ties in the community and love it here.
I’m constantly reading both for work and pleasure. These five books, which come from my reading this fall, are the ones I’m most excited to share right now. Four of them are relatively new: three of them works of fiction and one a work of social history. I also included an overlooked novel from the 1980s that I finally read last month and now cherish. And please also take a look at my own new book, After the American Century: The Ends of U.S. Culture in the Middle East, which is also available at EPL.
The 2016 Pulitzer Prize in fiction went to a first novel by an American studies professor at USC. Set in Vietnam and Los Angeles during the late 1960s and 1970s, Nguyen’s novel is structured as the confession of an unnamed south Vietnamese narrator who is secretly a mole for the communist north. What makes the novel an instant classic is the narrator’s voice: wry, critical, and ruthless as he dissects himself, the Vietnamese refugee community in SoCal, and the excesses of American anti-Communism and violence in the war. The chapters on the making of a fictional Hollywood film called The Hamlet, which closely resembles Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, are devastating. Beyond the sheer pleasure it generates, The Sympathizer shows what the contemporary novel can do to disrupt and deconstruct America’s sense of global superiority and the follies of military occupation in the name of exporting American principles.
This month for Poetry 365 we’re featuring Vijay Seshadri’s remarkable new book 3 Sections. Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, this third collection from the regular New Yorker essayist and book critic employs a wide array of poetic forms to examine modern consumer culture, age-old angst, and Seshardri’s South Asian Heritage. Favorably compared to the work of Robert Frost by way of John Ashbery, these expertly-crafted poems show why Time Out New York named Seshadri “one of the most respected poets working in America today.” So don’t miss this terrific new book, sample a poem below, and make sure to stop back next month for Poetry 365.
Cuban-American novelist Oscar Hijuelos who who the Pulitzer Prize for his 1989 novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, died of a heart attack on Saturday. He won international acclaim for his novel and was the first Latino writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The story of the Castillo brothers who travel from Havana to New York to start an orchestra was made into a movie starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas in 1992. Born in New York in 1951, Mr. Hijuelos’s work “captured the loss and triumphs of the Cuban immigrant experience.” You can read the NPR article here. Check the EPL catalog for other titles by this author, including his 2011 memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes.
The 2013 Pulitzer Prize winners for letters, drama, and music were announced Monday, April 15. The award for fiction went to Adam Johnson for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, cited as an “exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.” Pakistani-American Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced about “a successful corporate lawyer whose deep-seated self-loathing is fully revealed at a dinner party” won the Pulitzer in the drama category. Mr. Akhtar has also written the novel American Dervish and is working on another novel and play. For history, Cornell professor Fredrik Logevall won for Embers of War which was noted as a “balanced, deeply researched history” into the Vietnam conflict. Other Pulitzers were given to Tom Reiss for his biography The Black Count, Sharon Olds for her work of poetry Stag’s Leap , Gilbert King for his nonfiction book Devil in the Grove, and Caroline Shaw’s for her music Partita for 8 Voice. You can see the complete list of winners and finalists in this NYT article. Also check out Hedy Weiss’s article in the Chicago Sun-Times on Mr. Akhtar’s play which had its world premiere at Chicago’s American Theater Company in January 2012.
Pulitzer-prize winning composer Marvin Hamlisch died Monday at the age of 68. He is one of a handful of artists to win all the major creative prizes, including an Oscar forThe Way We Were, a Grammy for best new artist, and a Tony and Pulitzer for A Chorus Line. Born in 1944 in New York, he was reproducing on the piano songs he heard on the radio at the age of 5 and was accepted into the Juilliard school at the age of 7. He had a long association with Barbra Streisand, beginning when he was rehearsal pianist for her show Funny Girl. But he said he had to beg her to sing the theme song from the 1973 film The Way We Were, noting “she thought it was too simple.” His score for the film The Sting made him a household name. In recent years Mr. Hamlisch became an ambassador for music, performing and giving talks at schools, often criticizing the cuts in arts education. For the full obituary see this NYT article.
Bruce Norris’ s 2011 Pulitzer Prize- winning drama Clybourne Park will have its Chicago premiere this fall, opening the Steppenwolf season from September 8 through October 6. Set in a Chicago bungalow, the first act takes place in 1959 and flashes forward to 2009 in Act 2. The Pulitzer Prize committee’s citation described Norris’ play as “a powerful work whose memorable characters speak in witty and perceptive ways to America’s sometimes toxic struggle with race and class consciousness.” Read more about the play in this Chicago Sun-Times article — and make plans to see it at Steppenwolf.