NY Writers Institute, April 28, 2009
Muriel Barbery taught philosophy at a Normandy college before her 2006 novel, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” established her instantly as a literary celebrity. The novel follows an unlikely intellectual friendship between two female characters, both of them voracious readers: Renee, a seemingly coarse apartment building concierge, and Paloma, an awkward 13-year-old girl who lives on the fifth floor with her conventional family. Their lives change when a Japanese tenant, Mr. Ozu, moves into the building.
Barbery is also the author of “Une Gourmandise” (2000), a first novel about a food critic that will soon be published in the United States. A passionate student of Japanese food, art and culture, Barbery now makes her home in Kyoto, Japan.
Though relatively unknown in the U.S., Antonio Tabucchi— an author of short, intricate, puzzling novels that explore a variety of moral and political issues— is widely regarded as one of Europe’s most important living writers. Indeed, the “Dictionary of Literary Biography” declares that, “Since Italo Calvino’s death in 1985, Antonio Tabucchi has emerged as the novelist that best exemplifies Italian narrative….” He is frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Notable works by Tabucchi include “Indian Nocturne” (1984), “The Edge of the Horizon” (1986), “Requiem” (1990), “Pereira Declares” (1994), “The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro” (1997), “It’s Getting Later All the Time” (2001) and “Tristano Dies” (2004). Tabucchi is also widely known for his love affair with Portugal, where he spends half his time, and for his celebration of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. A founder of the International Parliament of Writers, Tabucchi publishes columns and frequent op-ed pieces in leading Italian and Spanish newspapers.
Swiss intellectual Bernard Comment, who holds senior posts at a number of French cultural institutions, is a leading translator into French of Italian co-panelist Antonio Tabucchi. Comment has also adapted Tabucchi’s 1990 novel “Requiem,” about a fictional meeting between a nameless narrator and Fernando Pessoa’s ghost, for the screen. Directed by major European filmmaker Alain Tanner, the 1998 film was nominated for the “Swiss Film Prize.” Other collaborations with Tanner include “Fourbi” (1996), “Jonas et Lila, à demain” (1999), and “Paul s’en va” (2004).
Comment is also the author of four novels, including “The Shadow of Memory” (1990), winner of the Prix Lipp, and “Goings and Comings” (1992), winner of the Prix Antigone. A student of Roland Barthes, Comment penned the influential study, “Roland Barthes, vers le neutre” (1991). His only work to appear in English is “Panorama” (2003), the definitive study of an almost-forgotten art genre that depicts history and landscape on a grand scale. “Kirkus Reviews” said, “Comment’s absorbing and original study… reveals the panorama both as a vehicle for some fine artistic achievement and as a fascinating insight into the perceptions and sensibilities of contemporaries.”
Dedicated to promoting intercultural understanding, tolerance, and freedom of expression, the PEN American Center is the largest of the 141 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights and international literary arts organization. This year’s festival theme is “Evolution/Revolution,” exploring issues of global change.
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.