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"One of the twenty best writers in America under forty." - The New Yorker William Vollmann
William T. Vollmann

April 5, 2005
(Tuesday)
Introduction by Casey Seiler
Entertainment Editor, Times Union
8:00 p.m. Reading
Recital Hall, PAC
UAlbany, Uptown Campus

Europe Central

One of the boldest and most original writers of his generation, William Vollmann is renowned for both fiction and nonfiction about the victims and perpetrators of global violence, as well as prostitutes, addicts, and street people. As a journalist, Vollmann has experienced and reported on military conflicts in far-flung places, including Sarajevo, the Congo, and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

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"If he is still 'just' a cult writer, it's an extraordinarily devoted cult, one that has already made him a sort of write-in candidate for the Nobel Prize." - Madison Smartt Bell, "New York Times Magazine" profile

"[Vollman's books] tower over the work of his contemporaries by virtue of their enormous range, huge ambition, stylistic daring, wide learning, audacious innovation, and sardonic wit." - Steven Moore, "Washington Post"

Vollmann's newest collection of short stories, "Europe Central" (2005), presents three dozen paired stories that contrast the lives and moral decisions of numerous individuals living in Germany and the USSR during various periods of the twentieth century. Characters include generals, soldiers and partisans, as well as the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, the artist Käthe Kollwitz, the poet Anna Akhmatova, and the filmmaker Roman Karmen.

Rising Up and Rising Down

In 2003, Vollmann was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for nonfiction for his magnum opus, a massive seven-volume work on the history of violence, "Rising Up and Rising Down." Twenty-three years in the writing, the work probes the root causes and moral justifications of violence in human society, and examines such topics as torture, terrorism, war, genocide, self-defense, police activity, and suicide. The work also features a "Moral Calculus" of Vollmann's own devising: a decision-making system designed to help the reader decide when violence is justifiable and when it is not.

"In addition to Vollmann's writing, which is precise and grittily poetic, one of the tertiary pleasures of 'Rising Up and Rising Down' is that the project provides a meandering tour of hot spots across the globe, from Cambodia to Burma, Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Yugoslavia, and Colombia, many of which Vollmann visited on journalistic assignment. The list of sources he cites in depth is simply dazzling-from Cicero to the king of Sparta." - John Freeman, the "Boston Globe"

Vollmann's nonfiction also includes "An Afghanistan Picture Show" (1992), an account of his travels with anti-Soviet Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan in the early 1980s. At age 22, Vollmann spent several months in Afghanistan, interviewing refugees and mujahidin.

"a powerful, searching addition to the literature of personal witness." - William McGowan, "Los Angeles Times Book Review"

Another notable project of Vollmann's is "Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes," a projected series of seven novels about the collision between Native Americans and White America. Four of the seven novels have been published to date: "The Ice Shirt" (1990), "Fathers and Crows" (1992), "The Rifles" (1994), and "Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith" (2001).

"The 'Seven Dreams' sequence promises to return us to the history of the North American continent in a form we've never seen before....It is likely to become one of the masterpieces of the century." - "Chicago Tribune"

Other works of fiction by Vollmann include "The Royal Family" (2000), "The Atlas: People, Places, and Visions" (1996), "Butterfly Stories" (1993), "Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs" (1991), "Whores for Gloria; or, Everything Was Beautiful Until the Girls Got Anxious" (1991), "The Rainbow Stories" (1989), and "You Bright and Risen Angels" (1987), winner of the Whiting Writers' Award.

Albany Times Union Article
Writers Online Magazine Article