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Award-winning fiction writer

NYS Writers Institute, November 1, 2007
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Assembly Hall, Campus Center
8:00 p.m. Reading | Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center



Andrea Barrett will read on Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the UAlbany uptown campus. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m. she will present an informal seminar in the Assembly Hall, Campus Center, on the uptown campus. The events are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute and are free and open to the public.


Andrea Barrett, winner of the National Book Award, is best-known for fiction about 19th century scientists, naturalists, and explorers. The “Chicago Tribune” has said, “To call Barrett our poet laureate of science is perfectly apropos, as long as we recognize that her specialty is the heart. She is forever humanizing scientists, taking them off the pedestal and into the messy reality of everyday life.”

Her newest novel is “The Air We Breathe”(2007), the story of an isolated Adirondack community of tuberculosis patients as they experience the outbreak of World War I. Barrett has described the novel as a “low-rent, democratic version of Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’” transposed from a posh sanatorium in the Swiss Alps to a run-down state facility in the United States in the fall of 1916. Unlike Mann’s privileged characters, most of the protagonists of Barrett’s novel are working class immigrants who must endure complete separation from family and friends, as well as degrading rules, claustrophobia, and punishing boredom. With the onset of war in Europe, the tiny, ethnically diverse community is seized by xenophobia and mutual suspicion that builds to increasingly dangerous levels. “Publishers Weekly” called the book, “vivid and engrossing.”
“Servants of the Map”(2002), Barrett’s most recent book of short stories about the romance and trauma of scientific discovery, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Writing in the “New York Times,” Michiko Kakutani said, “These stories possess a wonderful clarity and ease, the serene authority of a writer working at the very height of her powers.” The collection’s title novella—about a timid cartographer in the Himalayas under British rule—appeared in the “Best American Short Stories” and the “O. Henry Awards” anthologies. Barrett received the National Book Award for her earlier story collection, “Ship Fever” (1992). The “Boston Globe” reviewer said, “In Barrett’s hands, science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange, and thrilling fictional material.”

Barrett’s novels include “The Voyage of the Narwhal” (1998), “The Forms of Water” (1993), “The Middle Kingdom” (1991), “Secret Harmonies” (1989), and “Lucid Stars” (1988). Barrett made use of a 1997 Guggenheim grant to fund an expedition to Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic in order to research “The Voyage of the Narwhal,” a 19th century tale of polar exploration. The “Publishers Weekly” reviewer said, “Barrett delivers a stunning novel in which a meticulous grasp of historical and natural detail, insight into character and pulse-pounding action are integrated into a dramatic adventure story with deep moral resonance.”

Barrett is the recipient of a 2001 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and a 2003 Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Previous Visit

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.