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Bharti Mukherjee

Bharati Mukherjee
January 30, 2001

8:00 p.m. Joint Reading

Recital Hall, PAC
UAlbany's Uptown Campus

4:00 Informal Seminar, HU 354
UAlbany's Uptown Campus
Clark Blaise
Clark Blaise
photo credit: Jerry Bauer

As different as their backgrounds may be, authors Clark Blaise and Bharati Mukherjee--who have been married for 40 years--view themselves as "outsiders" in North American society, and share an interest in the experiences of people who don't quite "fit in."

Clark Blaise is the child of expatriate Canadians (father French-Canadian, mother English-Canadian) who roamed the United States in search of better employment. Blaise has written, "As a native-born American with foreign parents, and as a child who attended an average of two schools a year in 25 different cities, I grew up with an outsider's view of America and a romanticized exile's view of French Canada. . .My interest is in 'tribalism' on the American continent, and in all groups who refuse amalgamation and prefer codes and taboos of their."

Blaise's rootlessness is linked, in part, to his family's economic distress. Mukherjee's, by contrast, is linked to her family's relative affluence. Born in India, and daughter of a successful businessman, Mukherjee was sent to boarding schools in both Switzerland and Britain, and subsequently attended a school in India run by Irish nuns. Her teachers encouraged her to abandon her Indian heritage in favor of European culture. At age 21, she left India to attend the world-renowned Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she met Blaise, her future husband.

Southern Stories (2000), Blaise's most recent story collection, deals with his feelings of displacement as a fat, lethargic Canadian-American boy living in various rural areas of central Florida. Another book by Blaise, Time Lord: Sir Sanford Fleming and the Creation of Standard Time, will appear in March of 2001. The book recounts the remarkable life of the Scotch-Canadian who, with the invention of time zones, succeeded in imposing order on the world's methods of measuring time. Critics are searching for clues as to why Blaise, given his past obsessions with identity and alienation, has applied himself to a study of the creation of standard time. The Ottawa Citizen believes it knows the answer: "Clark Blaise never stays in one spot for too long. No wonder he wrote a book about time zones. Really, he's been writing it all his life."

"A born storyteller. . .a writer to savour." - The New York Times on Southern Stories

"[a] fresh, idiosyncratic approach to what the short story can and should do." - Books in Canada

Bharati Mukherjee is widely recognized as one of North America's leading chroniclers in fiction of the present wave of immigration to this hemisphere. The Middleman and Other Stories (1988, Grove Press, ISBN 0-8021-3650-8), for example, recounts the experiences not only of immigrants from India, but also form Israel, Vietnam, Trinidad, Afghanistan and Italy. The story collection received the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

Mukherjee's most recent novel is Leave It to Me, which tells the story of Debby Martino, abandoned as a baby by an American hippie mother and Eurasian father in Indian, then adopted and raised by an Italian-American family in Schenectady, New York. Bereft of a sense of identity, Debby embarks on a quest in search of her birth-parents, ending up in the strange world of Haight Ashbury, with its left-over love children, addicts and visionaries. Publishers Weekly calls the book, "Stunning. . .An astute, ironic and merciless insight into an aberrant version of the American dream."

"A beautiful novel, poetic, exotic, perfectly controlled." - San Francisco Chronicle (Jasmine)

"A fable, a kind of impressionistic prose-poem, about being an exile, a refugee, a spiritual vagabond in the world today; Mukherjee has eloquently succeeded." - The New York Times (on Jasmine)

Bharati Mukherjee teaches creative writing at the University of California at Berkeley. Clark Blaise is former director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and former professor of English at Skidmore College.

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