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NY Writers Institute, April 28, 2009
8:00 p.m. Writers in Conversation | Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center
Moderated by Institute Director Donald Faulkner, the panel will include Muriel Barbery, Antonio Tabucchi and Bernard Comment

The Writers Institute will host a panel entitled “Evolution/Revolution in European Arts and Letters” featuring three major European authors on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 8:00 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. The panel will include Muriel Barbery of France, author of the major international bestseller, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” Antonio Tabucchi, winner of Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, and influential Swiss author, art historian, and screenwriter Bernard Comment. Free and open to the public, the panel is part of the 2009 PEN World Voices New York Festival of International Literature, sponsored by the PEN American Center and the New York State Writers Institute.

Three of Europe’s leading literary and cultural figures will discuss the future of the arts in an era of seismic global change. Entitled “Evolution/Revolution in European Arts and Letters,” the panel discussion is part of the 2009 PEN World Voices New York Festival of International Literature, sponsored by the PEN American Center. Participants include France’s Muriel Barbery, author of the major international bestseller, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”; fiction writer Antonio Tabucchi, winner of the Premio Campiello, Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, for “Pereira Declares,” and winner of the Prix Medicis Etranger of France for “Indian Nocturne”; and Swiss intellectual Bernard Comment, a distinguished author, screenwriter, art historian, expert on the works of Roland Barthes, and frequent collaborator with Swiss-French filmmaker Alain Tanner.

Muriel BarberyMuriel 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.
Earning superlative praise and widespread comparisons to the work of Proust, the book remained on French bestseller lists for more than two years and sold more than a million copies. “Le Figaro” called it, “the publishing phenomenon of the decade.” The book subsequently achieved bestseller status in a number of other countries, including Italy and South Korea. Writing in the “Washington Post,” Michael Dirda said of the new English translation, “Two characters provide the double narrative… and you will fall in love with both. [Barbery] has served readers well by giving us the gently satirical, exceptionally winning and inevitably bittersweet ‘Elegance of the Hedgehog.’”

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.

Antonio TabucchiThough 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.

Bernard CommentSwiss 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 https://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.