Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Princemere Writers Series Sven Birkerts

This past Wednesday, Gordon's reading and writing community was privileged to welcome essayist, editor and critic Sven Birkerts to campus as part of the Princemere Writers Series. He read selected essays from his most recent collection, The Other Walk, which was released this past September. Mark Stevick, associate professor of English and director of Gordon's creative writing concentration, organized the event. "I've been wanting to bring Sven to Gordon for many years," he remarked in his introduction.

The editor of Boston University's AGNI and director or the creative writing MFA at Bennington College, as well as the award-wining author of nine books, Birkerts is a mainstay in the local and national literary community. His most widely read book - and the most influential among Gordon's scholars - is The Gutenberg Elegies, which explores the rise of computer technology as it supplants the dominance of physical books. Dr. John Skillen, professor of English and associate dean of European programs at Gordon, explains that the "spirit [of The Gutenberg Elegies] is implicit in the Gordon IN Orvieto program."

"His was one of the first books - at the beginning of that wild fifteen years that has brought us to the Kindle/iPad consumer wars - that looked closely at the differences between reading a digitalized book on a screen and holding a bound book in your hands," says Skillen. "For me, Birkerts was preaching to the choir. I, too (a literature professor in those days), feared the loss of bodily presence in the act of reading."

Birkerts' literary voice is unmistakable: colloquially elevated language, surefooted even as it is exploratory. The crowd gathered in Jenks 237 Wednesday evening listened as the author read several pieces from The Other Walk. His latest ruminations, which he referred to as "epiphanic pieces," chart resonances between the present and memory - "loaded echoes of past experience." Birkerts shared reflections ranging from dissolved friendships, to the drudgeries of speaking engagements, to a crippling fear of heights he unfortunately discovered at the top of the tallest ladder he had ever climbed. In each piece, his sharp insights found their light in the concrete details - a gust of wind up the shirt-sleeves, the blemish at the base of an orange cup, a handsome old man with fake teeth.

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