Saturday, February 10, 2007

Illustrious Writer Guests

Yesterday, I enjoyed another one of the perks of teaching at Duke this semester. Novelists Bharati Mukherjee and Clark Blaise came to talk to one of my classes meeting jointly with another class.

This was a special pleasure because a book they wrote together (they're married as well) is a long-time favorite of mine: Days and Nights in Calcutta. I read it at the suggestion of the editor of one of my books, just before I went to Varanasi to do my research for Sister India.

I'll never forget it. The book is divided in half, each of them giving an account of spending a season together in her hometown, formerly called Calcutta. It's astonishing how different two exceptionally well-written pieces on the same experience can be, in both style and content.

Her tone was full of concern and upset, awareness of pain. Her style, as I told the students in introducing them, was vivid and tightly woven, a dense dramatic fabric that then meandered like a river.

Clark's stance was amazement at the beauty and mystery he saw there, his tone had a spacious, light-filled feel. The image that came to mind: a glass pavilion.

The two of them talked with the students for almost two hours--he kept going while she left to prepare for her formal presentation in the Rare Book Room.

Wow, what a day! And I sort-a had a day off from spouting my own views. It was refreshing and inspiring. I heard some good reviews from my students too, two of whom asked if I could get them copies of her formal lecture. (Now that kind of student is a teacher's dream.)

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