The New YorkerÂ Festival, an annualÂ live-streamedÂ celebration of ideas and the arts, runs October 5 through 7, 2012 in New York City (last minute ticketsÂ still available). See below for Biographileâ€™s second installment of Lifers: Biographers and Memoirists atÂ The New YorkerÂ Festival, and check out part one, posted yesterday.
Several writers at the festival have reimagined the memoir and pushed the limits of autobiographical writing. Here, we look at those offbeat, adventurous tales, which include the fusion of visual and verbal storytelling, and explorations of the connections between the self and the city.
Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, is a participant in the â€śCitiesâ€ť panel on Friday (October 5) evening, with Aleksandar Hemon, Hisham Matar, and Colum McCann. His book â€śIstanbul: Memories and the Cityâ€ťÂ is a hybrid memoir of his own life and the life of the city where he grew up, and to which he feels indivisibly connected. Unlike writers who find their voices by travel, exile, and a wide experience of the world, Pamuk writes not only from the city, but from the very apartment building where he was born. This unusual attachment generates his creativity and links him to the cityâ€™s tumultuous past: â€śMy imagination, however, requires that I stay in the same city, on the same street, in the same house, gazing at the same view. Istanbulâ€™s fate is my fate. I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am.â€ť
Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the moderator of the Friday night panel â€śThe Old Countryâ€ť with Jonathan Safran Foer, TĂ©a Obreht, and Gary Shteyngart. He also hosts â€śLa Grande Bouffeâ€ť on Saturday night, a meal and conversation with Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis of the adventurous restaurant M. Wells.Â Gopnik has a talent for finding absurdity in the mundane, and like Pamuk, he presents his personal stories as inseparable from the cities in which they unfold. His books "Paris to the Moon"Â and "Through the Childrenâ€™s Gate"Â are largely based on essays Gopnik contributed to The New Yorker. In 1995 he and his wife and young son moved to Paris for five years, during which time they had a second child and experienced the cultural differences between family life in Paris and New York with patience, humor, and wonder (his picaresque tale of joining a glamorous Paris gym, which prioritized cocktail parties over workouts, is a highlight). Returning in 2000, they soon found New York changed utterly by the attacks of 9/11; throughout all these changes, Gopnik remains a curious, sympathetic, erudite, and always entertaining guide.
Joyce Carol Oates, who appears on the panel â€śCrisisâ€ť alongside Louise Erdrich, Paul Theroux, and Peter Canby on Friday night, offers an unflinching examination of the intimate crisis of bereavement, in her memoir "A Widowâ€™s Story." In 2008, after nearly fifty years of marriage, the novelistâ€™s husbandÂ died suddenly. The book tells of herÂ struggle to comprehend the shock of absence and to remember and describe the details ofÂ presence, likeÂ her husbandâ€™s love of gardening and his pride in a white-flowering dogwood tree that he had planted himself and nurtured to healthyÂ maturityâ€”a tree thatÂ Oates remembers seeing the night she knew he was seriously ill, with â€śclumps of wet snow on the branches like blossoms.â€ťÂ Â Blunt, unsparing, moving, and often darkly funny, this is an unforgettable account of loss, change, and the limits of recovery.
Alison Bechdelâ€™s graphic memoirs "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" and "Are You My Mother?"Â redefined the genre of autobiography and pushed the limits of what could be expressed in a compressed visual and verbal frame. "Fun Home"Â was a dogged effort to unravel the mystery of the authorâ€™s father, an obsessively controlled and controlling man who was secretly gay, as his lesbian daughter discovers after his apparent suicide. The subject matter of Are You My Mother?Â (reviewed here) is in some ways even more elusive: Bechdelâ€™s still very much alive mother, a complex and frustrated artist, and the authorâ€™s efforts to understand their relationship, and herself, through psychoanalysis. Bechdel talks with Judith Thurman about her life and work on Saturday afternoon.
Isabel and Ruben Toledo appear as part of the festival on Sunday afternoon in conversation with Judith Thurman at their atelier. Isabel Toledo shot to global fame in the wake of President Obamaâ€™s inauguration, when the new first lady braved the icy January weather in her design of an acid-yellow dress and matching coat. Born in Cuba, she moved to New Jersey in her teens; since the mid 1980s she been an inventive and distinctive â€śdesignerâ€™s designerâ€ť with a strong grounding in the technical construction of clothes. "Roots of Style" is an intimate look at the fashion designer Isabelâ€™s life, her creative inspirations and processâ€”illustrated throughout by her husband and partner Ruben with fluid, playful images in bold shades of black and red. There is a fertile connection between drawing and design; Isabel writes that â€śI was striving to create expressions of calligraphy in cloth; I wanted to capture the act of drawing with ink on paper and mimic the effortless flow of the gestures I saw in Rubenâ€™s illustration.â€ť