To view the authors for the 2012 - 2013 academic year, click here.


When The Corrections was published in the fall of 2001, Jonathan Franzen was probably better known for his nonfiction than for the two novels he had already published. In an essay he wrote for Harper’s in 1996, Franzen lamented the declining cultural authority of the American novel and described his personal search for reasons to persist as a fiction writer. “The novelist has more and more to say to readers who have less and less time to read,” he wrote. “Where to find the energy to engage with a culture in crisis when the crisis consists in the impossibility of engaging with the culture?”

Five years after publishing the Harper’s essay, Franzen became fully engaged with his culture. The Corrections was an enormous international bestseller, with translations in 35 languages, American hardcover sales of nearly one million copies and nominations for nearly every major book prize in the country - Franzen was awarded the National Book Award for this novel. As if sales and critical acclaim weren’t enough to boost his profile, the author found himself in a public relations imbroglio over his conflicted reaction to his book’s endorsement by Oprah’s Book Club.

Jonathan Franzen’s first novel, The Twenty-Seventh City (1988), was a reimagination of his hometown, St. Louis, through the eyes of conspirators and terrorists from southern Asia. His second novel, Strong Motion (1992), was a thriller-cum-love-story set in the student slums of Boston. Both books displayed Franzen’s ability to connect the personal and the political, the emotional and the social, in compelling and richly textured narratives.

Born in Western Springs, Illinois, in 1959, Jonathan Franzen grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1981 he studied in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar and later worked in a seismology lab at Harvard. Franzen is also the author of a bestselling collection of essays, How to Be Alone and the memoir The Discomfort Zone. He recently published a new English translation of the play Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind. He has written the New York chapter of Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey’s 2008 collection State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America, inspired by the state guides written for the WPA in the 1930s. His short stories and his essays, including political journalism, have most recently appeared in The New Yorker, The Best American Essays, The New York Times, and The Guardian. A new collection of his nonfiction, Farther Away, appeared in 2012.

His next book, due in October 2013, will be The Kraus Project, in which he translates and annotates essays by the satirist Karl Kraus. Franzen’s most recent novel is Freedom, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux -2010). In August 2010, he was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine -- only the second time in the last decade that a living writer has been on the cover of this national magazine. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, the review’s editor, Sam Tanenhaus, declared Franzen’s Freedom, “a masterpiece of American fiction,” and the book debuted at #1 on the Times bestseller list. In September Freedom was chosen as Oprah’s 64th Book Club pick, and Franzen and Oprah made up with each other on air in December. Freedom won the 2011 John Gardner Prize for fiction and the Heartland Prize. It was also chosen as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2010 and as a finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In March 2012 he was voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In November 2012 he was awarded the first Carlos Fuentes Medal at the 26th Guadalajara International Book Fair.

NOV 12, 2013 • TOM PICKARD

Tom Pickard is an English poet (originally hailing from Newcastle), with a long career as a filmmaker and general adventurer as well as remarkable lyric poet. He has had a brilliant recent decade, publishing (among other things) The Ballad of Jamie Allan (Flood Editions, 2007), a Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry; this project was also the basis for a folk opera by composer John Harle. Pickard is currently assembling his collected poems for Carcanet. His work is delicate yet fierce, full of song, politics, sex, birds, and weather. You can learn more about him here. Some of his recent poems have appeared in Poetry: "Lark and Merlin"; "After a row".


John Burnside was born in Dunfermline, Fife on 19 March 1955, and grew up in Corby, Northamptonshire where his father moved for work. His family was Catholic. He studied English and European Languages at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, and worked for many years as a computer analyst and software engineer. He became a freelance writer in 1996, the same year he returned to live in Fife. A former writer-in-residence at the University of Dundee, he now teaches at the University of St Andrews. He is married with two sons.

His first collection of poems, The Hoop, was published in 1988; it, and the follow-up Common Knowledge, won Scottish Arts Council Book Awards. In 2000 The Asylum Dance won the Whitbread Poetry Award and was shortlisted for both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for best collection. In 2008 he won a Cholmondley Award. In 2012, his collection Black Cat Bone won both the T. S. Eliot Prize and Forward Prize.

Burnside is also a prolific prose-writer. His first novel The Dumb House came out in 1997, and he has since published a further six novels, two collections of short stories and two memoirs. The first, A Lie About My Father, concerns his difficult relationship with his alcoholic, sometimes abusive father, while Waking Up in Toytown reveals the author’s battles with drugs, promiscuity and mental illness in the Home Counties suburbia of the 1970s and 1980s.

‘[Life consists of] a quest, a journey, leading away from the social demand for persons and towards the self-renewing continuing invention (inventio) of the spirit. For me, poetry is both the account of, and the map by which I navigate my path on this journey and, as such, is an ecological discipline of the richest and subtlest kind.’ (John Burnside, in Strong Words, 2000)

Throughout Burnside’s oeuvre there is a sense of the liminal, the provisional and the transformative – ‘nothing but hints and traces, nothing known’, things ‘not quite there, / but not quite inexistent, nonetheless’. His poems are filled with descriptions of dreams, of the reveries of insomniacs, of overheard sleep-talk – moments of solitary, unwilled perception, taking the mind beyond mundane convention, beyond what we accept, too often unthinkingly, as ‘normal’. Even death sheds its usual blunt finality, becoming a series of transformations by fire and water, a process rather than an event, gradual rather than sudden; ‘something gone adrift between the trees’. There are occasional glimpses of angels and ghosts, but these are figures which keep their distance, and neither protect nor haunt; rather, they suggest other worlds, other ways of being, other realms of perception.

These metaphysical concerns take on a political edge, when what we think of as order and stability turns out to be a mirage or illusion: ‘and someone’s dog is barking at the noise / guarding its phantom realm of bricks and weeds’. Authority and ownership – in the early poems represented by male violence against women, in the later work by money and property – are as provisional as anything else, as ultimately illusory.

Underpinning his writing is the importance of relationships, especially those related to the notions of community and of home – not so much friendship as the intimacy of marriage and family, and the slightly distant and disinterested yet supportive ties of neighbourliness. He describes a marriage as ‘our difficult and unrelenting love’; despite his stated agnosticism, this can also be read in the context of a relationship with God. He has a distrust of ceremony, of anything organised, and puts all his faith – within that context of a commitment to ‘home’ – in the improvised, the spontaneous, the organic.

In a similar way, formally Burnside writes consistently in what might be called flexible pentameters, the rhythm kept as it were under the surface, an unostentatious foundation rather than a pattern asking to be recognised (unlike, say, Don Paterson, whose work seems to seek acknowledgement of its technical proficiency). ‘The trick is in the making / not the made’; the pentameter becomes a means to an end, a useful constraint to be broken when its usefulness fails. As in the example above, lines are often broken on the page, creating a looser visual effect, which can have the effect of speeding up one’s reading, not always to the benefit of the poem.

From the mid-1990s (and following the prose experiment of ‘Suburbs’) Burnside moved from the single lyric to building longer sequences of four or five linked poems, beginning with ‘Burning a Woman’ in Swimming in the Flood, and culminating in ‘Four Quartets’ from Gift Songs. Burnside is a discursive poet, allowing his thoughts to flow and develop gradually, without the constraints of set stanza lengths; and he alters the perspectives and voices within these sequences, bringing in past and present, personal and fictional, Scotland and abroad.

Usually wary of pinning things down, he strays occasionally into generalisations and homilies which ring hollow. The directness of a poem such as ‘History’ becomes slightly hectoring. Christopher Whyte, in The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature (2007) has articulated the way a focus on the always provisional comes to feel like ‘prevarication… will the vision, finally evoked, add up to more than the sum of its glimmers?’ At its most powerful – in sequences from The Asylum Dance – the ‘craft and guesswork’ of Burnside’s method composes poetry of great emotional, philosophical and musical intensity and complexity.


Jesús Papoleto Meléndez is a New York-born Puerto Rican poet, playwright, teacher, and activist, and one of founders of the Nuyorican Movement. In the 1970s, Meléndez began his 30-year career as a poet-facilitator in the public schools, working at workshop programs in California and New York. In 1974, his play The Junkies Stole The Clock was the first Latino play produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival, The Public Theatre’s Nuyorican Playwright’s Unit. His latest publication, ¡Hey Yo / Yo Soy! 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry, A Bilingual Edition (2Leaf Press, 2012), collects three previously published books: Casting Long Shadows (1970), Have You Seen Liberation (1971), and Street Poetry & Other Poems (1972). Over the years, he has performed his poetry with his musical group Exiled Genius, and in 1997 he formed the Nuyorican School – Original Poetry Jazz Ensemble with Américo Casiano. Meléndez is the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2001 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and he was recently named the recipient of the Pregones Theater's Master Artist Award for the 2013-14 season. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, most recently The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2011).

DEC 4, 2013 • ZOE HELLER

Zoe Heller is the author of The Believers and two previous novels, Everything You Know and What Was She Thinking? Notes On A Scandal, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. She lives in New York.

DEC 4, 2013 • CATHY HONG

Cathy Park Hong is a much-lauded younger American poet who has published three books, the most recent of which is Engine Empire (Norton, 2012). She writes a startlingly imaginative, speculative poetry, her latest book conjuring alternate worlds including the American West, contemporary Chinese boomtowns, and a dystopian future. Hong is a wizard of deformed/transformed English, alert to global flows and breakdowns encoded in language. For a richer sense of her work see this interview by Roybn Creswell of The Paris Review. Among her recent ventures was a commissioned piece at The New Museum, "Stand Up," which you can explore further here.


Emily Raboteau is the author of a novel, The Professor’s Daughter (Henry Holt, Picador) and a work of creative nonfiction, Searching for Zion (Grove/Atlantic), named one of the “Best Books of 2013” by The Huffington Post and the grand prize winner of the New York Book Festival. She recently visited Antarctica to research her next novel, Endurance, about a shipbuilder and his autistic son. Her fiction and essays have been widely published and anthologized in Best American Short Stories, Best American Non-required Reading, Tin House, The Oxford American, The Guardian, Guernica, The Believer and elsewhere. Honors include a Pushcart Prize, The Chicago Tribune’s Nelosn Algren Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation and the Howard Foundation. An avid world traveler, Raboteau resides in New York City and teaches creative writing in Harlem at City College, once known as “the poor man’s Harvard.”