University of Rochester

New Series Brings Major Writers Kennedy, Ondaatje, and Paley to Campus

March 3, 1999

Three major and renowned 20th-century writers will read from their works as part of a new writing and lecture series at the University of Rochester.

William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ironweed; Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient; and short-story writer and essayist Grace Paley will come to River Campus in March and April as part of the Donald R. Clark Enrichment Program in Contemporary Writing.

The series has been initiated by Joanna Scott, professor of English and a novelist whose own works have earned critical plaudits. She was a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for The Manikin, and is a two-time nominee for a PEN-Faulkner Award.

The schedule of author readings is: William Kennedy, Tuesday, March 30; Michael Ondaatje, who will read with Joanna Scott, Monday, April 12; and Grace Paley, Tuesday, April 27. Each event includes a reception at 6:30 p.m. and reading at 7 p.m. in Lander Auditorium in Hutchison Hall. The receptions and readings are free and open to the public.

Kennedy, best known for his seven "Albany cycle" novels reflecting the social and political life of the state capital, also co-wrote the screenplay for The Cotton Club with Francis Ford Coppola. He has published a collection of his journalism and essays, and co-authored two children's books with his son.

Before turning to novel-writing, Kennedy worked on newspapers and magazines, and was a founding editor of The San Juan Star. He is the founding director of the New York State Writers Institute, based at the State University at Albany, where he is also professor of English.

Ondaatje was born in Ceylon and moved to Canada in 1962. During the 1960s, he emerged as one of Canada's most respected young poets, his original style garnering praise in such collections as Dainty Monsters, The Man with Seven Toes, and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.

Ondaatje has also received critical acclaim as a novelist, beginning with his first novel, Coming through Slaughter, published in 1976. He is the recipient of the Booker Prize for Fiction and Governor General's Award for Fiction in English.

Paley's inventive style and the political and social causes advocated in her work have generated significant critical attention. She was described as "one of the best writers alive" by Walter Clemons of Newsweek, and was named the first "State Author" of New York in the late 1980s.

The daughter of Russian immigrants, Paley was raised in a bilingual home in the Bronx. She relies on conversation rather than action to establish character, reproducing Jewish, Irish, and other dialects with accuracy. Her collections of stories include The Little Disturbances of Man, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, Later the Same Day, and most recently, The Collected Stories.

The late Donald R. Clark and his late wife Mary Clark were longtime friends and supporters of the University. They supported musculoskeletal research in orthopaedics as well as the pulmonary unit at the Medical Center. A successful businessman, Mr. Clark pursued interests in literature, music, photography, and conservation. The Donald R. Clark Endowment for Humanities, which will fund the contemporary writing program, was established to support new ideas, programs, and teaching in the humanities.