by Kukuwa Ashun
On Wednesday evening, students, faculty members, and visiting guests were seated in the Humanities Theater at around 4:30 p.m. for the first Durst Distinguished Lecture Series by fiction writers Katie Kitamura and Hari Kunzru. Both authors, while married, have developed a steady readership on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Professor Monica Ferrell started off the afternoon’s event by introducing the authors right away. After thanking Ferrell for her kind words, Kitamura began by reading two passages from her latest novel, “A Separation.”
“It’s a book about mourning and grief,” Kitamura explained. She launched into an excerpt about the disappearance of the narrator’s husband.
Kitamura, born and raised in California, attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and obtained her PhD in American Literature overseas at The London Consortium. Her first novel, “The Longshot,” was published in 2009 and her second novel, Gone to the Forest, was published in 2012. Both books were finalists for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. In 2015, Kitamura was a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship.
Kunzru joined the applause that followed after his wife’s reading, and continued with an excerpt from his fifth, and most recent, novel, “White Tears.”
“Researching this book, I spent a certain amount of time wandering around lower Manhattan with these microphones in my ear, picking up conversations and sources of different sounds,” he explained.
Born and raised in London, Kunzru studied English at Wadham College before receiving his MA in Philosophy and Literature at the University of Warwick. His first novel, “The Impressionist,” was published in 2002 and won the Betty Trask Prize and Somerset Maugham Award. Since then, he has published four more novels, a collection of short stories, and was named a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.
The readings followed by a Q&A with the audience, and the authors took questions about their individual writing styles and the overarching messages in their novels. They even gave the audience a hint of their personal lives and discussed how being married to each other was an easier task than they had anticipated.
“I thought it would be much more challenging,” Kitamura admitted.
“We assumed it would be carnage, but it happened to be remarkably good,” Kunzru said, earning laughter from the audience.
Before their reading and conversation in the Humanities Theater, Kitamura and Kunzru sat down with Professor Kathleen McCormick’s literature class. This informal meeting gave students the opportunity to participate in an intimate Q&A panel with the authors. The students asked questions about writing, cultural appropriation, and the political climate in America.
Nayomi Espinoza, a freshman literature major who was in attendance for both conversations that day, expressed her excitement about the talk with Kitamura and Kunzru. “I loved it! I think it was very cool because I usually read fantasy and [“A Separation”] was very different. We had to read it for class, but I actually enjoyed reading it.”
After the event, thrilled students, like Espinoza, and faculty members formed a line outside of the theater, waiting for the visiting authors to autograph their books.
Next week, the Durst Distinguished Lecture Series will continue with Michael Chabon in the Humanities Theater at 4:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the campus.