The Art of the Memoir – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

The Art of the Memoir

When two colleagues — longtime friends and respected authors — have books published at about the same time, that’s a fortunate coincidence the President’s Forum Series can’t help but embrace.

Professor of English and John Milton Potter Professorship of Humanities Deborah Tall and former faculty member Stephen A. Kuusisto ’78, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University, have been friends since 1986, when Stephen returned to teach at HWS and the two found they had many common interests in life and literature.

Earlier this month, W. W. Norton & Co. released “Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” by Kuusisto; and Sarabande Books has just released “A Family of Strangers” by Tall.

Over the years, the colleagues have had many conversations about memoir form and style, especially while Kuusisto was writing his first memoir, “Planet of the Blind.” In these new books, both authors said they felt compelled to create distinct literary forms for the material. We believe this will be the basis for a lively President’s Forum conversation titled “The Art of the Memoir.”

The forum will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18 in Albright Auditorium. A book signing will follow.

Poet and editor of Seneca Review, Tall has long championed a form called the lyric essay — “employing the associative movement and lyrical suggestiveness of poetry while maintaining the familiar narrative structures and conventional organization of prose,” as reviewed by Publishers Weekly. “A Family of Strangers” which is being called Tall’s life’s work, has been described as “told in such exacting, elegant language that the suppressed past vividly asserts its place in the present.” Among her other poetry and nonfiction works are “Summons,” “The Island of the White Crow,” “Ninth Life” and “From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place,” a memoir about her time in Geneva.

Kuusisto is the author of several books of poetry and nonfiction and is a contributing editor to Seneca Review. His poems have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Partisan Review and Poetry. Reviews of “Eavesdropping,” which was released on Sept. 5, have trumpeted Kuusisto’s writing ability. He is called a keen observer who is said to recount with a poet’s sense of detail the surprise that comes when we are actively listening to our surroundings. “There is an art to eavesdropping,” a reviewer noted. “Most of us see the layers of space, but Kuusisto, who has been legally blind since birth, hears them.” Another of his titles, “Only Bread, Only Light,” has been called “humorous, complex, and intellectually engaged.”

Together they have published multiple works, one of them a collaboration with colleague David Weiss on “The Poet’s Notebook: Excerpts from the Notebooks of Contemporary American Poets,” which was published by Norton in 1997.

The event will be broadcast live on radio station WEOS 89.7 and 90.3.