Video  Writing

Last Works: Lessons in Leaving by Mark Taylor. Living in the shadow of death may enhance the gift of life. In 2006, Taylor (Religion/Columbia Univ.; Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left, 2014, etc.) developed an infection after a biopsy, resulting in septic shock that took a month to stabilize; five months later, he underwent surgery for cancer. That life-threatening experience, he reflects, was like “dying without dying,” and the last 10 years have seemed like “life after death for me,” a reprieve that made him feel unexpectedly liberated. Trying to make sense of the experience, he turned to writers whose works he has read, taught, and cherished during his long career. The result is an erudite intellectual autobiography focused on 11 writers’ insights about the end of life: several (Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, David Foster Wallace, and Freud) committed suicide; two (Nietzsche, Poe) died in delirium; and two (Maurice Blanchot, Jacques Derrida) are likely to be unfamiliar to readers without a background in philosophy. Kierkegaard, Melville, and Thoreau round out the cast. None could be characterized as bright spirits but rather echo the abiding depression that Taylor believes he inherited from his mother. “In one way or another,” he admits, “everything I have written over the years has been an effort to overcome the melancholy of unhappy consciousness.” From his father, however, a science teacher, poet, and artist, he inherited an uplifting love of nature and artistic talent. Living in New England, Taylor senses the ghosts of Melville and Thoreau close at hand. As he watches the sun rise each morning over the Berkshires, he is struck by the moment before light appears and “reality remains virtual and all things seem possible.” As an artist, “exploring ways of writing without words,” he has created large-scale land art from steel, stone, and bone that depict letters from the signatures of Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. They stand as impressive homages to a trinity of beloved philosophers. Taylor’s personal recollections emerge as the most engaging passages, punctuating analyses of often challenging works.

Author Maxine Hong Kingston read from her work and discussed her writing as part of the Heyman Center for the Humanities Writing Lives Series and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race's Artist at the Center Series. Dorothy Ko, Professor of History at Barnard College, and Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Adjunct Faculty at Columbia University School of the Arts and Founder of the Asian American Writers Workshop, served as discussants.

Renowned author Colm Tóibín will be in conversation with Roy Foster, Professor of Irish History, about subjects addressed in their upcoming works, both set in Ireland. Colm Tóibín's new novel Nora Webster dramatises the life of a woman and her family in a small town in Ireland in the late 1960s.

As part of The Writing Lives Series, the Heyman Center welcomes Téa Obreht, author of the bestseller The Tiger's Wife. Obreht will read from her work and be in conversation with Mark Mazower, Director of the Heyman Center.

As part of The Writing Lives Series, the Heyman Center welcomed Téa Obreht, author of the bestseller The Tiger's Wife. Obreht read from her work, followed by a conversation with Mark Mazower, Director of the Heyman Center.

Colm Tóibín is the author of many bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, including The Master (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize) and Brooklyn; the short-story collection Mothers and Sons; and, most recently, both the novel and play The Testament of Mary (which will open on Broadway later this spring, starring Fiona Shaw). Julie Orringer is the author of the short-story collection How to Breathe Underwater, which won the Northern California Book Award and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a “Best Book” by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2011, she published her “expertly crafted” and “emotionally haunting” first novel, The Invisible Bridge. Together, they will discuss the topic of “Family Novels" with Deborah Cohen, Professor of History at Northwestern and author of the forthcoming historical study Family Secrets.

Uzodinma Iweala, MD, is the author of the multi-award-winning novel Beasts of No Nation (prizes from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Public Library, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Booktrust) and of the non-fiction Our Kind of People: Thoughts on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (2012). In 2007 he was selected as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. Dr. Iweala will read from his latest work, Speak No Evil –which he describes as a “a series of interlinked narratives set in Washington, DC that explores the themes of choice, freedom, and what we must compromise to live in a secure society.”

The award-winning novelist, essayist, lyricist, and screenwriter Nick Hornby visits the Heyman Center.  Among his many bestselling novels are About a Boy, High Fidelity, and Juliet, Naked.   Serving as interlocutor will be poet and Barnard professor Saskia Hamilton.