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This article was prepared for the March 10, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

TCNJ Hosts John Irving

The 23rd and final Writers’ Conference, hosted by the College of New Jersey, takes place Thursday, March 18. Conference director Jean Hollander, a noted author and translator in her own right, reports with regret that this will be the last.

Hollander, who prides herself on having presented, over the years, most of America’s leading living authors, brought Salman Rushdie to an enthusiastic full house last year. Past Writers’ Conference speakers have included Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, E.L. Doctorow, William Ken-nedy, Ken Kesey, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, William Styron, and Kurt Vonnegut.

“It’s sad. The conference is working so beautifully and I really feel I’m doing something different in the state,” says Hollander. “But I have also run out of important living America authors. Only Philip Roth has steadfastly refused my invitation.” Hollander says the conference is no longer funded by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts; nor was it funded last year. “This is the second year we have not received the small amount of funding they were giving us,” she says, “and the college says it doesn’t have the money either.”

Featured in this, the last edition of a noteworthy regional event, is John Irving who has been called, by the Nation magazine, “the American Balzac, or perhaps our Dickens.” Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds, whose most recent anthology is “The Unswept Room,” gives a reading at 4:30 p.m., after winners are announced inthe conference’s short story and poetry contest.

John Irving is one of the most popular and respected writers in the world. His 10 novels, famous for their complex yet accessible plots and brilliantly portrayed characters, have become American classics.

Irving’s first international bestseller, “The World According to Garp,” introduced a world of readers to his inventive style, memorable characters, and masterfully woven stories-within-stories.

Since the release of “Garp,” all of Irving’s novels have been international bestsellers. His books (including “The Ciderhouse Rules,” “A Son of the Circus,” “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” “A Widow for One Year,” and the memoir “My Movie Business”) have been translated into over 30 languages and have sold tens of millions of copies.

“Garp” won a National Book Award in 1980. The film adaptation starred Robin Williams and earned Academy Award nominations for John Lithgow and Glenn Close. It took more than 14 years for Irving to see his novel, “The Cider House Rules,” turned into a movie. When it was released in 1999, “Cider House” garnered wide critical acclaim and earned Irving the 1999 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. A great success at the box office, the movie served to introduce Irving to a new generation of fans.

Irving received an MFA from the University of Iowa, where he studied with Kurt Vonnegut. A former college English teacher, he was a competitive wrestler for 20 years, coached wrestling until he was 47, and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992.

As a child, Irving, who is dyslexic, had to learn to carefully read and repeat every word in order to keep up in school. Taken up as a practical measure, he says his scrutiny of language became a powerful literary tool. Irving attended the University of Pittsburgh in 1961-’62, then the University of Vienna, and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1965 from the University of New Hampshire. He earned his MFA at the University of Iowa in 1967. Two years later, he published his first novel, “Setting Free the Bears,” at age 26.

Hollander says Irving’s readings and live presentations offer audiences an intimate look at his artful use of language to convey the funny, tragic, romantic, violent, mundane, and unexpected aspects of life as we live it. The author donates his speaking fee to the Maple Street School in Vermont.

Irving is a recipient of the O. Henry Award and awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the NEA, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2001 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent novel is “The Fourth Hand.”

Irving is currently at work on his 11th novel, which has been in progress since 1998. He is also working with his “Cider House” producer, Richard Gladstein, on an adaptation of “The Fourth Hand,” and on a screenplay of his novel, “A Son of the Circus.”

Conference Readings

9:30 a.m. Jane B. Rawlings, author of “The Penelopeia,” a verse novel based on Homer, told from Penelope’s point of view.

10 a.m. Robbie Clipper Sethi, whose second novel, “Fifty-Fifty,” appeared last year.

10:30 a.m. Sonia Pilcer, author of five novels, including “Teen Angel,” which she adapted as a screenplay for Universal Studios. Her most recent work is “The Holocaust Kid.”

11 a.m. David Semanki, whose poetry has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and other noted journals. He is an editor at HarperCollins.

11:30 a.m. Colette Inez, author of eight collections of poetry, the most recent, “Clemency,” from Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Noon: Gabriel Fried, poet and editor at Persea Books.

12:30 p.m. William Mastrosimone, author of many award-winning plays, films, and television series, among them his five-hour mini series “Sinatra,” which won the Golden Globe Award.

1 p.m. Thomas E. Kennedy is the author of five novels, two story collections, and other writings. His most recent books of fiction include “Kerrigan’s Copenhagen” and “Bluett’s Blue Hours.”

1:30 p.m. Cleopatra Mathis has published five collections of poems. Her most recent book, “What to Tip the Boatman?,” won the Jane Kenyon Award.

2 p.m. IN MEMORIAM: Jane Flanders

2:30 p.m. Sudha Koul is author of the recent memoir “The Tiger Ladies,” as well as the tantalizing “Curries without Worries,” an introduction to Indian cuisine.

3 p.m. Ann Birstein is the acclaimed author of seven works of fiction and “What I Saw at the Fair,” an account of her tumultuous marriage to Alfred Kazin.

3:30 p.m. Keith Flynn is lyricist and lead singer for the nationally acclaimed rock band The Crystal Zoo, which has produced three albums, among them “Pouch” and “Nervous Splendor.” He is also founder and editor of the Asheville Poetry Review.

The conference also features workshops in journalism, fiction, and poetry. Also, “Books for Young Readers” by John Rudolph; “Play and Screenwriting” by William Mastrosimone, and “Breaking Writer’s Block” by Sonia Pilcer. Panels on publishing and on “Earning a Living as a Writer: How to Get a Dollar a Word.”

College of New Jersey Writers’ Conference, Brower Student Center, Ewing, 609-771-3254. writersconference.intrasun.tcnj.edu or write@tcnj.edu. The renowned novelist and screenwriter John Irving and poet Sharon Olds are featured guests at the day-long 23nd (and last) annual writers conference. Readings and panel presentations by writers, poets, journalists, screenwriters, editors, publishers, and agents. Sharon Olds reads at 4:30 p.m.; John Irving reads at 8 p.m. in Kendall Hall. Registration $10 to $60. Thursday, March 18, 9 a.m.


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