Last Wednesday, the Poetry and Literature Center hosted its final program of the 2011/2012 year: a reading with Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai. Like many of our readings this past year, this one was co-sponsored by another division in the Library and featured a moderated discussion run by an LC expert—in this case, our co-sponsor was the European Division and our expert moderator was Kenneth Nyirady, the Library’s reference specialist for Hungary. Ken had a strong connection to the author long before our event: in A World of Books: International Perspectives, 2001, a pamphlet put out by the Library’s International Collections, Ken wrote on Krasznahorkai’s book The Melancholy of Resistance. Our June 13th reading focused on Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, the newest of his books to be published in English, and his American editor Barbara Epler was there to celebrate with us.
This event, like so many of the past year, was downright amazing. The lead-off discussion between Krasznahorkai and Ken Nyirady worked as perfectly as any I’ve seen, and it offered equal parts charm and insight. Ken clearly knew his stuff—after all, in addition to his review of The Melancholy of Resistance he had read Satantango twice the week before! After the discussion, the author read a passage from the new novel—a bleak but moving example of his fictional works, which The New York Times described as “haunting, pleasantly weird and, ultimately, bigger than the worlds they inhabit.” He read first in English then in Hungarian, and even though I didn’t understand the latter language I could hear the rhythms in the passage stretch out (Krasznahorkai said in the discussion that, in contrast to the clipped style of most Hungarian literature, he writes with an expansive syntax that comes closer to thought). Afterwards there was a great buzz in the room, and many in the large audience stayed around to buy a book and talk to the author.
When I think of what the Poetry and Literature Center can do for the Library and for the country, I think of this event and many others as well. Our “Literary Birthdays” and “Conversations with African Poets & Writers” series, our “Books and Beyond” celebration of the essay collection The Other Latin@, and our two events at FEDLINK libraries—“Pizza and Poetry” at the Andrews Air Force Base Library and “Poetry and the Stars” at the U. S. Naval Observatory Library—have all shown how broad our programming can be. Each of these events reminded me why I believe poems and stories can challenge and change us in ways no other art form can, and how important public readings and conversations are in making such experiences happen. I look forward to our next year and to the new literary voices we can celebrate together. If you are not already signed on to our GovDelivery/RSS feeds I urge you to do so! If you can’t make it to one of our events but would love to see it, know that you can watch a webcast of almost everything in our yearly calendar.