Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Michael Cunningham on Campus


How fortunate we were to have novelist Michael Cunningham on campus this week. He was "in town" chiefly to rehearse and then perform with musicians from the Northwest Sinfonietta Orchestra, reading from his novel, The Hours, as the musicians played compositions from Schubert and others. One of the performances was on campus.

Cunningham also visited a short-fiction class I teach and was splendid, answering the students' questions with great authenticity, humor, and detail. He also divulged some wonderful behind-the-scenes information about the filming of The Hours. Of all the insights and wisdom he dispensed, the theme of persistence may have been the most important. He told the students that, yes, talent was important but that relentless, unflagging persistence was often what made the difference between a writer who achieves some of what she or he wants to achieve and a writer who stops writing--because of discouragement or other factors. He told a wonderful personal "parable of persistence" (my term, not his), but that will have to wait for a future post.

Even though by conventional standards Cunningham has "made it"--Pulitzer Prize, world-renowned novel (successfully adapted to the screen--he still goes to his small office six days a week, he reported, and writes for up to six hours. . . .

. . . .So thanks are due to Neil Birnbaum of the Northwest Sinfonietta and Keith Ward, Dean of Music on our campus, for making Cunningham's visit possible. And thanks to Michael Cunningham, too.
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