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Babel Begins With Byatt

Tickets still available for the novelist's talk at Kleinhans on Friday

A.S. Byatt didn’t win her second Booker prize Tuesday night, but she still had something to celebrate. Her new novel, The Children’s Book, which was up for the prize, was released this week to rave reviews, and she will kick off a promotional tour for the book in Buffalo on Friday, October 9.

The already Booker-award-winning author (she won the prize in 1990 for Possession) will be speaking at 8pm Friday, at Kleinhans Music Hall. The title of her lecture is “The Curious Novelist: Fiction as a Form of Finding Out.” Mike Kelleher, artistic director for Just Buffalo Literary Center, which sponsors the Babel series of author talks, says curiosity is a subject Byatt is well familiar with. Byatt is known for writing historical fiction, for which she must do copious amounts of meticulous research. No doubt she will mention The Childen’s Book, her latest, which contrasts two generations of the same artistic, bohemian family from the Victorian era to modern times. “A curious novelist writes books to learn herself,” Kelleher says.

The Babel series has brought in renowned, international authors since its inception in 2007. In the past, Babel has featured authors Derek Walcott, Chinua Achebe, and Isabel Allende, to name a few. This year’s lineup is no less impressive: Ha Jin, the Chinese author of Waiting on November 20; Azar Nafisi, Iranian author of Reading Lolita in Tehran on March 5, 2010; and on April 16, 2010, Salman Rushdie, the Indian author who recently won the “Booker of Bookers” in 1983 for his 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, deemed the best novel to win the Booker award in the first 25 years of its existence.

“We bring in writers who we think are the best in the world,” Kelleher says. “We want to create a globally focused conversation on literature.”

Kelleher says Just Buffalo plans the speakers nearly a year in advance, but Byatt’s timing was perfect because of the release of her novel and nomination for the Booker prize.

Byatt began writing in the 1960s, but only garnered success in the 1990s with Possession, a novel that parallels the secret relationship between two writers in the Victorian era and the modern-day academics who discover the affair. It was also made into a movie in 2002, directed by Neil LaBute and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart. Byatt is known for creating lush, dense novels that tend to follow writers, readers, and academics. She follows in the fine British tradition of female novelists like Iris Murdoch and George Eliot, about both of whom she has written and edited books of criticism. “I like to write about people who think,” she has said, “to whom thinking is as important and exciting (and painful) as sex or eating.”

There is a reception before the talk for VIPs and subscribers, but the general audience is invited to a book signing in the lobby following the event. Tickets are still available and can be purchased in advance at or the Kleinhans box office on the day of the event; the price is $35 for adults, $10 for students. For more information, call 832-5400.

ellen przepasniak

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