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Best-selling author Michael Chabon comes to Weber State University this week as part of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference.

Sunday, March 29, 2009  |  No Comments [ Add Comment ]

Pulitzer Prize-winning author visits WSU

Standard-Examiner staff

Michael Chabon won't be dishing out any words of advice to the aspiring young writers gathered at Weber State University on Thursday.

"I usually tell them to watch a lot of TV and drink a lot of beer and just kind of lay around a lot," the author jokes in a phone interview from his home in Berkeley, Calif. "I don't really like to give advice because nobody listens anyway."

Instead, the Pulitzer Prize winner says he tries to emphasize things that have been important to him in his writing career, such as his lifelong love of reading.

Because he is a reader, Chabon says, he wanted to become a writer -- "to try to make the things that I loved to read."

And maybe, hearing that, students will come away from his lecture thinking, "Sounds like he read a lot of books. Maybe I should expand my diet and read a little more."

Chabon, who was just 25 when his first novel became a New York Times best-seller, makes his first visit to Ogden this week to speak at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference.

The author of "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," "Wonder Boys" and "Gentlemen of the Road" says he tries to be honest with would-be writers about the failures, setbacks and difficulties of the profession.

"It can be boring, it can be unrewarding emotionally and you can get stuck," says Chabon, 45, who tells folks his last name is pronounced "Shea," like Shea Stadium, and "Bon" as in Jovi.

Besides giving a reading Friday at Weber State, Chabon will be one of several participants during Thursday's "My Favorite Poem Project." His selection is "Ulalume," by Edgar Allan Poe.

"I've always loved it," he says, adding, "I'm writing a piece about Poe right now so I've been re-reading lots of Poe and Poe's been on my mind."

'Powerful writer'

The goal of the National Undergraduate Literature Conference is to draw big-name writers, and conference co-director Mikel Vause says Chabon certainly fits that bill.

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," Chabon's Pulitzer winner, deals with comic books in American culture, Vause says.

"The Final Solution," a novella based on Sherlock Holmes stories, would appeal to young readers, he says, but the author tackles "pretty adult stuff" in his murder mystery "The Yiddish Policemen's Union."

"He covers all his bases. He's what you call a powerful American writer," says Vause, a Weber State English professor.

Chabon's strength as a writer is his strong narrative, Vause says.

"He tells the story without really telling the story; he lets the characters come alive," he says.

The Washington, D.C.-born author's first novel was originally written for his master's thesis and was submitted by his professor -- without Chabon's knowledge -- to a literary agent. Chabon's most recent work is 2008's "Maps & Legends," a collection of essays.

A new book of essays, "Manhood for Amateurs," will be published by Harper in October. Chabon says the essays, which he's written over the years, explore the many different aspects of manhood -- "being a husband, being a father, being a brother, being a son."

Finding out more

Chabon says he's drawn more to writing on places or time periods or interesting things he's heard about rather than a particular topic, like poverty in America.

His lifelong passion for comic books led him to "Kavalier & Clay," he says. A fascination with chess led him to work the game into "The Yiddish Policemen's Union."

"For me, writing a novel is always in large part an excuse to find out more about something I'm already interested in," Chabon says.

Working on a story about a Hong Kong martial-arts movie star, for instance, would be a "great excuse" to watch a whole bunch of Hong Kong martial-arts movies, he says.

"If you've chosen a world to write about that's just inherently interesting to you, that really helps sustain you through the long haul," he says.

Most people don't think of writing as being a job, Chabon says. They often hold a movie-type idea of writers being struck by inspiration and pounding out a masterpiece in six weeks.

"It seems kind of magical and mysterious," he says, but in the end, writing is a job.

"You sit down in your chair and you put in the time until you get 500 words or 1,000 words or whatever your personal target is. ... It's a habit and it's an occupation. Inspiration really plays a minor role."

Literary heroes

The chance to hear a writer like Chabon is a great opportunity for students who are presenting their own works during the National Undergraduate Literature Conference, Vause says.

"To hear Ray Bradbury (a past speaker) read, it's just like getting to see Bob Dylan or The Grateful Dead or something," he says.

And the words of these authors may offer student writers some inspiration, Vause adds, because the authors always tell them, "Don't stop now. You all have this same potential, all you have to do is work at it and pay attention to it."


Fans of Michael Chabon have two chances to listen to the Pulitzer-winning author at this week's National Undergraduate Literature Conference.

Thursday: Chabon speaks during the "My Favorite Poem Project" at 2 p.m., along with authors Maile Meloy and Michael Sowder and invited community guests. The event is in the Elizabeth Hall Auditorium on the Weber State University campus, 3848 Harrison Blvd.

Friday: Chabon, author of "Maps & Legends," gives a reading at 4 p.m. in the auditorium.

Also addressing the conference are Meloy, who wrote "Liars and Saints," at noon Thursday, and Sowder, author of "The Empty Boat," at 11 a.m. Friday. Meloy and Sowder pair up for a question-and-answer session at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. All three events are in the auditorium.

The student readings are also open to the public and run from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Saturday. See a complete schedule at www.weber.edu/nulc.

Admission to all events is free. For more information, call 626-6516.

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