Colson WhiteheadAt the lecture: Colson Whitehead quoted The Jerk, played a Donna Summer song, contemplated life on other planets (“maybe they’re into haikus or something), and considered the neanderthal ancestors of both jerks and artists. He also discussed his childhood during which he liked to stay inside watching Twilight Zone and Outer Limits and read X-Men, Spiderman, and Stephen King. And he discussed his journey as a writer starting out at the Village Voice and becoming a novelist. Bestselling author Colson Whitehead is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the author of seven books: The Intuitionist, nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award; John Henry Days, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Colossus of New York, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN/Oakland Award; Sag Harbor, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award; Zone One, a New York Times bestseller; and new release The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death. The Chicago Tribune calls him “one of the country’s finest young writers.” Whitehead’s work has also appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper's, and Granta. Click here to read Colson Whitehead’s “How to Write”
Mitchell DavisAt the Lecture: Mitchell Davis told us about traveling around the country reviewing restaurants and one particular trip in which he spent eight days in Chicago and ate in twenty-four different restaurants. He also discussed the diversity of American dining and creating a community of chefs at the James Beard Foundation. And he talked about his work helping to create the USA Pavilion at the Expo Milan 2015 World Fair. The exciting exhibition will include a working vertical farm, celebrity chefs, food trucks, and a restaurant that serves Sunday brunch and Thursday Thanksgiving dinners. Mitchell Davis is the executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation, a cookbook author, a food journalist, and a scholar with a Ph.D. in Food Studies from NYU. With the Beard Foundation for 20 years, Davis has created and overseen many of the organization’s important initiatives, including the the JBF Annual Food Conference, a national dialogue of thought leaders on sustainability and public health in the food system, and the JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. In 2013, Davis led the team that was selected by the U.S. Department of State to create the USA Pavilion at the World Expo Milano 2015, the theme of which is American Food 2.0. In addition to his work at the Foundation, Davis frequently writes about and reviews restaurants. He holds a chair on the academy of the London-based World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking program. He has written four cookbooks, including The Mensch Chef and Kitchen Sense (both Clarkson Potter), co-authored the ground-breaking electronic book My Provence (Alta Editions) with famed French chef Laurent Gras, which won two 2013 awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, including “Judges Choice,” and he is a regular contributor to the Art of Eating. Davis’s T.V. appearances include History Channel’s 101 Fast Foods that Changed the World, Food Network’s Food(ography), Throwdown with Bobby Flay, and Best in Smoke. Davis is host of Taste Matters, a weekly radio show (Wednesdays at 11 a.m.) on The Heritage Radio Network. In 2013 The Forward selected Davis as one of the 50 most influential Jews under 50 in America. Click here to read the San Francisco Gate's review of Mitchell Davis' Kitchen Sense
Zadie SmithAt the Lecture: Zadie Smith asked the question "why write." Among her answers to this question was "because you desire to see things as they are" and "to express the reality of human capacities." Also, in exploring this question she talked about how people live and label themselves as "creatives"; the relationship between branding and creativity; and the ways in which class and race impact the relationship between art and capital. She told us that writing must not be done to fit an audience but rather it should "create its own taste." Novelist Zadie Smith was described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as “not merely one of Britain's finest younger writers, but also one of the English-speaking world's best chroniclers of race, class, and identity in urban confines. Smith remains fearless, and there are moments that astonish. Her ambition and talent continue to awe." Her first book, White Teeth, is a portrait of contemporary multicultural London, told through the story of three ethnically diverse families. It won several awards including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. Smith’s second novel, The Autograph Man, won the Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize for Fiction and her third, On Beauty, won the Orange Prize for fiction. Her most recent novel, NW, was named one of the New York Times “10 Best Books of 2012. Newsweek says, “Smith has an astonishing intellect. She writes sharp dialogue for every age and race.” Smith also teaches creative writing at New York University. Click here to read Granta’s interview with Zadie Smith
Erik LarsonAt the lecture: Erik Larson remembered his first book signing—it was a Sunday afternoon in Lancaster, Pennsylvania complete with chocolate chip cookies. He told our audience that he doesn’t think of himself as a historian; he thinks of himself as “an animator of history.” He also thinks his books should be “read on a dark, stormy night with a glass of brandy” and hopes his reader “emerges with a sense of having lived in the past.” For him, a good writing project fulfills the following criteria: “it must be interesting; it must have a built in narrative arc; it must have a detailed and rich archival base; and there must be barriers to entry (in other words, complex enough that no other writer will do it).” Erik Larson has written four New York Times bestsellers. His most recent is his portrait of the American ambassador and his family in Berlin during the first years of Hitler’s reign, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, which remained on the list for 35 weeks. His account of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, including that of a ruthless serial killer, The Devil in the White City, was on the New York Times hardcover and paperback lists for a combined total of over three years—it also won the Edgar Award for nonfiction crime writing and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His previous books, Thunderstruck and Isaac’s Storm, also became bestsellers. Among his other books are Lethal Passage and The Naked Consumer. The New York Times Book Review has said, “Larson is a marvelous writer…superb at creating characters with a few short strokes." Larson was also a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal and a contributing writer for Time magazine and he has written for The Atlantic, Harper’s, and The New Yorker among other publications.
Click here for the New York Times review of Erik Larson's book, In the Garden of Beasts