So last night I hung out at the office until it was time to head over to UVA's Chemistry building to see Michael Cunningham. I kind of got lost on the way by following a small crowd (never do that), ignorantly assuming that *of course* everyone was flocking to see him--but apparently, there was a performance of classical music going on as well.
Anyway, it turned out I wasn't late at all. As I started up the stairs to the auditorium, I heard a familiar voice and realized that he was three feet ahead of me. I sheepishly slowed down and found a seat.
After a lengthy introduction by one of the members of the English Department (and a personal friend of his), Cunningham announced that this would be his last reading from The Hours as his new novel, Specimen Days, will be out in June, and he will soon be obliged to move on to it in readings. He made a couple of brief introductory statements ranging from literature's powers of consolation to his surprise at Meryl Streep being cast in the film (he still seems slightly astonished at the whole thing).
He read the portion about Laura Brown baking the cake...Kitty's visit...and the night of her husband's birthday. He was expressive, but wry...and wears glasses to read.
After the applause died down, he left the podium. It was announced that there would be no Q&A, but that as he was "a most approachable man," we were free to go talk to him and get any books signed.
This really disappointed me. It was great listening to him read, but despite the inevitable appearance of "the Same Five Questions®", I really like Q&A sessions. I saw Salman Rushdie speak a couple years ago, and the Q&A was easily the best conversation on literature I'd heard in years. You can get a sense of the author...and anything can happen.
I don't know whose decision this was. If there had been some sort of emergency, I would've understood--and Cunningham seems like a very gracious person. As it is, I got the distinct impression that the offhand manner of the English prof was due to his over-familiarity with author readings. And then there were the college kids who were there just for the extra credit. They fled the room as soon as the reading was over.
People at large universities like this seem to be oblivious to what they have. It galls me that such things can be taken for granted so blithely, as if they were common occurrences that don't mean much.
Meanwhile, vagabond ex-lit majors like myself dive for the crumbs that fall from their well-supplied table...
Incidentally, "On this day in 1917 Leonard and Virginia Woolf purchased a small, used handpress":
Virginia Woolf did not think much of her doctors and treatments. In July, 1910, after pounds of food and days of bed-rest, she wrote to her sister, "I feel my brains, like a pear, to see if its ripe; it will be exquisite by September". But she did not seem to think Freud much good either, or as good for her and her writing as her own "autoanalysis". In a 1920 essay on "Freudian Fiction" she mocks both "the new psychology" and the new tendency to turn "characters into cases" and life into happily-ever-after:
"A patient who has never heard a canary sing without falling down in a fit can now walk through an avenue of cages without a twinge of emotion since he has faced the fact that his mother kissed him in his cradle. The triumphs of science are beautifully positive."