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Wonder Boy

Michael Chabon to visit ASU

 by Si Robins
 published on Thursday, October 5, 2006


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Sienna Miller, Mena Suvari and Nick Nolte share a common bond.

In additon to their celebrity status, they'll soon be starring in the same film, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, due out in 2007.

But the stars of this film aren't the only stars involved in its making. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, whose celebrity status among writers rivals these actors' statuses in Hollywood.

Chabon will be speaking this Saturday as part of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series. He is looking forward to an interactive reading with ASU's students and faculty.

Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," was the Piper Center's online book-club selection in September. It is the story of two Jewish cousins during World War II who collaborate on an action-packed comic book that pits the heroes against Hitler's Nazi regime.

Chabon finished "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," his first novel, in 1989. He's currently working on a short novel to be published serially in The New York Times Magazine starting in January that will run for 14 weeks. And as if that weren't enough, he also just finished writing his newest novel, "The Yiddish Policeman's Union." It will be released next May.

"It's a detective story, a murder mystery, set in an alternate history in a Yiddish-speaking district of Alaska," Chabon says of The Yiddish Policeman's Union.

The thriller is based on a fleeting plan during World War II to create a Jewish homeland in Alaska, escaping the Middle East.

And "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" isn't Chabon's first experience seeing his work on the big screen. "Wonder Boys," the 2000 movie starring Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire, was also adapted from Chabon's novel of the same name.

Chabon says he's excited for the opportunity to give a reading with commentary at ASU, something he does not usually get a chance to do. He is looking forward to interacting with the audience.

"This is kind of a new thing for me," Chabon says. "I've never done something impromptu like that before."

The speech, presented by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, will take place at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix. The Jewish Studies Program at ASU and the Office of the Vice President and Provost of ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus are also sponsoring the event.

Piper Center Program Manager Charles Jensen says we can all relate to Chabon's stories.

"We invited Chabon because his fiction is epic in scope but still about individual people -- fully realized characters with imaginable lives and histories," Jensen says. "I personally admire his work for being so inclusive of many different kinds of people. Everyone is welcome and respected in Chabon's books."

The author says he wants to make sure he can talk about something that creates a strong connection with the audience.

"I'm going to read something that I can hopefully get some kind of running commentary on," Chabon says. "Something that I hope will illustrate the process by which the piece itself came into being."

Most importantly, Chabon wants to present the audience with a better understanding of his craft.

"I want to give the audience a view of how writing happens," he says. "I hope the audience will be interested in that sort of process-oriented talk."

According to Chabon's biography on the Steven Barclay Agency's Web site, his philosophy behind his success as a novelist is based on three requirements: talent, luck, and discipline.

"Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two," he says.

Saturday's appearance will be Chabon's first in Phoenix, but it will not be his first time visiting here. He lived in Phoenix when he was just 3 years old.

"I actually still have, I'd say, about eight memories [of Phoenix] from those days that I remember really clearly," Chabon says.

Reach the reporter at: si.robins@asu.edu.



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