Professors Jim Morrison and Eric Puchner Will be Panelists at 2011 Festival of Books

Even as bookstores are closing, sales of Nooks and Kindles are climbing, and iPads and apps are fast turning virtual page-flipping into interactive, immersive experiences, readers still pledge their allegiance to the printed word. During the weekend of April 30-May 1, in fact, hundreds of thousands of them will pour into USC’s University Park Campus for the 16th Annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, aka the nation’s largest literary festival. Among them will be authors James Morrison and Eric Puchner, professor and assistant professor, respectively, of literature at CMC. Puchner, a finalist for the 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and Morrison, a 2010 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award as well as the ForeWord Book of the Year Award will be guests on two separate panels over the weekend.

Here’s what they’ll be talking about, as well as whoamong the hundreds of authors, publishers, and celebrity writers also on the guest listthey look forward to seeing.

WHO: James Morrison

WHEN: Saturday, April 30, 3:25 p.m.

WHERE: Harris

TOPIC: The Brokeback Book

FELLOW PANELISTS: Kenneth Turan, Chris Freeman, William Handley, and Susan McCabe

WHO: Eric Puchner

WHEN: Sunday, May 1, 3 p.m.

WHERE: Taper 201

TOPIC: L.A. Stories

FELLOW PANELISTS: Janet Fitch, Seth Greenland, and Meg Howrey

Q: How did the opportunity to be part of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books come about?

Morrison: The editor [William Handley] of “The Brokeback Book,” to which I contributed an essay, is a professor at USC, where the festival is being held this year for the first time. (Previously it’s been at UCLA.) He was asked to organize a panel about the book and asked me to be on it.

Puchner: They contacted me after I was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, if I’m remembering correctly.

Q: Is this your first time participating?

M: I have attended the festival nearly every year that I’ve lived here, but this is the first time I will be on a panel. It’s a wonderful event to attendexhilarating and a bit overwhelming. With over a hundred thousand people in attendance every year, it gives one the heartening sense that books are really alive and well. I’m excited to be participating this year.

P: I’ve done it twice in the past.

Q: You’re both guests on panels. Can you tell us where those conversations will be going, and what you’d like to contribute?

M: “The Brokeback Book” collects responses to the film, Brokeback Mountain, when it was first released, along with more recent essays about the significance of the movie. My essay places the film within the context of gay civil rights, and that’s what I’ll be talking about.

P: I’m not sure exactly what to expect, but I look forward to talking about Los Angeles, both as a place for writers to live and as a character in fiction. Obviously, there’s a long tradition of this, and I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a regional writer, but there’s something about Southern California that’s very fertile to the imagination, I think. It’s the idiosyncrasy of the place, but also the physical environment itself. I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, but artists talk a lot about the character of the light of a particular place, and I feel that way about L.A. It’s also just a perfect Petri dish of American weirdness and longing.

Q: Are there any authors you’re looking forward to either meeting or
re-connecting with? Any books you’ll want to have signed?

M: I’m looking forward to meeting some of my fellow panelists, including Kenneth Turan, the lead film critic for the Los Angeles Times. I’m also
planning to attend a panel featuring Jennifer Egan, who has just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and who writes smart novels.

P: I know Geoff Dyer and Jennifer Egan (as Jim said) are going to be there. I’m a big fan of their work. Also, the graphic novelist Daniel Clowes. I teach “Ghost World” (the name of Clowes’ comic book, which was later adapted into a feature film) in one of my classes at CMC. And my good friends Andrew Altschul and Stephen Elliott will be there as well. But the truth is, the whole green room thing makes me a bit sick.

Q: If not a writer/professor, is there another career you’ve always wanted to explore?

M: I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. In a way, some of those impulses make their way into my work as it is, since teaching involves crafting a certain persona for the classroom. And some of it is like stand-up comedy.

P: I always wanted to be a movie director, but I don’t think I have the temperament for it.

Q: What kinds of things capture your imagination?

M: I am mostly interested in the relationship between what people think they know and what they fail to observe, and this is mostly what I write about. I know it doesn’t sound very imagination-oriented, but I’m afraid that, especially for someone who writes, I’m really quite suspicious of the human capacity for imagination, since it can lead so quickly to projecting one’s own fancies on the world rather than trying to see it whole.

P: I don’t think I can answer that in under 500 words.

Q: Finally, you’ll both, in a way, be representing CMC. Do the two of you ever bounce writing ideas off each other, share advice, or read each other’s work?

M: Despite popular conceptions about professors’ schedules, you might be very surprised at how little free time we have. But when possible, Eric and I meet for coffee to talk about what we’re reading and what we’re working on. It’s wonderful to have him as a colleague.

P: In fact, I’m reading (Jim’s) collection of stories right now. It’s terrific.