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Evil: The Artist's Response

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With support from: Lowell Institute
Date and time
Tuesday, November 27, 2001

A panel of artists engages in a discussion about about how artists respond to evil. This discussion is the second annual dialogue on Belief and Nonbelief in Modern American Culture, sponsored by Boston College and the Atlantic Monthly. The series is modeled after the annual "Chair of the Nonbeliever", sponsored by the archbishop, Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini of Milan. It is Martini's contention that "there is evil in each of us; whatever our religion, even in a bishop; a believer and a nonbeliever." The series invites philosophers, authors, psychiatrists, politicians, and artists to talk about their work through the prisms of belief and nonbelief.

Christopher Lydon is an American media personality and author. He is best known for being the original host of *The Connection*, produced by WBUR and syndicated to other NPR stations.
Joyce Carol Oates has often expressed an intense nostalgia for the time and place of her childhood, and her working-class upbringing is lovingly recalled in much of her fiction. Growing up in the countryside outside of Lockport, New York, she attended a one-room schoolhouse in the elementary grades. As a small child, she told stories instinctively by way of drawing and painting before learning how to write. After receiving the gift of a typewriter at age fourteen, she began consciously training herself, "writing novel after novel" throughout high school and college. Success came early: while attending Syracuse University on scholarship, she won the coveted Mademoiselle fiction contest. After graduating as valedictorian, she earned an M.A. in English at the University of Wisconsin, where she met and married Raymond J. Smith after a three-month courtship; in 1962, the couple settled in Detroit, a city whose erupting social tensions suggested to Oates a microcosm of the violent American reality. Her finest early novel, *them*, along with a steady stream of other novels and short stories, grew out of her Detroit experience. Between 1968 and 1978, Oates taught at the University of Windsor in Canada, just across the Detroit river. During this immensely productive decade, she published new books at the rate of two or three per year, all the while maintaining a full-time academic career. Though still in her thirties, Oates had become one of the most respected and honored writers in the United States. In 1978, Oates moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where she continues to teach in Princeton University's creative writing program; she and her husband also operate a small press and published a literary magazine, *The Ontario Review*. Shortly after arriving in Princeton, Oates began writing *Bellefleur*, the first in a series of ambitious Gothic novels that simultaneously reworked established literary genres and reimagined large swaths of American history.
Kathleen Norris is the award-winning poet, writer, and author of *The New York Times* bestsellers *The Cloister Walk*, *Dakota: A Spiritual Geography*, *Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith*, and *The Virgin of Bennington*. Exploring the spiritual life, her work has been described as at once intimate and historical, rich in poetry and meditations, brimming with exasperation and reverence, deeply grounded in both nature and spirit, sometimes funny, and often provocative. In her career Kathleen Norris has published seven books of poetry. Her first book of poems was entitled *Falling Off *and was the 1971 winner of the Big Table Younger Poets Award. Soon after, she settled down in her grandparents' home in Lemmon, South Dakota, where she lived with her husband, the poet David Dwyer, for over twenty-five years. The move was the inspiration for the first of her nonfiction books, the award-winning bestseller *Dakota: A Spiritual Geography*. It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was selected as one of the best books of the year by Library Journal. Widowed in 2003, Kathleen Norris now divides her time between South Dakota and Honolulu, Hawaii, where she volunteers at her mother's retirement home, and also at an Episcopal church, where she cooks for a homeless shelter and helps teach a spirituality class for teenagers.
Nathan Englander's short fiction has appeared in *The Atlantic Monthly*, *The New Yorker*, and numerous anthologies including *The Best American Short Stories*, *The O. Henry Prize Anthology*, and the *Pushcart Prize*. Englander's story collection, *For the Relief of Unbearable Urges* (Knopf, 1999), became an international bestseller, and earned him a PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Englander was selected as one of 20 Writers for the 21st Century by *The New Yorker*. He was awarded the Bard Fiction Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and, in 2004, he was a Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library.