Write America: A Reading for Our Country, the weekly literary series launched by novelist and Stony Brook University Distinguished Professor of English and Writing Roger Rosenblatt, has enjoyed a remarkably strong first season and was featured on PBS News Hour on Aug. 23.
The series, broadcast live on Crowdcast each week, features a diverse group of award-winning, nationally renowned authors, alongside new and emerging writers, in conversation about how books and art might bridge the deep divisions in our nation.
Rosenblatt, a former News Hour correspondent, said when the series launched in February that it would “try and show how language heals.” After 29 episodes — featuring writers such as Pulitzer Prize winners Paul Harding, Gregory Pardlo, Vijay Seshadri and Tyehimba Jess, along with Alan Alda, Susan Minot, Garry Trudeau and Robert Lipsyte, as well as other Stony Brook faculty members like Meg Wolitzer, Amy Hempel, Billy Collins and Patricia Marx — the series has made an impact that has even surprised Rosenblatt.
“It redefined my expectations,” he said. “I thought we were going to have a worthwhile little shop that would do good work and there would be a certain number of people who would be interested. From the start, we had several hundred per episode from every state practically and in 23 other countries. So the size of it absolutely has surprised me, and it showed that there is an appetite for these readings and for what the readings meant, in terms of the commonalities among people, our audience and our writers.”
The series was initially presented in collaboration with Book Revue in Huntington, NY, but the bookstore’s closing required a new home, which has been provided by another local independent bookstore, Byrd’s Books in Bethel, CT. Readings will continue through the end of the year, resuming October 4 with renowned American poets Linda Pastan and Tennessee Reed joining Tony Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor Frank Langella.
Rosenblatt said that the writers who appear each week have been supported by fellow writers who join in the conversation as part of the audience. “Six to a dozen fellow writers come in every week in a sense to cheer their fellow writers on, or to ask them questions, or to say what a wonderful line that was, or something that indicates a community of writers,” he said. “It’s a very rare thing, like a community of werewolves — you don’t find it.”
Season two will begin in January and will again feature a mix of returning writers like Alice McDermott, Russell Banks, Paul Muldoon and Rita Dove along with new writers. There will also be a special episode on the art of cartooning, featuring Trudeau and Jules Feiffer.
Rosenblatt added that the new season will also look to add discussions at libraries and book clubs of each episode after they occur, to extend the power of the event.
With another dozen episodes to conclude a successful first season, the series has been “gratifying,” Rosenblatt said.
“It was a demonstration that what we wanted to do from the start was working — people talking about feelings shared. The antithesis of division and hostilities.”
— Michael Gasparino