Arts & Culture

Robert Coover honored at Literary Arts festival

International Fiction Now celebrates experimental, digital literature, features faculty, students, authors

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Marlon James reads from “Brief History of Seven Killings.” His novel was awarded the 2015 Man Booker Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.

Last Tuesday, the literary arts department kicked off International Fiction Now, a three-day festival of readings and performances honoring the novelist and former Professor Emeritus of Literary Arts Robert Coover, who taught at Brown for 33 years and is widely renowned as a trailblazer in experimental metafiction. Affectionately known as “Bob Fest,” the festival began with a number of voice performances of Coover’s work, followed by a series of readings by Coover’s colleagues and former students.   

The festival programming yesterday featured a showcase in the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment of experiments by current and former Brown students in the digital language arts, several presentations on electronic writing and digital language art as well as readings by Russell Banks, Ru Freeman, William Kennedy, Marlon James, Ben Marcus and T.C. Boyle.

Today’s programming will include a panel discussion called “Postmodernism: What Was It? What’s Next?” and readings by distinguished authors, including Don DeLillo, Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt.

For an avid consumer of contemporary literary fiction, Bob Fest’s lineup is nothing short of spectacular. Funded by the the Brown Arts Initiative and the Office of the Provost, the festival celebrates Coover and the publication of his first novel, “The Origin of the Brunists.” Since Coover famously inaugurated the electronic writing and digital writing programs at Brown, the festival also serves to highlight Coover’s encouragement of the coalition of technology and literature, as well as mark the relaunch of the International Writers Project, a program that Coover started in the 1989. The fellowship “provides institutional, intellectual, artistic and social support to writers who face personal danger and threats to their livelihood in nations throughout the world,” according to the University’s website.

A handful of Coover’s former students, now established writers, read from their own work on Tuesday. Many of them prefaced their performances with affectionate words (and sometimes, affectionate poems) for Coover, expressing gratitude for his mentorship. Robert Arellano ’91 MFA ’94, author of the kaleidoscopic hypertext novel “Sunshine ’69,” composed a Homeric ode to Coover, addressing him as “Bobocles.” Shelley Jackson MFA ’94, an electronic literature proponent, said, “I’m writing (in my next book) about how the words of others haunt our mouths. Bob, your words will always haunt mine.”

“I’m really surprised and happy about the diversity of the readings,” said Daniella Balarezo ’18, adding that she was “touched by the sense of community and family in the environment.”

“It’s all goodwill about Bob. He traveled in international writing circles for a long time. All I had to do was say, ‘We’re going to have a big blowout festival for Bob,’ and pretty much everyone said ‘yes,’” Professor of Literary Arts Rick Moody ’83 told The Herald. While Coover has been retired for many years, he still keeps an office in the Literary Arts Building, which he frequents: “It’s a well-known, open secret that Bob basically practices vampire hours. Frequently he’ll show up at the office around 5 or 6 p.m. and work till 3 or 4 in the morning.”

Coover’s literary career has by no means tapered off. He continues to publish humorous, self-reflective novels that comment on fiction’s traditions. In 2017, he published “Huck Out West,” where he imagines Huckleberry Finn’s continued adventures after “lighting out” to the West.