The Word

BU faculty readings

A self-portrait by Alison Bechdel, who speaks at Wellesley College Friday.
A self-portrait by Alison Bechdel, who speaks at Wellesley College Friday.
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / April 10, 2011

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Getting an earful of a masterful writer’s work-in-progress can tease and intrigue. How nice then that the annual evening of readings by Boston University creative writing faculty on Tuesday presents the opportunity to hear novelists Ha Jin and Leslie Epstein read from upcoming works.

Jin’s novel “Nanjing Requiem,” to be published by Pantheon in October, is set during the Nanjing Massacre, the period of rape and murder that followed the Japanese capture in 1937 of Nanjing, China. Epstein, longtime director of BU’s creative writing program, is finishing the final installment in his series of Leib Goldkorn novels about an elderly Holocaust survivor who leads a rather colorful existence. It is to be published next spring.

In addition, Sigrid Nunez, a novelist who will teach a fiction workshop at BU this fall, will read from her new memoir “Sempre Susan” (Atlas). It offers glimpses of Nunez’s informal literary education at the side of the fiercely opinionated writer Susan Sontag, who died in 2004. Nunez was an assistant to Sontag when Nunez was trying to get her own writing career off the ground. Things quickly got complicated. Nunez started dating Sontag’s son, David Rieff, and moved in with him and his mother.

Among the nine readers rounding out the evening is Maya Sloan, a 2007 graduate of BU’s MFA program and author of the 2010 debut novel “High Before Homeroom” (Simon & Schuster). The readings begin at 6 p.m. in the BU School of Management Auditorium, 595 Commonwealth Ave.

Women and graphic tales
Cartoonists Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel are among the premier creators of graphic narratives depicting the lives of girls and women. Bechdel’s graphic memoir “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” (Houghton Mifflin), in which she tries to make sense of her childhood, has an emotion and depth not always associated with cartooning. For Barry, too, her pen and her past are powerful forces in her comic strips and books. The two will read from their work and join in conversation with Hillary L. Chute, author of “Graphic Women: Life Narrative & Contemporary Comics” (Columbia University). The fun begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Jewett Auditorium at Wellesley College.

Dubow wins Bancroft Prize
Sara Dubow, a history professor at Williams College, has won a prestigious Bancroft Prize for her first book, “Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America” (Oxford University). She’s in good company; leading historian Eric Foner, who has edited or written about two dozen books, and Christopher Tomlins, author of “Freedom Bound: Law, Labor, and Civic Identity in Colonizing English America,’’ are the other two winners this year of the American history book prize. Each will receive $10,000.

In “Unborn,” Dubow, a 1991 graduate of Williams, writes that “the meanings ascribed to the fetus from the late nineteenth century through the early twenty-first century have had more to do with social values and political circumstances than with biology or theology.”

Coming out
“Chasing Fire” by Nora Roberts (Putnam)

■ “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth” by Marc Kaufman (Simon & Schuster)

■ “River Monsters: True Stories of the Ones That Didn’t Get Away” by Jeremy Wade (Da Capo)

Pick of the week
Jean-Paul Adriaansen of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H., recommends “The School of Night” by Louis Bayard (Holt): “A disgraced Elizabethan scholar is hired to find a stolen letter that might prove the existence of secret gatherings of 16th-century scholars who discussed religion and science. This is a very nice read for historical fiction lovers with action that is at times James Bond-like and a bit over the top.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at