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Friday, October 19, 2007

Everything’s Better with Sherry

posted by on October 19 at 13:27 PM

The 20th anniversary season of Seattle Arts & Lectures’ literary lecture series began at the beginning of this week with a talk by the Nobel Prize–winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, although before he came out there was some celebrating-the-organization’s-history to be done. Board president Kim Brown Seely and board member Lisa Verhovek asked audience members who had been longtime subscribers to stand. Lots of applause. Then there was a video projected onto a huge screen with the heads of lots of famous writers from series past (Toni Morrison’s head, Jeffrey Eugenides’s head, Sherman Alexie’s head, et al.) swooping into the distance to a stirring soundtrack. More applause. Then, since SAL is currently without a director, Sherry Prowda, SAL’s founder, came out to introduce Pamuk, and as soon as Prowda stepped onto the stage the crowd erupted into whoops and whistles and thunderous applause.

“What a wonderful, warm, warm reception,” Prowda said. She wore black boots and a black skirt and talked briefly about her memories of starting the organization in the late ’80s, especially the generosity and curiosity and intelligence of the audience. Then she answered frequently asked questions about past lecturers. “There were about three writers who made me cry, and they weren’t tears of joy.” Laughter. “There were five writers I wished would ask me to run off with them, but none of them did.” More laugher. There were also, she said, writers she always wanted to have the chance to introduce but never got to, and one of them was Orhan Pamuk, so tonight was very special, etc.

Then Pamuk came out and gave a not particularly exciting (Chris McCann disagrees) hour-long survey of the books he’s written and talked about the pleasures of literature and the person I came with, a poet, dozed off.

Then Prowda came back onstage to lead the Q&A and the room woke up again. As a moderator, Prowda has a presence, an alertness, and a not-obsequious intelligence that’s been sorely lacking in the lecture series lately. For her first question, she asked Pamuk to comment on the just-approved House resolution to call the Ottoman Turk’s 1915 killings of 1.5 million Armenians a genocide, and Pamuk said, “I was expecting a political question, but not so fast. Smart journalists at least ask an easy question first.


Prowda volleyed, “I’m not a journalist.”

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if Prowda came back to Seattle Arts & Lectures? Or at least if she conducted the lecture intros and Q&As every now and again? (The last time she’d introduced someone was Chinua Achebe in 1998.) At the reception afterward, board president Seely admitted that, watching the evening unfold, the same thought had occurred to her.

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