Literary Readings: Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick (11/8/2010)
During a recent reading of their works at the 92nd Street Y, Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick proved as charming and witty in person as their words are on the page. Stepping up to the podium to read from their latest works, the authors were self-effacing, deferential, and clever. The event, which featured brief introductions to the authors, readings of excerpts from their latest works, and a short Q&A segment, proved an insightful examination of the writing process. The event programs featured reproductions of the authors’ manuscript pages, allowing the audience a gaze into the editing process. It was a thoughtful touch that added to the richness of the event.
Ozick and Krauss were introduced before each read from her latest work. Professor Nathan Englander delivered a thoughtful introduction to Krauss’s work, referencing her “radiant thoughtfulness” and the success of her second novel The History of Love. Krauss stepped up to the podium, seemingly overwhelmed by Englander’s heady praise. As she prepared to read an excerpt from her novel Great House, Krauss reached for a glass of water, quipping: “My water has my name on it. I drank from Cynthia’s.” As she began to read aloud, however, Krauss’s humor was replaced by her evocative prose, rich language, and lilting voice. The excerpt she read concerned a father’s estranged son, the nature of mortality, and the acceptance of death. As Krauss’s voice filled the auditorium, her words mesmerized the audience into a quiet stillness.
Krauss’s reading was followed by a brief introduction to Ozick’s work, provided by writer Lore Segal. Ozick, a bespectacled white-haired woman, stepped up to the podium and promptly disappeared behind it. Her head barely visible behind her totem, she remarked on its size. Smilingly wryly, she suggested that she and the thirty-something Krauss represented a “May/December romance,” though she wished she were a bit less December. Reading a portion of her latest work, the novel Foreign Bodies, Ozick was in her element, relishing the cleverness of her words, emphasizing the humor in her work. Based on the Henry James novel The Ambassadors, Ozick’s work was sharp and quick, a rich examination of what it means to be American, and to feel alienated from one’s own nation.
A short and insightful Q&A segment followed the readings and allowed the authors to speak about the nature of the writing process. Krauss and Ozick, who both began as poets, spoke especially eloquently on the difference between the poetic and novel forms. As Krauss noted, “Poetry, which seems so small and yet is something that can contain infinity [has this] sense of seeming perfection, while a novel is inherently flawed.” Krauss finds this imperfection satisfying, suggesting artfully, “poetry is as a room,” while novels are “houses you can live in.” Ozick noted that she finds most contemporary poetry dissatisfying because it is too casual, and does not seek the “transcendence” inherent in the works of classical poets like Robert Frost.
Though Krauss suggests the novel is inherently flawed, it is hard to find fault in either her and Ozick’s novels. Throughout their works, their use of language is particular, evocative, and compelling. If novels are houses, then clearly Krauss and Ozick are skilled architects—the houses they design are well worth a visit.