Deep questions, diverse interests mark first guest of 2010 Spring Reading Series

For generations, readers have pondered the answer to the question: “To be or not to be?”

Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson

But a more current author wants readers to ponder, “What does it mean to be civilized?” “What is the self?” and “Where is home?”

That last question is the central theme of Charles Johnson’s novel “Middle Passage,” which he will read from at noon on Thursday in the first installment of the 2010 American Book Review Spring Reading Series at the University of Houston-Victoria. The event, which is free to the public, will be in the Alcorn Auditorium of University West, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. Light refreshments will be served.

“Every one of my novels has a basic question at its center,” Johnson said. It probably originates from his master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy, he noted.

Along with being a novelist and professor, Johnson has worked as a cartoonist, novelist, essayist, short story writer and scholar of African-American literature. His honors and awards include a National Book Award, a 2002 Academy Award for Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and a MacAuthor “Genius Grant.”

His literary scope ranges from scholarly works examining the life of Martin Luther King Jr., to TV programs broadcast on the Disney Channel, to an upcoming Marvel Comics adaptation of “Middle Passage.”

“We’ve never had a guest before with the sheer diversity of experiences and accomplishments of Dr. Johnson,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, editor and publisher of the American Book Review and dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “We’re very fortunate to have him and very honored he accepted our invitation.”

Based at UHV, ABR is an internationally distributed literary publication that champions quality works by small presses. Its staff organizes two reading series annually – one in the fall and one in the spring – that bring nationally known authors to the main UHV campus.

While in Victoria, the authors attend roundtable discussions with UHV faculty and students, make classroom visits to area schools, give lectures open to the community, and go to receptions hosted by Friends of ABR patrons. Past speakers have included Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Oshinsky, author and Iranian refugee Farnoosh Moshiri, Chicana novelist Ana Castillo and National Book Award-winning poet Mark Doty.

Other authors scheduled to appear are as follows:

  • Darlene H. Unrue, Feb. 18 - A Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Unrue has written and edited several books about the work and life of Texas literary talent Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980). Porter, born in Indian Creek, Texas, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist and political activist. In her mid-teens, Porter lived in Victoria and taught music, physical culture and dramatic reading, according to her biography.
  • Jake Silverstein, March 8 - He was a reporter at the Big Bend Sentinel in Marfa, Texas, from 1999 to 2000 and a 2002 Fulbright Scholar in Zacatecas, Mexico. Silverstein is a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, and his essay for that magazine, “Highway Run,” about a Mexican road race, won the 2007 PEN/USA Journalism Award. His journalism also has been featured in several anthologies, including the “Best American Travel Writing 2002” and “Submersion Journalism,” a 2008 collection of first-person nonfiction. His first book, “Nothing Happened and Then It Did, a Chronicle in Fact and Fiction,” will be published by W.W. Norton in later this year. He came to work for Texas Monthly in 2006 as a senior editor and was named editor in September of 2008.
  • Curtis White, March 25 - He is a professor of English at Illinois State University. A novelist and essayist, White has written several widely acclaimed books, including “The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves,” “Memories of My Father Watching TV,” “Requiem” and, most recently, “The Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money and the Crisis of Nature.” His essays have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Orion, Playboy and The Village Voice.
  • Bret Anthony Johnston, April 22 - He is the author of the internationally acclaimed “Corpus Christi: Stories” and the editor of “Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer.” Named a Best Book of the Year by The Independent of London and The Irish Times, “Corpus Christi: Stories” received The Southern Review’s Annual Short Fiction Award, the Texas Institute of Letters’ Debut Fiction Award, the Christopher Isherwood Prize and the James Michener Fellowship. His work appears in magazines such as The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Oxford American and Tin House, and in anthologies such as “New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best” 2003, 2004 and 2005. He is a recipient of the Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. He has written essays for and is a regular contributor to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” In 2006, the National Book Foundation honored him with a new National Book Award for writers under 35. A skateboarder for almost 20 years, he is the director of creative writing at Harvard University.

For more information about the ABR Spring Reading Series, contact Managing Editor Charles Alcorn at 361-570-4100 or

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Thomas Doyle 361-570-4342