Native poets featured at Just Buffalo + more
Photo by Dellas
Thursday, April 4
Eric Gansworth & Layli Long Soldier
Just Buffalo Literary Center (468 Washington St.)
If the name “Eric Gansworth” rings a bell, it may be because you have read one or more of his eleven books, including novels and poetry collections (one of which was a collaboration with the photographer Milton Rogovin), taken one of his literature courses at Canisius, or seen an exhibition of his paintings. But it’s also possible you recognize him from his inclusion in the series of fifteen larger than life banners saluting notable writers with deep ties to WNY—he’s there alongside Twain and Fitzgerald—and have been eager to learn more.
You’ll get that opportunity this month, when Gansworth shares a bill with Layli Long Soldier as part of Just Buffalo’s “Poets of Native Nations” series on April 4. (Writer and editor Cedar Sigo appears in the series on May 2.) Born and raised at the Tuscarora Nation in Niagara County, he is also an enrolled citizen of the Onondaga Nation, and no matter what medium he is working in at any given time, his sensibility is grounded in his memories of growing up within the traditions of those two indigenous communities. (In one interview, he describes his family’s “complicated history of being ‘other’ within an already smaller group of ‘other’” as a crucial early influence on his perspective as a writer.) At the same time, he has long been fascinated by pop culture, and his words and images are frequently packed with references to movies, comic books, cars, monsters, and especially the rock music of the 1960s and ’70s. Indeed, the titles of his first two YA novels—If I Ever Get Out of Here and Give Me Some Truth—are paraphrases of post-Beatles lyrics by Paul McCartney and John Lennon respectively. Gansworth is an engaging reader of his prose and verse, attuned to both its humor and its pathos, and a master at transforming countless keenly observed details into a vivid panorama of the larger world.
Layli Long Soldier is visiting from Santa Fe.
Long Soldier, based in Santa Fe and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, also works in both poetry and visual art. Her 2017 volume Whereas was a literary sensation: A finalist for a National Book Award and winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award among other honors, it solidified her growing reputation as one of her generation’s leading poets for its examination of the lives of contemporary Native women and the role that language plays in our understanding of their experience, among other subjects. The evening is free and open to all.
Thursday, April 11
Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College (2001 Main St.)
While folks like Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar routinely and rightly receive credit for the creation of the graphic novel, it would be a huge mistake to leave comics artist Lynda Barry out of that origin story. By the mid-1980s, her syndicated strip Ernie Pook’s Comeek (which got its start in 1977 when her friend Matt Groening surreptitiously ran some of her drawings in the Evergreen College student paper) had evolved from self-contained panels into an ever-more elaborate narrative with a cast of deeply nuanced recurring characters whose misadventures gave Barry a unique way to create an intimate, semi-autobiographical narrative, hand-lettered and bearing an instantly recognizable visual aesthetic. In subsequent years she has published illustrated novels (the first of which, The Good Times are Killing Me, she later adapted for the stage), other serialized strips, roughly a dozen collections of her comics, and three nonfiction books about creativity. Through it all, she has honed a storytelling voice that is frequently hilarious but unafraid to venture into darker emotional and political terrain, and she remains one of our most entertaining and eerily accurate chroniclers of the inner lives of children.
Wednesday, April 24
UB’s Center for the Arts
Comedian, writer, actor, and producer Aziz Ansari first broke into mainstream awareness through several standup specials and a featured role in the sitcom Parks and Recreation, which led to the opportunity to create his own series on Netflix, the casually brilliant Master of None. One part romantic comedy, one part multi layered reflection on the complexities of life for the adult children of immigrants in urban America, it’s easily one of the smartest, funniest, and sometimes most heartbreaking shows in the current “golden age of television”—and very likely the first series in which the only major straight white male character is subtly but intentionally relegated to the “best friend” role. The key to the series—and to much of Ansari’s humor—is the way that his character is simultaneously the voice of wisdom (when it comes to, say, the politics of casting darker-skinned actors) and as utterly befuddled as any other guy his age (particularly when it comes to affairs of the heart).
So it was particularly distressing when Ansari—who had always seemed like one of the Good Guys both onstage and off, if not an outright culture hero—was accused of sexual misconduct as the #metoo movement was gathering force. There was a lot of very public debate about whether he deserved to be seen in the same light as fellow comics Bill Cosby and Louis CK; Ansari was both praised for the way he handled the charges against him and vilified for the seemingly reactionary tone of some of his newer material. Without attempting to add yet another uninformed voice to this important conversation, we can at least note that early reports indicate he has been directly and candidly addressing the situation—as well as the ways it intersects with his longstanding concerns with prejudice and power—in his latest standup tour. Given how deeply, fearlessly personal his work has always been, that news comes as no surprise.