Literature Program

Friday, December 7, 2007

Co-sponsored/co-presented by:
The John R. Oishei Foundation; Artvoice; Buffalo Spree; WBFO 88.7; Righteous Babe Records; Talking Leaves...Books; The Mansion; New York State Council on The Arts; National Endowment for The Arts; Erie County; Just Buffalo; and Hallwalls.

Ariel Dorfman


Presented at:
Asbury Hall at Babeville

Ariel Dorfman (born May 6, 1942 in Buenos Aires) is an Argentine-Chilean novelist, playwright, essayist, academic, and human rights activist. Dorfman, who is Jewish, was born in Argentina, but his family moved to the United States shortly after his birth, and then moved to Chile in 1954. He attended and was later a professor at the University of Chile, and adopted Chilean Citizenship in 1967. From 1970 to 1973, Dorfman was part of the administration of president Salvador Allende. He was forced into exile following the CIA-planned and U.S.-funded military coup in which General Augusto Pinochet came to power. Since 1985 he has taught at Duke University, where he is currently Walter Hines Page Research Professor of Literature and Professor of Latin American Studies.

Hallwalls is pleased to welcome Dorfman back to Buffalo after twenty years, this time in collaboration with Just Buffalo. Hallwalls first presented a reading and talk by the author on April 8, 1987. Dorfman also contributed the preface, entitled "Beyond Satan and a Siesta," to Hallwalls' 1987 landmark film text Reviewing Histories: Selections from New Latin American Cinema, edited by Coco Fusco. The following year he contributed a piece of fiction to Hallwalls' anthology Blatant Artifice 2/3 (1988). His contributor's note then read: "Ariel Dorfman is widely known as a tireless and outspoken critic of the [then] present government of Chile, as the author of several highly-regarded books of fiction, criticism, and poetry, as well as numerous articles on Chilean politics, American popular culture, and the condition of exile. His books (originally published in Spanish) include How to Read Donald Duck and The Empire's Old Clothes, the novels Widows [reissued in paperback in 2002 with Stephen Kessler] and The Last Song of Manuel Sendero, and the [then] recently published collection of poems about the disappeared, Last Waltz in Santiago. His own stage adaptation of Widows premiered [in August of that year] at the Williamstown (Massachusetts) Theatre Festival."

Since the restoration of democracy in Chile in 1990, Dorfman has divided his time between Santiago and the United States. Dorfman's work often deals with the horrors of tyranny and, in later works, the trials of exile. In 1999 he published Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey. His most famous play, Death and the Maiden, describes the encounter of a former torture victim with the man she believes tortured her; it was made into a film in 1994 by Roman Polanski starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. In 2003 his 1995 novel Konfidenz was reissued by Dalkey Archive Press, with an introduction by Andrei Codrescu, and in 2004 his 1988 novel Mascara was reissued by Seven Stories Press, with an afterword by South African-born novelist, 2003 Nobel Prize Laureate, and former UB English professor (and Vietnam war protestor) J.M. Coetzee. As a journalist and commentator, Dorfman wrote extensively about Pinochet's extradition case as it unfolded for the Spanish newspaper El País and other publications, material later collected and adapted in his 2002 book Exorcising Terror: The Incredible On-going Trial of Augusto Pinochet (Seven Stories Press). His 1983 novel Widows—the first of his novels translated into English—was also reissued in 2002 by Seven Stories.

In 2005, Dorfman was commissioned by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo—co-author with photojournalist Eddie Adams of the documentary book Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World—to write the play Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark. Kennedy Cuomo asked Dorfman to write something that would celebrate and memorialize the efforts and sufferings of the defenders documented in her book, transforming them from reports of campaigns mounted and atrocities endured into aesthetic moments felt. Given hundreds of pages of transcripts from her interviews with the defenders, Dorfman was charged with weaving the stories into a dramatic structure. A staged reading of the play debuted at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, with parts read by Hector Elizondo, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Kline, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Malkovich, Rita Moreno, Sigourney Weaver, and Alfre Woodard. Very recently he wrote the afterword to Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak (edited by Marc Falkoff, U. of Iowa Press, August 15, 2007). Dorfman himself is also the subject of a feature-length documentary, A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, directed by Peter Raymont. The film had its world premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2007, and will be screened at Hallwalls on January 19, 2008.

Besides major grant support from The John R. Oishei Foundation, the organizers of Babel thank Artvoice, Buffalo Spree, & WBFO 88.7 for their media sponsorship; Righteous Babe Records for the use of Asbury Hall at Babeville; Talking Leaves…Books; The Mansion; and New York State Council on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and Erie County, for their support of Just Buffalo's and Hallwalls' programs.

Some publications related to this event:
December, 2007 and January, 2008 - 2007