Michael Cunningham & Amy Bloom

Michael Cunningham & Amy Bloom

Past Event: Monday, April 10, 2000

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Literary Arts

Michael Cunningham grew up in Pasadena, California and graduated from Stanford University. After college he traveled around the West tending bar and starting novels he never finished. He was eventually accepted at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and began having his work published in The Atlantic Monthly and other magazines. In the late 1980s, he moved to New York and continued writing while working as a secretary at the Carnegie Corporation. He quit his job after his novel A Home at the End of the World was published in 1990 to wide acclaim. The New York Times Book Review called his subsequent work Flesh and Blood (1995) “A wonderful…sprawling, old-fashioned novel.” In 1998, Cunningham became an international literary sensation with the release of his book The Hours, a subtle and imaginative sequel to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (the working title of which was “The Hours”). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner, the novel became a national bestseller. The Hourstells the story of three women (one of whom is Virginia Woolf herself) in three distinct eras over the course of a single day. “I’ve just had this thing with Mrs. Dalloway since I was very young, and it has always felt like a part of me,” explained Cunningham. “By focusing on Woolf so hard, I understand a bit more about the creative process, about the relationship between fiction and life, and how mental disorders feed and inhibit creativity.” Cunningham lives in New York City and is currently working on a screenplay.

Amy Bloom did not start writing until she was 34, having already established herself as a psychotherapist. However, she gained attention quickly when her first published story, “Love Is Not a Pie,” was selected for Best American Short Stories 1991. Two years later she confirmed her place as one of the finest short-story writers in America when her collection Come to Me(1993) was selected as a finalist for both the National Book Award and The Los Angeles Times Fiction Award. Bloom’s years in the therapist’s chair have influenced her writing by helping to shape her characters and themes. “I have a dark kind of optimism,” she says. “To me, a happy ending might be that everyone is still alive, or that no one is rotting away with Alzheimer’s.” Her first novel, Love Invents Us (1997), was selected as a New York Times Notable Book and received glowing reviews. The Chicago Tribune remarked, “Bloom’s precise, sensual and heartbreaking tale reminds us that the most exquisite of pleasures can be wedded to the most searing of sorrows.” As a psychotherapist and as a novelist, Bloom has made both a trade and an art of understanding the complicated emotions of people. In her work she explores the inner lives of her characters and how the emotions of love and desire can take their lives in surprising directions. Currently, Bloom divides her time between psychotherapy and writing. She lives in Durham, Connecticut.

Excerpt from The Hours (1999), by Michael Cunnigham
She is borne quickly along by the current. She appears to be flying, a fantastic figure, arms outstretched, hair streaming, the tail of the fur coat billowing behind. She floats, heavily, through shafts of brown, granular light. She does not travel far. Her feet (the shoes are gone) strike the bottom occasionally, and when they do they summon up a sluggish cloud of muck, filled with the black silhouettes of leaf skeletons, that stands all but stationary in the water after she has passed along out of sight. Stripes of green-black weed catch in her hair and the fur of her coat, and for a while her eyes are blindfolded by a thick swatch of weed, which finally loosens itself and floats, twisting and untwisting and twisting again.

She comes to rest, eventually, against one of the pilings of the bridge at Southease. The current presses her, worries her, but she is firmly positioned at the base of the squat, square column, with her back to the river and her face against the stone. She curls there with one arm folded against her chest and the other afloat over the rise of her hip. Some distance above her is the bright, rippled surface. The sky reflects unsteadily there, white and heavy with clouds, traversed by the black cutout shapes of rooks. Cars and trucks rumble over the bridge. A small boy, no older than three, crossing the bridge with his mother, stops at the rail, crouches, and pushes the stick he’s been carrying between the slats of the railing so it will fall into the water. His mother urges him along but he insists on staying awhile, watching the stick as the current takes it.

Excerpt from Come to Me: Stories (1993), by Amy BloomMy parents came down from the porch; my big father, in his faded blue trunks, drooping below his belly, his freckled back pink and moist in the sun, as it was every summer. The sun caught the red hair on his head and shoulders and chest, and he shone. The Spencers were half-Viking, he said. My mother was wearing her summer outfit, a black two-piece bathing suit. I don’t remember her ever wearing a different suit. At night, she’d add one of my father’s shirts and wrap it around her like a kimono. Some years, she looked great in her suit, waist nipped in, skin smooth and tan; other years, her skin looked burnt and crumpled, and the suit was too big in some places and too small in others. Those years, she smoked too much and went out on the porch to cough. But that summer the suit fit beautifully, and when she jumped off the porch into my father’s arms, he whirled her around and let her black hair whip his face while he smiled and smiled.

Selected WorkMichael CunninghamThe Hours (1998)Flesh And Blood (1995)A Home at the End of the World (1990)

Amy BloomA Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You (2000)Love Invents Us (1997)Come to Me (1993)

LinksThe Hours reading group guideAn interview with Michael CunninghamAmy Bloom’s official web siteAn interview with Amy Bloom