Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis

Past Event: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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Literary Arts

Since her first story collection, The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976), Lydia Davis has been breaking rules.

She has taken everything a story is supposed to do or be—structural devices, plot points, character development—and put it through the spin cycle or the martini shaker, if you will. She has written stories with no plot to speak of, stories with too many characters, stories in the form of poems. She has written stories about the writing of stories, a cardinal sin of story writing according to Samuel Beckett.

In an interview many years ago with the author Francine Prose, Lydia Davis confessed that she knew she wanted to be a writer from a very young age. “But the funny thing,” she said, “was that it was more of a burden than a pleasure.” Of the core subjects in school, “I loved math, because there was only one way a problem could come out.” And of languages, after English her favorite was Latin. She hated history because “the events could have come out too many different ways.” In the end, she chose to make her home in literature. But given her aptitude for the analytical disciplines, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Davis’s work is revered for “defining problems precisely and economically,” for presenting in any given story “at least two ways of understanding any given situation” (Shelley Jackson for the Los Angeles Times Book Review).

In practice, Davis takes notes when the feeling moves her, when a story comes to her, when she sees or hears something interesting. These scraps of language and emotion, of idea and song, are tumbled over time in her logical and philosophical mind. On the page, her words find a rhythm. A seemingly simple story—sometimes just a sentence—reveals layers of complexity, as in “The Fly,” “At the back of the bus / inside the bathroom / this very small illegal passenger, / on its way to Boston.” A 40-page grammatical examination of fourth graders’ letters to a sick classmate applies a careful analysis to some very simple thoughts. And the thing that is only sometimes said about her in serious criticism but that is very true: she is awfully funny.

In addition to her four collections of short fiction and a novel, The End of the Story (1995), Davis is the translator of numerous French novels, memoirs, and volumes of literary criticism, including an award-winning translation of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way and an upcoming translation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. In 2003 she received a MacArthur Fellowship for writing. She is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Albany in upstate New York where lives with her husband, the painter Alan Cote. She has two sons, Daniel Auster (with her first husband, novelist Paul Auster) and Theo Cote.

Excerpt from “A Man from Her Past,” Varieties of Disturbance (2007)
I think Mother is flirting with a man from her past who is not Father. I say to myself: Mother ought not to have improper relations with this man “Franz”! “Franz” is a European. I say she should not see this man improperly while Father is away! But I am confusing an old reality with a new reality: Father will not be returning home. He will be staying on at Vernon Hall. As for Mother, she is ninety-four years old. How can there be improper relations with a woman of ninety-four? Yet my confusion must be this: though her body is old, her capacity for betrayal is still young and fresh.

Selected Work
Varieties of Disturbance (2007), a finalist for the National Book Award
Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (2002)
Almost No Memory (1997)
The End of the Story (1995)
Break It Down (1986), a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award
Story and Other Stories (1983)
Sketches for a Life of Wassilly (1981)
The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976)

Davis was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government for her translations of:
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Hélene by Pierre Jean Jouve
The Madness of the Day and Death Sentence by Maurice Blanchot
Vol. 1 of Ethics, Essential Works of Foucault by Michel Foucault
Rules of the Game, I: Scratches by Michel Leiris
The Spirit of Mediterranean Places by Michel Butor

Links
Samuel Johnson Is Indignant: TMO Meets Lydia Davis
BOMB: Lydia Davis interviewed by Francine Prose
Davis reads from her work at Audio-files @ PENNsound

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

Parking
The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.

Accessibility

All of our venues have accessible seating and listening devices available. Please contact us at sal@lectures.org or 206.621.2230 x10 for more details and to let us know you’re coming so we can better accommodate your needs.