Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis

Past Event: Wednesday, November 4, 2009

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

Literary Arts Icon

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

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.

By Car

  • 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 I-5 via Westbound I-90
    Take the 2C exit for I-5 North. Follow signs for Madison Street/Convention Place and merge right onto Seventh Avenue. Turn left onto Madison Street. Proceed three blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue four 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.

By Public Transit (Bus & Light Rail)
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 light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

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.


Open Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where a captioning screen displaying the words that are spoken or sung is placed on stage. This option is present at every event at Benaroya Hall in our 2019/20 Season. For digital streams of online events, all pre-recorded and live online events will have either open or closed captioning.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are devices that people with hearing loss use in conjunction with their hearing device (hearing aids or cochlear implants). Benaroya Hall has an infrared hearing system, which transmits sound by light beams. Headsets are available in The Boeing Company Gallery coat check and the Head Usher stations in both lobbies.

Sign Language Interpretation is available upon request for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing individuals. To make a request for interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10, or select “Sign Language Interpretation” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process and we will contact you to confirm details. Please note: we appreciate a two-week advance notice to allow us time to secure interpretation.

Wheelchair Accessible Seating and Accessible Restrooms are available in all sections at our venues, and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. Among other features, Benaroya Hall has designated parking spaces adjacent to elevators in their parking garage. Elevators with Braille signage go to all levels within the Hall. To reserve seating for a specific mobility concern, you may select “Wheelchair Accessible or Alternative Seating Options” during ticket checkout, and we will contact you to confirm details. For more details on their accessibility features, click here.

Guide and service dogs are welcome.

Gender neutral restrooms are available.

We are pleased to offer these accessibility services at our venues, and they are provided at no additional cost to ticket holders. Please contact us with any questions and feedback about how we can be more accessible and inclusive. Our Patron Services Manager is available at, or Monday-Friday from 10:00am – 5:00pm at 206.621.2230×10.

For more accessibility information, please head to If you would like to make accessibility arrangements you do not see listed here, please contact our box office or select “Other Accommodations” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process, and we will contact you to confirm details.