National Book Award winner and novelist, William Vollmann is much acclaimed for tackling graphic subjects using a means many authors refuse — experience.
Vollmann has smoked with Cambodian prostitutes, run with Afghan guerrilla forces, broken into rail yards to hop trains and will give a reading of his work, followed by a question and answer session at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Alkek Library.
Vollmann has traveled to the North Pole, Bosnia and the Congo and has written a number of books, essays and short stories commenting on society’s most pressing issues such as violence, war and poverty.
“His writing is very focused on moral problems and moral issues,” said Marc Watkins, graduate English student who is a fan of Vollmann’s work. “His writing carefully, yet elegantly illuminates controversial subjects that most writers shy away from.”
A straightforward “street-journalistic narrative” is how Michael Noll, program faculty in the department of English described Vollmann’s style.
“He’s kind of an experimental writer,” Noll said. “He has some subjects that are a little offbeat. I haven’t read a lot of it but what I have read is pretty interesting. He’ll sort of boil down a lot of complex social issues.”
Verbose novels sometimes thousands of pages long, numerous footnotes and absence of quotation marks are typical Vollmann trademarks, but something his fans savor.
“I was just absolutely fascinated with this style of writing and the language he uses and his outlook on life,” said Jonna Beck, graduate English student who has followed his work for years. “It’s kind of a mix between pragmatic and dark … He writes about war and violence but with a sort of worship for them.”
Vollmann won the National Book Award in 2005 for Europe Central, which portrays World War II-era Europe through short profiles and sketches of Europeans. Vollmann is also well known for his book Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World, which recounts his 1982 travels in Pakistan and Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
A chance to interact with Vollmann is something rare. A recluse by nature, Vollmann scarcely does interviews and doesn’t even have his own Web site.
“It’s really amazing that he is engaging with the university,” Beck said “The only time he is engaging with the future is in his writing. I’m looking forward to just being in his presence.”
Watkins hopes to learn from Vollmann’s inspiration.
“I just hope to figure out what really drives this guy,” he said. “We have people sitting behind desks writing from imagination. It’s refreshing for someone to go out and view their subject first hand.”
The Therese Kayser Lindsey Reading Series and the department of English is sponsoring the event. Contact Michael Noll at 512-245-7679 for more information.