Thursday, April 5, 2007

Laughs along the Chester: Lit House, Washington College Stage First-ever Humor and Satire Festival

Chestertown, MD, April 5, 2007 — In grim and uncertain times, few gifts are more precious than a sense of humor. In politically contentious times, few arts are more relevant than the art of satire. It's telling, then, that humor and satire are in full flourish these days.

In celebration of such, the Rose O'Neill Literary Houseat Washington College is presenting its first-ever Humor and Satire Festival, a multi-layered event featuring nationally prominent wits, scribes, newsmen and parodists. From improv storytelling to panel discussions to performance art, the Humor and Satire Festival offers a smorgasbord of the comedic, the ironic and the literary at various Chestertown venues, April 11-14.

Things kick off with homegrown campus talent on Wednesday, April 11, as Washington College's student wits present "Waiting for McInerny, Meeting the Fonz, Dancing With Mrs. Gillin, and Other Excursions in Humor and Satire" in the Rose O'Neill Literary House at 4:30 p.m. The presentation features readings by Lindsay Bergman, Rae Crabtree, Liam Daley, Michael McGrath, Kyndell Rainer, Supreet Sidhu and Erin Thorp. Admission is free and open to the public.

Do you get your daily news-feed from "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" on PBS or from "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central? The fault-line where journalism collides with satire is the topic for a forum that combines the Humor and Satire Festival with Washington College's annual Harwood Colloquy. Moderated by John Harwood, columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Washington bureau chief of CNBC, "Which One Is 'Fake' News?" will be presented in the College's Hynson Lounge on Thursday, April 12, at 7 p.m. Correspondents from the satirical media—including Joe Garden, staff writer for The Onion—will match wits and experiences with "real" journalists, including Jim Rutenberg, political reporter for The New York Times. Considering that the parody articles in The Onion are so dead-on accurate in tone that they've occasionally been mistaken for true news stories (see for examples), it should be a dynamic discussion.

"Which One is 'Fake' News?" is being co-presented by the Rose O'Neill Literary House, the Harwood Lecture Series in American Journalism and the Goldstein Program in Public Affairs. Admission is free and open to the public.

On Friday, April 13, the latest pop-phenomenon variation on the ancient art of storytelling makes its area debut. The Wall Street Journal called it "New York's hottest and hippest literary ticket." It's known as "the Moth," a standup narrative-performance gathering that, since it was started in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, has become all the rage in New York, drawing to the stage everyone from movie stars to everyday creative souls with stories to tell. "The performances are enthralling, funny and moving, with a typical New York intensity," reported the London Times. "These narrative sessions are fast becoming an institution," noted the New York Times.

The Moth grew from a New York hit to a national hit, touring the country—its arrival at Chestertown's Prince Theatre on April 13 comes as part of the Humor and Satire Festival. "Crack-Up: Stories of Comedies & Calamities" begins at 7:30 p.m. Novelist/essayist Jonathan Ames, who performs frequently as a storyteller and comedian and has been a recurring guest on "The Late Show with David Letterman," will play host, and the show will feature storytelling by Daryll "DMC" McDaniels (of the pioneering rap outfit Run-DMC) and others. Admission is free for Washington College students, faculty and staff, but reservations are required; call 410/810-5768. For the general public, tickets are available by calling the Prince Theatre at 410/810-2060.

The festivities continue on Saturday, April 14, beginning with a presentation by writer George Saunders on "The Art of Satire" in the Casey Academic Center Forum at 2 p.m.Entertainment Weekly has called Saunders one of the 100 most creative people in entertainment. Thomas Pynchon described Saunders as "an astoundingly tuned voice—graceful, dark, authentic and funny—telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times."

Vince Passaro recently wrote in The Nation, "If you are a new reader of George Saunders, the first thing you ought to know is that Saunders is the funniest writer in America, more likely to make you laugh in public, if that's where you're reading his books, than any writer since P.G. Wodehouse. The competition—David Sedaris, Tom Wolfe, Christopher Buckley— isn't even close."

A faculty member at Syracuse University and a contributor to The New Yorker, Harper's andGQ, Saunders has won four national magazine awards, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. His books include Civilwarland in Bad Decline, Pastoraliaand, most recently, In Persuasion Nation. Saunders' appearance is made possible with funds from the Maryland Humanities Council, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Also on April 14, performance artist Pat Oleszko, whose work takes an outrageous spin on aspects of the feminine, will present "Hijinks" at the College's Martha Washington Square at 3:15 p.m. The New York Times Magazine calls Oleszko "a founding force majeure in performance art and video ... a raw comic vision."

"The Comic Persuasion in Memoir" will be presented in the Rose O'Neill Literary House at 4:15 p.m. The discussion will feature Dan Kennedy and Sarah Payne Stuart. Kennedy, the author of Loser Goes First: My Thirtysomething Years of Dumb Luck and Minor Humiliation, is editor of and a frequent contributor at McSweeney's. Kennedy's second book, Rock On, a "corporate rock comedy," is due in early 2008.

Sarah Payne Stuart is the author of the acclaimed novels Men in Trouble and The Year Roger Wasn't Well, and the comic memoir My First Cousin Once Removed: Money, Madness, and the Family of Robert Lowell. The New York Times Book Review called My First Cousin Once Removed a "story with so much intelligence, humor and affection brought to bear that even the monsters it occasionally offers up are appealing."

"The Comic Persuasion in Poetry and Fiction" follows at 6 p.m., featuring poet Jason Schneiderman and author Jonathan Ames (fresh from hosting the previous night's "Crack-Up"). Schneiderman's poems have appeared in Tin House, Grand Street and Best American Poetry 2005, among other magazines and anthologies. The poet Tom Sleigh called the poems in Schneiderman's first collection, Sublimation Point, "grave, sweetly questioning, often irreverently funny."

Jonathan Ames is the author of the novels I Pass Like Night, The Extra Man and Wake Up, Sir! as well as the essay collections What's Not to Love?, My Less Than Secret Life and I Love You More Than You Know. He is the winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a former columnist for the New York Press.

Immediately following the Schneiderman-Ames presentation, the 2007 Humor and Satire Festival will close with a wrap party at the Rose O'Neill Literary House, replete with food, beverages and clown noses.

All of April 14's Festival events are free and open to the public.

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