Kaveh Akbar and Ben Fountain will read from their new novels Martyr! and Devil Makes Three, followed by an on-stage conversation with writer and professor at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, Brenda Peynado. The evening will conclude with a book sale and signing. The event is presented as part of the 2023/2024 Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series.
KAVEH AKBAR – whom Tommy Orange calls “one of my favorite writers, ever” – is a noted Iranian-American author and scholar. His first poetry collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf – “one of the best debuts in recent memory” (Eduardo C. Corral) – was described by Roxanne Gay as “an outstanding book of poetry… unknowable and always beautiful.” His second collection, Pilgrim Bell – which Time called “bracing in its honesty and noteworthy in its steadfast adherence to finding the spiritual in even the most mundane settings” – is, according to Mary Karr, “destined to become a classic, another blazing torch added to the eternal flames.” Kaveh joins us to read from and talk about his new novel, Martyr!, about which Lauren Groff writes: “Kaveh Akbar is a radiant soul, a poet so agile and largehearted it comes as no surprise that his first leap into fiction is elegant, dizzying, playful. A Martyr! is the best novel you’ll ever read about the joy of language, addiction, displacement, martyrdom, belonging, homesickness for people longed for but forever unknown, the way art as eruption of life gazes back into death, and the ecstasy that sometimes arrives—like grace—when we find ourselves teetering on the knife-edge of despair.” Akbar is also editor of The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 100 Poets on the Divine.
BEN FOUNTAIN – about whom Malcolm Gladwell wrote in The New Yorker, “Sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table” – is the award-winning author of four books. His debut story collection Brief Encounters with Che Guevara won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction. His debut novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received the National Book Critics’ Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Billy Lynn was also adapted into a feature film directed by Ang Lee. Bill Moyers called his essay collection on the 2016 U.S. presidential election Beautiful Country Burn Again “the bravest, boldest, most bracing political book of the year.” His nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, Texas Monthly, and elsewhere, and his reportage on post-earthquake Haiti was broadcast on This American Life. He comes to Houston to read from his new novel Devil Makes Three, set in Haiti in the early 1990s, after the fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the rise of a brutal military dictatorship. Imbolo Mbue writes, this “powerfully written novel … reminds us not only of the ways an ambitious, fully engaged novel can further our understanding of the world, but also of how pleasurable and satisfying such a novel can be.” Ben lives in Dallas.
BRENDA PEYNADO’s genre-bending short story collection, THE ROCK EATERS—featuring Latina girlhood, basement ghosts, alien arrivals, angels falling from rooftops, virtual reality, and sorrows manifesting as tumorous stones—was named one of NPR, the New York Public Library, and Electric Literature’s best books of 2021. She teaches at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.