The Mercantile Library announced its 2009 lineup of guest speakers today. It’s an impressive list.
British writer A.S. Byatt, who won the Booker Prize in 1990 for her novel Possession, is the featured speaker at 22nd annual Niehoff Lecture — a ritzy, black-tie affair replete with high-priced dinner in the Netherland Plaza’s famed Hall of Mirrors — on Oct. 10. Byatt is the latest in a long line of heavy-hitting Niehoff speakers — past participants include John Updike, Calvin Trillin, Salman Rushdie and William F. Buckley.
Denis Johnson, one of the planet’s best writers of fiction, visits the library April 22. That hyperbole stands despite my not having read his latest, Tree of Smoke, which garnered praise from all kinds of high-minded literary geeks and which won the 2007 National Book Award for fiction. Its imposing, 720-page presence has been mocking me from my nightstand for more than a year — another reminder of just how much my reading time has been compromised in recent years. I suppose I now have no choice but to dive into it.
George Packer, one of the planet’s best writers of non-fiction, presents the library’s sixth annual Harriet Beecher Stow Lecture on June 11. Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is the author of The Assassins' Gate, an incisive, emotionally absorbing book on the Iraq War and its impact on both U.S. policy and everyday Iraqis. (He’s also been talking shit, via his blog, about conservative hack William Kristol — Packer recently urged The New York Times to can Kristol, who writes a column for the Times every Monday, when his contract lapses at the end of the year.)
Other 2009 speakers include novelist Chris Bohjalian (Sept. 17) and food writers David Kamp (who has also written hilarious guides on film and music snobbery) and Mimi Sheraton, both of whom appear as part of the Winter Author Series in March.