If you’re looking for holiday gifts that celebrate both Rochester and the literary arts, you don’t need to look far. Here are two books and a calendar that showcase Flour City in all its glory and beauty.
Add them to your shopping lists as they are must-haves for the bibliophile in your life. Let’s start with…
What to read
Author Hubert Haddad skillfully captures the mysterious and bizarre story of 19th century mediums Leah, Margaret and Katie Fox in his 2014 French novel, naughty little girl theory. Jennifer Grotz, professor at the University of Rochester, took charge of the translation of the work, and the result was Rochester Knockings: A Fox Sisters Novel.
Open Letter Press, the University of Rochester press that publishes literature in translation, was approached by Haddad’s French publisher, Zulma. They in turn approached Grotz about the translation.
“The fact that there was a book about Rochester that could be translated and published by a Rochester-based press just seemed like a delicious kismet. So we all signed on for the project,” Grotz said.
Grotz and Haddad paint a picture of a socially and economically booming Rochester, and images of the Genesee River and landmarks such as Mt. Hope Avenue and Midtown Place spice up the book with local flavor. Spiritualism flourishes in this bustling environment and readers feel as if they are sitting around the sisters’ famous “knocking table”, listening to the dead reach out to grieving family members.
The translation took Grotz a year. Around this time, she came to identify with Fox’s youngest sister, Katie, in an unexpected way.
“She’s mysterious, fascinating, weird and, frankly, unforgettable to me,” Grotz said of the youngest and most vulnerable of the three famous sisters. According to Haddad’s book, Katie was the only true psychic among women.
Rochester knocks is available from the Open Letter Press of the University of Rochester.
Who to watch
Julian Foster’s first book, Before I wake up made it to three bestseller lists on Amazon and became the best-selling book of African American literary fiction in 2014.
Her book is the raw coming-of-age story of Ketasha (KeKe) who lives on the west side of Rochester with her mother and sister.
Foster doesn’t hold back in telling the sad and complicated story of KeKe, and her words immerse the reader in a world of gangs, drugs and harsh life lessons.
Nina Alvarez, local writer and editor of Foster’s book, notes that he “doesn’t shy away from the profane or the sublime. There is nothing banal in his prose. The kind of stories he tells demand both economy and excess, death and survival, hilarity and despair. His work spares no expense.
His next book, beautiful me, is also set in Rochester, but this time the main character is a homicide detective working to solve a crime that takes him to places in his mind that turn out to be dangerous and dark. Some of that darkness comes from Foster’s own inner conflicts.
“I had to come into myself and be comfortable with what was there. It challenged me and made me feel uncomfortable at times,” Foster said.
Readers can expect beautiful me available spring 2016. Before I wake up can be purchased through Amazon.
Do not miss
In 2014, Cohber Press, a print and marketing solutions company in Henrietta, launched what CCO Judi Gavin describes as “an annual collaborative project with some of Rochester’s top creative talent.”
The result is a collectible annual calendar called FUEL.
Their calendar 2015 featured photographers, illustrators and art directors.
The 2016 calendar features writers who have each composed a letter based on the theme: Lost and Found. The challenge for the participants was to interpret the theme as they chose it without direction from the organizers.
Joe Moore and Stacey Rowe are among several writers who have accepted the unique challenge. They and several others will read their letters beginning at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at Writers and Books in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts, 740 University Ave.
A wine and cheese reception will follow the reading. A sample of the original letters will also be on display.
Calendars will be on sale during the event and all proceeds will go directly to writers and books.
For more information, visit www.wab.org.
Christine Green is a freelance writer in Brockport. She organizes and hosts a monthly literary reading at A Different Path Art Gallery titled Words on the Verge. His column on literary events, local authors and books appears monthly in the Democrat and Chronicle. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @christinejgreen.