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02.27.2020

Big Ears expands into literary realms with Richard Powers, Geoff Dyer, Third Man, Saul Williams & more

Inspired by Patti Smith’s participation in this year’s Big Ears — one of her two Big Ears shows, Words and Music, is an acoustic evening of poetry, prose, and song — we are reaching deeper into the world of words and literature, introducing a new facet to our programming that we plan to continue to develop in future years.

Joining us this year will be:

Richard Powers — MacArthur fellow and National Book Award winner – and this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for Literature — makes his first-ever public appearance in East Tennessee; notable because Powers recently moved home to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Kirkus called his latest, the Pulitzer-winning novel The Overstory, “A masterpiece of operatic proportions… A magnificent achievement.” Powers will be joined in reading and conversation by his friend Margaret Renkl, author of A Late Migration: A Natural History of Love and Loss which the New York Times Book Review praised as “equal parts Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott with a healthy sprinkle of Tennessee dry rub thrown in.”

The reading & conversation with Richard Powers & Margaret Renkl is co-sponsored by the Humanities Tennessee Council & Union Ave Books.

Two of the great music writers of our generation: Geoff Dyer, whose terrific jazz-inspired book But Beautiful remains a favorite at Big Ears, will be joined in reading and conversation by the legendarily incisive and influential former New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff, whose most recent book, Every Song Ever, had Alex Ross hymning: “[Ratliff] goes leaping from Beethoven to Big Black, from Morton Feldman to Curtis Mayfield, identifying continuities while delighting in contrasts — a remarkable book.”

Poet, actor, and musician, Saul Williams — who the Washington Post described as “an astonishing poet. The internal rhyme, metrics, and imagery of his work are so fleet … that they’re humbling.” — will take part in a conversation and reading hosted by Carpetbag Theatre, Knoxville’s celebrated 50-year-old African-American theater company.

Finally, our friends from Third Man Books return with a literary salon featuring Pulitzer Prize finalist poet Adrian MatejkaCaroline Randall Williams, whose poetry collection Lucy Negro Redux, was the basis for Rhiannon Giddens and Nashville Ballet’s Big Ears production in 2019; Sheree Renée Thomas, whose forthcoming short story collection Nine Bar Blues is inspired by myth and folklore, natural science and conjure, her roots in Memphis, and in the genius culture created in the Mississippi Delta; and Emmy and Grammy winning writer Robert Gordon author of the definitive chronicle of Memphis music, It Came From Memphis. The whole Third Man event will be knit together by North Nashville ambient music merchants Rich Ruth Ensemble.

Read about the full literary program for Big Ears 2020 HERE.