Looking for a good read? PAW asked some professors for their recommendations.
Director of the Program in the Study of Women and Gender
Professor of English and Theater
FAVORITE PLAYS TO TEACH:
Since I teach theater and performance studies, my favorite books tend to be plays, rather than novels or nonfiction. One of my favorites is Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (both parts). The plays always excite my students, because they use theatricality in imaginative ways to address a wide swath of issues relevant to our common situation. Kushner manages to launch an intellectual conversation about democracy and faith through the apparatus of theater, while telling a story full of heart and soul about the human condition. I’m always moved by his (characters’) declarations of faith, not in a religion, per se, but in the potential of human connection across our many differences.
MUST-READ BOOK IN YOUR FIELD:
At the risk of sounding entirely self-serving, I’m going to recommend my own book, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre. The book’s premise is that we go to live theater as a way to connect with one another in profound ways, ways which, in the moment of being together as strangers, allows us to experience, just for a moment, what utopia might feel like. The book describes performances at which I felt this, and engages with issues about performance and theater from the perspective of hope and fellow feeling. I write only about performances that moved me in this book. It’s a critical project, but it’s not about “criticizing,” per se, and offers an alternative model of engagement for spectators and for artists (for anyone, really, who cares about and loves going to the theater).
FAVORITE PLEASURE READ:
My favorite pleasure read is a good novel with beautiful turns of phrase. Many have stood in that spot over the years: Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is perhaps a perennial favorite. I also recently enjoyed Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake — a lovely, poignant novel about loss — and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, which I found a set of very smart, imaginative, gender-progressive anti-war/anti-fascism novels for adults, as well as young people.
I just finished reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which won this year’s National Book Award for nonfiction. It’s a beautifully told story about Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and also draws a vivid portrait of what it was like to scratch out a living as an artist in New York in the ’60s and ’70s. Smith is a lovely writer; her prose is spare and quiet but absolutely crystalline in her descriptions of the people and places that intersected her life at the time. I’m also reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun, a gorgeously rendered novel about civil war in Nigeria. Both Adichie and Smith were guests of the Princeton Public Lectures series, which I chair, this year. It’s been a pleasure engaging their work.
More Good Reads recommendations: Samuel S. Wang, Anthony Branker ’80, Michael G. Littman.