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Puterbaugh Festival brings cultural opportunity to Norman

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PHILIPPE MATSAS
  • Philippe Matsas

People often assume Norman and Oklahoma itself are far away from the outside world, disconnected from international realities and cultures. But Daniel Simon, assistant director and editor-in-chief at World Literature Today, begs to differ with the dose of connectedness the annual Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature & Culture offers each year.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, Norman is kind of this isolate backwater town on the plains. It’s not New York or Los Angeles,’” Simon said. “But there’s so much culture here, and there’s great opportunities for international education at [the University of Oklahoma (OU)] that it’s really quite a remarkable opportunity for anyone who might be able to attend.”

This year’s spring festival April 6-8 features novelist, poet and essayist Alain Mabanckou and other visiting scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The three-day event explores francophone literature with poetry readings and a film screening on opening night, public talks and Q&A sessions with Mabanckou, lectures by visiting scholars Lydie Moudileno and Dominic Thomas and francophone culture roundtable discussions.

Mabanckou is a French citizen born in Pointe-Noire, Congo, who currently lives in Los Angeles and teaches literature at UCLA.

He has authored six volumes of poetry and six novels and won the Grand Prix de la littérature Henri Gal from Académie française in 2012, the Sub-Saharan African Literature Prize, the prix Renaudot and recently the French Voices Grand Prize for 2016.

He was also a 2015 finalist for the Man Booker International Prize.

Mabanckou’s works translated to English include African Psycho, Broken Glass, Black Bazaar, Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty, Letter to Jimmy and The Lights of Pointe-Noire.

Simon said part of the Puterbaugh festival’s history from its early years is to focus on Spanish and French writings and boasted that Mabanckou is “regarded as one of the most vibrant [francophone] voices” in the world.

“We wanted to connect students to a living writer who has a really brilliant career already and is really known for his exuberant and flamboyant style,” Simon said. “He speaks English perfectly well, so he can speak in French or English to anyone who attends. He’s really kind of a hot writer on the francophone scene right now.”

The Puterbaugh Festival is free and open to the public and happens on the OU campus in Norman.

An opening reception 6:30-8 p.m. April 6 is in Beaird Lounge in the Oklahoma Memorial Union, 900 Asp Ave. in Norman.

World Literature Today is a bimonthly literature and culture magazine published at the University of Oklahoma. It is one of the oldest continuously published literary periodicals in the country.

For a full list of venues and events, visit puterbaughfestival.org.

Print headline: Francophone festival, 2016’s Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature & Culture features Alain Mabanckou.

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