NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Illuminated only by a small podium lamp in the darkened Grand Ballroom, author T.C. Boyle took his audience of more than 160 into the lives of two modern, stressed fathers, on Oct. 9 at Christopher Newport University.
Describing himself as primarily a storyteller, the New York Times bestselling author of 24 books of fiction read aloud two of his many short stories: Back in the Eocene in which a girl’s drug-resistance school program leads her father to recall his own drug-filled past, and The Lie, originally published in The New Yorker in 2008, about a father who escapes work by faking his baby’s death. A father himself, Boyle said that Back in the Eocene stemmed from his own experience, although very little of his other work is taken from his own “placid” life. “I save all of the adventure for my characters,” he said.
A distinguished professor of English at the University of Southern California, Boyle’s novels and short stories have won numerous awards, appeared in most major American magazines, and been translated into more than two dozen foreign languages.
“Stories seduce you into thinking for yourself,” he said, “And entertain you as art.”
Writing from multiple perspectives on topics and time periods from early American history to hippies, immigration, health and the environment, Boyle said he doesn't follow the advice to write what you know. “I write stories to challenge myself. I like to write what I don’t know and find something out,” he said.
Environmental concerns, racism, familial relations and conspicuous consumption are among his themes, he said, reflecting his attempts to find hope and joy with art amid a belief that everything gets worse. Pressed by an audience member for further explanation of the food motif in his work, he joked, “First, look at me. I never get enough to eat.” Although, he added, he doesn't want to offend his friends or audience members who are “foodies,” he thinks an obsession over food is trivial and a sign of conspicuous consumption in a world depleted of resources.
Prompted by another question, Boyle explained changing his name as a teen from Thomas John Boyle to Tom Coraghessan Boyle, adopting an Irish family name. “I felt that I was special. Very special,” he said. “This can’t be. This name is too normal. I had to change it.”
After his talk, readings and questions, Boyle finished off the Thursday evening by greeting audience members and signing books.
The Boyle author talk, reading and book-signing was the eighth free author event sponsored by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium, which presented the best-selling authors Amy Tan in 2007, Walter Mosley in 2008, David Baldacci in 2009, Orson Scott Card in 2010, Catherine Coulter in 2011, Nikki Giovanni in 2012 and Jeff Shaara in 2013. The Consortium formed in 2006 to encourage the study and enjoyment of books and to foster cooperation among all types of libraries on the Peninsula.
More about T.C. Boyle
T. Coraghessan Boyle is the author of 24 books of fiction, including, most recently, After the Plague (2001), Drop City (2003), The Inner Circle (2004), Tooth and Claw (2005), The Human Fly (2005), Talk Talk (2006), The Women (2009), Wild Child (2010), When the Killing's Done (2011), San Miguel (2012) and T.C. Boyle Stories II (2013).
He received a doctorate degree in 19th century British literature from the University of Iowa in 1977, his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1974, and his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and history from the State University of New York Potsdam in 1968. He has been a member of the English Department at the University of Southern California since 1978, where he is distinguished professor of English.
His work has been translated into more than two dozen foreign languages, including German, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Finnish, Farsi, Croatian, Turkish, Albanian, Vietnamese, Serbian and Slovene. His stories have appeared in most of the major American magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, The Paris Review, GQ, Antaeus, Granta and McSweeney's, and he has been the recipient of a number of literary awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Prize for best novel of the year (World's End, 1988); the PEN/Malamud Prize in the short story (T.C. Boyle Stories, 1999); and the Prix Médicis Étranger for best foreign novel in France (The Tortilla Curtain, 1997). He currently lives near Santa Barbara, Calif., with his wife and three children.
The Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium brings together the public libraries of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson and York County and the academic libraries of Christopher Newport University, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College, collectively serving all residents of the Virginia Peninsula. Programs presented by the Consortium are free and open to the public. For more information, please visit www.thevplc.org. To keep up-to-date on Consortium author events, sign up for the emailed newsletter or “like” the Consortium’s Facebook page.