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Northeast Modern Language Association
Credit: Beth Navarro

Stewart O'Nan. Credit: Beth Navarro

Part of "NeMLA Reads Together"

Thursday, April 12, 7 PM
Omni William Penn
Reception to follow opening event

Rob Nixon

Rob Nixon. Credit: Sameer A. Khan

Rob Nixon. Credit: Sameer A. Khan

"Environmental Martyrdom and the Defenders of the Forest"

Friday, April 13, 7 PM
Omni William Penn
Reception to follow keynote event

Stewart O'Nan

The 49th annual meeting of NeMLA will open with an interactive and dynamic live interview of Pittsburgh’s very own Stewart O’Nan, author of 17 novels, named one of America’s Best Young Novelists by Granta. The interview will include discussion about O’Nan’s biofiction West of Sunset (2015), the focus of our new initiative, "NeMLA Reads a Book." A work of biofiction about United States writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, West of Sunset has been referred to affectionately by O’Nan as “My Scott.” 

Meticulously researched, West of Sunset is an acutely sensitive and moving portrayal of the last three years of Fitzgerald’s life, from 1937 to 1940 when he resided in Los Angeles by himself—in poor health, struggling with alcoholism, and increasingly despondent over his declining literary reputation. These final years in California saw him sometimes lost and uncertain, trying to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and their daughter, Scottie. Despite his distance from his family, Fitzgerald is very aware of his duty as husband and father, striving to make ends meet as a screenwriter and determined to have a fresh start. He is sustained and energized by the presence of many friends in Hollywood, including Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, and Robert Benchley, and he falls in love with a brassy gossip columnist named Sheilah Graham. Strengthened and encouraged by her, he began work on his fifth and most ambitious novel, The Last Tycoon. A sympathetic and deeply personal portrait of a flawed man, West of Sunset is also a wonderful portrayal of one of the golden ages of Hollywood.

The Washington Post praised the book, calling it "gorgeous…an homage to Fitzgerald in his decline and Hollywood at its zenith." The New Yorker said, "O’Nan’s adroitness with atmosphere and period detail makes Fitzgerald’s dreams of creating worthy work, even with his best days behind him, absorbing and poignant." And The Boston Globe called it "a mesmerizing and haunting novel...O’Nan delivers—whole-body—the sensation that you are deep inside a living, breathing, suffering consciousness...And that is ultimately what makes the book so special."

Stewart O'Nan is the author of fifteen novels, including The Odds; Emily, AloneA Prayer for the Dying; and Snow Angels, as well as several works of nonfiction, including, with Stephen King, the bestselling Faithful. His novel Last Night at the Lobster was a national bestseller and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His latest novel is City of Secrets, a moral thriller of the Jewish underground resistance in Jerusalem after the Second World War. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.

NeMLA Reads Together

NeMLA members are encouraged to read the novel in preparation for the opening address and to submit questions for the author at by January 1, 2018. We also invite graduate student members, CAITY members, and early career faculty members to apply to interview O’Nan on stage. Send a cover letter and sample set of questions to by September 30, 2017. 

Rob Nixon, "Environmental Martyrdom and the Defenders of the Forest"

Martyrdom is direct action in extremis. Martyrs put their bodies on the line, risking, for the sake of principle, not just a weekend in jail, but burial in the dead of night in a shallow grave. Some environmental martyrs remain anonymous, their vanishing unnoticed beyond their villages. But others gather posthumous fame and purpose, achieving in their earthly afterlife a rallying power and an enduring force. This talk will address the current surge in environmental martyrdom across the global South against the backdrop of the neoliberal resource wars and the compound threats of climate change.

NeMLA is proud to have as its keynote speaker Rob Nixon, the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Family Professor in the Humanities and the Environment at Princeton University. He is the author of four books, most recently Dreambirds: the Natural History of a Fantasy and Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, which won numerous awards, including the 2012 Sprout prize from the International Studies Association for the best book in environmental studies.

Nixon writes frequently for the New York Times. His writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Nation, London Review of Books, The Village Voice, Slate, Truthout, Huffington Post, Times Literary Supplement, Chronicle of Higher Education, Critical Inquiry, Public Culture and elsewhere.

Nixon’s work is particularly focused on the relationship between accelerating rates of environmental change and rising rates of economic disparity. How do rich and poor communities experience the impacts of climate change differently? In what ways do rich and poor communities suffer unequal exposure to the risks of a rapidly changing planet? And in what ways do rich and poor enjoy unequal access to diminishing resources in a time of heightened climatic stress? Such questions, he believes, demand imaginative, ethical, technological and political responses.