GAMBIER — Last Friday was the last day of Kenyon College’s week-long Kenyon Review Literary Festival. Author T.C. Boyle’s keynote lecture not only concluded the multi-day festival but marked the end of an era as KR editor David Lynn announced his retirement this summer.
Lynn introduced Boyle in the dimly lit Brandi Recital Hall to a packed auditorium. Lynn described Boyle as “one of the most innovative, clear-eyed, funny and challenging novelists and story writers in America.” He half-jokingly confessed that Boyle’s stories “creep me out” as ordinary and fully fleshed out characters find themselves in extreme circumstances.
After a short remark, Boyle read two of his short stories —one to make the reader happy and one to depress them, he said— “The Five-pound Burrito” and “Chicxulub.”
The first story was a fantastically bizarre specimen of magical realism. Inspired by an LA Times obituary, the story follows a restaurant owner who decides to make a five-pound burrito. Then, in an unexpected turn of events, all of his employees start to turn into poultry, hogs, and literal aliens.
The latter title “Chicxulub” referenced the asteroid that struck the Earth 66 million years ago and caused the extinction of dinosaurs. In the story, the protagonist faces every parent’s worst nightmare: Getting a phone call from the hospital about their child.
Boyle presented his stories with a fast-paced reading punctuated by short, jouncing syllables and occasionally raising a finger to his lips for emphasis. He attributed his affinity for morbid storytelling and his aesthetics to literary heroes such as Garcia Marquez and Washington Irving.
“It’s just so much fun for me to do this kind of story,” said Boyle. “You don’t know what the story is going to be. You just see something and follow it… Halfway through it began to get pretty crazy. I thought, great, let’s get crazier.”
In the Q&A session that followed, Boyle articulated his belief in the value of liberal arts education. When asked about how he became a writer, Boyle confessed that being the first in his working-class family to go to college, he had no idea that writing could be a career until he found a mentor in a creative writing class.
“I think everybody should have the privilege of being in a liberal arts college,” Boyle said, “It meant so much to me. It transformed my life.”
T.C. Boyle is a PEN/Faulkner Award winner and has published twenty-eight books of fiction as well as numerous stories in major literary magazines, including “The New Yorker,” “Esquire,” “The Kenyon Review,” “GQ” and “McSweeney’s.” His work has been translated in more than twenty languages; he is best known internationally for his novels, “World’s End” (1987) and “The Tortilla Curtain” (1995).
Boyle received the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement at a gala dinner in New York City on Nov. 6 and traveled to Gambier on Friday to present at the “Denham Sutcliffe Memorial Lecture.”
Denham Sutcliffe was an author, editor, and English professor, who spent nearly twenty years of his professional life at Kenyon College until his death in 1964. The Memorial Lecture is held annually in his honor at the Literary Festival, with a different keynote speaker each year. Past guests included Pulitzer Prize poet Rita Dove, Orange Prize author Nicole Krauss, and PEN/Faulkner Award author Ann Patchett, among others.
After the lecture, students exiting the recital hall commented that it was special to be in the same room with a writer of Boyle’s caliber. One student remarked that he liked being read to, an activity Boyle said: “takes us back to the first voice we’ve ever heard.”
One student elaborated that she read “The Tortilla Curtain” in high school and it was incredible to be read to by Boyle and hear the stories in the voice that Boyle hears it.
The lecture is available to the public on the Kenyon Review’s YouTube channel. Kathryn LeMon filmed and uploaded the video “The Denham Sutcliffe Memorial Lecture: An Evening with T.C. Boyle.”
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