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In Conversation: Alix Christie & Sena Jeter Naslund

Wednesday October 8, 2014
07:00 pm

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Photo Credit: Ron Schildknecht (Naslund)

Alix Christie and Sena Jeter Naslund read from and discussed their latest books, Gutenberg's Apprentice (a debut novel by Christie) and Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as An Old Woman (Naslund's latest novel)

 

About Gutenberg's Apprentice

An enthralling literary debut that evokes one of the most momentous events in history, the birth of printing in medieval Germany—a story of invention, intrigue, and betrayal, rich in atmosphere and historical detail, told through the lives of the three men who made it possible.

 

Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corrupt, feud-plagued Mainz to meet “a most amazing man.”

 

Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary—and to some, blasphemous—method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg’s workshop and he orders Peter, his adopted son, to become Gutenberg’s apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the “darkest art.”

 

As his skill grows, so, too, does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: copies of the Holy Bible. But mechanical difficulties and the crushing power of the Catholic Church threaten their work. As outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures: the generous Fust, who saved him from poverty after his mother died; and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery.

 

Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles—a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them.

 

Alix Christie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and is an author, journalist and letterpress printer. She learned the craft of letterpress printing as an apprentice to two master California printers, including her grandfather, the foreman of the last surviving hot type foundry in San Francisco, and owns and operates a 1910 Chandler & Price letterpress. Christie earned her MFA from St Mary’s College, where she studied under Michael Chabon and Susan Straight. She currently lives in London, where she reviews books and arts for The Economist. Gutenburg's Apprentce is her first novel. For more on Alix Christie and the world of the book, visit: www.GutenbergsApprentice.com.

 

About The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as An Old Woman

“Of a certain age, but not of a great age.” That is how writer Kathryn Callaghan views herself—an aging woman, but aging into what? At nearly seventy and after three divorces, she comforts herself with lasting friendships, the house she loves, and her devotion to her son and to the art of writing fiction. She has just completed the first draft of a heart wrenching novel, which she conceives as an imaginative counterweight to James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Kathryn tells her Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman from the perspective of the historical figure Èlisabeth Vigèe-Le Brun, whose portraits have earned her lasting fame and the admiration of Marie Antoinette. An established author of eight earlier novels, Kathryn uses this historical novel as a looking glass, a tool for examining her own life.

 

Èlisabeth Vigèe-Le Brun begins life as an exceptionally talented child whose delight in drawing and painting define her existence. As a young teenager, she receives affirming recognition for her portrait work from her doting father and hopeful mother. When her beloved father dies, Èlisabeth becomes the family breadwinner, supporting her mother and brother through her brilliant portraits of notable members of French society. Life changes when—as a young woman in her twenties—she is invited to paint the young and confiding queen, Marie Antoinette.  She becomes a friend to the queen, but the night the royal family are taken prisoners, Èlisabeth escapes France with her young daughter.

 

The lives of Kathryn and Èlisabeth intertwine as Kathryn works toward accepting both her failures and achievements, and as Èlisabeth reflects on her travels with her young Julie through Europe, where the painter is repeatedly recognized and honored as a great and sought after artist. The emotional parallels in the lives of two women separated by time and place are sure to enlighten and inspire readers.

This lush, textured novel-within-a-novel transports the reader from an engaging, modern-day Louisville to the historic streets, palaces, countrysides, and homes of France, Italy, and Russia. Naslund's characteristic passion for living fully and meaningfully is palpable on every page. This is fiction in its unadulterated form, with research transformed by imagination into the stuff of life.

 

Sena Jeter Naslund is Program Director of the brief-residency Master of Fine Arts in Writing at Spalding University and Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville. A former Kentucky Poet Laureate and winner of the Alabama Governor's Arts Award, Naslund is also the recipient of the Harper Lee Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction Award. A finalist for the Orange Prize in England, her work has also been published in Australia and translated into German, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, Polish, Danish, and Korean. She is editor and cofounder of The Louisville Review and the Fleur-de-Lis Press. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.