Reading from his new novel, The Flame Alphabet, Ben Marcus painted a horrifying picture of a world where the sound of children talking causes the death of their parents. As the latest speaker in the Walt Whitman Writers Series sponsored by St. Francis College on March 8th, Marcus went on to explore the question of, "What is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love?" (Watch the entire reading of The Flame Alphabet)
Marcus said that The Flame Alphabet was a way for him to express the importance of language, "It has the ability to show us to ourselves and to deepen our experience. It's insanely powerful."
At the same time, Marcus says he's not concerned with the way language has been transformed by social media like Twitter or by texting. "I think the language has a lot of facets; people want to have fun with it, they want to be silly with it, they want to be serious with it. I think it's all, in some sense, wonderfully out of our control. We should use it the way we like to use it" (Watch an interview with Ben Marcus)
Marcus, who also authored Notable American Women, The Father Costume, and The Age of Wire and String, is a professor at the MFA writing program at Columbia University. He was also on the jury of the first St. Francis College Literary Award which awarded the $50,000 first prize to Aleksandar Hemon for his book, Love and Obstacles (Riverhead Books). His stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many publications including; Harper's, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Believer, The New York Times and Salon. He is the editor of The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and for several years he was the fiction editor of Fence. (Watch a video trailer for The Flame Alphabet)
Marcus is the seventh writer to visit St. Francis for the Walt Whitman Series which continues to bring top contemporary authors to Brooklyn Heights to share their work and writing experiences with students, faculty and the entire Brooklyn community. Previous authors include Dinaw Mengestu, Kate Christensen, Julie Orringer, Jonathan Lethem, Darcey Steinke, and Rick Moody.
The next Whitman Writer is Yiyun Li, scheduled to appear on October 11. Li made the short list for the 2011 Literary Award and is the author of three novels: Gold Boy, Emerald Girl; A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Vagrants. She was also featured in The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 Fiction issue.