Katherine Boo will speak about Behind the Beautiful Forevers and sign copies of the book on Saturday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. at The Gathering at Keystone College.

The Gathering Literary Conference Returns to Keystone

Opening Thursday, July 16, at Keystone College in LaPlume, this year’s The Gathering literary conference stems from the theme “The Story: exploring personal encounters with history.”

“We will transcend cultural boundaries and consider social justice issues through the arts, literature, and sciences,” promotion for the event reads. “Featured artists, performers, poets, and authors were invited because their work focuses on the profoundly personal impact of events in the global arena.”

Before marrying a native of India in 2001 and finding her curious mind wandering there for long spells at a time while her husband worked, journalist Katharine Boo covered poverty for the Washington Post. She won a Pulitizer Prize for Public Serivce in 2000 but rather than move up the ladder to more prestigious subjects (e.g. politicians and those who lobby them), she stayed in the streets, writing about people trying to rise out of shelters or move out of bad neighbors and Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

Her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Live, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is non-fiction that reads like a novel. Winner of the National Book Award in 2012, it enlightens first-world readers to the unbelievable conditions in Annawadi, a Mumbai slum, by slipping facts and research into the stories of a few of its 3,000 residents.

The writer spent three years with her subjects learning about them not only from interviews but by observing their behavior over time. Of particular interest to her was identifying “the infrastructure of opportunity” in the society and by what means people might rise out of poverty as well as the parallels of the inequality in these slums with that in other cities around the world.

“Some people consider such juxtapositions of wealth and poverty a moral problem. What fascinates me is why they’re not more of a practical one. After all, there are more poor people than rich people in the world’s Mumbais,” Boo wrote in the book’s afterword.

from Beyond the Beautiful Forevers:

…Maybe because of the boiling April sun (Abdul) thought about water and ice. Water and ice were made of the same thing. He thought most people were made of the same thing, too. He himself was probably little different, constitutionally, from the cynical, corrupt people around him — the police officers and the special executive officer and the morgue doctor who fixed Kalu’s death. If he had to sort all humanity by its material essence he thought he would probably end up with a single gigantic pile. But here was the interesting thing: ice was distinct from, and in his view better than, what it was made of. He wanted to be better than what he was made of. In Mumbai’s dirty water, he wanted to be ice. He wanted to have ideals. For self-interested reasons, one of the ideals he most wanted to have was a belief in the possibility of justice. It wasn’t easy to believe just now.

Also featured on the schedule of presenters are poet Denver Butson and civil rights activist Anita Hill, a professor of law, public policy, and women’s studies at Heller Graduate School of Policy and Management, Brandeis University. Hill is the author of Speaking Truth to Power and Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home and is widely remembered for her testimony in the 1991 Supreme Court nomination hearings for Clarence Thomas.

The Gathering events also include films, storytelling, book signings, workshops, conversations, poetry readings, nature walks and yoga, receptions, meals and more. Fees for individual events are $10-15 or $25 for three. Full conference attendance packages range from $300-530 and have been available on a first-come, first-served basis. Visit thegatheringatkeystone.org for more information or call 570-561-5962.

Not a fan of capital letters, Denver Butson is the author of three books of poetry including illegible address. He will lead a poetry master class on Friday, July 17, at 3 p.m. On Saturday, July 18, at 1:30 p.m. he will present a poetry reading titled “the world cannot bear the weightlessness of sparrows” followed by a book signing. Select poems are available online via the Coal Hill Review and other publications.

Not a fan of capital letters, Denver Butson is the author of three books of poetry including illegible address. He will lead a poetry master class on Friday, July 17, at 3 p.m. On Saturday, July 18, at 1:30 p.m. he will present a poetry reading titled “the world cannot bear the weightlessness of sparrows” followed by a book signing. Select poems are available online via the Coal Hill Review and other publications.

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