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Pulitzer winner follows own path

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham visited the campus of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday.

Pete g. wilcox/the times leader

WILKES-BARRE – “Here are some sentences I wrote a few minutes ago.”

With that brief self-introduction, acclaimed author Michael Cunningham began a public reading of his novel in progress, tentatively titled “Snow Queen.”

Cunningham was the featured author Wednesday night at the 23rd Annual Visiting Writers Program at King’s College’s Burke Auditorium on Wednesday night.

Although best known for his novel “The Hours,” which won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize and was later adapted into an Academy Award-winning film, Cunningham explained he no longer reads from his published work.

He instead prefers to try out untested material in order to bring about a more authentic and original artistic experience with each reading.

As far as Cunningham’s work goes, this is essentially par for the course. In introducing him, King’s College English professor Jen Yonkoski said she first developed a deep appreciation of his work because he seemed to refuse to adhere to conventional standards.

“Snow Queen” revolves around a dead woman buried under a pile of snow up against a building and the people who are unknowingly peering over her from a few floors up.

The reading clearly captivated the audience, many of whom have become accustomed to Cunningham’s distinctive style from novels such as “The Hours,” “At Home at the End of the World” and “By Nightfall.”

After the reading, Cunningham entertained questions from the audience.

One of the most insightful moments of the night was when Cunningham was asked in what direction novels in general might be going: more accessible or more experimental?

Cunningham said independent publishers formerly tended to produce a certain number of likely best sellers in order to finance more artistic and experimental novels that were not as profitable. That trend has largely stopped as independent publishers were bought out by larger profit-driven companies.

He said the question of direction might better be answered by a literary business insider as opposed to an author.

Cunningham also commented on the success of “The Hours.” While some writers disdain the thought of their work being adapted for the screen, Cunningham overcame his hesitancy and was ultimately quite pleased with the widely celebrated film.

“I may be the only American author who’s ever been satisfied,” he said. He attributed that satisfaction to the skill and dedication of those who worked on the film and the fact that “all the luck went the right way.”

In closing the question-and-answer period, Cunningham offered some hope to the artistically inclined. He addressed the shame that authors often feel when presenting new work, noting, “You can die, as a writer, from shame.”

He added, however, that “categorically, anyone who makes anything outranks somebody who criticizes something.”

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