Critically acclaimed author Aleksandar Hemon to serve as UNT's artist-in-residence for 2014-15

Aleksandar Hemon
Aleksandar Hemon, one of the literary world's most acclaimed writers, will serve as artist-in-residence for 2014-2015 for the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts at the University of North Texas. Photo courtesy of Aleksandar Hemon.
Monday, June 2, 2014 - 10:48

DENTON, Texas (UNT) -- One of the literary world's most acclaimed writers will serve as artist-in-residence for 2014-2015 for the Institute for the Advancement of the Arts at the University of North Texas.

Aleksandar Hemon, whose 2008 novel The Lazarus Project was a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle award and National Book Award, will visit the campus five times during the academic year, working with creative writing students, giving lectures and using the university's resources to complete his own work.

Hemon is a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina who lives in Chicago. He has received the MacArthur Genius Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

"In addition to his stellar reputation as a writer, he has expressed enthusiasm for meeting with students," said Herbert Holl, director of the IAA. "He has an outlook and personality that lend themselves well to a university community. I think our students and faculty will find him to be engaging and enjoyable."

Hemon said he was attracted to having access to amenities of a university and interacting with others.

"Every writer looks for readers," he said. "I like talking to people, testing my ideas, having my ideas challenged."

Hemon will make several one- or two-week visits throughout the academic year with possible projects to include seminars on Vladimir Nabokov's writing, showing films that draw on his experience as a screenwriter and meeting with science/medical students to discuss his writings dealing with the death of his daughter who died at 1 from a brain tumor.

"One of the goals is to spread the benefits of his residency across a range of many departments," Holl said.

In the spring semester, IAA plans to host a UNT on the Square exhibition of the photographs taken by Velibor Božovićthat were featured in The Lazarus Project. The book depicts a Bosnian-American writer investigating the 1908 real-life fatal shooting of Lazarus Averbuch, a Russian-Jewish immigrant and alleged anarchist, by Chicago's chief of police.

Hemon had found a photograph of Averbuch sitting dead in a chair, with a policeman holding him up. That image is included, along with Božović's photos taken in Eastern Europe.

"The Averbuch photographs were very interesting to me, powerful," Hemon said. "I wanted people to see those photos because they are haunting. I wanted the reader not just to read, but to see things. I was hoping the photos and narration would provoke their reaction of their perception of narrative and history."

Hemon also has written The Question of Bruno: Stories, a collection about life in Bosnia and America, and The Book of My Lives, a nonfiction book about his lives in Sarajevo and Chicago.

Hemon is hoping to write a series of essays on Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita and considered one of literature's greatest writers, and his residency at UNT would give him time and access to resources to do that.

Critics have compared Hemon's style of writing to Nabokov.

"It's flattering, but I'm not delusional," he said, noting that Nabokov wrote 40 books in two languages. "I don't see myself in the same league."

Past IAA artists-in-residence have included Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga; nationally acclaimed opera composer Jake Heggie, who wrote Ahab Symphony, which premiered at UNT in spring 2013; visual and performance artist Nick Cave, who featured brightly colored horse soundsuits at the premiere performance of Heard at UNT in spring 2012; and internationally renowned sculptor and printmaker Kiki Smith.

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