Wisconsin Book Festival author is world traveler, UW–Madison dad

October 19, 2011 By Susannah Brooks

When acclaimed memoirist, novelist and travel essayist André Aciman arrives in Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival, he’ll be walking into “charged territory.” Though Aciman himself has never visited Madison, his wife Susan Wiviott is a UW–Madison alumna. Her parents attended here; so did her brothers. Now, so do the couple’s twin sons, sophomores Philip and Michael Aciman. 

Aciman

“This is a fiercely loyal family,” says Aciman of his East Coast clan’s affinity for UW–Madison.

Aciman, a professor of comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, writes often about family, identity and place. His best-known work is “Out of Egypt,” a memoir about growing up in a tight-knit Jewish family (with plenty of flamboyant members) in Alexandria, Egypt. He has co-authored and edited “The Proust Project” and “Letters of Transit.” He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his work has appeared in “The Best American Essays.”

Aciman may guide his readers, but here in Madison, he expects to follow his wife and sons around. 

“I want to see every place my wife lived, know about everything she did,” he says.  “It’s like walking into history. If my wife ever wanted to visit Egypt, this is how she would feel.  There is lineage, legacy — all of those things.”

The twins, Philip and Michael, are living together with two roommates, “in true Aciman fashion,” according to their dad. 

“They are amazingly happy here,” says Aciman.

A guest of UW–Madison’s Center for the Humanities, Aciman will present his Wisconsin Book Festival talk, “Exiles and Alibis,” on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center, 201 State Street. In this lecture, he explores time, place and the self. “Alibi, in Latin, means elsewhere.”

Thursday’s talk celebrates the release of his essay collection “Alibis:  Essays on Elsewhere.” In a review of “Alibis” published on October 7, The New York Times called him “a spirited guide, sensitive to history, but alive also to food, sunshine, art and aimless wandering.  The pleasure of reading him resides in the pleasure of his company.” 

Aciman’s visit will also include campus components beyond his family ties. On Wednesday, he plans to attend an undergraduate English course, “Literature, Gender and Sexuality,” in which the students have read excerpts from his work.

On Thursday, Oct. 20 at noon, he will lead a brown bag discussion in 205 Ingraham Hall, 1155 Observatory Drive. The talk will include elements of both creative writing — specifically, issues of “writing the self” — and Jewish studies. Participants are invited to bring their lunches; beverages and dessert will be provided. Readings, additional details and an RSVP function are available here. The event is sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for the Humanities.