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University announces first Distinguished Lecturer of the year

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is pleased to announce that it will begin its 2009-2010 University Distinguished Lecturer Series with renowned speaker Thomas King, the acclaimed novelist, short story writer, and creator of the popular CBC radio serial The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour.

King – whose first novel Medicine River was made into a television movie that starred Native American actor Graham Greene, won Best Screenplay at the American Indian Film Festival, and was nominated for a Gemini award – will speak on issues related to the Native American experience when he delivers his talk An Evening Wasted with Thomas King at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24 in the Campus Center.

In this first Distinguished Lecture of the academic year, which is sponsored in part by Project Compass, Professor Thomas King will ask the question, “What is it about us that you don’t like?” With his characteristic dry wit and irony, King will speak about the Native American experience in the North American imagination – past and present – weaving together Native oral stories, history, politics and popular culture.

Dr. King also will give a book reading and signing at Noon on Thursday, Sept. 24, in the Allagash Room of the Campus Center. The campus and community are invited to attend this free event.

Thomas King is one of Canada’s leading writers of Native fiction. He uses humor as a storytelling strategy, and has become known for his complex characters that highlight the ironies and contradictions of contemporary life, while challenging common stereotypes about Native people.

Dr. King is a Canadian citizen, but was raised in Northern California by his Cherokee father and Greek mother. He completed his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Utah in 1986, and since then has taught American and Native Studies at the University of Lethbridge and the University of Minnesota, where he was the Chair of the American Indian Studies program for a number of years.

His first novel, Medicine River, was published in 1990 and was runner-up for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Shortly after the success of Medicine River came King’s second novel, Green Grass, Running Water, which was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award in 1994 and won the Canadian Authors Award for Fiction. These bestselling novels firmly established King’s place within Canada’s literary canon.

King edited an anthology of contemporary Canadian Native literature, the same year Medicine River was published, entitled All My Relations. He has written numerous award-winning short stories, (10 of which are collected in One Good Story, That One, 1993), as well as critical pieces. A Coyote Columbus Story, King’s first children’s book, (he has written three), was nominated for a Governor General’s Award in 1992. King is also the creator and writer of the popular radio serial The Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour, a CBC program based on The Dead Dog Café within King’s novel Green Grass, Running Water.

In 2003, Dr. King was asked to deliver the Massey Lectures, sponsored by CBC Radio in cooperation with Massey College at the University of Toronto, according to the CBC website. The Massey Lectures were inaugurated in 1961 and have been heard on the CBC radio program IDEAS since that program’s creation in 1965. King considered turning the offer down because he didn’t think of himself a formal lecturer, but decided to use the opportunity to talk, simply, about stories: as he puts it, “stories are all we are.” King examined various aspects of the Native experience, from history, religion and politics, to literature, imagination, and the authenticity of storytelling. The published lecture won the prestigious Trillium award in 2004; that same year, King was named a member of the Order of Canada.

Also in 2003, King was named the recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for arts and culture from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.

Currently, Thomas King is a senior fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto, and a professor of English and Native literature at the University of Guelph.

The University’s Distinguished Lecture Series was established in 1999. Each year, the UDLS Committee sponsors five to six speakers who come from Maine and beyond, representing a range of disciplines and viewpoints. While the emphasis tends to be on featuring visiting academics, it is not exclusively so. The speakers typically spend two days at the University meeting with classes and presenting a community lecture.

Project Compass is an effort on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus to develop and improve culturally responsive retention strategies for its Native American students.

King’s lecture at UMPI is free and the public is invited to be a part of this special evening. For more information about his lecture or his book reading, contact the University’s Media Relations Office at 768-9452.