For Immediate Release

Poetry Foundation and Chicago Humanities Festival Present James Franco and Frank Bidart in Conversation with Poetry Foundation President Robert Polito

Polito Discusses Film and Poetry with the Actor and the Poet

January 29, 2014

CHICAGO — The Poetry Foundation and the Chicago Humanities Festival will present James Franco and Frank Bidart, Off the Shelf at Thorne Auditorium, Northwestern University School of Law, 375 E. Chicago Ave., on Wed., Feb. 19. Poetry Foundation president Robert Polito will moderate a discussion with Frank Bidart and James Franco on film and poetry. The program will focus on James Franco’s short film Herbert White, which is based on Frank Bidart’s poem of the same title.

Award-winning poet Frank Bidart published one of his most famous poems, “Herbert White,” in 1973. The speaker of the poem is a psychopathic child-murderer and necrophiliac. James Franco adapted the poem for the screen, releasing the short film Herbert White in 2010. Franco’s own collection of poetry, Directing Herbert White, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press. Early copies of Directing Herbert White will be available for purchase exclusively at this event courtesy of Graywolf Press and Unabridged Bookstore. 

Bidart’s poem earned praise from literary critic Helen Vendler, who noted its “cinematic progression” in her collection of criticism, Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets.

“This will be a unique event, rooted in a totally surprising conjunction of circumstances, occasion, and poets,” says Poetry Foundation president Robert Polito. “When Frank Bidart first published in his debut book, Golden State, a stunning dramatic monologue called “Herbert White,” who could have guessed that almost 40 years later actor James Franco would create a film from Bidart's poem, or that a poetic sequence that recounts the experience of directing this film would provide the centerpiece of Franco's own debut poetry collection? The whole arc from poem to film back to poem is a bit like a Borges story, and everyone at the Poetry Foundation is looking forward to this exciting evening.” 

Polito, the moderator of the post-film discussion, is steeped in knowledge of both subjects and has a special interest in film noir. After the conversation, Bidart and Franco will read from their work and sign copies of their books.

What: James Franco and Frank Bidart, Off the Shelf
Presented in partnership with the Chicago Humanities Festival
When: Wed., Feb. 19, 2014, 8pm
Where: Thorne Auditorium, Northwestern University School of Law, 375 E. Chicago Ave.
Tickets: $10–$15 at chicagohumanities.org or 312.494.9509. Book and ticket packages are also available from $25–$30.
Tickets are now on sale to CHF members. Tickets go on sale to the public at noon on Thurs., Jan. 30.
More info: www.poetryfoundation.org/programs/event/3087

Frank Bidart grew up in California and entertained thoughts of becoming an actor or director when he was young. Instead he discovered literature at the University of California–Riverside, proceeded to study at Harvard and is now the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College. Bidart’s book Desire was nominated for the triple crown of awards—the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. A National Book Award finalist, Bidart’s most recent book, Metaphysical Dog (2013),is also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

James Franco is an American actor, director, screenwriter, producer, teacher and author who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his role in 127 Hours. Franco has taught classes in filmmaking, production and screenwriting at New York University, the University of Southern California and his alma mater, the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently a PhD candidate in English at Yale University.

Robert Polito’s knowledge of midcentury American culture, especially the crime novel and film noir, has led to such projects as Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber (2009), The Selected Poems of Kenneth Fearing (2004), Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 1940s (1997) and Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s (1997); as well as editions of Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain for Everyman’s Library. His most recent poetry collection is Hollywood & God (2009). Polito earned his PhD from Harvard and served as director of creative writing at the New School for two decades. He became the second president of the Poetry Foundation in July 2013.

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About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit poetryfoundation.org.

About the Chicago Humanities Festival
The Chicago Humanities Festival began in 1989 as a dream shared by a determined group of Chicago’s cultural leaders eager to extend the riches of the humanities to everyone. Since that first year, some of the world’s most exciting thinkers, artists and performers have come to Chicago each fall for a festival that celebrates ideas in the context of civic life. Past festival themes include Laughter, The Body, tech knowledge, America and last year’s Animal: What Makes Us Human. Under the leadership of executive director Phillip Bahar and artistic director Matti Bunzl, CHF partners with Chicago’s premier cultural institutions and has become an annual highlight for thousands of people from Chicago and beyond. In addition to the annual fall festival, CHF also presents the spring Stages, Sights & Sounds, a global performance festival for families, students and theatergoers of any age, and programs throughout the year that encourage the study and enjoyment of the humanities. Visit chicagohumanities.org for more information.

Follow the Poetry Foundation and Poetry on Facebook at facebook.com/poetryfoundation or on Twitter @PoetryFound.

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Media contacts:
Elizabeth Burke-Dain, eburkedain@poetryfoundation.org, 312.799.8016
Kristin Gecan, kgecan@poetryfoundation.org, 312.799.8065
Anna Marie Wilharm, annamarie@chicagohumanities.org, 312.661.1028 x724

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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