KINGSTON, R.I. –June 10, 2008—Nina Cassian’s distinguished literary career began in 1947 with the publication of her first poetry collection, La Scara 1/1 (on the scale of 1 to 1.) Since then, she has published more than 50 books, including works of fiction and children’s books. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New England Review, and American Poetry Review and have been translated into many languages.
Cassian, who was born in Romania, now lives in New York City after seeking asylum in America to escape the brutal Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Cassian will read from her work Friday, June 20 at 4:45 to 6 p.m. in the University of Rhode Island’s Swan Hall, 60 Upper College Road, Kingston Campus. Robin Lippincott, a novelist and short story writer, will also read from his work. The joint reading is part of URI’s Ocean State Writing Conference (http://www.uri.edu/artsci/eng/SummerWriting/08/index.html).
Cassian’s talents extend beyond poetry. She is also a composer of chamber and symphonic music. In conjunction with her reading at URI, there will be a concert, “The Music of Nina Cassian,” at 8:30 that evening in the URI Memorial Union Ballroom, 50 Lower College Road, sponsored by the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Other sponsors are the URI Department of Music and Vibe of the Venue. Tickets will be $8 at the door. Admission is free for conference attendees.
The concert will feature URI professor of piano Manabu Takasawa and URI clarinet instructor Kelli O’Connor performing Nina Cassian’s “2 x 5 Fingers,” “Toccata,” and “The Magic Clarinet.” “Toccata” for piano solo was written in 1953 while Cassian was still in Romania. “2 x 5” for piano solo was written in 1986, soon after she had come to America.
Each movement focuses on a finger of each hand (1. The Thumb, 2. The Forefinger, 3. The Middle Finger, 4. The Ring Finger, 5. The Little Finger, and 6. All 10.
“The Magic Clarinet” for clarinet and piano, also written in America, has previously been performed at Carnegie Hall.
Takasawa has performed widely in America, Europe, and Asia. He made a solo recital debut at the John F. Kennedy Center for the performing Arts in 1992. More recently he performed at the Mozart Festival in Poznan, Poland.
O’Connor is the principal clarinet of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra.
Cassian played Bach at a Bucharest conservatory at a young age. But her piano teacher told her that her hands were too small for her to have a concert career. Instead, she found her voice in poetry and composition.
A few months ago Geoffrey Gibbs, a URI professor of composition, was asked to transcribe old tapes of Cassian’s music to CDs. The originals were the only copies. As he re-recorded the music and cleared up the static, he was delighted at the quality of the pieces and wanted to have them performed at the university.
“It is unusual for an established poet to also be such a skillful composer,” says Gibbs. “Her music has the same deep feeling and humor one finds in her poetry.”
A leading literary figure in Romania for more than 40 years, Cassian was invited to teach creative writing as a visiting professor at New York University in 1985. While in New York, a friend was arrested in Romania and Cassian’s lampooning verses on the Ceausescu regime were discovered in his diary. He was tortured to death, and Cassian had no choice but to seek asylum in New York where she has lived ever since.
In addition to writing literature and composing music, Cassian has worked as a journalist and a film critic. She is also a respected translator of Shakespeare, Bertold Brecht, Christian Morgenstern Iannis Ritsos, and Paul Celan.