Ken Burns, Stephen King appearances set for next week
MANCHESTER — The week after Thanksgiving will see the arrival of not one, but two, of America's most well-known cinematic and literary figures.
Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker who has produced a series of well-received and award -winning documentaries portraying different slices of American history, and Stephen King, a towering writer who is almost synonymous with modern day horror fiction and fantasy literature, will be making return appearances next week. Burns will be speaking at the Equinox Resort Monday, Nov. 30, and King will be leading a discussion at the Manchester Elementary Middle School on Dec. 2. Both events are being sponsored by the Northshire Book Store. Vermont Public Television is co-sponsoring Burns's appearance.
Burns was last here almost exactly two years ago, when he presented his then new PBS documentary on World War II, for which he won an Emmy award. His latest effort focuses on the nation's national parks. It's a subject he's long been interested in, but one that is relatively little known, he said last Thursday in an interview with The Journal.
"They connect us with earlier generations of Americans and connect us with something elemental about where we come from," he said. "What is spectacular about them is that there is no other place where you can see something exactly the way the ancestors of native people saw them."
Burns didn't try to do an encyclopedic overview of all the parks in his most recent production, and while most of he best known ones are in the western half of the country, attention is given to those in the eastern U.S. as well. Then there are other, smaller sites — historical locations, battlefields and the like — that also form part of the national park system, he said.
"We talk about the evolution of the idea that permitted the park service to expand from saving scenery to saving spectacular archeological sites and other aspects of our history and also complicated symbols of our past, like examples of segregation and the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II," Burns said. "I know of no other country on earth that's brave enough to set aside places that talk about ... the darker chapters in our lives."
The parks are on a bit of a rebound after a period of relative neglect but are still in need of an investment of about $8 billion to get caught up on deferred maintenance, he said.
"The National Parks: America's Best Idea," as the new series is known, has been broadcast on PBS to wide acclaim. It was six years in the making, and Burns will talk about the series and what went into the production, he said.
Even though Burns was here only two years ago in the wake of his last major work on the Second World War, when the opportunity arose to bring him back again, it was too good to pass up, said Chris Morrow, the general manager of the Northshire Book Store.
"That was a fantastic evening (referring to the event two years ago)," he said. "Whenever we have someone of his stature who's coming out with a book and is willing to come back we jump on it. It might be a few years before he has another book. The topic is important — the national parks are something that deserve our understanding — it's a distinctly American invention.'
Tickets for Burns's appearance, which will take place on Nov. 30, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Rockwell Room of the Equinox Resort, cost $50 and include a copy of his book.
Stephen King was last seen in Manchester four years ago, when he came to the Maple Street School as part of a fund-raising event. The last time before that was in 1995, when he rolled into town on a motorcycle and led a discussion on his writing. Releases of new books by King are seismic events in the publishing world, and his latest, "Under the Dome," is no different.
King is a master story teller regardless of the literary genre he's writing in, Morrow said.
"He creates amazing characters that carry the narrative through in a way that's resonated with book readers for decades now — he's one of the true legends of the written word," Morrow said.
"Under the Dome" is set in a town in Maine — where King was born, attended college and lives most of the time — where a transparent dome has descended, sealing off the town from the outside world. Where it came from, or when it will go away, are mysteries. This allows a local town official to lead a takeover of the town's government and rule in a thuggish style well-suited to a King novel.
King first burst on the literary world in 1973 with his breakthrough book "Carrie," which has been followed by more than 50 other books; some of the best known include "The Shining," which was made into a movie that starred Jack Ncholson, "Pet Sematary," "Bag of Bones" and "The Tommyknockers." in 2003 he won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
King is known for the unusual level of detail he weaves into his writing and his stories and plot lines draw from the darker side of human nature and the American experience. His prolific writing in terms of the sheer number of books he's written is matched by his speed — he wrote the nearly 1,100 page novel "Under the Dome" in under a year and a half. The book got a thumbs up from Morrow.
"I thought it was fun — I'm not one to keep reading books I'm not engaged it," he said. "It actually got better as it went along — great characters and an interesting plot line."
Stephen King will be appearing at the Manchester Elementary Middle School on Wednesday, Dec. 2, starting at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $10 each. For tickets or additional information for both Ken Burn's and Stephen King's appearances, call the Northshire Bookstore at 362-2200.
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