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John Gardner

LIVE: John Gardner Society's fall reading

By Howard B. Owens
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The John Gardner Society's annual October reading of the late Batavia author's work is virtual this year instead of at his favorite restaurant, the Pok-A-Dot.

The reading, and hopefully the livestream, is scheduled to start at 8 p.m.

Photos: John Gardner Society reads John Gardner at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

The John Gardner Society gathered at the Pok-A-Dot on Saturday night for the group's annual reading of works by John Gardner.

A Batavia-native, Gardner is an internationally acclaimed novelist and literary critic who died in a motorcycle accident in 1982.

Readers this year were Steve Lewandowski, Byron Hoot, Beth Bucchler (top photo), Richard Beatty, Bill Kauffman, David Lampe, Chris De Pasquale, Helen Maier, Terry Abrams, John Maier and Eric Zwieg.

Byron Hoot

Bill Kauffman

Terry Abrams

Photos: The 21st reading of John Gardner at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

The 21st annual John Gardner Society gathering at the Pok-A-Dot to remember Batavia's most famous novelist at his favorite local restaurant brought people in from some distance this year. There were two people who drove in from Pennsylvania, two from Indiana, and one of Gardner's best friends, who drove up from Binghamton (playwright Jan Quackenbush). Among the travelers, a former student and a former dorm mate of Gardner's. First-timers to the reading also included a couple from Buffalo.

Reading in the top photo, Beth Buechler, who was one of Gardner's students in Binghamton and traveled to Batavia from Indiana.

Tracy Ford

Bill Kauffman

Terry Abrams, of Basom, reading, as he does every year, from "On Becoming a Novelist."

Norm Morford, a dormmate's of Gardner's while in college.

Helen Maier

Other readers included Byron Hoot, from Pennsylvania, Lucine Kauffman, Steve Lewandowski, JoNelle Toriseva, and John Maier.

Photos: The 20th Annual Batavia Reads Gardner at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

The John Gardner Society gathered for the 20th time last night for its annual reading of works by and about John Gardner, the acclaimed novelist originally from Batavia.

This year, Bill Gardner, John's cousin, attended and spoke at the end about a phone call he received from John near the end of his life. He said John was morose and despondent over the state of his writing.

“I want to come back to Genesee County," John told Bill. "I lost my roots."

He wanted Bill to find him a place to live, ideally a Greek revival home. Bill said he there wasn't much around, but he had seen a place in East Bethany, so he went took at it, but found it had been turned into apartments.

John died in a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania (where he lived) not long after that, but Bill said he was always struck by the fact that John felt he couldn't write because he had strayed too far from home.

"He had lost his touch," Bill said. "He had lost his ability to write and the problem, as he saw it, was that he lost his touch with the land where he grew up and he wanted to come back."

Top photo: Maureen Maas-Feary.

Gretel Kauffman

Byron Hoot, who travels from Pittsburgh each year for the reading.

Helen Maier

Bill Gardner

Photos: Annual John Gardner reading at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

Batavia's literary legend John Gardner was honored Saturday night by the John Gardner Society with the annual reading from passages of his work at his favorite restaurant, the Pok-A-Dot.

Photos: Batavia reads Gardner at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

Members of the John Gardner Society gathered, as they do every October, for a reading of selections from the work of Batavia's own John Gardner.

Top photo: Bill Kauffman reading a portion of an essay about Gardner by Susan Thornton, who was Gardner's fiancée at time of his death.

Byron Hoot, who began attending the readings a few years ago, driving to Batavia annually from his home in Pennsylvania. 

Jim Gardner, John's brother

Leona Pastore and Terry Abrams

Bill Kauffman

Brian Paris reading

18th annual 'Batavia Reads John Gardner' at the Pok-A-Dot

By Billie Owens

For the 18th year in a row, Batavians (and others) will gather to read from the works of author John Gardner on an October evening. This year's edition of "Batavia Reads John Gardner" will be held Saturday, Oct. 25th, at 8 p.m. at the Pok-A-Dot.

For more information call Bill Kauffman at 585-757-2455 or e-mail Charley Boyd at

Event Date and Time

An appreciation of John Gardner and the annual reading of his work at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

Byron Hoot, a Pittsburgh-area resident, is a longtime John Gardner fan and scholar. He's a poet and author who has worked for years on a series of poems based on Gardner's novel "Grendel." For the first time last year, Hoot came to Batavia for the annual Gardner night at the Pok-A-Dot. He then came back in the summer for the Gardner symposium at Genesee Community College and returned this year for the Gardner Society's annual gathering at the Dot.  (To file under "It's a Small World," Hoot studied at a college in Ohio where his literature professor was Art Seamans. I also took literature classes with Seamans in San Diego. The two men join a group of writers annually for a workshop in the Adirondacks. I've not made that trip yet. Maybe this summer ... ). Here's an appreciation by Hoot of the annual local reading and Batavia's literary giant.

I do not know how many cities, towns, or villages across America that have a famous son or daughter of literature do what Batavia, New York does.

Once a year (and it almost feels like “Once upon a time. . ..”), a group gathers who are John Gardner fans. Fans is the wrong word. Friends, students are better words though it’s difficult to explain a relationship with someone dead who still so influences the living, a group of people from all walks of life not strictly academic. . . .

To say nothing of having John’s brother, Jim, and family members there to listen and recite John Gardner’s words which are still very much alive.

We came, the last Saturday of October because he speaks to us still. We come to the Pok-A Dot diner because that’s where he went. We read to honor someone whose writing is honest enough to have opened something in each of us that would have never been opened before.

Terry Abrams, one of the readers, called it — most recently, last Saturday -– a community.  It is. He said in a world where entertainment is everywhere this form where reading and listening and then later talking at O’Lacy’s is an anomaly. He’s right, of course. And I think of that old adage of writing – “to delight and to instruct.” We have forgotten that delight and instruction is of the soul. But not all.

And I suspect John Gardner would growl and say, “Of course! Of course! Write on! Write on!” and give a Grendel smile.

Batavia . . . well done.

John Gardner Conference attracts scholars and fans from far and wide

By Howard B. Owens

This item was submitted by Byron Hoot, from Wexford, Pa., who has made a couple of trips to Batavia in the past year in connection with his appreciation of John Gardner, including this past Saturday's John Gardner Conference at GCC.

“The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” So began the first presenter for the 15th Annual John Gardner Conference hosted by Genesee Community College organized by Tracey Ford and Charley Boyd of GCC, coordinated by Sandy Hortdahl of Northeast State, Tennessee. 

It was “the spirit (that) giveth life” throughout the conference. The spirit of Gardner was alive and well among the conference attendees, who came from across New York state, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. 

Presenters spoke on a wide range of topics, from Paul Johnston’s “Taggart Hodge, Antinomian” to John and Helen Maier’s reading of “The Miller’s Tale” in Chaucer’s Middle English, to Denise Divins’ probing look at the archetypical world of Grendel. In addition, there was Bette Smith’s excellent performance of Gardner’s one-act play, Days of Vengeance, and Jennifer Duncan’s talk of Gardner’s influence on her own writing. 

Attendees had a chance to examine some of the original Gardner materials housed at GCC and overseen by librarian Phyllis Andrews. Finally, as a visual coda, there was a screening of "The Sunlight Man," a documentary made by Gardner’s son, Joel. As important as the ideas and insights, the presence of Gardner’s brother Jim and his wife, Wanda, added the personal touch of stories from family members who loved and love Gardner still.

A pilgrimage to the Pok-a-Dot for lunch gave conference attendees added time to socialize. A hidden gem, Genesee Community College deserves much credit for keeping alive the spirit of an important American writer. This is a pilgrimage well worth making.

Novelist John Gardner's works celebrated with readings, food and fun at the Pok-A-Dot

By Billie Owens

Batavia-born novelist John Gardner will be celebrated with a night of readings, food and fun on Saturday, Oct. 27.

The John Gardner Society, in conjunction with Genesee Community College, is sponsoring the Halloween-themed celebration at 8 p.m. at the Pok-a-Dot diner at Ellicott and Liberty streets in Batavia.

Event Date and Time

Photos: John Gardner reading at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

The John Gardner Society gathered Saturday at the Pok-A-Dot for the annual reading of the author's works.

Readers were Lucine, Bill and Gretel Kauffman, Erica Caldwell, Terry McCormack, Tracy Ford, Maureen Maas-Feary, Brian Paris, Helen Maier, Terry Abrams and John Maier.

WNED's Jay Moran recorded the readings and will air a segment later in the week, possibly on Wednesday.

If you can't view the slide show, click here.

'Batavia Reads Gardner' at the Pok-A-Dot

By Billie Owens

The annual reading from the works of the late author John Gardner is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22 at, of course, the Pok-A-Dot cafe. It's at the corner of Ellicott and Liberty streets in the City of Batavia.

The public is invited for an evening of readings, food and camaraderie in celebration of John Gardner. You can even have your picture taken on the newly installed John Gardner Memorial Bench.

The event is sponsored by The John Gardner Society and Genesee Community College.

Event Date and Time

Purple bench honoring Batavia's famed novelist installed outside the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

When you drive past the Pok-A-Dot today, you may notice a purple bench you've not seen before. It was installed today in honor of John Gardner, the world-famous novelist, poet and literary critic who grew up in Batavia and once considered the Pok-A-Dot his favorite eatery.

The bench, which cost a little less than $2,000, was bought and paid for by the John Gardner Society and installed by a city work crew.

"We wanted the bench to be in the spirit of both the Pok-A-Dot and John Gardner," said local author and Gardner Society member Bill Kauffman. "So, it is, ah, colorful (purple and yellow). Who knows -- maybe we'll paint polka dots on it later. Gardner once said,  'I think a writer who leaves his roots leaves any hope of writing importantly.' Well, his roots haven't forgotten him."

Kauffman said the group has talked for years about sponsoring a memorial for Gardner. Since the group holds its annual Gardner reading each October at the Pok-A-Dot and he included "the Dot" in one of his novels, it seemed like an appropriate spot for a memorial.

"We figured why not put a Gardner bench in front of this literary-culinary capital of Batavia?" Kauffman said.

Leona Pastore, whose family owns the Pok-A-Dot, was enthusiastic and helpful, Kauffman said. He also thanks City Manager Jason Molino for supporting the project and Ray Tourt and his staff for their assistance.

The plaque reads: JOHN C. GARDNER / Author, Teacher / 1933-1982 / Born in Batavia and raised on the family farm on Putnam Settlement Road, Gardner published more than 30 books of fiction, literary criticism, and advice for writers. The novel that brought him national recognition, The Sunlight Dialogues (1972), is set in Batavia and environs, including the Pok-a-Dot restaurant.

Photos: 14th Annual John Gardner reading at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

It's been said that the Pok-A-Dot was John Gardner's favorite eatery. In "The Sunlight Dialogues," Gardner mentions the 56-year-old diner in one passage.

For 14 years, the John Gardner Society has gathered at The Dot to remember the man and read from his work.

Saturday, nine people took turns reading from a variety of his works, including novels, poems, short stories and nonfiction.

Pictured above, Erica Caldwell, owner of Present Tense Books on Washington Avenue.

After the jump are more pictures from the event.

Bill Kauffman, master of ceremonies.

Maureen Maas-Feary

Tracy Ford

Brian Paris

Helen Maier

Terry Abrams

Lucine Kauffman

John Gardner's younger brother, Jim Gardner.

John Maier

Something meaningful for the Oak Street Roundabout

By Howard B. Owens

Work crews were planting plants in the middle of the Oak Street Roundabout today, which reminded me of a few conversations I've had around town recently -- what to put in the middle of the roundabout? Mere plants won't do.

There should be something important and meaningful there.

And in thinking about it -- it's Batavia, it's Oak Street -- what would be more meaningful and appropriate than a statue of John Gardner, and perhaps the word "LOVE"?

So there's a suggestion: Let's get a committee together, raise some money and make it a little shrine to Batavia's most famous literary figure.

Gardner Society meets at Pok-A-Dot for annual reading

By Howard B. Owens

Last year, I couldn't make the John Gardner reading at the Pok-A-Dot because my parents were visiting. This year, I had to cover the Notre Dame game. As I told Bill Kauffman, "Like they say in baseball, maybe next year."

Thanks to Charley Boyd for posting this video of Kauffman opening the 13th annual event.

John Gardner: No. 6 in "What Made Genesee County Famous"

By Philip Anselmo

"In late August, 1966, the city jail in Batavia, New York, held four regular prisoners, that is, four prisoners who were being kept on something more than an overnight basis." So begins The Sunlight Dialogues, by John Gardner, novelist, essayist, professor, Batavian.

Gardner appears at No. 6 in the Holland Land Office Museum's countdown of The Twenty-Five Things That Made Genesee County Famous. Not much of a surprise there.

Museum Director Pat Weissend:

As a young adult, John Gardner had many interests. He wrote plays, studied chemistry, played the French horn and was an Eagle Scout. While at Alexander High School, he drew a cartoon of an elephant in art class that was published in the July 1948 edition of Seventeen Magazine. For his senior year of high school, he transferred to the larger Batavia High School so he could take some more challenging classes. Every Saturday, he went to Rochester where he took French horn lessons at the Eastman School of Music’s Preparatory School.

Following his graduation from Batavia High School in 1951, Gardner had to decide where he was going to study. He was awarded a scholarship to the Eastman School, but he chose to go to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana and major in chemistry.

Of course, Gardner didn't last long as a chemist. He soon left Indiana for a university in St. Louis, Missouri, where he earned his bachelor's degree, then went to Iowa for his doctorate. Gardner was hailed throughout his teaching career as a popular professor, yet it was his books that made him famous. Among his most well-known—Gardner published no less than 27 books—are the novels: Grendel, The Resurrection and The Sunlight Dialogiues, and two of his books on the art of writing: On Becoming a Novelist and The Art of Fiction. Gardner died in 1982 in a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania.

There's plenty of interesting info to be found on Gardner on the Web, including The Batavian's own video of Batavia Reads John Gardner at the Pok-A-Dot. You can check that out below. The video was filmed and produced by Darrick Coleman.

You can also view a documentary, entitled Sunlight Man, produced by Gardner's son, Joel, about his father's life and work. On a Web site called The Arch and the Abyss, you will find a bibliography of Gardner's works, a miscellany, an archive. You can even order a John Gardner limited edition t-shirt. As always, the Genesee Community College John C. Gardner Appreciation Page has a wealth of resources, including links to a dozen other sites.

Photo courtesy of Genesee Community College Web site.

Kauffman on Gardner night

By Howard B. Owens

Bill Kauffman's latest column for The American Conservative magazine is about the annual reading of John Gardner's works at the Pok-A-Dot, or as he spells it, the Pokadot (The Batavian may need to change its stylebook).

The piece is titled Gardening at Night (registration required for PDF version).

Our literary-culinary venue is the Pokadot, Gardner’s favorite diner, the unselfconsciously funky eatery at the epicenter of the Italian-Polish southside. (Gardner, a Welsh Presbyterian, frequently teased his people for their anti-Italian-Catholic prejudices while sharing them: a neat way to have your tortaand eat it too.)


Pokadot readers have included Gardner’s family and friends and people mentioned in his books, but most of us—teachers, a dairy salesman, our independent bookseller, and my wife, daughter, and I—know him only through the stories he wrote and the stories that are told about him still. (My dad, a few years behind him in school, said that Gardner was “weird.”)

A few regulars sit at the counter and sip coffee, bemused by the proceedings —maybe even edified, I like to kid myself.

Darrick Coleman covered this year's reading for The Batavian. His post and video are here.

While on the topic of Bill Kauffman, we recently found a video of a lecture he gave two years ago on Restoring American Regionalism. On the same site is a more recent lecture on Wendell Berry on War and Peace.

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