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Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
June 30, 2008
DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University English Instructor Joe Bonomo grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., where he took advantage of the proximity to world-class museums and developed a love for the visual arts.
Today an accomplished writer, Bonomo has a “strange little book” coming out this week that indulges his passion for both the written word and the plastic arts.
The book, “Installations” (Penguin Books), invites the reader to encounter, in one extraordinary afternoon, a series of 20 art installations, each described in a narrative prose poem. During the course of the journey, something fantastic occurs at the intersection of installed and imagined, spectator and event.
Each of the prose poems begins with the spectator entering a white room devoted to a single installation. Together the poems form a narrative arc, with a beginning, middle and end.
“This visually captivating sequence of scenes is magical and oddly hypnotic. You take risks when you step into these rooms,” poet Naomi Shihab Nye says.
Nye chose Bonomo's manuscript from hundreds of entries as Penguin Books' selection this year in the National Poetry Series competition. In addition to book publication, five competition winners each received a $1,000 cash award.
The concept for “Installations” came to Bonomo several years ago while he was reading a magazine's description of a provocative art installation.
“I started playing with the idea of a nameless spectator who attends a museum or art installation,” Bonomo says. “Each installation gets more surreal and abstract and things start to happen in the installations themselves that couldn't happen in real life. Laws of physics are defied, the faces of people morph and a sense of the surreal creeps in.
“I wanted to create tension between what couldn't possibly be happening and what seems to be happening. The magic of metaphor fuses two things together, creating something new, startling or strange. It's that sort of energy that I was interested in exploring.”
The installations described within the book are products of Bonomo's imagination, although they were influenced by his own encounters with the arts.
“I'm always amazed at what happens at the intersection between a work of art and the spectator—whether you're standing in front of a painting, watching dance or listening to a song,” Bonomo says. “In the best art, the art that matters, something very akin to magic occurs. ‘Installations' is a book about the power and strangeness of art, and the way it refreshes the world for us.”
Bonomo came to NIU in 1995, along with his wife, Amy Newman, a professor and poet in the Department of English. He teaches creative nonfiction writing and courses in literary nonfiction and modern and contemporary literature. In 2006 he became the first-ever recipient of NIU's Excellence in Undergraduate Instruction Award.
Bonomo also authored the 2007 book, “Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band” (Continuum Books). The recipient of fellowship awards in both prose and poetry from the Illinois Arts Council, his personal essays and prose poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals and magazines. Bonomo lives in DeKalb.