Sunday, April 22, 2012

5th Annual Writing Festival @ Northwestern

A couple weeks ago (April 12-14) the undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Northwestern University held its 5th Annual Writing Festival, a three-day event bringing together students, faculty and three writers representing each of the three major genres--poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction--in which the program offers major and minor curricular tracks.

This year's visiting writers were poet Kate Daniels (who teaches at Vanderbilt University), creative nonfiction writer Jane Brox, and fiction writer ZZ Packer (teaching this semester at the University of Texas, Austin).  Each individually hosted a master class for the students, gave a reading of their work, and then together participated in a conversation on their lives and work guided by three of my colleagues, Sheila Donohue, Brian Bouldrey, and Rachel Webster. In her master class, Daniels spoke about the "garrulous poem" (which would describe her sinous, talky, information and action-rich poems); Brox in hers talked about transitions both with her specific books and across the span of her writing life; and Packer combined narratology and critical theory with practical reading in her presentation on voice. I was unfamiliar with Brox's nonfiction, so it was enlightening to hear her read and talk about it, and though I had read Daniels' and Packer's work, I felt like I heard and learned something new with their readings and presentations. All the events were packed, which was great to see, and my conversations with students after the event affirmed that they had gotten a great deal from the presentations and the readings. I certainly did, as I have every prior year.

A special highlight this year was the participation of students from Evanston Township High School, the local public high school.  During the month of March, several colleagues and I, led by poetry professors Mary Kinzie, Rachel Webster and Susannah Gottlieb, the force behind the Poetry and Poetics Colloquium, and aided by graduate student and poet Laura Passin, supervised half a dozen outstanding senior undergraduate poetry students, who led the high school students in writing exercises at Evanston Township High School and via online workshops. Mark Onuschek, the English teacher and program coordinator, along with nearly all the high school students who participated in the program and many of their parents were present at the Writing Festival event, and nearly all of the students read one of their poems, as did their undergraduate student mentors. It was wonderful to have writers at this level present and to hear their work in conversation with the established writers.

Here are a few photos from the events (no drawings, unfortunately, as I did last year of David Shields).

Kate Daniels, Northwestern Univ. Writers' Festival
Kate Daniels, at her master class

Jane Brox, Northwestern Univ. Writers' Festival
Jane Brox, leading her master class

Rachel Webster, Northwestern Univ. Writers' Festival
Rachel Webster, introducing the student writers

NU student & ETHS student, Northwestern Univ. Writers' Festival
Undergraduate poet Jonathan Ayala, and an ETHS student poet (in red)

ZZ Packer giving her master class
ZZ Packer, leading her master class

Panel of writers, Northwestern Univ. Writers' Festival
The writers' panel (Donohue, Packer, Brox, Bouldrey, Daniels, Webster)

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