May 10, 2005
By Susan Green
The Spring Literary Festival is a powerful moment in the lives of many of the students who attend. Jason Smoot, a senior English major in Honors Tutorial College, recalls meeting writer Steven Millhauser during last year's festival.
This year the Spring Literary Festival is partnering with the Athens Public Library to raise funds for the library's expansion project. Bookplates, tote bags and T-shirts, designed by Tad Gallaugher, illustrator/designer in Printing and Graphic Services, can be purchased during the festival.
To see plans of the library expansion project visit: www.librarygrows.info.
"Talking to Steven Millhauser about everyday things was an important part of my college experience," Smoot says. "And if I hadn't met the writers that I've met, I wouldn't have thought about writing as a career."
Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Leonard Kriegel. Gregory Orr. Marilynne Robinson. Ellen Willis. These writers may not be household names, but they're all heavyweights in the literary world, and they'll be reading from and discussing their work during the 20th Annual Spring Literary Festival, May 11-13. All readings and lectures are free and open to the public.
According to Bob DeMott, professor of English, the benefit to students is incalculable. "Students learn that books are written by living human beings," he says. "Not anthologized museum mummies."
Polio put 11-year-old Kriegel in a wheelchair in the early 1940s when the country was at war; men were courageous and physically strong. Young Kriegel questioned what kind of man he would become.
In his most recent work, "Flying Solo: Reimagining Manhood, Courage, and Loss" (1998), he explores masculinity and responsibility in modern culture. He writes, "An extravagance of memory hurls me back to a time when I was not yet 17 and I set out to create a self both I and the world could hold accountable."
Hayley Haugen is looking forward to meeting the essayist. A Ph.D. candidate in American Literature, Haugen is using late 20th century literature as a lens to study the role of family in the social construction of the ill and disabled. Kriegel is one of the writers she's drawing from.
"Kriegel has written a lot about living with polio," Haugen says. "The chance to have dinner with him and talk about his work is very exciting. I feel as though his presence at the festival validates my project. Knowing that I thought of him independently for my own work before I was aware he would be coming to the festival, gives me a little boost."
As Kriegel's physical limitations inform his work, fate and chance feed poet Kelly's work.
Kelly questions what it means to be human. Her most recent collection, "The Orchard" (2004), was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Her previous collection, Song (1995), was the 1994 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets.
In the festival's tabloid, graduate student Megan Lobsinger writes of Kelly, "She locates spirituality within the everyday faith we put into being alive, staying alive. She pays careful attention to the faith we put in the order of nature, and she captures those moments when the natural world seems to spin out of control."
Marilynne Robinson's first novel, "Housekeeping," has been praised as "one of the 10 best novels of the past century," and her latest, "Gilead," won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2005 National Book Critics Award.
This year Smoot is looking forward to meeting the writer. He's reading from Robinson's work during the upcoming Friends of the Libraries of Ohio University Readathon.
"I see the same thing in Robinson that I see in Millhauser," he says. "A faith in people, people who aren't perfect. It inspires me."
DeMott isn't surprised by these comments. "Literature is not just between the pages of a book," he says. "Listening to an author read from their work creates a personal connection to the book. It's an amazing moment, and most people are changed by the experience."
Jenning Dunning agrees about the benefits of the Literary Festival. As a graduate student, she's taught a class around the festival writers and says it's important to students to put a face to the work.
"Using a work by one of the authors, I asked the students to write a related personal essay to push their thinking forward and to develop a personal relationship with the text," Dunning says. "These students weren't necessarily interested in contemporary literature, but they were surprised by what they gained from the exercise and from meeting the authors as real people."
As Smoot says, "Attending the readings is like seeing a live concert. If you like the author, it's fun to meet them."
For details about the Spring Literary Festival and more information about the five featured writers, visit www.english.ohiou.edu/litfest.
This story features learning derived from the totality of the college experience including activities both inside and outside the classroom.
Susan Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.