Five writers have a way with words
May 5, 2004
By Susan Green
Writer and essayist Jeanette Winterson frequently muses about the tension and harmonies between words and meaning that, when resolved, have the power to move us and affect us through time.
The five diverse, highly acclaimed writers in residence for this year's 19th Spring Literary Festival certainly have resolved that tension. Authors Steven Millhauser, Mary Robison and Alphonso Lingis, as well as poets Carl Dennis and Sharon Olds will be on Ohio University's Athens campus May 5-7 reading from their work and conducting symposia.
For nearly two decades, the Spring Literary Festival has brought some of the world's best poets and writers to the Athens community. Jean Cunningham, special programs coordinator in the English department and managing editor of Hotel Amerika, says, "Unlike any other event I can think of, the festival exquisitely combines entertainment and education."
Students help select writers for the festival, and the writers conduct symposia for creative writing students in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Typically the symposia are open, informal discussions full of lively conversation.
"The Literary Festival is a wonderful opportunity for students because it transforms theoretical writing into reality, with living, breathing renowned authors right here on campus," says John Kachuba, author and special programs assistant.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Dennis takes a wry approach to exploring the larger issues of life and it's what makes his work so accessible and human. His use of language is pure and uncluttered; it's the language used when speaking to a friend.
Before winning the Pulitzer in 2001, Carl Dennis was the recipient of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and a Fellow at the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy.
"With such a diverse group of writers at the festival, we should have some fruitful disagreements about art," Dennis says. "Lucky for us all, we're not obliged to reach a consensus."
Poet Olds, the author of seven volumes of poetry, also has received many awards for her work. She was New York State Poet Laureate from 1998–2000. Writer Michael Ondaatje, perhaps best known as the author of "The English Patient," describes Olds' poems as "pure fire in the hands - risky, on the verge of failing, and in the end leaping up." She's also been described as, "the brooding Earth Mother of American Poetry." Her most recent collection, "The Unswept Room," received a 2002 National Book Award nomination.
Lingis is a philosopher who writes from the perspective of someone trying to understand the development of human consciousness and self-awareness. As a world traveler with the eye of an anthropologist, Lingis often finds himself examining the abuses and complications inherent to a being a foreigner.
His latest book, "Trust," investigates what it means to be a world traveler, cut off from familiar customs and traditions. Lingis believes that trust in others is the energy that binds us all, one to the other.
"Travel far enough and we find ourselves happily back in the infantile world," he writes. "A world in which trust is everything."
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer Millhauser, is interested in creating new worlds rather than visiting locales in the existing world. His work is often compared to Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and Italian writer Italo Calvino, both fabulists, or fable writers. Millhauser's recent work, "The King in the Tree," is a collection of three novellas where he again enters the realm of myth and fable to retell the stories of Don Juan and Tristan and Isolde.
Robison, a Mississippi writer of novels and short stories, is known for her meticulous delineation of American life, according to Nathan Ihara in the L.A. Weekly. And she's no stranger to Ohio University. From 1979–1980 Robison was a visiting assistant professor in the English department and a 1989 Spring Literary Festival faculty member.
Her stories have been selected for inclusion in the "Pushcart Prize Annual," "Best American Short Stories" and numerous other anthologies and textbooks. She is a past recipient of a Guggenheim Grant and her latest novel, "Why Did I Ever," published fall 2001, was named the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year.
"The Pushcart Prize is a volume of the best American writing, that appeared in periodicals during the preceding year," says David Lazar, senior editor of Hotel Amerika. "There are thousands of nominations - it's very competitive."
Deemed one of the most influential projects in the history of American publishing by Publishers Weekly, The Pushcart Prize recognizes America's finest storytellers, poets and essayists. A collection of the prize-winning work is published each year in the Pushcart Prize Annual.
This year, two writers whose work appeared in Hotel Amerika, Ohio University's innovative literary journal, were selected for inclusion in the Pushcart Prize Annual 2004. Mark Irwin's, "When I Died," and Guy Davenport's, "The Playing Field."
Schedule of Events
Wednesday, May 5
7:30 p.m. - Reading by Mary Robison, Irvine Auditorium
8:30 p.m. - Reading by Carl Dennis, Irvine Auditorium
Thursday, May 6
11 a.m. - Lecture by Sharon Olds, Walter Hall rotunda
Noon - Lecture by Steven Millhauser, Walter Hall rotunda
7:30 p.m. - Lecture by Carl Dennis, Walter Hall rotunda
8:30 p.m. - Reading by Alphonso Lingis, Irvine Auditorium
Friday, May 7
11 a.m. - Lecture by Mary Robison, Walter Hall rotunda
Noon - Lecture by Alphonso Lingis, Walter Hall rotunda
7:30 p.m. - Reading by Sharon Olds, Irvine Auditorium
8:30 p.m. - Reading by Steven Millhauser, Irvine Auditorium
"In less than two years Hotel Amerika has established a reputable following by offering a venue for some of the finest contemporary poets and writers," Cunningham says. "Recognition in 'Best American Poetry' and the Pushcart Prize series confirms the journal's early success."
Two poems in from Hotel Amerika are included in "Best American Poetry 2004," John Hollander's, "Fiddle-De-Dee," and Nathaniel Mackey's, "Sound and Cerement."
"Our aesthetic philosophy is very catholic," Lazar says. "We publish work that is extremely formal, conservative, avant-garde and experimental, as long as we think it's the most challenging, interesting work we can find. Dull language is the original sin."
Literary Festival evening readings will take place in 194 Irvine Auditorium, with parking available in lots 127 and 128 around the Convocation Center. Midday lectures will take place in the new Margaret M. Walter Hall rotunda. Parking is available behind the building in lot 134 or next to Peden Stadium in lots 132 and 133.
All readings and lectures are free and open to the public.
The Spring Literary Festival is sponsored by the creative writing program in the Department of English and is funded by Ohio University's College of Arts and Sciences. For more information, call (740) 593-2838 or 593-4181 or visit www.english.ohiou.edu/litfest/.
Susan Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.