Arts + Entertainment

art frA writer looking at a blank page is a like a painter staring at a fresh canvas, a sculptor facing a block of clay or a woodworker holding a chunk of wood. The desire to grab words from thin air and construct them into sentences, notions and ideas comes from an internal fire to describe human emotion and situation. It is a calling, one that picks its creators when the time and place is prime. Writers are messengers, connecting the unknown cosmos to an everyday modern reality.

Established and emerging authors of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction will discuss and read from their works at Western Carolina University during the 12th annual Spring Literary Festival from Monday, March 31 to Friday, April 4, in Cullowhee. All events are free and open to the public and held in the A.K. Hinds University Center theater, unless otherwise noted.

• The Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poets Series featuring Richard Chess will be at noon March 31. The series will also feature student poets Samuel Fox from WCU, Patrick Bahls from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Teleia Tollison from Spruce Pine and Grace Wester from Odyssey Community School.

• Historian/writer David Cecelski will lead a discussion at 4 p.m., March 31. Cecelski is the author of “The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War.” His work centers on history, race and culture in the American South. Cecelski has been honored with awards including the Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavis Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights.

• Pulitzer Prize-nominated Mexican-American author Luis Alberto Urrea will read from his works at 7:30 p.m., March 31. His focuses include poetry, fiction and nonfiction. A winner of the Lannan Literary Award and Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize, Urrea uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph in his writing.

• Appalachian poet Ron Houchin will present at 4 p.m., April 1. Houchin, whose published poetry collections include “The Man Who Saws Us in Half,” has been a recipient of the Poetry Book of the Year from the Appalachian Writers’ Association.

• A tribute to the late Robert Conley will be at 7 p.m., April 1. Conley was WCU’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies before his death on Feb. 16. The tribute will be followed at 7:30 p.m. by a presentation by Native American author Linda Hogan. Conley, who was a registered tribal member of the Cherokee Nation, authored poems, short stories, nonfiction and more than 80 books ranging from The Cherokee Encyclopedia to award-winning Westerns. Hogan, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her novel “Mean Spirit,” writes books, poetry and essays, and has a special interest in exploring environmental issues and indigenous spiritual traditions and culture in her work.

• Donna Glee Williams and Charles F. Price will present at 4 p.m., April 2. Williams’ first novel “The Braided Path” was released in March and grew out of her award-winning short story that appeared in the anthology “The Year’s Best Science Fiction.” Price has authored historical fiction and nonfiction works ranging from “Hiwasee: A Novel of the Civil War,” set in Western North Carolina, to a book about a terror outbreak in 1863, set in Colorado.

• Fiction writer Jill McCorkle will present at 7 p.m., April 2, in the Community Room at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva. McCorkle has had five works named New York Times notable books. Her most recent novel, “Life After Life,” was released in November.

• Fiction writer George Singleton will present at 4 p.m., April 3. A Southern author who has written collections of short stories and three novels, Singleton was recipient of the 2011 Hillsdale Award for Fiction by The Fellowship of Southern Writers.

• Award-winning authors Column McCann, Ron Rash and Lisa Consiglio will hold a presentation about their work with the organization Narrative 4 at 7:30 p.m., April 3 in the Coulter Building at WCU. Narrative 4 is a global organization that seeks social change through encouraging diverse people to share stories in a way that builds empathy and understanding. McCann is the Irish-American author of “Let the Great World Spin” and “TransAtlantic,” and co-founder of Narrative 4. Rash is the WCU Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture and author of acclaimed books including “Serena,” “One Foot in Eden,” “Saints at the River” and “The World Made Straight.” Consiglio is the executive director and co-founder of Narrative 4.

• On April 4, there will be several presentations in the University Center theater by more than a dozen authors from the WCU community. Faculty and staff members who will present at 10 a.m. are Mary Adams, Catherine Carter, Deidre Elliott, Rosemary Peek and Rash. Alumni writers and artists presenting at 11 a.m. will be Anna Browning, Josh Crawford, Caroline Holland and T.J. Holland. Alumni authors presenting at 1 p.m. are Sue Ellen Bridgers, George Frizzell, Dawn Gilchrist-Young, Leah Hampton and David Joy. Students will present at 2 p.m.

Festival sponsors include WCU’s Visiting Writers Series, Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences, ACE series, Parris Distinguished Professorship, Office of the Chancellor, Office of the Provost and Division of Student Affairs and the Jackson County Public Library and North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The project also received support from the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.

www.litfestival.org or www.wcu.edu or 828.227.3926

art frA writer looking at a blank page is a like a painter staring at a fresh canvas, a sculptor facing a block of clay or a woodworker holding a chunk of wood. The desire to grab words from thin air and construct them into sentences, notions and ideas comes from an internal fire to describe human emotion and situation. It is a calling, one that picks its creators when the time and place is prime. Writers are messengers, connecting the unknown cosmos to an everyday modern reality.

SEE ALSO: Wordsmiths converge on WCU for Spring Literary Festival

Western Carolina University will be once again play host to an array of writers during the 12th annual Spring Literary Festival, which runs March 31 through April 4. The event is a celebration of the written word, where finely-aged veterans intermingle with the young faces of future generations eager to find their voice. It is a bountiful cross-pollination, one crucial to the perpetuation of the craft.

art frShowcasing the finest in Southern Appalachian and national writing talent, the Western Carolina University Spring Literary Festival comes into its 20th year with bevy of events, author appearances, readings and talks from April 8-11.

From written word to silver screen, Western Carolina University's Spring Literary Festival will celebrate its 10th year by featuring two authors whose works have been tagged for the silver screen.

Novelist and poet Ray Rash will kick off the festival, and memoirist Nick Flynn will deliver the keynote speech. Both have books that are or have been turned into feature length films.

Rash, WCU's Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture, will participate in a question-and-answer session with audience members beginning at 8 p.m. on March 20 in the University Center theater.

A film adaptation of Rash's Serena, a 2008 novel about the ambitious wife of a timber baron set in Depression-era Western North Carolina, is set for release in 2014. Rash's newest novel The Cove will be published in April.

Nick Flynn will close the festival with a reading at 7:30 p.m., March 22, in the recital hall of the Coulter Building. Flynn's 2004 memoir recounts the author's encounter with his long-absent father while working in a Boston homeless shelter. The work was adapted and recently released as the feature film "Being Flynn," directed by Paul Weitz and starring Robert De Niro, Paul Dano and Julianne Moore. Flynn authored a second memoir The Ticking Is the Bomb, which was published in 2010, and a companion collection of poems in 2011.

All events are in the A.K. Hinds University Center or the recital hall of the Coulter Building on the WCU campus. Events are free and open to the public, and authors will sign works after each reading.

This year's festival also includes a performance of "The Becky Show," a multimedia exploration of a "white trash childhood" by Rebecca Hardin-Thrift, at noon on March 22 in Illusions in the University Center. Hardin-Thrift writes short stories and poetry.

Other featured authors this year are Mary Adams, Catherine Carter and Deidre Elliott, all of WCU's Department of English; and Shirlette Ammons, Darnell Arnoult, Joseph Bathanti, Stefan Merrill Block, David Joy, Jon Pineda and Glenis Redmond.

WCU's Spring Literary Festival has a long tradition of bringing established and emerging literary talent to Western North Carolina. Again this year, festival organizers donated copies of works by featured authors to the public libraries in Sylva, Franklin, Bryson City and Highlands.

More information about the festival is available by calling 828.227.7264 or emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit the festival website at www.litfestival.org. 

RON RASH

Ron Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times best-selling novel Serena, in addition to three other prizewinning novels: One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River and The World Made Straight. Rash has also written four collections of poems and four collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. His newest novel The Cove will be published in April.

MARY ADAMS

Mary Adams is a child of the snow-and-steel belt, and she writes poetry and rescues dogs in Sylva. Her books include Epistles from the Planet Photosynthesis and Commandment. She teaches Shakespeare and biblical literature. Her poems have appeared in Western Humanities Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Shenandoah, North American Review and Gulf Coast, among others. Her honors include a Michener grant and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

www.maryadams.net.

SHIRLETTE AMMONS

Shirlette Ammons is a poet, writer, musician and coordinator of an arts program for children. She is also a Cave Canem Fellow. Her second collection of poetry, entitled Matching Skin, was published by Carolina Wren Press in 2008 and features an introduction by Nikky Finney, 2011 National Book Award Winner for Poetry. Ammons' first collection of poetry, titled Stumphole: Aunthology of Bakwoods Blood was published in 2002. She is vocalist songwriter for hip-hop rock band Mosadi Music.

DARNELL ARNOULT

Darnell Arnoult is writer-in-residence and assistant professor of English at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. Author of the prizewinning collection What Travels With Us: Poems and the novel Sufficient Grace, she is a regular faculty member of the Table Rock Writers Workshop, Tennessee Young Writers Workshop, John C. Campbell Folk School, Learning Events and the Appalachian Writers Workshop. Arnoult has received the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Literature, SIBA Poetry Book of the Year and in 2007 was named Tennessee Writer of the Year.

www.darnellarnoult.com/wp.

JOSEPH BATHANTI

Joseph Bathanti, a native of Pittsburgh, is professor of creative writing at Appalachian State University in Boone, where he also is the writer-in-residence for the university's Watauga Global Community. He was named the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet for the Western Region for the North Carolina Poetry Society for 2011-12. Bathanti is the author of six books of poetry, including This Metal, which was nominated for the National Book Award. Bathanti is also the author of the novels East Liberty, winner of the Carolina Novel Award, and Coventry, winner of the 2006 Novello Literary Award.


STEFAN MERRILL BLOCK

Born in 1982, Stefan Merrill Block grew up in Plano, Texas. His first book, The Story of Forgetting, was an international bestseller and the winner of Best First Fiction at the Rome International Festival of Literature, the 2008 Merck Serono Literature Prize and the 2009 Fiction Award from the Writers' League of Texas. Following the publication of his second novel, The Storm at the Door, Block was awarded the University of Texas Dobie Paisano Fellowship and a fellowship at the Santa Maddalena Foundation in Italy. He currently lives in Brooklyn.


CATHERINE CARTER

Born on the eastern shore of Maryland and raised there by wolves and vultures, Catherine Carter now lives in Cullowhee with her husband. She teaches at Western Carolina University, where she coordinates the English education program. Her first full-length collection, The Memory of Gills, received the 2007 Roanoke-Chowan Award from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association; her poem "Toast" won the 2009 North Carolina Writers' Network Randall Jarrell award. Her new book is The Swamp Monster at Home.


DEIDRE ELLIOTT

Raised in the Great Plains, Deidre Elliott's creative nonfiction appears in numerous journals as well as in the anthologies Getting Over the Color Green: Contemporary Environmental Literature of the Southwest and Hell's Half-Mile: River Runners' Tales of Hilarity and Misadventure. Her fiction appears in the anthology Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska. She has recently completed a collection of essays, Dry Eden: A Desert Commonplace Book. Currently, she coordinates the Professional Writing Program and teaches in English at Western Carolina University.


NICK FLYNN

Nick Flynn's most recent book is The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands, a collection of poems linked to his latest memoir The Ticking Is the Bomb, which the Los Angeles Times calls a "disquieting masterpiece." His previous memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, was shortlisted for France's Prix Femina. The book was transformed into a film "Being Flynn" starring Robert De Niro, Paul Dano and Julianne Moore. He is credited as an executive producer and artistic collaborator for the movie. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress and is a professor in the creative writing program at the University of Houston.


GLENIS REDMOND

Glenis Redmond is a widely published and award-winning poet from Greenville, S.C. Her latest book of poems is Under the Sun. Her poems have appeared in Meridians, Heartstone, Black Arts Quarterly, Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, Emrys Journal, Bum Rush the Page: Def Poetry Jam, Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry and Femspec. She is a recipient of the Denny C. Plattner Award for Outstanding Poetry, is a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist, a North Carolina Arts Council Literary Fellow, a Cave Canem Fellow and a Hermitage Fellow.


JON PINEDA

Jon Pineda is the author of the memoir Sleep in Me, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and a Library Journal Best Books of 2010 selection. He is also the author of the poetry collections The Translator's Diary, winner of the 2007 Green Rose Prize, and Birthmark, selected by Ralph Burns as winner of the 2003 Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry Open Competition. He currently teaches creative writing at Queens University of Charlotte.


DAVID JOY

David Joy grew up in Charlotte and earned a bachelor of arts in 2007 and a master's degree in professional writing in 2009, both from Western Carolina University. His first book Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey was published in 2011 and was a finalist for the SELC Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment. Critics called the book "a classic to which readers will keep returning." His creative nonfiction has appeared in Bird Watcher's Digest, The Wilderness House Literary Review and Smoky Mountain Living. He currently lives in Glenville, where he works as a staff writer and columnist for Crossroads Chronicle.


REBECCA HARDIN-THRIFT

Rebecca Hardin-Thrift is originally from Belmont. In 2002, she wrote and performed her one-woman show "The Becky Show" in Northampton, Mass., and at the New York International Fringe Festival. Hardin-Thrift is an associate professor of English at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., where she teaches creative writing and drama. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Washington Square, The Bellevue Literary Review, Karamu and others.


Schedule of Events

SUNDAY, MARCH 18

7:30 p.m.: Poet Glenis Redmond

(UC theater)

MONDAY, MARCH 19

12 p.m.: Gilbert Chappell

Distinguished Poetry Reading (student

poets) featuring distinguished poet

Joseph Bathanti (UC theater)

4 p.m.: Memoirist and poet Jon Pineda (UC theater)

7:30 p.m.: Novelist Stefan Merrill Block (UC theater)

TUESDAY, MARCH 20

1 p.m.: Screening of "Being Flynn"

(UC theater)

4 p.m.: Poets Catherine Carter and

Mary Adams (UC theater)

8 p.m.: Novelist Ron Rash in an

emceed audience Q&A with Rob

Neufeld of the Asheville Citizen-Times

(UC theater)

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21

4 p.m.: Fiction writer Darnell Arnoult

(UC theater)

7:30 p.m.: Creative nonfiction writers

Deidre Elliott and David Joy

(UC theater)

THURSDAY, MARCH 22

12 p.m.: Rebecca Hardin-Thrift's

"The Becky Show" (UC Illusions)

4 p.m.: Poet Shirlette Ammons

(recital hall, Coulter Building)

7:30 p.m.: Memoirist Nick Flynn

(recital hall, Coulter Building)

Of the many forms of entertainment readily at our fingertips, from television and movies to YouTube and the many vast and varied wonders of the rest of the internet, reading is probably still the most liberating.

Picking up a book not only takes the reader to another world, it gives them a hand in creating it. To read is to draw your own landscape, compose your own soundscape, shape the features of the characters yourself, the way that only you see them, with the writer as your hopefully expert guide. More than watching TV or going to the movies or perusing the endless pages of the web, reading is, at its essence, a creative pursuit. And that’s what makes the relationship between reader and writer so unique — it’s co-creative in a way that little other entertainment is.

Cultivating that relationship is the special draw of events such as Western Carolina University’s annual Literary Festival, an event that pulls together authors and poets from around the region and around the nation, giving them a venue to interact with their readers, past, present and future.

ALSO: Literary festival ‘invaluable’ teaching tool for WCU professors, students

Mary Adams, a professor at WCU and director of the festival, has been putting the lineup together for years. Each time, she tries to get a good mix of new and old, of regional and national, to offer readers access to some of their favorite authors as well as exposure to some excellent writers they may never have read otherwise.

This is partially what the festival is about — instilling a love and appreciation for reading in both newcomers and veterans, kindling excitement about written words by revealing the creator behind them.

One of this year’s featured writers, author Susan Vreeland, is a well-known novelist whose historical fiction is often rooted in art history. She believes that this is one of the most important and gratifying things about readers and writers meeting, peeling back the layers and exposing the story that lies beneath the story on the page.

“I’m telling them the story behind the story,” said Vreeland. “That’s what authors can offer, how they came to write the books what motivated them to.”

Vreeland, whose works have been made into movies and performed on stage, believes that the reader — or actor — interpretation of the writer’s work is an essential part of what makes literature, literature.

She gave the example of an actor portraying one of her short stories. He came to her, curious about whether she meant his character to be a constant teaser. No, she said, she hadn’t, but if that’s what he saw in it, it is what he should portray.

“That was a surprise, kind of a delightful one where he saw maybe more than I remembered,” said Vreeland. “It’s the viewer’s participation and you don’t want to deprive them of that.”

Adams, the festival’s director, said that she hopes this is just what festival-goers will be exposed to, meeting the writers and hearing their stories, putting a face on what might otherwise just be words.

“I would like people to read more and to have contact with the people writing the real books today, that people can come away with a greater love for reading,” said Adams.

Alan Weisman is another best-selling author gracing the festival this year. His most recent book, The World Without Us, explores what our planet would be like if humanity disappeared from it.

Weisman said that, especially in writing this particular book, the experience and interpretation of the reader was vital to him.

“I did not want to write another environmental book that gets read only by environmentalists,” said Weisman. He knew, he said, that average readers aren’t usually enticed by environmental tomes, and part of his mission in writing the book was to bring those readers into the dialogue.

“They find them [environmental books] scary, or they find them depressing or they find them overwhelming,” said Weisman. “Our mission [as writers] is to reach as wide an audience as possible, that it would be attractive or irresistible or seductive to that big readership out there.”

And, as the book is now in 34 languages and has long remained a bestseller, the strategy seemed to have worked.

The response to it, Weisman said, was somewhat surprising to him, but what his readers have drawn from the book and brought to the table in discussions around the country and the world is the resilience of life on earth.

“I have given countless talks, and it’s crossed a lot of boundaries — I’ve spoken to all different types of religious groups, I’ve been on Catholic radio programs, I’ve spoken to Mormon audiences, and ultimately, I think readers find out that life is this incredibly wonderfully powerful resilient force that always comes back no matter how messy things get,” said Weisman.

As a writer, he said, he’s been surprised by the wide range of people that responded to his work and pleased by their reactions.

“I really hoped that readers would take from all of that is not the message that this world would be better off without us, but if we would just lighten up on nature, we’d give it a chance to do the things that it does so beautifully,” he said.

And it’s venues like the Literary Festival that allow readers to glean those insights from writers, making the reading experience deeper and richer.

For writers, the chance to interact with their audiences, they say, improves and informs their craft, allowing the creativity of the reader to spill over into the work of the writer.

So many writers became so because they began as avid readers, so rubbing elbows with fellow and future bibliophiles is, to many, a privilege.

“I was so curious about so many different things,” said Weisman, which is why he became a writer to begin with.

Vreeland was a high school teacher with three decades of education under her belt before she turned to writing, and she sees her writing as an extension of her educational career, it’s next incarnation.

That’s why, for her, the reader is so important — they are, essentially, who she is writing for, and to expose them to new art, new time periods and new understanding is, she says, a great gift.

The greatest part of what she does, said Vreeland, is the knowledge “that something I write could reach into a person’s mind and heart and uplift that person and broaden his thinking and his understanding of life and humans.”

That understanding, she said, is the goal of writing and a contribution to culture that will last as long as the word is printed on the page.

“Each time we bring our readers imagination to the fore, each time we stimulate our readers’ imagination so that they live in another time and place,” said Vreeland, “that’s another step upwards for the human race.”

 

Spring Literary Festival

WCU’s ninth annual Spring Literary Festival will feature Cathy Smith Bowers, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Fred Chappell, Délana Dameron, David Gessner, Elizabeth Kostova, Don Lee, Bret Lott, Lee Martin, Ginger Murchison, Susan Vreeland, Frank X Walker, and Alan Weisman, as well as the Gilbert Chappell Distinguished Poet’s panel, with Distinguished Poet Mary Adams.

When: April 3-7

More information: www.litfestival.org

Samantha “Sam” Gampel, a sophomore at Western Carolina University, wants to write novels and earn her living as a professional writer.

So in Gampel’s book, there’s nothing quite like rubbing shoulders with real working-for-a-living writers such as the ones headlining this year’s literary festival at the university. This is learning in action for students such as Gampel, and the festival, she said, hugely enriches her experience of attending school in Cullowhee.

“I think it is amazing to get all of these writers to come here,” Gampel said. “And it really opens your eyes to some you hadn’t heard of before.”

WCU’s literary festival runs April 3-7. The Visiting Writers Series has 13 authors featured this year, providing an opportunity to combine hands-on learning with classroom teachings that excite not only students such as Gampel, but professors at WCU, too.

ALSO: A meeting of the minds: Bringing together readers and writers

“It’s invaluable,” said Deidre Elliot, an associate professor in the university’s English Department and director of the professional writing program.

That’s because professors can assign readings by authors, then — tah-dah — students can meet and talk to the authors firsthand. They can ask questions, and learn directly about both the craft of writing and how some writers successfully make livings practicing their craft.

“It is totally enjoyable (for a student) to see the real person who was in a textbook,” Elliot said.

Catherine Carter, a fellow associate professor of Elliot’s at WCU and director of English education, said there are a variety of ways she and other faculty incorporate the festival into teaching students.

“The most usual are that we assign students to read some of the authors’ works and discuss them in class, and encourage — or, on a few occasions, beg, bribe or threaten — students to come to readings,” Carter said. “This is good not only because there’s something kind of cool about authors who are still alive and who are right there in the flesh … but because the etiquette of reading itself is worth teaching.”

The etiquette being such niceties, Carter said, as refraining from texting or playing games on cell phones while the authors read.

Carter also likes to encourage local teachers to bring students from the area high schools.  “We had a class down from Summit (charter school in Cashiers) last year, and that was really nice,” she said.

In fact, WCU will reserve local classes and their teachers some seats at the readings, particularly those held during the day, to encourage participation in the festival.

Mary Adams, a WCU associate professor who oversees the literary festival, said whenever book orders for classes are due, she pins fellow professors down on which attending festival authors’ books they’ll teach.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying to find a theme that works,” she said.

This year, for example, an English class is focused on the figure of the vampire in literature and popular culture — poetry, fiction, nonfiction, television, film and the Internet. One of the books being read is Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian,” a tale of three generations of historians on the track of the original Dracula. Kostova’s book was the fastest-selling debut novel in American publishing history, and the author is set to speak Sunday, April 3.

Meeting and hearing the authors they read in class, Adams said, “makes a huge difference” for students, “and it is very moving to the authors.”

This is a big reason why the literary festival, which has a fairly small budget, is able to attract well-known writers, she said. The authors can depend on the university to pack in interested and engaged audiences.

This Must Be the Place

Reading Room

  • A tribute to the Lord of Scaly Mountain
    A tribute to the Lord of Scaly Mountain While it is difficult to write objectively yet critically about someone whom you know personally or about a book whose subject matter and/or authors are familiar, sometimes necessity is more than the mother of invention and you have to do things you normally or ethically…
    Read more...
Go to top