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20 Wordsmiths Worth a Campus Visit

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As the leaves turn, the air chills and the college students return, the annual parade begins.

Authors -- ranging from first-time novelists to Pulitzer laureates, from poets with a debut chapbook out to indie press darlings -- make pilgrimages into town. They come to give readings in lectures halls and auditoriums. They crack witticisms and the deep-creased spines of well-traveled volumes they've toted along on the book tour circuit.

“There are always opportunities to talk with the writers during Q&A sessions,” says Terry Kirts, a senior lecturer in creative writing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who organizes The Rufus & Louise Reiberg Reading Series. “With all genres, the nuances and inflection of a particular phrase can really give you a sense of the line and help you understand the writer. Hearing a few pieces together in the writer's voice can give a context, and it brings the work on the page to life.”

Indianapolis has recently hosted highly acclaimed writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith, New York Times best-selling author Laui Hart Hemmings and the “Trans-Indiana Mayonnaise Pipeline” experimentalist Michael Martone.

That’s just the start. Book lovers will have a number of opportunities to see writers read in Central Indiana over the course of the academic year.

Zadie Smith visits Butler University on November 11. - DOMINIQUE NABOKOV
  • Dominique Nabokov
  • Zadie Smith visits Butler University on November 11.

This fall Butler University’s Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series is bringing in big names including Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen and National Book Award-winning poet Mary Szybist. One could see other literary heavyweights, such as American Salvage author Bonnie Jo Campbell and Beautiful Ruins scribe Jess Walter, by making a short trip to college campuses in Greencastle, West Lafayette or Muncie.

Indianapolis is not a traditional book tour stop, but its universities have stepped up to create a lively and diverse live literary scene, Kirts says.

“Butler is the most prestigious series, but the city is packed with other smaller readings,” he says. “Big book tours with book signings are really only done in the biggest cities anymore, so we're the ones bringing in the writers, and we've done as good a job as any college town. We're cognizant of the need to bring in and expose people to some really great writers.”

IUPUI, in particular, focuses on creating a downtown cultural scene, in addition to showing students who were used to reading dead authors in high school that writers are living, breathing people with similar backgrounds and concerns, Kirts explains.

Many departments at the university have partnered together over the years to bring in a diversity of literary programming. The IU School of Medicine, for instance, collaborated to invite the acclaimed poet Marianne Boruch, who will read from her book Cadaver, Speak in an anatomy lecture hall on Oct. 20. She will recite poems narrated mostly from the perspective of a 99-year-old woman, dealing with issues of life and mortality, in an unorthodox but appropriate venue, according to Kirts.

In November, Arab-American author Randa Jarrar will read from her award-winning work at IUPUI as part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Symposium, which is co-sponsored by the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute and IUPUI Library in response to a 2007 car bombing that wreaked havoc on a bookshop-lined street that was the center of literary and intellectual culture in Baghdad.

“We try to incorporate every reading into the larger cultural significance,” Kirts says. “The great thing is that we're not just spectators to the author's works. We're truly engaging with them and building cultural connections.”

Author visits this fall include Sports Illustrated senior writer George Dohrmann and Marianne Baruch, a poet who is also a Guggenheim fellow. - COURTESY OF GEORGE DOHRMANN & IUPUI
  • Courtesy of George Dohrmann & IUPUI
  • Author visits this fall include Sports Illustrated senior writer George Dohrmann and Marianne Baruch, a poet who is also a Guggenheim fellow.

The University of Indianapolis's Kellogg Writers Series offers the only opportunity to see writers on the south side, says program director Elizabeth Weber, an associcate professor of English. This fall, they can hear from a Nebraska author who wrote a lyrical novel about how German immigrants were treated during World War II and one of only five sportswriters to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, who moved Weber with an exposé of exploitation in youth basketball programs.

Generally, when scheduling the series, she tries to introduce the community to writers they might not otherwise be exposed to.

“The writers we get in often would often be overlooked by bookstores or other venues,” she says. “They're often not best-selling, but they're very good and otherwise might not get noticed.”


Here’s a look at some upcoming readings in Indianapolis and beyond:

Oct. 15

Award-winning author fiction writer E.J. Levy, a Flannery O’Connor Award winner whose work has appeared in the Paris Review and Best American Essays, reads at 7:30 p.m. in the Peeler Auditorium on the DePauw University campus in Greencastle.

Oct. 16

Karen Gettert Shoemaker, the Nebraska-based author of the novel The Meaning of Names and the short story collection Night Sounds and Other Stories, will speak at 7:30 p.m. in room 010 of the Schwitzer Student Center at the University of Indianapolis.

Oct. 20

Two-time Pushcart Prize-winning poet Marianne Boruch, a Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment of the Arts fellow, reads from her collection Cadaver, Speak at IUPUI's Emerson Hall Anatomy Lecture Hall at 545 Barnhill Drive. She’s written eight full-length collections and been published in The New Yorker and the Iowa Review.

Oct. 21

Screenwriters David Levien and Brian Koppelman, who wrote Rounders, Solitary Man and Ocean’s Thirteen, talk at 7:30 p.m. in the Reilly Room at the Atherton Union on the Butler University campus.

Oct. 23

National Book Award finalist Patricia Henley and James Michener Fellow and Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft co-author Elizabeth Stuckey-French, read in Room 140 of Krannert Auditorium at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

Oct. 28

The Corrections author Jonathan Franzen talks at 7:30 p.m. at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University.

Poet Mary Szybist, who wrote both Incarnadine and Granted, visits Indianapolis through Butler's Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series. - JONI KABANA
  • Joni Kabana
  • Poet Mary Szybist, who wrote both Incarnadine and Granted, visits Indianapolis through Butler's Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series.

Nov. 5

National Book Award-winning poet Mary Szybist, author of Incarnadine and Granted, speaks at 7:30 p.m.at the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall at Butler University.

National Book Award finalist Jess Walter, who wrote Citizen Vince, The Financial Lives of the Poets and Beautiful Ruins, gives a reading at 7:30 p.m. in the Thompson Recital Hall of the Green Center for the Performing Arts at DePauw University.

Pushcart Prize nominee Jeffrey Condran, a co-founder of the indie lit press Braddock Avenue Books and the author of Prague Summer, reads his work at 7:30 p.m. in room 010 of the Schwitzer Student Center at the University of Indianapolis.

Nov. 7

Sports Illustrated senior writer George Dohrmman, who helped write a 2002 package of stories that led to Major League Baseball's first attempt at a steroid policy, will speak at 7 p.m. at the University of Indianapolis.

Nov. 11

Acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith, who’s penned celebrated bestsellers including White Teeth, On Beauty and NW, in the Reilly Room of Butler University’s Atherton Union.

Nov. 12

Novelist Michael Poore will read from Up Jumps the Devil and signs books at 7:30 p.m. in Bracken Library room 104 at Ball State University in Muncie.

Nov. 17

Novelist and translator Randa Jarrar, the winner of an Arab-American Book Award, will perform at 7 p.m. at IUPUI's Herron School of Art & Design Eskanazi Hall Basile Auditorium.

Nov. 24

Eileen Pollack, whose work has been anthologized in the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays series, appears at 7:30 p.m. at Krannert Auditorium room 140 at Purdue University.

University of Indianapolis's Kellogg Writers Series amplifies the work of high-quality writers who might not be on the best sellers lists. - COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF INDIANAPOLIS
  • Courtesy of University of Indianapolis
  • University of Indianapolis's Kellogg Writers Series amplifies the work of high-quality writers who might not be on the best sellers lists.

Feb. 5

San Francisco-based Katie Coyle, whose debut novel Vivian Apple at the End of the World comes out in Jan. 2015, appears at 7:30 p.m. in room 010 of the Schwitzer Student Center at the University of Indianapolis.

March 3

Michigan writer Bonnie Jo Campbell, whose widely lauded American Salvage novel was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, visits Purdue University with a 7:30 p.m. reading at Krannert Auditorium, Room 140.

March 16

Poet Teresa Mei Chuc, a Saigon native who sought political asylum in the United States while her father was imprisoned in a Vietcong re-education camp, reads at 7:30 p.m. in room 010 of the Schwitzer Student Center at the University of Indianapolis.

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