Literature comes to life at annual festival



Tara Powers

Several well-known authors and poets will be welcomed to campus this semester as part of the 10th Annual Literary Festival, sponsored by the English department.

As part of the festival, all five writers also attend a session of the Honors Program’s Literary Festival class focusing on one of their works. Dr. August Tarrier and Dr. Lisa Sewell, both of the English department, co-teach the class.

“We look for people whose work we love and whose work we also think students will be very engaged by,” said Tarrier, who is coordinating the festival this year.

The festival began Jan. 24 with an appearance by Kathryn Davis, an American novelist and recipient of the Kafka Prize for fiction. Davis read from her most recently published work, “The Thin Place,” which refers to the thin boundary between our world and the spirit world where the unexplainable can happen.

“I have always felt like I wanted to do what I wanted to do – not that I didn’t want people to enjoy reading it, but I didn’t want to feel stuck,” Davis said in reference to the way in which her books defy categorization in a genre, incorporating elements of fantasy, mystery and fairy tale.

The second guest writer at the Literary Festival will be Irish poet Eavan Boland, who will read from “In a Time of Violence,” one of her eight volumes of poetry, on Feb. 21.

On March 27, readers will hear about Cuban-American life in Chicago as Hermann Carrillo reads from “Loosing My Espanish.”

Author Richard McCann will be at Villanova on April 8 to read from his novel “Mother of Sorrows,” which focuses on family members’ coming-of-age stories in post-World War II Washington D.C.

Arthur Sze, the first Poet Laureate from Santa Fe, N.M., will close the festival with his reading from “Quipu” on April 24.

“I personally hope attendees will be moved by what they hear and will gain a deeper appreciation of the writer’s work,” Tarrier said. “Attending a reading gives us all the opportunity to learn about the context for a writer’s work and about how or why a writer is inspired to create.”

Davis expressed similar thoughts.

“I guess one thing you’d hope is that somebody might want to read the entire book because just reading a piece of something is never like reading the whole,” she said. “What you always hope when you write is that somehow the way you see things can be transmitted to others.”

The Literary Festival was created when Sewell came to the English department at Villanova 10 years ago.

“My initial idea was to have a festival that lasted a few days in April in honor of National Poetry Month,” Sewell said. “We had five readers over a three-day period.”

The following year, Sewell decided to include fiction and creative nonfiction writers in addition to poets and also spaced the readings over an entire semester.

Some notable literary guests that have visited Villanova in the past include fiction writers Deborah Eisenberg, Lydia Davis and Jonathan Franzen and poets Mark Doty, Lyn Hejinian and Frank Bidart.

“I like reading at a college,” Davis said. “I like the opportunity to hear the work aloud. I always tell students that they should read their work aloud to hear what it sounds like, and then it’s hard to take that advice yourself.”

Sewell designed the accompanying Honors Literary Festival class in the third year of the festival and has taught the class since its inception.

“I thought it would be a nice opportunity for students, that it would be another way to encourage students’ interest in creative writing and also attract more interest in the reading series itself,” she said.

Davis agreed, praising the opportunity for students in the class to spend an entire session engaging in the discussion with the author and then participate in a brief question-and-answer session after the reading.

“I think having this class that’s connected with the experience of having writers coming in is a great idea – to have a sense that literature is something that’s happening in the here and now,” Davis said. “A lot of literary festivals seem to be an occasion where a whole lot of writers come together, and the writers can spend all their time talking to one another and the students are merely an audience. So I think this is a wonderful thing.”

Other sponsors of the festival include Africana Studies, East Asian Studies, Women’s Studies, the Honors Program and the College of Arts and Sciences. All of the readings are free and will take place at 7:30 p.m. Copies of the authors’ books will be available for purchase and signing.