Festival has fresh perspectives: ‘But, don’t take my word for it’

Megan Angelo

Villanovans who hope to be published someday now have the opportunity to learn from men and women who have captured the dream of seeing their words in print.

Villanova’s fifth annual Literary Festival kicked off on February 4 with H.L. Hix, an accomplished poet who read excerpts from his most recently published collection, Surely as Birds Fly. He was followed several weeks later by Fred D’Aguiar, whose own epic poem novel, Bloodlines, hit bookstores in 2001.

Next up in the series of speakers is Beth Kephart, a highly accoladed author of memoirs. Her latest work, entitled Still Love in Strange Places, lauded by Publishers Weekly as a “beautiful, heartfelt memoir.” She will read parts of the work, which documents her experiences of acclimation following her move to El Salvador. Kephart became familiar with the country when she met, fell in love with, and married an artist there.

Nathan Englander will also appear at the festival. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, his 1999 release, was a presence on countless top ten lists that year. The work was also highly discussed in the literary community as Englander was only twenty-eight at the time of its publication. Critics were amazed that an author so young could produce a piece of literature so “taut, edgy, sharply observed” (The New York Book Review). For the Relief of Unbearable Urges chronicles the struggles of Jews in different time periods and areas of the world. Englander, who now lives in Jerusalem, has extensively studied the personal experiences of Jews throughout history. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges includes humorous and poignant anecdotes of Nazi Europe, Stalinist Russia, and modern discrimination.

In what may be the most relevant event of the festival, author Diana Abu-Jaber will appear in the wake of her newest work, Crescent, due out in April. Abu-Jaber is a professor at Portland State University who enjoyed the widespread success of her debut novel, Arabian Jazz, before the release of Crescent. The novel focuses on the life of a successful Iraqi-American woman and the issues that her identity raises. Abu-Jaber, whom critic Naomi Shihab Nye calls “a high-spirited, magnificently graceful storyteller,” will speak on April 10.

Wrapping up the series, Lucie Brock-Broido will speak on April 24. Her new collection of poems, The Master Letters, is a fascinating work that Brock-Broido designed in reminiscience of the techniques of Emily Dickinson, according to Random House. “We feel we are in the presence of something entirely new,” raves Bonnie Costello of The Boston Review raves about the unconventional piece. Brock-Broido, also the author of 1988’s A Hunger, was once one of the distinguished Briggs-Copeland poets at Harvard University. She now serves as the director of poetry in Columbia University’s Writing Division of the Arts.

All of the authors, with the exception of Nathan Englander, will appear at 7:30 p.m. on the previously mentioned dates in 300 St. Augustine Center. Englander can be seen at 7:30 p.m. in the Connelly Cinema.

Information from the Random House, W.W. Norton and Co. and Villanova University websites was used in this article.