National Book Award winner at Lit. Fest

Madeline Happold

Author James McBride’s sooth- ing voice echoed through the Connelly Cinema as he read the first lines of his book, “The Good Lord Bird.” The read- ing by McBride on Tuesday, Feb. 3 com- menced the 17th Annual Literary Festival, which spans throughout the semester.

McBride is one of three fiction authors, along with two poets, highlighted at the Literary Festival. Launched in 1998 by Lisa Sewell of the English Department, The Literary Festival corresponds to an Honors Program English course, still taught today by Dr. Sewell. The class focuses on engaging students on and off the page with professional writers. The writers meet with the class for a question and answer segment and work with the students on writing skills.

“The authors speak of serious issues,” says assistant English professor Alan Drew, the current festival manager. “They focus on social justice issues and speak of human experiences that perhaps televi- sion or film cannot relay.”

McBride’s latest novel centers on American Civil War revolutionary John Brown. The inspiration for the novel came from the diary of a Jewish merchant from the eastern shore of Maryland. After reading several of the entries McBride stumbled upon a lengthy entry about John Brown and instantly became more interested in the influential figure.

“It’s great to be with all these white I mean nice people,” joked McBride. For a book that focuses on the subject of slavery and horrific killings, he finds the humor in racial injustice.

“I don’t like books that tell you to take your medicine,” claimed McBride. “I don’t think books should tell you how you should feel.”

“I think him being able to have humor and voice when writing about tough issues is a testament to him as a writer,” stated senior John Szot. Szot, along with classmate Conor Fitz, were assigned to research the writer for the Honors course. Throughout the Literary Festival course, two to three students are assigned a writer which they introduce at the event, along with meeting with the writer for dinner.

His previous novel, “Miracle of St. Anna,” was transformed into a movie in 2008. Just as successful, his latest novel “The Good Lord Bird” received the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction.

“I skipped my grad class just so I could come here,” said graduate student Courtney Gambrell. “My mom made me read his book when I was ten. It’s just so great he came.”

“It’s Villanova,” said McBride. “Good school, good students, good questions and insight. When the students are good, it’s really worth it.”

McBride remained after the event to sign copies of his new book and chat with students, teachers and fans and give advice. “When you kneel at the altar of art, whether its writing or music or art, the pathway will show itself to you,” he claims. He hopes that students learn one important lesson from the discus- sions: “They need to learn that they have earned the right to fail.”

Four other writers will be featured through the Literary Festival including Bruce Smith, Claire Kilroy, Patricia Smith and Jay Cantor. All will be guests on cam- pus throughout the spring semester.