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New faces in the Notre Dame Literary Festival

Katie Wagner | Monday, February 9, 2004

Six well-known and talented authors have come to campus this week for the 37th annual Notre Dame Literary Festival. This six-day celebration of literature will consist of six interactive presentations by distinguished writers, a writer’s workshop, a special lecture called “theology on tap” and a showcase of students’ writing during Thursday night’s Acousticafe. All of the writers’ lectures are followed by catered receptions. The bookstore will be selling some of each writer’s works during the receptions and students will have the opportunity to individually talk to the authors and have them sign their books. This festival has also has made it possible for some of these writers to stick around campus for a few days after their lectures to visit some of Notre Dame’s classes. This aspect of the festival is brand new this year thanks to the efforts of sophomore Mike Subialka, chairman of the festival.Another major change that Subialka and his committee have made in the festival is to officially change the festival’s name from the Sophomore Literary Festival to the Notre Dame Literary Festival. This was a huge project, since the festival has been called the Sophomore Literary festival since the year it was started. It was first named 37 years ago after Notre Dame sophomores raised money to create the first Literary Festival. However, only a few more festivals followed that were paid for by sophomore fund-raising. Today Notre Dame’s Student Activities provides the budget for the events.”As with everything at Notre Dame, there’s always red tape, but in the end it all worked out,” Subialka said about his experiences with instigating this change. “While the name does have historical significance, it is all kind of misleading and has caused problems for the festival in the past.”By changing the festival’s name students and administrators hope to put an end to the formerly popular held belief that the festival is only meant to be produced and attended by sophomores. Members of Notre Dame’s freshman, sophomore, and junior classes all worked on a committee to create this year’s festival. The writers Helena Viramontes, Jim Shepard, Chuck Klosterman, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Frances Sherwood, and Jennifer Sands will all be doing individual presentations during this year’s festival. Five authors typically participate, although there have been as few as three in some festivals. Over the years the festival has featured many world-renowned writers, including science-fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut at the first festival and other writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams in later years. In an effort to plan ahead for next year, Subialka has already made a home call to GQ editor and chief Jim Nelson, requesting that he participates in next year’s festival.Helena Maria Viramontes, critically acclaimed short story writer and novelist, kicked off the festival Sunday afternoon. She read selections from some of her works in the Reckers Hospitality room and led a discussion with her audience afterwards. Sunday evening fiction novelist Jim Shepard provided a lecture on his writing, followed by a discussion session in the LaFortune Ballroom.Not only do attendants of the Literary Festival get to hear some of their favorite writers read and lecture and enjoy some high quality snacks, but they also have the chance to speak to these authors one-on-one. This is a rare opportunity, since writers as famous as those featured in this festival aren’t usually easy to contact.Some of the authors in the festival were impossible to contact directly. In order to get in touch with some of the writers in the festival, Subialka first had to speak to their agents. Although some agents were excited to have their writers participate in the festival, others were not interested.”All they are really interested in is the money,” said Subialka. “Since we’re working on a limited budget, it’s been difficult to find authors.”Subialka started his search by working with junior Taylor Clary, co-chairman of the Literary Festival, to come up with a list of all the authors that they wanted to see in the festival.”At the very beginning it was like putting together a wish list,” said Subialka.Ultimately, Subialka and Clary narrowed down the list to six authors, based on which authors they felt would be most appropriate for the festival and on the availability of the authors on their list. Although the committee could not offer the authors much money, several writers and their agents were still excited to participate.”[The authors] feel like it’s a chance to give their knowledge to the students,” Clary said.”A lot of writers are interested in getting their authors’ names out there and to connect with the college population,” said Subialka.Overcoming the initial struggles to find the best authors to participate in the festival, the committee ultimately ended up with a notable group of six very different writers. With the help of their committee and a few members of the Notre Dame faculty, Subialka and Clary have worked very hard to make this year’s festival appealing to students of all majors, by including writers that deal with several issues and themes that are central to today’s society.”The festival has been designed for every student on campus,” Subialka said. “We want to make sure we are getting a diverse group of people who represent different aspects of American culture and society. The festival features famous published authors who have been really big in the world of literature.”Viramontes, the first featured author, writes about politics, religion, and sexuality and has devoted a great deal of her writing to the significance of women and migrant workers’ need for equality. “Under the Feet of Jesus,” one of her very famous works, is dedicated to Cesar Chavez, the founder and leader of the migrant workers’ protests in the United States.Viramontes’ writing has made her a major voice for Chicana women. In many of her works, she describes the daily problems that society and culture create for these women. She also emphasizes Chicana women’s domestic struggles. She is most noted for her short story writing, and she is an assistant professor of English at Cornell University.Jim Shepard, the festival’s second guest speaker, writes science fiction novels, short stories, and poetry. His work has been featured, among other places, in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Paris Review. Shepard currently teaches at Williams College in Massachusetts.On Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Oak Room above South Dining Hall, Chuck Klosterman, the pop-culture essayist and senior writer for SPIN magazine will be discussing some of his works. Klosterman writes a lot of essays that invoke humor to share his takes on popular television shows, musical artists, bands, celebrities, and other aspects of the media. Klosterman gained his first real recognition from his publication of “Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota” in 2001.The book is a comic defense of hair metal. In this novel and in a lot of his other writings, Klosterman uses memoir to speak about pop-culture. He will be running a writer’s workshop focusing on memoir writing on Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the Foster Room in LaFortune. Klosterman is also known for “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto,” a collection of essays about pop-culture. “He has a really engaging writing style that I think people are really drawn to,” said Clary.On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Oak Room, Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez will be reading some of her works, lecturing, and holding a discussion. She is a former journalist for the Boston Globe and the L.A. Times, but quit the journalism business to be a novelist. Her New York Times bestselling novel “The Dirty Girls Social Club,” published in 2003, is currently being made into a film. Rodriguez has emphasized the issue of sexism as one of the themes of her writing.Frances Sherwood, award-winning fiction writer and English professor at Indiana University-South Bend, will speak on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Oak Room. Her novel “Vindication” was placed on the New York Times list of notable fiction in 1993 and on the Publishers Weekly list of top novels. She has published two other novels and writes short stories as well.On the same night at 10 p.m. in Legends, Jennifer Sands will give a lecture entitled “Theology on Tap.” Sands lost her husband Jim as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Her novel “A Tempered Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the Ashes of Loss” explains how she was able to regain her faith after this tragedy. Thursday night at 7:30 pm in room 141 DeBartolo, Sands will be speaking about her writing and holding a discussion. Her reception will be held in the DeBartolo atrium, immediately following her lecture.The festival will conclude with readings by ND writers as part of Acousticafe. This session of Acousticafe will be held in LaFortune’s basement between 10 and 12 p.m. on Thursday night.All events in the festival are free. Students interested in participating in Klosterman’s writers’ workshop can email Taylor Clary at tclary@nd.edu.