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Literary Festival brings distinguished authors, builds on rich history

Cait Listro | Thursday, November 8, 2007

On Tuesday night, a group of students gathered in the Coleman Morse Lounge for a celebration of the written word. Ten students whose works of poetry and prose had been selected by the Student Union Board read their works aloud as a part of the Notre Dame Literary Festival Student Night.

Audience members enjoyed a wide variety of offerings highlighting the literery talents of every class, from freshmen to graduate students. Meaghan McGinley kicked off the evening with two poems about a forgotten mirror and growing older and a humorous retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. David Karapetyan shifted to a slightly darker mood with four poems about subjects ranging from office life to a cynic’s view of French townspeople, and Tanya Barrios shared her tributes to a friend and to her personal sanctuary.

The serious mood continued with Sade Murphy’s glimpses into a shattered relationship and the superficiality of Barbie, and lightened with Joe Eno’s reworking of a Shakespearian sonnet, urge towards carpe diem, and a humorous ode to Keystone Light. Michael McDonald and Loren Higbee shared their stream-of-consciousness impressions of life, Michael’s in the form of journal entries from his journey to Uganda and Loren’s in the form of poems penned from Decio Commons.

Freshman Lillian Civantos shared her poetic thoughts about the transition from high school to college, and Mychal Stanley closed the evening with a short story recounting the awkward first meeting of a girl and boy brought together by a burning building.

Fortuitous beginnings

The student event marked the beginning of this year’s Notre Dame Literary Festival, which is celebrating its 41st year. Inspired by an event held at the University of Mississippi, the festival started in 1967 with Notre Dame student J. Richard Rossi as a series of films and lectures by literary scholars on the works and life of William Faulkner. Rossi passed the responsibility of organizing the festival to sophomore John Mroz. Mroz wanted to expand the festival into a major event featuring nationally known writers, but with only $2.72 in the festival bank account and meager support from the University, bringing these authors to Notre Dame seemed impossible.  

Salvation arrived at the hands of Father Charles Sheedy, then-dean of the College of Arts and Letters, who gave Mroz his first contact – Joseph Heller, author of “Catch 22,” Sheedy began exchanging letters with him shortly after the book’s publication and soon, Mroz found success – Heller agreed to attend the festival. Soon, other writers responded, and the program expanded to include Norman Mailer, Wright Morris, Ralph Ellison, Granville Hicks, William F. Buckley Jr., Kurt Vonnegut, and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

National exposure

The festival stirred up enthusiasm at a national level, and international film critics even attended to view Norman Mailer’s new film, “Beyond the Law.” However, during the week of the festival, the nation was rocked by a surge of protests over the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s announcement to forego re-election. The authors’ lectures and the final symposium were flavored with commentary on the recent events. Yet the festival managed to be both a suitable celebration of the authors’ literary talents and a fitting commentary on world issues.

The festival has continued in the spirit of the original, with increasing interaction between the authors and students. Past authors include John Knowles, Gwendolyn Brooks, Chaim Potok, Tennessee Williams, Robert Fitzgerald, Tom Clancy and Nikki Giovanni.

This year, the festival moves to November and expands into a month-long celebration of fiction, poetry, film and song. This year’s featured authors are as diverse as their work.

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith, a performance poet, playwright, biographer and children’s author, will be holding a question-and-answer session at Montgomery Auditorium in LaFortune at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13, and a poetry slam at 8 p.m. on the same day. Smith has performed poetry at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and the Poets Stage in Stockholm to Lollapalooza and Paris’ Sorbonne. Her books of poetry include “Close to Death” and “Teahouse of the Almighty,” which was chosen for the 2005 National Poetry Series. Her works of fiction include “Africans in America,” “Janna and the Kings” and “Mahina, the Mad Mad Moon.” Smith also performs with her band, Bop Thunderous, and sings with the jazz group Paradigm Shift.

Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis, a short story author, translator and novelist, will be holding a question-and-answer session Nov. 15 in the McNeill Room of LaFortune at 5 p.m., and a reading at 8 p.m. and a reception at 9 p.m. in the same room. Her works include the novel “The End of the Story,” as well as several collections of short fiction including “Varieties of Disturbance,” “Break It Down” and “Samuel Johnson Is Indignant.” Davis has also translated many memoirs, novels, and literary criticisms from French into English; her translation of Marcel Proust’s “Swann’s Way” earned the French-American Foundation Annual Translation Prize.

Steve Almond

Steve Almond is a journalist, commentator and fiction writer. On Nov. 19, his question-and-answer session will be at 4 p.m. in the McNeill Room in LaFortune and his reading and reception will be at 8 p.m. in the LaFortune Ballroom. Almond has written two story collections – “My Life in Heavy Metal” and “The Evil B.B. Chow” – the memoir “Candyfreak” and the novel “Which Brings Me to You” in collaboration with Julianna Baggott. His recent work, “Not That You Asked,” is a collection of essays featuring various life experiences and commentary, from his resignation from Boston College after Condoleezza Rice was chosen as the commencement speaker to his fight with Sean Hannity and his obsession with Kurt Vonnegut. 

Larry Doyle

Larry Doyle is a novelist, film and television writer and a producer. On Nov. 27, he will be holding a question and answer session at the McNeill Room at 4 p.m., a reading at 7:30 p.m. in the Montgomery Room, and a reception at 8:30 p.m. in the Dooley Room. He currently writes screenplays and pieces for the “New Yorker,” “Esquire” and other magazines. His television writing credits include “Beavis and Butt-Head,” “Looney Tunes” and “The Simpsons” and his film writing credits include “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” and “Duplex.”

Michael Martone

Michael Martone, short story author, non-fiction writer and editor, will be holding a question-and-answer session at 5 p.m. in the McNeill Room and a reading and reception at 8 p.m. in the LaFortune Ballroom on Nov. 28. His short story collections include “Double-wide,” a recently-published collection of early stories, as well as “Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler’s List” and “Alive and Dead in Indiana.” His stories have also appeared in several magazines, including “Harper’s” and “Story.” He has published several works of nonfiction, including “The Blue Guide to Indiana” and “The Flatness and Other Landscapes.” He currently teaches at the University of Alabama.

Contact Cait Listro at clistro@nd.edu