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Award-winning authors visit campus for Literary Festival

Brandy Cerne | Sunday, February 12, 2012


Kurt Vonnegut. Norman Mailer. Tennessee Williams. These are just three of the illustrious authors that have visited Notre Dame’s campus over the 45-year history of the Notre Dame Literary Festival. This year, four new authors will be added to that list of distinguished names: Jaimy Gordon, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Daniel Borzutzky and Blake Butler. 

 “The purpose of the Literary Festival is to foster literary life on campus,” Arnav Dutt, co-chair of the Notre Dame Literary Festival Committee, said. “We want to bring authors that people read, whether it’s in their classes or for fun. I guess a little bit more basically, we want to encourage reading. We want to encourage literary life, writing and we want people to have fun.”

 Each author will participate in a reading throughout the week. The readings give students the opportunity to meet the authors in person, listen to them read from their works and ask questions. 

 Dutt and fellow co-chair Aubrey Butts had the task of selecting writers to add to the long and reputable history of the Literary Festival. Dutt said there were limitations the committee had to work around.

 “South Bend is cold, the sun doesn’t shine here very often, we have a limited budget … Obviously, we feel some pressure,” Dutt said. “The very first year of the festival saw Kurt Vonnegut, Joe Heller, Ralph Ellison, Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley. Some really great writers came in the early years and continued to come for quite some time. When you’re in my position you do feel a certain responsibility to bring another big name.”

  This year, that big name is Jaimy Gordon, a 2010 National Book Award winner for her novel “Lord of Misrule.” Gordon has written six books, including “She Drove Without Stopping,” “Bogeywoman” and “Shamp of the City-Solo,” as well as numerous short fiction pieces, poems and essays.

 Gordon also happens to be good friends with Campbell, a Notre Dame alumnus. Campbell won acclaim for her most recent novel, “Once Upon a River,” released in the summer of 2011. Campbell was also a National Book Award finalist in 2009 for “American Salvage,” a collection of stories. She also has written the novel “Q Road” and the story collection “Women & Other Animals.”

 In addition to their respective readings, Gordon and Campbell will participate in a panel together.

 “That’ll be a blast because those two have a real rapport,” Dutt said. “We try to get some variety too. Variety is definitely something we’re after when we’re selecting the others.”

 Borzutzky, who will give a poetry reading, will bring that variety. Borzutzky has published two volumes of poetry, “The Ecstasy of Capitulation” and “The Book of Interfering Bodies,” as well as a collection of fiction and translations of Chilean works.

 This year’s group of authors is rounded out by Butler, another novelist and the writer of books “There is No Year” and “Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia.”

Dutt said the authors are excited to come to Notre Dame.

 “We were fortunate,” Dutt said. “There’s a lot of writing talent in the Midwest … All four are based in the Midwest. One, Campbell, writes about the Midwest, and the rest of them write about various, diverse subjects, and they’re from pretty close by. 

“It’s convenient for them and it’s great for us, because these are the authors who are regularly read in classes on campus. They certainly have won popular awards.”

 Appealing to students is integral to the Literary Festival’s success and ability to lure successful writers in the future. 

 “I feel like reading has more competition as a pastime here and certainly the festival has competition,” Dutt said. “There are a lot of great events on campus … I think the campus can benefit from events like this.”

 While in recent years the programmers have focused on recognizing relatively unknown authors who have a promising future, in the past, it has featured some of the most highly regarded and well-known writers of the twentieth century. 

 “We’ve brought some of the greatest literary figures, at least in the American tradition, but also Nobel Prize winners from other countries,” Dutt said. “Some really big figures have come here and really given the school a reputation for being able to attract that sort of guest author. 

“I imagine that especially in the 70s, 80s and 90s a large part of the perception of Notre Dame as kind of a giant in the academic world, despite its isolation geographically [and] its lack of proximity to big literary cities … was due to the festival.” 

Dutt said students should cultivate a literary environment on campus. 

“There’s quite a tradition there just waiting for everyone to embrace. It’s probably one of the most illustrious and unique of Notre Dame’s traditions, at least on the academic side.”

Contact Brandy Cerne at [email protected]