The Writers Here and Now event Dec. 2 was different from a usual one for two reasons.
The first was the readers were former students who graduated from the creative writing program at this university.
The second was, instead of the usual Q&A session with the writers before the reading, the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House hosted an open mic in the basement of Queen Anne’s Hall.
Before either of those events, Johnna Schmidt, the director of the Writers’ House, spoke to the gathered students about the changes coming to the Writers’ House, such as how the Writers Here and Now Q&A is moving to Tawes now that Queen Anne’s Hall is locked 24/7.
The building will also introduce mixed-gender housing next year.
She also advised students not to lose hope in this “culture of fear” and remember most people are good and our emotional doors should stay open even when physical ones are shut.
After Schmidt spoke, junior transmedia storytelling major Kosi Dunn hosted the open-mic event, which featured poetry, prose, blogs posts and stand up comedy by members of the Writers’ House community.
When it came time for the event proper, Stanley Plumly, the creative writing director at this university who worked with both Keefe and Heck when they were students, introduced them to the stage. Plumly said the current generation of writers at this university have “everything” to learn from alumni, including the “soul and technique” that goes into the art.
“The purpose is to not only encourage, but create achievement in our young writers,” Plumly said.
The first reader of the night was Anne Keefe, who holds a PhD in literature from Rutgers University and received her MFA in poetry from this university. She primarily read selections from her book Lithopedia.
A lithopedion, or stone baby, is based on a real phenomenon where a body turns a stillborn baby to stone inside of the uterus.
Several of the poems Keefe read were written while she was a student at this university.
“For me, the joy today was really to rethink the origin of the poems, the poems that started in workshop here,” Keefe said. “I really enjoy thinking of where the poems first began and the art from that point to today.”
She also read excerpts from the manuscript she is currently working on titled The Hunger Ghost, based on Eastern myths of spirits with insatiable appetites.
April Naoko Heck, a fellow of the Asian American literary organization Kundiman and recipient of her MFA from this university, took the stage after Keefe. She joked about how poetry readings can sometimes be a dull affair.
“I heard one person laugh. I hope he’s watching Sherlock Holmes. That’s what I’d be doing if I wasn’t forced to go to poetry readings,” Heck joked before clarifying she meant readings other than her own.
Heck read from her book A Nuclear Family, which focuses on the intergenerational trauma her family carries from World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“Trauma is really transmitted generation to generation. When I say transmitted, that doesn’t really mean it’s even spoken,” Heck said. “You can’t help it, you’re the recipient of some sort of pain, so art is a way of processing that pain.”
Heck described coming back to this university as a “joyful experience.”
“I think that you really need community and friends around you. I needed community and friends around me to make a writing life sustainable,” Heck said.
Her next work is a fiction piece that is currently looking like a first-person novella coming-of-age story.
A third reader, Rita Zoey Chin, was also supposed to attend, but could not make it due to a family emergency.
The next Writers Here and Now event is scheduled for Feb. 10 and will feature Courtney Brkic and Timothy Donnelly.
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.