Section: Arts

Kenyon Review Literary Festival features new voices and established writers

Kenyon Review Literary Festival features new voices and established writers

This weekend, poets and writers from across the world will intersect on the Hill for the annual Kenyon Review Literary Festival, which will feature three national award-winning writers and will culminate with a keynote presentation by internationally-renowned Irish novelist Colm Toíbín.

The three-day-long festival begins on Friday night at 8 p.m. with a reading by poet Nate Marshall. Marshall’s first book Wild Hundreds received the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s award for Poetry Book of the Year.

Marshall is a founding member of the poetry collective Dark Noise, and coeditor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (2015). His work has appeared in Poetry, and The New Republic, among other publications. Marshall has taught at the University of Michigan, Wabash College, and Northwestern University.

Authors Elissa Washuta and Nick White will read in Finn House on Saturday. A nonfiction writer and member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Washuta is author of Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, which was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. She is coeditor of the anthology, Exquisite Vessel: Shapes of Native Nonfiction, which is forthcoming from University of Washington Press.

Washuta’s work has appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education and BuzzFeed, among other publications. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Ohio State University.

“I write personal essays that blend in pop culture and some historical research,”  Washuta said. “Right now I’m working on something that’s… about Fleetwood Mac and with the history of my tribe and another tribe that I’m descended from and some things about astrology.”

Nick White, also an Assistant Professor of English at Ohio State, is the author of the novel How to Survive A Summer. His short stories have been published in the Kenyon Review, Guernica, Indiana Review and Hopkins Review, among others.

Marshall, Washuta and White will each lead writing workshops on Saturday morning. The Review invited Kenyon students to enter a drawing to participate in Marshall’s poetry workshop, Washuta’s nonfiction workshop or White’s fiction workshop.

“This workshop is compressed, so the way I understand it, students are not bringing any outside work. They’re going to come with just a pad and a pen,” White said. He plans to use his workshop to teach scene writing, a topic he often considers.

“It’s something that I’ve been focused on a lot as a writer,” he said. “What does it mean to have a good scene in a story? What does a good scene require? And it’s more than just dialogue…it’s also character interaction, it’s description of place, it’s description of the people who are moving around in that place, it’s knowing how to pace the interaction.”

More broadly, White advises students against limiting the material they both produce and consume. “Right now, don’t be too concerned with whatever your voice is or what you think your subject matter is going to be,” he said. “I think at this point in time it’s really nice to just let yourself explore different styles of writing.”

Washuta also articulated the importance of flexibility with different media, specifically in relation to her own writing career.

“When I started…I was writing pretty traditional short stories. I was not writing about my life because I thought it wasn’t worth writing about,” she said.

After their morning workshops and afternoon readings in Finn House, Marshall, Washuta and White will engage in a round table discussion moderated by Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Poetry Janet McAdams. The panel will take place at 3 p.m. in Finn House.

The weekend will conclude in Rosse Hall with Irish writer Colm Tóibín’s keynote address.

A native of Enniscorthy,  Ireland, Tóibín is the author of several works of fiction, including The Heather Blazing (1992); The Story of the Night (1996); The Blackwater Lightship (1999), shortlisted for the Booker Prize; and Brooklyn (2009), winner of the Costa Book Award and later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film.

The keynote speaker and their work is usually the highlight of the Festival and is almost always the recipient of the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.

The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement has been awarded since 2002, and for many years was solely a celebratory dinner for the author in New York.

In 2007 — the year Margaret Atwood was honored with the award — the Denham Sutcliffe Fund made the keynote speaker’s appearance at the Literary Festival possible.

“The Literary Festival is a great way for students to have access to really big-name, impressive writers,” Tory Weber, Associate Director of Programs and Fellowships at the Kenyon Review, said. “For this specific festival, I’m really excited about the range of writers we are bringing to campus for the weekend.  There’s something for everybody.”

A full schedule of this weekend’s events can be found on the Kenyon Review’s website. An interview with Tóibín will be published in next week’s issue of the Collegian.

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