On Wednesday, Jan. 26, the Kenyon Review held a winter reading to launch its January/February issue. Led by Nicole Terez Dutton, poet and editor-in-chief of the Review, the reading series featured three authors who shared pieces reflecting on memories, gender identity and domestic abuse. While 45 people attended, the gathering felt intimate and seemed similar to an exclusive writers’ group, where writers share fresh pieces with a special elect.
The authors were settled in comfortable surroundings — divans covered with blankets, shelves decked with books, jungly house plants — and there was a warm kinship between the three writers. They nodded as everyone read, chimed in with agreement and shared common perspectives.
Poet Cameron Awkward-Rich began the event by reading poems inspired by his childhood, Lucille Clifton and global events. He sported a mustard beanie and flashed an elegant smile as he read aloud. His voice was warm and fluctuating, and there was subtle turbulence in his writing that suggested an acute understanding of life’s strangest contradictions. In “It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Best of Times” — an homage to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities — Awkward-Rich juxtaposes the violence of modernity with the warmth of ordinary life: wildfires and wars may rage, yet his “love makes bread.” He has published two books of poetry, Sympathetic Little Monster and Dispatch, collections filled with apocalyptic ballads that reflect on the trans experience of love and violence.
The second author, Lan Samantha Chang, shared from her upcoming novel The Family Chao, which follows the story of a Chinese-American family living in rural America. Chang was wrapped in a rosy scarf, and she read over her lap, inclining her head towards the screen to include the listeners. Her writing was punctuated with startling descriptions like “piped tobacco and stale clothes” and long grocery lists for Chinese dishes. Despite the homage to her Chinese heritage, Chang was also inspired by the Russian novel The Brothers Karamazov. In “The Dog Father,” a select chapter from her novel, we experience an aggressive introduction to the novel’s “Fyodor Pavlovich,” whose buffoon-like character is immediately obvious. The Family Chao will be released this February.
Cate Marvin, the last featured author, was surrounded by wood-paneled walls and rustic decorations. She shared poems filled with alliteration and sharp imagery. There was a blunt sophistication to her writing, with staccato phrases like “happy howls” and honest realizations such as “I can’t stop smoking.” One of her poems, “In the Future a Robot Will Take Your Job,” is an example of her ironic style, while also grappling with darker subjects like domestic abuse. Marvin’s fourth poetry book, Event Horizon, will be released later this year.
A brief Q&A closed the night, with each of the authors sharing valuable insights into a writer’s life, especially during a pandemic. Ocean Wei ’24, a Kenyon Review intern, asked what communities inspired them. Marvin shared how a writing group of local poets in Maine encouraged her to write her most recent collection, and expressed that participating in a writing community is crucial for motivation when creativity runs dry. Addressing the reality of the pandemic, Awkward-Rich suggested that the increase of online communications has allowed for a more global community and opened up avenues for collaboration despite geography. Chang, who described her upbringing as creatively solitary, with her family having never expressed interest in her writing, recalled how a writers’ community in rural Iowa was a catalyst for her burgeoning years as a writer.
They each shared advice for young writers, and agreed that reading insatiably was a must. Marvin encouraged writing in all sorts of genres. “Write in journals, write letters, write everything,” she said. Both Chang and Awkward-Rich noted that writers should create for themselves and that too much concern with one’s audience is unhealthy. Chang specifically noted that writing without any sense of direction often lends the best results.
As the reading session came to a close, the writers briefly shared what they are reading: Marvin is reading dog training books for her puppy, Awkward-Rich is reading an audiobook of The Tale of a Two Cities and Chang is reading The Brothers Karamazov. If reading truly is the best habit for a writer, what better way to encourage the hobby than for students to check out the Kenyon Review‘s most recent issue?