From Wednesday to Friday of last week, the department of English hosted the Emerging Writers Festival. The 12th annual event brought five “emerging” authors to campus to give readings of their pieces and to host craft talks about the process of getting a work published and how to improve and pieces.
The authors covered fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. They were invited and notable not because they are world-famous, critically acclaimed, or well-published but for the opposite reasons; the invited writers were asked to come because they are in the process of having, or just had, their first work published, thereby making them emerging writers.
The Emerging Writers Festival looks to introduce students to writers that have recently been recognized because they are better able to comment on the work and frustration that goes into trying to get a work published, especially because so many writers struggle or fail to do so.
The three days were packed with events in both the Green Room Theatre and the Writers House. Every night there was a reading by at least one author but often by multiple authors, taken from the work they had just published or were in the final stages of publishing. During the day, the writers held craft talks to discuss how their writing changed over the process of its composition, how they changed as a result, and what it meant for them to create it.
The first craft talk of the Festival was by Paul Bogard. The first half of the talk was focused on the topic of his work: the very real effects of light pollution and how it impacts today’s society.
“Artificial light is amazing; it’s a miracle, but we are using more light than we need to,” Bogard said. “Eighty percent of the light is waste. It just goes straight into the sky and is lost.”
In addition to the environmental harm caused by creating so much unnecessary light, Bogard also cited scientific data suggesting that constant light is not only detrimental to natural sleep rhythms and hormone production, but it can also lead to even more severe health concerns such as cancer.
After discussing his research, Bogard moved on to more concrete aspects of his work, by explaining its content and form.
“I switched the focus from myself to the subject, and my piece became much stronger,” Bogard said. “You have to learn about the world around you. It will enlighten your work. Also, it is important to pay attention to the first and last lines of the work or the paragraph.”
Then, Bogard moved on to the most important part of the Festival, which was giving words of advice and encouragement to the student writers.
“The first thing you need is curiosity,” Bogard said. “Be curious about the world whatever your subject is, and follow that curiosity. You have to push through those moments when you hate your writing. Don’t be afraid of being ambitious. Don’t be afraid of changing the world around you.”
Later that day, there was another workshop by nonfiction writer Jeff Pethybridge, a poet who just published his first collection of poems. These poems were all focused on the poignant subject of his brother’s suicide in 2007, when he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
The most notable of the pieces in the collection is “The Bridge Poem,” which is a concrete poem in the form of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, the form is not the only constraint Pethybridge used when writing the piece. He also wrote the poem by only using letters found in his brother’s full name, which contained neither the letter “o” nor “f,” thereby preventing him from being able to use many common words, most notably the word “of.”
“Setting constraints, making rules for yourself is not limiting,” Pethybridge said. “In fact the work has the potential to be developed by the strictures.”
As with Bogard, Pethybridge went on to give tips and advice on how to approach writing and, specifically, poems.
“Art-making is very practical,” Pethybridge said. “How do you get better at it? You do it. Writing in English is a romantic tradition, and it is left to you to build the rules and improvise.”
All of the events went very well and were well-attended, showing that the campus community is interested in the experiences of the new writers. Barring a small incident involving a gas leak at the Writers House, the event went off seamlessly over the course of the three days and will continue to be a tradition at F&M.
Questions? Email Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org.