20th Annual Literary Festival
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Mace & crown

OCTOBER 21, 1997, Page 1
Literary festival plays to a full house

Features Editor

The 20th annual ODU literary festival, "Fierce Minds at Work," closed Friday evening with music from the Gateway quartet and a lecture by acclaimed literary journalist Gay Talese.

This year's festival, which brought together 12 American writers from diverse backgrounds, was attended in droves by both students and faculty.

Chandler Recital Hall, filled to capacity for Talese, housed several other standing-room only events during the festival, including readings by poets Joy Harjo and Martin Espada.

Poet Liz Waldner drew a similar crowd to her reading Wednesday in the Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach rooms of Webb Center, which had been combined for the occasion. The rooms filled so rapidly that some audience members in the back who couldn't hear were encouraged to sit on the floor in front of the podium.

Students packed the Hampton- Newport News rooms in Webb Center at 10 a.m on Thursday to listen to Reginald McKnight, the O'Henry Award-winning African American writer, read his short story "Palm Wine."

Sheri Reynolds, the ODU professor and novelist who found fame with a coveted position on Oprah Winfrey's television book club, had an opportunity to speak on home turf during the festival. She read from her new novel "A Gracious Plenty."

Readings by novelist/poet Richard Hell, formerly of seminal punk band "The Voidoids," and Virginian-Pilot veteran Mike D'Orso were crowded 5-10 minutes before they were scheduled to begin.

Panel discussions such as "What Kind of Fire: Three Genres, Three Truths?" invoked such enthusiasm among listeners that unscheduled questions were shouted from the audience. As the festival continued, audience participation became more frequent. Realizing she was outnumbered, Judy Mercier, moderator and English department instructor, laughingly surrendered
the panel of Friday's "Friction: The Rub between Fiction and Nonfiction" to the assembly.

Many English professors, including Dana Heller, Diana Altegoer and Michael Pearson, canceled classes the week of literary festival to enable students to attend and write about the events for class credit. Several students not favored by this flexibility admitted anonymously that they were attending literary festival events in lieu of classes.

Jose Cruz, frontman for student musical ensemble "The Fellaheen Movement," believes the literary festival has encouraged many of the artists on campus. His band opened for Martin Espada's reading on Thursday evening, an opportunity Cruz regards as an unparalleled honor.

"The literary festival has been such a wonderful experience," said Cruz. "For writers in the school its been a fountain, a great explosion of inspiration."

All readings and panel discussions were free and open to the public due to funding by a grant from the Norfolk Commission

on the Arts and Humanities and an endowment in the name of Dr. Forrest White.

However, the future of literary festivals at ODU is dependent upon current interest generated by students and faculty.

Alfred Rollins, president of ODU from 1976 to 1985, attended all of the events in "Fierce Minds at Work." He hopes the literary festivals will continue to be an important part of the academic year.

"They get more exciting every year," said Rollins. "I think it's [the literary festival] ODU's premier event. It makes me proud. But I'm someone who's in love with literature.

" Tim Seibles, English professor and organizer of "Fierce Minds at Work," was encouraged by the enthusiasm of festival participants.

"These events have been very well attended," said Seibles, in between sessions. "And we are very well pleased."

Seibles is already organizing next year's festival, which will include Robert Pinsky, poet laureate of the United States.

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