Eight writers visited ODU the Week of October 6 for the ninth annual
Literary Festival. The event gives students the opportunity to hear
published writers read their work and share their opinions on the
aspects of writing.
Maxine Hong Kingston, a non-fiction
writer, opened the event Monday evening with a reading of her work.
She gave a lecture Tuesday about the role of the writer.
She used the fairytale Jack and the
Beanstalk as an allegory of the artist's role. She said an artist
would rather have the magic beans then go to the market and sell
"The artist does not take the road
to the market, but the road to the unknown place," she said. "I
don't write for knowing a message. I don't know the message until
I'm finished writing. The road I follow goes to the unknown. It's
my obsession to climb the beanstalk and find out what's there."
Kingston stressed that the artist's
responsibility is to create a new community and culture by telling
stories. Her writing is inspired by her respect for "talk stories"
taught to her by her Chinese-American heritage. Traditionally, the
storyteller reacts to his audience changing the story each time
it is told. Kingston tries to capture this changing quality.
"I keep wishing that everytime you go to the library and read a
book, you will get a different story for your needs. But you can't.
So I try to use different points of view."
Fiction writer, Edna O'Brien, talked
about writing in terms of heritage, also.
"Writer's write out of some important,
inarticulate, unexpressionable need to recreate something intangible,"
O'Brien said. "As writers it is very important to remember our roots.
The world is becoming more computerized and less imaginative. What
is needed in modern fiction is rememberance of past and glee. Not
for sentiments sake, but for the sake of depth."
The writers also discussed the importance
of mythology and its role in literature.
Robert Bly, winner of the National
Book Award, enhanced his poetry reading by playing the Bouzake,
an ancestor of the lute and modern mandolin. The ancient Greeks
traditionally played this instrument while reciting their poetry.
Bly used flambouyant hand gestures
and also wore masks during his unconventional reading.
Bly is not satisfied with a passive
reading of poetry. He said, "Reading it on the page is like reading
He added that poetry not only got
separared from music, but from the story too.
Bly's performance Wednesday night
was a musical, spiritual experience, not only for those in the literary
"If you are a literary person and
don't love that part of you that can make money, or are a person
who can make money and don't love the part of you that is creative,
the unloved side will become angry," he said.
Ntozake Shange was another performer
who left the audience touched and shocked as well. Shange's poetry
and prose reading concluded the Festival Thursday night. A little
more antagonizing than Bly's almost religosious reading, Shang's
aggressive yet intriguing reading captivated her audience.
"I really resent people asking the artist to be a sociologist and
explain the world," said Shange. Later she commented, "I don't think
art will save the world."
Shange, a feminist, said, "I'm here
to protect women and children. I am not here to protect some man's
idea of himself."
One reader included in this list
of distinguished writers was ODU's assistant professor of English,
Peggy Shumaker. Reading selections from her book Esperanza 's
Hair, she reflected in her poetry what she calls her susceptibility
"A sense of vastness and wide open
area comes through in line breaks and images. The characters cannot
be separated from their landscapes here. I think landscape gives
reason to exist," she said about her poetry.
Poets Linda Pastan and Jonathan Holden
read selections of their work Thursday afternoon. After the reading,
they answered the audience's questions about poetry.
"The act of writing is an affirmative
act," said Holden.
He explained poetry demands that
experience becomes fiction, quoting Robert Frost's statement, "Poetry
lies in order to tell the truth."
Both Pastan and Holden agreed that
the act of writing cannot be forced or the quality of the poem will
Ed Ochester, poet and editor of the
University of Pittsburgh Press Poetry Series, read his poetry and
gave a lecture about small press publications. He emphasized the
importance of the small press in the literary field.
Ochester said small press is vital
since small presses are more likely to publish poetry and literary
fiction than large publishers. Unfortunately, small presses reach
a small regional audience. Because the small press audience is limited,
many people are not exposed to contemporary poetry.
"Writer's need festivals like this,
"said Ochester. "When you come to a week long coffee clutch like
this, you get to se the person as a human being and see the work
they're producing. As an editor I know, if one person goes on tour
at a campus, we'll sell a lot of books."