9th Annual Literary Festival
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Mace & Crown, Thursday, October 16, 1986

Reading flair added at literary festival

Diane Miller

      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 cow.
      "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 sheet music."
      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 field.
      "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 to landscape.
      "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 be ruined.
      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."