17th annual Spring Literary Festival brings different voices with views, vision

A resonance of contemporary themes in America as seen through the perspective of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and documentary will be featured this month during Western Carolina University’s 17th annual Spring Literary Festival.

Cristina Henríquez

All events will be held at the A.K. Hinds University Center and are free and open to the public. Directed by Pamela Duncan, an associate professor in WCU’s Department of English, the festival has a long tradition of bringing established and emerging literary talent to the community.

“There’s something for everyone,” Duncan said. “Besides being a showcase for amazing talent representing the best of literature, there’s an opportunity to hear thoughts and opinions from some outstanding writers on creativity and the complexity of today’s world.”

Fiction and nonfiction writer Cristina Henríquez will speak Thursday, March 21, in the university center’s Grandroom at 7:30 p.m. Her breakout novel “The Book of Unknown Americans” is the university’s One Book selection, an activity intended to engage first-year students and the campus community in a common experience of critical thinking and open conversation. The profound, emotional story of immigrants is a Washington Post “Notable Book,” an NPR “Great Read” and one of Amazon’s “10 Best Books of the Year.”

Henríquez is author of “The World in Half” and “Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories,” and her nonfiction has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Wall Street Journal and Oxford American. Her presentation will be the final event of the WCU Distinguished Speaker Series for the academic year.

Marilynne Robinson and Barack Obama

“I’m very excited to be coming to North Carolina ― not least because it promises to be warmer than Chicago, where it’s 12 degrees at the moment ― and am happy for the opportunity to meet everyone at WCU, especially the students,” said Henríquez. “I’ll be doing an onstage conversation around my novel, ‘The Book of Unknown Americans.’ I’m grateful to everyone at WCU who has made it possible for me to come.”

The festival’s keynote speaker will be author and essayist Marilynne Robinson, known as one of former President Barack Obama’s favorite writers and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Known for topics including the relationship between religion and science, nuclear pollution, American politics, faith and rural life, Robinson will speak Thursday, March 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the center’s Grandroom.

Other events include:

  • U.S. Army veterans and writers Laurie Jean Cannady, author of the memoir “Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul,” and Tom Baker, author of the novel “The Hawk and the Dove,” will hold a reading and panel discussion with members of the military and veterans Monday, March 25, at 7 p.m. in the center theater.
  • A. Van Jordan, winner of a Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Whiting Writers Award, Pushcart Prize and Lannan Literary Award in Poetry, will present his evocative poetry influenced by music, film, race, history and pop culture during a “Defining America” campus theme event Wednesday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the center theater.
  • Silas House, an Appalachian writer, novelist, playwright and executive producer of the documentary “Hillbilly,” will present the film at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, in the center theater, followed by a panel discussion where he will be joined by Jason Howard, editor of Appalachian Heritage literary quarterly, and Ricardo Nazario-Colon, co-founder of the Affrilachian Poets and WCU’s chief diversity officer.

WCU sponsors include the Campus Learning Theme Committee, College of Arts and Sciences, Division of Student Affairs, Department of English, Hunter Library, Office of Communications and Public Relations, Office of Research Administration, Office of the Chancellor, Office of the Provost and the Office of Residential Living.

Off-campus sponsors are City Lights Bookstore, Fontana Regional Library and the N.C. Poetry Society. The festival also receives support from the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

For more information about the festival, visit litfestival.org or contact WCU’s English department at 828-227-7264.