Birke Symposium and Visiting Writers series conclude with readings from Howell, Olzmann and Parravani


Michaela Crittenden

Matthew Olzmann concluded the event with a lighthearted tone, reading “The Man Who was Mistaken,” “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem” and “A Letter to Someone 50 Years from Now.”

The A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers Series and the Birke Fine Arts Symposium “Art in Times of Adversity” concluded Thursday in the Memorial Student Center with a poetry reading.

The Birke Fine Arts Symposium, College of Liberal Arts, Department of English, Women’s Studies and West Virginia Humanities Council collaborated to present Rebecca Gayle Howell, author of “American Purgatory” and “Render/An Apocalypse,” Matthew Olzmann, author of “Mezzanines” and “Contradictions in the Design,” and Christa Parravani author of the book “Her: A Memoir.”

Professor Sarah Chavez said she got advice from other writers and professors in the English department in choosing what authors to feature, including advice from professor Eric Smith who introduced her to several of the works of the authors.

“I wanted people to realize just how different, really wonderful literature can be,” Chavez said. “The tone and the topics from each writer were so different, and I wanted people to see the range of happy, funny, sad and disturbing work, so they could seek it out and even create it themselves.”

Howell read first with creations from her book, “Render.”

“I chose to read from ‘Render,’ because many of the students had read it in class, and I just wanted to share that moment with them,” Howell said.

Howell said “Render” was a how-to book, with poems like “How to Kill a Hawk.”

Parravni read an excerpt from a new non-fiction novel she’s currently working on.

“I don’t want to talk about it too much, because I’m still working on it,” Parravani said. “But I got tired of reading from ‘Her,’ and I wanted to get a feel for where I take the novel from here, and I think I have an idea now.”

Olzmann concluded the event with a lighthearted tone, reading, “The Man Who was Mistaken,” “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem” and, “A Letter to Someone 50 Years from Now.”

“I wanted a piece from each book, and then I tried to think about arts in a time of adversity and tried to choose a few that fit with that theme, and I picked poems that I enjoy reading,” Olzmann said.

The overall theme, art in time of adversity, played a role in what each author thought about reading and what they wanted audience members to consider.

“I seek solace in art in a time of crisis, and I think, as an artist, it is my job to build a place for other people to find solace in writing,” Parravani said. “I don’t like to think of art as an escape from those troubles but more as a way for us to think about how to move forward.”

Olzmann said he did not just consider the global crisis, but art itself being in crisis as well.

“I think about art responding to a political or global crisis, but I also think about art being in crisis as well,” Olzmann said. “Like art not being valued, or the humanities being under scrutiny, or the threat to cut the national endowment.”

Chavez said she could not be happier with the turnout for the Visiting Writers series.

“It’s been really wonderful; so many people showed up, which warms my heart, because it’s right around midterms, and it was on a Thursday, but people still came out which is nice to see,” Chavez said.

Michaela Crittenden can be contacted at [email protected].