UNA Writer’s Series features ‘poet of witness’

UNA will host its annual Writer’s Series at 11 a.m. on March 10, in the GUC Performance Center. The event is free to all attendees.

The UNA Writer’s Series is sponsored by the English department. It began in 1984, originally under the title of the Writer’s Conference. UNA Senior Lecturer Pam Kingsbury said that UNA has had the longest continuous writer’s series in the state. The late Jack Kingsbury, English professor and later first Chair of the Writer’s Conference, wanted to have a similar event at UNA to the Living Writer’s Series at Colgate University in New York, in which different authors would visit classes and share their writing.

Every year of the UNA Writer’s Series, an author (or authors) is invited to speak and give a reading of their work. Following the reading, audience members are encouraged to ask questions and participate in a discussion with the writer about their work or writing in general. The event is concluded with a reception in the GUC loft. Attendees are also able to meet the speaker and participate in a book signing.

The guest speaker is not limited to authors with a particular writing style. Previous speakers have been songwriters, poets, novelists, professors and historians. Last year’s speakers included singer-songwriters Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle who form the duo “The Secret Sisters.”

This year the UNA Writer’s Series’ featured guest is Carolyn Forché. She has worked in several areas, earning the titles of poet, memoirist and professor. She is an award-winning author and self-proclaimed “poet of witness.” Forché is also a translator and human rights activist and has written many works on politics and the injustices she has witnessed and experienced.

“She went to El Salvador in the early ‘80s and reported on human rights abuses there,” Kingsbury said. “She’s part of a group of writers in this country who reported on atrocity and genocide and Holocaust. She’s very, very well-known worldwide for her human rights activism.”

Some of Forché’s works of poetry include “The Country Between Us,” “Gathering the Tribes,” “The Angel of History” and “Blue Hour.” She will be debuting her new poetry collection, “In the Lateness of the World,” at this year’s Writer’s Series. According to publisher Penguin Random House, this is her first new collection in 17 years and describes the collection as “a revelation from one of the finest poets writing today.” Those who attend the Writer’s Series will have the opportunity to witness the debut of her work and discuss it with her following the reading.

Jason McCall, an assistant professor of English at UNA, said that her poem “The Colonel” is published in anthologies and regarded as one of the clearest examples of prose poetry. He said that her writing is accessible and welcoming to different audiences, and diverse readers can engage with it even if she is writing from a place of witness or activism.

“It’s a poem that I can put in front of a freshman class who is afraid of poetry, but they can understand the depth and they can understand the imagery that’s there; they can understand the meaning that’s there,” McCall said. “But I can also put it in front of my graduate-level creative writing class and they can understand the imagery and kind of what it means. So, I think for her, on top of her accolades, there is the idea that there is a real awareness of her speaking to an audience when she writes, and there is an engagement that can happen with that.”

Kingsbury said that although the Writer’s Series is designed for students, it is open to the community. For further information on the UNA Writer’s Series, visit www.una.edu/english/una-writers-series.html.