By: Ryn Swinson
The Visiting Writers series kicked off this semester at 7 p.m. on Oct. 20 in the McCasland Ballroom as the Department of Communications, English and Foreign Languages (CEFL) hosted its third of four visiting writers with author and poet Paul Austin and novelist Rilla Askew.
The most recent reading was a double feature of novelist Rilla Askew and author and poet Paul Austin who read from their selected works including passages from Askew’s latest book “Prize for the Fire” and poems from Austin’s chapbooks “Spontaneous Behavior, the Art and Craft of Acting” and “Notes on Hard Times.”
The Visiting Writers series is a reoccurring event at Cameron University that allows writers and readers to interact in a more personal setting. CEFL Assistant Professor Leah Chaffins oversees the Visiting Writers series. Chaffins invites four readers to campus every school year to present their work to the community, as well as Cameron students and faculty.
Chaffins says the event gives creative writing students the opportunity to see professional writers.
“The point of the series is to introduce our students to professional writers; professional creative writers,” Chaffins said. “We want our students to see professional writers, professionally; performing professionally, being professional.”
During their careers, Chaffins states the importance of creative writers presenting their work.
“If you’re a creative writer one of the big expectations on you is that you will go and read your work and so we bring writers in who will read their work, and it’s for the students,” Chaffins said. “It has always been for the students.”
Chaffins says the Visiting Writers series is especially important because it gives her the opportunity to bring writing events to her students.
“I can’t take 100% of my students to events but I can bring events to my students and give more of an opportunity for them to see writers doing what writers do: sharing their stories,” Chaffins said.
This also allows students to consider the professional elements that go into presenting their work.
“What does it mean to read in front of a group of people? How does a person dress, how did they act, what defines their persona?” Chaffins said. “If we’re talking about students who want to go be professional writers then that’s something to begin considering very early on.”
For the readings this semester, Chaffins has found a way to create more student involvement with student volunteers introducing the writers. Junior English major Kaley Muse was given the opportunity to introduce both Askew and Austin before their readings.
Muse said she was very excited to introduce Askew and Austin and originally heard Askew read during Spring 2022 at ECU’s Scissortail Creative Writing Festival and has looked up to her ever since.
“The way she (Askew) writes and the imagery that she uses, just loved. Like, fell in love with her writing,” Muse said. “So, when Professor Chaffins asked us to give her suggestions, we were immediately like Rilla, we love her.”
Muse’s previous connection to Askew and Austin made her excited to have this opportunity.
“I was really, really excited to meet her (Askew) officially and introduce her,” Muse said. “And Paul, who is equally as talented as Rilla. He writes a lot of poetry about when he was young in New York, so it’s cool to see that different culture almost from Oklahoma.”
Muse also thinks it is very important for Cameron University to have events like the Visiting Writers series on campus.
“There’s not a lot of events like it (the Visiting Writers series) on campus. A lot of professors like Dr. Carney, Professor Chaffins; they try to bring a lot of different poets and things. I think it’s really important because there isn’t a lot of things,” Muse said. “And it’s important to be like in community with like-minded people, which are creative writers and poets . . . authors.”
After the reading, Askew and Austin stayed to talk and answer questions with attendees. Attendees could also buy their books and have them signed. The two writers expressed excitement to be at Cameron.
Author and poet Paul said he believed having events like the Visiting Writers series on campuses was important.
“Anytime that you can bring artists of any kind to an education institution, you reawaken in everybody all the ability to find the resonances of what they are learning,” Austin said. “Because we can’t know everything. If five days from now you read a poem and you say, oh my God, right. You don’t even know what you’re saying to yourself . . . That’s the value of having art and a culture. Because it keeps us asking questions and allowing us to see that language comes from somewhere,” Austin said.
Students and Cameron faculty were also given the opportunity to have dinner with Askew and Austin.
Novelist Rilla Askew pointed out the engagement shared between the writers and students.
“It’s the opportunity for students to engage with writers and the opportunity for writers to engage with students you know is, it’s just vital,” Askew said. “The exchange between students and writers is, it’s a two-way street and so the students get something from it even just to listen but the writers get something from it to know the next generation of writers.”
The Visiting Writers series will continue with Paul Juhasz at 6 p.m. on Nov. 10 in Nance Boyer, Room 2005. For more information on the Visiting Writers series contact Chaffins at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Rilla Askew visit https://www.rillaaskew.com/ and Paul Austin at https://paustin.net/writing/.