Time for poetry and prose… and beautiful words

Photo from Google Images

Photo from Google Images.

Each year, for the past 14 years, Western Carolina University has held an annual Spring Literary Festival to reflect WCU’s commitment to providing the best humanities education possible for its students and to bring the best of the arts to the heart of the WNC Mountains.

The Festival is a 4-day long event where both established and emerging authors from all over the state come together and read from their works, talk with students about their writing, motivate people to read something they normally wouldn’t, and inspire the community to take pride in the arts.

“I guess the number one thing is to encourage people to read, and maybe read things they might not ordinarily run across on a daily basis. You know, I hope people will be exposed to different authors, different viewpoints, and different types of writing, different genres of writing, and not just writing, but also new ideas and subjects, that kind of thing,” Pam Duncan, the current festival director, said.

The 2016 Spring Literary Festival will be held April 4-7 in the UC Theater, and will be featuring keynote authors Lee Smith, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Rick Bragg, and Major Jackson, as well as Lauren K. Alleyne, Darnell Arnoult, Robert Gipe, Jane Hicks, Bret Anthony Johnston, Denton Loving, and Gilbert-Chappel distinguished poet Brent Martin.

2015 Spring Literary Festival volunteers Photo from Literary Festival Facebook page

2015 Spring Literary Festival volunteers
Photo from Literary Festival Facebook page

This festival started as WCU’s Visiting Writers Series, which is one of the oldest literary series in North Carolina, and it has a long standing tradition of bringing the best of both recognized and growing literary talent to the mountains of NC including poets, fiction and nonfiction writers, and everything in between.

Dr. Brian Railsback, the founding Dean of the Honors College and a current professor of English at WCU, is the one who transformed the Visiting Writers Series into what we now know as the Spring Literary Festival.

“I always admired the Spring Literary Festival at Ohio University, where I received my PhD in 1990. I dreamed of something like it here at WCU. When I became the Department Head of English in 2000, I wondered about how we could get it started here. I pitched the idea to Chancellor John Bardo and in 2002 he agreed to provide the necessary funding. So, we had our first festival in 2003,” explained Railsback.

Railsback described why universities generally invest in big events like this: they tend to raise the academic reputation of the university because they are public displays of intellectual genius; they provide wonderful opportunities for students to meet and learn from some of the most important literary authors of our time; they expose students to a variety of interesting, and sometimes intellectually challenging ideas; they raise the profile of the humanities throughout the university and the surrounding community; they remind us all that great writing, and the thinking that comes with it, connects us to an art form centuries old but one that still matters today; and lastly they inspire our students to become new writers and avid readers.

Duncan wants the festival to show that the university supports the arts on campus, and that we think the arts are important not only to our students but to the wider community.

“We can almost always get a lot of students to show up because, well, their professors require them to, but my biggest goal is to get more of the outside community to come in, too, and just be aware of what we are doing here, and try to appeal to them with the authors that we choose. Like Lee Smith, for example, and [former NY Times reporter] Rick Bragg, both of these authors that we are having this year are extremely popular, so I expect big crowds for both of them,” explained Duncan.

She gave a big thanks to Ron Rash, renowned writer and English professor at WCU, for the huge role he plays in bringing such awesome authors to the festival each year.

Ron Rash speaking at the 2012 Spring Literary Festival Photo from Literary Festival Facebook page

Ron Rash speaking at the 2012 Spring Literary Festival
Photo from Literary Festival Facebook page

“Ron can just talk all kinds of authors into coming here, that’s how we got Colum McCann, Andre Dubus, Rick Bragg. All these big names that we’ve gotten is because of Ron, so you know, he plays a big part in the literary festival. Networking, financial support, and just being there during the week, because some authors, one of the draws of it is that they want to come here and meet Ron and hang out with him, so he helps in a lot of different ways,” Duncan said.



See biographies and more about each presenting author:

Distinguished poet and lifetime conservationist, Brent Martin, opens festival
In a company of Major Jackson and his “Holding Company”
Powerful poet, fiction, and non-fiction writer Lauren K. Alleyne
Tennessee author Denton Loving celebrates the mountains
Well-known fiction writer Lee Smith
Local poet and novelist Darnell Arnoult
Appalachian poet, teacher, and fiber artist Jane Hicks
Puerto Rican-American writer Judith Ortiz Cofer
International best-selling author Bret Anthony Johnston
American journalist and nonfiction writer Rick Bragg


The reporter, Kayla Brookshire, is also the Literary Festival intern.