F&M’s Emerging Writers’ Festival: A conversation with Erik Anderson
Recently, Curtis Smith asked Erik Anderson about his involvement with the Emerging Writers Festival at Franklin and Marshall College – and we are happy to feature that discussion here. But first, a quick bio of both Smith and Anderson:
Curtis Smith’s stories and essays have appeared in over one hundred literary journals. His work has been named to the Best American Short Stories Distinguished Stories List,The Best American Mystery Stories Distinguished Stories List, and the Notable Writing list of The Best American Spiritual Writing. His most recent books are Beasts and Men (stories, press 53) and Communion (essays, Dock Street Press). His next book, an examination of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, will be put out by Ig Publishing this month.
Erik Anderson teaches creative writing at Franklin and Marshall College, where he directs the annual Emerging Writers Festival (http://www.fandm.edu/english/emerging-writers-festival). He is the author of The Poetics of Trespass (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2010), as well as two forthcoming books: Estranger (Rescue Press, 2016) and Flutter Point (Zone 3 Press, 2017).
Curtis Smith: Can you tell us about the history of the Emerging Writers Festival? What have been some of the highlights of years past?
Erik Anderson: The festival (or EWF, as we call it) started in 2002 with a group of students and faculty who wanted to bring several younger writers to campus to learn from and interact with them, formally and informally. From the start, it has been a collaborative effort, and it has always had a DIY spirit, part of which has to do with the successive student cohorts who have planned the festival over the years, each time putting their own unique stamps on it. Initially, there wasn’t any sense that the festival would continue after that first year, at least not during the planning phase, but then it turned out to be an enormous success, and fifteen years later we’re still following, with some variations, the same general formula. And while I have too many highlights to name, one from last spring sums up, to my mind, what’s great about that formula. At our opening dinner, one of our seniors, having agreed to emcee the event, stood up in front of the Provost of the College, our five emerging writers, the English Department faculty, and two dozen other students, and ushered in the new festival with humor, grace, and some pride in the organizing work he and the other students had done. That senior was, and is, a fine writer, but in that moment he was also an integral part of something more: a community of writers he had, in fact, helped to create.
CS: There seem to be a lot of cultural offerings in Lancaster these days. How do you see the Festival in terms of what it offers not just to the Franklin and Marshall campus but to the city as a whole?
EA: This touches on another highlight, actually. Every year, at nearly every event, there are faces from the community I don’t recognize. Sometimes it’s just a single person. Other times it’s several. Last year, for instance, an F&M alumna brought a group of her high school students to campus for a day. We were thrilled to have them here. And their presence proved that what I’ve said above about the festival’s ability to build community applies to Lancaster as well. Yes, the festival is a resource for the campus, but for three days every spring – and this, too, is part of what makes the formula work – it also integrates the national literary community with the local one. The College is the site of that integration, but it isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the sole beneficiary. So consider this an open invitation. Our events are well worth the trip, at least in part because they’re all free.
CS: Who are the writers coming this year? Besides reading their work, what other offerings can we expect?
EA: I’m always struck by how stellar each year’s lineup is, and this year is certainly no exception: Robin Coste Lewis, Kerry Howley, Julia Pierpont, Suzanne Scanlon, and Phillip B. Williams. Beyond the readings (Wednesday 4/6 and Thursday 4/7 at 7:30pm, in F&M’s Green Room Theatre), there will be craft talks, receptions, a panel, and even a BBQ. The craft talks (visit our website for scheduling details) are semi-formal workshop sessions with individual writers held throughout the day on Thursday 4/7 and Friday 4/8; these sessions tend to be interactive and always involve some element of creative writing instruction, often including exercises done on the spot. The receptions, held after the readings, are an opportunity to meet and mix with our emerging writers. Because the writers’ books will be for sale at the readings, the receptions are also a great opportunity to get your copies signed. Finally, on Friday afternoon, at 12:30pm, there will be a wide-ranging panel discussion with all five writers, followed at 1:30pm by our annual Bye-Bye BBQ (both at the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House).
CS: As Festival organizer, I’m sure you have your own behind-the-scenes set of worries and rewards. Can you share some of them with us?
EA: My worries are always the same. Will I forget to do something I’m supposed to? Will someone else? Is our collective checklist missing some vital item? Somehow everything gets done that needs to, however, and even those small things that slip through the cracks don’t often matter as much as they sometimes seem to. That’s because the festival is so rewarding, personally and professionally. I’m always a little sad when it’s over.
CS: What advice would you have for local folks who’ve never been to an event such as this but who’re interested in checking it out?
EA: There’s a line in one Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets that goes, “Whatever is going to happen is already happening,” and, according to Alice Notley, one of the things the line means is that if you aren’t doing something now, you aren’t ever going to do it. So my advice is to follow your interests: if one of our writers or events piques your curiosity, attend! And when you’re here, don’t be a stranger. Say hello. Introduce yourself. We’ll be glad to meet you.