Stadler Center Invites poets for their 2020 Writer Series 

Nicole Yeager, Assistant News Editor

The Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts welcomed the third guest in their Fall 2020 Writer Series, Ross Gay. Gay presented a poetry reading of his work on Wednesday, Oct. 21, followed up by a Q&A on Thursday at noon — both over Zoom. Gay is also this year’s Sandra & Gary Sojka Poet-in-Residence. Each year since 1981, the program has selected one nationally or internationally renowned poet for an extended stay at the University; it is “meant to honor the achievement of a distinguished poet while providing undergraduate writers the opportunity to work with an exceptionally talented poet.” The poet-in-residence is typically responsible for meeting with qualified students, as well as engaging in readings and Q&A sessions.

Gay is the author of four books of poetry: “Against Which,” “Bringing the Shovel Down,” “Be Holding” and “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His new poem, “Be Holding,” will be released from the University of Pittsburgh Press in September of 2020. His collection of essays, “The Book of Delights,” was released by Algonquin Books in 2019.

Both events were open to all students and other campus community members; the links could be found on the detailed events calendar as well as the Stadler Center Newsletter. Many professors in the creative writing department encouraged their students to attend the events and interact with the literary community on campus. 

Stadler Center Director Chet’la Sebree provided us with insight into the process of hosting the Stadler Center Writing Series events.


Who is in charge of arranging the Stadler Center events/visitors? 

Program Manager Andrew Ciotola is responsible for working with visiting writers or their agents to organize the logistics of the events. He works with our Stadler Assistant — Alexandra Schneider ’22 this semester — on event promotion on campus through posters and our Stadler Center newsletter. Our post-graduate Stadler Fellows work on event promotion via our social media accounts. Then, we work with Event Tech during the actual programs to make sure they run smoothly.


What is involved in the process of having an established writer visit the Stadler Center?

Every fall, I solicit suggestions for the next year’s writers series from my Creative Writing program colleagues, the Stadler Center Steering Committee, and Stadler Center staff. Then, I spend several months reading books and interviews by suggested authors to determine who I’d like to invite to campus for the next academic year. We then extend invitations, issue contracts, work on event promotion, create itineraries and have visitors come to the Center for a reading, class visits, student conferences and/or a Q&A. In the pandemic, we don’t have people actually coming to campus but the logistics, aside from taking the writers to dinners, are largely the same.


What is the larger purpose of these events? 

In normal times, Stadler Center events are opportunities to present students and the community with the rich diversity of the literary arts. In the pandemic, however, we’re hoping that these events provide us with ways to further connect with each other in these isolating times. Not only are people getting an opportunity to enjoy diverse offerings but they are able to connect through conversations about the visiting writers before and after the events.


Are you happy with the turn-outs? 

Absolutely! One of the great things about these online events is that they are recorded for future viewings. Even though we might not have many people in any given Zoom meeting or webinar, we can see how many people continue to engage with the event via our database of recordings.


On Wednesday evening, Sebree welcomed all those who attended over Zoom Webinar. Stadler Fellow Laura Villareal introduced Gay by describing his works as a conversation between the speaker and the reader, and sometimes even a nudge toward action. Gay read an excerpt from his book “Be Holding,” along with a couple of poems from two of his collections. Before each piece, he introduced the context for when he had written it and the significance of each one. His work touched on themes of growth, reflection, delight and gratitude, while discussing the simplicities of life. Around 30 students and faculty members attended the event, with many making use of the chat function to comment on their favorite lines.

“The Stadler Center is doing a great job hosting virtual events this semester. It is really nice to be able to engage with the literary community and still hear some amazing writers read their work, even if it’s from our own rooms. Furthermore, the people who attend always create an engaging and supportive environment. Hearing Ross Gay read some of his poems was super inspirational, and even changed how I read some of his work,” Hailey Robinson ’22 said.

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