Bringing speeches to Butler students

KATIE GOODRICH | Asst. News Editor

Butler University hosts several speaker series that allow the audience to get to know the people behind various works While students know the guests involved, the process of getting them to Butler is likely less understood.

The Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series brings six speakers to campus each semester.

Andrew Levy, head of the English department, has worked with the Visiting Writers Series in different capacities for 20 years.

The series began 25 years ago, and around 2007, Delbrook donated money to enhance the program and make it permanent, Levy said.

All the events are free and open to the public, including people outside of the Butler community. Two—thousand community members are on a listserv informing them of upcoming events, Levy said.

“The cultural importance of Butler to the Indianapolis community can not be understated,” he said. “We want to give the best possible opportunity to interact with these writers.”

The series is comprised of literary writers, including fiction writers, poets, screenwriters, graphic novel authors and playwrights.

“This program is not for (the faculty),” Levy said. “We want to see the students happy and inspired. That’s when we know we have succeeded.”

To choose the writers that visit, the planning committee asks faculty, students and administration who they would like to see on campus. A list of 25 to 30 names is generated to be whittled down to 12 speakers. Scheduling can start up to a year in advance.

“The scheduling process is complicated and fluid,” Levy said. “It is a constant, unending challenge to coordinate the series.”

Ultimately, writers are chosen for a variety of reasons, including availability and affordability, Levy said.

While Levy would not disclose the budget for the entire series, he said they will pay between $2,000 and $2,500 per speaker.

The price depends on level of celebrity and honorarium, and they often negotiate with the writer’s agent or agency, Levy said.

Another series, conversations@efroymson, also aims to connect students to writers.

This series began two years ago and is sponsored by the Efroymson Center for Creative Writing and the Master’s of fine arts in creative writing, said Mindy Dunn, the administrative specialist for the center.

“This series was started to offer MFA students and the writing community in Indianapolis more events to go to and more events with new and different types of writers,” Dunn said.

The variety of writers includes bloggers, literary magazine editors and graphic novelists.

The conversations are open to campus, but they are directed toward MFA students and English undergraduates.

All the events are held at the center in the sunroom to create an intimate setting for a conversation. The center generally holds around 50 people.

The writers stay in the center for the duration of their visit, Dunn said.

The center pays for airfare, housing and honorarium, which can cost anywhere between $250 and $3,000, she said.

Planning begins the semester before the events, and a small group brainstorms a list of writers that are current or will bring a new style to campus.

Dunn contacts the writers directly with a formal invitation and negotiates a date.

“I always love seeing how it turns out and seeing which is the most popular,” Dunn said. “Just hearing back from the students is amazing.”

Clowes Conversations, another series, offer information and conversation about a topic before a performance.

James Cramer, community relations manager, said the series began this academic year to educate people about different forms of art.

A think tank generates ideas, and topics are selected based on conversations that would spark interest and have enough material to warrant a conversation event, Cramer said.

Clowes tries to host local speakers in order to draw from the depth of talent in Indianapolis, he said.

The new program is free to the public with a ticket and counts as a Butler Cultural Requirement.

“We do not have an elevator speech for it yet,” Cramer said. “We are still trying to find out what the program is going to grow into.”

The conversations are an intimate setting with a limit of 100 to 200 people. These events are real conversations, not lectures, he said.

Each event costs at least $1,000 for the camera crew to tape the presentation for Clowes OnDemand, Cramer said.

“That price seems reasonable for what we are trying to do for the community, both Butler and Indianapolis,” Cramer said.

The series also aims to expand the audience for Clowes.

“It is not about selling a ticket,” Cramer said. “It is about getting someone in the door. Once they visit, they are more likely to come back, and hopefully bring a friend.”