Literature comes alive with Visiting Writers Series

SARAH COFFING

scoffing@butler.edu

ASST. CULTURE EDITOR

 

More than 400 of the world’s best writers have come to Butler University since 1989 to participate in the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series.

The program’s goal stays the same this year: to allow Butler students and the Indianapolis community the experience of a lifetime—to hear from writers— without any cost.

The program, which brings 14 to 15 of the world’s best contemporary writers to campus every year, was initially founded as a means of increasing literacy and appreciation for writing. Coordinator Shannon Rezek said Butler just happened to take the initiative.

“It’s a major gem, this series,” Rezek said. “When you look at it, you go, ‘wow, wow, wow, wow, wow.’”

Delbrook was one of the program’s fondest patrons. She left the university a restricted endowment fund upon her death.

Part of Delbrook’s mission for the series was that it be used as a way of giving back to the community, rather than taking from it. Thanks to her endowment fund, all events are free to Butler students and the Indianapolis community.

Rezek said most universities with similar programs only host about three writers a semester. Beyond sheer numbers, Butler is one of the most capable series in the country in terms of bringing in the best writers due to the endowment fund.

“They have all been at the top of the game. It’s everyone at the top of the literary field,” Rezek said. “If you love literature, this is the program you want to be in.”

Dr. Andrew Levy, chair of the English department, agreed.

“It is the intimacy combined with the quality of the writers,” he said. “They are some of the great intellectual members of our time, and you want to learn from them and have that opportunity to be near them. It is really special.”

Every fall, Rezek, Levy and other English professors brainstorm and coordinate the list of writers who will come to campus the following year.

The group typically comes up with a list of about 25 contemporary writers. From there, the list is narrowed down to 14 or 15 based on diversity and what the professors wish to teach each semester.

To obtain an ideal level of diversity, the Visiting Writers Series must be able to fluctuate with the changes in popular literature throughout the years.

For example, this fall the series introduces its first screenwriters: David Levien and Brian Koppelman of “Ocean’s Thirteen.”

“The changes are just opportunities to reflect changes in what is regarded as literature,” Levy said. “We really just try to bring in cutting-edge, interesting people.”

For the writers, interacting with Butler students is the best part of the experience because “it is when they come alive,” Rezek said.

For sophomore English and creative writing major Maddi Rasor, the excitement is mutual. She recalls listening to a reading by one of her favorite authors, Tim O’Brien, in the spring 2014 series.

“He was just 30 feet from me giving a talk, and that was awesome,” Rasor said.

Butler’s enthusiasm about the Visiting Writers Series and the opportunities the program brought was one of the determining factors in Rasor’s decision to attend the university.

“We all tell stories all the time in our lives—always—and it’s not always through books,” Rasor said. “(The Visiting Writers Series) helps to illustrate the work these people have done and bring it to life in a more realistic sense, so that people would be more likely to go out and read and experience things out of their comfort zone.”

The fall 2014 Visiting Writers Series opens with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith. She will hold a public reading Wednesday, Sept. 17 in the Reilly Room at 7:30 p.m. and a Q&A session with Butler students the following morning, Thursday, Sept. 18.

 

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