Smile Politely

Getting Lit

From September 25-28, the creative energy around Champaign-Urbana (which ordinarily buzzes along quite nicely, thank you very much) will turn into a veritable lightning storm. Once again, as part of The Pygmalion Festival of arts and music, the Pyg Lit Festival will draw acclaimed writers from all genres to share their work. There will be public readings over the four-day period, as well as Q&A sessions with our literary guests.

The schedule of events will be as follows:

Thursday, September 25

Peter Orner and Audrey Petty at Krannert Art Museum, 5-6:30 p.m.

Friday, September 26

Matthew Gavin Frank, Erika L. Sanchez, and Amy Sayre Baptista at the Canopy Club, 6-7 p.m.

Ted Sanders, Tarfia Faizullah, and Jamaal May at Krannert Center, 10:30 p.m.-12 a.m.

Saturday, September 27

Richard Siken, Jennifer Percy, and Timothy Denevi at Mike N Molly’s, 6-7 p.m.

Scott McClanahan, Alissa Nutting, Tom Williams, and Rachel Cantor at Mike N Molly’s, 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, September 28

Aaron Burch and George Clarke at Exile On Main, 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.

Charlotte Pence, Adam Prince, and Letitia Moffitt, 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Smile Politely will feature interviews with several of this year’s Pyg Lit participants as the week goes on. In the meantime, let’s learn a little more about this year’s guest authors, shall we…?

Alissa Nutting (pictured, left) joins us this year following the release of her brilliant, cringe-inducing novel Tampa. In it, a beautiful young teacher plans and executes the seduction of a junior high student. As one might imagine, things go awry. Based loosely on actual events, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, Celeste, is nearly Shakespearean in her ambition and her descent. (I read the novel in anticipation of speaking with Ms. Nutting about it. Unfortunately, she was unable to reply. I do, however, highly recommend the book for all its humor, its shocking description, and its wry observations about our use and abuse of beauty.)

Audrey Petty (right) is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Ford Foundation grantee whose work has been featured in Colorlines, StoryQuarterly, and Saveur, among many other publications. She is the author of High Rise Stories: Voices from Chicago Public Housing. This “devastating oral history” (The New York Times) collects first-person accounts of residents of Chicago’s iconic Cabrini Green projects. Per the Voice of Witness website: “These stories of community, displacement, and poverty in the wake of gentrification give voice to those who have long been ignored, but whose hopes and struggles exist firmly at the heart of our national identity.”

Peter Orner is a teacher, essayist, and fiction writer whose works include the novels The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, Love and Shame and Love, and two collections of short fiction, titled Esther Stories and Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge.

About this last book, the New York Times seemed particularly charmed, referring to Orner’s “crystalline sentences and his ability to pay close and sustained attention to small moments transform the ordinary elements of each story into an even more astonishing whole.” Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge was selected by John Williams of the Times as a Top Ten Book of the Year.

Richard Siken is a poet, a filmmaker, a photographer, and a painter. His poetry collection Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, a Lambda Literary Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. From this collection, I want to point out that his poem “You Are Jeff” is pretty damn excellent, and you should read it right now.

Jennifer Percy is a recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship in fiction and the author of Demon Camp: A Soldier’s Exorcism, which Simon & Schuster describes thusly:

“With a jagged lyricism reminiscent of Michael Herr and Denis Johnson, Demon Camp is the riveting true story of a veteran with PTSD and an explora­tion of the battles soldiers face after the war is over. Percy’s riveting account forces us to gaze upon the true human consequences of the War on Terror.”

You can read an excerpt from the Demon Camp here.

Jamaal May, a poet, is the author of the collection HUM, which received the Notable Book Award from the American Library Association, a 2014 NAACP Image Award Nomination, the ForeWord Book of the Year Finalist, inclusion on The Boston Globe’s Best Books of 2013 List, and the 2012 Beatrice Hawley Award

Tarfia Faizulla, author of the collection Seam, about which Khaled Mattawa (Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets) said, “Tarfia Faizullah’s Seam reaffirms that imagination is the backbone of memory, the muscular fiber that enable us to re-grasp our humanity.“ Per her website, Faizulla is a poetry reader for New England Review and is a contributing editor for Four Way Review, Failbetter, and Asian American Literary Review. She lives in Detroit, where she is a writer-in-residence for InsideOut Literary Arts and co-edits the Organic Weapon Arts Chapbook Press & Video Series with Jamaal May (see above).

Other participants in this year’s Festival include:

Scott McClanahan, author of Hill William and member of the band The Holler Boys.

Aaron Burch, author of the fiction collection Backswing.

Tom Williams, author of the comic blues novel Don’t Start Me Talkin’ (right).

Erika L. Sanchez, poet and contributor to The Guardian, Cosmopolitan for Latinas, Al Jazeera, and NBC News.

Ted Sanders, author of the upcoming The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly.

Matthew Gavin Frank, author of Barolo, Pot Farm, and Preparing the Ghost.

Timothy Denevi, author of the ADHD memoir Hyper.

Letitia Moffitt, author of the novel-in-stories Sidewalk Dancing.

Amy Sayre Baptista, essayist, short fiction writer, and playwright/director of The Windows of Whitechapel.

Charlotte Pence, author of The Branches, the Axe, the Missing and editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics.

Adam Prince, a former Tickner Fellow and author of The Beautiful Wishes of Ugly Men.

Rachel Cantor, author of A Highly Unlikely Scenario (left).

George Clarke, vocalist for the band Deafheaven.

In addition to readings taking place in Champaign-Urbana, you can also check out the Pygmalion Book Fair on Saturday, September 27th, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Esquire Lounge. The Book Fair will feature the wares of: Barrelhouse, Black Lawrence Press, Booth, Curbside Splendor, Hobart, Kenyon Review, Mid-American Review, Midwestern Gothic, Missouri Review, Montage, Moon City Review, New American Press, Ninth Letter, PANK, The Pitchfork Review, Pleaides, POETRY, The Poetry Foundation, Pressgang, Quiddity, Rose Metal Press, Short Flight/Long Drive, A Strange Object, Spork Press, and Tiny Hardcore.

Visit the Pygmalion Literary Festival website for more information.

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