Smile Politely

What’s LIT at Pygmalion 2017

Pygmalion Literature Festival has grown to be an integral part of the festival over the past five years. From the LitCrawl to the Book Fort, every year has brought its own unique experience and flavor. True, 2017 has the tightest lineup we’ve seen, but it also has some of the best-known and highest-quality authors that have presented so far. That awfully hard to qualify, especially since PygLit has hosted a national Poet Laureate and many award-winners, but it’s the first time we’ve had a Booker Prize shortlister and an illustrator who has earned medals from Caldecott and Coretta Scott King awards. The same holds true for the rest of Pyg Lit’s lineup — they had to ensure that every performance would live up to the expectation built by this year’s incredible headliners.

Like every year, the roster of authors runs the gamut from super-famous to the should-be-knowns to the local promising debuters. New this year is that most of these will be reading inside Exile on Main Street during Saturday. I wish I’d had the time to research and interview each author individually, they all intrigue me for their own reasons. Instead, with my own limitations in place, I asked everyone the same two questions:

  1. How do you describe your own writing?

  2. What made you decide to participate in Pygmalion Literature Fest?

Dean Bakopoulos

…wrote a book about fathers in Michigan compulsively going to the moon, even though history has shown that rival-state Ohio is actually the only place so bad that men have to enter orbit just to leave it. James Franco’s production company released a film adaptation of Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon this summer, co-starring Rashida Jones.

“I guess if you cobble together stuff from my reviews, it might be the best way to describe my work as ‘deftly welding magical realism with social satire’ (NY Times) and ‘funny, sad, and sultry all at once.'”

“Music is a major part of my thinking and writing process, and the idea of bringing my work to a festival that features so many musicians I admire was really intriguing. Music brings me joy in a visceral way, that even my favorite books can’t pull off.”

Summerlong is his latest novel. Also, cursory Googling shows that he and Alissa Nutting are married, so let’s do her next.

Alissa Nutting

Alissa’s book Made for Love not only has a title which brings to mind dozens of pop ballads simultaneously, but it has the most compelling book cover of the summer. My bookstore boss has read it, and apparently we’re going to sit and talk about it once I finish it, which will be quite soon.

“1) My writing is gross dark satire.

2) I really really love the intersection of music and literature and drinking.”

These folks sound fun. I hope they’re down for some fest-level hangouts. I would totally buy the beers.

William M Schwartz

Schwartz is a grad student at the U of I in the Department of English. He tells me his writing isn’t online, and my searches for past performances have turned up nothing, so we’ll have to take his words on it:

“1) I mostly write character-driven fiction, and develop my characters with a lot of interiority. I try to write musically, investing a sense of rhythm in my sentence structure and pacing.

2) Ever since I moved to Champaign, I’ve wanted to be a part of Pygmalion. It’s easily the best event in CU, and consistently attracts amazing talent.”

Adam Voith

This guy is one of those guys who should be famous for what he does, but by nature of his behind-the-scenes work as a booking agent, he’s destined to, well, stay behind-the-scenes. Although you may never have heard OF him, you’ve probably enjoyed at least one band in C-U or Chicago because of his work with Billions. Apparently, he also writes, and from what I’ve read, he excels in this area, too.

“Often, I’m just I’m trying to write humbly about embarrassing shit.

My buddy Seth Fein who runs the festival invited me to read, and he’s been a consistent voice encouraging me to get back into writing things down over the past many years.”

Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Ms. Thompson-Spires is a visiting professor teaching in several departments at Illinois, who also happens to have a book deal. Do yourself a favor and follow the link and read more about this book that we have to wait for until spring. Maybe we’ll be lucky and get to hear some during the fest.

“1. My work in general—and my forthcoming short story collection, Heads of the Colored People (April 2018)—explores middle-class black life in allegedly post-racial era.

2. I appreciate the way the festival brings writers from all over the country together alongside big-name musical acts. The multi-genre approach is unique, and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to participate in it.”

Amy Penne

Her blog’s name, “The Pensive Penne”, makes me think about so many puns that I’m already sold. Although it’s been awhile since she added any articles, I got caught again by an excerpt from a work titled Midwestern Reserve. This lady is good at naming things, and that’s a trait I enjoy.

  1. Style varies from dark humor to starkly vulnerable and real. I am a hybrid writer–the intersections between poetry and creative nonfiction open the perfect space for my wry voice to emerge.

  2. I have been going to Pygmalion for over a decade now. It’s an honor and privilege to be a teacher and local writer in Champaign-Urbana and I’m beyond thrilled to participate in this year’s fest. It’s the best expression of everything we are as a community: art, music, literature, technology, and spunk. I look forward to Pygmalion every year and cannot wait to see George Saunders read, to see Thundercat and, of course, to hear from the other writers in the line-up this year, especially Gale Walden, a local writer whose work I admire greatly.

Gale Walden

Everything Gale Walden has written about herself is true. Everything I have written about Gale Walden is true to me. She’s one of the reasons this community stays rich with poetic talent, and I’m very excited to get to hear her read her own words out loud, giving them life in our ears and our town.

“1) My poetry is attempting time travel.  I work with a musical beat and philosophical, religious, and pop-culture touchstones.

2)  I love anything interdisciplinary in the arts/music/literature/visual arts/science.  I really admired that a primarily musical festival decided to incorporate lit.”

Chekwube Danladi

While there’s not much available to discover about this graduate student from the U of I, the following descriptions have definitely piqued my interest.

1) I write about queers, about black folks, people at these intersections who are attempting self-determination while navigating an oppressive world hell-bent on destroying them (us).

2) I’m most excited about helping to articulate a space where we can laugh a bit about the shit that ails us, while also seriously considering how art contributes to the resistance and perseverance of marginalized people. Word? I’m also looking forward to jamming to Nomame and Smino live.

3) The only place I live on the internet is twitter: @codanladi. I sometimes share my work here, but follow mainly for bitter commentary and retweets of Black art.


There are two more readers that will be appearing: Skyler Lalone and Taylor Micks. One of them was unavailable for comment due to my human error; the other was not. But I am sure they are both talented writers, because they are in very good company. And luckily, both of them are reading during the part of the day where nothing else is going on, so it’s a no-risk venture.

Taylor Micks

As another Ohioan, we’ll have to get Micks in a room with me and Dean, and we can all argue about astronauts and the velocity required to leave that state. He’s made it here, however, and gotten published.

Skyler Lalone

She’s a grad student. That’s what I know. Not even the official Pygmalion Festival website had a description. A super-darkhorse, let’s see what she’s got.


Head over to Exile on Main Street this Saturday, from 1 p.m. onward with the last reader starting probably a little before 8 p.m. I like the idea of this space as the reading venue, it’s close quarters and an easy stage for transitions. Like all LIT events, it is free. 

All images blatantly stolen from the Pygmalion website, but that’s OK.

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