The 47th Writer’s Week Festival, an annual event hosted by the creative writing department, returned to the University of California, Riverside (UCR) this past week, starting on Feb. 10 and ending on Feb. 16. The event incorporates a plethora of writers, from new to distinguished authors that are given the opportunity to share their works to students and staff. The festival is free of charge to all who attend and has both virtual and in-person recorded sessions featuring readings from the authors and discussion panels that ensue.

Tuesday Session 3
Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 3:30 p.m., began with Rilla Askew, author of five novels and recipient of various awards, including the Oklahoma Book Award, Western Heritage Award, Violet Crown Award and more. She read from her most recent October 2022 novel, “Prize for the Fire,” a historical piece detailing a young woman’s life under the rule of Henry the Eighth, who was burned at the stake for being a heretic. Askew writes about Anne Askew’s life as a 15-year-old forced into an abusive, fixed marriage that she is unable to get out of due to the status of her sex.

Author Lou Berney followed, diving into his novel, “Dark Ride.” Published in Sept. 2023, the book explores the life of 21-year-old and pot-smoker, Hardy “Hardly” Reed, who adopts the children of a drug ring lord. Berney narrates Hardy, finding the young kids and reading, “On my way out, I see those two little kids still sitting by themselves on the big bench. It’s kind of weird that they’re sitting all by themselves, right? I look around for a likely parent or guardian … but everyone is wrapped up in their own world.”

The session ended with Robert Roensch, an Oklahoma City writer who read his November 2023 novel, “In the Morning, the City is the Prairie.” Roensch explained that the story is centered around the 2018 teacher protests in Oklahoma City. “And I wanted to write about that time because I found it really inspiring,” said Roensch. The central character, Matt, is a college dropout who witnesses the protest firsthand as his girlfriend, a fifth-grade teacher, is partaking in it. Roensch began his reading with Matt visiting his girlfriend at a protest in Oklahoma’s capital. Matt experiences the unity of the protest as they stand in solidarity with each other. “It’s mesmerizing, biological, less a parade than a waterfall pouring into a lake,” described the setting of the large protest.

Tuesday Session 4
Concurrently, session four was being held and began with Marie Alohalani Brown, Professor of Hawaiian Religion at the University of Hawai’i-Mānoa, known for her books and short stories of Hawaiian gods and humans, inspired by traditional motifs. She read from her book, “Ka Po‘e Mo‘o Akua: Hawaiian Reptilian Water Deities,” exploring Hawaiian aesthetics, history and methodologies for conducting research in Hawaiian-language newspapers. Going into the mythology of the “Mo’o” and how it offers a compelling case study of gendered power in Hawaiian culture.

Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, Japanese and Kanaka Maoli writer from Honolulu, followed after and is known for her published collection, “Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare,” a USA Today national bestseller in a September Indie Next title that has appeared in the Guardian, Granta, Joyland and elsewhere. She reads the titular book of the aforementioned collection, which portrays the experience of a cast of mixed native Hawaiian and Japanese women, delving into themes of sexuality and feminism: “[Sadie] learns that blood and tissues are peeling from her uterine wall… [and] marks the start of puberty which is a word that boys in her class spit with laughter.”

Member of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe of the Pacific Northwest and a two-time winner of the Samuel Mockbee Award for Nonfiction, Leah Myers ends the session with a reading of a few sections and an excerpt from her book, “​​Thinning Blood: A Memoir of Family, Myth, and Identity.” In these readings, Myers illustrates her life through the symbolism and significance of the totem in Native culture, connecting her ancestral past and history to her family and exploring Native culture through contemporary lens.

Wednesday Session 1
The next day, Wednesday, Feb. 14th, session one first featured Laird Hunt, an author of eight novels which includes a 2021 National Book Award finalist, “Zorrie,” and a teacher in Brown University’s Literary Arts program. He began with a reading of his opening story from his new collection, “Float Up, Sing Down,” which is a story of a single day full of life and a portrayal of a nuanced community. The rituals, gossip, grudges and joys of the every day are highlighted in this work.

Matthew Shenoda, author of several books, winner of the 2015 Arab American book award, editor of “Bearden’s Odyssey: Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden” and the founding editor of the African Poetry Book Fund, professor and chair of the Department of Literary Arts at Brown University followed after Hunt.

Shenoda read some poems from his new book, “The Way of The Earth,” which focuses on the beauty of our lives contending with loss and climate change. In his poem, “Glimpse,” he asserts, “How, then, do we thrive in this, this long-divided place? A constant recollection of our own skin freeing us with the crack of remembrance.”

Eleni Sikelianos, poet, writer and “master of mixing genres’ thirdly follows and presents her works that deal with the urgent concerns of environmental precarity and ancestral lineages. She read her tenth book of poetry, “Your Kingdom,” in the session, which combined poetics with scientific prose that incorporated genealogy, phenotype and syntax. Before that, she starts with a quote from her great-grandmother’s (Eva Plamer Sikelianos) autobiography: “On that day, they will not advance with the deafening din and fifes cunningly contrived to stupify all man’s faculties of reason … Their faith will not be in their bombs and bayonets and bullets … They will advance in a very wind of beauty, singing to their enemies that they cannot kill the men they love.”

Following Eleni, the last writer Mark Vinceness, an author who has published over 30 books and won the 2023 Massachusetts Book Award for translated literature with translations of Klaus Merz’s selected poems, reads a book he has been working on, “No More Animal Poems” which is a “testament witness and awakening of what’s going on with climate change.” These poems were inspired by stories of animals in space (primarily the story of “Ham,” an ape that experienced space travel) and the mythology behind animal figures.

Wednesday Session 2
On the same day, at 1:00 p.m., the program welcomed an array of female voices to the stage. The session was offered both virtually and in person, with an American sign language (ASL) interpreter assisting onstage. The host, Allison Moon, a second-year MFA candidate in creative writing for the performing arts, described the session as “The cinematic potential of poetry.” Moon introduced the poets, starting with Elena Karina Byrne, recipient of various accolades including the 2016-2018 Kate and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Awards and “a freelance editor, professor, programming consultant and poetry stage manager for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.”

Byrne’s reading began with her first poem in her collection of poems, “If This Makes You Nervous.” She noted, “[It is] based on an artist Rachel Whiteread who casts negative space underneath tables, under chairs.” Byrne highlighted how Whiteread’s work made her want to connect it to a childhood experience about grief, “a negative space,” described Byrne. The poem titled, “Rachel Whiteread: It’s So,” consisted of lines spaced out from each other, creating space in between the lines where grief and pain are explored throughout. Byrne described herself as a “densely lyric poet” and aims to write simpler narratives about real-life experiences, most notably in her most recent poem, “All The Bullies on the Playground.”

Moon then introduced Marsha de la O, winner of the Isabella Gardner Prize for her poetry book, “Antidote for Night,” and has published two recent poems in The New Yorker. De la O described her five poems from her poetry book, “Creature: Poems,” representing “the sentients of the non-human world and the human world and the connections between them. Like what might happen if our skin wasn’t on so tight.” De la O recalled how she wrote these poems during the last five years of her father’s life, and his presence remains heavy throughout her poetic writing. De la O’s narration was heavy with emotion as her writing drew upon images of death, sensations and reflections of her daughter’s childhood memories.

Poet Melissa Studdard, unfortunately, was unable to attend the session, but a small tribute was paid to her by Byrne. Studdard has earned awards such as the “Penn Review Poetry Prize, Poetry Society of America’s Lucille Medwick Award and the Tom Howard Award,” as announced by Moon. Byrne read her poems, “Modus Operandi” and “Planted My Shame in the Backyard.”

The final reading of the session was by Lisa Teasley, author of the award-winning short story collection, “Glow in the Dark;” Teasley is also a visual artist who has released various exhibitions of her work. She stated, “The common thread throughout [these stories is] the characters, who are very diverse in culture, race, gender [and] sexuality. They’re all at significant moments in their lives.” Teasly noted that the story she chose for her reading follows a couple walking through the woods and focuses on the woman’s part of the “wreckage of the relationship.” It is a deep look into a couple’s connection and the eventual ruin of it within the heart and soul.

2024 Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) and UCR Department of Creative Writing 9th Annual Lifetime Achievement Awards Ceremony
On Thursday, Feb. 15, at 7:00 p.m., the LARB 9th Annual Lifetime Achievement Awards Ceremony was held, celebrating writers Dave Eggers, Rigoberto Gonzalez and Quincy Troupe. Dave Eggers is the founder of “McSweeney’s,” an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books and co-founder of the literacy project “826 Valencia.” Rigoberto González is the author of 18 books, and his honors include the American Book Award, the PEN/Voelcker Award in Poetry, the Poetry Center Book Award, the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America and a University and College Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Quincy Troupe is an award-winning author of 21 books, with some of his many achievements being the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, the Milt Kessler Poetry Award and three American Book Awards.

Alison Hedgecoke opened the session with the UCR Land Acknowledgement and expressed gratitude to multiple UCR departments, programs and organizations for supporting the event. Afterward, in a sequence of recorded videos, renowned literary community members Tyler Meier, Juan Felipe Herrera, Ishmael Reed and Cornelius Eady all congratulated the awardees. Hedgecoke then took over with Tom Lutz and expressed the celebratory aspect of the 9th year of partnership between the Los Angeles Review of Books Creative Department of Writing, where they jointly honor distinguished writers for their lifetime achievements. She would also announce that Dave Egger’s appearance would be postponed to spring due to COVID-19. Hedgecoke and Lutz would share remarks about the awardees and comments about literature. A discussion panel ensued with Gonzalez and Troupe, along with them reading their works. Gonzalez shared a poem about his abuelita and disability, and Troupe recited, “My poem has holes sewn into them.” The awardees and audience were thanked, ending the UCR 47th Writer’s Week Festival.