Virginia Festival of the Book: Recap of ‘MFA Alumni Reading’

March 30, 2015

The Virginia Festival of the Book is an exciting event that brings local, literary scholars great joy each year.

The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, an organization that seeks to inspire cultural engagement and intellectual curiosity within the citizens of Virginia, funds this special occasion. Since its inception in 1974, the VFH has created more than 40,000 humanities programs that serve throughout the globe.

On March 20, I had the opportunity to attend one of the many events that the festival sponsored, the MFA Alumni Reading.  Hosted by the U.Va. MFA Creative Writing Program, four authors read from their most recent work to a small audience at the University of Virginia Bookstore. The four readers were each alumni of the MFA program here at U.Va.

The MFA program is a two-year graduate program that admits just five poets and five fiction writers each academic year. Graduate students spend five hours a day, six days a week, writing to accumulate 30 hours of writing every seven days. While this may sound quite strenuous, these many minutes led to each author’s first publication.

The four authors presented at this event were: George David Clark (writer of Reveille: Poems), Charles McLeod (Writer of Settlers of Unassigned Lands, Thomas Pierce (Writer of Hall of Small Mammals and Eleanor Stanford (writer of Bartram’s Garden). Each read a small portion from their designated books for 20 to 30 minutes after sharing a bit about their personal and professional career.

Not only was it wonderful to listen to the works of each of these authors, but to also hear their stories from their time at the University, and how it has later impacted their respective vocation.  For example, Clark spoke of the ways in which his teaching here at the University impacted him in his later years, as he learned to grow in his skills and practices. He even shared with us that driving back through Charlottesville brought tears to his eyes.

Each reading varied, some being poems and other short stories. Each had a different mood, leaving the audience with both a sense of profound beauty and silly humor by the end of the hour. While many of the poems were romantic and smooth, they were juxtaposed by the amusing stories of McLeod and Pierce. Personally, I found Pierce’s short story to stand out among the rest. In his piece from Hall of Small Mammals, he told a fictional story of himself accompanying a small child to see a zoo exhibit on the “Pippin monkey,” a highly endangered species. The tale was full of twists and turns, as every possible stumbling block was placed between the man, the boy, and the pippin monkeys. The story left the listeners both bemused and curious of these small mammals, and what would result of this man in the rest of the book.

Learn more about the annual Virginia Festival of the Book by going to its website, where you can subscribe and hear about events close to you!

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