Sometimes words on the page aren't enough. You finish a story or a poem or an essay, and you want a word with the author. You have questions but aren't sure how to continue the conversation.
Perhaps Hamilton Holt had this dilemma in mind, back in 1927, when he created the Animated Magazine, a living, breathing version of the literary magazine that brought a wide array of writers and thinkers to Rollins College. That tradition continues today with the Winter With the Writers reading series, which hosts world-class writers every Thursday in February. This year's lineup features the youngest cohort to date, and covers a range of topics including identity, racism, immigration, war, and social engagement.
The series is run and curated by poet and Rollins English department director Carol Frost. Part of her duties includes preparing 12-20 undergraduates for deep engagement with the visiting writers. These student interns help power the series and are paid tenfold as the weekly beneficiaries of a master class given by each writer.
Author and former WWTW intern Kristen Arnett recalls the experience as "incredible." She says the series "provides something that's not readily available at most other undergrad programs: a chance to meet your idols." For those interested in the creative process, these master classes are free and open to the public, a bonus event that precedes the evening readings and Q&As.
As if all the above weren't enough, for the past few years each series has kicked off with a film adaptation tie-in and screening at the Enzian. This year's feature is Netflix original Mudbound, based on the book of the same name by Hillary Jordan. Jordan's most recent novel, When She Woke, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and has been translated into seven languages. Unlike the post-WWII period piece that is Mudbound, the latest book is a kind of dystopian twist on The Scarlet Letter. (Screening 6 p.m. Wednesday, Enzian Theater; master class 4 p.m. Thursday at SunTrust Auditorium; reading 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Bush Auditorium)
The series has done an excellent job of including a variety of writers in their line-up and this year is no different. Following Jordan is Jamaican-born poet Ishion Hutchinson, whose lush, narrative verse spans (in a reductive nutshell) issues of Caribbean identity, colonialism, and the borders of culture, place and self. His latest collection, House of Lords and Commons, won the National Book Critics Circle award. (Master class 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at SunTrust Auditorium; reading 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at Bush Auditorium)
WWTW's third week highlights the co-holders of the 2018 Irving Bacheller Chair in Creative Writing at Rollins College: Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to Us; and Luis Muñoz, author of five books of poetry including his most recent, Querido silencio. As Bacheller Chairs, both writers will teach an extra one-credit course, but for the reading, they were paired more for their contrasting genres (fiction and poetry) than any stylistic similarities. (Master classes 2 p.m. & 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at SunTrust Auditorium; reading 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at Bush Auditorium)
Quality of work is the primary concern of Frost's intensive selection process, which entails reading nearly 60 books a year. Twenty of those books are read in a two-week period, and help determine the series' grand finale, which highlights two National Book Award-nominated authors. This partnership with the National Book Foundation is part of their NBA on Campus program, of which Rollins is one of four lucky schools.
Lisa Ko (The Leavers) and Elliot Ackerman (Green on Blue) will represent the NBAs in the series' final week. Ko's book centers on issues of identity and immigration, following a Chinese mother who, one day, simply doesn't come home, leaving her son to be adopted by white, all-American parents. Ackerman, a journalist and decorated military veteran, brings his experience to the table when telling the story of an Afghan war orphan who rises in the ranks of a US-funded militia. (Master classes 2 p.m. & 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at SunTrust Auditorium; reading 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at Bush Auditorium)
Though the concept may be foreign to some, a literary reading is an opportunity for communities to engage with the art of literature off the page. "All sentences resonate more deeply when they are heard aloud," Frost explains. "Books and writing become no less intimate but more public, and the community of writers and readers grows." And like every good reading series, WWTW is not just a gem for avid readers and writers, but a reminder to all that literature is alive and well.