Saturday, January 19, 2019
The Profile

Looking Back at Writer’s Festival 2018



The arrival of the month of April signifies accelerated assignment schedule and the Agnes Scott Annual Writers’ Festival. Established in 1972, this Writers’ Festival is the oldest one in the State of Georgia and just celebrated its 47th birthday. This year, the Agnes Scott community hosted guest writers Eula Biss, Mat Johnson, and Jacqueline Goldfinger ’00.

As the kickoff event for the week-long festival, the Agnes Scott student finalist reading on Tuesday was well attended by audience from on and off campus, filling the Luchsinger Lounge with anticipatory excitement. Six out of the seven Agnes Scott finalists went onto stage and shared their works, they are (in order of appearance): Shelby Turner ’20 in fiction who turned out later to be the winner this year, Ellaree Yaegley ’18 in fiction, Emma Sachs ’18 in fiction and nonfiction, Molly Armato ’18 in poetry and nonfiction, Lyrik Courtney ’21 in poetry, and Zoe Katz ’19 in playwriting. Anna Lachkaya ’18, the winner of nonfiction category last year and a finalist in nonfiction this year, was unable to read due to sudden sickness; her work, along with others’, is adorned in the Writers’ Festival magazine among the community nonetheless. (Go congratulate them if you haven’t yet!)

Mat Johnson, one of the guest writers, also attended this reading: “That was an hour and a half of dense, impassionated stuff, I feel as if I had to go outside for deep-breathing before I can start speaking again.”

The second event of the week was the Q&A session with guest writers Thursday at 1pm This hour-long conversation first broke the silence with the question “how do you break the page and overcome its blankness?” Unsurprisingly, each writer had a different strategy to offer: Biss uses a document full of random lines from previous writing projects as starters for new pieces; Johnson assures everyone that “the first page (especially of novels) will be deleted by the end anyway;” and Goldfinger keeps a scrapbook with visual and verbal encounters to find “what’s inside [her] that’s burning to be poured onto the page.”

Following this lead, many questions concerning the writing process were addressed to all three authors, which kept the whole room engaged in collective reflection. Occasionally, questions were directed to a certain author about a specific work as many students are assigned to read from the guest writers in their English classes.

The last question asked during the session was about the editing process. As a playwright, Goldfinger shared that she had to hear and see her work being acted out before she goes back and edits the script. She also contends that the current climate of playwriting in the US demands her to finish a production every 3-4 months, which means she almost never considers any draft as a final draft. Also on revising and the number of drafts, Johnson usually has 6-40 different drafts for his fiction while Biss has 23-25 drafts for each of her essays.

The same afternoon, Mat Johnson gave his reading of his latest novel Loving Day in Winter Theatre at 4pm. His reading was described by many attendees as performative and effective, as he switched between multiple accents and voices pertaining to different characters and occasions skillfully and seamlessly. As Johnson said earlier in the Q&A session, “a good story sings to you,” he sang his story to the fortunate audience and his “song” was certainly appreciated.

A student at Johnson’s reading, Zoe Howard ’18, said: “I would buy the audiobook of Loving Day if he produces one.”

The same night at 8pm, the crowd gathered again at Winter Theatre for the announcement of contest winners and reading by Eula Biss. After Professor Alan Grostephan announced the winners, one of the student interns, Amber Kidd ’20, went on stage and introduced Eula Biss, who later read to us from her newest book On Immunity and an unpublished essay “Murder Mystery.” Weaving her essays together with the thought process and story behind the writing, Biss crafts her work not as a speech to the audience but rather a starter of conversation. Interestingly, as Kidd ’20 observed, Biss’s works are in correspondence with previous Writers’ Festival guests, namely Patrick Phillips and Claudia Rankine.

The next day at 2pm, this year’s alumnae writer Jacqueline Goldfinger gave her “reading” in the form of performance, collaborating with Dr. David Thompson and current student Sidney Joines ’18, both from the Department of Theatre at Agnes Scott College. This is the second time for Goldfinger to visit Agnes Scott as a guest writer during the Writers’ Festival; the college was especially lucky to have her this year since she was just awarded the Yale-Horn Drama Prize for Emerging Playwright for her play Bottle Fly last year. A Scottie at heart, Goldfinger was adamant about her commitment to playwriting as a form of activism; she also greatly emphasized the importance of “presence” in the enterprise of drama and how modern-day text can keep an audience engaged.

This year’s Writers’ Festival concluded joyfully in the Dalton Gallery in Dana Fine Arts on the same Friday afternoon. Many first-year students shared that they enjoyed reading from these authors and being able to meet them, which reinforces Eavan Boland’s evaluation of Agnes Scott as “living the literary tradition” instead of merely being informed of it.

Eula Bliss reads from her book ta the 2018 Writer’s Festival at Agnes Scott College (Sybil).

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