Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival

Tobias Wolff and Naomi Shihab Nye

Terrance Hayes and Sharyn McCrumb

The second annual Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival took place last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at Francis Marion University. Featured writers were Tobias Wolff, Naomi Shihab Nye, Terrance Hayes, and Sharyn McCrumb. Wolff and Nye arrived on the same flight from Atlanta Wednesday night. Ed Eleazer, Beckie Flannagan, and I met them and took them to Victor's for dinner. We talked about field trips, succotash, Wolff's memoir This Boy's Life, Nye's essay collection Never in a Hurry, Geoffrey Wolff, Francis Marion, music, and airports. The service was slow, but the talk was fast. There was a buffet breakfast in The Cottage for the two of them, as well as 8 or 10 English faculty members. Wolff's two presentations--an afternoon colloquium on This Boy's Life (which many comp. classes have been reading) and his evening reading--both pretty much filled Lowrimore Auditorium. Among the most interesting questions put to him was "What do you need or want to write about that you haven't yet written about?" His answer was "friendship."
After the reading (at which Wolff read a chapter from TBL that was not included in the movie version) and the book signing, there was a reception at The Cottage. As things wound down, we got guitars out and sang with the two guest writers. Woolf has a good voice and knows plenty of songs, as does Nye, who is a songwriter and agreed to play a couple of her own.
Friday there were two sessions featuring Nye and Terrance Hayes. The poets made a good pair, first talking about inspiration in poetry and later discussing nonfiction. Both were captivating. I especially admired Hayes' participation in the nonfiction session because he has not published much nonfiction; he told a wonderful story about his stepfather and real father and talked about how he's written 50 pages on it. It was sort of a process report on his thinking about the piece and its difficulties and satisfactions. Nye's reading that night was pitch-perfect, a nice combination of poetry and nonfiction with good stories and comments about writing sprinkled throughout. She ended with a wonderful lullaby using my guitar. Afterwards, another reception. I was pleased that all my nonfiction students had a chance to meet her, given that we've been reading her essays.
Saturday the featured speakers were Hayes and Sharyn McCrumb. Hayes gave an outstanding poetry reading to an audience containing his mother and stepfather, as well as 50-60 well-behaved middle school students. McCrumb gave an articulate and feisty lecture on connections between Appalachia and her writing. Her afternoon reading, the festival's final event, featured a reading of one of her NASCAR stories--the spirit of Dale Earnhardt as the object of a pilgrimage.

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