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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Authors, poets join at annual writers’ festival

Methamphetamine dealers and a girl shaped like a pickle jar were topics of conversation among students and writers this weekend.

The 61st annual Florida Writers’ Festival, held Friday and Saturday, gave students and members of the literary community an opportunity to listen to the experiences and advice of award-winning authors.

Pulitzer Prize winner Henri Cole; James Lasdun,  an author of one of The Atlantic magazine’s Best Five Books of 2009; and Wells Tower, named one of America’s 20 best writers under 40 by The New Yorker, each gave readings at Smathers Library East to crowds of about 125 graduate students, avid readers and writing hobbyists.

Tower read from one of his stories about a girl “with a figure like a pickle jar” and one he transcribed from a former methamphetamine dealer who he said had a natural rhythm and tone for storytelling.

On Saturday afternoon, the authors spoke at the Headquarters Library about their methods for what they described as the madness of the writing process. The festival, hosted by the UF graduate program for creative writing, was sponsored by the Alachua County Library District, the Friends of the George A. Smathers Library and several private donors.

“It’s important to expose students to as many different authors as possible,” said Jeanne Fillman-Richards, a long-time sponsor of the festival and mother of a creative writing graduate student. “I think literature is a dying art. Language is a dying art.”

David Fishman and Hilary Jacqmin, the festival organizers, said they are working to change that. In previous years, the event was faculty-run, but this year the second-year poetry graduate students spearheaded the planning process.

“The purpose is to bring excellent writers to present their work to the community,” Fishman said. “At the informal talks, there was an opportunity to ask questions about the craft. That goes beyond entertainment; it’s something that will actually be useful to writers.”

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