The first Visiting Writers Series of the school year celebrated not only written words or the writers that composed them but also the thoughts and conversations that it can incite.
As the reading began, the voices of poet Caroline Chavatel and fiction writer Ron Austin carried over the crowd of around 90 aspiring writers and composition students gathered Oct. 17 in the J.W. Jones Student Union Tower View Dining Room.
The two featured writers graced the audience with the presentation of critical poems commenting on the state of modern America and detailed short stories pushing the boundaries of what one might expect.
Chavatel predominantly read from her chapbook “White Noises,” which won The Laurel Review’s 2018 Midwest Chapbook Contest. Austin read two short stories, ending with one from his most recently published book, “Avery Colt is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar.”
The original poems and stories were given new light as the voices of the writer who created them recited their work. This provided an intimate, personal experience for all involved, junior Green Tower Press intern Maranda Deplanty said.
“Being able to hear the authors talk about it is a very personal experience,” Deplanty said. “Because usually you’re reading it without that connection, so you can kind of make your own assumptions about them, as you’re reading. That’s what you would do. But seeing them and knowing that is a person and this is their passion, it’s kind of enlightening. ... You can hear their inflection and know what they are saying.”
The intimacy of the evening resonated with the writers as well.
“Sometimes reading your own stuff can be sort of personal and vulnerable,” Chavatel said. “So, it’s a weirdly sort of both intimate, private moment shared with the public.”
The unspoken theme for the night was insightful conversation and imaginative thinking, with both writers expressing that as their goal.
“I can engage folks in conversation or thoughts they wouldn’t normally have,” Austin said. “I don’t think I’m gonna change hearts and minds from just reading one story, but if it can connect with people … they can reflect on their own experiences and the experiences of others; it might be something that makes people more brave in the conversations they pursue and hopefully get more of an understanding of situations.”
Chavatel said words heard everyday can be sculpted into a powerful outlet for new ideas and expressed her gratitude for being part of that.
“I just think it can be cool to feel inspired in different ways after reading something or hearing something,” Chavatel said. “It becomes almost a door that opens new doors for people to think in new and cool ways. ... It’s the same exact words that we’re using all the time but somehow the way they are arranged ... unlocks something.”
Both writers used their work as a tool to address social concerns. For Austin, his writing acts as a response, presenting “what would be an absurd way to solve this problem,” or often acts as a means to evaluate his home city of St. Louis and process growing up there. His writing invites people to join in his experiences and analysis.
“My goal is to create an atmosphere and an experience, make something that is entertaining but also might make people stop and think about some things, like pair the fun of writing an interesting scene or interesting sentences with some kind of emotional core,” Austin said.
Chavatel draws inspiration from modern issues, with much of her writing working through an anti-capitalistic lense but also providing commentary on things such as internet usage.
“I’m going for critical, which is not necessarily cynical or negative, but definitely aware of the world around us and aware of how we might comment on that in new and refreshing ways,” Chavatel said.
The Visiting Writers Series provided an opportunity for students to see writers effectively using that weapon of the written word to spur conversation and demonstrate how writing can successfully become a profession.