Bringing authors to campus so that the community can see, hear, have a copy of their book signed and possibly talk to a published author is what the University of Indianapolis’ Kellogg Writers Series strives to do each semester. With the help of student assistants, Associate Professor of English Barney Haney puts on the events for all to hear for free.
KWS tries to grab authors who are not only on their way up in the publishing world, but also diverse, Haney said. On Sept. 25, Mira T. Lee, who wrote a book on disabilities and mental health called “Everything Here Is Beautiful” came to UIndy for numerous events throughout the day.
“[The] Kellogg Writers Series hadn’t had an Asian-American writer for a long time, we only have three [or] four writers that come to campus,” Haney said. “…We have a pledge to have diversity amongst writers… whether that be [ethnicity], sexual preference, we want a vast diversity of voices coming in here for this series.”
In 2018, Lee’s book was submitted for Etchings Press’s Whirling Prize, according to senior professional writing and creative writing double major Shauna Sartoris.
Etchings Press is student-run publisher at UIndy and they give out the prize annually for a book and poetry piece that fits that year’s theme. When Lee’s book won, the theme was disability. Sartoris said she was on the committee to decide a winner. She ended up reading 30 to 35 pieces, and she said that Lee’s was one of her favorites.
“I really enjoyed the way the characters were developed, particularly the fact that she spent so much time in her novel and manages to create these characters that develop with the plot so you end up with a very robust, I mean it’s a big book,” Sartoris said. “You have these characters that are consistent throughout and you get to see them grow.”
Haney said that Sartoris campaigned at the end of last semester to have Lee come to the university. Sartoris did this as part of the Kellogg Writers Series course for her final project in the semester, according to Haney. He said with the diversity he wanted for the series, Lee hit all the goals that students should be able to experience through the series: hearing diverse voices and experiencing diverse authors.
“I think a lot of what students have been taught in the classroom has been white writers, particularly, like old and male white writers, that’s what gets taught often in grade school and high school,” Haney said. “Going to American Literature, the canon is what people often teach and the canon is whatever the old white writers [write]. And we want to be somebody [who is] a counter to that, to [show] that there’s different voices out here. We want voices that reflect our student body as well.”
Sartoris, who had read “Everything Here Is Beautiful,” as well as Lee’s short story called “How I Came to Love You As A Brother” went to the Question & Answer session for Lee. Compared to previous authors who have been brought in for KWS, Sartoris said Lee showed her new perspectives on the publishing industry, which she hopes to go into. For example, Lee expressed her grievances on having to change her title “Lucia Ever After,” named after the main character to “Everything Is Beautiful” for her manager to be able to bring her work to publishers. However, Lee also said it was one of the more enjoyable parts because she got to go back into the story and add allusions to beauty.
“I’ve been to awful Q&As that are so stiff and uncomfortable, just a weird dynamic, but I felt like that one went really well,” Sartoris said. “She was very receptive to talking not just about the book, but about the process [of writing the book] and some of the difficulties that she had along the way. I don’t hear a lot of authors open up about their frustrations with their editors, and she sort of talked about that relationship and how that’s sort of like a give-and-take [relationship]. I felt like it was a good audience and a good author to be speaking.”
With the Question & Answer sessions the department holds before the public reading events, the students get a chance to ask questions about the author’s book or publishing questions. Haney says he hopes to open the Q&As up to a larger group eventually.
Haney said that KWS events are open to everyone and that they will be raffling off books at each event, so the audience should show up before the event starts to get a chance to win the author’s book. Otherwise, english majors and minors have an even more intimate chance to speak with the author.
Haney said he wants to work with student organizations that KWS has worked with in the past, such as the Black Student Association. BSA had helped bring Randall Horton to campus last semester for a reading and Haney said that at the Horton reading, over 240 people showed up.
Sartoris said that she believes that having diverse authors come to campus is not only important from a literary standpoint, but also a world view as well.
“The problem with only representing white males is that they’re a small part of the world’s population,” Sartoris said. “…To be able to meet with people who are outside of what is commonly taught in the education system, I want say that it gives you a different perspective…. It is more realistic to what the world is and I think so much of literature strives to represent what the world is, so in order to do that you have to be looking at multiple perspectives, looking at authors that are different from you. Because otherwise we get a very narrow world of literature. So I think it’s very, very important, especially for universities, to promote these kinds of authors because they can be out there publishing, but if there’s not an audience supporting that and telling people that this is important, then it kind of stops there.”