The 26th Annual Literary Arts Festival

This year’s Literary Arts Festival was one for the books.

Marc Cordero, Staff Writer

Last month marked a successful week for the Creative Writing Program as they hosted its 26th annual Literary Arts Festival, which took place from April 26 to 28.

The festival took place via pre-registered Zoom meetings highlighting several authors and creative writing students. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival took place in person, and the department plans to host in-person events next year. According to Daniela Sow, the Creative Writing Program and Literary Arts Festival co-coordinator, they may still include online events to give people more options to participate.

In this four-day festival, each day had around two events, usually one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Here’s a recap of the Literary Arts Festival.

Monday, April 25

The Literary Arts Festival kicked off its first day with the “Why Literature Matters” event, which featured students from the English 122: Introduction to Literature class.

These students were Francesca Sammartano, Aylin Miranda, Tasnim Alsidnawi, and Kimberley Godfrey. Each shared powerful, moving anecdotes of how literature played an essential role in their lives, such as helping them through hard times or teaching them valuable lessons.

Each student came from different backgrounds with different perspectives. They advocated that literature can affect anyone, regardless of where they came from.

“Literature is a teacher, a mother, a friend, and a guide,” Sammartano said during the panel. “It has the power to make you angry, happy or sad.”

The next event featured award-winning journalist and creative nonfiction author Maggie Downs. She shared parts of her journey and read from her book “Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime.”

This book documents Downs’ adventures from when she backpacked solo across the world to complete her mom’s bucket list while her mom was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Downs said her mother played an important role in the book’s development, and their relationship was present throughout the story.

Tuesday, April 26

The festival’s second day started with poet and young adult (YA) fiction author Chris Baron, who read from one of his recent books, “All of Me.” The story follows a seventh-grade boy interested in cryptozoology and role-playing games who struggles with body insecurity.

Baron continued reading from his other books before answering questions from the audience, concluding the event.

The next event was called “New Voices,” where students from the Creative Writing Program shared some of their original pieces.

This year’s students were Tramina Ngo, Samuel Scott, Shujen Walker Askew, Natalie Keokham, Amanda Fadden, Carly Watts, Darlene Falh-Brittian, Lucian Scrya, and Aylin Miranda. The students shared poetry and short stories exhibiting their excellent use of personal, descriptive, and moving writing.

Wednesday, April 27

The third day kicked off with Poet Manuel Paul López, who read parts from some of his work, including his forthcoming book, “Nerve Curriculum,” set to release this fall. After his reading, López answered questions regarding his writing, inspiration and advice for the audience.

“I just love writing,” he said. “I love what it does, and I love exchanging ideas.”

Poetry continued to the day’s next event as poet Erin Rodoni read from her third book, “And If the Woods Carry You.”

Rodoni said this book explores motherhood and childhood while living in a “frightening and uncertain world.”

One of her biggest concerns is raising a family amid global issues that may worsen when her kids are grown up. Rodoni said these issues inspired some of the themes in her book.

Wednesday ended with award-winning fiction writer and YA author Cherie Dimaline; Dimaline talked about writing and conveying thoughts and feelings to people through words. She then read parts of her work and discussed different aspects of literature, such as writing narratives or finding the inspiration to write.

“We are a story that the universe is telling,” Dimaline said, “and in return, we tell stories back to it through living our lives.”

Thursday, April 28

The festival’s last day was initially planned to start with novelist and YA sci-fi author Kosoko Jackson; unfortunately, his event was canceled. The festival moved on to its next and final event, featuring creative nonfiction writer and poet Marco Wilkinson. He read parts from his first book, “Madder: A Memoir in Weeds.”

Wilkinson explained how he grew up without a father and didn’t learn about him until college. Wilkinson’s non-relationship with his absent father is present in his book. After learning about his dad, Wilkinson pursued a career in agriculture and farming. He incorporates agriculture in his writing, and he even used weeds as a symbol in “Madder.”

After his reading, Wilkinson answered questions regarding his career, life, and writing, marking the end of the festival.

Wrapping Up

This year’s Literary Arts Festival featured many decorated authors and writers who had something for the audience to learn. The viewers also got to see talented, inspiring students from the Creative Writing Program open up and share their touching work.

Despite the festival taking place online, everyone seem connected during each event. Organizers and participants look forward to next year, when the festival may host events in person.

For those interested in joining or supporting the Creative Writing Program, head to the program’s page on Grossmont’s website. There is information about the creative writing courses offered at Grossmont and a link to donate to the program.