New Writing Series kicks off 17th year of connecting authors, students

The University of Maine’s New Writing Series (NWS) held the first event of the year Thursday, Feb. 18. The NWS, sponsored by the English department and the National Poetry Foundation, began in 1999.

According to the NWS website, “the authors who appear in the NWS write for adult audiences and make use of a wide spectrum of language and subject matter.” The NWS was “conceived as an instrument for investigating the whole spectrum of possibilities for contemporary work in poetry, prose, translation, and the new media, the NWS puts an emphasis on innovative, adventurous, and/or unduly neglected writing.”

Michael Clune, memoirist and scholar, was the first NWS speaker of 2016. Clune is the author of
“Gamelife: A Memoir” and is currently an English professor at Case Western Reserve University. He resides in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Clune gave a reading to an audience of about 60 people in the Allen and Sally Fernald APPE Space in 104 Stewart Commons. The space was filled to capacity.

Steven Evans, associate professor of English, has been coordinating the NWS since his hire in 1999.

“I think probably one of the reasons that I was hired here was the idea of re-enlivening the literary scene here at the university,” Evans said. “It [the literary scene] had been a very exciting place in the late 60s and 70s, the generation that Stephen King was a part of … that had gone a little dormant, and I think there was an interest in … going back to something that happened really distinguishing of the campus and animating of it.”

Since Evans has been coordinating the NWS, the event has hosted more than 200 literary readings at UMaine.

“We tend to do … a solo reading, the person usually reads 35 to 45 minutes, and then a bunch of the audience stays with them to talk about what they just heard, but also about their life in writing. Often these people do more than one thing … so it gets to be a pretty wide range in conversation and it ties back into our core mission,” Evans said. “The New Writing Series’ mission really is to keep Orono informed about what’s going on in contemporary American, and when we can, world literature. So it’s a space for listening and hearing new work, but it’s also a space for conversation.”

When the series began, the main focus was more poetry-oriented. It wasn’t until the last few years when Evans began working with other professors, who specialize in fiction writing, that the series has changed to include an even mix of poetry, fiction, non-fiction and new media.

The speakers are chosen through recommendations from faculty, area high school teachers and students. Occasionally, the artist and their agent will contact Evans first.

“There’s a long running list, and each semester we just try to look at what’s being taught, what’s going on in the world, to see how we can get the best five or six events put together [for the NWS],” Evans added. “The creative writing community at the University of Maine is in really great shape right now … we also try to highlight the talent that is right here.”

Each spring semester, undergraduate and graduate winners of The Grady Awards, a series of legacy awards meant to help celebrate literary talents among students, read their work. This year’s 2016 Grady Award winners be featured in the NWS on March 24.

This coming week, on March 3 at 4:30 p.m., Poet Prageeta Sharma will do a reading as part of the NWS in collaboration with the Honors College.

All NWS events are free and open to the public.

For more information on the NWS, please visit their website at https://nwsnews.wordpress.com/.

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