The Daily Illini

Reading series gives a VOICE to creative writers

By Julia Marbach

For hundreds of years, storytelling has been key to the cultural landscape of civilizations. Before there was written word, oral storytelling was how history was recorded, and the way a story was told was key to its remembrance. 

Today, storytelling is just as much a part of culture as ever, and the graduate students in the creative writing program recognize this.

For more than 10 years, The VOICE reading series, currently held at the Krannert Art Museum, has given graduate students in the creative writing department an opportunity to share their work with the community and to see how people react to what they have written.

“For me, VOICE is actually really important because we are artists and writers, and we don’t write for ourselves, we write to share our work,” said Kristin Walters, graduate student in LAS. “Particularly at the University, I think it’s really important for there to be a space and a time where people can hear our work.”

The readings are held three times per semester, and Thursday’s will be the spring’s first event, starting at 7:30 p.m. It will be held in the Gelvin Noel Gallery at Krannert.

The series always features three readers, either of poetry or short fiction, and they are students in the graduate creative writing program who sign up to do so. Occasionally, outside readers will come. 

“Its really great for them to get the experience of reading their work in public, which is something as professional writers we have to do quite a bit of,” said Jodee Stanley, director of the creative writing program. “For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve had the opportunity to do that. So, it’s nice that they can do it in front of an audience of their peers and of the community that they’re working in right now.”

Each participant reads for about 15 minutes, and it is a classroom-like setting, where they are in front but not on a stage, Stanley said.

On Thursday, Sara Fan, Ceridwen Hall and Kristin Walters — all creative writing graduate students — will read. Fan and Hall will read poetry, and Walters will read short stories.

“The University community is what supports us and inspires us, so I don’t think people realize actually how important they are in our creative process,” Walters said. “We’re writing for them, and we’re inspired by them.”

While Fan and Hall, second year graduate students, have read before, this will be Walters’ first time.

Fan is also newly in charge of coordinating the series, and she said a main difference between reading and coordinating is figuring out who is going to introduce whom.

“I’ve never had to introduce someone in a reading,” Fan said. “It’s serious but also a little bit lighthearted. We’re a small program, so we’re very close, and that’s a lot of fun and something that I didn’t get to do last year that I get to do now. “

Fan said, typically, second or third year students introduce the first years. Fiction writers typically introduce fellow fiction writers, and poets introduce fellow poets, since they are familiar with each other’s work.

“But, since a lot of us get along outside of school and the program, sometimes we’ll have a fiction writer introduce a poet, and that’s also fun,” Fan said.

For Fan, reading always makes her nervous.

“Reading is always an interesting experience for me,” she said. “It feels sort of like out of body. It’s really bizarre.”

The series is completely organized and run by the graduate students, but professors in the department, graduate students, undergraduate students and anyone interested in creative writing can attend the event. 

Typically, about 30 people attend the readings, Stanley said, and there is no charge for attending.

“We’ve been really lucky to always have motivated graduate students in the creative writing program who are willing to come in and keep the series going,” Stanley said.

Walters said her fiction is “pretty realistic,” and she is “very concerned with pace and language.”

“I typically write about young adults,” she said. “So kind of college age to mid-20s, which hopefully will be relatable to most of the University community.”

Fan said her poetry often focuses on “exploring memory in different ways,” while Hall said her poetry is “pretty eclectic.”

“I try to read a variety of things so that people can get a little bit of everything,” Hall said.

While reading can be “nerve wracking,” Walters said the environment is fun. 

“I just want people to understand that it’s casual and fun, and that it’s very welcoming,” Walters said.

Julia can be reached at [email protected]

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