The English Department welcomed nationally acclaimed author Leni Zumas as its last visiting guest for the fall portion of Willamette’s Fall 2019 Hallie Ford Literary Series. The department has also announced the spring literary series lineup, along with the Mark and Melody Teppola Prizes for Creative Writing, which are annually awarded to exemplary student writing submissions.
Zumas is an Oregon-based author known for her novel Red Clocks. “It’s a character-driven political thriller, gorgeously written and impossible to put down,” said Professor Scott Nadelson, the Hallie Ford Chair in Writing, of the bestselling novel.
Nadelson summarized the book as “the story of four women living on the Oregon Coast during a not-so-hard-to-imagine near-future in which abortion and invitro fertilization are illegal in all 50 states.”
The novel received the 2019 Oregon Book Award, was the New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and was named a Best Book of 2018 by The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and others. As the grand finale of the Hallie Ford Literary Series, Zumas visited Willamette and read from Red Clocks as well as her other works of fiction. Zumas also taught a writing workshop, offering prompts in the form of constraint-based writing exercises which she explained are surprisingly generative for writers.
“The concept behind this literary movement is that constraints produce creativity,” said Zumas. “Textual limits challenge and unleash the imagination and force a writer’s language out of its habitual tendencies.”
This opportunity to learn from one of the nation’s leading novelists is a part of a greater effort to cultivate the literary community on campus. The spring series is right around the corner. Nadelson has been organizing Willamette’s Hallie Ford Literary Series for 10 years.
“Most important to me is to get writers to engage with groups of students, so I always plan for them to visit classes or offer workshops,” he said.
Nadelson generally brings in authors based on a combination of researching, attending conferences and taking suggestions from other faculty, students or community members. While not all of the authors are as well known as Zumas, the series features a broad swath of writers with varying backgrounds.
“My main concern is trying to bring a diverse mix of voices to campus, and that often takes a good bit of planning in advance; I try to highlight writers of color every semester, as well as represent multiple literary genres. And because I have a relatively small budget, that often means finding writers early in their careers before a lot of other people have heard of them,” said Nadelson. “I hosted Anthony Doerr at Willamette just a few years before he won the Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See,” he said. “But probably my very favorite event was a visit by the poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, whose new book Felon, is making huge waves right now. Dwayne writes about his experience in prison and after his release—he was arrested as a 16-year-old and spent eight years incarcerated—and while he was here I brought him to speak to a group of prisoners at the Oregon State Penitentiary before his reading at Willamette. It was an incredibly moving experience, and the reading was stellar—funny, engaging and powerful.”
There is an impressive history of visiting authors on campus, and this year’s spring series is no exception. On Sunday, Feb. 9, at 1:30 p.m., in collaboration with the music department, poet Elizabeth Woody will read from her repertoire. Woody is the first Native American selected as Oregon Poet Laureate and will field questions before a concert premier based on her poems. On Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m., essayist Ander Monson will read as well as visit Professor Danielle Deulen’s creative nonfiction class. On April 9, also at 7:30 p.m., author R.O. Kwon will speak, whose debut novel The Incendiaries was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times First Book Prize.
In addition to curating and administrating the series, Nadelson orchestrates the Teppola Creative Writing Prizes, which were created thanks to an endowment from Mark and Melody Teppola four years ago. Nadelson brings in nationally recognized writers to judge submissions and organizes a celebration for the recipients. His advice for potential applicants of the Teppola Prizes: “Submit! Choose your best work, proofread carefully and take a chance. The judges for the Teppola Prizes bring their own aesthetic preferences to the process, and you never know what will spark their interest. It’s a great opportunity to have someone read your work outside the context of a class. Submit the piece that matters the most to you, even if it’s a little raw, because the passion is usually what comes across to someone who’s never read your work before.”
The deadline to submit is Jan. 30 and will consider work in the genres of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. For winners in each genre, first prize will be awarded $400, second $300 and third $200.
Nadelson highlights that engaging with the literary community on campus has larger implications for aspiring writers as they pursue their own creative journeys: “I think both the series and the prizes are important because they remind us all that writing is something that happens outside the classroom as well as inside; that what you do in a semester’s class is just part of a much longer journey, and that to participate in a literary community is to be part of a conversation that’s going on in many different parts of our culture; that writing isn’t something you master, but something you wrestle with and something that sustains you over a whole lifetime.”
Nadelson encourages students to attend events in the literary series, underscoring that at any time a particular author may resonate with them: “Sometimes all it takes is a single off-hand remark by a brilliant poet or essayist or novelist, and [students] are never quite the same again. I live for those moments.”