Sharing the ‘communal gift of writing’: the visiting writers series


The Appalachian Online

Celia Calhoun

For the past 25 years, the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers series has brought visiting authors to Appalachian State University to read their works and hold craft talks about writing. This year, Ed Madden, Dannye Romine Powell, Peter Fish, Leigh Ann Henion and Luis Rodriguez were invited to share their works with students and faculty. Stories of nature, self-exploration and family are some of what attendees can expect to hear during the visiting writers series, and the events are held in the Plemmons Student Union from March 3 to April 28.

Joseph Bathanti is an English professor at Appalachian State University, as well as a poet and novelist, and has been involved with the series since he first arrived at the university 15 years ago. Bathanti believes that the visiting writers series is a special and beneficial event for students and faculty.

“It’s another way to share that communal gift of writing with people out in the community,” Bathanti said. “It’s also a way to partner with the community. We are also really interested that high school students can come.”

Bathanti believes that having visiting authors on campus adds another element to students studying their work and also inspires students to write their own stories.

“[My favorite part of the series] is having those authors on campus and listening to their readings,” Bathanti said. “It’s a very different experience than just reading a book. It’s a live performance. The work really comes alive when the author reads it.”

Leigh Ann Henion is The New York Times bestselling author of “Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World” and she resides in Boone, North Carolina. She is presenting her work alongside Peter Fish, co-author of “California Wine Country: A Sunset Field Guide” and giving a craft talk about travel writing on April 7.

Henion’s novel, “Phenomenal,” is about her pilgrimage to find the child-like wonder that she once experienced as a kid and now as a mother seeing her child experiencing this on a daily basis. She was assigned a story about the Monarch butterfly overwintering site by The Washington Post Magazine. The natural phenomenon of the Monarchs’ migration inspired her to take a pilgrimage all over the world in search of this wonder.

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A pilgrimage is a journey that people take to get insight on their lives and holds a personal meaning. Henion believes that anybody can take one, and that each person goes somewhere different and has unique experiences on them.

“I guess my one piece of advice would be to follow your curiosity and see where it leads you,” Henion said. “If you follow it far enough, you’ll end up somewhere that’s impossible to even imagine from here.”

On her pilgrimage, Henion visited natural phenomena across the world and was exposed to the different people, animals and culture of each place. She drove a reindeer sledge, swam with sharks, experienced the solar eclipse, spent time with shamans and a fire goddess, stood in the plumes of an active volcano, and got close to a lion, among other experiences.

Throughout her pilgrimage, Henion said she discovered that it is possible to experience awe and wonder anywhere depending on how individuals view the world as well as life. She said the pilgrimage allowed her to gain a new perspective on life, and that she was able to see wonder in her backyard.

“Natural phenomena can be found everywhere in Boone—notably with fog, rain, sleet, snow, and floods,” Henion said. “Wondrous phenomena are all around us. It’s a matter of paying attention and finding ways to gain perspective.”

Henion believes that the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series is an important event because it inspires students and the community to share their ideas and communicate them in a way that people who have not studied what they share can understand.

“The visiting writers series gives students the opportunity to be part of a conversation that spans genres and bridges worldviews,” Henion said. “The visiting writers series isn’t just about the literary arts, it’s about the germination of ideas.”

Ed Madden is an openly gay poet as well as the director of women’s and gender studies and an English professor at the University of South Carolina. He and his husband have been together for 21 years. He will present poems from “Ark” at the visiting writer’s series on March 3.

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“Ark” is a collection of poetry that was written when Madden returned to his home in Arkansas after learning that his father was diagnosed with cancer. Madden grew up with a large religious family that rejected him when he came out. He was also alienated from the community because of his sexuality, and a lot of his writing comes from his love of where he grew up as well as these experiences.

Madden’s ability to reconnect with his father after many years and his attempt to rebuild their relationship was the inspiration behind “Ark”. While at home, he lived in his childhood bedroom and helped with the daily hospice care work.

“‘Ark’ is about a moment when I thought things might change, if only a little,” Madden said. “I don’t know if people really view me differently. In some ways, I think my sexuality is central to my creative work, but in many ways maybe it’s not. I think it’s important that I be out.”

Madden is active in the LGBT community of South Carolina and serves as the poet laureate of Columbia, South Carolina. He will be doing a craft talk about public voice. As poet laureate, he has to think about how he is going to present the town and write about its story.

“This sometimes feels like a very different thing from the writing I usually do, which is intensely personal and obsessive and sometimes oblique in a way that I don’t think you can be with a public voice,” Madden said.

Madden believes that the visiting writers eries is important because it brings different voices and ways of thinking to the campus.

“When you leave college, you’ll never have these kinds of opportunities again,” Madden said.

Story by: Celia Calhoun, A&E Reporter