Oxford, UM to host ‘The Conversation’ traveling tour

Published 10:43 am Wednesday, October 12, 2016

By Edwin Smith

University of Mississippi

Continuing an ongoing dialogue about race, a regional literary festival featuring 17 up-and-coming African-American writers will visit the University of Mississippi and Oxford this month.

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‘The Conversation,’ a tour of 17 authors and poets, kicks off Oct. 17 in Oxford. Local events include a 10 a.m. craft talk at the Oxford-University Depot and a 7 p.m. reading at Shelter on Van Buren. All events are free and open to the public.

The College of Liberal Arts and the Master of Fine Arts program in the Department of English are co-sponsors.

“’The Conversation’ is a multimedia company which specializes in organizing readings, hosting workshops, craft talks and hosting a weeklong fellowship program in the American South,” said Aziza Barnes, an MFA student and co-organizer of the festival. Nabila Lovelace, a MFA candidate from the University of Alabama, is the other organizer.

“Our purpose is rooted in the bridging of conversations between interregional blackness and discussing what a black mecca can look like in the United States,” Barnes said.

The tour includes Jeremy Clark, Sean Mega DeVinges, Elizabeth Acevedo, José Olivarez, Hanif Willis Abdurraquib, Angel Nafis, Thiahera Nurse, Safia Elhillo, Desiree Bailey, Danez Smith, Joshua Bennett, Cortney Lamar Charleston, Nate Marshall, Paul Tran, Camonghne Felix, Jayson P. Smith and Jerriod Avant.

Additional tour stops are Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and New Orleans. Derrick Harriell, director of the MFA in English program; Kiese Laymon, UM professor of English and creative writing; and Caroline Randall Williams, a graduate of the Ole MissMFA program, are scheduled to participate in the closing sessions.

“Our 17 fellows are truly remarkable,” Barnes said. “Often, Oxford has the pleasure of hosting one or two writers for a reading, but 17 writers in one room who have grown together for years; that’s something else entirely.”

Beyond the camaraderie of being in Oxford at the same time, the poets are a community who desire to come back and serve more communities in Mississippi.

‘Each fellow is supremely talented in their writing, their teaching, focus on craft and just being with people in a room,” Barnes said. “You don’t want to miss the opportunity to build with this group of artists. The overall vibe is one of a huge band. Meet the band.”

The meeting is a great opportunity for the university’s creative writing students and undergraduates to be exposed to a diverse group of wonderful writers, many of them from urban environments, said Ivo Kamps, UM chair and professor of English.

“These writers will bring with them a set of experiences, concerns and questions that should be of interest to students looking to engage with a broad spectrum of literary and cultural concerns,” Kamps said. “That this event is called ‘The Conversation’ underscores the importance of dialogue, and I assume that all who participate will benefit.”