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Lectores Series Shines with MacArthur Fellows, Pulitzer Prize–Winning Authors

Published: January 04, 2017
Poet Terrance Hayes, another MacArthur winner, spoke at the June 2016 Lectores series about the ways music, particularly jazz, influences his writing.
Poet Terrance Hayes, another MacArthur winner, spoke at the June 2016 Lectores series about the ways music, particularly jazz, influences his writing.

For seven nights, a mix of University of Tampa MFA faculty and award-winning visiting authors (with accolades including the Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Fellowship and National Book Award) will be featured in UT’s MFA in Creative Writing speaker series, Lectores.

“For a writer, there are few things more inspiring than seeing someone living that writing life that you're working so hard to achieve,” said Erica Dawson, the MFA program director. “Being able to meet these masters of craft allows our students to learn more about the stories they have to tell, more about how to tell those stories.”

The series, which runs Jan. 5–12, kicks off with a reading by Colson Whitehead, the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad (an Oprah’s Book Club Selection). Whitehead is a National Book Award winner and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

The series continues on Friday, Jan. 6, with David Finkel, author of Thank You For Your Service and The Good Soldiers, and editor and writer for The Washington Post. Among Finkel’s honors are a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2012.

The series also features readings by Poet Laureate of Florida Peter Meinke as well as Sarah Domet, Gina Frangello, Steven Thomas Howell, Stefan Kiesbye, Kevin Moffett, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jason Ockert and Phillip Williams.

A steering committee of UT English and Writing faculty works to invite authors to campus, and in the last five years of the program’s existence has been able to benefit from the program’s growing reputation. It also helps to have a good network of friends.

“I'll do anything to bring the most amazing authors for our students and the Tampa community,” Dawson said. “Thinking back to my own days as an MFA student, I remember the authors who visited campus offered so much practical advice about composition, revision and the business of writing, in general. Listening to them helped me become a real working writer. They helped me develop my own style, motivation and goals.”

The UT MFA in Creative Writing program works by bringing students for 10-day residencies in January and June and then facilitating individual mentorship between students and writing faculty from a distance. Throughout each residency, Lectores speakers give a 45–50 minute evening reading, followed by a book-signing. The next morning, the author gives a 60–70 minute seminar, on a topic of their choice, for the program’s student body.

“I believe Colson plans on having a casual Q-and-A session with the students, giving them a chance to ask about his writing routine, his huge range when it comes to subject matter (everything from slavery to zombies) and how he brings his curiosity to the page,” Dawson said. “I believe David (Finkel) plans on talking with students about different kinds of narratives and the necessary inquiry involved in telling your own, or someone else's, story.”

She said in June, another MacArthur winner, poet Terrance Hayes, spoke about the ways music, particularly jazz, influences his writing. Last January, novelist Lidia Yuknavitch talked about how to find the courage to write about extremely difficult subject matter, the kind of political and personal stuff that makes you cringe but you still want to share with others.

“It's so awesome that our Lectores authors are happy to read their work to the public and meet with our MFA student body for a morning seminar,” Dawson said. “It's an early wake up call, and they always bring their A game.”

For a full listing of Lectores events, visit www.ut.edu/mfacw/lectores.