It’s the ninth year of the Lindsay J. Cropper Memorial Writers Series at the University of San Diego, but when a noted published literary writer or poet comes to campus to showcase their work, English Assistant Professor Halina Duraj wants it to be an opportunity for discovery.
“We always want our speaker to interact well with the students, be engaging with the audience and be a high-quality writer,” Duraj stated, “but I like to show them that poetry can come from a wide range of places. I think Kevin’s going to expand our students’ minds, showing them that poetry can come from elements of blues, from jazz, it can be personal or political.”
Duraj is talking about Kevin Young, the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and curator of literary collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory (Ga.) University. Young (pictured) is the featured guest for the Nov. 2 event, starting at 7 p.m. in USD’s Manchester Executive Conference Center Auditorium. The event is free to attend, open to the public and will be followed by a dessert reception and book signing in the auditorium foyer.
Prior to Friday night’s appearance, Young will also speak with students in USD Lecturer/Poet Adam O. Davis’ English 391 Intermediate Poetry workshop course.
The 42-year-old Young’s body of work impressively delves deep into African American music, particularly the blues, to communicate the history of Black America.
His poetry books include Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, Dear Darkness and For the Confederate Dead. Other works are Black Maria: Poems Produced and Directed by Kevin Young; To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor, Jelly Roll: A Blues and The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing. His poetry and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Paris Review, Kenyon Review and Callaloo. Among his awards are the 1993 National Poetry Series winner, the John C. Zacharis First Book Award for Ploughshares and the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize winner for 2012’s The Grey Album. Young has also held three fellowships: the Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University; the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and the MacDowell Colony Fellowship.
Young’s resume is long on experience and recognition, yet when he stands at podium on Friday to share selections of his prose aloud, Duraj hopes students can also envision themselves in this spot.
“I want them to say to themselves, ‘I can do this. He’s just a human being, this is normal and this is something he does,’” she said. “But I also want students to have an admiration for how much actual work goes into what these writers do, how they craft it. They have to sit down and, through their hard work, just do it.”
Young’s appearance is the final Cropper series event for the Fall 2012 semester. The series returns March 15 for its spring event with two featured speakers, also at 7 p.m. in the Manchester auditorium. Fiction writer Lynn Freed, author of six novels, a collection of short stories and essays, will appear along with veteran San Diego-based poet Ben Doller. Duraj said the spring event speakers have also agreed to be judges for a USD student creative writing contest that’s open to all students who’ve taken at least one creative writing course.
Duraj said that student interest in USD’s creative writing program is on the rise. The Cropper Writers Series is one outlet, along with English Department courses that emphasize creative writing, and, in May and October of this year, student writers have given short presentations of their own original work.
“It seems like every day a student comes into to my office to ask about the creative writing program,” Duraj said. “The students abuzz with excitement. There’s definitely a hunger for it here.”
— Ryan T. Blystone