Writers@Work Works

Chattanooga State President Dr. Jim Catanzaro interviewed author Terry Kay when he visited Chattanooga State as the Artist in Residence for the inaugural Writers@Work. Watch the interview here:

When Chattanooga State’s Humanities Department decided to bring a common-book program to its students, the purpose, like other such programs, was to create a community of readers and provide a basis for literary discussion. However, the objective of this initiative is also to offer students something extra: multiple occasions for interaction with the author during a week of special events and writing workshops. Faculty wants to show students that all writers are in process; and so, the program was named Writers@Work.

Beginning in Fall 2011, students enrolled in ENGL 1020 – Composition II have read, studied, and written about a common book using research projects and writing prompts designed to partner with the Department’s custom text, The River Reader. The works chosen all have a special connection to the South. Terry Kay’s To Dance with the White Dog, selected for the first year of the program, is set in Georgia; Ishmael Reed’s New and Collected Poems 1964-2007, studied by classes in 2012-13, includes a collection of poems inspired by and named for Chattanooga. For 2014-15, the program grows to offer two texts, memoirs rooted in Alabama: Lila Q. Weaver’s graphic novel Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White and Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin. Because of these settings, the works share common themes and illustrate experiences with which students in this region can more easily identify.

Author Jill McCorkle. Photo credit Tom Rankin.

Author Jill McCorkle. Photo credit Tom Rankin.

This April 14th-18th, Jill McCorkle comes to Chattanooga to discuss her collection of short stories, Creatures of Habit. Set in North Carolina, each narrative creates a connection between a character and the traits associated with a particular animal for which the story is named (“Billy Goats,” “Monkeys,” “Fish,” etc.) Her work requires readers to examine how we are all creatures of habit.  Students will have opportunities to ask McCorkle about these stories during workshops, lectures, a lunch, readings, and book signings.

Writers@Work also hosts events open to the greater Chattanooga community. In past years, these have included a poetry reading by Ishmael Reed at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center followed by a dessert reception and book signing; writing workshops on campus; a screening of The Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie adaptation of Kay’s To Dance with the White Dog, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy; performances of hip-hop and interpretive dance based on Reed’s poetry; informal Q&A sessions; and an exhibit of student photography inspired by Reed’s poem “Chattanooga.” A selection of these photographs is currently on display in the Donald F. Andrews Writing Center on campus.

For the week-long visit with McCorkle, Writers@Work has arranged for a Monday night reading at the Chattanooga Public Library; a Wednesday night interview with McCorkle and author Jamie Quatro in the Humanities Auditorium along with a slideshow of student photographs inspired by the text; and a Thursday evening with the author, including a reading and dessert reception at the Chattanooga Aquarium. These public events offer attendees time to meet McCorkle and have copies of her book(s) signed.

This year, Writers@Work has been selected as the exemplary program in the category of Enhancing Literature and Cultural Arts. The Awards Committee of the Two-Year College English Association (TYCA) of the National Council of the Teachers of English (NCTE) has announced that the program is the winner of the 2014 Diana Hacker TYCA Award for Outstanding Programs in English for Two-Year Colleges and Teachers.

This award-winning program would not be possible without generous donations from the Chattanooga State Foundation. The Foundation’s Annual Fund helps support important initiatives like this project which has afforded thousands of students these unique experiences. Each year, W@W serves approximately 2,500 students in Comp II. Our first year of W@W, the events were attended by 750 people from the community; last year, we had 920 attendees. Writers@Work hopes this community of readers continues to study new genres of literature, examine literary portrayals of Southern culture, and learn more about what it means to be a writer at work, a work in progress.

To stay up to date on these events and more, follow Twitter and like us on Facebook.  For questions, please contact me: Erica Lux, Assistant Professor.

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