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Gonzaga Lands First NEA Grant for Visiting Writers Series

Posted on March 15, 2011 in: Academics, Arts, Events, Faculty & Staff, Feature Stories

Internationally prominent writer Naomi Shihab Nye read her work at the Gonzaga University Visiting Writers Series on Nov. 16, 2010. Photo Credit: Chehalis Hegner

SPOKANE, Wash. – The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded Tod Marshall, associate professor of English at Gonzaga University, a $10,000 grant to fund continuation of the Gonzaga University Visiting Writers Series’ free public readings in fall 2011. The award represents Gonzaga’s first-ever grant from the NEA.

Now in its fourth year, the series has established itself as a cultural and economic gem for the Inland Northwest by stimulating regional interest in literature and reading through dynamic encounters with highly accomplished and respected writers whose voices express new and different perspectives. Marshall initiated the program, which has also received significant support from Humanities Washington.

These writers engage in at least two public events during their time at Gonzaga – a question-and-answer session in the afternoon and a performance/reading of their works during the evening. Community members and students pack the seats (and sometimes flood the aisles) of Gonzaga’s Cataldo Hall Globe Room and listen attentively to visiting authors. The writers’ clever anecdotes have ranged from Jess Walter talking about growing up in the ’70s to lyrical language from Natasha Trethewey about her attempts to understand a country that degrades her mixed-race identity, and riveting descriptions of suffering African children portrayed in the reality-based fiction of Uwem Akpan.

The question-and-answer sessions, packed to capacity in Gonzaga’s Foley Teleconference Center or Wolff Auditorium, buzz with the curiosity of people craving to hear, learn, and understand more. Each year, the remarkable series has created exceptional cultural engagements that have forced audiences to consider deeply how language shapes our experience and worldview.
In its first three years, the Gonzaga University Visiting Writers Series has:

  • Hosted several nationally prominent poets and prose writers, including: Robert Hass, Bharati Mukherjee, Joy Harjo, Alexandra Fuller, Li-Young Lee, Carolyn Forché, Jess Walter, Richard Kenney, Sharon Olds, Denis Johnson, and Natasha Trethewey. These writers have won nearly every major award in U.S. Arts and Letters (some of them multiple times) including the Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Award, PEN Faulkner Awards, MacArthur Fellowships, Guggenheim Fellowships, and NEA Fellowships.
  • Hosted several regionally prominent writers with growing national reputations, including Katrina Roberts and Herman Asarnow. These writers have won or been nominated for numerous awards and publish their works with prestigious national presses.
  • Visited classrooms in local and regional alternative, tribal, and high schools that respond to Gonzaga’s invitations to participate in the literary series.
  • Initiated and continued ongoing collaboration with all area institutions of higher education, including most prominently in recent years, Eastern Washington University, Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College.
  • Reached out to other Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Western Montana communities including Yakima, Moses Lake, Ellensburg, Metaline Falls and Newport, Wash., and Wallace, Idaho, encouraging people from these locales to attend series events.

Upcoming events remaining in the 2010-11 series feature fiction writer Daniel Orozco on March 30.

Gonzaga is among 1,057 nonprofit organizations recommended for NEA funding as part of the federal agency’s first round of fiscal year 2011 grants. In total, the NEA will distribute $26.6 million to support projects nationwide.

An independent agency of the federal government, the NEA advances artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities.

NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman said, “I continue to be impressed with the creative, innovative, and excellent projects brought forward by arts organizations across the country. Our grantees are not only furthering their art forms but also enhancing their neighborhoods by making them more vibrant, livable, and fun.”

The NEA was established by Congress in 1965 and has awarded more than $4 billion on projects of artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector.

For more information, please contact Tod Marshall at (509) 313-6681 or via e-mail.

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