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UPDATED: Allan Gurganus, Sheri Reynolds, Tim Seibles in lineup of the 35th annual ODU litfest


John McManus and Tim Seibles, co-directors of this year’s Old Dominion University Literary Festival.

NORFOLK, Va. – The 35th Annual Old Dominion University Literary Festival kicks off today with a reception for two visual arts exhibits. Readings start Monday with author, poet and translator Yunte Huang, and the week goes full speed until Friday night, when Allan Gurganus, author of The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, will write an entire novel while using only adjectives supplied by audience members.

That’s right, Hampton Roads — if you ever wanted to help a best-selling author modify his nouns and pronouns, this is your year.

So.

For legal reasons, I must now explain that Gurganus will not write a novel with your help, but he will be here in Norfolk. Probably to read something and talk about literature. His call, really.

Sorry that lede got away from me there, but LitFest! It is great. There are a host of talented artists who will read and talk and so forth.

The full schedule is at the bottom of the post, and please do click on this link to visit the festival site.

Novelist and short fiction writer John McManus and poet Tim Seibles are co-directing the festival this year. Both have been featured here at the blog, and, by way of full disclosure, they are my professors at ODU. Seibles, who recently published the collection Fast Animal, is reading on Friday, and one of my other profs, Sheri Reynolds, who has a new novel out called The Homespun Wisdom of Myrtle T. Cribb, reads on Tuesday. Times and places are lower in the post.

I traded emails with Seibles and McManus about the festival this past week. Through the miraculous cut-paste function of modern personal computing, it seems as though I interviewed them together, but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from this year’s festival?

Seibles: The main thing I want people to take away from this litfest is a clear sense that language is alive and that poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc., do, IN FACT, have something to say to and about their lives.

McManus: I hope writers in the audience will go away eager to write in response to the festival guests or in argument with them, and I hope everyone will leave wanting to read these writers’ books and read more in general. That’s what happens to me during and after a good reading: I fill up with a sense of urgency at the sheer number of worthwhile books that I haven’t read yet, and a sense of urgency to sit down at my desk and write.

Q: Are there any specific artists you are looking forward to hearing or seeing?

McManus: I will admit to being particularly thrilled about M.T. Anderson, whose novel Feed I’ve read five times. He won the National Book Award for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, the first volume in a trilogy whose second book is partly set in Hampton Roads during the Revolutionary War. Two of my colleagues, Sheri Reynolds and Tim Seibles, are reading during the festival; it will be a delight to hear them both. I love both Dorianne Laux and Allan Gurganus. And I’m very excited about Alice Randall.

Seibles: I think all of the guests will be a good rush for the soul, but I am especially excited about Sean Thomas Dougherty, Jamal Mohamed, Robin Becker, and Yona Harvey.

Q: What was I too dumb to ask but should have asked? And will you please answer that question?

Seibles: The answer is ‘we swim in language – we drown or we stay alive in the language we think and speak.’

McManus: You’re a professional journalist and there’s nothing you’re too dumb to ask, but if you’d asked whom we’re bringing in 2013, I’d have answered that I intend to send invitations to famous recluses like Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Pynchon and Charles Portis so that I can frame copies of my invitation letters to them and also because why not, and if you’d asked where I find all the smart, modish clothes I wear to the festival, I’d have answered that Dillard’s has an amazing 75-percent-off sale every year in the last weekend of September, which is why the festival happens at the beginning of October.

A schedule follows. Please double check the litfest site. Garage parking is free for on-campus events. Events are free, except for the staged reading of 8, as noted below. Most events are in Norfolk, though one talk is in Virginia Beach. A campus map is at this link.

  • Woman, Image and Art & Photographs With Teeth: Visual arts reception. 3 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 30 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some paid street parking nearby. (Further details on both exhibits below.)
  • Dustin Lance Black’s 8: Staged reading. 8 p.m., Oct., 3-5; 12:30 p.m., Oct. 3-4 @ Old Dominion University Theatre, 4600 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. General admission $20; students $15. Proceeds benefit ODU Out & The American Foundation for Equal Rights.
  • Author, poet and translator Yunte Huange. 2:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Chandler Recital Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts, 481o Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk. Near W. 49th St.
  • Poet Yona Harvey. 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Robin Becker. 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1 @ Batten Arts & Letters Building, 43rd Street & Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk.
  • Author Sheri Reynolds. 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2 @ Batten Arts & Letters.
  • Poet Patrick Rosal. 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2 @ Learning Commons, 1st Floor, Perry Library, 4427 Hampton Blvd., Norfolk, Va. Near W. 45th St.
  • Screenwriter and playwright Dustin Lance Black. 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2 @ North Cafeteria, Webb Center, 49th Street & Bluestone Avenue, Norfolk, Va.
  • Photographer Karolina Karlic, 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3 @ Gordon Art Galleries
  • Poet Sean Thomas Dougherty. 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Dorianne Laux. 4 p.m., Wednesday, Oct.3 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Author M.T. Anderson. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Jan Freeman. 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4 @ Virginia Beach Higher Education Center, 1881 University Dr., Virginia Beach. Surface parking nearby.
  • Percussionist Jamal Mohamed. 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet and playwright Merle Feld. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Poet Tim Seibles. 2:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Alice Randall. 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Hall.
  • Author Allan Gurganus. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Hall.

And these longer-term events:

  • Woman, Image and Art: Visual Arts. Runs through Feb. 10 @ The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, 4509 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. Between W. 45th & W. 46th streets. Some street parking nearby. FMI click this link.
  • Photographs With Teeth: Photography by Yunghi Kim, Cori Pepelnjak, Karolina Karlic & Greta Pratt. Runs through Oct. 14 @ Gordon Art Galleries. FMI click this link.

Please keep your adjectives to yourself – unless they are superlative.

Look, that was just a half-hearted grammar joke. Please do not shout out adjectives at Allan Gurganus.

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A resolution to get local in the New Year


Patriotic bench outside the firehouse in Craddock, a community in Portsmouth, Va., the city in which I live. Photo by John Doucette.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A few years ago, I became interested enough in a candidate for national office to do something rash: I allowed my email address to be joined with a good many email addresses on this guy’s digital Rolodex. Now this politician sends me emails regularly about matters big and small, and asks for money. As I was for many years a reporter, I’m used to such things. I’ve been on the email and fax chains of Republic and Democrat candidates for and holders of federal offices, and have come to think of the email rhetoric of politicians — particularly those hellbent on working in D.C. — as unusually well phrased notes from a series of teenagers I somehow adopted. That these teenagers have handlers and press secretaries to shape our discourse does not particularly change two core messages:

  1. Hey Dad, they say, I did this and that and this, all for you – ain’t you proud?
  2. Yo, I need some money.

Most recently, the politician emailed repeatedly to say he needed as little as $3, and – if I was lucky, of course – he’d even stop by for a family dinner. Actually, I’d have to go to him, presumably in Washington. Kids these days, they want the world to come to them. He didn’t even write the email himself. A mouthpiece offered:

And, don’t forget – if you’re one of the winners, you’ll get to bring a guest along with you.

With apologies to my plus-one, I’m not interested in becoming a winner. For one thing, I don’t eat family dinners in the District. My First Family is in the southern part of a Virginia region called Hampton Roads – in Portsmouth, the city within which I live; in Norfolk, where I work and attend school; in Virginia Beach, where I have family and occasionally go fishing; in Chesapeake, where my wife grew up and where some of my friends have settled; in Suffolk, an under-sung jewel that is the best place to go to get away from the other four cities for a little while. I’ll always pay attention to issues of national importance, and speak with my vote or, perhaps, support of this issue or that, but these places have needs, too.

So I suspect my $3 is not destined to travel far.

With that in mind, I offer for your consideration some New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. I resolve to love my local community more than I have. I want to spend less time dreaming about the other places other people live and embrace the reality of where I live. I want to show the love more than talk about it.
  2. I resolve to continue loving local media despite the inherent flaws of any medium. I will keep my subscription to The Virginian-Pilot because this is the best and most responsible media outlet in Hampton Roads. I’ll try to support local public broadcasting in some way, either with a few bucks or continued attention here. I’ll try to support community newspapers of note, such as The Suffolk News-Herald and The New Journal & Guide, if only by picking them up on the newsstands from time to time. I will continue to read and write about Veer and AltDaily, and I will take them seriously on this blog because their efforts to provide alternative voices deserve real consideration and appreciation.
  3. I resolve to continue supporting local arts as a patron. Some of the best art I’ve seen has been in local galleries or festivals, and on local stages. I want to see more local music, more local plays, put more local artists on my walls and on the pages of this little blog. I’d rather see a failure that reaches than a success that plays it safe. I want to remember that living in a community with a strong arts scene, however uneven some work may be amid the much needed experimentation that leads ultimately to better art, is like love itself a blessing that must be replenished by love in return.
  4. I resolve to keep my charitable giving local. This is at least for the coming year, however tempting it can be to give through large charities based in other states. Additionally, I resolve to give directly to charities and avoid middlemen. If I want to give to a local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, for example, I will give to that charity and not through a fundraising firm that delivers pennies on the dollar. I will not support any charities that have failed to file their paperwork, because if a supposed charity cannot do that basic step they will fail at providing a service or program no matter how well-intentioned they are. I will remember that the local United Way is a good means of giving or finding worthy charities for those who do not know where or how to give directly.
  5. I resolve to consider my community before seeking entertainment elsewhere. One of the most appalling nights in my recent memory was at an unflinchingly secular “holiday” celebration/cash grab at a major amusement park in Virginia, complete with a stage play shamelessly bastardizing the “meaning” of said holiday. Which may be fine for some, but is more proof to me that commerce and faith should keep separate books. For what we spent there, we might have better enjoyed another fine day at the outstanding Children’s Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth and handled our Christmas business at home or in church.
  6. I resolve to pay attention to local government. As a (mostly) former journalist, I have a deep discomfort with political giving. But if for some reason I decide to spread some dough around, I will look first to candidates seeking local offices because they make the decisions that directly affect my life. I will try to attend at least one Portsmouth City Council meeting, not to speak or complain, but simply to let my city officials know I care about the work they do on my family’s behalf and that I value the work of the city employees who provide services, educate our children, and protect us from crime, fire and medical crises. Also, I love Light Rail. I’ll ride the Tide when I can.
  7. Most importantly, I resolve to increase my percentage of spending on local businesses, particularly independent businesses and corporations headquartered in our region and our commonwealth. I will continue to support the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, because the Chamber is working for the betterment of the local market. I will continue to seek out the fruits of local farms before buying at the big grocery stores. I will seek out mom and pops and try to blow less money on national chains. One of the best holiday gifts I’ve ever given to my wife came not from Wal-Mart or a national department store, but the gift shop at the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum. This may seem a bit silly, but it’s a just peanut-shaped Christmas ornament. We talk about it and our times in Suffolk. We’ve done this every year that I can remember, and I can’t think of anything from a Wal-Mart that has ever generated a conversation. Chain eateries at malls can’t hold a candle to the many fine dining spots throughout the region. (See you soon, No Frill Grill. And Five Points Community Farm Market. And others.) I will remember that local businesses generally keep money in our community through reinvestment and the payrolls that support my friends and neighbors. Likewise, when I travel to other places, I will try to seek out local businesses there and reward the brave independent businesspeople making a go of it in an increasingly cookie-cutter America. I will read more books bought through independent and local booksellers.

My back yard begins in Portsmouth, and expands a bit to a region called Hampton Roads, and then to our beautiful Commonwealth on Virginia, and onward to our nation, and then the world. So, overall:

  1. I will remember that to be a member of a region and a state and a nation starts with being a member of a community. The communities that are represented best by regional bodies and state and national governments are the communities that best represent themselves through strong support for local industry, arts, media, government, etc.
  2. When I forget to do these things, at the very least, I will wallow in an appropriate pool of shame. I’m good at this. Believe me.

For now, the problem is that I’m all good intentions. So I hope I’ll stick to most, if not all of this, and pray my friends and neighbors will help me do so. If it’s a matter of spending $3 here or $3 there, I vote $3 here.

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Billy Collins, Joy Williams in lineup of the 34th annual ODU litfest


NORFOLK, Va. – Recently I spoke with the author, short story writer and educator John McManus about writing and somewhat less serious topics. He is co-directing the annual literary festival at Old Dominion University with Michael Pearson.

It starts this week.

I neglected to include the link at the time of our talk, and wanted to follow up with a note about the 34th annual Old Dominion University Literary Festival.

McManus recently wrote about the event in his AltDaily column, and told this to The Virginian-Pilot:

We are trying to promote writing and literature. We are trying to get the community out to readings. …

We tried to pick writers who give excellent readings. …

I always love to hear what a writer sounds like, what a writer’s voice lends to my understanding of their writing.

This year’s theme is “The Lie That Tells the Truth,” and those on the bill include Billy Collins and Joy Williams. The festival is underway today, though most of the events come fast and furious starting tomorrow.

Most events are in Norfolk, though one talk is in Virginia Beach.

A schedule follows. Please double check the litfest site. Garage parking is free for on-campus events. Events are free unless noted otherwise.

  • Playwright and director Young Jean Lee. 2 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall, Diehn Fine and Performing Arts, 481o Elkhorn Ave., Norfolk, Va. Near W. 49th St.
  • Author Porochista Khakpour. 4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • The Words and Music of Paul Bowles: Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno with Andrey Kasparov & the Norfolk Chamber Consort. 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 3 @ Chandler Recital Hall. Student admission $10; general admission $15.
  • Photographer Yola Monakhov. 12:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Poet and writer Renee Olander. 3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ University Village Bookstore, 4417 Monarch Way, Norfolk, Va. At W. 45th St. Garage and metered street parking nearby.
  • Poet and writer Mark Halliday. 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Author Elizabeth Searle. 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ Virginia Beach Higher Education Center, Lecture Hall/Room 244A, 1881 University Dr., Virginia Beach, Va. Surface parking nearby. Reception and book signing to follow.
  • Poet and essayist David Swerdlow. 2 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Nonfiction writer Claire Dederer. 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ University Village Bookstore.
  • Poet and prose writer Naomi Shihab Nye. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 @ the George M. and Linda H. Kaufman Theatre, Chrysler Museum, 245 W. Olney Rd., Norfolk. Surface lot parking & some unmetered street parking nearby.
  • Novelist Jeffrey Lent. 12:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Novelist Scott Heim. 3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ University Village Bookstore.
  • Poet Billy Collins: President’s Lecture Series. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6 @ Webb University Center. Off W. 49th St.
  • Poets Indigo Moor & Adrian Matejka. 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Journalist and author Megan Stack. 3:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
  • Author Joy Williams. 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7 @ Chandler Recital Hall.
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Pungo Weekend


Members of the 11th Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade, from Ft. Story, marched in the parade at the Pungo Strawberry Festival in Virginia Beach, Va., on Saturday. Photo by John Doucette.

A strawberry field was quiet.

A picked-over field of strawberries.

Rick Clabbers of the Venture Scouts, Crew 502, of Virginia Beach, helps folks park in a field not too far from the fairgrounds.

Winner: best hat.

Runner up: best hat.

A rooster says hello. Or something.

One of the Beach's new traffic cams, Pungo style. Or a crow. It's hard to say.

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Before the race, a roll call of remembrance and hope


Before the races began at the Oceanfront this weekend, members of the Hampton Roads DetermiNation team gathered Friday evening at the American Cancer Society office on Expressway Drive in Virginia Beach, Va.

Team runners and loved ones worked around a conference table. They made ready their signs and jerseys. They wrote name after name.

Lisa Creech, a 26-year-old Beach woman, decorated her jersey – and a tutu – with red and white ribbons ribbons affixed with safety pins. Each ribbon bore a name. Red ribbons were for survivors, white in memory of those cancer has claimed. Creech said:

My dad passed when I was 16.

Her father had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. An uncle, a thyroid cancer survivor, has brain cancer and recently learned that he may have bladder cancer. She’s running for both of them. She’ll carry the names of many other people on ribbons:

I had one change from red to white right in the middle of fundraising. It just makes me want to kick butt that much harder.

 

Lisa Creech and her mother, Pam DeSantis, worked to decorate Creech's jersey and a tutu.

Mark Moritz, a 36-year-old Beach man, is running to raise money and awareness. He’s running in honor of his father-in-law, a survivor for six years now. Among others, he noted, looking at the many ribbons he had marked with names:

Not even everybody, I’m sure. I’m sure I’m missing somebody. …

I hope (the ACS) just keeps raising money. We know there’s a problem. The more people see it, the better the chances.

 

Mark Moritz holds up his jersey, decorated with names of cancer survivors and others whose lives have been lost to the disease.

Mimi Kopassis worked with her daughter, 23-year-old Eleni Kopassis, who is running to help the fight against cancer, and for family and friends. Mom is proud:

I think it’s awesome. A wonderful cause. We need to have more people participate.

Eleni Kopassis said the people who are battling various forms of the disease are her inspiration:

If people can survive cancer, you can pretty much do anything.

 

Eleni and Mimi Kopassis hold the jersey Eleni will wear when she runs this weekend.

The American Cancer Society DetermiNation program involves a number of endurance events across the country. You can learn more about the society and the program at this link. You can learn more about the Shamrock weekend effort by the local team here. And donate, too.

After the jerseys and posters and a tutu were decorated on Friday, there was a dinner. Lots of pasta and bread. Pure carb loading.

My wife, Cortney, spoke about her recovery from thyroid cancer during the dinner. For those who know us, you know what our past few months have been like. You also know that we’ve been lucky and blessed. And you know that saying I’m proud of her is only the tip of something I can’t seem to put into words.

Here’s one thing she had to say last night:

When it becomes your reality, it’s terrifying.

But of course there’s hope. That’s why a lot of folks among the runners at the Shamrock this weekend are carrying names with them. White ribbons to remember, red to show this thing can be beat.

A few shorts months after her operation and her treatment, my wife is running tomorrow. She’s running for a lot of folks we know and love. She’s also wearing a red ribbon for one of the many heroes running this weekend – herself.

 

Cortney Doucette, my wife, holds up one of the ribbons she will wear during her run tomorrow at the Beach. She's one of the local DetermiNation team members raising money for the American Cancer Society.

 

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