The fringe benefit of a city full of writers is a city full of literary events, most of which are supported by a steadfast audience.
The Institute of American Indian Arts does its part to add to the conversation by hosting Kamau Braithwaite, professor of comparative literature at New York University. Braithwaite is the author of 39 books, and his poetry, plays and literary criticism focus on the immersions of African experience in the Caribbean. The language he employs in poetry and everyday life is not committed to one source or linguistic origin and exemplifies the complexities of the Caribbean's expressive landscape.
IAIA creative writing professors Jon Davis and Erika Wurth, and professor emeritus Arthur Sze, are the organizers behind the visiting writer series that hosts Braithwaite. Since its inception, the series has grown well beyond expectations.
SFR: How long has this literary series existed?
Jon Davis: The reading series is in its fourth year. Arthur Sze and I wrote the first grant at the invitation of Patrick Lannan and the [Lannan] Foundation. We have had most of the major Native American writers - Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, Debra Earling, Joseph Boyden - as well as First Nations writers from Canada. In addition, we've had non-Native writers like Forrest Gander, CD Wright and Jay Wright.
How do you choose your writers? Are they strictly on promotion tours?
From the beginning, when Arthur and I were selecting the readers together, we tried to pick excellent writers who were willing to roll up their sleeves and work with the students. It's not an easy gig. Each writer holds 20 half-hour manuscript conferences with student writers, in addition to visiting two classes, answering questions at a coffeehouse chat and doing the public reading. We pay no attention to who's promoting books. We're strictly interested in the literary quality of the writers' past works and how well they work with students.
How important is it for students to interact with visiting writers? How does it support their writing?
IAIA has between 30-45 creative writing majors at any given time. We have three full-time faculty members. In their four years at IAIA, the ***image1***students will see each faculty member numerous times and, depending on genre, may see the same faculty member over and over. That diversity of opinion is crucial.
Is there a particular theme to the writers? Do they have similar styles, write in similar genres or are they randomly selected?
This year we had three First Nations/Native American writers, and now Braithwaite. So we're obviously trying to find writers with similar backgrounds and interests to our students. Other than that, we try to represent all the genres, though the IAIA creative writing program has been a poetry-heavy program from the start, so if we're going to double-up on a genre it's usually, as it is this year, poetry. We strive for stylistic diversity, too. We try to be un-dogmatic about our own stylistic biases and assist the student writers in developing in their own directions.
As a 'visual art' centric community, do you think Santa Fe responds well to established or emerging visiting writers?
It can be disappointing when a terrific writer, say Joseph Boyden for example, whose novel Three Day Road is just gorgeous - and political, though not overtly so - draws far fewer listeners than the latest nonfiction writer castigating the current administration for its failures. I'm guilty, too. A good political rant is like a football game, after all. You cheer for your team with a purity of heart and go home satisfied. Still, a well-turned sentence in a gut-wrenching novel can also be thrilling. We ought to be able to turn out in droves for both.