Aug 09, 2020

Fifth annual WordFest brings best-selling author to campus

Writing enthusiasts from across the city swarmed the Fresno State campus Saturday for the fifth annual WordFest — a day of learning, collaboration and a creative exploration of the craft and art of writing.

On Saturday, New York Times best-selling authors Sam Lipsyte and Leslie Jamison, as well as local up-and-coming poet Brynn Saito, gave craft talks throughout the day hosted by the The San Joaquin Literary Association.

Saito, a Fresno native, said she was honored to come back and speak from her Valley roots.

“Today has been full of great food and good conversation,” Saito said. “And I’d like to thank students for engaging with me today about bravery in poetry and writing.”

Graduate and undergraduate students, community members and Saito’s family were present for the craft talks, which expanded on themes of creativity and bravery in writing, as well as advice and tips for aspiring writers.

Saito, a finalist for the 2013 Northern California Book Award, based much of her first book, “The Palace of Contemplating Departure,” on themes of leaving and returning to the Valley.

“Some of these poems are 10 to 12 years old, and I’d like to think that I’ve gotten past some of those emotional states, but maybe not,” Saito said. “A lot of the book is about just leaving, and coming and going, traveling and departing, leaving California and moving to New York and moving back to California.”

Following a full schedule of craft talks throughout the day, the evening ended with a packed house in the Alice Peters Auditorium building inside the University Business Center for a reading of the authors’ works.

Jamison, whose second book “The Empathy Exams” won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and debuted on The New York Times best-seller list, spoke on empathy for others.

“How much do we choose to feel anything? The answer, I think, is nothing satisfying: We do and we don’t,” Jamison said.

Her latest essay, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” spoke about the power of wounds — a catalogue she calls, some of them hers, some of them others, and some she says that belong to all of everyone.

“A cry for attention is positioned as the ultimate crime, questioning or trivial, as if attention were a selfish thing to want,” Jamison read. “But isn’t wanting attention one of the most fundamental traits of being human? And isn’t granting it one of the most important gifts we can ever give?”

Wrapping up the day’s events was an author who the New York Times called “the novelist of his generation,” Sam Lypsite. His satirical novels, “ The Ask” and “Home Land,” have landed him atop best-seller lists, a guggenheim fellowship in 2008 and a creative writing professorship at Columbia University.

Known for channeling the dark and witty voice of the anti hero, Lypsite read from “The Naturals” about a dying father, an uncertain son and the power of storytelling.

“Why bring history into it? History was slaughtering slaves,” Lypsite read. “Stories were devices for diluting ourselves and others.”

On life, Lypsite reads: “It’s always been serious. Since you get born it’s serious. I mean I have a greater understanding now. Dying is natural. We’re built to do it. Death is just part of the story.”

Closing the full day’s list of activities, musings on life, creative work, memory, death, life, and empathy, Jacob Eckrich ended the reading with a simple declaration:

“Go forth from this place and write.”


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