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IAIA’S 2 015 WRITTERS FESTIVAL
Many people earning master of fine arts degrees in creative writing do so through low-residency programs at colleges and universities in which students and faculty converge on a campus for a week or two each semester for readings, lectures, private and group critiques — and a lot of socializing. During the rest of the year, students work one-on-one, usually online, with individual faculty-member writers. For writers who want to significantly enhance their craft through focused study, but who can’t give their lives over to traditional, full-time graduate school, this approach is a perfect blend of the modern-day educational experience and oldfashioned epistolary mentorship. Santa Fe is home to such a program: The Institute for American Indian Arts established a low-residency MFA in creative writing in 2013. It’s now in its second year, and the first class of what’s affectionately known as the “low-rez” program will graduate in May 2015.
The spring 2015 semester kicks off with IAIA’s Writers Festival on Saturday, Jan. 3, and it continues through Friday, Jan. 9, featuring readings by award-winning poets and writers along with student showcases, film screenings, and other presentations. All the evening readings and events, which are free of charge, are followed by question-and-answer sessions and book signings. IAIA has opened up these readings to the Santa Fe community at large as a service to the city’s residents — who have a chance to find out more about the low-residency program and gain an understanding of the kinds of writing students are doing there — and as a learning experience for the students.
“When the students see how ardent Santa Feans are about literature in general, and Native American literature in particular, it provides a lift,” said Jon Davis, Santa Fe’s 2012 poet laureate, who has taught at IAIA since 1990 and directs the low-residency MFA program. “The students also get to see how experienced writers like Sherman Alexie, Joy Harjo, and Jess Walter interact with an audience.” Because the writers get to know the students over the course of the week, they often tease them in their introductions, and the students tease back. “Last year, Sherman Alexie called Chee Brossy ‘the Navajo Kafka,’ ” Davis said. “Those kinds of interactions make the series particularly fun.”
The faculty writers presenting public readings at the festival include young emerging writers, such as Claire Vaye Watkins, one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honored for fiction in 2012. In 2013, Riverhead Books published Battleborn, Watkins’ collection of short stories for which she received the Story Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize. Better-known writers include James Thomas Stevens, author of eight books of poetry and the creative-writing chair at IAIA, and Linda Hogan, a 1990 Pulitzer Prize finalist who has written numerous works of poetry, fiction, and essays, including Rounding the Human Corners and Mean Spirit.
“When I started the program, I wanted to have a majority-Native faculty, but also an ethnically diverse group that was experiencing literary success on the national and international levels,” Davis said. “I also wanted a group without large egos — writers who
Sherman Alexie (photo Chase Jarvis);
left, from top, Claire Vaye Watkins, Jess Walter, Joy Harjo