Little Grassy festival welcomes Midwest authors

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers

Literary festivals can be beneficial for aspiring writers because they give a glimpse at the work and lives of already successful authors.

The seventh annual Little Grassy Literary Festival will begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Morris Library’s first floor.

The festival will feature five different writers from different areas in the Midwest, beginning with a reading from Phong Nguyen, a fiction writer from Warrensburg, Mo., at 8 p.m. Wednesday. 

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Nguyen’s said his love for writing began at an early age and developed when he read Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.” 

“There were things that [Proust] did with language, even in translation, that I had thought were impossible,” he said. “I wanted to make the impossible, possible.” 

Nguyen, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, is an editor of the literary magazine “Pleiades,” and his collection of short stories “Memory Sickness” won the 2010 Elixer Fiction Award.

He is a professor of creative writing and American literature at the University of Central Missouri and will be presenting short stories from his book “Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History” at the festival. 

“The premise of the book is that it’s taking the original intentions of various historical figures that, in reality, had failed, and making them happen,” he said.

For example, in Nguyen’s short stories, Joan of Arc becomes a mother and Christopher Columbus arrives in Shanghai rather than the modern day Americas, he said.

“They’re all character fiction based on alternate versions of reality in which these icons of history got what they wished for,” he said.

Readings will continue Thursday from Jamaal May at 2 p.m. and Lania Knight at 5 p.m.

The festival will conclude on Friday with readings from Noel Crook and Amy Fleury at 11 a.m. An event honoring the 20th anniversary of the Crab Orchard Review will follow at 2 p.m.

Kate Brattin, a graduate student in creative writing from Worcester, Mass., attended the festival last year and enjoyed it so much, she decided to organize it this year, she said.

“There’s some opportunity for one-on-one interaction for anybody who is interested in asking about how these people do what they do,” she said. 

The Graduate Writers Forum Registered Student Organization brings in guest artists with diverse perspectives on literature, such as fiction writers, short story writers and poets, she said. 

This year the writers represent works ranging from fiction about discovering one’s sexuality, to Nguyen’s short stories about the lives of historical figures, she said.

She said a goal of the festival is to inspire young authors with these different perspectives by giving them direct access to the author’s point of view. 

Attendees will be allowed to ask authors questions regarding their readings and their careers during the festival.

“It can be cool to see what other people are doing who are above where you are, but not like Stephen King,” she said.  “It can be inspiring… to hear someone read and actually ask them a question.”

Not only is this a good outlet for authors to draw inspiration, but it’s a great tool for authors to build connections and relationships they may need in the future, Nguyen said.

“You’re just open to meeting people who are like-minded and have similar interests,” he said. “For the relationships that you develop and for what you learn, literary festivals are extremely valuable and I think they are a great asset to any community.”

Chase Myers can be reached at [email protected]

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