Friday, April 29, 2016
Kudzu Evening With Poets Hazard Community & Technical College April 28, 2016
Last night, April 28, 2016, my wife Candice and I traveled from our house in West Liberty, KY, to the Hazard Community And Technical College campus in Hazard, KY, for the 2016 version of Kudzu "Evening With Poets". We went there primarily to see West Virginia author and University of Iowa Writer's Workshop alum Marie Manilla read. I have become quite enamored of her work after having read her novel, "The Patron Saint Of Ugly" and beginning her short story collection called "Still Life With Plums". Hazard is only about 65 miles from our house and for us that is a reasonable drive to see an event which interests us both. Marie Manilla was one of five established women writers in Appalachia who were being featured at the reading. All had been published in this years edition of Kudzu, the campus literary magazine of HCTC. The other featured writers were Darnell Arnoult, Shawna Kay Rodenberg, Carrie Mullins, and Marianne Worthington. All are established writers to one degree or another and all write well, one or two even better.
The evening was a positive event and the writing which was presented was well above average. All of the aforementioned women have had numerous publications and most have at least one book in print. This year's edition of "Kudzu" was a special edition focusing on women in Appalachia and achieved its goal. The magazine also contained writing from Pauletta Hansel, the current and first Poet Laureate of Cincinnati, an alumnus of The Southern Appalachian Circuit Of Antioch College in Beckley, WV. There was also an entry in the magazine from best selling author Silas House. If the goal of the magazine was to prove that a "student" publication at a small community college in Eastern Kentucky could gain and publish submissions from older, established regional writers, it was a success. But, from my point of view, the goal of every student publication at any college should be to publish, promote, and assist in the establishment of long lasting careers for current students who wish to become known as writers. The edition of "Kudzu" did contain quite a few pieces of writing from current students. But not a single student was featured as a reader at the event. To that degree, the event was a failure.
In my opinion, every literary magazine which purports to be a production of an undergraduate writing or English program should work to make it possible for students to believe they can become the person whose work is published. Such magazines should work to help those students believe and be perceived as writers. The way that is done is make the magazine a primarily student based work, as many Appalachian religious believers say, from "kiver to kiver". Students should be featured at readings, public presentations, and events related to the release of the magazine. During the course of the evening, I met one young woman who identified herself as a student in a public speaking class who was attending the event for that class. I saw one introduction of the student who won a "Kudzu" prize for student writers. That student did not read at the event. I did see several students serving soft drinks, water, and cookies. One was sitting at a cash register selling "Kudzu" and the works of the established writers. And, yes, I did buy copies of both the 2016 and 2015 issues of "Kudzu" as well as a collection of work by one of the established writers.
I enjoyed the reading. All of the women who were featured have earned their recognition with years of dedication to their craft. All of them deserve to be published, regularly, often, and in as many venues as possible. I do not say anything about this event in order to negatively assess any of the women who were featured. I was enriched by their presentations. However, I firmly believe that a "student" magazine should focus on helping students, in every way possible, to become recognized writers and being allowed to read at an event introducing a magazine which contained their work would have been a serious step in that direction.
I can remember when "Kudzu" was introduced many years ago as a photocopied and stapled collection of work which was nearly all by students. "Kudzu" is now a fairly slickly produced and presented magazine of quality work. "Kudzu" has come a long way and I applaud that progress. But, at the end of a two year community college education, how many of the students who worked to help produce that magazine will have become recognized as writers to the degree their work deserves? I suspect that number will be significantly lower than it might if those student writers were allowed and required to stand in front of a crowd and read their work with a copy of a magazine in their hands which contained that work, both literary and physical, along with their blood, sweat, and tears gained from producing that magazine. Where were all the students???