November 30, 2020

English department hosts yearly ‘Visiting Writers’ series

Professional authors came to Webster via Zoom this year to help students learn what works in their writing and what doesn’t.

Webster University welcomed poets Airea D. Matthews and Ladan Osman Tuesday, Nov. 17 to speak in their annual Visiting Writers Series, hosted by the English Department. This series has taken place since 1986, but this year, the event was virtual due to COVID-19. In the past, the series has hosted George Saunders, Lee K. Abbot, Kathleen Finneran and many more.

After winning the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets, Matthews became an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College. She is the author of “Simulacraand her work has been published in Calloo, Best American Poets, Harvard Review, Best American Poets, Los Angeles Review of Books and Tin House.

“A lot of time the poem fails, but the lines are working,” Matthews said.

She described how she harvests her work and gives herself time when something she wrote does not work. She cautioned the audience against throwing things away and encouraged them to be compassionate with themselves.

Winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize, Osman is a Somali-born poet and essayist. She is the author of “Exiles of Edenand “Ordinary Heaven.” She has received fellowships from Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and many other places. 

“How do we help each other navigate them,” Osman said.

She reflected on how she uses her resources and voice to help put forward others in underrepresented groups. She expressed the importance of helping one another and realizing how worthy someone is. She wanted the people coming after her to not have the same disappointments that she has had. 

Organizer and visiting assistant professor of poetry at Webster, Jonah Mixon-Webster, asked questions about narrative and what the lyric and breath do to undo specific narratives in their work.

“I often think about the relationship between desire and pressure. I’m thinking about them in life and how they don’t get to be a parallel line,” Osmon said. “Desire is trying to outrun pressure, but very often the pressure outruns the desire.”

She uses endurance and thinks about how much of it the reader has. This is helpful in knowing how hard to push a line and not to fear how dense something she writes is. She expects her readers to know they will need to do some work to grow with her.

“I’m grateful to be able to present complexity and to be able to hold these opposing ideas at the same time,” Matthews said.

She strives to show her different ideas because they change daily. By diversifying her narrative, Matthews can present things that are interesting to her. She describes the narrative as the structure of the story, and by changing it, she keeps herself and others interested. 

The event concluded with questions from the audience, and during these questions, the poets gave advice on moving forward in the industry, and how to preserve the work, even when it is now working. For those who were unable to attend, the recording of the event will be posted on Youtube and will be linked on the Webster English Department Facebook page.

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