Ithaca College’s Distinguished Visiting Writers Series has welcomed the brightest literary minds onto campus for more than a decade, giving students the valuable opportunity to interact with novelists, poets and other expert wordsmiths.
The series will continue March 20 with its tradition of bringing renowned writers onto campus, welcoming Rachel Kushner, Guggenheim fellow and two-time National Book Award nominee, to host a public reading at 7:30 p.m. in the Park Auditorium, located in Roy H. Park Hall.
Kushner, an author, journalist and essayist, first burst onto the writing scene in 2008 with the release of her debut novel, “Telex From Cuba,” which focused on the American community in Cuba during the years leading up to Castro’s revolution. The novel received widespread acclaim from critics, ultimately earning the author her first nomination for the National Book Award.
In 2013, Kushner released her most recent book, “The Flamethrowers.” The novel, set in 1975, follows Reno, an artist with a love for motorcycles who journeys to New York in the hopes of turning this passion into art, ultimately delving into an exploration of both femininity and politics. The release received universal praise from publications like The New York Times, The New Yorker and Vogue, and earned Kushner her second National Book Award nomination.
Catherine Taylor, director of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series and associate professor of writing, echoed the beaming sentiments of the writing community and said even before she finished her read-through of “The Flamethrowers,” it was clear that Kushner was an author she wanted to visit campus.
“I read ‘The Flamethrowers’ and before I was even halfway through I thought, ‘Oh my god, I really hope she can come and be a Distinguished Visiting Writer,’” she said, “It really was reading ‘The Flamethrowers’ that got me very excited about the possibility of bringing [Kushner] to Ithaca College.”
Taylor said Kushner’s stylistic choices when writing “The Flamethrowers” were integral to making the novel stand out to her, notably her portrayal of Reno as a female protagonist.
“Her central female character is represented in a way that felt a little cool … the representation of her emotional life felt like it was working with gender in a way that I hadn’t seen very often, and that felt very compelling to me,” she said.
Apart from each writer’s craft, the series’ public readings also bring with them a welcome dose of perspective for attendees. Eleanor Henderson, assistant professor of writing and upcoming director of the Writers Series, said readings of this nature allow students to humanize the authors they look up to.
“I’m hearing more and more from students as I’m collecting their feedback, as I begin my directorship, that they are both a little bit star-struck by many of our authors but then also are very impressed when they get to say, ‘Hey, this is a real person,’” she said.
Sophomore Sappho Hocker, who plans on attending Kushner’s reading, said events of this nature provide a sense of pride and importance on the college campus.
“It kind of puts Ithaca on the map … and it’s cool to see people that you look up to, getting to see Ithaca and showing respect for it, and not having to go to Cornell to see them,” she said.
Ultimately, Taylor said the draw to public readings is a sense of community between readers and writers alike, a concept her students have appreciated.
“I also think that there’s something about being in the presence of other listeners and readers as much as being in the presence of the writer … so many of my students come away with a sense of community and a sense of being part of something larger than themselves,” Taylor said.