Bringing Literature to Life
Eleven students gathered weekly in a small classroom on the fourth floor of Daniel Hall. Their mission was clear: to bring nationally recognized, culturally relevant, awardwinning fiction authors and poets to Clemson for the 6th Annual Clemson Literary Festival. Their work is establishing upstate South Carolina as a place where art is not only alive, but thriving.
"It's up to you guys." Lecturer John Pursley's words for his students ring true, and although he and Dr. Jillian Weise lead this Creative Inquiry project, the students are really in control. "The mission of the festival is that it's by students for students, so they are involved in everything from the first brainstorm of events to the final execution of a three-day festival that features 16 events total," says Weise.
Although the main focus of the project is on contemporary literature, students are given the opportunity to gain valuable experience in many different areas, including marketing, publicity, public relations and event planning. The student directors were also responsible for selecting the authors that will be featured at the festival. During the fall of 2012, the students read material from a variety of sources, including print magazines, digital books and anthologies, searching for fiction authors and poets who sparked their interest.
They then each presented a writer of their choosing to the class, bringing samples of their work and basically stating their case for why this author should be included. "We ultimately vote, very democratically, on our roster of writers," Weise says, and anyone who observes the interactions between the students and professors in this class will realize that this theme of democracy carries through to all aspects of the project. Everyone's input is valued and significant, and students who remain quiet during a discussion will hear Pursley's good-humored chiding: "You guys can chime in anytime here."
This year, students developed marketing techniques and strategies to raise awareness about the festival beyond the upstate. By partnering with students in lecturer Angelina Oberdan's business writing class, the student directors developed a comprehensive list of possible locations within 120 miles of Clemson at which they can publicize the festival. Once the brochures and flyers for the festival were solidified, the students sent them out to coffee shops, universities, libraries and schools, hoping to appeal to literature-lovers from all over the Southeast.
Pursley and Weise are determined to help the student directors gain valuable real-world experience in the career fields they will eventually enter, and former student directors have gone on to work as editors of literary magazines, public relations executives and employees at other art festivals. And, being involved with the festival has inspired many students to just keep writing and polishing their own work.
Senior English and performing arts major Kat Clark was one of the student directors of the Literary Festival. She plans to go into arts administration upon graduation from Clemson, and feels that being involved in this Creative Inquiry "is a great opportunity to gain experience working with the community to plan events that promote the creative arts. Being a student director of the festival has given me an insight into fundraising, working within a tight budget, and how to utilize social media for promotion, among many other valuable skills for the future."
Those who attended the 6th Annual Clemson Literary Festival undoubtedly had a hard time believing an event of this caliber was organized by only eleven students and two professors. The student directors, however, are a uniquely talented group with a passion for the arts which is manifested through their commitment to establish Clemson as one of the best cultural destinations of the upstate.