Looking for something to do on these cold winter nights? Come to a free reading offered by graduate students in the UC Davis Creative Writing Program.
The readings take place Wednesday nights through March 3 at Cafe Roma, 223 Third St. ("the campus Roma") in Davis from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mark your calendar, because this reading series is a good one.
Jack Hicks, director of the Creative Writing Program and the Art of the Wild summer writing program, says the series is a breath of fresh air.
"It's been going on for more than a decade, run by the graduate students themselves. It's never failed to be a consistently worthwhile series to attend," he said.
Last week, the Wednesday night readers were Wensday Carlton, D. Foy O'Brien and Maria Melendez.
The reading started with Carlton's poetry, "Fear of Summer," "Beatrice Explains," "Legacy," "For a Boy in High School." Carlton herself, a tiny blonde, doesn't look much older than high school age, but she is in her mid-20s and has a young daughter. She writes about Texas (where she was born and raised), suicide, weather, driving with her daughter, mothers who smoke and dead snakes.
"I think she's a wonderful fiction writer and poet," said Hicks. "There is a no-nonsense quality to her work that is refreshing and cuts against expectation. She can be very astringent, yet looks like a teen-ager."
Next was O'Brien, who read from his recently completed novel, "Mud Song." The former rock musician and UC Berkeley graduate read about a group of friends delivering the dead body of another friend to a hospital, with a flashback to the death of the narrator's dog years earlier.
"O'Brien is a talented innovative fiction writer at a time when the market for that kind of work seems small," said Hicks. "His narrative drive keeps people attached....he's very, very good."
The third reader of the evening was poet Maria Melendez described by Hicks as "a very talented poet of the natural world." She is one of a cadre of graduate students with an interest in nature and the wilderness and, additionally, an interest in motherhood.
She read poems that described the landscape of the Putah/Cache bioregion, the landscape of the Carolina sand hills, and the landscape of motherhood. She and her husband and 2-year-old son live in Davis.
Melendez also described and informal haiku competition that is taking place on the Internet. It started when poet Gary Snyder wrote and posted a haiku about the tule fog. A dozen poets and scientists responded with their contributions.
Melendez offered this, with a twist:
"Tule fog, deep fog
Magic in the long valley
Soak us in your mist."
The twist was dividing the audience of about 40 people into three groups, West, Central and East, and having the audience sing the haiku in the round.
Melendez and another graduate student, Andrea Ross, also are coordinators of the next Art of the Wild writing conference, directed by Hicks, which will take place July 9-16 in Squaw Valley.
The 1999 Art of the Wild brochure will be mailed March 1. To be added to the mailing list, phone (530) 752-1658 or e-mail a request at email@example.com.
The weeklong writing program focuses on poetry, fiction and nonfiction and is inspired by the powers of wilderness, nature and the environment. Art of the Wild emphasizes scientific literacy from optional daybreak nature walks with naturalist-in-residence David Lukas, to afternoon and evening seminars, field studies and special presentations by prominent scientists of the Sierra and Lake Tahoe.
Poets on the staff include Gary Snyder, Francisco Alarcon, Walter Pavlich, Sandra McPherson, Alan Williamson and Pattiann Rogers. Pam Houston, Louis Jones, James D. Houston, Al Young and Maxine Hong Kingston will be teaching fiction. John Daniel, Alison Deming, Jack Shoemaker and Gary Nabhan will teach non-fiction writing and various agents, editors and scientists also will be in attendance.
The tuition is $585 for the week's activities, including six group dinners. Most participants make use of the housing service, and rooms in furnished houses including kitchens start at $200 for the week. Only 96 total participants will be accepted. The application deadline is May 15 but early admission may be arranged.
The program is self-supporting, and while financial aid is infrequent, some may be possible, said Hicks. Admissions will be accepted based on seriousness of purpose and writing potential, as well as accomplishment.
And in the meantime, be sure to attend the graduate students' weekly winter readings at Cafe Roma.
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