Every year, CC’s English Department schedules various authors to speak as part of the Visiting Writers Series.
Professors Dave Mason, Steven Hayworth, and Jane Hilberry collaboratively organize the calendar each year.
There have already been four Visiting Writers Series events this year, and there are 15 more scheduled for the current academic year. The authors who visit identify with a variety of styles, nationalities, and recognition, and some of the speakers are even CC professors.
Although attendance is required for creative writing majors, the events are open to the entire CC and Colorado Springs community free of charge. Many of the authors even visit classes to spend additional time with CC students or teach as guest professors for a block.
During his time as a student, Mason recalls some major figures such as Philip Levine, William Stafford, Robert Hayden, and John Hawkes.
“CC has been bringing great writers to campus as long as I can remember—and that goes back a long ways, since I was a student here in the 1970s,” Mason said.
However, the Visiting Writers Series has significantly expanded over the past 40 years. The addition of the creative writing track to the English department definitely enhanced the series because it increased interest in the events, included more staff in the planning and eventually led to an increase in funding.
Mason predominantly focuses on sources of funding and his arrival to CC in 1998 further developed the creative writing track along with the series. By directing more attention to and establishing a calendar of events, professors are now able to plan their courses and curricula around those events.
The primary source of funding for these events comes from the Maclean Endowment. “It is an extremely generous gift to the department that allows us the luxury of knowing we can at least print our calendar and bring in a few writers each year,” Mason said. “In the old days, we had a number of years where we couldn’t even be sure of that, so this fund is something we remain profoundly grateful for. It is the basic source of stability from year to year.” The endowment also finances basic publicity, the cost of the calendar, and a few relatively inexpensive authors.
Funding the series is an ongoing discussion among staff members, and each year they seek supplementary funds from both CC and sources outside the college. Based on the budget, staff members can determine which authors are feasible to invite to speak.
Deciding on the authors is another topic of ongoing discussion. Although students may not have heard of many of the authors scheduled to speak, inviting lesser-known authors is intentional and desirable.
“I think of the series as a way of teaching and spreading the word, so just having famous people on the list is insufficient,” Mason said. “We have to build awareness of fine writers as they are coming along, and we have to try to build this into our teaching as best we can.”
Furthermore, the benefits that arrive after the series are unpredictable. Students often attain professional contacts, educational advantages, assistance with publishing, or even internships and jobs.
Senior Ming Lee Newcomb is a comic book enthusiast.
“I think that this year is going to be fabulous,” Newcomb said. “Last year, we had Margaret Atwood, which was really crazy because she’s such a big name. This year, I’m even more excited because Zadie Smith is coming, who is one of my favorite writers and is a general badass.”
Occasionally, authors are repeated year to year, but typically that only happens if the individual teaches at CC on a recurring basis and has new publications to introduce. The actual number of repeated speakers is minimal despite the fact that the calendar is getting busier each year.
Mason believes that the 2013-14 calendar is the busiest one yet, but is excited about the line-up, as are the students.
“I would say that the series brings literature to us through the culture of performance,” Mason said. “This is not a universally good thing, but it is an interesting thing and allows us to participate in literature orally and in a group setting. One can learn from such things as well as from sitting alone with a book.”