Sunil Yapa Discussion and Reading, March 21 & 22

Yapa Events Poster

The Art of Protest: Writing and Art Contests

Author of the novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa will visit Penn State as part of the Mary Rolling Reading Series in March. In addition, the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS)/Centre County Reads has selected Yapa’s novel as their 2018 annual Community Read and will host a series of events focused on the novel as a work of “activist literature.” More information about the CALS/CCR events leading up to Yapa’s visit to Penn State can be found on the page for the 2018 Community Read.

In the meantime, collect or create your best writing or art of protest.  Then submit to win prizes!

Tracy K. Smith, United States Poet Laureate, to Give Emily Dickinson Lecture

United States Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize Winner, and National Book Award finalist Tracy K. Smith will offer a reading at Penn State as this year’s Emily Dickinson Lecturer. The reading will be held at the Nittany Lion Inn on Thursday, October 19, at 7:30 pm. This reading is free and open to the public.

U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith (Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

Smith is the author of several collections of poems, including The Body’s Question (2003), Duende (2007), and Life on Mars (2011), which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on sources as disparate as Arthur C. Clarke and David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Her memoir Ordinary Light (2015), in many ways an elegy for her mother, was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Nonfiction and was selected as a Notable Book by the New York Times and Washington Post.

Her poetry collection, Wade in the Water (forthcoming from Graywolf Press in April 2018), includes “found poems” constructed from archival letters that African American veterans sent to President Lincoln asking for pensions they were owed.

Of her collection Life on Mars, Joel Brouwer of the New York Times writes, “Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition. It’s not easy to be so convincing in both the grand gesture and the reverent contemplation. Life on Mars first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

Smith is the director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. While Smith primarily writes poetry and memoir, she has recently served as librettist on two operas, one of which focuses on slavery “and how it shapes our sense of what is possible for moment to moment in our everyday lives,” Smith says.

The Emily Dickinson Lectureship in American Poetry is made possible through the generosity of Penn State Alumni George and Barbara Kelly. Additional support for the event comes from the Penn State Department of English.


Successful Fundraising Campaign Establishes Creative Writing Award to Honor Retiring Penn State Professor

To honor Professor Robin Becker’s twenty-three years of service to Penn State University and her lasting impact on students, the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English last month launched a campaign to raise $23,000 to create a fund in her name. This annual award will support a student who shows not only financial need, but promise in creative writing, especially poetry.

The campaign was launched through Penn State’s “Let’s Grow State” crowdfunding platform and ran for thirty days, from May 17-June 17. During this time, the campaign website drew 91 supporters, 2,851 views of the page, and gifts totaling $23,005–an impressive outpouring of support from colleagues, former students, fellow writers, friends, and others interested in honoring Professor Becker and supporting creative writing at Penn State.

The lead gift of $5,000 came from Steven Fisher, a longtime friend and supporter of the English Department, where he sponsors the annual Fisher Family Writer-in-Residence program, which brings prominent writers to Penn State to work one-on-one with writing students, visit writing classes, and offer a public reading and lecture. Additional major gifts came from other longtime supporters of reading series and writing prizes in the department, including George and Barbara Kelly, Charles and Joan Rolling, Richard Mihelcic, and Rebecca Mihelcic Chapman.

Director of Creative Writing Charlotte Holmes and retiring Professor Robin Becker.

Recently retired as Liberal Arts Research Professor of English, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Becker was a venerated mentor for graduate, undergraduate, and returning students. In class, she encouraged them to consider their work and the work of their classmates as curious objects, rather than flawed drafts. She taught writers to value themselves, their time, and their efforts.

Many former students have gone on to publish books and win awards, including The APR/Honickman First Book Prize and The A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. Students from her book reviewing class regularly publish in Harvard Review, Georgia Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Book News, The Women’s Review of Books, and many other outlets; some became editors at PANK!, Literary Mama, and The Los Angeles Review. Still others now teach and direct creative writing programs at colleges and universities across the country.

In the midst of this service, Becker also published seven books, served as Poetry Editor at the Women’s Review of Books and served as Penn State Laureate for 2010-2011.

This award will continue her legacy of literary citizenship. While the 30-day campaign has closed, the campaign website is still available to offer an overview of Professor Becker’s career at Penn State, video and written testimonials from former students, and a description the impact the award will make in the future.

Although the initial phase of the campaign has concluded, additional gifts to the award fund are still welcome and can be made at any time by visiting

Support the Robin Becker Award in Creative Writing–30-day Campaign!

Graduating BA/MA Students Read from their Work

  • BA/MA graduating class of 2017


From February 8-11, 2017, more than 12,000 attendees will gather in Washington, DC, for the largest literary conference in North America, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

Penn State Creative Writing faculty and alums will be in the mix, serving on panels, giving readings and signings, and staffing bookfair tables. Here’s the start of a compilation of Penn Staters at this year’s AWP Conference. If you’d like your information added, please contact Alison Jaenicke at (or add it into the comment box below). Then check back for the latest additions.

For more information on the AWP Conference, visit

Thursday, February 9th 

9 am—Creative Writing Faculty Member TOBY THOMPSON:
Panel: R120. Dylanology. Five authors discuss the pleasures and pitfalls of writing about Bob Dylan, rock writing in this era, as well as its relationship to the craft of literary nonfiction.
Onsite: Capital & Congress, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four

Panel: R130. Contemporary Mythopoetics.
Onsite: Room 204AB, Washington Convention Center, Level Two 

3 pm—Creative Writing Faculty Member ROBIN BECKER:
R237. The Lyric Narrative: Telling Stories in Poems.
OnsiteMarquis Salon 7 & 8, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two

3:30 pm—Creative Writing Faculty Member JAMES BRASFIELD:
Book Signing at the LSU Press booth, Exhibit Spaces 608-610.

4:30-6:30 pm—MFA Grad RACHEL MENNIES:
Reading: RHINO Reads! AWP 2017, Public Books Event by Rhino Poetry
Offsite: Sixth Engine, 438 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20001

7 pmBarrelhouse (including MFA Grad, Current Lecturer, and Barrelhouse editor MATT PEREZ) will host “a reading type thing” with The Rumpus, Catapult and Lit Hub: “Write Together, Fight Together
Offsite: The U Street Music Hall, 1115 U Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
(Bonus: We’re meeting for a happy hour before it at All Souls Bar from 5 to 7 pm for our Barrelhouse Camp reunion.)

7:30 pm– MFA Grad and former Creative Writing Faculty member SHEILA SQUILLANTE:
Featured Reader, The Inner Loop Reading Series
Off Site: The Pub & The People, 1648 N Capitol St NW

Friday, February 10th

1:30pm—Director of Creative Writing CHARLOTTE HOLMES and MFA Grad LISA RONEY:
Panel: F210. Foremothers: Southern Women Writers Discuss Southern Women Writers.
Onsite: Liberty Salon I, J, K at the Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level 4

1:30pm–Creative Writing Faculty Member ELIZABETH KADETSKY:
Book signing at the Nouvella table
Location: Exhibit Space 445-T

7-10pm–Creative Writing Faculty Member ELIZABETH KADETSKY:
Reading: RSVP DJ and Spontaneous Reading (by C&R Press authors)
Offsite: Eighteenth Street Lounge, 1212 18th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
Guests must RSVP and get (FREE) tickets here

Saturday, February 11th

Panel: S110. Money, Power, and Transparency in the Writing World.
Onsite: Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level 2 

1:30 pm— MFA Grad LISA RONEY:
Panel: S204. Practicum and Beyond: Publishing Courses and Literary Citizenship.
Onsite: Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level 2

 4:30 pm— MFA Grad SARAH BLAKE:
Panel: S280. Attempting the Impossible: Strategies for Writing Creative Biography.
Onsite: Room 101, Washington Convention Center, Level One 


MFA Grad and Current Lecturer MATT PEREZ, editor for Barrelhouse, can be found from time to time at the Barrelhouse table, Exhibit Space 385.

Stop by Book Fair Table 842-T, where MFA Grad LISA RONEY be representing
The Florida Review as its new editor.

Visit MFA Grad and editor-in-chief CATHLEEN MILLER at the Reed Magazine booth, Exhibit Space 559.

First Book Festival, April 2015

Our first-ever First Book Fest (held April 3 & 4) brought together MFA poetry grads who came back to campus to read from their books of poetry and lead community poetry workshops, BA/MA poetry students who introduced the poets at their readings, writing professors, students, community members, and other poetry fans. Thanks to everyone who made the event a success, especially Julia Kasdorf, who conceived, planned, and made the event a reality!

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