Sunil Yapa will give reading at Nittany Lion Inn

Novelist and Penn State alum Sunil Yapa will visit University Park on March 21-22. During his visit, Yapa will participate in two free public events: a discussion of his novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, to be held Wednesday, March 21, at 7:00 pm, at the HUB-Robeson Center’s Freeman Auditorium, and a reading at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, in the Nittany Lion Inn’s Alumni Lounge.

Sunil Yapa is a State College native who received his BA from Penn State and his MFA in Fiction from Hunter College in New York City in 2010, where he was a Hertog Fellow for Zadie Smith. The biracial son of a Sri Lankan father and a mother from Montana, Yapa has lived around the world, including, Greece, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, China, and India, as well as, London, Montreal, and New York City. He currently lives in Central Pennsylvania and teaches in low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.

Yapa’s debut novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (2016) is set in Seattle, Washington, where in November of 1999, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest the World Trade Organization conference being held at the city’s convention center. The book was selected as a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and found its way onto many “best” lists, including Time Magazine’s Best Books of the Year, Amazon Best Books of the Year, Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers, and Washington Post Notable Books. Of the novel, Ron Charles of The Washington Post writes: “A fantastic debut novel…. What is so enthralling about this novel is its syncopated riff of empathy as the perspective jumps around these participants—some peaceful, some violent, some determined, some incredulous…. Yapa creates a fluid sense of the riot as it washes over the city. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist ultimately does for WTO protests what Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night did for the 1967 March on the Pentagon, gathering that confrontation in competing visions of what happened and what it meant.”

The March 21 discussion is part of the slate of events for the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS)/Centre County Reads 2018 Community Read of Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. (Information about additional events related to the Community Read can be found at and

The March 22 reading is part of the Mary E. Rolling Reading Series, a project of Penn State’s Creative Writing Program in English. It receives generous support from the College of the Liberal Arts, the Department of English, the Joseph L. Grucci Poetry Endowment, the Mary E. Rolling Lectureship in Creative Writing, and the University Libraries. (For more information on the reading series, visit:

Sunil Yapa Discussion and Reading, March 21 & 22

Yapa Events Poster

Author Mary Gaitskill to Read February 21st


Mary Gaitskill, this year’s Fisher Family Writer-in-Residence, will read from her work on Wednesday, February 21, in Paterno Library’s Foster Auditorium at 7:30 pm. 

Gaitskill is an American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She is the author of seven books of prose including Bad Behavior (1988), a collection of short stories dealing with a variety of taboo subjects; her most recent collection of personal essays written over the last two decades, Somebody with a Little Hammer (2017), covers topics from literature and politics to date-rape.

Gaitskill is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship; she was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award, National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle. Her story “Secretary” was the basis for the feature film of the same name starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. She has taught at U-C Berkeley, the University of Houston, New York University, Brown, and Syracuse University.

Of her most recent novel, The Mare (2015), New York Times journalist Parul Sehgal writes, “[Gaitskill]—known for depicting violent sex and lonely people—delves into the most frightening subject of all: real connection…What makes her exciting is her ability to evoke the hidden life, the life unseen, the life we don’t even know we are living.” Alex Clark of The Guardian calls it “bold, dramatic and deeply unsettling,” noting that “The Mare explores inadequacy, optimism, craziness—and sets them in the context of love, and of need.”

The Fisher Family Writer-in-Residence is sponsored by Steven Fisher ’70, The Joseph L. Grucci Poetry Endowment, University Libraries, the Department of English, and the College of Liberal Arts. The reading is free and open to the public.


Author photo: © Derek Shapton

Poet and Professor Shara McCallum to Offer Reading January 25


Poet Shara McCallum will read as part of the Mary E. Rolling Reading Series in Paterno Library’s Foster Auditorium on Thursday, January 25, at 7:30 p.m.

McCallum is the author of five collections of poetry: The Water Between Us (1999), Song of Thieves (2003), This Strange Land (2011), The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems (2011), and Madwoman (2017). Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including The Antioch Review, Chelsea, The Iowa Review, and Verse. She was awarded the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize in 1998, Witter Bynner Award from the Library of Congress in 2013, a Tennessee Individual Artist Grant in Literature, and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund.

Publisher’s Weekly offers the following review of her latest poetry collection, Madwoman: “Her madwoman is neither a static nor predictable character, but a thunderous storm subject to unexpected change in severity; the madwoman is both nourished and destroyed by her memories.”

McCallum was born in Jamaica and moved to the U.S. at the age of nine. She received her B.A. from the University of Miami, her M.F.A. from the University of Maryland, and her Ph.D. in Poetry and African American and Caribbean Literature from Binghamton University in New York. McCallum was the Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell for ten years and now teaches creative writing and literature at Penn State University.

Mary E. Rolling Reading Series events are free and open to the public. The series is a project of Penn State’s Creative Writing Program in English. It receives generous support from College of the Liberal Arts, the Department of English, the Joseph L. Grucci Poetry Endowment, the Mary E. Rolling Lectureship in Creative Writing, and the University Libraries.

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

Penn State Welcomes Two New Poets to CW Program in Fall

At the end of the spring 2017 semester, we mark the retirement of two poets in the English Department: Professor Robin Becker and Senior Lecturer James Brasfield.

On the heels of these longtime faculty  members’ departures, we are happy to report the addition of two poets to the creative writing program in the fall 2017 semester.

Shara McCallum

Shara McCallum  will join the Penn State creative writing faculty as a full-time professor after serving as the Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell.  McCallum received her BA from the University of Miami, her MFA from the University of Maryland, and her PhD in Poetry and African American and Caribbean Literature from Binghamton University. She is the author of The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems, This Strange Land, Song of Thieves, The Water Between Us, and the recently published Madwoman. McCallum’s poems have appeared in publications in the US, the UK, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Israel, and have been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, and Romanian. Recognition for her work includes a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, among other awards.


Lee Peterson

Lee Peterson, Director of the Writing Commons and Instructor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State-Altoona, will serve as a visiting faculty member at University Park this fall. She will teach  ENGL 513, Advanced Poetry Writing. Peterson received her BA from Oberlin College in women’s studies and English literature and her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in creative writing. Her poetic, research, and community interests center around issues of human rights, the experiences of women and girls in wartime, and trauma and recovery. Her poetry collection Rooms and Fields: Dramatic Monologues from the War in Bosnia  won the 2003 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize.


Graduating BA/MA Students Read from their Work

  • BA/MA graduating class of 2017

Graduates Andrews and Blake Collaborative Poetry Series

Two Penn State Creative Writing graduates, Kimberly Quiogue Andrews and Sarah Blake, recently appeared in the Missouri Review for their collaborative poem, “The Sea Witch Needs a Mortgage for the Land, If Not For the House of Bones.”

As part of a larger work, the authors describe the subject of this series of poems as the stories of a sea witch who has decided to move to land and live among humans. Working collaboratively has “pulled the poems and their protagonist’s desires in unexpected directions” while also confronting  particular kinds of sociopolitical absurdities, such as sexism and capitalism, among others.

To read a poem from Andrews’s and Blake’s series, check it out here!

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