Literary Festival entertains, educates students

Booked Solid: Steve Loe and Barbara Stuber sold and signed copies of their various novels in conjunction with the festival. “The Glimpsing Book” was Loe’s debut novel, and “Girl in Reverse” was Stuber’s second published novel. The festival also sold copies of past guest author’s novels.

Andrew Shermoen

On Thursday morning, Sept. 29 in Washburn A and B room, Washburn hosted the 23rd annual Literary Festival. This was the first time the event has ever been hosted on a campus other than Kansas University.

The Literary Festival brought in private and public school students from the surrounding area, as well as Washburn students and faculty from the English and education departments. The aim of the festival is to showcase the value of young adult literature as a genre and discuss the importance of inspiring a passion for reading and writing at a young age.

Danny Wade, associate English and education professor at Washburn, worked with Jack Bushman, retired University of Kansas professor, in breaking new ground by hosting the event at Washburn this year.

The festival kicked off with opening remarks by Wade and Bushman. The duo spoke on why they believed encouraging a passion for literature at a young age was so important.

They then introduced Steve Loe and Barbara Stuber, the two guest authors who would spend the rest of the day talking about their respective novels and their writing influences. After the lectures concluded, a book sale took place.

The festival also holds a national writing competition each year that critiques and awards students for their stories. Alex Wei from Carmel, Indiana and Tamia Thompson from Little Elm, Texas both won top prize this year, and traveled to Washburn to be recognized and accept their awards before the lectures began.

Loe, a principal at Shawnee Mission West High School, began by opening up about his initial self-doubt when trying to juggle his career in education with his desire to be published. He shared anecdotes about his students to parallel his own growth as a writer and ended on a quote from author Andy Andrews: “He may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing.” This mantra drove Loe to pursue writing.

Stuber, the second guest author, is currently a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City. She says that her goal with writing is to help kids learn more about art and to help them empathize with people. “I spend a huge amount of time trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes,” she said to her audience.

Her presentation consisted of examining artwork found in the Nelson-Atkins to help students find themselves in art, a persistent theme in her writing. Stuber read a selection from her novel “Girl in Reverse” where her Asian-American protagonist Lily experiences racism in school. In the story, Lily details a political cartoon racist toward Koreans. The fictional cartoon described was based on a real one which ran in the 1950s. Stuber then displayed that political cartoon on a projector and asked for the audience’s feedback. This mixture of history, empathy and art appreciation resonated with both teachers and students alike.

After both authors concluded their presentations to a standing ovation, the visiting middle school students broke off into groups to participate in writing workshops for the remainder of the afternoon.

Bushman emphasized the importance of events like these in our community, and why they need to be readily available to the younger generation.

“If students can see or hear an author and then talk with them about their work, then that student will have a profoundly different appreciation for that story,” said Bushman. He explained that the festival was founded with those beliefs in mind, and that he felt the event has stayed true to that optimistic mission statement over the years.

Wade expressed pride that the festival will likely be held at Washburn from now on instead of KU. “There’s a lot of future educators here at Washburn that could learn a lot from a festival like this,” said Wade. “We’re happy that it has come to Washburn to provide this service for our students and the younger students in the Topeka area.” Wade also hoped that students in his own classes would attend the festival in future years. “I teach a course specifically for young adult literature and students taking that class would have a direct connection to many notable authors in the field.”

Authors such as Chris Crutcher, Jay Asher, Lois Ruby, Robert Cormier, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and Caroline B. Cooney are all notable guests whom have been featured at the Literary Festival. According to Bushman, one of the most accomplished authors was the very first, Walter Dean Myers. Myers is best known for having written “Fallen Angels,” “Scorpions” and “Monster,” the latter of which earned him the Michael L. Printz award.

Next year’s conference will be held on Oct. 10, 2017, and will likely feature Sharon Draper. She is the best-selling author of “Copper Sun,” “The Battle of Jericho” and “Romiette and Julio.”