Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca’s writing “Gives language to those marked by poverty and racism,” said Associate Professor Tod Marshall.

Gonzaga’s Visiting Writers Series spills contemporary poetry and prose into the busy, messy lives of students, faculty and community members, who learn that stories and ideas can give new insight or introduce fresh emotional terrain.

“Central to the college experience is an openness to new things and ideas,” said Tod Marshall, associate professor of English and founder of the five-year-old series. “Poetry is one of the oldest art forms around the world, so I always say to the poesiphobic, ‘How can you not like poetry?’ It’s like not liking dance or painting.” This is true of good fiction and non-fiction, too, Marshall added.

Gonzaga’s Visiting Writers Series has won a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts for 2011-12, apparently the first NEA grant that Gonzaga has ever received. Support from Humanities Washington, the Davenport Hotel, Pennaluna & Company of Coeur d’Alene, and departmental funding have made the series viable. Among its other goals, the Visiting Writers Series seeks to expose its audiences to a diversity of experience and ideas.
Highly awarded writer Jimmy Santiago Baca visited Gonzaga in October. As a young man in prison, he learned that if he blew gently on his own stories – picture Baca’s hands cupped around an image of himself, a 10-year-old, witnessing his grandfather’s humiliation through racism – poems would flame up. Much of his writing illuminates social injustice in Chicano culture.

“Baca said that writing is something that all people should do,” said freshman Rene Alvarez, a first-generation student at Gonzaga, who shared lunch with the renowned writer during Baca’s visit. “Listening to Baca, I realized the need to keep my writings. Because as time goes on, it is important to look back and reflect on the person I was back then to the man I am today.”

Students have the chance to talk with each visiting writer, many of whom have national reputations. Poet Naomi Shihab Nye visited in November. Guest writers from earlier years include Robert Hass, Jane Hirshfield, Sherman Alexie, Uwem Akpan, Sharon Olds and Bharati Mukherjee. Completing this year’s series in March will be novelist Rick Moody and short story writer Daniel Orozco. As with every year, the series also features one of Gonzaga’s own writers; this year, it’s fiction and nonfiction writer and new faculty member, Keya Mitra.

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