Crafting literary community: The Creative Writing Reading Series returns to CSU

By Emily Harnden

As we greet the changing colors of fall to campus, the English Department at Colorado State University awaits another welcome seasonal shift: a return to a robust schedule of in-person literary gatherings.  

Creative Writing Reading Series
Claire Vaye Watkins

After years of Zoom screens and hybrid events, the Creative Writing Reading Series, in partnership with CSU Libraries, will come home to the Lory Student Center this Thursday, Sept. 15 with its first of many face-to-face readings. Open and free to all students, faculty; and community members, the series kicks off with an evening of fiction from Claire Vaye Watkins and Marie-Helene Bertino at 7:30 p.m. in the Longs Peak Room.  

We have an amazing line-up of writers this year,” said Ramona Ausubel, director of the Creative Writing Reading Series and assistant professor. “First up is Claire Vaye Watkins, whose first book won all the awards and who broke the internet with her piece, ‘On Pandering,’ about learning to stop writing for men. Joining her is Marie-Helene Bertino, a master of fantastical and magical stories and novels.”   

Watkins is the author of the novels I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness and

Creative Writing Reading Series
Marie-Helene Bertino

Gold Fame Citrus, and the short story collection Battleborn, winner of the Story Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, Watkins is a professor at the University of California Irvine and lives in Twenty-nine Palms, California. 

Bertino is the author of the novels Parakeet (New York Times Editors’ Choice), and 2 a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas (NPR Best Books 2014), and the story collection Safe as Houses (Iowa Short Fiction Award). Her fourth book, the novel Beautyland, is forthcoming from FSG.

Opportunities for student engagement

In addition to community-wide readings, the CWRS program also provides students with opportunities to get to know visiting authors and their writing process in a more intimate, less formal setting.  

“Students have a chance to meet authors they’ve read and admired from afar, and we work hard to create time for students and visitors to talk informally so it feels like a genuine connection,” Ausubel said 

Known as “salons,” these casual conversations often begin with a writing exercise, and from there students can ask questions about their practice, publication experience, and anything else on their mind. 

Creative Writing Reading Series
Bruce Holsinger

Another occasion this semester to discuss craft with a visiting author will be on Friday, Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. at Morgan Library with Bruce Holsinger.  

A Professor of English at the University of Virginia, Holsinger is a leading scholar in medieval studies and literary theory, an analyst of contemporary political discourse, and a novelist. His many awards include the Colorado Book Award (2019) and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is the author of the USA Today and Los Angeles Times-bestselling novel The Gifted School; and his most recent novel, The Displacements, received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus 

As a work of climate fiction, The Displacements imagines what happens when the first ever Category 6 hurricane hits Florida. While writing the novel, Holsinger engaged in extensive research – from studying atmospheric science and hurricanes to pottery. In his special craft talk entitled “The Alchemy of Research,” Holsinger will guide writers in how to cultivate and practice research in their own fiction writing.   

Additionally, Holsinger’s visit to campus will include an academic lecture focused on his literary scholarship. In his lecture, “Archive of the Animal: The Many Lives of Parchment,” Holsinger will explore the role of parchment, or treated animal skin, in the transmission and preservation of written culture from the ancient world through the digital age.  

Associate Professor Lynn Shutters points to Holsinger’s work as an immediate example of why the humanities matter. 

“You might think that this topic is just a specialized field for geeks like me (another medievalist),” Shutters said. “But, as Bruce points out, much of the Western world’s cultural legacy wouldn’t exist without animal skins. To tell the story of, and on, parchment, Bruce traverses environmental history, theology, and historical genetics.”  

The lecture will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the CSU Smith Alumni Center.

Building creative community

While writing is often thought of as an isolated, and even lonely endeavor – the Creative Writing Reading Series and MFA program at CSU ultimately seeks to make space for and illuminate the collaborative environment created between writers and poets in all stages of their careers, and their readers.  

“So much of the artistic practice happens alone, on the page or with one’s materials,” Ausubel said. “We’re experimenting and trying and failing and finding treasures, and it’s so joyous to then be in a room full of appreciators, all absorbing a finished creation. It’s like completing a circuit – connect the wires and the whole world lights up.”  

Sara Hughes, a second-year MFA student in the poetry program and this year’s Morgan Library Writer-In-Residence, agreed 

“I think the CWRS fosters community through its ranged outreach,” Hughes said. “Professors attend, Fort Collins community members attend, students attend, friends of community members attend. The writers are truly accessible in a literary and social sense. Their writing is highlighted and so is its impact.”  

Speaking of professors, one of the final events of the fall, the Writer’s Harvest, acts as a celebration and welcoming of CSU’s newest faces in the English department. This year’s readers include assistant professors Jaquira Díaz and Nina McConigley, who joined the creative writing faculty this semester. Díaz and McConigley will share excerpts of their work alongside Assistant Professor Todd Mitchell and Associate Professor Harrison Candelaria Fletcher at a reading on Thursday, Nov. 10, which is part of a nationwide series of events to fight hunger. 

Ausubel concluded that there’s much to look forward to as we turn the page on a fresh chapter of the Creative Writing Reading Series. 

 Next up we’ve got shatteringly brilliant non-fiction writers in October, alums of the MFA program back for a victory lap with their first books, and two outstanding poets in April, she said.

Fall and Spring schedule

Events are free and open to the public. Check the Creative Writing Reading Series website for the most up-to-date information.

Sept. 15, 2022 – Claire Vaye Watkins, Marie-Helene Bertino  

Sept. 22 & 23, 2022 – Lecture and Craft Talk with Bruce Holsinger  

Oct. 20, 2022 – Mitchell S. Jackson, Lacy M. Johnson

Nov. 10, 2022 – Writer’s Harvest: Jaquira Díaz, Nina McConigley, Todd Mitchell, and Harrison Candelaria Fletcher (Attendees are encouraged to donate directly to the Larimer County Food Bank to fight hunger in our community.)

Dec. 1, 2022 – MFA Readings: Alec Witthohn, Nicolas Wesely, Summer Ash

Feb. 2, 2023 – Mary Crow Alumni Reading: Abigail Chabitnoy, Emily Wortman-Wunder 

Feb. 16, 2023 – MFA Readings: Eliana Meyer, Cecil Janecek, Courtney Zenner, Lilia Shrayfer

Mar. 23, 2023 – MFA Readings: Patrick Carey, C Culbertson, Sunset Combs

Apr. 13, 2023 – Jos Charles, Tommy Archuleta  

Apr. 27, 2023 – MFA Readings: John Kneisley, Meeka Todd, Bryce O’Tierney 

About the Creative Writing Reading Series

The CSU Creative Writing Reading Series and Dr. Holsinger’s lecture are made possible by the Organization of Graduate Student Writers, the CSU Department of English, the College of Liberal Arts, the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, the donor sponsor of the Crow-Tremblay Alumni Reading Series, the CSU Libraries and other generous support.

For more information about the authors and the series, visit the Creative Writing Reading Series website.