There are a number of things to love about the Creative Writing program here at Columbia College, but one of the parts I’ve come to love the most is the Reading Series. Hosted by the Creative Writing Department, the series attracts prestigious, award-winning fiction writers, poets and nonfiction writers who perform, engage and educate on a myriad of topics and traditions.
In semesters past, we’ve had some big hitters the likes of Kelly Link, Tobias Wolff, and Charles Johnson, among others. Each semester, a new list is announced, and it never fails to excite me. Besides getting to listen to these authors read their work and then answer questions, graduate students also have the chance to open up each reading for these authors. If there is a fiction writer presenting, usually a poet or nonfiction grad student will open, and vice versa. This allows for a range of material to be heard by the audience, and also gives the grad students the opportunity to share their work with these talented authors.
As if that wasn’t enough of an opportunity, Columbia offers an even juicier incentive to its graduate students. The reader that opens for the authors is usually invited to dinner afterwards where the conversation is open and free to discuss whatever comes up. Imagine getting to sit down and have a meal with a Pulitzer Prize winner! This chance isn’t just for the opening reader, however. Simply being a graduate student here opens the door for meeting and even interviewing these authors.
I speak from personal experience on this: I’ve never opened for an author at the Reading Series, but I’ve been lucky enough to interview two of them, and have dinner with a third. The two interviews went on to be published in The Chicago Review of Books and Punctuate. and dinner with Adam Johnson was a dream. I can’t say enough about the rarity of getting to meet and talk with such talented writers like this.
The Reading Series for this Spring 2017 semester is set to be another one for the books. The first reading is on March 2nd, and it’s free and open to the public. If you’re in the area, I recommend you come check it out! The rest of the schedule can be found on the information page, here.
Another type of reading series was created here at Columbia, too, by some of our own graduate students. It’s called the “33 Reading Series” and it specifically features graduate students and their work. It’s held once a month in the library reading room, and it’s a platform for one reader of each genre in the Creative Writing department to showcase what they’re working on. It’s a great opportunity for fellow MFAers to support their cohort as they present new material or read from their manuscripts for perhaps the first time.
I’ve said before how much of a literary hot spot Chicago is for the artistic-at-heart, but Columbia pulls its own weight, too, right in the heart of campus. There’s never a shortage of work to be read, or opportunities to be had.