One of the Department of English and Creative Writing’s major initiatives is the Reading Series. Each semester, writers working in the three genres taught in the Creative Writing Department (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) are invited to read. As participating writers usually give a Q&A during classes earlier on the day of their reading, there is a great opportunity to network with them. The reading itself is a chance to enjoy some of the most remarkable voices working today in creative writing.
The Reading Series takes place either at Stage Two on the second floor of the 618 South Michigan Avenue building or in the more intimate Room 109 of the Hokin Project on Wabash Avenue. Both are in easy walking distance from the 624 South Michigan Avenue building where the majority of graduate-level courses are held. The Columbia College Chicago bookstore is always set up just outside the reading space, where they have several publications available from each invited writer.
Each event in the reading series (there are about five a semester) commences with a few words from Fiction Professor Joe Meno, who produces the event. This is followed by the opening act: a five-minute reading from a student who has applied for consideration and been vetted by faculty. This semester, for the first time, undergraduate writers are allowed into the mix. As a testament to the quality of student writers attracted to Columbia College Chicago, two of this semester’s student readers are undergrads.
The main event features two established writers who, generally, have a new work out. One criteria of the Reading Series is that each event mixes genres—that is to say a nonfiction writer may be paired with a poet or fiction writer. Occasionally, writers working in more experimental forms or individuals who are writers in a broader sense are invited. This was evident in the 2016-2017 Reading Series when the musician Owen Ashworth, and the multimedia collaborative team of Chase Joynt and Vivek Shraya performed.
Writers are chosen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, a faculty member is teaching the writer’s new book. In other cases, a faculty member has a personal or professional connection to an invited reader. Graduate students are also asked for their input via an annual survey put out by the department. Finally, if a faculty member has a new book out they are invited to perform. Columbia is not a place where faculty rests on their laurels: all English and Creative Writing faculty are actively publishing. This semester, faculty readers included David Trinidad (for his new poetry collection Swinging on a Star) and Patricia Ann McNair (And These are the Good Times, a collection of essays).
The main event writers perform alphabetically based on last names. Before they begin, a faculty member introduces them by way of listing the writer’s accolades and saying a few words about the writer’s work. Each writer reads for approximately twenty-five minutes, followed by a few closing words by Meno. After this, there is an opportunity to meet the authors and have them sign books. A few lucky students (generally those who have been invited to read) get to go have dinner with the featured writers and faculty after the reading concludes.
I wish I could say I am biased, as I help promote the Reading Series and do design work for it. But it really is a great perk of coming to study at Columbia College Chicago. There are lots of other Chicago area higher-education institutions offering degrees in Creative Writing, but few regularly hold events like this.