Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival
In April 2014, the College hosted the 11th annual Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival, the largest free poetry festival in New York State. The festival is entirely student-run and organized by members of both the graduate writing program and the undergraduate class at SLC. “This festival is a labor of love on the part of its committee of student organizers, who’ve been working hard on it all year,” says Brian Morton, director of the MFA Writing Program.
This year, the festival featured readers selected from the graduate and undergraduate classes, and 15 featured poets including NEA and Guggenheim fellows Kim Addonizio, Eileen Myles, and Victoria Redel (member of the SLC Writing Faculty since 1996); Fulbright Fellow and winner of the 2013 James Laughlin Award Jillian Wiese; and Ross Gay MFA '98. Thirty student readers took the stage throughout the weekend, as did faculty members Alan Gilbert, James Hoch, and Jeffrey McDaniel, who also serves as the faculty advisor for the Poetry Festival.
The festival opened on a Friday night by welcoming high school and middle school students from schools and community centers around the region, including the Yonkers Public Library, Yonkers Montessori, the Masters School, Sunnyside After School Program, and the Baccalaureate Academy for Global Education, as well as the Sarah Lawrence Right-to-Write program, which brings graduate and undergraduate writers to the Westchester County Correctional Facility to lead weekly creative writing classes. “Each year, roughly a third of our Sarah Lawrence graduate writing students go into New York and Westchester communities to teach writing,” says Alexandra Soiseth, associate director of the MFA Writing Program. “In addition to gaining valuable teaching experience and giving back to the communities they may make their home after graduation, students find their own writing skills improve through teaching and working with students on writing.”
The festival closed two days later by hosting student readers from five local Graduate Writing (MFA) programs—Sarah Lawrence College, Queens College, Manhattanville College, Columbia University, and New York University—to participate in a round table reading with graduating Sarah Lawrence MFA poets. Three students from each school read a selection of their work, including poetry and prose. “The idea was to create a space for students from various programs in the New York City area to share their work, and to see the work being produced in other programs,” says Jeff McDaniel. “These students are creating communities of writers within their own programs, but I saw the need for students to begin to network with their future peers and fellow writers. I hope we can build on this in future years, and have more interaction between the programs and their students.”
“It was a huge honor to direct the 11th annual Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival," says student director Katie Longofono. "It’s amazing to see how the festival brings together students, faculty, writers, and lovers of literature from all around New York. The team of graduate and undergraduate students contributed their passion and scholarship to pull together a dazzling array of poetry and continue the tradition of immersing Sarah Lawrence College in poetry for three full days.”
By Brynn Downing MFA '15