Camille Dungy, an essayist, poet and English professor at Colorado State University, believes there is something magical about being read to regardless of a person’s age. While studying as an undergraduate student, Dungy had the opportunity to hear poet Allen Ginsberg read at her university. Ginsberg, a spearhead for the Beat Generation of the 1950s, is viewed by many as one of the greatest poets of his time. Something shifted for Dungy during the reading. Dungy had studied Ginsberg in class, but wasn’t overly interested in his work. “It didn’t move me on the page,” Dungy said. Despite this, Dungy went to the reading, sat down with her peers and listened.
“I heard him read, and it changed everything,” Dungy said. “I still hear him when I read his poems. It was literally a life-changing event.”
“I still hear him when I read his poems. It was literally a life-changing event.” — Camille Dungy, CSU English professor
Today, Dungy is serving her fourth year as the director of the Creative Writing Reading Series, a program which she hopes can inspire students like she was when she attended Ginsberg’s reading. The series has been going on for nearly 30 years and offers an opportunity for CSU and Fort Collins community to meet and listen to successful writers. All readings are free and open to the public.
The program is funded through the University and private sources. The series works to bring popular and prestigious readers of interest to CSU with past readers including Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild,” and CSU graduate and Pulitzer Prize poet Yusef Komunyakaa.
Dungy said the readings create an active engagement between the audience and the reader. The listeners take on an active role.
“If you’ve never been to one, you might be a little worried it might be stogy and silent and stuffy, but we pick really dynamic readers who keep the room alive, engaged and entertained,” Dungy said.
Chances are, most students at CSU can’t remember the last time they’ve been read to. It’s a popular activity for children but tends to dwindle as students become better readers. Along with social media, Buzzfeed, Netflix and millions of apps, intense competition exists for the consumer’s attention. The reading series allows participants to experience the present moment and creatively engage the mind without a screen.
“There is something really wonderful about the experience of being read to that I think people might not value as much as they should,” said Danny Schonning, a graduate student and the series’ assistant director. “Hearing [the author’s] expression on which they’ve toiled, about which they are passionate about above all else does something that’s not unlike experiencing story time as a child.”
“Hearing [the author’s] expression on which they’ve toiled, about which they are passionate about above all else does something that’s not unlike experiencing story time as a child.” — Camille Dungy, CSU English professor
The series kicks off Sept. 27 with Kathryn Miles, author of “Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake.” Her book investigates humans’ impact on earthquakes and what to expect from future natural disasters.
Poet Khadijah Queen, author of “I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & what I Had on,” will read on Oct. 25.
Additionally, CSU creative writing graduate students are featured throughout the series to present some of the work they have been cultivating during their time at the university. “Part of the point of an MFA program is creating America’s next great writers,” Dungy said. “In addition to featuring these writers from all over the country, we get to feature the future, who are producing here out of Colorado State.”