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Rosenberry conference a success

By Jordan Baca
On March 19, 2017

The annual Rosenberry Writers’ Conference kicked off on Feb. 27 with fiction writer Brad Watson, and followed up with nonfiction writer Felicia Rose Chavez and poet Juan Morales the next two nights. In its 16th year, the Rosenberry is one of the longest-running events at UNC. The conference is geared toward bringing award-winning writers to the Greeley community and creating a platform for discussion about writing as well as topics that the writing addresses– such as disabilities in Brad Watson’s most recent novel “Miss Jane.” 

Watson comes from Mississippi and has experienced many different ways of life – from being a garbage man to writing for newspapers while getting an MFA in creative writing. Since launching into writing and academia, he has taught at several universities and been shortlisted for the 2002 National Book Award in fiction for his work “The Heaven of Mercury.” The stories he shared with the audience at the conference were from his newest novel, “Miss Jane,” and a short story written somewhere in the process of writing this novel, “There is Happiness.” 

In “Miss Jane,” Watson tackles the challenge of writing about the life of a woman born in 1915 who lives with a birth defect which causes incontinence while society holds the expectation that she should still do what every woman does: Get married and have children. With beautiful prose and respect to the historical period, the novel denotes the ways in which Jane is able to enjoy life in spite of her disability, along with the various challenges that come her way. 

“There is Happiness” is a short story detailing a housewife’s descent into madness, leading her to attempt to kill herself and her family in a car crash, but ultimately going on a killing spree that resolves in her secluded life as a waitress in a small New Mexican town. 

“I wrote it when I was struggling with Jane a little bit, and I wanted to write something very different,” Watson said. 

Senior English major Rachel Hammer, who was attending the Rosenberry for the first time, said that she enjoyed that the reading showed the difference between the conciseness of a short story in comparison to a novel. 

“[The conference] gives beautiful variety of styles and voices, and gives confidence that my voice can someday be ‘a’ voice because there isn’t only one way to write,” she said.

The second night of the conference was all about the future of creative writing, with nonfiction writer Felicia Rose Chavez. Chavez is a professor at Colorado College teaching digital storytelling. She is also a multimedia artist, with a background in work for National Public Radio, where she has published documentaries and audio essays, some of which she shared with the audience on Tuesday night. 

Punctuated with artful and inspired language, she explained her ideals behind her style of teaching for a new generation of students. In her classes, she teaches using examples of media that her students are interested in — from rap to Netflix, there is always something artistically valuable in these different, modern, and sometimes “low-brow” works. The projects she assigns range from graphic essays to silent films to websites.

“My writing students should engage with multidimensional mediums, not only because it’s fun, but because it’s essential to their lifelong literacy,” Chavez said. “Technology is here to stay. That scares a lot of people, and I totally get it.”

“In creative writing there is a cliché, ‘write what you know,’ and while that’s solid advice, I advocate that students write what they like – the weirder, the better,” she said. “Let everyone else imitate and obey, molding their art to satisfy the workshop, or the professor, or the fancy-pants literary magazine. I want my students to make the work that they crave.”

The final event of the Rosenberry Writers’ Conference was focused on the poetry of Juan Morales, associate professor of English at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He has published several books of poetry, and explained the sometimes long and strenuous publishing journey, as his most recent book, “The Siren World” took many submissions and rejections before getting picked up. He read poems from this book and others, many about his parents. His Ecuadorian mother and Puerto Rican father served as the subject for “The Siren World,” and gave the poems rich images and cultural dialogue in relation to their origins as well as lives now in Colorado. 

“The glue that kind of unifies these two sections became my insecurities about learning Spanish as an adult because my parents did not teach me,” Morales said. “But, like many things, it pulls you in and entices you to become a lifelong learner.”

Morales’s final poem especially addressed the cultural stresses, even between others of the same culture — how his mother denied that they have native blood, which upset him because he knew it wasn’t true, though he later realized that it was a habit of protection for her growing up in Ecuador. There was also the aspect of how condescending some Hispanic people have been to him for having to learn Spanish in adulthood. His final statement in the poem was this: 

“I think about my confusion burying me on a line/drawn in the sand, knowing it will all be erased/by a rising tide, and then I turn again/to write future and past pressed together as the skin/we wish we could crawl out of, but have to accept it as a gift.”

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