The Visiting Writer Series, put on by the English department which brings working writers to campus, is launching the yearlong series on Tuesday with the Disability Poetics event.
Authors Denise Leto and Adam Giannelli, two writers who have speech disorders, are coming to the Wolff Auditorium in the Jepson Center for a Q&A Panel at 12:25 p.m. and reading their works at 7:30 p.m.
So what exactly does ‘Disability Poetics’ refer to?
“Disability Poetics refers to the study or thinking about language and writing of disability,” said Dr. Megan Ciesla, associate professor of English and director of the Visiting Writer Series. “That can either be how disability is represented or it can be how writers with disabilities work and write.”
Leto is a multidisciplinary poet, writer, editor and dance dramaturge whose work has appeared in numerous publications and was awarded the Orlando Prize in Poetry, among other successes. Leto has dystonia, a movement disorder in which a person’s muscles contract uncontrollably, which sometimes impedes her ability to speak. She has explored this impediment in her writings.
Leto will be accompanied by Roseanne Quinn, a professor in English and women’s studies at De Anza College.
Giannelli is a successful author whose essays and poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Kenyon Review and elsewhere, and teaches literature and creative writing at Hamilton College. Embracing his stutter, Giannelli is joining Leto to read his own writing.
Ciesla, who is bringing the two authors to GU for their second event together, emphasizes the importance of learning how these poets, whose work is in language, share their contributions to a listening audience.
For Leto, when she can’t speak, what should she do in the middle of a reading and can’t go on? Or when Giannelli, in his stammered reading, how does he create a space so that his audience remains with him?
These are some of the daily obstacles that the audience will hear and learn about.
Ciesla explained that this event will show students, faculty and the Spokane community a way of reimagining how to proceed or how to present your work if you are physically unable to share it aloud.
“We expect fluidity of language, we expect it to be without pause or without fumbling around, so it’s a way to include writers who don’t make those traditional expectations but can make a really wonderful experience,” Ciesla said.
In this event, Ciesla and other coordinators of the Writing Series aim to cultivate the practice of a patient audience, so that listeners are with the readers as they share their work in their unique ways.
Ciesla was not the first to discover the two touching writers.
Leto and Giannelli have only worked together once before, at a conference in Chicago where GU English professor Jessica Maucione was moved by their incredible performance.
“It absolutely blew me away, and in the context the panel did not get the audience it deserved — it was an 8 a.m. panel on day one of a small conference, scheduled against several competing panels," said Maucione in an email. "I asked if they would be willing to come to Gonzaga, promising to give them the audience they deserve."
Ciesla hopes to recreate the experience as this will be the second time this panel is ever performed.
“Having [students and members of our campus community] be able to witness and listen to working writers is something that can be a really rich experience,” she said. “Especially as we incorporate their work in class — that’s an informative experience to see what we’re doing in the classroom and how it is embodied in the real world.”
Ciesla affirmed that the writers can inspire anyone, not just English majors.
“Any time we have the opportunity to learn from people and how they see the world and work in the world, I think that’s a really valuable experience,” Ciesla said. “To see how the ways in which all people engage with their work and continue with their work despite what obstacles might approach them, I think that’s pretty important.”
The Visiting Writer Series is not put on solely for the students’ benefit. Ciesla hopes that people from beyond the GU body come to the event.
The Visiting Writer Series are free and open to the public.