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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Award-winning authors attend UNCA’s campus, kickoff visiting writers series

Evannes Edmonson
Award-winning, avid writers Melissa Febos (left) and wife Donika Kelly (right), both professors at the University of Iowa visiting UNC Asheville.

On Sept. 14, renowned authors Donika Kelly and Melissa Febos visited UNC Asheville’s campus and spoke to students and other members of the public on the realities of making a career out of creative writing, as well as sharing excerpts of their own published work. Both women are currently professors at the University of Iowa and have specialization in creative writing and poetry. 

Dr. Kirk Boyle of the English department said the visiting writers event finds funding and support, namely through the PB Parris and Goodman endowments, in addition to private donors that aid in the typical departmental budget. These funds allow for five annual readings, including the Katherine Min Memorial Reading, named after a late faculty member, and the event hosts alumni attendees. 

“The creative writing faculty meets annually to come up with a list of writers for next year’s series. These professors reach out to writers and their agents to see availability and interest, and to negotiate the terms of the contract,” Boyle said.

The university has hosted a variety of writers in previous years, such as Claudia Rankine, Wally Lamb and C.J. Hauser. This year, published author and professor of English Dr. Lori Horvitz was in charge of organizing the event.

It’s great for students to talk with successful writers, to hear about their road to writing and publication. Students always come away from these readings and talks inspired,” Horvitz said. 

Horvitz invited students in her current classes to attend the reading, and many were in attendance. 

“Students in my Intro to Creative Writing class and first year studies class read work by Melissa Febos and Donika Kelly, and together we discussed their work,” said Horvitz. “My students got a lot out of their work and are excited to hear them read.”

Kelly and Febos shared some of their new work, which pleased the audience and led to a great discussion following the readings. They also shared they are a married couple, and met through the consumption of each other’s work. 

“I don’t write everyday. I have a very irregular practice, and don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. First drafts don’t have to be good,” Kelly said. 

Febos shared a childhood anecdote about her mentality around habitual writing, comparing the experience of not being able to sleep before brushing her teeth to not practicing her writing daily.

Both authors reflected on what they find inspiring about each other’s writing. Febos commented on Kelly’s work, specifically her new poetry, which is heavily influenced by her family’s experiences growing up in Arkansas. She is moved by the way her wife takes delight in the sound of her voice and the voice of her family. 

Febos named Jo Ann Beard, Jeannette Winterson and Toni Morrison as a few of her inspirations as a writer, while Kelly named Carl Phillips, Lucille Clifton and Sharon Olds as a few of her favorites.

This event kicked off the 2023-2024 visiting writers series, and will continue with author Crystal Wilkinson in October and Eric Tran in November.

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