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Songwriting, Storytelling and Sex: “Week of Writing” Festival Explores Literary Issues at Drexel, May 12-16

Week of Writing Panel

May 07, 2014

From tweets and status updates to poems and novels, writing keeps us connected. The Department of English and Philosophy in Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences celebrates this shared connection every spring with its annual “Week of Writing,” a week-long festival dedicated to presenting different styles of writing and addressing challenges that writers face.

“We always plan the Week of Writing with students in mind,” said Kathy Volk Miller, co-editor of Painted Bride Quarterly, co-director of the Drexel Publishing Group and a teaching professor of English at Drexel, who runs the Week of Writing. “We try to address the questions that they come to us asking, like ‘how do I not write cheesy lyrics?’ or ‘how do I write about sex in a tasteful way?’ We also try to open our doors to voices that our students wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to hear from. We want them to be exposed to perspectives of real writers out there in the world.”

This year, the Week of Writing, now in its eighth year, kicks off on Monday, May 12. Highlights include student readings, workshops, story slams and panel discussions including “Writing Lyrics,” “Storytelling in Unexpected Places” and “Writing about Sex.” Presenters will include students, faculty, journalists, playwrights, publishers, editors, poets, authors, songwriters and other noted guests.

“We see the Week of Writing as an umbrella for all things writing,” Volk Miller said. “We are always open to more diversity, more disciplines. In past years, we’ve had panels on writing for advertising, comic book writers, food writing – we try to cast a very broad net.”

All events are free and open to the public, and do not require preregistration. Most of the events will be held in Drexel’s Barnes & Noble Bookstore in MacAlister Hall (33rd and Chestnut Streets), unless otherwise noted. For the most recent updates and event details, click here. All of the events will be recorded and archived here. Video recordings from last year can be viewed here.

“I’m especially excited about the panel on ‘Writing about Sex’ because it’s a topic that so many people are afraid to address,’ said Volk Miller. “The discussion will really delve into the difference between erotica and writing about sex in a literary way. It’s also being moderated by renowned author and music critic Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone, which is a huge deal.”

The panel, entitled “I’ll Have the Footlong, Hold the Smut: Writing About Sex,” will take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 14.  Panelists will include Ras Mashramani, a local writer and founding member of Metropolarity, a sci-fi arts collective dedicated to emancipatory speculation and storytelling; and Lisa Zeidner, a poet, novelist and professor of creative writing at Rutgers University. It will be moderated by DeCurtis, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and a distinguished lecturer in the creative writing program at the University of Pennsylvania.

“‘Write like Crazy,’ a session on writing about mental illness, is also getting a lot of attention, since it’s become an increasingly hot topic,” Volk Miller said. “One of the panelists, MK Asante, is the best-selling author of the book Buck, which addresses mental illness and is now being taught in many schools, so whole classes of high school students and even a group of professors are planning to attend this event to hear from him.”

The panel will be held on Tuesday, May 13 at 2 p.m. The panelists will discuss the choices they face as writers and the consequences of those choices—consequences that affect themselves, readers, culture and society.

In addition to Asante, who is also an award-winning filmmaker, hip-hop artist and tenured professor at Morgan State University, the panel will include Evan Rosko, a fiction writer who teaches courses on literature and writing at Rowan University and Rutgers University; and Philadelphia journalist Liz Spikol, who wrote “The Trouble With Spikol,” a first-person newspaper column and blog on the subject of mental health, for 10 years. She now works as an editor at Philadelphia Magazine.

Other highlights of the week include:

On Wednesday, May 14 at noon, a panel entitled “Untold Stories Inside Us: Mentoring Young Writers in Philadelphia” will discuss the literacy crisis in Philadelphia—where over 40 percent of public high school students drop out and half of all working-age adults are functionally illiterate. Representatives of local efforts to support kids’ writing—Mighty Writers and Philadelphia Stories Jr.—will showcase their organizations’ programs to get kids to experience writing as a source of pleasure as well as of empowerment.

Panel participants include Annette John-Hall, program director at Might Writers West and a former award-winning columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer; Rachel Loeper, Mighty Writers’ interim development director; and Stephanie Scordia, director of Philadelphia Stories Jr., a new literary magazine by writers age 18 and under who currently live in Pennsylvania, Delaware or Southern New Jersey. The panel will be moderated by Deirdre McMahon, PhD, an associate teaching professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at Drexel, who teaches writing, British literature, postcolonial literature and young adult fiction.

On Wednesday, May 14 at 1 p.m., panelists will discuss what makes lyrics memorable and successful within the confines of the pop song format during a panel discussion entitled “Writing Lyrics: Survivors’ Guide.” Participants will include Cyrille Taillandier, sound engineer for such artists as Alicia Keys, P. Diddy and Lenny Kravitz, and an associate teaching professor in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design; John Faye, an adjunct songwriting professor at Drexel who performs full-band shows with IKE as well as performing more than 50 solo shows per year; and Philadelphia native Lucy Stone, a 20-year-old songstress who has opened for national acts such as The Dirty Projectors and Major Lazer.

On Thursday, May 15 at 3:30 p.m., “Storytelling in Unexpected Places” will bring together several professionals from various occupations for a multimedia presentation and panel discussion to discuss the role of storytelling in places where we wouldn’t expect it.

Participants will include Dan Arp, who conducts public diplomacy and outreach for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, the lead U.S agency responsible for protecting the rights of workers worldwide. Here he puts a human face on the Bureau’s work, collecting stories from the field to raise awareness of child labor, forced labor and other violations of human rights.

The panel will also include Ben Warfield, who balances his time between crafting, recording and performing music for films, galleries and video games while contributing to the scientific research and operations of the Light Research Program of Thomas Jefferson University; and Pam Grossman, who, in her capacity as Getty Images’ Director of Visual Trends, has presented research on commercial imagery at various Fortune 500 companies and conferences, including Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.Org female empowerment nonprofit, Google’s in-house global creative team, Microsoft and others.

The full schedule is available here.