March 24, 2023
Aimee Nezhukumatathil at Craft Talk answering questions

On March 13th and 14th, the English Department welcomed Aimee Nezhukumatathil as this year’s Swenson Visiting Writer. In the works for a year, and co-sponsored by the Tanner Talk Series, USU Honors Program, Utah Humanities, and the USU campus bookstore, the two-day visit included multiple opportunities for students to interact with and learn from this accomplished writer.

Nezhukumatathil is the author of a book of nature essays, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, & Other Astonishments, which was named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in nonfiction, and four award-winning poetry collections, most recently, Oceanic. Awards for her writing include fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Council, Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for poetry, National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Held each spring, in honor of the poet May Swenson, a USU graduate, the visiting writer series highlights writers whose work invokes the courage, passion, and artistic vision of Swenson. Past visitors include Rick Barot, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Paisley Rekdal. This year, the Swenson Visiting Writer was particularly momentous as the college gets ready to celebrate the opening of the May Swenson Park on April 26 at 1 p.m.

During her first day on campus, Nezhukumatathil attended lunch with five Honors students who read World of Wonders as part of an Honors Book Lab, and she gave a craft talk to a packed room of students and faculty. Ashleigh Sabin, an undergraduate English major, reflected on the day’s events: “The craft class with Aimee was such a wonderful experience. She taught us how to write invectives, or angry poems, using humor and drawing on the inspiration of nature. She is such a personable and enthusiastic presenter, and the hour spent learning from her truly flew by. She opened my eyes to a whole new genre of poetry!”

On the second day of her visit, Nezhukumatathil attended a brunch with faculty and graduate students before her public reading, Q&A session, and book signing. Reflecting on the visit, Lauren McKinnon, a second-year graduate student, said, “Having Aimee visit Utah State was such a gift. As she talked intimately about her journey in becoming a poet, I felt relief. She is talented, hardworking, kind, and beaming with joy.”

What stood out most to graduate student Jacob Taylor was how “Aimee shared her long journey to publishing her book, World of Wonders, including the dozens of rejections and conditional acceptances. One of the things I liked most about hearing Aimee talk was how genuine she is as a person. She didn't sacrifice the integrity of her book in order to get it published; she waited for a press that would accept it as it was.”

Nezhukumatathil's books for sale

And undergraduate Kyndra Prietzel said, “Nezhukumatathil’s craft class and reading were both great experiences for learning poets (and writers more generally). Not only did she speak about craft and how she thinks about writing, she also spoke about how her writing intersected with her life and her past experiences, and I feel gave a number of attendees a new perspective on their own work, as well as the work of others.

Planning for the 2024 Swenson Visiting Writer is already underway. The series plans to highlight up and coming writers as it continues to honor the legacy of poetry at USU.