October 26, 2023

2023 Brewer Festival of Writing Celebrates Creativity and Identity

Author Bojan Louis reads at the Brewer Festival of WritingAward-winning author Bojan Louis reads from his latest publication at the Brewer Festival of Writing in Sept. 2023. (Photo credit: Nathan Stewart)

By Andrea DeHaan, CHaSS Communications Editor

On Sept. 21, Utah State University’s Department of English held its annual Brewer Festival of Writing. The 2023 event featured readings from visiting writer Bojan Louis and English alum Stacie Denetsosie.

Denetsosie, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at USU before completing an MFA in Fiction from the Institute of American Indian Arts, kicked off the event as the festival’s guest writer. She read from her debut collection The Missing Morningstar and Other Stories, work that draws on her own legacy. A citizen of the Navajo Nation, Denetsosie spent a portion of her childhood in Logan before deciding to attend Utah State. Alternating between detailed instructions for dressing a sheep and memories of a woman who leaves life on a ranch to work at a meat processing plant, Denetsosie’s short story is told through the eyes of a daughter trying to understand her mother’s experiences as a young adult, just as they are beginning to intersect with her own.

Following a heartfelt introduction by Assistant Professor Travis Franks, Louis, an award-winning author of Native American literature and associate professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona, shared a story from his latest publication and fiction debut Sinking Bell: Stories. The Brewer Festival audience of students and faculty was silently engrossed as Bojan read his somber and sometimes sardonic tale of a young adolescent growing up without parents. The protagonist is smart enough to navigate a series of adult and, at times, perilous situations, but young enough to yearn for the privilege of just being a kid — a privilege he does not have.

During the Q&A that followed, Louis and Denetsosie touched upon themes of self-discovery, imposter syndrome, the importance of reading, and the connection to one's roots and identity. Naturally, there were many questions about the writing process itself.

"Really it's just like kind of setting aside that part of you that I guess wants praise or recognition and just going with … the work, what actually fuels you and deciding to do that every day," said Denetsosie.

Professor Charles Waugh asked the authors about the conception of space in their stories and, in particular, dealing with the “magnanimity of the West.”

Speaking about the title of his collection, which is set in and around Flagstaff, Bojan said, “A bell calls to prayer, it signals danger. So, if it's absent of its clapper, then the sort of empty space of the mouth of the bell becomes this liminal sort of abyss. I was thinking about how all the characters … are moving without danger or warning or maybe ignoring those things.”

The annual festival, which is held in honor of former USU Professor Ken Brewer, concluded with a panel of artists who joined Louis to talk about their dedication to the creative process. It featured two Caine College of the Arts faculty, printmaker Holland Larsen and photographer Fazilat Soukhakian.

USU student and aspiring writer, Woodrow Laing, appreciated how candid the authors and artists were about overcoming the challenges and self-doubt associated with their creative pursuits.

“It really encouraged me, because I kind of see myself as an outsider to the field of writing,” Laing said, “so I just got a huge confidence boost.”

This year’s event was held in USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library and sponsored by the Campus Store and the Department of English. The annual festival is made possible by a generous donation from Glenn Wilde and the late Anne Wilde.

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