Skyline College faculty, staff, and students welcomed writers and readers from throughout the Bay Area to the campus on Saturday, February 21 for WOW! Voices Now, an annual literary event showcasing the accomplishments of women writers. Kathleen McClung, adjunct professor of English, served as creative director and event coordinator for the sixth year.
More than eighty audience members of all ages listened closely to keynote speakers Natalie Baszile and Eileen Malone as they presented their work and engaged in lively Q&A. Baszile read from her debut novel, Queen Sugar, which focuses on an urban African-American woman and her daughter who move from Los Angeles to Louisiana after inheriting a sugar cane farm. Baszile spoke movingly about the eleven-year period she spent working on the novel and the strategies she used to persist in her creative project. She spoke one-on-one with audience members and signed dozens of copies of her novel, which is being adapted to a television series by executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay.
Eileen Malone, author of I Should Have Given Them Water and Letters with Taloned Claws, has published over 500 poems in literary journals and anthologies and has won numerous awards, including three Pushcart Prizes. She serves as a writing contest director, television interviewer, book reviewer, and mental health activist. During her presentation, she read a series of powerful poems ranging in tone from fierce to tender to funny, and she spoke of the essential, often healing role that writing plays for people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse within families. As she signed books, she provided information about the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, which she founded and directs. She encouraged WOW participants to submit entries and attend the annual awards reading at the San Francisco Main Library in March.
Skyline College creative writing professors Katharine Harer and Rob Williams presented awards to outstanding creative writing students Erin Perry and Daniela Tabora, who each read original poems and received enthusiastic ovations from the crowd, along with gift bags containing books and certificates. WOW! Founder Marijane Datson told the audience that the ISA Awards honor the memory of Isabelle (Isa) Maynard, a featured author at the first WOW! Conference in 2003 whose creative accomplishments spanned many decades and literary genres.
Fourteen writers, including Skyline College creative writing professors Jessica Powers and Rob Williams, read poems, short stories and memoirs during the open reading. Professor Harer emceed this portion of the program, which featured pieces ranging from meditations on banana slugs, cats, and horses to narratives of transcendent moments in hospitals and churches.
One Skyline College student said about the event, “Not only did it inspire me to start writing more and devote more time to the craft, but it also refreshed my passion to be able to make it to the stage as well. I want to be up there—hopefully someday soon—reading my writing out loud to an audience.”
Thanks to Mary Gutiérrez, Dean of Language Arts, and Kevin Chak, Skyline Bookstore Manager, as well as WOW! Ambassadors Priscilla Schwartz, Valerie Malliett, Tom McAninley, and caterer John Alvergue.
Article by Kathleen McClung | Photo by Tom McAninley