Posters advertising this year’s KR Literary Festival and Rosenblatt’s novel Kayak Morning quickly became wet from consistent rain, with one or two seen blowing down Middle Path. However, the weather oddly complemented the images seen all over campus of a solitary kayak drifting on a lake on a gray morning, and the unpredictable Ohio weather failed to diminish excitement for the Kenyon Review Literary Festival.
A weekend dedicated to the craft of writing and celebrating those who have excelled marked the 2015 Kenyon Review Literary Festival, which took place October 2-3. A rich roster of readings, workshops, and panels culminated with a keynote address—and a song—delivered by Roger Rosenblatt, the recipient of this year’s Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.
Enthusiasm began building during September with various Knox Reads! events taking place throughout the month, including two local giveaways of copies of Kayak Morning. Community discussions at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County and Paragraphs Bookstore were led by Professors of English Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, Sarah Heidt, and Kenyon Review Editor David Lynn, all of whom contributed to a series of KR blog posts about Rosenblatt’s book leading up to the Lit Fest.
A wonderful Friday evening joint reading by poet Tarfia Faizullah and fiction writer David James Poissant kicked off the Literary Festival weekend, with readings the next day by Kenyon Review Fellow Melinda Moustakis and KR Consulting Editor Andrew Grace. The Literary Festival not only celebrates literature and writers, but also presents an opportunity to listen and learn from the best. Anyone could participate in workshops with Faizullah and Poissant and the public panel discussion on New Journalism, giving residents, students, and visitors the opportunity to learn and discuss literature with all the visiting writers.
Kenyon Review Interns and Associates were invited to a question-and-answer session with Roger Rosenblatt on Saturday morning. Rosenblatt asked the students what they were currently writing, a question from the honoree that was appreciated by Claire Oleson, a first-year student and Kenyon Review Associate who participated in the September blog discussion about Kayak Morning. Oleson said she “found his self-presentation very real and organic. This last decision really showed how he considered his audience to be composed of individuals rather than just questions for him to reply to.”
Rosenblatt also participated in the panel discussion about New Journalism held at the Kenyon Bookstore on Saturday, along with Professors of English Ivonne Garcia and Lewis Hyde as well as Robin Davis, editorial director for Kenyon’s Office of Communications, and moderator Mark Ellis, assistant vice president for communications. The panel discussed contemporary journalism, literary nonfiction, and the future of both. Kenyon senior Megan Remillard particularly enjoyed the discussion about the issue of citizen journalism and the steady loss of niche journalism.
The other interns and I were excited to have front-row seats for the high point of the weekend, the Denham Sutcliffe Memorial Lecture, in which Rosenblatt meditated on the human imagination. He observed that everyone uses imagination to create our own individual reality. I was impressed that Rosenblatt created an intimate connection with the audience and bid us drift into his personal stories and imagine a boy who watched movies and remembered odd lines from them who had now become a grandfather laughing at something his grandson said. My favorite moment occurred at the end, when Rosenblatt invited the entirety of the auditorium to sing along to John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The final lyrics—“You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope some day you’ll join us / and the world will be as one”—were sung with feeling and the final note ended with ringing applause.
The sense of intimacy experienced by a large group voluntarily singing a classic song late at night brought an end to the 2015 Kenyon Review Literary Festival. It ended as it began, with a sense of community and partnership in celebrating literature and the people who bring it to life.