Tuesday, April 15, 2008

English Festival Celebrates 30 Years

From Wednesday to Friday this week, the YSU campus will become a busier place, as thousands of middle and high school students, their teachers, some parents, and visiting scholars and writers participate in the annual English Festival. This year, the Festival is especially exciting, because we are celebrating its 30th year. To mark the occasion, I talked with Gary Salvner, co-chair of the English Festival and chair of YSU’s English department, about the program’s history, how it works, and what’s planned for this celebration year. You can visit the Festival, in Kilcawley Center. Several sessions are open to the public, including the talks by writers at 9:25, 10:35, and 2:20 each day. Stop by the information table outside of the Chestnut Room for more details.

Our interview can’t fully convey the behind-the-scenes story of the Festival, but as a member of the English department, I see it all the time. Planning goes on all year. The committee, which includes both YSU faculty and area teachers, meets regularly to select books, identify guest speakers, organize the distribution of materials, plan the Festival schedule, recruit volunteers, and judge contests. While a dozen or so people do all the planning, another cadre of volunteers steps in during Festival week to lead discussions, staff information tables, and run workshops. It’s a time-consuming project, and the organizers commit incredible amounts of time and energy.

Why do all that work, year after year? Because the English Festival makes a difference for so many students in our community. By promoting the value of reading for pleasure as well as for study, by engaging students in creative writing and production of several kinds (essays, songs, videos, and more), and by recognizing the power of young adult literature, the English Festival helps to foster literacy and an appreciation for education among young people in our Valley. It also reminds students that reading and talking about literature can be fun. It all sounds very serious, but playing language games, debating aspects of the Festival books, and listening to visiting writers talk about their work is also a good time.

I bet a lot of WYSU listeners attended the English Festival sometime in the past 30 years. What do you remember about it? Did it make a difference for you?

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