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Poetry Conference Marks 20 Years; U.S. Poet Laureate Is Keynote

Natasha Tretheway, now serving her second term as
U.S. Poet Laureate, is the 2014 West Chester University
Poetry Conference keynote speaker

Poetry is alive, as Apple proved when it launched its iPad Air advertising campaign this year, which ends with a quote from the film Dead Poets Society: “… the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. … What will your verse be?”

The enduring appeal of poetry is also evident in the longevity of West Chester University’s Poetry Conference, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The nation’s largest all-poetry writing conference, WCUPC is unique because it offers workshops in traditional poetic craft and provides a national forum to discuss major trends in contemporary poetry.

From Wednesday, June 4, through Saturday, June 7, poets from across the nation will converge on West Chester’s campus for workshops, panels, readings and camaraderie centered on their craft. Professionals including Marilyn Nelson, Timothy Steele and David Yezzi will guide participants in improving their styles and narrative voices.

Natasha Tretheway, now serving her second term as U.S. Poet Laureate, is the keynote speaker. Her reading at 8:45 p.m. on Wednesday is free and open to the public.

She is currently featured on PBS NewsHour with senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown for “Where Poetry Lives,” a series of on-location reports from various U.S. cities on issues that matter to Americans through the framework of poetry. Those issues may come up during the town meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 5, when conference co-founder Dana Gioia interviews Tretheway.

Tretheway won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her book Native Guard and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. Her first collection of poetry, Domestic Work, won the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet, the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.

Her most recent works are 2012’s Thrall and Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in which she uses poetry, prose and correspondence to give voice to the personal and public impact of the storm. Tretheway grew up in the North Gulfport section of New Orleans.

Tretheway is also state poet laureate of Mississippi (2012-2016). She is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University.

The public is also invited to more free readings by such literary leaders as Dana Gioia, David Mason, Molly Peacock, Mary Jo Salter, A. E. Stallings and other poets. These take place Thursday and Friday at 8:15 p.m.

Saturday at 8:15 p.m., renowned jazz vocalist and pianist Diane Schuur performs in a free concert that is open to the public. A longtime disciple of Dinah Washington and other legendary jazz singers of the 1940s and 50s, Schuur has also embraced the pop music of her own youth during the late 1950s and ‘60s. She is known for her three-and-a-half octave vocal range and has performed with such greats as Stan Getz, B.B. King, Maynard Ferguson, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Quincy Jones. Nominated for five Grammy Awards, she has won two.

Schuur's recent CD, The Gathering, is a collection of 10 classic country songs that features stars including Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Mark Knopfler.

All free events take place in the Madeleine Wing Adler Theatre in the Performing Arts Center on South High Street. For the complete schedule, visit the Poetry Center website