For 15 years, Franklin & Marshall College's Emerging Writers Festival has been bringing five young writers to campus for three days of intensive workshops and intimate readings, giving students a rare glimpse into the minds of professional writers on the cusp of critical and commercial success.
Yet the event does much more than build knowledge. It builds community.
"Every year when it's time for the writers to go, they don't want to leave," said Erik Anderson, F&M's writer in residence and director of the festival. "They feel like they've been treated so well, celebrated in a way that's low-key and welcoming and warm. And many times, the bonds that are made during the festival — among the writers and between the students and writers — endure."
This year's group of writers — Kerry Howley, Robin Coste Lewis, Julia Pierpont, Suzanne Scanlon and Phillip B. Williams — will experience that sense of community when the 2016 event kicks off on April 6. It runs through April 8 and is free and open to the public.
"We are interested in fostering the emergence of young readers and writers," Anderson said. "The writers are always on the other side of that, having emerged in a way, but our students can relate to these writers who are not that far away from them in age. They can see themselves in these writers."
Delia Pepper is one of 10 seniors responsible for planning the festival (the others are Mary Bundy, Alex Faccibene, Colin Gironda, Bill Hamersly, Vanessa Hart, Catalina Salazar, Amy Schulman, Dustin Smith and Lauren Wachspress). She was pleasantly surprised to learn how vital she and her fellows are to the success of the event.
"It's very much a student-driven enterprise," she said. "I thought we'd serve more of a consulting role, but we are determining the entire direction of the festival. It's one of the things that, looking back, I think will stand out from my four years of college."
She and Gironda also will shadow Howley while the essayist is on campus. Each writer is assigned two student aides for the duration of the festival. Pepper, an English major minoring in psychology, said she is looking forward to learning about Howley's literary journey.
"What's really special about this festival is that the writers are not so far removed from where aspiring writers on this campus might be," the Tucson, Ariz., native said. "They are on the verge of being nationally recognized. But we can sneak in before that happens and have a more intimate experience with them."
The Emerging Writers Festival is sponsored by the English Department. Additional support comes from the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House, the Office of the Provost, and longtime College supporters Richard and Edna Hausman.