In a typical year, the Emerging Writers Festival (EWF) welcomes five fresh faces to the Franklin & Marshall College campus for three days of dialogue about the art and craft of writing.
This year is not typical.
In 2017, the hallmark literary event welcomes four newcomers and one old friend: Indrapramit Das, a 2008 graduate of F&M who published his first novel, "The Devourers," in 2016.
"I am deeply honored to be the first alumnus to attend EWF as a guest writer," Das said. "I remember thinking to myself when attending EWF as a student that I wanted to one day be one of the guest writers here, and I'm surprised and glad to have fulfilled that ambition. It's a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the faculty of the English department, and to connect with current students and share with them whatever knowledge I can about writing."
Joining Das for the 16th annual event, which takes place April 12-14, are Garnette Cadogan (nonfiction), Franny Choi (poetry), Meghan Kenny (fiction) and Kristen Radtke (graphic nonfiction). Many of the readings and workshops will take place in EWF's de facto home, the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House.
Erik Anderson, writer in residence at F&M and director of the festival, said this year's group represents the widest range of genres he's seen in his five-year involvement with EWF. He's especially pleased to add an alumni voice to the panel.
"We're hoping this is something we can carry forward in future years," he said. "We've already lined up another alum for next year's festival (Mandy Berman '09). As long as they keep publishing books, we are going to keep bringing them here."
A hallmark of the festival is the high level of student involvement. Each year,10 seniors volunteer to do the grassroots grunt work that makes the event tick: shadowing the writers, organizing the readings and craft talks, and making sure everyone is happy and fed.
"They are on it," Anderson said. "They have taken charge of this festival. They feel empowered."
Senior Sage Salvo, who is pursuing a dual major in English (creative writing) and film and media studies, is among those energized volunteers. She said the most eye-opening aspect of organizing the event has been buttoning up the myriad minutiae.
"There are so many little things you need to think about," she said. "Maybe we want to do bookmarks or T-shirts. What are the food allergies or diet restrictions the authors might have? Are there any details related to travel we need to consider?"
Despite the many hours of preparation, Salvo said it would pay off when she gets to spend time with the writer she is shadowing, graphic novelist Radtke.
"I just want to know how she started and how she got into the field," said Salvo, a writer and artist who is on the staff of F&M's graphic literature magazine, Badaboom! "It's all well and good to pile up my pieces in my room, but how do you go about getting them out there? How do you get people to take you seriously as a writer and an artist?"
Over the years, EWF has helped to launch the careers of more than 70 writers, and more than twice that number of students have served on organizing committees. Joining Salvo this year as student committee members are fellow seniors Michelle Bailey, Clarissa Grunwald, Erin Hallenbeck, Greer Kann, Lucy Kirkman, Mia Konstantakos, Andrea Martinez, Shristi Uprety and Bendjhi Villiers.
Anderson said his favorite part of the festival is witnessing the birth of new relationships.
"Our last event is a panel with all five writers that morphs into a farewell barbecue. It's this wonderful moment where at one level, everyone is tired, but they are also elated," he said. "The students have bonded, the writers have bonded with the students, and in just three days, we've gone from being strangers to a tight-knit community."
EWF is supported by Edna Hausman P'85 and Richard D. Hausman '50, P'85, the English department, Philadelphia Alumni Writers House, and the Office of the Provost
The Birth of a Novel
This is the 16th year of the Emerging Writers Festival, and the first to feature an alumnus, short fiction writer Indrapramit Das '08 (aka Indra Das). For Das, returning to campus closes a creative loop that began in the classrooms of Franklin & Marshall.
The framework for his first novel, The Devourers (Del Rey / Penguin Random House / Penguin India, 2016), took shape under the guidance of F&M Professor of English Nicholas Montemarano. Here, he recounts how his early work informed a book he would publish a decade later:
"The first chapter of The Devourers was crafted out of a short story I wrote for the second creative writing workshop class I took as an undergraduate. It also was the second writing class I took with Professor Montemarano, a workshop for short fiction. I believe that was in my sophomore or junior year.
The Philadelphia Alumni Writers House had just opened, and we had our class there, sitting in couches in that brightly lit living room. It was quite a lovely space for workshopping. I remember Professor Montemarano being quite pleased with that story, which was inspired by a trip to a music festival in my hometown during my winter break.
Another section of the novel was borne out of a novella I wrote for another creative writing class at F&M. That one changed quite a bit when I finally incorporated it into the novel, but the short story I wrote for Professor Montemarano's class remained almost exactly the same in its transition to the first chapter of The Devourers.
I only got the idea of expanding those stories—both about immortal werewolves in Mughal-era and present-day India—into novel length many years later when I was doing my master's degree at the University of British Columbia and needed to write a book for my thesis. I'd always been proud of that short story—rather poorly titled Morphosis—from Professor Montemarano's class, but none of the magazines I'd sent it to had bit. So, I decided to use it, and the other novella, as the seed for my thesis novel, which eventually became my first published novel."