Growing Literature

The Devil’s Kitchen Literary Awards competition is the only one of its kind in the United States because undergraduate college students choose winners in poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

Authors and poets from across the country enter work published in 2014, vying for the honor of coming to SIU to read during the Devil’s Kitchen Literary Festival, which is Oct. 21-23 in SIU’s Morris Library.

The festival is run by the student editors of Grassroots magazine, the undergraduate literary and arts journal at SIU. Grassroots is also unique, in that only SIU undergraduate students can be published in the magazine. Student editors choose the winners of the national contest.

“They chose authors whose works spoke to them, writers they wanted to hear read from their published works,” wrote Allison Joseph, associate professor in the English Department at SIU. She also is faculty adviser for Grassroots, and editor and poetry editor for Crab Orchard Review, a national literary journal publishing poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers in this country and from around the world.

Joseph, who responded in an email, is attending the Virginia Tech Visiting Writers Conference, where the prolific and published poet will be reading from. But, the Devil’s Kitchen festival isn’t far from her mind.

“The writers who are coming are very accessible to college students and lovers of good writing and literature,” she said. “The festival is fun, so we want students of all majors and community members from all walks of life to come and enjoy the readings and panels that are on the literary festival schedule.”

In hopes of attracting an audience wider than only “serious” students of literature and academic, festival organizers have teamed up with the university’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities.  

“We want to help make this a Southern Illinois festival,” said Anthony Farace, a graduate student majoring in anthropology and grad assistant at the center. “The last few years, we had 30 or so people attend the Devil’s Kitchen Literary Festival; last year we had about 100 people at each event, and we want to keep that number growing.”

Farace and others have been reaching out to libraries, community colleges and organizations, trying to expand the reach of this festival, which features readings, panel discussions, book-signings along with the opportunity to meet established and up-and-coming poets and writers.

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“The festival is something that isn’t well-known in Southern Illinois, outside of the university,” Farace said. “We are determined to get the information out, because we believe it is something that would interest a lot of people.”

The Devil’s Kitchen Literary Awards winners who will be featured at the festival are poet David Tomas Martinez, for “Hustle”; Megan Milks, fiction, for “Kill Marguerite and Other Stories”; and Ben Tanzer, nonfiction, for “Lost in Space.”

Also featured at the festival are the winners of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, a national poetry competition run in conjunction with SIU Press. Jon Tribble, instructor in SIU’s English Department and series editor, is with Joseph in Virginia and also will read from his poetry while there.

Appearing from the poetry series will be winners Sass Brown and Lisa Fay Coutley, “well-published poets who beat out a lot of others to be published in the Crab Orchard Series, which draws over 1,000 individual poetry manuscripts each year,” Joseph wrote.

Also featured at the festival will be Angie Macri, a poet and a Randolph County native who now lives and teaches in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“We thought she’d be an excellent addition to the festival line-up because she’s a wonderful poet who people in Southern Illinois should know about,” Joseph said.

In fact, Joseph is hoping all of Southern Illinois will soon know about and experience the Devil’s Kitchen Literary Festival.

“The festival is a true treasure, and is similar to festivals you would find in larger cities and on bigger campuses,” she said. “SIUC should be very proud to host such a tremendous literary event.”

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