BOONE—The annual Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series at Appalachian State University is like an exclusive club. Only the best authors out there can meet the requirements for membership.
“We bring in writers with proven track records and strong literary credentials,” said Joseph Bathanti, the series’ director and a professor of creative writing in Appalachian’s Department of English. “They also need to relate well to audiences, particularly students.”
Carol Tyler and Robert Olen Butler, the two writers slated to conclude the current series’ fall season, would certainly appear to uphold the “club” standards laid out by Bathanti, the former poet laureate of North Carolina. Each will present, over the course of one day, both an afternoon craft talk and an evening reading of his or her work.
Carol Tyler was recommended by Craig Fischer, who teaches film and other subjects in Appalachian’s Department of English. His senior seminar on creative writing is focusing on the graphic novel. Butler was recommended by Sarah-Beth Hopton, an assistant professor of technical and professional writing in Appalachian’s Department of English. Susan Weinberg, an associate professor of creative writing in Appalachian’s Department of English, serves as the series’ coordinator.
Tyler, who will make her series appearance Nov. 3, has made her mark as a graphic novelist. Her latest graphic novel, from 2015, is “Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father, A Daughter’s Memoir” (Fantagraphics Books). The work describes the author’s damaged relationship with her father, and how his untreated PTSD shaped her childhood and affected her relationships in adulthood.
This year, “Soldier’s Heart” received the Gold Medal of Excellence from the Society of Illustrators, attracting rave reviews from The New York Times and other major publications. It also received Slate.com’s Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Print Comic of 2015.
Tyler’s inclusion in the series reflects the growing popularity of the graphic novel.
Young people “are growing up with it,” Bathanti said. “It’s a big genre.”
As for Butler, he’ll make his series appearance Nov. 10. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of 16 novels and six volumes of short fiction. He has also published “From Where You Dream,” a volume of his lectures on the creative process; like Tyler, Butler teaches at a university. Butler teaches creative writing at Florida State University, and Tyler teaches comics, graphic novels, and sequential art at the University of Cincinnati DAAP School of Art.
During the Vietnam War, Butler served in Vietnam from 1969-71, holding several posts in the U.S. Army. His experiences in Vietnam have informed much of his writing – including “Perfume River,” a novel published this past September by Atlantic Monthly Press. The book “examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family,” reads a description at http://www.groveatlantic.com.
Hopton has already read “Perfume River.” Her father is a Vietnam veteran, and her scholarly research focuses on Agent Orange, public policy and the rhetoric of war. She notes that there are many veterans among Appalachian’s student body who might read “Perfume River” and “feel some sense of relief knowing that they are not alone in their experiences of war, family and reconciliation with self and society.”
“For the warrior, it is often shocking to survive war, to display such competencies on the battlefield, but then return to civilian life and feel lost and incapable of transition,” she said. “Many veterans and their families I’ve interviewed believe they will never return to pre-war ‘wholeness.’
“Literature at its best – like ‘Perfume River’ – can act as a salve against the acidity of despair and isolation; it can remind us of our common humanity. Sometimes, words can act like breadcrumbs, and by them, we find our way back home.”
When the Fall 2016 Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series is over, then, fans of it will have encountered three writers whose work has explored war and its effects on soldiers and their families. The third writer is Bruce Weigl, who made series presentations Oct. 6.
“The Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series did not plan to have a fall military theme, but this is how it worked out by happenstance,” Bathanti said. “Nevertheless, I think this gathering of writers within a single semester does underscore Appalachian’s commitment to veterans and their families, and it also underscores the work that the university’s Appalachian Veterans Arts and Humanities Collective is embarking on. What’s more, we have in this fall’s series a Pulitzer Prize winner, Robert Olen Butler, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Bruce Weigl – both Vietnam combat veterans. That’s extraordinary.”
Remaining Series Details
On Nov. 3, graphic novelist Carol Tyler will present a craft talk titled “Writing and Drawing the Graphic Novel” from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. in Room 169 (Three Top Mountain) of the Plemmons Student Union. She will read from and show her work at 7:30 p.m. in the Turchin Center Lecture Hall, TCVA-1102. The Lecture Hall is accessible through clearly marked double doors on the back side of the Turchin Center for Visual Arts that are visible from the center’s parking lot. Book sales and signing will follow each event.
On Nov. 10, Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer Robert Olen Butler will make his series presentations. From 2 to 3:15 p.m., he will offer a craft talk titled “What is Art and How Do You Write It?” in Room 201B (Table Rock Room) of the Plemmons Student Union. He will read from “Perfume River” the same evening at 7:30 p.m. in the same location. Book sales and signing will follow each event.
All series events are free and open to the public.
About the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series
The Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series is named in honor of Hughlene Bostian Frank ’68, a 2013 Appalachian Alumni Association Outstanding Service award recipient, past member of Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, current board member of the Appalachian State University Foundation, and generous supporter of Appalachian State University.
The Fall 2016 Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series is supported by the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc., Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English, Office of Multicultural Student Development, University Bookstore, Belk Library and Information Commons, and the Appalachian Journal.
Business sponsors are The Gideon Ridge Inn, The Red Onion Restaurant and The New Public House & Hotel. Community sponsors include John and the late Margie Idol, Paul and Judy Tobin, Alice Naylor and Thomas McLaughlin.
For additional information about the series, visit http://visitingwriters.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.