Story Week 2010 to ‘bend genres’

By CiaraShook

The Fiction Writing Department is gearing up for their 14th annual  Story Week,  with this year’s installment offering a more diverse palette of guests, including Bread & Puppet Theater and headlining author Joyce Carol Oates.

Columbia’s Story Week began as a three-day affair almost 15 years ago because Randy Albers, chair of the Fiction Writing Department, was inspired by a literary festival he visited years before in New Orleans, where beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg read to students.

“The first [Story Week] had about three or four writers visiting and student and faculty readings,” Albers said. “Now we have six days, 18 events and a lot of wonderful people coming in.”

Albers wanted Story Week to be youthful and diverse, though the emphasis is mainly on quality, said Sam Weller, assistant Fiction Writing professor and faculty artistic director of Story Week.

The festival, hosted by the Fiction Writing Department each spring, is now considered the literary version of the Chicago summer music festival Lollapalooza because of the copious amount of different events in one week.

“I’ve gone to every literary festival, and I’ve never seen anything with the same character,” Weller said. “There’s an energy you will see at no other festival.”

Story Week’s theme this year is about genre bending and how works of fiction can have different faces, such as horror, mystery, working class fiction and science fiction.

“We are looking at cross-pollination of so-called literary fiction and inventions of genre fiction,” Albers said.

Sheryl Johnston, artistic director and publicist of Story Week, said the visiting writers come from different genres to reflect the eclectic theme.

“Our headlining author, Joyce Carol Oates, has written in every genre, and she’s written over a hundred books,” Johnston said. “She’s probably the most prolific author in America.”

Oates is published in genres such as gothic, romance and literary fiction. She will be part of Story Week on March 15 at Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St. There will be a book signing and conversation with Donna Seaman of Chicago Public Radio.

Bread & Puppet Theater will be a unique Story Week guest and perform with Columbia students on March 18.

“Schumann will be performing a combination of story, art and music,” Johnston said. “Earlier that day, he’ll have a workshop with students from the Theater Department and Fiction playwriting classes. It’s also kind of a blending of the serious and the humorous.”

Bread & Puppet Theater will also be part of the festivities at Thursday night’s Literary Rock & Roll event at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., with readings and signings by writers Bonnie Jo Campbell, Marcus Sakey and visiting professor

Aleksandar Hemon.

Story Week invites audience response and participation in the conversations writers elicit and the events that incorporate the arts beyond literature.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm from our audience and everyone who participates,” Johnston said. “People are not shy about asking questions, and our authors are always amazed at questions from our audience.”

Other visiting authors include John Dale, Maggie Estep, Achy Obejas, Phyllis Eisenstein and David Morrell, whose book “First Blood” inspired the Sylvester Stallone film series “Rambo,” and more.

Full- and part-time faculty, alumni and students will also participate in readings and conversations, including Albers, Weller, Gary Johnson, Betty Shifflet, John Schultz, Kim Morris, Jessica Young, Ann Hemenway, Lisa Schlesinger, Tom Mula and Kristen Fiore.

Story Week will be held from Sunday, March 14 to Friday, March 19. Events will take place at Dance Center Chicago, 3868 N. Lincoln Ave.; Film Row Cinema in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.; Harold Washington Library; Martyr’s, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave.; Metro; Sheffield’s Beer Garden, 3258 N. Sheffield Ave. and Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark St.