Let graduate students plan Story Week

By Letter to the Editor, by Courtney Zellars

I appreciated Professor Eric May’s response. It was very illuminating in many ways. But it was also disheartening in others. I’m unsure if Professor May feels graduate students lack the skill set to handle sensitive materials or if he just holds an ideal vision of the unemployed graduate student solely engaging with his or her art for 2+ years.

If it’s the former, graduate students did that and more in handling this semester’s Reading Series, which ended earlier this month with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson (the Reading Series wasn’t created to replace Story Week but its comparable offerings in Story Week’s absence shouldn’t be ignored). If it is the latter, I must say that is not always possible. Many graduate students have to work. We have bills to pay, families to create or to support, and also want to begin saving for our impending student loan debt.

I understand it is easy for faculty to forget that many graduate students have viable resumes with real work experience. Reading Professor May’s response made me thankful for my high school and undergraduate career building experiences, left me wondering if other students aren’t getting the same and then made me sad at the thought that students may be missing out because professors underestimated them.

Truthfully, I’ve been thinking about Story Week a lot since that first article. Professor May’s list of Story Week 15’s many events did give me a greater sense of what we are losing. I now wish a better explanation for its cancellation could be provided.

I hope I’ve adequately dismantled the Lack of Manpower reason. The next is budget cuts. As both a broke college student and bride-to-be who is also planning her own wedding, I definitely know ways to stretch a budget.

A year-long festival featuring 12 reading events (our current series has 15), two panel discussions, one agent/editor conversation, and one undergraduate/graduate reading is doable. Guided by the Department Chair, Associate Chair, and Professor May, three graduate students receiving work-study could manage this. The bulk of the planning could be accomplished from May to June, allowing the students to utilize their summer work-study allotment. The events, potential dates, budget, etc., could be crafted and booked then. To cut costs, most of the events could take place on campus. Another way to maximize the budget is to have faculty and students make up 50 percent of the participants: as moderators and/or authors in the reading and panelists. Big named authors are great but if we can’t afford them, we can’t afford them. There are plenty of notable authors among our own ranks. Our alumni authors, editors and connections are also great resources to continue to tap into.

Now that I know faculty are watching and engaged in this, I’m curious to see what happens—whether a merging can be had, student resources tapped into, and/or if Story Week resurrected on a cheaper budget. I’ll be keeping my eye out for more from both The Chronicle and faculty.

Courtney Zellars

Fiction MFA Candidate