21st University Authors’ Day: Radiant Poetry for a Packed House

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Department of English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christ hosted the 21st University Authors’ Day. Emmy Pérez, associate professor of creative writing and affiliate faculty member of Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, returned to the Island University as the keynote speaker on Feb. 8. Along with the keynote speech, Pérez and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s English faculty engaged local high school students with writing workshops on Feb. 9.

Pérez was first invited to A&M-Corpus Christi to speak at the English Department’s 2008 Haas Awards and then later at the 2017 People’s Poetry Festival’s Border Poetry of Resistance Panel. She has authored two poetry books, garnered multiple awards and is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry. She is also the co-founder of Poets Against Walls.

“We wanted to bring in a prominent author who works well with high school students,” said Dr. Robin Carstensen, assistant professor of English at A&M-Corpus Christi. “Through poetry, Emmy Pérez expresses the experience of living in the borderlands and the political climate of our current policies.”

During her keynote presentation Thursday evening, Pérez read her poetry in a flow of English and Spanish to a packed room. Her readings from “With the River on Our Face” focused on the borderland region, history, languages and cultures of South Texas. Inspired by welcoming Islander hospitality, she also shared her newest poetry.

“Everybody’s life matters, and we should document it ourselves,” said Pérez. “If we can write well in life, then we can document our lives properly. We can also advocate for ourselves and our community. Writing shows that we exist.”

The next day, more than 100 students came from Roy Miller High School, Sinton High School, Mary Carroll High School, Richard King High School and Tuloso-Midway High School for workshops in technical writing, creative writing and literature studies. The high school students found their writing groove through engaging with Pérez, English faculty and English graduate students. Friday’s events culminated with eager students sharing the fruits of their labor during an open mic session.

“Before today, I had a hard time writing because I’d put so much thought into it. Now that I’ve been here, it has helped me to just write and not think so much about it,” said Denise Treviño, a King High School student. “I learned that writing can happen anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to be grammatical about everything, and you don’t have to hold back.”

Since its humble beginnings, Authors’ Day has transformed into one of the English Department’s premier events. It began in the 1990’s thank to former English professors, the late Dr. Robb Jackson and Dr. Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak. Because of the extensive community outreach, Authors’ Day has become a nearly all-hands-on-deck affair for English faculty.

“Robb Jackson always advocated for the English Department engaging with our local community,” said Dr. Charles Etheridge, professor of English at A&M-Corpus Christi. “He wanted an event that celebrated writing and reached the people the University was put here to serve. We’ve now been doing that for 21 years.”

Authors’ Day is made possible thanks to the Miriam Wagenschein Endowment, the John W. Hill Speaker Series and the Paul and Mary Haas Foundation. Through their support of the humanities, the English Department is able to foster Corpus Christi’s creative community and provide local high school students with writing tools, books, meals and an artistic outlet.