High School Students Put Pens to Paper and Practice Poetry During University Authors' Day

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – “Poetry provides emotional and spiritual access for young people during a time when they are trying to make sense of their lives and the world.”

These words, spoken by poet Cyrus Cassells, reflect the importance of poetry and writing for developing minds. Cassells, author of six poetry collections and professor at Texas State University, was chosen as the keynote speaker for the 22nd annual University Authors’ Day at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, held Feb. 7-8.

“As a University, we want to honor our integral role in serving our whole Corpus Christi and extended community and celebrate our love for writing and literature by introducing a celebrated author whose work is especially relevant to our lives and histories,” said Dr. Robin Carstensen, assistant professor of English at the Island University and University Authors’ Day co-coordinator. “We chose an author who speaks to our collective traumas and triumphs and the complexity of our lived realities.”

The two-day event began with a poetry reading from Cassells during which he read from his collection titled, “The Gospel According to Wild Indigo.” The reading was free and open to the public.

“Our goal is for attendees to experience a new connection with literature and writing,” said Carstensen, “and the ways in which writing can reinvigorate us, resonate in our shared vulnerabilities, disturb us from any short-sighted thinking and complacencies, comfort us in our struggles, and stand with us in healing and action.”

The following day, Cassells, along with Island University faculty and graduate students, led a group of over 120 local high school students in a poetry workshop. Belinda Covarrubiaz, English teacher at Tuloso Midway (TM) High School, has brought the TM Creative Writing Club to University Authors’ Day for the past five years.

“This workshop gives my students the opportunity to hear a real author, be around other students who enjoy writing, and showcase their voices during the open mic portion of the day,” said Covarrubiaz. “Coming here helps my students come out of their shells and be unafraid in their voice.”

Throughout the workshop, Cassells encouraged the young minds to explore their personal experiences through poetry.

“Some in our culture tend to belittle the contributions of young people,” said Cassells. “But 15 or 20 years of life is still a lot of life to write from. I want these young writers to stand in their perspective, trust their experience, and know that whatever they’ve gone through is worth writing about and sharing.”

While event organizers see the free keynote address as a gift to the community, workshop attendees, some who have never before set foot on a college campus, receive an equally important prize.

“University Authors’ Day promotes literacy skills, rewards creativity, and lets these kids know that people like them can go on to do great things,” said Dr. Chuck Etheridge, professor of English at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Authors’ Day chair of the coordinating committee. “Coming here, meeting people, and interacting with college students and faculty – all of that promotes college attendance and lets these students know ‘this is possible.’”