English honor society, Poetry House celebrate writing at first Lit Crawl

Ever wanted to experience a pub crawl but get drunk on the wise words of poets and philosophers instead of alcohol? On April 25, English honor society Sigma Tau Delta and the Poetry House teamed up to offer the St. Olaf community such an opportunity at the first annual St. Olaf Lit Crawl.

The idea for the crawl stemmed from a Washington Post article covering a summer literature crawl that allowed attendees to sample different kinds of writing at their leisure. For Johnna Purchase ’14, who helped head the event, it was a way to unite St. Olaf’s community of literature enthusiasts.

“It’s about enjoying, sharing and finding a new favorite [literary work or writer] and getting to talk to new people,” Purchase said. She added that the event encouraged thoughtful interaction between students and a colorful cast of English department professors.

The Lit Crawl was also the year’s first large-scale event to unite English majors. According to Andrew Wilder ’15 Note: Wilder is an Arts & Entertainment editor for the Manitou Messenger, while many other majors on campus have events to foster bonding, the English majors do not generally reach the same level of closeness. Much of the separation may come from the specialization of areas within the English major that prevents some groups of majors whose classes are selected to fit specific interests from ever meeting.

Sigma Tau Delta hosted its first event, a reading of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, in the fall. After the success of the event, honor society leaders decided to organize a more ambitious event for the spring.

“We were shooting for the stars,” Wilder said about the initial Lit Crawl idea. The original plan featured six different locations both on and off campus and a published author from outside of the college. Logistics and timing, however, forced organizers to limit their ambition slightly, resulting in a Lit Crawl with three vastly different stops and an even more varied breadth of literature sampled.

Beginning in a fifth floor classroom in Rolvaag Memorial Library, the three-part literary odyssey eventually wandered to Boe Chapel and then to the Poetry Honor House, located on St. Olaf Ave.

In the Rolvaag classroom, English professors shared their favorite poetry, meandering from the amusing to the reflective and even poignant. While students sat in a semi-circle, each professor read two or three poems and provided spirited commentary to boot.

“So it’s not about seduction; it’s about how to live life!” joked Professor Mary Trull before diving into a reading of Andrew Marvel’s “Coy Mistress.”

In the Boe Chapel Undercroft, an informal “open mic” offered students a chance to read their favorite poets’ works or their own original pieces. The readings ranged from song lyrics to traditional poetry and slam poetry. Somewhere during this second spot, it became evident that the participating “crawlers” were becoming increasingly more comfortable around one another, laughing more lightly and considering one another’s comments more deeply.

The group finished the crawl at the Poetry House, where students listened to St. Olaf Writer in Residence Benjamin Percy explain the background and formulation of his werewolf-civil-rights-virus novel “Red Moon.” With his deep voice and punchy prose, Percy sent chills through the crowd as he read various suspenseful sections. The reading led to an informative discussion on writing style and how to create suspense in novels without overloading readers.

Sigma Tau Delta leaders anticipate that next year’s Lit Crawl will engage in more publicity and a wider range of stops and literary styles, encouraging a broader range of students to participate. Still, in their pilot attempt to bring together St. Olaf’s literati, Sigma Tau Delta and the Poetry House showed that despite some divergence of academic emphasis, it is possible for all lovers of literature, English majors and non-majors alike, to find some level of confluence off the page.

pilkingt@stolaf.edu

Graphic Credit: SOLVEJG WASTVEDT/MANITOU MESSENGER

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