Colgate’s Wake of the Storm

Yvonne Tam

This Sunday, October 23, at 7:00 p.m., Colgate’s creative writing faculty will be reading their work for the literary benefit, Wake of the Storm, at the Colgate Bookstore. The writing faculty will be reading from their work to raise funds for the colleges that have been affected by Hurricane Katrina. Real-life perspectives from our resident Gulf Region students will accompany the professors’ work. Jerome Page, a hurricane relief worker on a break from his efforts in the south, will also speak at this event as a prelude to his lecture on Monday, October 24.

Audience members will have the opportunity to make donations by purchasing a professionally designed sampler of all the writers work, courtesy of Stephanie McClintick. Various purchase options will include framed or signed versions of the sampler.

Ranging from poetry to fiction, the readings chosen by the variouos writers are pieces that “expose the starkness of the human condition,” says Associate Professor of English, Hank Lewis. The Olive B. O’Connor Creative Writing Fellow in the Department of English, Shara Lessley, will be reading a selection of poems that includes her “Two-Headed Nightingale.” The poem was first published two years ago, incidentally, in Gulf Coast, a journal from the University of Houston.

“Comprised of a series of voices (theater-goers, doctors, bigots, etc.) debating issues of identity, the poem is a meditation on conjoined songstresses Christine and Millay McCoy,” Lessley said. The event features readings from professors who teach and write professionally, and student works diversify this collection of literary voices. An alloy of youth and experience, the event promises to provide a range of perspectives.

The proposal for the benefit generated from the tradition of Writers Harvest, a nationally run program that held readings in the fall to raise proceeds to fight hunger and homelessness. In the spirit of a waning philanthropic literary tradition, our writing faculty saw a creative way to revive the custom with innovative relief efforts.

“As members of the Creative Writing faculty, the decision whether to act was never a question; it was simply, how and how soon?” said Lessley. While Lewis initiated the dialogue, faculty and other members of the Colgate community quickly came together to execute this impressive benefit project.

While most fundraising relief efforts have focused on producing financial aid for first-responder agencies such as the Red Cross, the faculty meeting generated a personal, specific sense of where they wanted to direct their efforts.

“Many students and faculty have been taken in by other institutions, but we would like to help contribute to the rebuilding efforts at particular colleges, specifically their English departments,” said Lewis. Well-known schools receiving media coverage, like Tulane, will most likely receive restoration funds, but smaller institutions like Dillard, Xaviar and local colleges in the Gulf Region will have the most difficulty reopening. It is these types of institutions that the benefit hopes to support.

“There have been so many relief events but very few, if any, that we have heard of have tried to reach out to faculty and students in the Gulf Region,” said Lewis. Specifically, as a historically black university, Dillard needs preservation in the interest of conserving institutions that contribute diversity to America’s intellectual landscape. Moreover, Lewis hopes that by extending aid from one English department to another, it can develop a long-term relationship between schools that are geographically and culturally different.

“They say that in nature, there is more growth in something that’s cut off – I hope things like that can happen,” Lewis said. In an effort to build such relationships, faculty members have been trying to identify and contact key people at these universities. Unfortunately, as Lewis pointed out, “the very fact that they are so difficult to contact is a testament to the need they are in.”

The benefit aims not only to assist relief efforts, but also to inspire the Colgate community to a world community consciousness. “Many of us have been trying to engage students in how we are connected to this,” added Lewis. “A whole body of people, just like us, is disconnected from the American experience. We wanted to create an event that would benefit a whole set of people, including the Colgate community.”

Indeed, there is, perhaps, something unique about the American collegiate experience. What would we do, if, tomorrow we could no longer look forward to the prospect of scaling Mount Persson steps or pulling an all-nighter at the bomb shelter we presently call our library? On a more serious note, the collegiate communal experience is one without which any of us could hardly imagine living.

“The physical, social,structural andemotional damage affected by the storms is horrific.” Lessley said. “I can’t imagine being additionallystripped of my academic community. The thought of not being able to meet students in the classroom, to experience poems and literature together – or any subject of interest – would be personally devastating. Based on my experienceat Colgate, I’m certain the communitywill reach out tosupport the education of southern students.”

Unfortunately, constant exposure to media coverage on disasters – the threat of nuclear war, tsunamis and Hurricane Katrina – often has the effect of numbing us to worldwide devastation.

“As a human survival mechanism, you tend to numb yourself to what you’re seeing,” Lewis said. “Are we ‘Katrina’d out?’ Hopefully, this event will reenergize efforts through literature and sustained partnerships.”

By adding a personal and emotional perspective, the artistic nature of this upcoming event promises a new breath of life for relief efforts.