October 31, 2019
On October 25, award-winning poet, essayist and educator Paisley Rekdal visited campus as part of The Ethel Walker School Visiting Writer Seminar, a unique course that focuses on living writers who are making an impact on the world with their words. Rekdal visited classes, presented to the community and joined members of the Walker’s and local community for a book talk.
Throughout the course of the fall semester, Upper School English classes have been studying the works of Rekdal, including Imaginary Vessels, finalist for the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Prize and the Washington State Book Award; The Broken Country: On Trauma, a Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam, Rekdal’s newest work of nonfiction about the long-term cultural and psychological effects of the Vietnam War; and Nightingale, her newest collection of poems which rewrites many of the myths in Ovid’s The Metamorphoses.
Students had the opportunity to engage Rekdal in questions about her work, process and background, connecting the themes raised in her work with issues in society today. “These poems have been an incredible gift,” said English faculty member Dave Thacker. “They have guided us to discussions that have been thoughtful, compassionate and insightful, particularly our conversations around voicelessness and maintaining or reclaiming a voice.”
Paisley Rekdal’s work has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Residency, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Pushcart Prizes (2009, 2013), Narrative’s Poetry Prize, the AWP Creative Nonfiction Prize and various state arts council awards. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New Republic, Tin House, the Best American Poetry series (2012, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019) and on National Public Radio, among others. She teaches at the University of Utah, where she is also the creator and editor of the community web project Mapping Salt Lake City. In May 2017, she was named Utah’s Poet Laureate and received a 2019 Academy of American Poets’ Poets Laureate Fellowship.
The Ethel Walker School Visiting Writer Seminar is a semester-long course in which students have the rare and special opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of one writer’s works. Throughout the semester, students read a critical mass of texts by the writer before the course culminates with their visit to the school. During this visit, the writer will teach master classes, conduct writing workshops and participate in class discussion. The writer will also deliver a schoolwide assembly and a public reading to our community. The magic of this course is created in the collaborative and symbiotic exchange between the writer and the student. Learning and inspiration move from the writer to the student but also, we hope, from the student back to the writer.