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English Fest celebrates sweet sixteen

English Fest celebrates sweet sixteen

When English Fest started at UW-Eau Claire 16 years ago, it was a modest birthday party for everyone’s favorite bard.

“It started much smaller, as a celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday, that’s why it’s always the last week in April,” said Cathy Rex, English department faculty member and faculty adviser of English Fest 2012.

William Shakespeare, who would’ve celebrated his 448th birthday on Monday, would be proud of Eau Claire’s annual English Fest event, which has grown into a weeklong celebration of all things English.

This year’s theme, “Landscape of Language,” is derived from featured speaker Linda Hogan, award-winning writer in residence for the Chickasaw Nation, Rex said.

“We thought of the way Hogan plays with various types of language and the international poetry reading, which this year is featuring 41 different languages,” Rex said. “We thought about the different ways language can be used and thought of and understood.”

The international poetry reading, which kicked off the week’s events at 7 p.m. Monday night in Davies Center, is English faculty member Jacqueline Bailey’s favorite part of the event.

“The international poetry reading is such a wonderful event,” Bailey said. “I highly encourage (my students) to go.”

Rex, too, said she encourages students to attend English Fest events.

“I think it’s great for students to come and hear things like the international poetry reading, see our keynote speakers or even present a creative work or a scholarly paper in a conference-style setting,” Rex said. Rex noted student presentations range from creative works to foreign language or education panels, and students from every major — not just English — are encouraged to present and attend.

For senior Claire Sarafin, English Fest is an opportunity to present her women’s studies capstone work.

“English Fest is a great opportunity for students, whether or not they are English majors or minors,” Sarafin said. “There’s a lot of work put into these events and students would benefit from going to see them.”

Sarafin is correct: There is a lot of work put into English Fest, the planning process for which begins in fall each year.

“This has been two semesters worth of really hard work done by about 20 of us,” said senior Katie Wanzer, who was tasked with selecting the music to play on the campus mall both Tuesday and Thursday. “It’s been very chaotic and very long … it’s finally great to see it all come together.”

Wanzer said she got involved because she’s passionate about English.

“A lot of people don’t really know about how much English and writing really does expand our world,” she said.

Through English Fest, the love of English is shared not only across disciplines, but now, across the UW System. This year, Eau Claire students are joined by UW-Superior students, according to Rex.

“We have two panels of students from UW-Superior who are going to come down and present their work,” Rex said. “I really love that it’s going to other campuses this year.”

Rex said she hopes the trend will continue and expand to include more System schools in future years.

Wanzer best summed up the week: “It’s so fulfilling, knowing that kids are finally getting their chance to share their work and speak their mind.”

The week’s events conclude tonight with keynote speaker Linda Hogan speaking at 7 p.m. in the Council Fire Room in Davies Center.

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