Student/Faculty/Nearby Universe Spring Reading featuring Poet Laureate Ashley Cornelius packs the house

The Studio West black box theater was full on the evening of March 23, making the Spring Reading featuring Poet Laureate Ashley Cornelius the most widely attended literary reading at PPSC in recent history. Nearby Universe founder and facilitator and English faculty member Brook Bhagat organized and MCed the event. “I want to help my students not only develop their voices but to believe in their voices. Now more than ever, we need to use our voices, for ourselves and for those who have been silenced, with the conviction that what we say, what we write, and what we do matters,” she said in the opening remarks.

photo by Kat Atherton, PPSC Paper

Readings began with creative writing students Marley, Sa’Mya Hall, Oscar Caldwell, and Valerie Ramirez, whose work, in different ways, painted pictures of the defiance of love in the cold of the world, inside and out. Next, English faculty member and local poet Amie Sharp read “Bodies Day,” a poem recounting the strangeness of witnessing a cadaver. Jason Dias, a Psychology faculty member and prolific author, read an excerpt from his novel Finding Life on Mars in which a child and her father grapple with the existence of magic. Next, theater chair Sarah Sheppard Shaver shared prose detailing the harrowing struggle of a couple suffering a miscarriage.

It was the first public reading on campus for the Nearby Universe writers’ group. Longtime member ReeAnn Hyde is an academic advisor at PPSC and also a local poet, artist, and prolific author who also writes under the name M. R. Hyde. She shared several poems on topics ranging from the longing for libraries to racism to the celebration of roadside peaches. Stephanie Lindberg, who teaches English and was just elected president of the two-year college creative writing caucus at AWP, read creative nonfiction about the hot, sticky Michigan summers of her childhood. Brook Bhagat read a poem for her beloved, a poem celebrating the women in her family, and a flash piece about courage, transformation, and Hendrix flares called “Jump (Magic Pants).”

Finally, after a short break, Poet Laureate Ashley Cornelius took the stage! An award-winning, nationally recognized spoken word artist and speaker, Cornelius had the audience eating out of her hand with her gentle humor and powerful poetry. She read and performed many poems, beginning with “She is Big Bang Expansive,” on self-love and acceptance, sharing openly about the origin of the piece in her personal life. Later, she touched on the pain of the Club Q shooting in November, again flipping the narrative to resilience and empowerment with a poem celebrating queer joy. The last poem of the night was her signature piece, “Turn it Up (Defy Silence),” which calls out oppression and discrimination against the Black community and invites the audience to claim their voices, too, and speak out against injustice. After feeling the waves of warmth, unity, laughter and a few tears, who could say no?

The event ended with a bountiful book raffle, with every audience member winning at least one new or gently used book, including PPSC publications Parley and Sitrep, science fiction novels, fantasy anthologies, and signed copies of books by authors from the Nearby Universe.

Thank you to everyone who came, read, or otherwise helped this evening become a true celebration of the power of the written and spoken word, especially Poet Laureate Ashley Cornelius! Thanks also to Sarah Shaver, the theater department, the English department, the Student Government Association, Benjy Davies, Sarah McMahon and Kat Atherton for the photos below. Check out her photo gallery of the event here.

One thought on “Student/Faculty/Nearby Universe Spring Reading featuring Poet Laureate Ashley Cornelius packs the house

  1. Reblogged this on Brook Bhagat and commented:
    The Spring Reading and Visiting Writer’s Series was a magnificent evening! Students, faculty, and Nearby Universe readers were wonderful, and Ashley was amazing, weaving poetry, hope, courage, and humor together in a way that made us all feel warm, empowered and connected, with renewed faith in the power of words and art to heal ourselves and heal this world. Thanks to everyone who came, read, or otherwise helped make this happen, especially Poet Laureate Ashley Cornelius!


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