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'Big Read' events bring California poet's works to Georgia audiences

  |   Kristen B. Morales   |   Permalink   |   News Release,   Service and Community,   Spotlight,   Students and Faculty

A University of Georgia professor will connect the Athens community with the works of an environmental poet from California thanks to a "Big Read" grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

UGA College of Education professor Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor is planning a slate of readings, lectures, hands-on events and more as a way to intertwine the work of Robinson Jeffers with the culture and landscape of the South. While Big Read grants typically fund a community-wide reading of a classic novel, Cahnmann-Taylor, herself an award-winning poet, said she chose Jeffers as a way to create "art in response to art."

Jeffers lived much of his life in the Big Sur area of the California coast. He wrote about the rough beauty of the natural world and is considered by some to be an early leader of the environmental movement.

"It's about responding to beauty, and to be able to document this beauty," she said. "I want people to begin to see ourselves in nature."

As part of the $16,200 grant—in addition to funding from UGA entities such as the Office of Sustainability, the department of women's studies, the department of African-American studies and the Willson Center—Cahnmann-Taylor has planned events to help residents find a deeper meaning behind Jeffers' work. In order to familiarize residents with his poetry, books of his writings will be available at events and from the Athens-Clarke County Library. Also, the Georgia Review's spring edition will feature a curated selection of poems.

But, Cahnmann-Taylor stressed, this Big Read selection is more than getting a community to read and discuss a book of poetry. Instead, she said she hopes people will find a handful of poems that speak to them, and then apply their meaning to the landscape of the South.

"I want people to have their eyes open to the beauty and aesthetics of our surroundings, and be aware that there are poets writing about a sense of place—and there's more we can write about the South," she said. "We are so lucky in the South to be so close to nature."

Events kick off in April when poets Camille Dungy and Alison Hawthorne Deming read from their collections during the annual Symposium on the Book, then continue into the summer with Cahnmann-Taylor's annual poetry series, "A Seat in the Shade." Venues include the Georgia Museum of Art, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the UGA Special Collections Libraries, the Athens-Clarke County Library and other locations around Athens. More details will be announced closer to the events, and more information can be found

Cahnmann-Taylor is a professor in the College of Education's department of language and literacy education. The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

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