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Second NEA 'Big Read' grant brings more poetry to Athens area

Kathryn Kao

May 27, 2016


Thanks to a recent "Big Read" grant award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Athens community can enjoy a series of poetry events this June and another one in the fall.

As part of the $14,000 grant, College of Education professor Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor, will launch a second poetry series in October focused on the works of famed American writer Edgar Allen Poe.

"The series is going to be called 'Poe-tober,' and it's taking the grant into a cooler season," she said. "This grant is designed to wake up communities around the country to celebrate the pleasure of reading great literature together."

Born in Boston, Poe is best known for his tales of horror and mystery. In the mid-1800s, his narrative poem "The Raven" became a literary sensation and is still considered one of America's greatest literary works. His spine-tingling poems, which often feature elements of the supernatural, continue to shock and surprise modern readers today.

To celebrate his work and legacy, Cahnmann-Taylor will partner with various colleges and organizations around Athens, Georgia, including the Lamar Dodd School of Art and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, to coordinate events inspired by the Gothic writer. These events will range from public mask makings and youth theatre games to book discussions and a juried art exhibition.

While participants must wait for October to enjoy these festivities, they can join the ongoing celebration of American poet Robinson Jeffers during the week of June 13-17, for the annual Seat in the Shade poetry series at Hendershot's Coffee in downtown Athens.

As part of her first NEA grant, Cahnmann-Taylor organized a slate of readings, lectures and hands-on events focused on the work of Jeffers, who is best known for his work about the central California coast. Considered an early icon of the environmental movement, his poems focus on the rough beauty of the natural world.

The featured poets for this year's Seat in the Shade poetry series are:

  • Keetje Kuipers (June 13),
  • Ann Fisher-Wirth (June 14)
  • Lemuel "Life the Griot" LaRoche (June 15)
  • Coleman Barks (June 16)
  • Series finale, "Poetry by and for Educators: Readings from the Collective," featuring UGA educators and students (June 17)

"I always invite writers who I know perform their poems well and who will help their audience understand their work," said Cahnmann-Taylor. "These events are in a public space with the expectation that people from all ages and walks of life will come and attend."

After each reading, the audience will have a chance to ask questions and discuss the poet's work. The events begin at 7 p.m., and admission is free and open to the public.