Bryce Milligan chats with Lorna Dee Cervantes during a break in his performance. BOOKS & THE CULTURE I BY PAUL CHRISTENSEN Arts in Aggieland Iwanted to put on a festival like those seen all across Europe each summer, when entire villages are turned into a stage, with stilt-walkers and magicians working the crowds, scholars and writers holed up in the mayor’s reception room, and food stalls filling the streets. Musicians stroll, storytellers perch on the edge of a village fountain talking to a crowd of eager kids. Alleys are lined with kiosks and tents full of craftwork, pottery, beads, and dolls. This is what I imagined bringing to the dour campus of Texas A&M. Late in the fall of 2005, I put out a notice to interested faculty and students of plans for something never before done at A&Ma festival to celebrate the art and writing of the Southwest. I have been here for the past 32 years teaching creative writing, watching A&M play catch-up with other universities in the state that have launched bigger and better-funded writing programs. Ours is small but growing as part of a national trend. But we hadn’t made our mark in any public way, aside from the occasional poet or novelist visiting for a day or two. When I told a meeting of planners what I envisioned, the feeling in the room was, so how do we pull this off? What will the theme be? That was easyturn all the regional stereotypes inside out, find the writers writing the real thing, not falling back on coming-of-age stories or the poetry of the isolated soul’s finding the whole world hostile to one’s visions. We really wanted to get past the nostalgia for the open plains, grandpa’s ranch, the last Indian weeping under a mesquite bush, the last wild buffalo roaming the desolate hills. Enough already. The Southwest is not just the tomb of the gallant Anglo settler; it’s alive and thriving under an emerging Latino majority, and the growing voices of African-American poets and Asian voices along the coast. And pushing the Southwest out of its macho chrysalis are women re-examining their past with fresh eyes, looking at the looted landscape and the pillaged environment, and demanding change. We wanted to hear about a new, saner, more generous vision of our lives, what to do to help this region rebound and thrive again as a habitat for wild animals and plants, alongside a more tolerant and open-minded humanity. The event was planned for October, and money trickled in from deans and department heads, the A&M Arts Council, and Bryan’s Arts & Cultural Association. We began signing up headliners like poets Linda Hogan and Lorna Dee Cervantes; Uruguayan poets Ida Vitale and Enrique Fierro, both living in Austin; and wilderness writer Doug Peacock, an old friend of Edward Abbey. Other stars included Steve Harrigan, reading from his new novel Challenger Park, the Hopi poet, and Kachina doll maker Ramson Lomatewama. Novelist and translator C.M. Mayo came from New York on her way to the Texas Book 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER DECEMBER 1, 2006
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