English Department brings blockbuster literary lineup to campus in March

Erika L. Sánchez, Ishmael Reed, Danez Smith, Naomi Shihab Nye

~ By Jefferson Beavers, communication specialist, Department of English


In a two-week span in March, Fresno State’s Department of English welcomes four nationally renowned and best-selling authors to campus to share their voices and literary art.

The eleventh annual Undergraduate Conference on Multiethnic Literatures of the Americas (UCMLA) will take place March 13 and 14, featuring keynotes from Erika L. Sánchez, finalist for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and Ishmael Reed, one of America’s most significant literary figures and author of more than 30 books. The student organization San Joaquin Literary Association then presents a performance by National Book Award finalist and poet Danez Smith on March 20. And the 40th annual Young Writers’ Conference will take place March 25, featuring a keynote address from U.S. Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye.

UCMLA conference

Born and raised in a working-class town outside of Chicago to formerly undocumented Mexican immigrants, Erika L. Sánchez’s experience informed her moving depiction of the realities of undocumented life in America. Her first novel, “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” was immediately heralded as one of the most significant works of young adult fiction in recent years. She has recently been appointed the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Chair in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at DePaul University.

Erika L. Sánchez
Erika L. Sánchez

Dr. Ishmael Reed has published more than 30 books of poetry, prose, essays, and plays, and he has penned lyrics for musicians ranging from Taj Mahal to Macy Gray. His work is known for its satirical, ironic take on race and literary tradition, as well as its innovative, postmodern technique. From 2012-2016, Reed served as the first SF JAZZ poet laureate. Reed co-founded both the Before Columbus Foundation, an organization devoted to promoting original, innovative, and neglected writing from the Americas, and PEN Oakland, described as the “Blue Collar PEN” by the New York Times. His novel “Mumbo Jumbo” is a widely read literary classic.

Dr. Ishmael Reed
Dr. Ishmael Reed

Both March 13 keynotes are free and open to the public, with book signings to follow. They will be in Alice Peters Auditorium (PB 191) inside the University Business Center, 5245 N. Backer Ave. Reed will speak at 2:15 p.m. and Sánchez will speak at 7 p.m. Parking costs $5 during the day and is free after 5 p.m. in suggested Lots P5 and P6. For information, contact Samina Najmi at snajmi@mail.fresnostate.edu or 559.278.1569.

Danez Smith reading

Danez Smith is a Black, Queer, Poz writer and performer from St. Paul, Minnesota. Smith is the author of “Don’t Call Us Dead,” winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award, and “[insert] boy,” winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Smith is a member of the Dark Noise Collective and is the co-host of VS with Franny Choi, a podcast sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness. Their third collection, “Homie,” was published by Graywolf Press in January 2020.

Danez Smith. Photo by Soraya Zaman.
Danez Smith. Photo by Soraya Zaman.

Smith will read at 7 p.m. on March 20 in the Ellipse Gallery Lobby (2nd floor, north wing) inside the Henry Madden Library, 5200 N. Barton Ave. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is free after 5 p.m. in recommended Lot P30. For information, contact Will Freeney at memo247365@mail.fresnostate.edu or 559.278.1569.

Young Writers’ Conference 

Named U.S. Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation in 2019, Naomi Shihab Nye will deliver her keynote address at the historic 40th annual Young Writers’ Conference.

Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye

Nye describes herself as a “wandering poet.” Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, she has spent 40 years traveling the world to lead writing workshops and inspire writers of all ages. She is the author or editor of more than 30 volumes, including her latest books: “Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners,” and “The Tiny Journalist.” Nye has won four Pushcart Prizes and dozens of international literary prizes, and she teaches creative writing at Texas State University.

Nye will read at 9:45 a.m. on March 25 in the Satellite Student Union. The keynote address is free and open to the public. Parking costs $5 in suggested Lots P6 and P15. For information, contact Tanya Nichols at tanichols@mail.fresnostate.edu or 559.278.1569.

The keynote address is part of the Arts in Motion Showcase which is sponsored by The Fresno Bee.

Graduate assistant Nou Her contributed to this story.

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