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Reading Series at Norwich; Honor for a Burlington Bookstore

State of the Arts


Published February 20, 2013 at 11:11 a.m.

Elena Passarello
  • Elena Passarello

Howard Dean’s infamous scream. The Pittsburgh dialect. Judy Garland. Singers who sound like crows. Those are just a few of the subjects covered in Let Me Clear My Throat, an essay collection about the uses and abuses of the human voice from Oregon writer Elena Passarello.

Next Monday, Passarello will give Vermonters a taste of her own voice at a public reading at Norwich University. It kicks off the school’s Norwich Writers Series, the brainchild of brand-new assistant professor Sean Prentiss.

Prentiss, who comes to Vermont from a large university in Grand Rapids, Mich., says, “One of my missions when I was hired was to increase creative writing on campus.” A specialist in creative nonfiction, who coedited a forthcoming anthology on the subject, he’s also the new creative editor at Jeffersonville-based Backcountry magazine. There he can draw on his skills as both a writer and an outdoorsman.

At Norwich, which had just one creative writing class before Prentiss arrived, he’s creating a minor in the subject and developing a literary journal. With infectious enthusiasm, he explains why he decided to bring writers to campus: “It’s so valuable for students who might become writers to see who a writer is and how they behave. You see these books on the shelf, and it seems so foreign, like something you could never replicate … I wanted to bring writing to life.”

So Prentiss obtained funding from the university and set up a spring slate of three writers. Following Passarello will be Maine author James Patrick Kelly — a winner of prestigious awards for his science fiction — and Burlington poet and University of Vermont prof Major Jackson. Jackson’s April appearance will be part of a National Poetry Month program in partnership with Montpelier’s Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Prentiss is working on another partnership for next year — with the creative writing program at Montpelier High School. “They bring in great writers every year,” he says. “We’ll share the costs and share the writers.”

All the writers who come to Northfield will teach classes and “work tightly with the students,” Prentiss says, in addition to giving public readings. He’s “really excited” about bringing Passarello, “a young, up-and-coming author” who also has significant acting experience. (According to her online bio, “She’s played a tree twice, a dead cow once, and a man at least eleven times.”)

“You see that when she gives her reading,” Prentiss says. “She’ll get up on stage, and she’ll be a dynamo. She’ll make you laugh, make you think, challenge you.”

Elena Passarello, Monday, February 25, 4:30 p.m.; James Patrick Kelly, Wednesday, March 27, 4:30 p.m.; Major Jackson, Wednesday, April 17, 7 p.m., all in the Multi-Purpose Room, Kreitzberg Library, Norwich University in Northfield. Free.


Also sure to be thought provoking is Norwich’s annual William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium, which reflects (and reflects on) the school’s military orientation. This April, noted writers on war and military culture will address the theme of “Coming Home: The Hopes, Fears and Challenges of Veterans Returning from War.”

2013 William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium, Wednesday and Thursday, April 10 and 11, at Norwich University in Northfield.


Next Tuesday, St. Michael’s College will host a writer well known for blurring genre (and gender) boundaries. Bolton cartoonist Alison Bechdel will discuss her latest graphic memoir, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama and her creative process in a talk called “The Illustrated Life of Alison Bechdel.”

“The Illustrated Life of Alison Bechdel,” Tuesday, February 26, 7 p.m., at the McCarthy Arts Center, St. Michael’s College, in Colchester. Free.


Congratulations are in order for Burlington’s Crow Bookshop, which was named one of “America’s Best Bookstores” in the January issue of Travel + Leisure along with such famous indie establishments as San Francisco’s City Lights. The magazine praised Crow’s ambiance and its “penchant for the unexpected: out-of-print titles, academic publications, and lesser-known efforts by big-name authors.” A Boston Globe write-up of the Church Street store followed.

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