The Delta Mouth Literary Festival opened in the University’s Art & Design Building with several readings. Each reader presented their own work – some subdued, some spirited and others inspiring the audience to snap, laugh and reflect.
Master of Fine Arts students Raquel Thorne and Jason Christian co-directed the annual three-day Delta Mouth Literary Festival, which took place April 6-8. The festival is an annual event that started in 2009. For Thorne and Christian, it was not only a learning opportunity to help guide them in the future, but an opportunity to experience literature in a more direct manner.
“There’s a performative aspect that you can’t necessarily access on the page and every one of the readers performed,” Christian said. “There’s intonations, there’s tones, there are a lot of things that are maybe implied on the page but you really get to see that fully formed when it’s performed.”
Thorne and Christian had to directly engage with the Baton Rouge community to make the festival possible, as it was not funded by the University.
“It’s been a really good way for us to get to know the community better because neither one of us are from Baton Rouge, so doing all the fundraising that we’ve done and the networking has – I feel like I know Baton Rouge a lot better this year than I did last year just because we’re getting out in the community so much,” Thorne said.
Thorne and Christian said they wanted the festival to be as accessible as possible and wished they could have taped and live streamed the readings for members of the community who could not attend for a variety of reasons. Thorne and Christian said they also strive to invite a diverse cast of guests in the spirit of representing the community.
“We’ve got people that are coming in from academia, people that are coming in not from academia, and so there was definitely some discussion of making sure we were really doing a good job representing the community because it is a national festival as well,” Thorne said.
The youth spoken word group WordCrew originated within the Baton Rouge community itself. Four members of the group read two pieces each on the first night of the festival.
“WordCrew is just a really great place for kids who are looking for ways to express themselves, who don’t feel like they belong,” member Kalvin Marquiz said. “Kids who are marginalized, so black, people of color, queer, gender non-conforming. It’s a great place to not only express that through writing but find what those things mean to you through writing.”
The members of WordCrew were told about the opportunity by their mentors, Desiree Dallagiacomo and Donney Rose. Their pieces involved themes such as sexuality, racism and other personal struggles faced by the performers.
WordCrew member Blaire Bailey said the organization gives them the opportunity to speak unapologetically. She said when they perform, their main goal is to make the audience feel what they felt when they wrote it.
WordCrew is not the only group to speak during the festival. Another reader, author Anne Gisleson, received her Master of Fine Arts in fiction at the University and said it was strange to be back now that she’s had more success in nonfiction. Gisleson read an excerpt from “The Futilitarians” on the first day of the festival. She chose the excerpt to match the occasion.
“The piece is about having a good time and getting lost in the good time and then having to pay for it the next morning,” Gisleson said. “So this idea of the hangover, the metaphysical hangover, I thought that might be a fun thing to read on a Friday night.”
Thorne and Christian said that though putting the event together was a challenge it was worth it. They both anticipate the experience helping them in their future careers.
“For me it’s been really wonderful to see the nuts and bolts of how something like this happens from the other side, and it’s been a learning experience for me and it’s been a great opportunity to meet writers who I’ve kept track of for a while,” Christian said.