As part of the Guest Writer Series hosted by the MFA program in the Department of English at Northern Michigan University, internationally award-winning poet Topaz Winters was featured as the final guest of the semester. . She read her poetry aloud before doing a Q&A and book signing on Thursday, April 7 in the Northern Center’s Peninsula V room from 7-8 p.m.
The English department has been hosting the writing series for decades, but after switching to a virtual format due to COVID-19, events were only recently brought back in-person, said Patricia Killelea, professor and director. of the Guest Writer Series.
“Northern is beautifully rural here along the shores of Lake Superior, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stay in touch with some of the best voices writing today,” Killelea said. “From award-winning novelists to the latest authors publishing in creative nonfiction, poetry and hybrid genres, we try to welcome writers who will inspire others and generously share their craft, knowledge and creativity.”
National writers of various styles and backgrounds share their recent publications, participate in Q&A discussions, and book signings at the series’ various events. They bring together students and faculty, as well as a wider literary community, to harness the power of both the written and the spoken.
“Certain genres like poetry are especially powerful when read aloud because poetry is so tied to sound, rhythm, and performance,” Killelea said. “At the same time, nothing like being in the presence of a very good storyteller.”
Winters is one of the youngest artists to appear on the show. She is a student at Princeton University in Singapore and the critically acclaimed author of three comprehensive poetry books, her most recent being “So, Stranger” published by Button Poetry. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the publishing house and literary magazine Half Mystic. She is an essayist, performer, artist and academic, according to topazwinters.com.
Winters describes meeting people from all over the world and learning that his lyrics touched people like a dream.
“[It] is just a unique and beautiful experience. It really makes me feel so much more connected and so much more grounded in the world around me,” Winters said.
Her work itself can be lonely and in many ways a little isolating, she said. Just connecting with people who are so different from herself, have a strong and beautiful connection to her, and find value in her work is her favorite part of the job.
Winters said the loneliness, constant distance and people not understanding or viewing her work as illegitimate are negative aspects of her chosen career… Yet she could never have imagined living this life while still in college and she said she felt grateful every day.
“[It] it makes me happy when readers say “oh, I’ve loved your work since you were sixteen”. It’s a really big compliment because my job has changed so much since I was 16,” Winters said. “Like any artist, my work evolves over time.”
She became more confident as her voice became more singular. Winters considers the impact of her experiences and growth on gaining confidence and an individual voice.
Winters talks about the importance of honesty in her work and sharing even when things are difficult and uncomfortable. It’s an aspect of her work that she values and helps give her stories individuality and voice.
“It’s not always the easiest thing in the world, but it’s always worth it,” Winters said. “Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because there are so many of us doesn’t mean your personal voice doesn’t matter. It’s always important. We need the story you tell and maybe we need it more than you do.