Among more than 12,000 attendees, five members of the HWS community participated in the biggest literary conference in North America this spring to showcase HWS’ Seneca Review. The annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference was held in Portland, Oregon, representing more than 800 international presses, journals and literary organizations focused on contemporary literature.
“It was really crazy to see how many people would come up to our table wanting to buy our special double-issue: ‘We Might As Well Call It the Lyric Essay,’” says Alex Kerai ’19, who attended the conference as part of the Seneca Review team. “Even more told us how influential the magazine and Deborah Tall [the late professor of English, poet and editor at HWS] was for their writing and careers. It made me realize how much of an influence our magazine has had on the literary world.”
Kerai attended the four-day conference with Kevin Lin ’20, Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric and English Geoffrey Babbitt, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature Kathryn Cowles and Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Ben Ristow. Babbitt is coeditor of the Seneca Review while Cowles is Poetry Editor.
Founded in 1970 by Professor Emeritus of English James Crenner and poet Ira Sadoff, the literary magazine is internationally renowned for its emphasis on poetry, nonfiction, hybrid forms and the lyric essay. The lyric essay was canonized by Tall and John D’Agata ’95, former Trias Writer-in-Residence and the author of The Lifespan of a Fact, in the fall 1997 issue of Seneca Review.
A new imprint of Hobart and William Smith Colleges Press, Seneca Review Books was founded in 2018 and, later that fall, published the winner of the inaugural Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize Series—Five Plots, a collection of five lyric essays by Erica Trabold, a Portland-based writer. Seneca Review hosted with Babbitt emceeing, a reading that included Trabold, who read from her prize-winning book; fiction writer and essayist Rachel Marston; and poet and essayist Nicole Walker. Part of the job of the Seneca Review crew was to promote the prize, which will be accepting manuscript submissions until Aug. 1.
Kerai and Lin were chosen based on their work in Babbitt’s courses, including “Creative Nonfiction” and “The Lyric Essay.” Lin is a double major in economics and English, while Kerai majored in English and media & society. While at the AWP Conference, Kerai also made final revisions on his Honors thesis, which has roots reaching back to his first creative writing class taken with Babbitt during his first year at HWS. While in Portland the group met with Daniel Schonning ’17, currently an MFA student at Colorado State University, who was a student of Babbitt’s and Cowles’ and completed Honors with Babbitt.