I had the privilege of attending Clemson University where I earned my undergraduate degree. I also served my internship during my senior year with the English department. The plus side of a smaller, maybe less appreciated department is building relationships with your professors. In class, they knew my name. Outside of class, I could knock on their office doors and be welcomed to discuss lessons, papers, books.
I was eventually approached by two professors and the head of my department about my senior internship. It was going to be built around the upcoming Third Annual Literary Festival that I was already volunteering my efforts for and would really be a “what you make of it” deal. To say that I was pumped would be an understatement. As Student Coordinator of the Literary Festival (doesn’t that sound official?) I got the opportunity to take a messy, undefined process and streamline it to the best of my ability working alongside some really talented people including Jillian Weise and Dr. Jonathan Beecher Field.
The Literary Festival was already struggling due to lack of support and funding and being unrelated to engineering, nursing, or football. This was a surprise considering that in its first year the festival headliner was author Dave Eggers, among many others, and was a great success. The second festival was much smaller and suffered from a monstrously low budget after all funding was cut.
I spent many afternoons in the office of author, professor, and all around awesome guy Keith Lee Morris hashing out details and to do lists with my macbook perched on my knees. In a five-by-five room filled to bursting with precariously stacked books and papers, we did our best to break down every little detail of the planning process and plan our attack.
We applied for funding, and I presented our plea to the student government board. With those funds granted, we also sought out donations and supporters and communicated with administrators. We contacted authors, sent emails, made phone calls and travel arrangements. We even went out of our way to contact authors we knew we never had a chance of enticing. The conversation I had with Cormac McCarthy’s representative was particularly entertaining, but we had to try (even if he doesn’t “do” these sorts of things).
Through the organization of volunteer efforts and a whole lot of doing tasks ourselves when no one else would, we saw a festival forming. Headlining for the Third Annual Literary Festival were authors Rick Moody and David Kirby along with eight other extremely talented poets and prose writers. Promotion became the name of the game. We designed and produced flyers and posters, we spoke in front of classes, we spoke to the school paper (you’ll notice my maiden name in the article) and administrators, we partnered with the City of Clemson and basically threatened all English majors with shame to up attendance and involvement. OK, so we didn’t actually threaten anyone, but we were pretty persistent and annoying.
All this led us to the grand finale of a successful event. After six months of my phone and email going off from 7:00 AM to 11:30 PM everyday and countless hours of planning, deliberating, organizing, running here and there, and crossing my fingers, I was a proud lady. Driving around David Kirby and getting to introduce him at the headlining event was just a huge bonus, as was meeting and interacting with all the incredible writers and people participating.
Needless to say, this internship involved a bit of everything. I found myself in marketing and PR roles, public speaking situations, doing community outreach, researching, managing task force teams, and just reveling in all things literary festival related. What I discovered was that, more than ever, I wanted to just be involved with this world. The best part of all of this? What I did, essentially, is now a Creative Inquiry course at Clemson University taught by Jillian Weise and Keith Morris “where students engage in organizing, coordinating, and planning every aspect of the festival, from reading broadly to choose which authors to invite, to managing festival finances. As a result, students gain real-world experience in advertising, editorial, event planning, graphic design, literature, photography, public speaking, publicity, videography and web design. More importantly, students not only immerse themselves in the work of contemporary, nationally-acclaimed writers, they also meet these writers and discuss the future of literature and publishing with them. The Creative Inquiry course (and the Festival associated with it) is an established, invaluable resource for aspiring student writers, offering experiences and knowledge they can only get through this course. ” See?
I want to bring that same enthusiasm and passion to a professional role in the literary and publishing industry but can’t help thinking that I have some made up dream job that I can’t articulate. The hunt continues.