Sunday, March 17 through Friday, March 22, the Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department presents its 17th Annual Story Week Festival of Writers: Vision and Voice
Vision and Voice
As a very young boy, William Blake claimed to have seen a tree filled with angels, "bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars." Such repeated claims eventually earned him a reputation for being mad, and the story goes that many years later, he was visited by a skeptic who questioned his propensity for visions. Sitting in Blake's garden, the man pointed to a tree. "Now, Mr. Blake,' he said, "do you really mean to say that you see angels in that tree over there?" "No," Blake replied. "I didn't think so," the man said, obviously relieved. Then, Blake pointed to another tree. "I see them in that one over there."
The theme for this year's 17th Story Week is "Vision and Voice," and it is meant to capture something of a relationship crucial to writers and other artists at every level of development. One need not see angels like Blake—or Milton or Yeats or Tony Kushner or countless others—to know that writers are, in one way or another, all visionaries. The exercise of imagination, whether it leads to angelic visions or to a gritty story of the streets, manifests something intrinsic to the individual and to the wider human condition, a deeply spiritual need to create, to penetrate the mystery of existence and find meaning, to shout "Yes!" into the darkness.
Artists of all persuasions are involved in a central task. Put simply, they strive to see something in a new way—whether of heaven, hell, or a heaven or hell on earth—and speak that vision in order to help us see what they see. The relationship between vision and voice is reciprocal. Vision leads language, and clarity of vision gives authority to the storyteller's voice. Meanwhile, as writers search for words to express what they see to the waiting audience, the act of writing helps them discover what they have to say, with the result that further scales may fall from their eyes and their vision grows clearer, more penetrating.
In the dream that we share with the best of writers as we listen to them speak their visions, we may see something of ourselves and our relationship to the world—in the process perhaps clarifying our own vision and gaining authority for our own voice. That dream may be of a turbulent struggle between despair and hope, as in Sapphire's Push; of a marriage gone wrong, as in Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl; of people seeking more out of their lives than their hitherto comfortable relationships have offered, as in Jane Hamilton's Laura Rider's Masterpiece; of a mother and son locked together in a confined space that dramatizes and reveals the intense bond of parenthood, as in Emma Donoghue's Room; or of any of the other conflicted, entertaining, and very present worlds created by our many visionary Story Week 2013 authors, including award-winning writers such as Patricia McNair, Joe Meno, and Audrey Niffenegger from the Fiction Writing Department's own faculty.
Story Week has, for each of its 17 years, sought to bring the best, most diverse group of writers at work on the literary scene to Chicago audiences, and this year is no exception. The festival itself represents a shared vision of many people—presenters from the city, nation, and abroad who have offered their insights and provocative ideas, as well as faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, where our mission has always been focused on helping each student sharpen his or her own vision and find his or her own unique voice.
Of course, the vision of Story Week would be dim indeed without your own contributions as active audience participants. The festival has grown and the vision has widened remarkably during Story Week's history, taking on a life of its own and evolving to address new questions, new ideas, new imperatives in the changing literary and social landscape. Audience participants have been crucial in shaping that vision through their attendance, their contributions, their questions, and their insights into writerly and other issues. So we hope that you will participate actively in this year's offering, not only by sharing in the dreams given voice during readings, performances, panels, and conversations, but also by joining in the dialogue prompted by these visionary thinkers.
Perhaps—again in keeping with the Columbia College mission—you will also seek to find ways of putting those perceptions to work in the world. Persistent seeking after new ways of seeing changes minds; enacting those lessons changes worlds. As Blake, once again, reminds us: "He who desires but acts not, breed pestilence." Recent events should show us that we need to fight the pestilence of divisiveness, of hatred, of violence, of economic and educational and gender and social inequality. We hope that Story Week, as always, is a forum for exchanging ideas that may help us do our part in creating a better world.
Thank you for joining us for Story Week 2013. We couldn't be happier that you are here, helping us to see our present more clearly and envision a bold, exciting future.
Chair, Fiction Writing Department
Founding Producer, Story Week Festival of Writers