Make The Connection

April 9, 2024 | By Cole Hatcher

Nine Ohio Wesleyan students attended the 2024 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair in Missouri this spring with the support of an OWU Connection grant. They traveled with faculty members Amy Butcher (center) and Aza Pace (second from right). (Photo courtesy of Amy Butcher)

Novel Experience

Ohio Wesleyan Students Attend Nation's Largest Writers' Conference and Bookfair

Savannah Brantley '25
Jenna Nahhas '24

Name: Savannah Brantley '25
Hometown: Yellow Springs, Ohio
High School: Stivers School for The Arts
Major: English (Creative Writing)

Name: Jenna Nahhas '24
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
High School: Dominion Academy of Dayton
Majors: English (Creative Writing) and Medieval Studies
Minor: Studio Art

OWU Connection Experience: Attending the 2024 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference & Bookfair in Kansas City, Missouri, with the support of a competitive OWU Connection Theory-to-Practice Grant

Brantley and Nahhas attended the four-day event this semester with fellow students Ellie Harshbarger of Mason, Ohio; Emily McCullough of Johnstown, Ohio; Colleen McMenamin of Chester, New Jersey; Elliot McMillin of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Alexie Otworth of Centerburg, Ohio; Ronan Thompson of Columbus, Ohio; and Joel Zachary of Los Angeles, California. The students attended the writers' conference – the largest such event in North America – with Department of English faculty members Amy Butcher, MFA, and Aza Pace, Ph.D.

A Valuable Conference

Brantley: "Attending AWP was important because of its exposure to the writing world that I don't get within my current environment. I was intrigued by the access to MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program information, opportunities to network with other writers and professors at universities with writing programs, and the experience of traveling outside of Ohio."

Nahhas: "I connected with the Arab American writing community at the conference. My Lebanese heritage, especially as part of the diaspora, has become an increasingly important part of my poetry. But at the same time, I found it difficult to write about a heritage that was mixed, Lebanese and American.

"I found immense value in finally hearing from perspectives of those from other Middle Eastern diasporas, be that Armenian, Palestinian, Egyptian, or Lebanese. These writers struggled with the same 'diaspora guilt' of struggling to learn language; they wrote around the empty spaces where the lives they could have lived should be; and they celebrated identity and protested injustice in the same breath. They incorporated these experiences into their writing, and I found a surprising and validating similarity between their work and mine. My diasporic identity was not necessarily an empty space, but an experience in its own right."

Related, Nahhas said: "I was introduced to the magazine Miza, which primarily publishes work of writers of Arab heritage. I also discovered the Radius of Arab American Writers, a literary community that provides support for writers."

Favorite Moments

Brantley: "My favorite moment was definitely the reading given for the panel discussion on writing and structuring essay collections. Melissa Febos, who was on the panel, is an essayist whose writing I really resonate with and feel reflects the standard I put my own work against. The reading was humorous, insightful, and left me brainstorming ideas for the collection I'd like to put together myself and publish in the future."

Nahhas: "I was at an off-site poetry reading one night for the new poetry collection 'We Call to the Eye and to the Night: Love Poems by Writers of Arab Heritage.' A number of the poets included in the collection were there and got to read aloud their work. One poet, Zeyn Joukhadar, read a poem from the collection called 'An Ode to my Uni-brow' by Marlin M. Jenkins. During a time of grief and mourning such as this, with the ongoing genocide in Palestine, getting to laugh and be in community with other writers of Arab heritage brought me so much joy."

Lessons Learned

Brantley: "I was grateful to get insights on MFA programs. … I was able to talk personally with directors of programs like Savannah College of Art and Design, Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the University of Iowa. This trip also gave me an opportunity to explore other writers who resonate with my own writing such as Dylan Krieger."

Nahhas: "These experiences codified into concrete results as I returned back to campus. Regarding my Fine Arts minor, I have made a book in my Book Arts class featuring art and poetry directly inspired by my experiences at the conference, and I just finished another book to spread awareness about the children who have been killed in Palestine.

"For my Creative Writing and Medieval Studies double major, I am completing an independent study under Dr. (Patricia) DeMarco that incorporates both historical and literary writing about the medieval Iberian Peninsula, a node of cross-cultural connections among Arab, North African, and European spheres. The project also incorporates a creative element in which I respond to my research with original poetry. I have found renewed confidence, passion, and purpose in this project after the conference. The study could also contribute to future graduate school applications, whether in Medieval Studies or Creative Writing."

Plans After Graduation

Brantley: "I'd like to pursue my MFA upon graduating next spring semester."

Nahhas: "I plan on submitting my poetry to publication in various literary magazines, a process which will involve many cover letters. The Career Connection office has helped me write cover letters and resumes before, and I plan on going there for assistance for literary magazine cover letters – shout-out to Newton Kimberly." (A 2013 OWU graduate, Kimberly works as a career catalyst, helping current students connect to socially charged careers that align with their personal mission.)

OWU has been prepping me with the proper information needed for moving forward for my MFA for the last two years via the Visiting Writers Series, MFA info sessions, and grant opportunities.

Savannah Brantley '25

Other OWU Connections

Brantley: "OWU has been prepping me with the proper information needed for moving forward for my MFA for the last two years via the Visiting Writers Series, MFA info sessions, and grant opportunities such as the TPG experience to attend the 2024 AWP conference where I could exercise my networking abilities (also learned via OWU programs like the New York Arts Program) and begin lining up options for when I begin applications."

During her semester in New York, Brantley worked with book publisher Tender Buttons Press, classroom and event space Torn Page, independent documentary filmmaker Emily Harrold, and transnational literary organization Gaudy Boy – Singapore Unbound.

Nahhas: "I interned with Great Lakes Publishing as an editorial intern on Ohio Magazine and LongWeekends. I interviewed, fact-checked, and researched for listings and articles about events in Ohio and across the Great Lakes region. … My internships with The Trident (OWU's student-initiated literary magazine of the Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies Program) as well as Great Lakes Publishing put classes such as Magazine Writing into practice, teaching me to process history and personal experiences in written word and present them coherently."

Campus Involvements

Brantley: "I participate on the English Student Board, and, as before mentioned I participated in the NYAP program, but most of my time is spent working on my writing, reading for my classes, and attending readings outside the classroom."

Nahhas: "I am involved with the club Cru, a Christian ministry, where I get to engage with students and organize community events centered around building lasting relationships in the context of our spiritual journeys."

Why Ohio Wesleyan?

Brantley: "OWU has been the most generous with funding among all the schools I was accepted to, and that alone has aided in allowing me to continue schooling. I don't get much external support, so the things OWU has provided me with (also contributed to my decision), options for counseling, aid with books and supplies, and a decent writing program. I also really enjoy the small class sizes and the physical OWU campus, and have found professors who I really enjoy academically and whose topics of choice for teaching inspire me to keep going in my academic career."

Nahhas: "It was in my home state of Ohio and was small enough for me to engage directly with professors and build strong connections on campus."