Recapping the 2023 Neustadt Lit Fest
Photos by Parker Buske
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Over the course of three days (October 23–25, 2023), WLT’s first fully in-person festival since 2019 involved more than a dozen writers, artists, and scholars; numerous campus and community partners; six public events; and a concluding gala banquet. Several hundred attendees enjoyed meeting the visiting writers; getting books signed; attending readings, panels, and workshops; and witnessing literary history in the making. Nine of the writers also met to deliberate and vote for the winner of the 2024 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Highlights of the week included Kelvin Yu describing how he got “tapped on the shoulder” by a teacher in the eighth grade, Ping Zhu analyzing American Born Chinese in light of W. E. B. Du Bois’s theory of “double consciousness,” the announcement of Mauritian writer Ananda Devi as the 2024 Neustadt Prize laureate, and Trung Lê Nguyễn’s moving discussion of how the comics medium helped him embrace the hybrid language he spoke at home and how, as a creator, comics enable him to “make sure everyone can come along with us.”
Grateful to be part of a community of good faith. — Alina Stefanescu
Behind closed doors, the passionate deliberations of the 2024 Neustadt jury also left the participating writers indelibly marked by the experience. In a group email, Alina Stefanescu remarked that she was “grateful to be part of a community of good faith. Literary life grapples with difficult questions about agency, fairness, justice, beauty, and privilege. I hope that it continues to do this. Even if there are no perfect answers. Perhaps precisely because there are no perfect answers.” Sholeh Wolpé added, “I’m sitting here still glowing from proximity to such a group of brilliant, caring, and uplifting human beings. . . . Let us hope what we do adds a ray of light to this world.” And Fabienne Kanor, who nominated Devi for the prize, concluded: “I feel like I experienced one of the most emotional and enlightening moments of my life as an artist and human. The authors we advocated for are all powerful, since their stories offer us an opportunity to witness, understand, breathe, cry, reflect, survive, overcome, dance, remember. I will read them again and again; I will give them the light and respect that they deserve.”
I feel like I experienced one of the most emotional and enlightening moments of my life as an artist and human. — Fabienne Kanor
Devi and Kanor will return to the University of Oklahoma in October 2024 to participate in the 2024 Neustadt Lit Fest. Follow neustadtprize.org to learn more as the date approaches.
Photo 1 - Gene Luen Yang talking to Kelvin Yu via Zoom in front of a festival audience
Photo 2 - Alina Stefanescu reading at the Neustadt Lit Fest Opening Reception
Photo 3 - Fabienne Kanor speaking at the Neustadt Lit Fest Opening Reception
Photo 4 - The 2023 Neustadt Class with festival participants