Peter Mukuck Closes Out Writers in the Woods Series

For nearly a decade, Writers in The Woods brought the community together through literature

Rachel Lightner, Editor

It’s a quiet evening on Friday, April 14 on the Sierra Nevada College campus, as students are finishing up late night homework in the library. But in TCES 139, there is something special happening; the community is coming together, students, faculty and professional writers alike, to share ideas and conversation for the final Writers in The Woods of the school year with author Peter Mukuck.

Mukuck is a Pulitzer Prize nominee and deeply respected in the literary community for his brilliant works. He is a renowned poet and short story author who English department chair June Saraceno calls “a cliché slayer, image magician, alphabet musician, maestro of imagination, super seer, spirit freer, lord of language, and emperor of everyday epiphanies.”

Mukuck had published two books this past fall: “Mandatory Evacuation” a collection of poetry, and “Wins and Losses”, a collection of short stories, both of which he read from Friday night. He explained how poetry has a “spiritual dimension” for him.

“Poetry makes you aware of the innate beauty that is around us, and you can attach that beauty to transcend,” said Mukuck. “My stories come from paying close attention to the world around me, it’s all in the details.”

The crowd at Mukuck’s reading was an eclectic group, ranging from community members to faculty and students from all different academic backgrounds. Although students can attend Writers in the Woods for a credit, it is not an academic class. Anyone can participate, and it’s a democratic and welcoming environment. Humanities Professor Samantha Bankston commented on how it brings a sense of community among writers, thinkers and artists and how it provides an opportunity for anyone to experience the importance of writing.

“You have the opportunity to hear an artist come share different ways of seeing the world, of thinking, and you get to come in close contact with people who are masters of their craft,” said Bankston. “It’s infusing your life with some of the best aspects of our society and culture, including writing, literature, poetry, fiction etc., and our society and culture will be deeply impoverished if we lose that.”

What makes Writers in the Woods different from a normal literature event is participants get to interact with the writers in an intimate setting, especially being the small room of TCES 139. Saraceno says it is intimate in the sense that you’re not in a huge auditorium watching the writer on a screen, but up close and personal where you can exchange questions and jokes. She believes this event is an enriching experience that adds depth to our understanding of the presenter’s literature.

“Having the opportunity to meet, study with, and socialize with these writers is an extremely valuable experience for our students and community,” said Saraceno. “To meet and spend time with writers such as Luis Alberto Urrea, Robert Hass, Patricia Smith, Tim O’Brien, to name a few, is the chance of a lifetime. Writers in the Woods brings them into an intimate setting, and it’s really an amazing opportunity.”

English Professor Cathy Che agrees with Saraceno’s views on the importance of receiving a deeper insight into the mind of such writers. Che, who requires her Creative Non-Fiction class to attend three Writers in the Woods events a semester, believes the wisdom students take away from the event is extremely valuable, writer or not.

“It’s important for anybody to have access to practitioners and get insight into their process, in addition to getting to talk one on one with them and have an intimate conversation,” said Che. “They are able to give wisdom that is so valuable, and I feel we are very lucky to have access to these writers all because of such a brilliant MFA program we have.”

Writers in The Woods began as an organized literary speaker series in 2008, and in fall of 2010 was branded “Writers in the Woods” by June Saraceno working with the Development Office. The event, which has grown exponentially in popularity over the years, brings writers from around the world to the SNC campus to share their work with the community, in a night full of spoken words. Saraceno is the coordinator for the event and is responsible for choosing the writers. She says she makes her decisions based on writers whose works are “compelling, important, and current, and who are good presenters, readers, and workshop leaders.”

Saraceno hopes participants walk away from these events feeling inspired. “I hope each audience member leaves having been entertained, provoked into thought, engaged by ideas, and stimulated by the way we shape our thoughts and views into words.”