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Marvelous Marvin

Does poet Cate Marvin’s visit to Pacific Lutheran University make it the home of the literary hoi polloi?

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One of America’s most dynamic younger poets, Cate Marvin, will be reading her work at Pacific Lutheran University Thursday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. The author of two acclaimed books of poetry, World’s Tallest Disaster and Fragment of the Head of the Queen, will also be sharing her personal writer’s story and host an informal Q & A session at the Garfield Book Company at 5 p.m. earlier that day. These events are free and open to the public.

Since when did Parkland become home to the literary hoi polloi? 


In just a handful of years, PLU has been drawing nationally acclaimed poets and authors up the gritty Pacific highway on the outskirts of Tacoma to come read their works. Famed American literary artisans such as poet Mary Oliver; poet Tess Gallagher; and poet and novelist Mark Doty are just a few of the guests that have journeyed across the nation to grace the community with their writerly presence. Invited through PLU’s Visiting Writers Series, these artists come to share newly released novels, just published poetry (hot off the small press) or hold an intimate discussion with South Sound’s lit lovers.


The PLU Visiting Writers Series started in the fall of 2005. Assistant professors, Rick Barot and Jason Skipper were both writers and teachers for the PLU English department. Together, they took on the task of initiating an on-campus program for calling poets, writers and essayists to the college campus. During their first year, coordinating and planning the program, both co-directors pulled together a healthy roster of local talents to read their works. 


To find writers, Barot and Skipper sit down together to figure out what writers would have a strong appeal to their students and the local community. “Many guests are writers we already know. Our budget isn’t that big, so we call on friends for favors. The writing community is actually a small one, and we call on those friends to come visit us,” says Barot.


In the past four years, the series has grown and received such acclaim and support from the university and the local literary community that both co-directors have branched out to find talent and are now drawing accomplished literary figures from across the globe. 


“The program has developed really well. Also, PLU and the local community have responded wonderfully to the Visiting Writers Series. We have had wonderful turnouts. Every afternoon a writer visits, we not only host a reading for them, but we have a Q & A session with the writer — that is very well attended. At the readings, we have anywhere from 50 to 100 guests. In bigger events, we had close to 300 people at those readings. When poet Mary Oliver was here last year, she filled the house. That was a big deal for us. A lot of people drove several hours just to come here and see the event,” states Barot.


The reading by poet Cate Marvin kicks off the first scheduled event for PLU’s 2008-2009 Visiting Writers Sept. 25. “Cate’s work is very powerful,” says Barot. “It has a lot of strong emotion and it is very formal. She is an amazing craftsman. She puts together volatile, emotional subjects with a keen sense of being a formalist. She cares about the shapeliness of the poems she creates. Cate writes a lot about love and romance and how those things can go badly sometimes. There’s very sexy material she’s dealing with.” 


For more information on the Visiting Writer series, visit

[Pacific Lutheran University, Thursday, Sept. 25, 8-10 p.m., free, Regency Room, University Center, 122nd Street South and Park Avenue South, Parkland, 253.535.7318]

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