Utah Arts Festival 2021: Literary Arts program, now in its 27th year, adds new features including BIPOC literary program, readings by college student writers, performances at three stages

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EDITOR’S NOTE: To read more about some highlights of this year’s Utah Arts Festival literary arts program, see the features about the BIPOC literary program here, A. M. Luzzader and Chadd VanZanten here, Danielle Susi and the SLCC student writers here and the indie and team poetry slams here

Now in its 27th year at the Utah Arts Festival, the Literary Arts program has grown significantly and this year’s events for the venue will take place on three stages on the festival’s grounds: the main Literary Arts stage, the Salt Cafe at The Leonardo museum and The Round amphitheater near the City Library. Kase Johnstun, this year’s literary arts coordinator who alternates with poet Trish Hopkinson in setting up what has become a major UAF venue, has filled 45 program slots over the festival’s three days with more than 90 performers, representing some of the best known names in the Utah and regional literary scene.

Marilyn Melissa Salguero.

With last year’s pandemic hiatus, Johnstun says that 70 percent of those who were accepted for 2020 are coming back. This year’s line-up signals numerous strengths of the Wasatch Front when it comes to literature of virtually every imaginable stripe from conventional book publishing to the spoken word performances along with works of poetry and prose by young and emerging writers. Johnstun has picked up the relay baton from Hopkinson’s efforts two years ago that brought the festival’s first-ever indie high school poetry slam competition and some of the youngest literary artists ever to grace the festival stage, including cowboy poet Thatch Elmer, who was 15 at the time, and Darius Atefat-Peckham, then 18, who was one of five National Student Poets.

This year, student writers from Utah Valley University (Aug. 27, 3 p.m., Literary Arts Stage), Salt Lake Community College (Aug. 28, 1:40 p.m., Literary Arts Stage), Brigham Young University’s Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program (Aug. 28, 4:50 p.m., Literary Arts Stage) and Weber State University (Aug. 29, 2:40 p.m., Literary Arts Stage). WInners of the state level Poetry Out Loud competition, sponsored by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums will also perform (Aug. 27, 1 p.m., Literary Arts Stage). They include Brynne Burgess, a student at Legacy Preparatory Academy, who recited three poems during the virtual state competition. They included Famous, by Naomi Shihab Nye; The Pull Toy, by A.E. Stallings; and Invictus, by William Ernest Henley.  

George McEwan.

With Sarah May as UAF’s new coordinator for community and inclusion, the venue adds the BIPOC literary arts program on the three stages featuring venue performers. These include women, femme and nonbinary writers from the Woke Words project (Aug. 28, 4:45 p.m., The Round), which May has facilitated with the YWCA Utah as well as the Color Collective (Aug. 29, noon. The Round). There are performances by Spanish language writers from Artes de México en Utah’s annual Sor Juana literary contest along with the Caribbean Nightingale’s Relaxation through Verse Poetry Salon (Aug. 28, 6 p.m., The Round, and Aug. 29, 8:10 p.m., Literary Arts Stage). 

There are appearances scheduled for the Rock Canyon Poets (Aug. 27, 7:20 p.m.), authors from Torrey House Press (Aug. 28, 12:45 p.m., Literary Arts Stage) and the LITerally Podcast, which interviews writers about their craft and the nature of the publishing industry (Aug. 29, 2 p.m. Literary Arts Stage). Rock Canyon Poets boasts a diverse membership, ranging in age from 18 to the seventies, and with numerous career paths, including literary journal founders, editors, ex-military, business professionals, a playwright, and a periodontist. The group has amassed a broad publication record in magazines, anthologies, journals, chapbooks and full-length books of poetry. Among the state’s best-known performers include Utah Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal (Aug. 28, 6:30 p.m., Literary Arts Stage), Jesse Parent, one of the state’s best-known spoken word performers and monologist (Aug. 28, 8:30 p.m., Literary Arts Stage), performance poet Gray (Aug. 29, 6:10 p.m., Literary Arts Stage) and George McEwan (Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m., Literary Arts Stage), a multiple winner of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival Utah’s Biggest Liar contest. There also will be performances from Logan, Utah husband-and-wife authors A. M. Luzzader (Aug. 27, 5 p.m., Literary Arts Stage) who switched from writing horror and post-apocalyptic fiction to a successful series of children’s books about a young mermaid, and Chadd VanZanten (Aug. 27, 6:30 p.m., Literary Arts Stage), an outdoors writer and avid angler who enjoys fly fishing. VanZanten’s performances Hooks & Books will feature an expert fly-tyer who fashions them as inspired by the author’s readings. Representing nonfiction authors who are appearing this year is Sean Davis (Aug. 28, 7:10 p.m., Literary Arts Stage), a Portland, Oregon combat veteran, wildland firefighter and community organizer. His publication credits include a memoir The Wax Bullet War, Oregon Wildland Firefighting: A History and numerous essays and contributions to other books.

Ms. AyeVee

Hopkinson also will read her work (Aug. 27, 5:35 p.m., Literary Stage) and Johnstun, whose book Let The Wild Grasses Grow will soon be released by Torrey House Press, will read on the festival’s closing day (Aug. 29, 5:40 p.m., Literary Arts Stage).

One of the venue’s biggest audience draws, the poetry slams return and will feature the first extensive competition for Salt Lake City performance poets since before the pandemic. The indie competition will bring 10 performers (Aug. 27, 10 p.m., Literary Arts Stage) and four teams of four-members each from Salt Lake City and Ogden (Aug. 28, 9 p.m., Literary Arts stage). 

Four feature sidebars accompany this centerpiece article with links at the top of this piece. For more information about all events, see the Utah Arts Festival website. Ticket information can be found here.

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