Some of the biggest names in contemporary poetry and literature will be coming to Colorado Springs as part of a new lecture series called Converge. New York-based poet Marie Howe kicks off the series this Sunday, October 1, at the Pinery at the Hill in Colorado Springs.
Colorado Springs native Sam Stephenson is the organizer of Converge. A onetime student of literature and a Teller County caseworker by day, Stephenson says he created the series in an effort to "engage difference in our city," and to bring people of different backgrounds and political persuasions together around poetry and language.
The first season of the series, which has scheduled dates through November of 2018, is organized around the topic of "moral beauty." In their lectures, writers will address the theme in whatever way they see fit. Stephenson says he first encountered the idea of moral beauty in an interview with the poet C. E. Morgan, and became "enchanted by the phrase."
"I think moral beauty is an interesting question because it operates as both a source of ethics and aesthetics," Stephenson explains. "So we're kind of asking the question, 'How should you live?' and 'Can that way of life be aesthetically pleasing?'"
Weighing in on those questions in local lectures will be: Marie Howe, whose latest book of poems, Magdalene, is on the longlist for this year's National Book Award; short story writer and MacAurthur 'Genius' Grant recipient George Saunders; Richard Blanco, who served as the Inaugural Poet at Barack Obama's 2012 Inauguration; Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz; and MacAurthur 'Genius' and National Book Award Finalist Edwidge Danticat.
While poets and novelists may seem a somewhat odd choice to expound upon notions of morality--a topic more often explored by theologians and philosophers--Stephenson says he sees writers as having a unique ability to "recognize and dignify what's most ordinary in all of our lives."
"I think of poets and authors," he adds, "as kinds of prophets who speak humanness back into us. I think that they remind us of how to exist together by teasing out the substance that's right in front of us."
For Stephenson, the idea of bringing people together to discuss big questions is particularly urgent in our present political moment, defined as it is by partisanship and increasing ideological isolation.
"We're all aware we need to practice being around different thinkers a little more," he says. "I have hope that this project can be a kind of practice for our city where an idea can be put on the table -- e.g. 'this is something that's beautiful, this is a moral way to live' -- and we might approach that from very different lenses and be able to speak about it in a meaningful way."
Lectures are scheduled for the following dates:
Marie Howe - October 1, 2017
George Saunders - February 4, 2018
Richard Blanco - May 6, 2018
Junot Díaz - August 5, 2018
Edwidge Danticat - November 4, 2018
More information and tickets can be found at the Converge website.
Hear a conversation with Sam Stephenson about the series in the player above.
Editor's Note: 91.5 KRCC is a Media Sponsor of the Converge Lecture Series.