Now in its ninth year, the Women’s Literary Festival has established its place as one of the Central Coast’s most beloved celebrations of reading and writing. With an emphasis on diversity and social justice and a focus on women’s words, the festival draws together some of Santa Barbara’s most engaged thinkers. This year’s lineup includes Anne Cherian, the Indian-American novelist whose books include A Good Indian Wife and The Invitation, and L.A.–based author and historian Nancy L. Cohen, author of Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America.
Appearing alongside the out-of-town authors will be Santa Barbara’s own poet laureate, Chryss Yost, whose new volume of poetry, Mouth & Fruit, is just out from Gunpowder Press. Last week, I caught up with Yost to discuss her role in the festival and her passion for poetry.
Have you attended the festival before, and what’s your role this year? I actually just attended for the first time last year. I was so impressed by the quality of speakers and the quality of the audience — it’s like a who’s who of women in Santa Barbara. I’m excited to be part of it this year and honored to be invited. I’ll be doing one of the breakout sessions, where I plan to read some of my own poetry and talk about the role of poet laureates in general. Maybe I’ll even talk a little bit about the craft of writing.
What do you see as the benefits of a literary event that features exclusively female writers? I think it’s nice to have a space where there’s a voice for women. Women do tend to be underrepresented in terms of visible presentations, invitations to read in prestigious settings, and number of books that get published. A festival like this also introduces a wonderful sisterhood element and allows people to connect to more feminine themes. It’s just nice to have a space where it’s not so much about the relationship between men and women; it’s more about women’s perspectives.
What would you say to readers who find poetry difficult? A lot of women poets — other than Gertrude Stein, who is perhaps the least accessible poet of all time — are witty, observant, compassionate, and wonderfully playful with language. Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Bishop, Wendy Cope, Kay Ryan — I’m influenced both by past voices and newer ones. I love Dickinson’s voice of the little, quiet woman in the attic and also the wild, passionate love of St. Vincent Millay. I see that passion informing contemporary female poets, like Patricia Smith, who’s out there just rocking it. It’s also great that our new U.S. poet laureate, Natasha Tretheway, is a woman and is among the youngest poet laureates ever named. It’s an exciting time to be a female poet writing in the English language.
The Women’s Literary Festival takes place Saturday, May 3, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort. For more information and reservations, call 968-2881 or visit womensliteraryfestival.com.