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Easthampton literary reading presents local writers

(Official White Square – Fine Books & Art Facebook page)

Available to read in Italian.

A trio of Pioneer Valley writers gave a reading of their recently published works the Thursday before Thanksgiving break at White Square Books in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Andrea Lawlor, Matthew Gagnon and Stella Corso each took the small audience on mental trips of language and creativity that emanated from their printed works in a space filled with the aura of past and modern writers.

As orchestrator and master of ceremonies for the evening, Ben Hersey sought to bring friends and coworkers together to share in a storytelling experience. Hersey, a professor at Holyoke Community College and a published author in his own right, said that he hoped this event would be the first of many readings to take place all over Western Massachusetts.

Gagnon, the first speaker of the night, recited poems from his recently published collection, “Song of the Systole.” With titles like “Physique,” his poems explored the body’s relationship with the space around it, articulating in an almost scientific way what it means to physically exist. A combination of confusion and confidence, Gagnon’s poetic rhythm mirrored the steady hum of the human heart, its lexicon mirroring the delirium of a mind struggling to comprehend the world around it.

Lawlor then read from their recently released novel, “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl.” Paul, a shapeshifter, is a bartender at a gay club. According to the author, the novel explores sexuality and the history of queer literature and its recurring themes. Lawlor noted that this was their first literary reading, but their blend of humor and vocal clarity concealed any uneasiness that they may have had. Lawlor also read from two of the fables that they wrote for the book, reinforcing the aesthetic theme of shapeshifting and inheriting the strong ‘storyteller’ aspect of a literary reading.

The final reading of the evening was by Corso, also a professor at Holyoke Community College. She read from her debut collection, “Tantrum,” which examined the complex relationship between femininity and feminism. Witty and endearing, her verse bounced along from image to image, subverting the typical definitions of each one.

All three readers received their Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and having these talented writers remain in the area illustrates how culturally relevant Western Massachusetts has become. The literary readings and lectures that have taken place in and around the University are promising to creative writers such as myself, who have been led to believe that New York and other large cities are the only viable locales for authors to flourish.

More than just a stepping stone, UMass continues to be a cornerstone of the literary community of the Pioneer Valley. Whether it is the Traveling Writers Series sponsored by the MFA program or the annual Troy Lecture — the most recent of which was given by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen — the flagship campus combines the individual liberty needed for soulful writing with the financial and logistical backing that is essential for the future of literature.

Western Massachusetts has always had a literary presence on both a large and small scale, especially with the Five College Consortium fueling the connective force of MFA students in the area. Valley writers have the benefit of an environment that is an amalgamation of history, natural beauty and, perhaps above all, a level of obscurity that keeps one humble. Yes, the grumpy, misanthropic New Englander is a trope all too familiar to native Bay Staters. But as anyone who walks the streets of Amherst, Northampton and, now, Easthampton and Greenfield will tell you, the Pioneer Valley has become artistically vibrant and uniquely weird in the most flattering sense.

Edward Clifford can be reached at edwardcliffo@umass.edu.

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