A low-residency writing program is bringing some high-wattage authors to Lexington for a series of free public readings.
Eastern Kentucky University's Bluegrass Writers Studio will begin Jan. 3 with writer and EKU teacher Christina Lovin at the Hilton Downtown/Lexington and culminate Jan. 10 at the Carnegie Center with an appearance by Justin Cronin, the New York Times best-selling author of The Passage and The Twelve. In between, the series will feature Will Lavender, a Centre College graduate who is another Times best-selling author, and Kevin Wilson, author of the highly lauded novel The Family Fang.
The low- or brief-residence master of fine arts program started at Eastern in 2008 and has always brought in top writers during its winter residency, but this is the first year those writers have been available to the public, said EKU professor Derek Nikitas, who became director of the program in Richmond this year.
"One of my platforms in becoming director was to make sure the rest of the community knew about this residency," Nikitas said. "We've had some excellent writers come through, like Joyce Carol Oates and Chris Offutt, but it was not well known."
Low-residency programs have become increasingly popular vehicles to earn MFAs in writing because the craft lends itself to online education. The entire degree usually takes two years, with a 10- to 12-day residency in the winter, and a monthlong stay in the summer. This year, the summer residency will be in Lisbon, Portugal, where Eastern recently developed a relationship with an established program, Nikitas said.
The featured writers will work privately with the Eastern students in addition to their public appearances.
Cronin is the guest of honor of the event. The Houston-based writer was an award-winning literary author for many years before he hit it big with the post-apocalyptic trio: The Passage, The Twelve and a third book yet to be written.
Nikitas said he worked for several years to get Cronin to come to the Eastern program.
"I let him know that what separates us from other programs is that we don't shy away from well-written genre fiction," Nikitas said. "We were passionate about his work, and it wore away on him after a while."
Cronin's appearance is expected to draw a crowd, so Nikitas has joined with the Carnegie Center, where Cronin will appear. Carnegie director Neil Chethik has worked for a while on the concept of Kentucky being the "Literary Arts Capital of Mid-America," an idea that Nikitas is happy to embrace.
"We saw this as a good opportunity to make it come true," Nikitas said.