The Castle Mirror Room did not seem like a typical pre-lecture scene at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 21. Rather than hushed murmurs in the seats, those eager to hear Jennifer Bryant ’99M speak were met with a row of empty chairs and loud conversation floating in from the Rose Room. Even the speaker, enjoying the end of a dinner held in her honor next door, was absent.
After the dinner, Bryant and the guests moved into the Mirror Room, and she began her lecture, “Why I Write.” She related one of the key themes across her writing, a belief that “all of your work must necessarily be filtered through your own life.” A projection of the cover of her book, A River of Words, displayed a collage of mismatched and hand-drawn letters on a notebook pressed against a background of blues, reds, greens, and browns layered one atop the other. More than 50 listeners watched the author as she discussed the ways in which her own life related to her works: in this case, the juggling of life, work, family, and art that she felt connected her to the famous American poet William Carlos Williams.
A prolific author, Bryant has written poetry collections, novels, and children’s books on subjects as diverse as Georgia O’Keefe, the Lindbergh Baby Trial, and American postwar artist Horace Pippin. Her books have received commendations ranging from the Caldecott Honor, the ALA Schneider Family Book Award, the Orbus Pictus Award, and being named an Oprah Recommend Book. For her second appearance at Arcadia as a visiting writer, Bryant conducted a workshop in addition to her lecture, though the day served to recognize her literary accomplishments.
“The day has served as a celebration of her success more than anything else,” reflected Dr. Richard Wertime, English professor and director of the Master of Arts in English program at Arcadia.
Bryant had struggled to find a graduate program, as, even though she was already a published author, she did not have an extensive background in English literature. As a writer and mother, her time was precious. Making up the amount of undergraduate courses that other colleges expected of her would have proven difficult and expensive. Wertime and other members of Arcadia worked with Bryant to develop a plan to get her right into her graduate coursework.
In her lecture, she thanked Wertime and Arcadia for all that they’ve done for her. Then, before exploring her connections to O’Keefe, Pippin, and Williams, Bryant made a request to her audience of students, faculty, writers, and personal guests.
“I want you to laugh, to move around, and to enjoy the evening,” she announced, a fitting opening at the close of a jovial and celebratory day.