In April 1978, the English Department held a Poetry Jam, featuring Richard Wilbur, W.D. Snodgrass, and Dave Smith. The success of the Poetry Jam and "the recent explosion of community interest in the literary, visual, and performing arts" in Hampton Roads, led to the First Annual Literary Festival. It was called "The Arts Reunion," and it coincided with the arrival of the Associated Writing Programs' national headquarters, the birth of ODU's creative writing program, and the establishment of a Distinguished Visiting Writer position (W. D. Snodgrass was our first). It was a heady time.
The enthusiasm has continued, sustained by ever-increasing university and community support. Each October the Hampton Roads, as well as the University, calendar reminds us that for about a week our area will be home to such writers as Robert Pinsky, Rita Dove, John McPhee, William Styron, Ann Beattie, Charles Johnson, Derek Walcott, and Gwendolyn Brooks (see Author List).
The diversity of readers, panels, workshops, and community involvement is one of the Festival hallmarks. Every two years the Festival is redesigned by a different English department member. The themes change from year to year. Major writers, cultural diversity, international perspectives, and numerous other approaches have surprised increasingly sophisticated audiences.
Over the years, students from Old Dominion University, surrounding campuses, and high schools have been encouraged to attend the literary events. Few, around the country, have an opportunity to hear and mingle with so many major and aspiring writers. Since Hampton Roads is a "reader friendly" environment, the Festival has consistently attracted patrons of bookstores, libraries, museums, and arts events.
Many of the events have been recorded. Brochures and posters (provided by the University Publications Department), news articles, interviews, and reviews are now housed in the University Archives of the University's Perry Library. Future material will also be collected there.
Because of the importance of this annual event to the university and the community, the Library and English Department have collaborated to preserve and exhibit Festival materials through the Literary Festival Repository.
~ Phil Raisor (English Department) and Karen Vaughan (Library), 2002
The Breathing Word: Old Dominion University Annual Literary Festival, Phillip Raisor, Kirby Broyles, and Karen Vaughan