English Department’s “Words to Say It” hosts first in-person visiting writer since pandemic


Coastal’s creative writing program hosted the first writer to visit in-person for the “Words to Say It” series since the pandemic began. 


Poet January Gill O’Neil visited campus April 7 for the series, which brings critically acclaimed writers to campus. Because of COVID, the series was unable to host writers on campus for the past few years.  


According to Jason Ockert, a creative writing professor and a part of the English Department’s creative writing committee, the writers’ series offers the department an opportunity to invite the best contemporary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writers to give a public reading on campus.  


COVID has really impacted the “Words to Say It,” said Jessica Lee Richardson, an assistant professor of English and the Coordinator of Creative Writing since 2019. Richardson said two of the four years she’s been running it has been on Zoom, allowing for visiting writers to invite their own networks and bringing in a larger crowd. She said that she really appreciates the ability to be in-person.  


“There’s just a different kind of chemistry that happens that’s also really special. And I really like students to be able to have the opportunity to hang out with the writers when they come,” Richardson said. 


These events are important because they show writers as real people and help students learn about the professionalization of the writing life, said Dan Albergotti, a professor of English. 


“COVID recently forced us not to bring people to campus physically for a while, so it was really nice to have January here as the first person brought back,” Albergotti said. 


O’Neil has written three poetry collections. O’Neil is an associate professor of English at Salem State University and a board of trustees’ member with the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and Monsterrat College of Art, according to the Poetry Foundation. O’Neil recently published a poem titled “Cartwheel” in the Los Angeles Review 


Albergotti said the creative writing committee typically selects an early to mid-career author they admire, both on and off the page. He said the English Department wants students to have an who is generous with their time, approachable, and makes their work come to life when presenting.  


He said O’Neil checked all those boxes. 


“Her work could appeal to the general audience member, not just the poet in the audience, because it is understandable but there is this level of emotional depth,” Albergotti said. 


During her campus visit, O’Neil read from a selection of old and new poems. She said it is nice to look back and see how the poems play with each other while also looking to the future with her current work.  


She said she finds inspiration from her own life, such as her divorce, her time on fellowship in Mississippi, and from the news. Some of the poems she read were “Brave” and “Hoodie” which are in her latest collection, Rewilding 


Following the reading, O’Neil answered questions from the audience members and spoke on several topics such as the theme of hope, getting started writing, and revision. 


“Over these last few years, certainly with the pandemic, we’ve needed reasons to be hopeful,” O’Neil said.