Junot Diaz, Lydia Davis coming to Grounds next year

Creative Writing Program announces next Kapnick Distinguished Writers-in-Residence


Authors Junot Diaz and Lydia Davis (pictured above) will be visiting Grounds in the next academic year as the Creative Writing Program’s Kapnick Distinguished Writers-in-Residence.

Authors Lydia Davis and Junot Díaz will be visiting Grounds in the 2016-17 school year as the Creative Writing Program’s Kapnick Distinguished Writers-in-Residence.

Davis’s residency on Grounds will last from Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, and Díaz will follow from Jan. 23 to Feb. 11, 2017.

According to the program’s website, the salary and benefits for the post are commensurate with high levels of literary distinction and international acclaim.

The inspiration for the Kapnick Foundation Distinguished Writers-in-Residence Endowment came from William Faulkner’s time as the Balch Writer-in-Residence at the University from 1956-1958.

The endowment has previously supported two writers-in-residence — James Salter and Caryl Phillips.

Salter is a novelist and short story writer and was a Kapnick Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in 2014.

“Our first Kapnick Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, James Salter, spent a full semester here [in Fall 2014] and led a graduate workshop, in addition to delivering two lectures and a reading,” Prof. Jane Alison, director of the Department of English’s Creative Writing Program, said in an email statement.

His stay was followed by Phillips — a novelist, playwright and essayist — this most recent semester in spring 2016.

“Caryl Phillips was here for a shorter time — each writer's time flexibility is different — and, while here, he worked one-on-one with undergrads in our Area Program in Literary Prose and grad students in our MFA program, reading their work and consulting with them on their writing goals,” Alison said. “He also gave a master class, reading and lecture.”

Fourth-year College student Claudia Heath said students in her creative writing major were able to sign up for one-on-one meetings with Phillips and could give him up to 25 pages of work to read beforehand to receive feedback on their writing.

“Meeting with him one-on-one was a great opportunity to get feedback from an experienced writer other than my professors, who already know my writing,” Heath said in an email statement. “He highlighted a number of areas that could use improvement that no one had pointed out to me before. He was also fun to talk to and showed real interest in my plans post-graduation.”

The program website states candidates must have an exceptional record of publication and major honors both in the United States and abroad, while showing commitment to the literary life of the Department of English, the Creative Writing Program and the University as a whole.

Davis is a Man Booker International Prize winner and a widely renowned writer and translator celebrated for her short stories. She teaches at the State University of New York at Albany and is the author of one novel and seven story collections.

Díaz currently works as the fiction editor at the Boston Review and as professor of writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to other awards and fellowships, Díaz won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for his work “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

“Davis's residency will be much like [Phillips'] — although she might give two lectures and works in translation as well as fiction — and Junot Díaz might, in his weeks, give more masterclasses and informal talks,” Alison said.

Díaz said as a teacher and mentor he wants to start a dialogue with University students that is both generative and useful.

“I’m a Dominican nerd who is deeply committed to the African diaspora, to the Caribbean, to immigrants and immigration,” Díaz said in an email statement. “I also love teaching classes on worldbuilding and apocalyptic storytelling. We’ll just have to see what folks might want from me.”

Díaz said writers are not his only jurisdiction. His goal is to provide students with an opportunity to become more critically minded through the creative arts.

“I’m not at U.Va. to teach only writers or people who want to be writers. I believe that what I have to offer as an instructor can be of use to every kind of student — no matter what their ultimate professional goal might be,” Díaz said.

In addition to their classes and consultations, the writers will deliver free public readings and lectures.

Heath said she thinks Davis and Díaz are an amazing line-up for next year and said she has read and studied works by both writers in her classes at the University.

Alison said the Kapnick endowment has given the University the ability to provide students and others on grounds the chance to meet “literary stars.”

“We hope to keep bringing to Grounds internationally acclaimed authors who are also generous teachers,” Alison said.

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