Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program

The Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program is named in honor of Michael Cervas who taught English from 1986-2020 and who initiated two longstanding visiting writers programs: The Westminster Poet Series and the Friday Nights at Westminster series of readings. The Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program is supported by generous gifts from the Ford-Goldfarb English Department Enrichment Fund, the McKinley Fund, and the Friday Nights at Westminster Fund.  

About Michael Cervas
During his 34-year tenure on the Westminster faculty, Michael taught all levels of English; coached basketball, soccer, track, baseball, golf and squash; worked as a corridor supervisor in Alumni House; and presided as department head for three decades. Having retired from his full-time appointment to the faculty at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, Michael continues to direct the Visiting Writers Program.

Friday Nights at Westminster

The Friday Nights at Westminster series of readings began in 2009-2010 to coincide with the opening of the Armour Academic Center. Six times a year (twice each trimester) writers are invited to come to campus to give a Friday evening reading in the Gund Room of the Cole Library and then return on Saturday morning to visit with English classes. Typically, English teachers introduce their students to works by the visiting writers prior to their readings or performances, thus guaranteeing an educated audience for the guest writers. The program has featured readings and performances by poets, essayists, novelists, jazz musicians, and singer-songwriters, many of whom, like Jennifer Egan, Ron Carlson, Emily St. John Mandel, Anthony Doerr, Monica Wood, Dar Williams, Kris Delmhorst, Nat Reeves, and Mark Erelli, have national reputations. Local writers and musicians, like Colin McEnroe, Rand Richards Cooper, Lynn Hoffman, Jonathan Gilman, Gina Barreca, and Rob Duguay, have also appeared in the program. One special feature of Friday Nights at Westminster is that the evening always begins with a reading by a student or a faculty member.

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  • Friday Nights at Westminster 2021-2022

    Please join us for Friday Nights at Westminster, a series of readings and concerts held at Westminster School during the 2021-2022 academic year on selected Friday nights, (occasionally on other nights of the week too).
     
    The events begin at 7 p.m. and are free and open to vaccinated members of the public with advance registration by emailing mcervas@westminster-school.org with the number of people attending. Reservations may be made until the day before the event and space may be limited.

    Events are held in either the Westminster Centennial Center or the Gund Reading Room of the school’s Armour Academic Center. We will let you know where each event will be held once the decision is made. Refreshments will be served after the readings. Parking is available in the parking lot adjacent to Armour.
     
    Friday, Oct. 8
    Gina Barreca
    Memoirist and humorist Gina Barreca has appeared on “20/20,” “The Today Show,” CNN, the BBC, “Dr. Phil,” NPR and “Oprah” to discuss gender, power, politics and humor. She is the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” “It’s Not That I’m Bitter, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World,” the bestselling “They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor” and “Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League.”
     
    Her weekly columns from the Hartford Courant are distributed internationally, and she has written for most major publications including The New York Times, Independent, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Cosmopolitan and Harvard Business Review. Barreca is a professor of English at the University of Connecticut and winner of the university’s highest award for excellence in teaching.
     
    Friday, Nov. 5
    Jennifer Haigh
    Jennifer Haigh is a novelist and short story writer. Her novel “Heat And Light” won a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was named a Best Book of 2016 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and NPR. Her previous books include “Faith,” “The Condition, Baker Towers” and Mrs. Kimble,” winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction, and the short story collection “News From Heaven,” winner of the Massachusetts Book Award and the PEN New England Award in Fiction. Her short stories have been published in Granta, The Atlantic, The Best American Short Stories and other publications. Jennifer has been awarded grants by the James Michener Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Her new novel, “Mercy Street,” will be published by Ecco/HarperCollins on Feb. 1, 2022.
     
    Friday, Dec. 10
    Daniel D'Addario
    Daniel D’Addario is the chief television critic for Variety, the magazine covering the entertainment industry. Previously, he had the same title at Time, and has written extensively about the arts for both publications. He is the recipient of awards from the Los Angeles Press Club for political commentary in 2019 and for profile writing in 2020. A graduate of Westminster School and Columbia University, he has also written for publications including Salon, Slate and The New Republic. He lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
     
    Friday, Jan. 28
    Dori Freeman
    “Ten Thousand Roses,” the fourth studio album from singer-songwriter Dori Freeman, showcases an artist who has cemented an inimitable signature sound while simultaneously establishing her as capable of a wide variety of styles. Freeman is about as “bona fide” as an Appalachian artist can be — she was raised among a family of musicians in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. Yet here she shows how multifaceted she is as an artist and how eclectic she is as a person, defying and expanding notions of what it means to be someone from the region, a young woman in the music industry and as an Americana artist.
     
    Her soaring alto and singular style are on fine display throughout this collection of nine originals and one cover. She wrote the songs during the pandemic, when, like millions of others, she stayed home and spent more time outside. “I really observed and appreciated nature during that time,” she said. Natural elements such as storm-clouds, wildflowers and spiders show up as motifs throughout the record, which examines everything from being deeply in love with someone to realizing that you don’t need another person to complete you.
     
    Friday, April 29
    Mahogany L. Browne
    Mahogany L. Browne is a writer, organizer and educator. She is the executive director of Bowery Poetry Club, artistic director of Urban Word NYC and poetry coordinator at St. Francis College. Browne has received fellowships from Agnes Gund, Air Serenbe, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research and Rauschenberg. She is the author of “Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice,” “Woke Baby” and “Black Girl Magic” (Macmillan), “Kissing Caskets” (YesYes Books) and “Dear Twitter” (Penmanship Books). She is also the founder of the Woke Baby Book Fair (a nationwide diversity literature campaign) and as an Arts for Justice grantee, is completing her first book of essays on mass incarceration, investigating its impact on women and children. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
     
    Tuesday, May 17
    Westminster Artists Collective
    (student and faculty writers and musicians)
     
     
    The Friday Nights at Westminster series is made possible by generous grants from the Ford-Goldfarb English Department Enrichment Fund, the McKinley Fund and the Connell Fund.

Westminster Poet Series

The Westminster Poet Series began in 1999 when Linda Pastan, at the time the Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland, came to Westminster to give an evening reading and visit with English classes the following day. The second poet in the series was Billy Collins, who had just been named United States Poet Laureate. Since then, the school has welcomed award-winning poets from all around the United States to campus for two-day visits. Westminster Poets have been United States Poets Laureate, State of Connecticut Poets Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Award winners. 

2021-2022 Visiting Poet

At the very end of the last century, in 1999 to be exact, the Westminster English Department decided to enhance its already robust contemporary poetry curriculum by creating the Westminster Poetry Series. Every year, the department invites a major poet to visit Westminster for two or three days, either in the winter or the spring. The entire school studies books of poems by the visiting poet, guaranteeing an especially knowledgeable audience, something all of the visiting poets have appreciated. A generous grant from former trustee Maureen Ford-Goldfarb and her daughter Kirsten Ford ’00 funds the series. 


 
As the decades have gone by and the program has grown in reputation, the English Department has come to rely increasing on past Westminster Poets to help secure new ones. David Huddle told the department about Stephen Dunn, for example. Tony Hoagland steered the way to Terrance Hayes who in turn suggested Aimee Nezhukumatathil who in a roundabout way brought Ross Gay. Accordingly, when the department started thinking about a poet for 2021-2022, it turned to Naomi Shihab Nye, herself twice a Westminster Poet, for her advice. Without hesitation, she suggested that Danusha Laméris. Within a matter of days, Laméris agreed enthusiastically to be the next Westminster Poet. 
 
Although Laméris has published only two books of poems (“The Moons of August,” 2014, and “Bonfire Opera,” 2020), those books have garnered incredible acclaim. Lee Rossi writes of “The Moons of August: “If Laméris has a particular talent, it is for thinking in images. She is primarily a meditative poet, examining mutability from a variety of viewpoints. The directness and felicity of her thinking, in fact, reminds one of Billy Collins or Jane Hirshfield. In poem after poem, she offers objective correlatives not just for feeling states but also for complex ideas.”
 
Dion O’Reilly concludes her review of “Bonfire Opera” by claiming: “Laméris captivates with the snake-like charm of her description[s]. Ultimately, however, the writer’s metaphors and rhetoric serve to expose complex girders of thought regarding the paradox of living in a human-animal body. Undaunted, she explores the vastness of experience without guilt, shame, or punishment — how to accept losses, transform passions to song, then release them with a full voice — to be both the bonfire and the opera.”
 
In other words, like so many of the previous Westminster Poets, Laméris writes accessible poems, often in a conversational style, which open up almost imperceptibly to disclose deep-seated meanings and complex emotions. Laméris is flexible and creative in her diction and skillful in her ability to craft wonderfully rhythmical lines of verse. She is especially looking forward to sharing her poems and working closely with high school students.
 
Prior to her visit, students in all four forms will study the poems in “Bonfire Opera,” which teachers will augment with selections from “The Moons of August.” Laméris will read to the whole school on Monday morning, Feb. 28, 2022, and visit with English classes for the rest of that day and on Tuesday, March 1.
 
Below are a few poems by Danusha Laméris:

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  • SMALL KINDNESS

    I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
    down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
    to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
    when someone sneezes, a leftover
    from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
    And sometimes, when you spill lemons
    from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
    pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
    We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
    and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
    at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
    to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
    and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
    We have so little of each other, now. So far
    from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
    What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
    fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
    have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

     The New York Times (9/19/2019), “Bonfire Opera
  • OMENS

    Out here, we read everything as a sign.
    The coyote in its scruffed coat,
    bending to eat a broken persimmon on the ground.
    The mess of crows that fills the apple tree,
    makes a racket, lifts off.
    In between, quiet.
    The winter fog is a blank.
    I wish I could make sense
    of the child’s empty bed,
    the bullet hole through my brother’s heart.
    The mailman drops a package
    on the front stoop and the neighbor’s dog
    won’t stop barking. I tread
    down the stairs, lightly.
    Because we can’t know
    what comes next, we say,
    The plum tree is blooming early.
    There are buck antlers lying in the grass.
    A mountain lion left its footprints by the bridge.
     
     New Letters, Vol 80, No. 3 and 4
  • NOTHING WANTS TO SUFFER

       - after Linda Hogan
     
    Nothing wants to suffer. Not the wind
    as it scrapes itself against the cliff. Not the cliff
    being eaten, slowly, by the sea. The earth does not want
    to suffer the rough tread of those who do not notice it.
    The trees do not want to suffer the axe, nor see
    their sisters felled by root rot, mildew, rust. 
    The coyote in its den. The puma stalking its prey.
    These, too, want ease and a tender animal in the mouth
    to take their hunger. An offering, one hopes, 
    made quickly, and without much suffering.
    The chair mourns an angry sitter. The lamp, a scalded moth.
    A table, the weight of years of argument.
    We know this, though we forget.
    Not the shark nor the tiger, fanged as they are.
    Nor the worm, content in its windowless world
    of soil and stone. Not the stone, resting in its riverbed.
    The riverbed, gazing up at the stars.
    Least of all, the stars, ensconced in their canopy,
    looking down at all of us— their offspring—
    scattered so far beyond reach.

    — Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets

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