Planning the 16th Literary Festival with Professor Pursley 

John Pursley looks at the camera and poses in front of a beige background.

In a Lee Hall classroom, a small team led by Professor John Pursley gathers. The group of seven students face an exciting, yet challenging task — planning Clemson University’s 16th Literary Festival. Pursley and team move through a packed to-do list, checking their inboxes and itineraries for updates. 

In this class, the students and professor function as an event planning committee. They delegate tasks like promoting events through social media, contacting writers and venues and promoting to media outlets. The team also designs promotional materials, communicates with alumni and orders copies of the featured authors’ books to be sold during literary festival events. 

When asked about the unique nature of this class, Pursley said, “It’s always something unpredictable. I love this class because it’s not like a class. By the time it’s all done, we’ll hate each other and love each other.” 

The students laugh, yet Pursley has a point. Experiential learning can present new challenges. Pursley said, “It is an opportunity to recognize students’ personal strengths and weaknesses while being hands-on, personal and involving our common interest – literature.” 

Selecting the featured authors is crucial to planning a literary festival. The process is a balancing act of building an exciting list, engaging with interested authors and operating within budgeting constraints. Pursley focuses on poetry and fiction genres. Pursley sources authors from his own connections, faculty connections, student suggestions and local talent. 

When speaking on selecting authors, Pursley said, “We make an effort to focus on diversity, as various voices and perspectives are important.” 

The literary festival team looks forward to a reading from Jericho Brown. Brown, the festival headliner, is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. The team is also excited for the author’s roundtable event where students and the public can ask authors questions regarding their works and creative process. The literary festival itinerary also includes book signings and literary trivia.  

The events will take place on Clemson University’s campus and at local businesses in the Clemson area. 

Pursley said, “It is a Clemson University event but is very much town and gown.” 

Pursley and team welcome all community members who love literature to join in the events taking place March 29 through March 31.

By: Liv Provosty

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