CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – What started as a humble poetry contest has blossomed into an event that uplifts marginalized voices thanks to the collaboration between the English Department at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation (CBWF). Islanders and the Coastal Bend community packed the CBWF, located on the south side of Corpus Christi, to celebrate the Switchgrass Review Fall Festival. The festival, held Dec. 1 on Worlds AIDS Day, debuted the fourth volume of “Switchgrass Review,” a national journal of women’s health, history and transformation. Participants enjoyed displays of literary prowess, delicious food and the chance to purchase books from local authors.
“It’s important that academia isn’t insular, but that we’re connected to the community,” said Dr. Robin Carstensen, Co-founder and Editor of “Switchgrass Review” and Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “More and more writers are emerging from the community, and to create an environment that shares their work related to women is empowering for everyone.”
The event attracted writers from across the state, including the 2018 Texas Poet Laureate, Carol Coffee Reposa. Other performers included writers published in “Switchgrass Review,” community members, and A&M-Corpus Christi faculty, students and alumni. Local community activists and poets, like John Meza of Tacos Not Bombs, Sister Lou Ella Hickman, Abbey Wagner from the LGBTQ+ YNOT program, also shed light on the struggles of immigrants, sex-trafficking victims and LGBTQ+ people.
The Islander Creative Writers, A&M-Corpus Christi’s creative writing student organization who publish the “The Windward Review,” assisted the CBWF staff in putting together the event. Not only did students have the opportunity to share their stories, but they also got a sense of the growing creative writing community in Corpus Christi and beyond.
“The creative writing community is a loving and supportive group of people,” said Rebekah Bluestein, a graduating English senior and President of the Islander Creative Writers. “If anything, I hope the students felt like they’re now a part of that family.”
Bluestein was among the many Islanders sharing their stories and poems. She created and performed a collaborative poem with Xanthe Vinson, an English senior at A&M-Corpus Christi, about a humorously painful run-in with machismo.
“It’s always a little nerve-wracking sharing my work, but I also felt electrified,” said Bluestein. “I really enjoyed reading it, and I received a lot of positive feedback.”
The English Department at A&M-Corpus Christi helps fund a portion of the costs of printing “Switchgrass Review.” Dr. Mark Hartlaub, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts of A&M-Corpus Christi assisted in funding the keynote speaker. “Switchgrass Review” also provides an opportunity for talented students and alumni to gain real-world experience in copyediting, publishing and to have their work debuted. The
“Switchgrass Review” began four years ago when Bill Hoelscher, CEO of CBWF, worked with Carstensen to hold a poetry contest to gather strong voices and raise awareness of women and girls with HIV and the health disparity of women in the Coastal Bend. After the night’s successful turnout, Carstensen said she is inspired to include even more voices from the Coastal Bend community, especially youth from the LGBTQ YNOT program in the next volume of the “Switchgrass Review.”