Performing Arts

Wordfest Returns for Tenth Year

Mildred Barya, poet. Photo by Todd Crawford

Asheville’s celebration of poetry returns to Lenoir- Rhyne University Asheville from Thursday, April 12, to Sunday, April 15. Among the poets attending Asheville Wordfest 2018 with its theme, Earth, People, Words: Science, Soul and Art in Conversation, are Creek Nation poet Joy Harjo, Ugandan poet and UNCA faculty member Mildred Barya and Mexican poet José Vazquéz.

“When I got the call from Joy Harjo’s agents that she will come, I was driving and had to pull over I was so happy,” says the festival’s founder and organizer Laura Hope-Gill, director of the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative at Lenoir-Rhyne Asheville. Harjo, she says, is a poet speaking with the vast perspective that brings deeper understanding. Harjo will read twice during the festival, the first a free reading on Thursday evening at UNC Asheville.

The festival includes readings by poets and lecturers and a full schedule of workshops delving into topics such as history, geography, storytelling and creativity’s role in moving forward in troubling times. “This is a weekend of language, refl ection and authentic conversation,” Hope- Gill says. “Maybe we’re all a little hungry for that.”

Barya, an associate professor at UNCA, will be among the area poets reading during the festival. “I’m particularly pleased with Asheville Wordfest’s focus on geopoetics,” she says. “It is important that we’re reminded of the place of poetry in our physical landscapes and geographic imagination. Through that lens, we can create new lives and spaces in our everyday experiences within the mapping of what nourishes and sustains, the geometry of our intimate and complex relations with earth, people and language.”

Since 2007, when the first festival was held, Asheville Wordfest has presented poets from more than 30 cultural contexts, global and regional. Hope-Gill traveled to Scotland last summer to study geopoetics as a direction for this year’s festival. “Poetry reminds people of something we can’t buy or make,” Hope-Gill says, “a sense of belonging, a connection with soul. This is worth celebrating.”

For a complete schedule of events and to purchase tickets, visit

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