~from intern Katie Haggstrom


Literary readings always bring together a diverse audience who shares a love for language. As a new MA English student at CSU, I was eager to attend my first Creative Writing Reading Series at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art.

I relinquished my pen and water bottle at the front desk (these items aren’t allowed inside, to protect the art) and followed the hallway into the gallery, unsure what to expect. I was met with a small cluster of chairs surrounding a microphone, setting the tone for what I thought would be an intimate Thursday night reading.

But more and more people filed into the gallery and more chairs were brought to fill the empty spaces. Embarrassingly, I knew little about the writer Rachel Hall and the poet Mike Lala who were the esteemed guests for the evening. I listened as English professor Camille Dungy and two CSU students took the stage to introduce the night’s readers.

With standing-room only, we were reminded that we were among artwork, ready to hear the spoken art of prose and poetry. From the beautiful paintings on the wall to the sculptures sprinkled between occupied chairs, we all awaited the start of the reading.

Rachel Hall spoke first, reading an excerpt from Heirlooms, her collection of short stories showing how war interlinks four generations of a Jewish family. As she explained in a blog post, “I’m less interested in those who make history and drawn instead to those who live it—backstage, downstairs, on the sidelines, those overlooked in history textbooks.” Through her writing, Hall delves into these human landscapes, looking at traits that are passed down from generation to generation, like love and duty, pulling inspiration from her own family history.

Rachel Hall
Rachel Hall

With an MFA from Indiana University, Hall has won countless awards for her writing, including two Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence, one for teaching and the other for her creative writing. She also received honors from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Ragdale and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts.

When Hall began reading, her voice was calm and steady as she brought to life the story of a woman experiencing pregnancy and a subsequent miscarriage. The writing was filled with vivid imagery as Hall painted a landscape sharing the story of home, loss and family life.

The poet Mike Lala spoke second. He recently won the 2016 Colorado Prize for Poetry for his collection Exit Theater. He explains the theme of this collection as war, and his relation to it. I was enamored by his unique style and his work with splices and syntax cut short.

Lala began his reading explaining the challenge “to find work that feels relevant to where we are now.” The first poem he chose took place in an art museum (the perfect setting) about a refugee from a different time. From the moment Lala began reading, I felt myself holding my breath, afraid to miss a word through the bursts of fast-paced reading or break the thought-provoking silences.

Mike Lala
Mike Lala

Lala ended the evening with two unpublished poems from a collection he’s working on, describing the theme as money. The first poem was inspired by his old boss. The last poem gained inspiration from Lala’s favorite street in New York City: Elizabeth Street.

Similar in style, both poems were read entirely as one breathless sentence. This intonation gave readers the sense of a hectic New York City, falling into the bustling pattern of city life.

Lala finished his final poem, abruptly ending what had been a longwinded adventure through New York. I sat there with the audience for a moment, breathless.

Blinking, I came back to the art gallery around me and the reading concluded as quickly as it began. The excess chairs were folded up and the room left with the resonating images of two powerful writers, now stored among the paintings and sculptures of the gallery.

The next Creative Writing Reading Series is scheduled for Thursday, March 23 at 7:30pm in the Lory Student Center, Ballroom 350-D. This event will feature author David Shields, “the internationally bestselling author of twenty books, including Reality Hunger, War is Beautiful, and Other People: Takes & Misktakes. The recipient of the Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire and many more. His work has been translated into twenty languages.”