Thornton Reading

Photo retrieved from an email sent by Jer Bryant on Sept. 22.

Grace Cavanaugh ~ Editor in Chief

  The fall 2020 Thornton Reading featuring Cyrus Cassells has been rescheduled for Thursday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m.

     According to Jer Bryant, assistant professor of English and director of the Wilmer Writing Center, “We are going to have Cyrus Cassells, who is a poet, read from his quite extensive body of work. I believe his first publication came out in 1981. He teaches at Texas State University. […] He has won a lot of really important awards.”

      Bryant said, “He has won the National Poetry Series, a Lamda Literary Award, which is a pretty significant award given to gay and lesbian writers. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and he received a Pushcart Prize, which is a big deal, and he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his criticism of film and television reviews in the Washington Spectator.”

     While he is known as a poet, “he does more than just poetry,” said Bryant. “Poetry is enough, of course, but he does more than poetry. He actually has translated work from Catalan into English, so he is very intelligent and compassionate.”

   Bryant said, “He writes about queerness and color, the Holocaust, spirituality, and death. Those are just a few of the themes that he writes about. What I find interesting about him is we so quickly identify three themes that writers focus on, but there are many more themes for him. He is not limited to just three in particular.”

     “He has a poem called “The Spirits of Slave Catchers are Still Walking Among Us,” and that poem has really captured what is happening in our country with race and discrimination and violence. He works to capture emotion in ways that humans understand, in my opinion. He has poems that deal with losing a mother, poems that deal with losing people to the AIDS epidemic, poems that deal with forbidden love by people who were already persecuted,” said Bryant.

     Laura Marello, Professor of English, requires her creative writing students to attend Thornton Readings. She said, “I require writing students to attend readings because I think it helps to learn writing to hear a writer read their work in a public forum. Writing students get to see an activity in that profession.”

     Marello continued, “Jer Bryant brought the poet Jo Harjo here as a Thornton visiting writer and now she is Poet Laureate of the United States, so those writing students who met and saw her will always know that, while they were in college, they were able to see and meet a poet who a few years later became the US Poet Laureate.”

     The reading was postponed because “Cyrus was in Oregon and had to leave because of concerns about the fires,” according to Bryant.

     “We decided to have it virtually just because of the pandemic,” explained Bryant. “In the evening, he will do a reading that will be live-streamed, and then for the next 20 minutes or so, I will ask him questions that I solicit from the audience through a Google form, and I already have some questions in advance. It is a little different because we are so used to a Q&A where the audience is right there in front of the reader, but we are still going to give the audience an opportunity to answer questions, to ask questions through the Google form.”

     “My interactions with him have all been wonderful,” said Bryant. “I think Cyrus’ energy is very special in terms of how he really pulls the audience in. Sometimes poets are not the best readers, writers might not be the best readers, but from what I have seen, he is an incredible reader.”

     Marello said, “I am looking forward to hearing Cyrus Cassells read his work. I have always known of him and his writing but never heard him read or interacted with him. I am very much looking forward to it.”

     Unlike with Thornton Readings in the past, the school will not be offering the books for sale. Instead, if students would like to purchase them, they will have to go through Amazon, Givens, or Barnes and Noble. 

     As for next semester, the Thornton Reader they have coming is Sonja Livingston, who will be coming in March. “She is primarily an essayist,” said Bryant, “and she has a whole compilation about engaging the Catholic faith, and she is also another one of those writers who will uplift people and celebrate people.”

    Bryant noted, “It is wonderful when you can go see someone and not have to pay to see them, so take the opportunity to see incredible writers as part of your development as a human. I feel like we pick writers who get at the core of what it means to be human, so it is important to take that opportunity and accept that gift to experience the writer with no strings attached.”

     To participate in the reading, please go to

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