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Neustadt festival at OU celebrates literature and culture

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Dubravka Ugrešić

Yugoslavian writer, Dubravka Ugrešić, is the 2016 Neustadt Prize Winner. The Neustadt Festival is a three-day festival sponsored by OU and World Literature Today. 

The Neustadt Festival, a three-day-long celebration of literature and culture, is coming to campus tomorrow. 

The Neustadt Festival takes place every other year and is sponsored by OU and World Literature Today. The festival was established in 2004 by Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Ph.D, executive director at World Literature Today, and remains a colorful OU tradition. 

The festival is focused around the Neustadt Prize winner. Poets, novelists, and playwrights with outstanding achievement are all eligible for the prestigious prize, which dates back to 1969. 

 “For the festival we bring in the writer who’s getting the prize several days early, and then we build a celebration of that writer’s culture around the writer,” Davis-Undiano said.

This year’s laureate is Dubravka Ugrešić, a writer from the former Yugoslavia. 

 “She’s a really neat lady,” Davis-Undiano said. “She writes essays, short stories, novels and memoirs; she’s very contemporary person. I think (she) loves being around cultural events and young people, and I think the students are just going to love meeting her,” Davis-Undiano said. 

Davis-Undiano and others have carefully planned the festival to reflect Ugrešić's culture and body of work, he said.

“There will be a panel of people talking about her work in relation to other Yugoslav, Croatian and Serbian writers, people from that part of the world. There will be another panel that talks about exiles,” Davis-Undiano said. 

World Literature Today is partnering with the school of drama to put on the world premiere of a one-act play based on one Ugrešić's short stories, "Who Am I?" at 11 a.m. Friday in the Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall in Catlett Music Center. 

The play, Davis-Undiano said, is about a woman alone in her apartment who is wrestling with different parts of her identity and who she is becoming.

The assistant director and editor in chief at World Literature Today, Daniel Simon, said “(The play) is very surreal and funny, and it’s kind of a variation on the Alice in Wonderland theme. I think it will be very cool with the set design…with the kind of weird things that happen in the story. There’s what’s called a triple-decker chicken that comes in at one point and a truck supposedly crashes on stage-there’s lots of odd things happening.” 

World Literature Today has been collaborating with other university organizations behind the scenes for months to prepare for the festival.

Merleyn Bell, World Literature Today’s art director, said one of her favorite parts of the festival is working with the visual communication program at the school of art, where students create brand designs. 

“Our branding this year is actually designed by a student,” Bell said. “Students do a design project with us, where they take about a month’s time to work on a project they get class credit for, or an actual grade for in class, but they also submit it to a contest that we judge internally to determine which one of those poster designs we’ll use as the actual festival branding for that year.” 

The Neustadt Prize itself will be given to Ugrešić following the play performance. The prize consists of $50,000, an eagle feather cast in solid silver and a certificate. 

The Neustadt Prize has become important to the literary world very quickly, Davis-Undiano said. 

“People call it the American Nobel, and the New York Times has said several times that it’s probably the most important literary prize in the world next to the Nobel,” Davis-Undiano said. 

Although the prize is, “a pretty big deal worldwide, it’s one of those things where it’s probably more famous internationally than it is here," Davis-Undiano said.

Students are encouraged to come and participate in the festivities, because there really is something for everybody, Bell said.

“We bring in some of the best—they really are the best—writers in the world,” Davis-Undiano said.

"The whole goal in bringing them (the writers) in is to put them together with students, and let students learn from the very best and they’re going to be influenced by the vision of these writers, by the talent of these writers," Davis-Undiano said. "Sometimes students network with these writers and continue to stay in touch with them years after they’re gone.” 

To learn more about the 2016 Neustadt Festival visit: 


Molly Kruse is a journalism senior and assistant culture editor at the Daily. She previously worked as culture reporter, copyeditor and social media coordinator.

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