An intimate group of Drake University students and faculty members gathered in the Cowles Library Reading Room on Wednesday, April 6 for the fifth Writers and Critics Series guest, Jen Hirt.
It is hard not to look at Hirt and notice the mesmerizing tattoo visible on her left bicep. Hirt began the night by explaining the importance and background of her unique tattoo. In 2002, Hirt was doing research on greenhouses and came across a blueprint of an 18th-century greenhouse.
“It was one of those moments of inspiration, where you know it will come back and help you out,” Hirt said about coming across the picture of the greenhouse.
Hirt’s creative nonfiction has been published in literary journals such as Gettysburg Review, Natural Bridge, Redivider, Flyway, the King’s English, Ohioana Quarterly and the Heartlands Today. Her writing has won grants from the Pennyslvania Council On the Arts, the Ohioana Library and Berheim Arboretum. She was the 2004 Berheim Arboretum in residence. Hirt is a graduate of Hiram College, Iowa State University and the University of Idaho. She now teaches writing at Penn State University in Harrisburg.
“Under Glass” traces the rise and fall of the family business and the family itself. Hirt is the girl with a thousand Christmas trees, growing up surrounded by life and vitality. She is the greenhouse filled with hope and growth. Then the rubble sets in — financial pressures, a brutal divorce and literal demolition of her past.
“I thought it was really interesting. It was a fascinating topic for a book,” sophomore Heather Hall said. “I really liked her style of writing and look forward to reading her book.”
Hirt is the 2011 winner of Drake’s Emerging Writer Award. The award is part of the Writers and Critics series. Faculty and students of the English Department select one exceptional book by a single author who has written only one book. Each year the award rotates genres: short fiction, literary nonfiction and poetry.
“It’s awesome, I am very excited. It’s been really great meeting everyone from the department. I didn’t realize this was the second year, and I hope it keeps going,” Hirt said. “Stuff like this is great for first-time authors. I mean, it’s so hard to get your stuff noticed, so contests like this are absolutely essential.”
This year, eight students read dozens of outstanding nonfiction entries and selected Hirt’s memoir “Under Glass: The Girl With a Thousand Christmas Trees.”
The winner of the Emerging Writer’s Award receives publicity for the book, $1000 and travel and lodging expenses to read at Drake.
Jennifer Perrine, the director of the Writers and Critics series, said the process of selecting the winner was an excellent hands-on experience for students.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for students to get involved and get experience with what it might be like to work in a publishing or editorial field where you are reading through a bunch of submissions and you are just trying to find that one gem,” Perrine said. “It’s great for authors who are just trying to start out and want to get more publicity for their work.”
The last event in the Writers and Critics series for the semester is Drake Writer’s Night on April 21 in Medbury Honors Lounge. The event is an opportunity for local writers and critics to share recent work. It is meant to foster discussion of writing among students, faculty, staff and the greater Des Moines community. The event is free and open to the public.