ASU Book Group turns the page between students and authors

Any bookworm knows that the chance to meet the author of a book you've read is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. ASU Book Group gives students the opportunity to do just that during its monthly events bridging the gap between student and author.

In its fifth year of existence, the ASU Book Group has hosted monthly meet-and-greet style gatherings where students can gather round and talk face-to-face with professional authors.

The group typically meets the last Wednesday of each month at the Virginia G. Piper Writers House on the Tempe campus. What truly makes the organization unique is that the books selected for each session are geared toward ASU faculty and alumni who have been published.

"ASU is a wealth of wonderful, talented, smart people," said Judith Smith, the organization's founder and advisor.

Smith is a retired author and Sun Devil herself who worked in media relations for 25 years during her time at ASU.

She explained that in creating the group, she wanted the authors of the featured books to always be present. Smith said she purposefully sought out authors who either attended or taught at ASU because she felt students would connect with them. Past meetings this school year have featured W.P. Carey School of Business graduate Alan Simon, associate English professor Tara Ison and more.

Smith said the selected books vary from genre to genre so that there is always something that will interest everyone. The ASU Book Group also works to establish a relaxed and intimate atmosphere in meetings that students and readers alike may not experience anywhere else when meeting an author. Smith said she encourages students to attend even if they haven't read the chosen book.

"It is rare that you get to sit down with an author for an hour and hear them talk about their book and exchange thoughts," Smith said. "(It's) a wonderful opportunity for people to get out of their building and walk across campus and see what’s going on in someone else’s world." 

This month's meeting features "Pachacuti: World Overturned" by College of Letters and Sciences professor, Lori Eshleman. She teaches a variety of subjects at ASU's Polytechnic campus, including medieval art, art of the Americas and even Lord of the Rings.

Eshleman's novel is a fast-paced historical fiction that takes place in the midst of tensions in 18th century Ecuador between Spanish settlers and indigenous peoples. "Pachacuti: World Overturned" takes its reader on a journey into the lives of three very different individuals in the ancient kingdom of Quito as uprisings and chaos swirl around them.

She grew up in a small midwestern town with large Hispanic and Latino populations and often observed inequalities between these groups and others, which helped to inspire her book. Eshleman also said that in writing her book she was inspired by the many years she spent in Ecuador and what she experienced there.

The neophyte author said the writing process was a long one, full of revised drafts and tossed aside manuscripts. Eventually Eshleman's novel was picked up and published by Bagwyn Books of The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in 2015 and she said it was all worthwhile.

As far as aspiring writers, she advises students to read a lot, write every day and never give up.

Leslie Standridge, English and film and media studies senior, said organizations like ASU's book group are important.

"Campuses like ASU are so huge so it’s hard to connect with other people who have the same interests as you," she said.

Standridge also said that meeting authors one-on-one humanizes them and allows students to learn techniques from people who have been in their shoes and made it as a writer.

She also added that English majors are often questioned on their choice of major and that book groups like this one help break down boundaries by providing a space for everyone with an interest in reading. No matter the field, strong reading and literacy skills are important Standridge said.

This month's meeting will take place Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, noon to 1 p.m., free of charge, at the Virginia G. Piper Writers House in Tempe.

Related Links:

Book Group gives exposure to ASU authors

Dumbledore's Army Invades ASU

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