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Author entertains, inspires students

Cypress Dome hosts speaker

Published: Sunday, October 11, 2009

Updated: Sunday, October 11, 2009 17:10


Katie Dees

The Cypress Dome Society, a literary arts organization at UCF, hosted a reading with Dennis Covington, author of two novels and three nonfiction books, as part of the biannual Writers in the Sun series on Thursday, Oct. 8.

Covington's book, Salvation on Sand Mountain, was a 1995 National Book Award finalist. His articles have been featured in publications such as The New York Times and Vogue, and his work has been translated into eight languages abroad.

The Cypress Dome's media relations chair Tyler King said Cypress Dome wanted to enrich UCF's arts and cultural calendar by bringing in interesting and significant speakers for students to listen to their experiences, trials and tribulations. King, a senior creative writing major, said Cypress Dome hosts the event twice a year and occasionally during the summer.

Toni Jensen, an assistant professor in the English department and faculty adviser for Cypress Dome, said she is very careful in selecting writers whose work will appeal to students of different majors, not just to creative writing majors.

Covington's books, she said, talk of the environment, spirituality and the South — topics that draw in students from different areas on campus.

"Salvation, in particular, is a beautiful work that represents a part of the population that does not get represented: poor white southerners," Jensen said.

Jensen said she's interested in writers who write about a population that people might not know about or have stereotypical opinions of, and showing complexities there. Jensen said she believes Covington does it well.

Pedro Tejada, a sophomore creating writing major, said it was the first time he had heard of Dennis Covington's work. He said he was excited to hear a writer's work without hearing all the hype.

"Are you at the good part yet?" said Dennis Covington, reading from the chapter "The Good Part" in his most recent book, Redneck Riviera: Armadillos, Outlaws, and the Demise of an American Dream. He said he and his sister, Jeanie Covington, would ask each other this question when reading stories the other recommended. "But what exactly constitutes the good part of a story? And since our lives themselves are stories, where in this sea of misery, this vale of tears, does the good part lie?" Covington read aloud from his book.

He entertained an audience of about 40 students with stories such as when he tried to purchase and sell armadillos as a child and how they affected his life even years later when he had his own family, and the land he inherited from his father, but couldn't keep.

He also read about his experience with snake-handling, which senior digital media major Emily Krebs said she found bizarre because she has never heard of it before, but it kept her intrigued.

"I was really pulled in to the stories, even though they were basically being read to us," she said. "The speaker's life was just so interesting, and he's really funny. I got suckered into buying a book, so it definitely drew me in."

Although it was Krebs' first time ever hearing about Dennis Covington, she said the reading surpassed her expectations because the way Covington read his works was different from when she hears students' works. Their stories were interesting, she said, but they weren't really engaging. After hearing Covington's nonfiction works, Krebs said Covington has inspired her to write a nonfiction piece for her class about a man in Colorado, which is where she is originally from, who is building a castle brick by brick.

"I had never really considered writing nonfiction before," Krebs said. "But he really expressed quite clearly you can write nonfiction as beautifully as fiction."

Jensen said the next Writers in the Sun event will be in spring, when Stephen Jones, writer of horror, suspense, thriller and literary fiction, will come to UCF.

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