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Francine Prose to speak at Chautauqua series

Guest author and teacher exemplifies what the series is all about, organizers say
 Posted: 2:00 AM April 17, 2013

A writer invited to speak at the Chautauqua Poets and Writers series can't be just an expert in the field.

"The writer has to be a good teacher," said Patty Wixon, a Chautauqua board member.

Her husband, Vince, also a board member, said many fine writers will agree to give a reading, but fewer are inclined to take part in the teaching that Chautauqua asks of its authors and poets during their stay.

If you go

What: Chautauqua Poets & Writers presents Francine Prose.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 19

Where: Mountain Avenue Theatre, 201 S. Mountain Ave.

Tickets: $20 reserved, $15 general, $12 for students, at Bloomsbury Books and the Bookwagon in Ashland or online at

For more information:

Organizers say Francine Prose, who will speak at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ashland High School's Mountain Avenue Theater, is not only a bestselling author but also a respected teacher. She will meet with students for a workshop Friday morning, then talk to a group of teachers the following day.

Prose is the author of numerous novels, including National Book Award finalist "Blue Angel," published in 2000. She also received the Dayton Peace Prize for her novel "A Changed Man," published in 2005. Her most recent novel is 2011's "My New American Life."

She's also written collections of short stories, children's books, translations and nonfiction, including "Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife," which was published in 2009.

"She is one of the most diverse writers," said Kathi Bowen-Jones, a board member and co-founder of the Chautauqua and an English teacher at AHS.

"She does it all," said Vince Wixon.

Prose, 66, has taught writing at numerous universities throughout her career.

Those schools include Harvard, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, University of Arizona, University of Utah and currently Bard College.

Her book "Reading Like a Writer" has been noted as a strong teaching tool for people who want to write and for those who teach writing. In the book, Prose delves into many of the subtleties of great writing easily missed by a casual reader.

" 'Reading Like a Writer' is inspiring for anyone who teaches or writes," Bowen-Jones said. "She's very passionate about her subject areas."

Attempts to reach Prose were unsuccessful. Her agent said she is traveling to readings in California this week.

Chautauqua members believe that bringing a well-known writer helps persuade students to read and write, a goal especially important in the Internet age when books are ignored while Youtube videos, Facebook posts and Twitter tweets are embraced.

Bowen-Jones said teachers are witnessing a generation of non-readers.

"Our children need more mentors showing them how to create the sanctuary of reading," Bowen-Jones said. "We are mentoring them to engage in this the rest of their lives."

Additionally, students (and adults) who dream of being writers are impacted deeply when a professional writer speaks to them, said the Wixons, both retired teachers who taught English in their careers.

Patty Wixon said students embraced the published and respected writers she brought to her former classes.

"We quickly discovered the difference that made," she said.

Riley Richmond and Grady Killeen, both juniors at AHS, said in the fall they were both able to meet and speak with poet Tony Hoagland, the most recent Chautauqua speaker.

Richmond, 17, said he and Hoagland conversed about how art is created. Hoagland shared his ideas on creating poetry. Richmond, a saxophonist, compared those ideas with his own for writing music.

"That got me pumped up for this round," Richmond said. "I'm really looking forward to meeting (Prose)."

Killeen, 17, said he got a feeling for the dedication and passion needed to write poetry from listening to Hoagland.

"I thought it was incredible," he said.

Both students worked with Chautauqua as student publicity coordinators for Prose's visit. Both also write for the school's newspaper, the Rogue News.

Prose will be the keynote speaker at the Oregon Council of Teachers of English spring conference on Saturday at AHS. Vince Wixon said past talks from authors have given teachers a sense of validation.

"It helps them to believe they are on the right track," he said.

Vince Tweddell is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at

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