Pineda, Merrill Block make up Monday’s Spring Literary Festival events

Poet and novelist Jon Pineda spoke at 4 p.m. on Monday, March 19 about his memoir and poems at the 10th Annual Spring Literary Festival at Western Carolina University.

Pineda, who teaches a Queens University in Charlotte, started with a reading from his book of poetry “The Translator’s Diary.” The poem, and most of his work he read during the event, centered on the traumatic car accident that happened to his younger sister.

Following the poem, Pineda began to read from his memoir “Sleep in Me,” which won the Barnes & Noble “Discover New Writers” selection with one of the beginning chapters, “Learning the Language.” The chapter focused on being a boy growing up and dealing with sexual relations at a young age. The reading was peppered with curse words that Pineda read without embarrassment, as a young boy would say among his friends testing out the bad words he had overheard from adults.

Most of the chapters were about Pineda’s sisters. The chapter titled “The Clothespin” talked about one sister’s longing to be thin and to change the shape of her body. It was a chapter that most females in the audience could identify with.

Pineda’s voice was poetic, as was his writing. His poetry writing meshed with his fiction writing in the way growing up was metaphorically described on the pages of his memoir. In glasses, blue shirt and a jacket, Pineda read in a steady, melodic voice that carried the characteristics of his childhood and adolescent in it.

His final readings were inspired by his sister’s car accident that left her in a temporary coma, then for five years in a wheelchair until her death. Chapters “My Father in Some Small Corner of Memory,” “Diarama” and “Waiting for Words” described the different stages from when the accident happened to after his sister woke up and returned home.

“I love that it’s difficult to read from this work,” said Pineda about the book. “I want there to be risk.”

Pineda’s reading was a moving and inspiring event at this year’s Literary Festival. Coming in 2013, Pineda will release his debut novel.

Stefan Merrill Block read his published works at 7:30 p.m. on the same day in the UC Theater for the Literary Festival.

 Within the first couple of minutes, Block broke the tension with a few well-placed jokes that caught the attention of the room. He then began his performance with a captivating reading of the first chapter from his book, “The Story of Forgetting.” 

Block tells his tale with the help of two narrators, an 85-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy. Although, the two characters differ greatly, Block said that the young boy is a slightly auto-biographical character, except for an explicit and analytical scene that occurs in front of a mirror.

As he read from the first chapter of his first book, Block’s words were spoken with an intense sense of heart that enticed giggles and laughter from the crowd but also brought the seriousness of the situation to light.

When asked if he had written the novel knowing that some people would take it more seriously than humorously Block replied, “There was one time when I was at a reading where they had an actor who was acting out the story as she read who did it in such a somber way that had the audience on the edges of their seats . . . Meanwhile, I was sitting in the back of the room attempting to oppress giggles that kept escaping. But, as I wrote it I knew that as with any piece of writing, each reader would come to it with their own experiences. “

Both of his novels, “The Story of Forgetting” and “The Storm at the Door,”are autobiographical of the afflictions and stories of his family’s past, which include bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s. To produce his novels, Block takes the tattered ends of lost memories and has woven them into two novels that people can relate to and thoroughly enjoy.

Although each of his novels has had a heavy influence from the events and people in his family, “The Storm at the Door “was born from a direct encounter with his grandmother. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, her family encouraged her to write down her memories and thoughts in a leather bound journal. Soon, she passed away, and her things were packed into a box. When Block found the journal later on in his life, there was one phrase amongst the seemingly endless pages of white, “Function in disaster. Finish in style.” He would come to find out that these words, although not her own, would open a world of questions and creativity that became “The Storm at the Door.”

Block closed with some advice for students who want to be writers.

“Only do it if it is absolutely necessary,” he said.