What: Rendezvous With Risk: A Literary Festival

When: 5 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: OSU-Cascades, 1500 SW Chandler Ave., Bend (plus some activities at other locations in Bend)

Cost: Several lectures, panel discussions, readings and receptions are free; $30 all access pass; $25 Saturday workshops (plus free events); $10 Sunday workshop (plus free events). Advance registration recommended.

Contact: osucascades.edu/mfa-literary-festival

The Bend literary festival launched in 2018 by the Oregon State University-Cascades Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program has expanded for 2019 into three days of free and paid activities. This year’s theme, Rendezvous With Risk, explores the range of ways writers take emotional, philosophical, aesthetic, personal or political risks in their work. The festival begins on Friday evening and continues through Sunday at the OSU-Cascades campus and several other locations in Bend.

“The self-interrogation art making requires is inherently risky, and it helps to learn some strategies for negotiating the places where sense breaks down, when we find ourselves beyond meaning, beyond the known, beyond the boundaries of the self,” said Emily Carr, festival organizer and director of the OSU-Cascades MFA in Creative Writing. “Our ambition is that this festival will become a platform for creative people in Central Oregon to come together and create change via storytelling. The festival is designed for writers, readers and folks who are just curious about what’s really exciting about today’s writing.”

Balancing risk and reward

The festival kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday with a keynote address from novelist and OSU-Cascades faculty member T. Geronimo Johnson. Johnson’s second novel, the satirical culture clash “Welcome to Braggsville,” was long listed for the 2015 National Book Award and the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. In 2017 Johnson won a prestigious Rome Prize for literature from the American Academy in Rome. As part of his prize fellowship, he has been living in the Italian capital city for the past 18 months, working on two new novels and a film project.

Johnson is no stranger to risk-taking in life or his writing. He started working in finance and probably could have made more money and had a very different life if he stayed on that career path. However, choosing to pursue his writing isn’t something he sees as a sacrifice.

“I feel that life is an experience that yields the most joy and pleasure and energy when we move beyond our comfort zone,” Johnson said. “The greatest joy I’ve had in my life has been when I’ve moved towards the unknown and taken risks. When I’ve felt a little uncomfortable, that’s brought the biggest rewards. In the end, art is all about other people and how we connect to other people. Art that moves us is amazing, scary, exhilarating and exciting all at once. If we’re not taking the risk, it can be hard to move people with what we create.”

Johnson says the biggest risk he takes in his writing and his personal life is by trying to avoid easy answers. His work is animated by the question of how we learn to care about people who are not like us and in a world so heavily mediated by technology, the author says it can feel like a gamble any time we approach another person, open up, or just slow down enough to see someone else.

“I feel like the risk is the same throughout your life — the risk of being present,” Johnson said. “The risk of being here when it’s not always easy. That’s why the word rendezvous in the festival’s title is interesting. It suggests that this meeting is prearranged or fated — like the risk or the opportunity is there waiting. The question is whether or not we’ll move towards it and embrace it.”

Opportunities for work and play

In addition to Johnson and Carr, speakers and panelists at the literary festival include Bend Creative Laureate Mosley Wotta (aka Jason Graham), Nicole J. Georges, Christopher Boucher, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Lindsay Wong, Jamila Osman, Beth Alvarado, Irene Cooper and Mike Cooper. They’ll address topics ranging from learning to access creative ability to the use of humor, writing for young adults and more.

Beyond the writing workshops and lectures, the event also features a number of social activities and a film screening. Two interactive art installations will be open to the public throughout the festival. The Transformation Forest created by MFA students in creative writing and high school students from Caldera Arts invites participants to try on the different transformation cloaks to assume other archetypes or personae. An installation titled “DACA Lounge: A Dream Sanctuary,” designed by Horatio Hung-Yan Law, reclaims public space to provide a quiet sanctuary for contemplation and was inspired by the plight and courage of immigrant students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

Since this is Central Oregon, beer lovers are also welcomed into the fold with a unique Beer & Books event on Saturday at Deschutes Public House Taproom. Eight special pairings of books by festival authors with Deschutes Brewery beers will be unveiled, along with short readings, book signings, appetizers, a no-host bar and more.

“The MFA at OSU-Cascades teaches our students to engage with the politics and issues of the ‘real world’ while also cultivating healthy writing habits,” Carr said. “Festival participants will learn to do the same and will leave with inspiration and creative tools for their own endeavors, whether those involve writing, teaching, imagining or other forms of making.”