Wednesday, 08 May 2013 09:48

Literary All-Stars Answer the Call for Dogwood Fine Arts Festival

Written by  Lauren Longo
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Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival
Downtown Dowagiac
May 10-18

Literary all-stars Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike and Margaret Atwood all have one thing in common besides being acclaimed novelists: they all hung out in the little town of Dowagiac, Mich.

How? Through the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, which is in its 22nd year. This year, the festival hosts artists with similar accolades, such as folk musician Arlo Guthrie and award-winning author Nicole Krauss.

"When [the festival] first started, the community was going through a renaissance," said Max Sala, festival coordinator. "There was a refurbishment of the downtown business district and people wondered what else we could do."

The organizers decided to expand the use of the community theater and invite writers to give a presentation. Festival Founder Richard Frantz compiled a list of authors he believed to be at the top of their game in the literature world and decided to give them a call. That first year, they landed Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks.

"We thought, 'OK, if we can do it one year let's see who else we can get,'" Sala said.

In the following years, the festival brought Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike and Margaret Atwood to the community, among other literary giants.

"When people wonder how we get these big-name people, the answer is: we ask," Sala said. "We've never run into an author who said they wouldn't come. Now there's kind of an understanding among the authors. They tell each other, 'Hey, if someone from this little town calls, don't hang up the phone.'"

Nicole Krauss is one of those authors that didn't hang up. One of The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 to Watch, her work has appeared in Esquire and The New Yorker and her first novel, Man Walks Into a Room, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book of the Year.

Dogwood isn't just about literature, however. The festival aims to focus on all aspects of fine art. Coming back to the festival after five years is folk singer Arlo Guthrie, best known for his politically charged songs, agreed to return during the tribute tour for his father, Woody Guthrie.

The festivities also include an introduction to classical music for kids, the grand opening of the Dowagiac Area History Museum, a storytelling master class and "Caught in the Act," which gives visitors the opportunity to interact with artists in an open-air studio. Andy Offutt Irwin, equal parts storyteller, musician and humorist, will delight families with his performance and master class on May 14.

"It's probably the biggest event that the community offers and it brings people from outside the area," Sala said. "The community definitely becomes a destination for people during those 10 days."

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