‘Beowulf’ to be theme of 2019 LitFest


It’s 2019 — so why is the theme of Newman University’s Literary Festival (LitFest) based around an epic Old English poem that’s over 1,000 years old and counting?

Authors, actors and panelists are prepared to explore just that through live performances, discussions, readings and videos at LitFest which takes place Thursday-Friday, April 11-12, at Newman University.

The 3,000-line poem, “Beowulf,” was originally translated from Old English and describes the journey of the heroic protagonist, Beowulf. When the king asks him to get rid of a monster named Grendel, who is terrorizing the great hall, Beowulf kills the beast with his bare hands. Fifty years later, Beowulf fights a treasure-guarding dragon but loses his life when he is fatally wounded.

Bryan Dietrich
Professor of English Bryan Dietrich, Ph.D.

“We decided we finally needed to deal with the topic since it is the foundational piece of literature for all of English literature,” Professor of English Bryan Dietrich, Ph.D., said. “It also ties into issues that are important today, just like they were long ago. In an era of ‘all superheroes all the time,’ it seemed like Beowulf, being the original English superhero, would rock the mead hall.”

“Beowulf” is considered one of the most important works of Old English literature, and has inspired modern pieces including “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien and “Eaters of the Dead” by Michael Crichton.

As part of LitFest, authors, panelists and performers will make connections with “Beowulf” across literary works by exploring themes that are prevalent still today.

Whether you are familiar with this epic work or not, all are welcome to attend LitFest. With book signings, talks, a master class and movies, there is sure to be an activity for everyone to enjoy.

View the events list below for a quick look at all that’s happening in the Jabara Flexible Theatre for the two-day festival.

Thurs. April 11

  • 6 p.m. — Poetry reading from Kansas Poet Laureate Kevin Rabas
  • 7 p.m. — Keynote address, “Beowulf: Story, Faith, Identity” from bestselling author Maria Dahvana Headley. In 2018, Headley published her most recent young adult fantasy novel, “The Mere Wife” — a contemporary adaptation of “Beowulf.”
Kevin Rabas, Kansas Poet Laureate
Courtesy photo

Fri. April 12

  • 9 a.m. — Panel: “Violence and the Kin of Cain”
    • A discussion of monsters as they descend from the Grendel and “merewif” archetypes, and how concerns of the stain of sin and attendant monstrosity extend from the Anglo Saxons to today in our poetry, prose and pop culture.
  • 10 a.m. — Roundtable discussion on “Heroes, Monsters and Marvels: Beowulf and the Mere Wife”
    • Featuring Newman students Marian Campos, Donovan Daniel, Charles DeVorce, Mariana Gaviria Duque, Grace Linton, Nate Panagakis, Anna Veltien and Emory Vittitow
  • 11 a.m. — Scene: “A Winter’s Tale”
    • Scenes from the play “A Winter’s Tale” featuring Newman Theatre Department and the Newman University Shakespeare class: Matthew Clark, Jacob Hanson, Murphy Obershaw, Brianna Southworth, Samantha Tran, Elizabeth Urban, Haylee Votipka and Nathan Yeager
Maria Dahvana Headley by Beowulf Sheehan
  • 12-1 p.m. — Lunch break
  • 1 p.m. — Panel: “Shakespeare and the Spirit”
    • A discussion of how the Bard uses Christian and Catholic theology throughout his body of work. What explicit and implicit religious themes appear in Shakespeare, and what do they say about human conflict?
  • 1 p.m. — Master class by Maria Dahvana Headley
    • In the Lilian Taylor Gathering Space & Conference Room (second floor of De Mattias Fine Arts Center)
  • 2 p.m. — “Coelacanth” 2019 Newman student literary journal debut
    • Readings by 2019 writers
    • Poetry & prose annual awards
    • Complimentary copies of the journal
  • 3 p.m. — Panel: “Beowulf and the Bible”
    • Discussion on how is this pagan parable seen through the lens of Christianity and Catholicism. Beowulf begins as a pre-Christian myth but, as adapted by a Christian poet, it becomes something far more interesting and complex.
  • 4 p.m. — Scenes: “The Confessor” by Mark Mannette
    • Scenes from the play “The Confessor” featuring Newman theater students Austin Schwartz, Rooslana Rusk, Trever Taylor, Lucas Farney, James Leggett, Clayton Norris and Dominica Johnson
  • 5-6 p.m. Dinner break
  • 6 p.m. — Bryan D. Dietrich: Readings from “Demeter Diaries”
  • 7:30 p.m. — Readings from “The Mere Wife” by Maria Dahvana Headley
    • At Eighth Day Books 2838 E. Douglas Ave. (about 10 minutes east of Newman)
  • 9 p.m. — Sloppy Joe Improv performance
  • 10 p.m. — Movie: “The Fellowship of the Ring”
    • Discussion of Beowulf influences following movie presentation

Regarding the festival itself, Dietrich added, “It brings the world of literature to life for a campus deeply steeped in a liberal arts tradition. It allows people to understand why writing and words are important and why we need communication now more than ever.”

For more information about this year’s events, please contact Dietrich by email at dietrichb@newmanu.edu or by phone at (316) 942-4291, ext. 2341.



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