Each year, the University of Alaska Fairbanks English Department comes together with the public for a raucous celebration of literature, heavy on puns and politics, in honor of writers who have passed on. Participants are invited to come on stage dressed as a deceased writer and read from that writer’s work. What could be a somber event in celebration of the literary canon is closer to an open-mic night, complete with cosplay, all in support of the Midnight Sun Visiting Writers Series.
The 29th annual Dead Writers event, held Oct. 25, was no exception. Participants honored, among others, Anne Lister, Mary Shelley, Abigail Adams, David Bowie, Shirley Jackson, Charles Bukowski and Tupac Shakur. The writers were commemorated with poetry, song and readings of their works, eliciting laughter and applause from the audience.
The official host was Reggie Radotich, dressed as the blind poet Homer. He wore a toga, gladiator sandals and a blindfold and read passages from “The Odyssey.”
This year, Dead Writers was organized by David Aubuchon, who also helped to host. The duty was part of his paid work as a graduate student. In addition to organizing the event, he donned a Shakespeare costume and kicked off the event by reciting a parody of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy about reading at Dead Writers.
Adrianne Blackwood dressed as Shelley, author of “Frankenstein.” She began to read a passage but flung a false hand across the stage, interrupting her own reading, as if she were Frankenstein’s monster falling apart.
In addition to the many comedic moments of the night, participants winked at the politics of today. Eric Heyne read a passage from Watergate Judge John Sirica. Chris Coffman dressed as Gertrude Stein and performed a parody of Stein’s “Patriarchal Poetry” called “Patriarchal Poetry for the Corporate University.” Sydney Reese, dressed as Hunter S. Thompson, read his obituary for Nixon.
While many readers read directly from the works of the writers they emulated, some took a more creative approach. Tom Moran won the evening’s grand prize dressed as Elton John Steinbeck. Moran combined the Elton John song “Rocket Man” with John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” He called the song “Okie Clan” and sang, “I think it’s gonna be a long, long drive” in the chorus.
When an audience member shouted out, “Are you dead?” he said, “One of me is.”
After winning a one-night stay at Chena Hot Springs Resort, Moran said he was “delighted to come out on top,” as he has been participating in Dead Writers for years.
At the end of the night, three readers were recognized for their performances. Sean Enfield was named Best Dressed for his Tupac Shakur costume — Enfield performed Shakur’s “Changes” shirtless with a bandana tied around his head. He also recreated Shakur’s “Thug Life” torso tattoos in Sharpie.
Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter: @FDNMcity.