On Thursday, Oct. 14 St. Mary’s Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black gave her first ever VOICES reading.
Professor Cognard-Black is an English Professor and the coordinator of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality program at St. Mary’s. Professor Cognard-Black has written three books with a fourth on the way, and has recently been featured on the cover of Ms., a magazine to which she regularly contributes.
Several months prior to the reading English Professor and VOICES director Karen Anderson asked Cognard-Black’s students-past and present- if they would be interested in writing a piece about her so that Anderson could create a memento for Cognard-Black to have at the end of her reading.
The reading itself was incredibly packed with every seat full and extra seats being set up till the very final moment. As Anderson put it, “Welcome JCB fans: You are legion!”
This was referencing not only the fact that Daugherty- Palmer Commons was packed with swarms of Cognard-Black supporters, but that the VOICES reading was competing with the opening of Hay Fever and the I Heart Female Orgasms event.
Professor Jeff Hammond introduced Cognard-Black by citing her as someone who does it all. “I was thinking about how to introduce my friend and colleague Jennifer Cognard-Black, and I thought of that old saying ‘do it all.’ Now most of us don’t ‘do it all’ but Jennifer does,” said Hammond.
He cited her influence in the editing of his own work and how it has helped him in the past. “…When JCB gives a comment about my writing, I listen.” When Cognard-Black took the mic she began her reading with a bit of self-deprecation. “As many of you know I’m not practically funny or sexy, but I’ll do my best to delight the head and the heart, as well as, other anatomical parts.”
She then proceeded to thanks multiple groups of people who have inspired and aided her over the years – a large majority being past and current St. Mary’s Faculty.
She gave a particularly heart-felt thank you to her husband Andrew and daughter Katherine and dedicated her reading to them.
The actual reading began with Cognard-Black reading two poems she wrote about her daughter, whose birthday it was coincidentally. These poems were very much directed to her daughter to whom she wished a happy 11th birthday when she finished, a gesture which made the whole room “aww.”
Her next reading was dedicated to the students in her Sealed With a Kiss class. This reading was particularly unusual because it was not one of Cognard-Black’s original works. “The Letter I’m going to share…motivated me to write my dissertation,” said Cognard Black when she shared a letter that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote to George Elliot.
After she read the letter, Cognard-Black began reading a short story of her own. She prefaced this piece, entitled “A Very Short Story Begins on a Farm,” by letting the audience in on the fact that she wrote the story in a flat in London in three days.
The line in the story, “In some ways all farm stories are alike,” is proven untrue by Cognard-Blacks story, which blends the metaphysical process of writing and a short glimpse into a midwestern woman’s life.
Cognard-Black followed the reading of this story with two more that were collaborations between her, artist -Professor Carrie Patterson and photographer -Professor Colby Caldwell. These stories were short works of fiction created by Cognard-Black with accompanying artwork by Patterson and Caldwell.