May's featured speakers will be James Tolan and Olivia Stiffler. All ages are welcome at OPWC. The featured performance starts at 7:30 p.m. An open mic is a vital part of the evening. Each open mic performer gets up to four minutes to read original works or verse written by others. Our audiences famously encourage open mic readers. The main feature as well as the open mikers perform censorship free; strong language is sometimes used. After the guest reader, a hat is passed to provide the guest a small stipend and to help fund future readings. The collective has been honored with donation of a new book of poetry every month from the University of Arkansas Press — and the raffle is free! Often, featured readers offer their own books and chapbooks (and sometimes CDs and DVDs) for sale, autographed.
James is the author of Mass of the Forgotten and the chapbook Red Walls. Co-editor with Holly Messitt of New America: Contemporary Literature for a Changing Society, his poems appear in such journals as American Literary Review, Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Connecticut Review, Indiana Review, Linebreak, and Ploughshares as well as a number of anthologies, including The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Originally from Chicago, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and worked for years as a poet in the New York City public schools with Teachers and Writers Collaborative. He is an associate professor at the City University of New York/BMCC.
Olivia was born in Kalispell, Montana, but cradled in the Midwest by a 20-year-old mother, one of 14 children, and a father raw from both the harsh life of a Missouri dirt farm and his stint in the infantry during World War II. She discovered writing in third grade at St. Ambrose Elementary School when her teacher, Sr. Mary Eustace, direct from Ireland, rewrote the paragraph she was assigned with such flare that Olivia tried ever after to emulate her. Her urge to write was cemented when, as a high school senior, she wrote a “fairytale” that sparked so much controversy she was threatened with expulsion.
At 19 she married; at 20, became a mother. A favorite professor hooked her on poetry, but she gave up college to help support her family, and the urge to write went underground. For the next 14 years she worked as a secretary, then as a stenotype reporter–capturing other people’s words–for 26 more. At age 52 she divorced her old life, her first husband, longstanding career, and hometown. Olivia remarried and relocated with her current husband, a retired FBI agent, to Bluffton, South Carolina, where they watch birds and alligators and dance the Carolina Shag like nobody’s watching. She writes what she likes in her own words.