Published January 31, 2022

Our Virginia Festival of the Book staff recently announced their 2022 lineup of speakers and events. It’s a stunning array of authors from every genre imaginable. The team that puts the festival on each year recently got a new addition when Aran Donovan joined us as our new Virginia Center for the Book Associate. She’s a poet with a degree in Italian who enjoys watching foreign TV shows. (I guess this intro should have come with a #Spoiler Alert.)

Read on to find out more about Aran and what it’s like to help put together one of our most popular and beloved programs!

You come to us with two graduate degrees, one of them is in Italian. What led you to study Italian at the graduate level? And approximately how many times were you asked the question, “what are you planning to do with that?” Also, what were you planning to do with that?

For better or for worse, no one ever actually asked me that! At the time, I was studying translation through my creative writing program, so when I found out I could take summer classes to get more deeply into the language, I thought–why not! I’d lived in Italy as an exchange student and then as an EFL teacher, but I’d never formally studied Italian. And it has turned out to be very useful, in a way. I still speak it with some friends and former classmates (and a few Virginia Humanities staff members!). 

Your other degree is an MFA in poetry. When did you realize you had a poet’s soul? How did you know it was something you had to seriously pursue?

I grew up in a house full of books, so reading and writing have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. We had built-in bookshelves, supplemental bookshelves, and impromptu stacks of books everywhere. I knew in high school that I wanted to pursue poetry seriously, but a mentor recommended studying another subject in undergrad, something that would provide poem fodder or context…so I studied philosophy first! And yes, plenty of folks wanted to know what I was planning to do with that degree!

The Virginia Festival of the Book is one of our most popular programs. I think a lot of booklovers across the state would find your position enviable. Would you give us a peek behind the curtain? What is an average day like for you?

There are days I almost envy myself! It truly is a dream job. On one hand, a lot of the work is familiar from my previous jobs in nonprofits—I’m working with spreadsheets, sending emails, and coordinating events—on the other, the context is entirely new and exciting. I get to read for my job! I’m emailing poets whose work I’ve loved! And the Book Festival team is amazing. Jane and Sarah are incredibly smart and knowledgeable and just wonderful people to work with.

What books have had the most profound impact on you as a person? Do you have any recent favorites you’d like to share?

Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey was one of those seminal books for me. He’s more famous for the play Our Town, but this was one that stuck with me. It’s very short, just over 100 pages, and tells the story of a monk who witnesses five people die in the collapse of a bridge and tries to extrapolate some divine intention from the catastrophe by investigating their lives. It’s beautiful and crushing and sweet—I highly recommend it. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I just read Chelsey Minnis’s Baby I Don’t Care, a book of poems in the persona of a noir film starlet. Each line is just an incredible extravagant declaration. I loved it so much I started rereading it as soon as I finished. 

You and I have talked about our shared love of foreign television. Why does foreign television appeal to you? Do you have any current favorites?

I think because I can tell myself that it’s educational? My TV tastes generally run toward trashy reality shows, so anytime I can watch something silly under the guise of brushing up on my Italian…it’s a win!  Baby and Summertime on Netflix were both pretty good high school soap opera-style Italian shows. 

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Make plans to join us March 16-20, 2022 at the first hybrid, in-person and virtual, Virginia Festival of the Book!

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