Actor and Shakespeare scholar Geoff Ridden and Sarah Sol, dressed as Wonder Woman, compare notes at the Medford library. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

From the Bard to Wonder Woman

The annual Ashland Literary Arts Festival has undergone a major makeover, broadening its scope and encompassing topics from William Shakespeare to pop culture icons such as Wonder Woman.

The free festival is from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, with most events at Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. A full schedule of events is at http://litfest.sou.edu.

"We know people are intellectually and academically curious, but they're also interested in popular culture," says Steve Scholl of Ashland-based White Cloud Press.

The revamped festival brings together 20 independent publishers from Seattle to the Bay Area and east to Denver, Colorado, along with writers and filmmakers. Visitors can choose from dozens of activities, ranging from panel discussions to workshops to a Wonder Woman costume contest. Organizers hope to draw in local book lovers as well as tourists.

"Every fall we want this to be a draw for people to come to Ashland," Scholl says. "We think Ashland is the perfect location. Because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Ashland Independent Film Festival, Ashland has the infrastructure to be the place for this."

Previously called the Ashland Literary Festival, the Ashland Literary Arts Festival promises to be bigger and more diverse this year, Scholl says.

On the pop culture front, author and publisher Mike Madrid will present a talk at noon on the history of the American superheroine — from trailblazers like Sheena to comic-book heroes of today such as She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel. He will share how world wars, censorship, feminism and fashion have shaped female heroes.

From 1 to 3 p.m., festival-goers dressed as superheroes or superheroines can sing karaoke, with Geoff Ridden dressed as William Shakespeare leading off with The Bard's rendition of "Don't Fear the Reaper."

A Wonder Woman costume contest is at 3 p.m.

Scholl says popular culture not only reflects society, but helps shape it. He described a young girl's reaction when Sarah Sol, dressed as Wonder Woman, was at the Medford library for a photo shoot to publicize the festival.

"A 3-year-old girl was there. When she saw Wonder Woman walk in, she just lit up. For this little girl, she was talking to Wonder Woman. There's power in that," Scholl says. "Wonder Woman is a comic-book-driven story, but it also has had a huge social impact empowering women and girls to step up and step into power."

Ridden will share Shakespearean sonnets with festival-goers at 10:15 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and will pose for "Take a Selfie with Shakespeare" at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Other highlights of the festival include a talk on the history of smokejumpers who battled wildfires, a typewriter exhibit and mask-making at 10 a.m.

Visitors will have a hard time choosing from the 10:30 a.m. events, which include poetry reading with Vince Wixon and Gary Lark, a panel discussion on writers and pop culture, a panel discussion on environmental writing and a talk on identity politics.

A panel discussion on building literary community at the local level is among the 11 a.m. offerings.

SOU students will read from their short stories as part of 11:30 a.m. activities.

Noon events include a panel discussion on finding your voice at a poetry workshop. Food authors Tod Davies and Sarah Lemon will be given a mystery bag of ingredients and must conjure up a dish, while T. Lloyd Winetsky will discuss his book set in the Navajo Nation.

Oregon's poet laureate Elizabeth Woody will read at 12:30 p.m., while Bill Bigelow will present "Human Faces of Global Warming: Stories from the Frontlines."

Other afternoon highlights include a panel discussion on the role of fantasy, fairy tales, legends and myths in culture, and a talk on bridging poetry and the visual arts at 1:30 p.m.

At 3 p.m., a musician, children's book author, poet and journalist will discuss how stories of all kinds can promote — or stall — social justice.

The film "Walker" about an American who invaded and made himself president of Nicaragua will be shown at 4 p.m. in the Meese Auditorium in the Art Building near the Schneider Museum of Art on campus. The director and other film experts will join in a discussion on the film's production, reception, historical context and legacy.

Off campus, Scholl will close out the festival with a talk on the theme of wine in Sufi poetry at 6 p.m. at Mihama Restaurant, 1253 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. In addition to being the founder of White Cloud Press, Scholl is a scholar of Islam and comparative religion. Wine will be available for purchase.

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