NORMAN — An Ethiopian writer and a Seattle-based photographer will headline a festival highlighting global women's issues this week at the University of Oklahoma.
OU's annual Puterbaugh Festival will feature literature and photography that deal with issues facing women worldwide, including access to education and human trafficking. The festival runs Tuesday through Friday in Norman.
The festival is hosted by World Literature Today, OU's international literature and culture magazine. This year's festival includes a keynote speech from Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian-born author who is now a creative writing lecturer at Princeton University.
Mengiste's first novel, “Beneath the Lion's Gaze,” deals with a family's struggles following Ethiopia's 1974 revolution. Mengiste will give her address at 10 a.m. Friday at the Nancy O'Brian Center for the Performing Arts at Norman North High School.
Later that day, photographer Phil Borges will discuss his work documenting indigenous cultures worldwide at a keynote address.
Borges' presentation is in conjunction with the opening of “Stirring the Fire,” an exhibition of portraits Borges made featuring women and girls from around the world. Borges' presentation will be at 6 p.m. Friday at OU's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
R.C. Davis-Undiano, executive director of World Literature Today and an OU professor of English, said the idea behind the festival is to promote discussion of international issues through the medium of literature.
Many literary festivals tend to be narrowly focused and only attract interest from scholars, he said. By addressing broader social issues, the festival draws participants from the larger university community, as well as from the public. Davis-Undiano said. The broader focus also highlights the power literature and other forms of art have to speak to the cultural realities of their time.
“We celebrate the fact that literature doesn't exist in a vacuum,” he said. “It's always in a social-cultural medium.”
The festival also includes the Oklahoma premier of “Girl Rising,” a documentary film that addresses poverty, disease and environmental issues, and how those problems affect girls and women nationwide. The screening also will include a panel discussion on human trafficking. The event will be held at 7 p.m. at Meacham Auditorium in OU's Oklahoma Memorial Union.
In many cases, the film reaches the conclusion that educating girls is a solution to a number of problems, Davis-Undiano said. If a girl is able to receive an education, she is less likely to be in poverty or be the victim of violence.
“Educate a girl, and you really are having a huge impact on the world,” he said.
Most events are free and open to the public. Go to www.puterbaughfestival.org for a full schedule of events.