First Books Reading with Creative Writing

Hear from debut authors Michael Kleber-Diggs, Abbey Mei Otis, and Marco Wilkinson
cream background, icon of book at top over text WALTER NATHAN Literary Initiatives, ANNUAL FIRST BOOKS READING, over three head and shoulder photos of people, followed by text Abbey Mei Otis, Alien Virus Love Disaster; Michael Klebber-Diggs, Worldly Things; Marco Wilkinson, Madder
Event Date & Time
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Event Location
412 Pillsbury Hall

310 Pillsbury Dr SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

The Walter Nathan Literary Initiatives presents First Books, the Creative Writing program's annual event, which features debut authors reading and discussing the path to publication.

Michael Kleber-Diggs is the author of the poetry collection Worldly Things (Milkweed Editions, 2021). Abbey Mei Otis is the author of Alien Virus Love Disaster (Small Beer, 2018). Marco Wilkinson is the author of Madder: A Memoir in Weeds (Coffee House Press, 2021).

This Department of English in-person event is free and open to the public. Community members are encouraged to attend. Masks are required (see details below). For accessibility services, email

Michael Kleber-Diggs is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. His debut poetry collection, Worldly Things, won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize and is a finalist for the 2022 Minnesota Book Award. His essay, “On the Complex Flavors of Black Joy,” is included in the anthology There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis, edited by Tracy K. Smith and John Freeman. Another essay, “There Was a Tremendous Softness,” is forthcoming in A Darker Wilderness: An Anthology of Black Nature Writing, edited by Erin Sharkey (Milkweed Editions, 2022). Among other places, Kleber-Diggs’ writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Great River Review, Water~Stone Review, Poem-a-Day, Poetry Daily, Poetry Northwest, Potomac Review, Hunger Mountain, Memorious, and a few anthologies. He is a past Fellow with the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, a past-winner of the Loft Mentor Series in Poetry, and the former Poet Laureate of Anoka County libraries. Since 2016, he has been an instructor with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. He also teaches Creative Writing in Augsburg University’s low-res MFA program and at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and has been supported by the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

Abbey Mei Otis is a writer, a teaching artist, a storyteller and a firestarter, raised in the woods of North Carolina. She loves people and art forms on the margins. Her story collection, Alien Virus Love Disaster (Small Beer Press) was a finalist for the 2018 Philip K Dick Award. She has recently received fellowships from MacDowell, Tin House, the Millay Colony for Artists, the Vermont Studio Center, and the McKnight Foundation. She studied creative writing at the Michener Center for Writers, Oberlin College, and the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Currently she teaches with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, and is at work on a novel of climate catastrophe and post-mass-incarceration, This is Not a Wasteland.

Marco Wilkinson has been a horticulturist, a farmer, and an editor. Madder is his first book. His essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Seneca Review, Terrain, Bennington Review, Taproot, and elsewhere. He is the nonfiction editor of the Los Angeles Review. He has taught literature and creative writing at Oberlin College; University of California, San Diego; James Madison University; and Antioch University’s MFA program, and has taught horticulture and sustainable agriculture at Lorain County Community College and MiraCosta College. He has been the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Award for Individual Excellence and fellowships from the Hemera Foundation, Craigardan, Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology, and the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference.

The University of Minnesota requires all faculty, staff, students, and visitors to wear an acceptable face mask (properly fitted to cover the wearer’s nose and mouth, wrap under the chin, and not have any noticeable gaps) at all times when in any enclosed or indoor space on University campuses. While cloth masks are still acceptable to fulfill this requirement, we recommend those be supplemented with a mask that offers greater protection such as KN95 or N95. Staff and visitors attending in-person events are asked to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms using the Stay Safe MN Health Screening Checklist. Staff and visitors are reminded to wash hands often, get tested, and stay home when ill or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.


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