El Dia de los Muertos poetry reading has always held a special place in Meg Withers’ heart.

For the past five years, the Merced College English professor has gathered some of the most talented poets in the region and country to come and share their unique perspectives and voices with the Merced community and her students.

The 2017 event, scheduled to be held on Thursday, Nov. 2 at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, promises to be extra special for a couple reasons. The first is that the event is dedicated to Withers’ friend and mentor, Francísco X. Alarcón, who died of stomach cancer in 2016. The second reason is that it will be the last time that Withers hosts the event.

“I’m passing it on,” Withers said. “Someone else is going to have to take it up and run with it. I’m somewhat loath to say that this is it for me, but when you’re 70 years old, it’s time to start slowing down and paying attention to the nuts and bolts stuff.”

“Francísco died last year of stage 4 stomach cancer. This is my way of honoring him as well as my ancestors. This whole thing is personal for me, and it should be a special evening.”

Withers started bringing in guest poets back in 2008, when she was on the Los Baños campus. She said she wanted the events to represent whatever constituency makes up the College, because students become more engaged when learning about writers with similar backgrounds or cultures. Dia de los Muertos became tied into it in 2012, because just about every culture has practices or rituals surrounding the dead. 

This year’s Dia de los Muertos event certainly covers those bases with distinguished poets: Marisol Baca, Lee Herrick, Zaid Shlah and Nou Her, who will read.

“I started this for the students, because I wanted to make sure their voices were included in the conversation,” Withers said. “Not only did they get to learn about writers from their own culture, but they also took much more interest in what they were reading because the people that wrote the books took the time and trouble to come to them.”

“One of the things we’re doing this year, that I wish I’d thought of before, is having each of the poets talk about the special traditions surrounding the dead in their culture. I think we’ll see they’re pretty similar.”

Withers gave a special thanks to Vice President of Instruction, Dr. Brian Ellison, and Dean of English and Humanities, Vince Piro, for helping to fund this year’s event. She also gave thanks to Merced College Board of Trustees President, Joe Gutierrez, who originally helped fund the event in 2008, and has been a regular source of support since then.

The evening will get going with a reception at 5 p.m. and the poets will begin about 6 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. ¡Todos son bienvenidos aquí!