"Who Knows?" Writing Contest 

Presented by The Center for American Literary Studies and Centre County Reads. 

This contest is part of the 2023 Centre County Reads/CALS Community Read of Shelby Van Pelt’s Remarkably Bright Creatures, a novel narrated in part by a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus, who laments his captivity in a small-town aquarium a pier’s-length away from Puget Sound. As the plaque in front of Marcellus’s tank notes, octopuses are remarkably bright creatures—and throughout Van Pelt’s novel, readers discover the secret intelligence and unexpected wisdom that resides not only in Marcellus, but also in his human caretakers, who include a 70-year-old widow and a 30-year-old college dropout. Remarkably Bright Creatures demonstrates how knowledge transcends age, formal education, and even species, asking readers to reimagine what “knowing” really means.

Following the example of Van Pelt’s novel, enter your best work of writing that engages with the issue of intelligence—human, animal, even artificial—and what it means to truly know anything. 

Writing Contest Winners:

Grand Prize

"Giving Voice to Animals" Roundtable

Presented by The Center for American Literary Studies and Centre County Reads. 

Wednesday, February 15, 4pm-5pm | PSU Zoom | View the recording here

Shelby Van Pelt’s bestselling novel Remarkably Bright Creatures (2022) focuses on an unlikely friendship between a widow working the night shift at a West Coast aquarium and one of the animals kept “captive” there, a curmudgeonly but remarkably intelligent Pacific octopus named Marcellus. Readers have been especially moved by Marcellus’s deeds and his words, as he is afforded a human-like voice across the narrative. The panelists on this roundtable discussion will use Van Pelt’s novel, this year’s Centre County Reads selection, as a launch point for a broader discussion about depictions of animals in literature and other media, and the possibilities and limitations of giving voice to nonhuman creatures.

Featured Panelists:

Nigel Rothfels, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Nigel Rothfels is an historian of animals and cultures. He is author of Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo (2002), co-author of Elephant House (2015), an exploration of the lives of elephants and keepers in a contemporary American Zoo, and editor of the cross-disciplinary collection Representing Animals (2002), one of the foundational works in Animal Studies. He is the General Editor of the series Animalia: Of Animals and Cultures, published by Penn State University Press. His most recent book is Elephant Trails: A History of Animals and Cultures (2021).

Benjamin Hale, Writer in Residence, Bard College

Benjamin Hale is the author of the novels The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, 2011) and The Grid (forthcoming from Simon & Schuster), and the story collection The Fat Artist and Other Stories (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Among other venues, his writing has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, the Paris Review, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and has been anthologized in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013. He teaches at Bard College and Columbia University, serves as a Senior Editor at Conjunctions, and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Jessica Gall Myrick, Professor of Media Studies, Penn State

Jessica Gall Myrick’s work examines our emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses to media messages including those featuring animals such as cat videos, “Shark Week,” and internet memes, to name a few.

Moderator:  Jess Rafalko, Graduate Student in English, Penn State

Book Discussions 

Wednesday, January 25 | 7pm-8pm | Schlow Library Zoom | Register 

Wednesday, February 15 | 1pm - 2pm | Centre County Library & Historical Museum | Register

Tuesday, February 21 | 5:30pm - 6:30pm | Schlow Library, Sun Room 

Wednesday, March 8 | 12:15pm - 1pm | CR Active Adult Center (Nittany Mall, for 55+) 

Wednesday, March 15 | 6:30pm - 7:30pm | Centre County Library & Historical Museum Zoom | Register (Check back in February)

Monday, March 20 | 6pm - 7pm | Holt Memorial Library | Register by phone (814.342.1987) 


Wednesday, March 22 | 10:30am | Holt Memorial Library | Register by phone (814.342.1987)

More Activities 

Craft and Chat | Wednesday, February 22, 5:30pm | Centre County Library & Historical Museum | Register here (Check back in February).

"My Octopus Teacher" Film Talk | Friday, March 3, 1pm | CCL & Historical Museum Zoom | Register here (link coming soon)

Yarn Octopus Take and Make | For Teens | March 20 -25 | Holt Memorial Library 

An Evening with Shelby Van Pelt 

Tuesday, March 14 | 7pm - 8pm | Schlow Library Zoom | Please pre-register here.

Moderated by Akash Belsare, Assistant Professor of English, University of Illinois, Springfield.