In 1985, thanks to the support of Dr. Robert Alexander, Distinguished Chancellor Emeritus, the Department of English established an annual visiting writers’ series. Since its inception, the series has been dedicated to extending the learning experience beyond the classroom by providing, free of charge, public readings of important contemporary poetry and prose to USCA faculty and students and members of the greater community. In the first decade, the series was directed by Dr. Stephen Gardner, who worked with representatives from the South Carolina Arts Commission to have USCA declared as a host site for authors that the Commission brought to our state for multiple-campus residencies. Among the literary luminaries featured in the series during those years were a number of Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, including novelist Michael Chabon and poet Yusef Komunyakaa.
In 1995, the series was renamed for longtime Aiken residents James and Mary Oswald, who created an endowment to enhance departmental initiatives to promote general interest in the English language and its literatures. Stewardship of the series changed hands in 1997 when Dr. Tom Mack and Dr. Phebe Davidson assumed responsibility. The roster of distinguished visiting authors multiplied under their leadership to include such significant writers as Judith Ortiz Cofer (1998), Josephine Humphreys (1999), John Jakes (2000), Allan Gurganus (2001), Robert Olen Butler (2002), and Sharyn McCrumb (2005). Stewardship changed again 2015, with Dr. Andrew Geyer taking over. Our first reader under the direction of Dr. Geyer (Fall 2015) was Richard Blanco.