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Sean Latham is the lead organizer of the inaugural Switchyard festival, a five-day event celebrating arts and literature. Activities will be split between three downtown venues: Hyatt Regency Hotel, 101 Archer and Cain’s Ballroom.

“It just seemed a great model for what Tulsa has always been: a point of intersection,” says Sean Latham, Ph.D., director of the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. “It’s a site of possibility.”

That site of possibility Latham refers to is the train tracks just south of the Zarrow Center in the Tulsa Arts District. In plain view from his office window, the railroad tracks running through downtown that have historically divided our city inspired the name for Switchyard, an arts and literature festival hosted by The University of Tulsa, for which Latham serves as the lead organizer.

“The plan here is to create something like a dream the city’s long had, something like Tulsa’s own South by Southwest,” he says, referring to the perennially popular multimedia festival hosted in Austin each year. 

Running May 30-June 4 in downtown Tulsa, the Switchyard’s general itinerary includes talks, readings and other cultural events during the day, with musical performances at night. (Switchyard comes this year alongside the World of Bob Dylan, a separate but joint-operated festival that will help facilitate the 35-plus musical performances slated for the week. Latham also is the director of the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies.) TU plans to put on the festival annually, and hopes are high for its inaugural year.

With those high hopes come big names, for example Art Spiegelman, creator of the “Maus” series of graphic novels, a canonical title in the genre which enjoyed a sales renaissance and a fresh crop of headlines last year when a Tennessee school district elected to ban the books. It’s no surprise, then, that censorship and book-banning are big topics at Switchyard this year.

“We feel a particular obligation to take up some of the most challenging ideas that are out there right now and (to) provide a space for real, community-based intellectual debate,” Latham says.

Underscoring this is a speaking event with Maia Kobabe, creator of the graphic memoir “Gender Queer,” which by some accountings is the most banned book in America these days. But Spiegelman and Kobabe are far from the only noteworthy speakers at the festival. Find the full schedule online.

Passes for the festival range from $75 (“Ideas Track”) to $500 (“VIP”). Visit before May 15 to beat the late-registration fees and find more info on the expansive lineup of speakers and musicians, as well as the bespoke podcast and magazine launching alongside the festival.

Editorial Intern

Ethan Veenker is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He will graduate from the University of Tulsa in May 2020 with two degrees in English and creative writing. When not writing or reading, he likes to drum. This annoys his neighbors.

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