Writers Conference faces cuts

MONEY Annual Writers Conference could lose a significant amount of funding.

Two-time Oscar nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner speaks at last year’s writers conference. Photo by Keisuke Yoshimura.

Despite its popularity in the community, UND staff members are struggling to come up with funding for the annual writers conference.

UND’s English Department has already been planned this year’s conference for April 2-4, 2014 and has four writers so far: Robert Pinsky, Jessica Lott, Sarah Leavitt and Brian Maxwell.

If it sticks with this line-up, the conference will be smaller than in previous years, but staff are hoping to book more.

The 2013 conference was five days long and featured eight writers; and the 2012 conference had seven writers for five days.

“It’s definitely become more expensive,” said english department chairman Eric Wolfe said. “It’s a challenge to keep it top-notch with big names.”

Since the first annual Writers Conference in 1970, it’s always been funded by outside sources such as UND’s College of Arts and Sciences, grants from the North Dakota Humanities Council and the National Arts Endowment and private donations. UND President Robert Kelley and former UND Provost Paul LeBel also have been generous donors during the last few years, according to Wolfe.

The College of Arts and Sciences has a new dean this year, Debbie Storrs. One of her missions is to work with UND’s Provost, Thomas DiLorenzo to come up with a long-term financial plan for the college, which will include the amount used to fund future Writers Conferences.

“We’re still exploring our options and keeping everything open. We might scale it back. We might only offer it every other year,” Storrs said. “We want to figure it out now though so we can know how to fund it in the future. People love the conference, so we really want to keep doing it.”

The Writers Conference has always been completely free and open to the public, so beginning to charge an entry fee is another option, but it is one that Storrs does not want to resort to.

Another group that contributes funding is Student Government.

“As members of Student Government, we appreciate the work done at the Writers Conference and it’s impact in the university. We are beginning the process of reaching out to students to better understand if this is an event that the student body would like to have their student fee money support” Student Body President Nick Creamer said. “On our findings, we will determine the role of student government in the future of the Writers Conference”.

The conferences’ directors, who are all English Department faculty, are working to get funding from a variety of sources. They are all volunteers; they do not get paid or get research credit for their time spent organizing the conference.

“We recognize the hard work from them. It’s a labor of love,” Storrs said. “They’re doing a fabulous job at trying to raise money.”

Storrs and Wolfe both agree that the Writers Conference is very important for UND and for Grand Forks. They are still hopeful and optimistic about its future.

“It engages the local and regional community every year, as well as everyone on campus” said Wolfe. “It’s difficult to foresee what will happen with the budgetary changes, but we’re still hopeful.”

Donations are being accepted now at undwritersconference.org.

Jaye Millspaugh is the multimedia editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].