54th Annual UND Writers Conference


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Aubrey Roemmich, Editor

The University of North Dakota hosted its 54th annual writer’s conference this year. Running from March 23rd to the 25th, the conference was an undeniable success. Founded in 1970, the writer’s conference has been a pillar of prairie writing and community in North Dakota. Every year the conference brings together six to eight authors and artists ranging from creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction, and visual art to give presentations and run community workshops for the public.   

Since its founding, the Conference has been organized and run by the English department. English professor Dr. Crystal Alberts is currently the conference’s director and continues to do an amazing job every year. The conference is always free and open to the public which makes it unique among national writing conferences. The conference’s website states, “the Conference enjoys a national reputation among writers as one of the best run, most interesting events of its kind, especially because of its strong public audiences, attracted by its free and open format.”   

This year the conference used a hybrid format. Most events were available to watch over Zoom, and the in-person events were held in the Memorial Union Ballroom. The conference hosts many different types of events including panels, readings, community workshops, and presentations. My favorite events to attend are panels. Panels bring together multiple authors and have them discuss certain themes and topics. These events also include audience questions. It’s a great way to hear multiple different perspectives live on a multitude of subjects.   

The conference hosted six authors and one visual artist: Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Xavier Pastrano, Juliet Patterson, Tracy K. Smith, Morgan Talty, Alejandro Varela, and Niki Tsukamoto. Each participant brought their own expertise and flair to their events.  

Rojas Contreras’s reading from her memoir “The Man Who Could Move Clouds” was one of my favorite events. Her reading voice was perfect for what she was reading, and she answered every question carefully and thoughtfully.   

Her memoir deals with issues of family history and inheritance. Originally from Columbia, Rojas Contreras blends her culture into the very structure of her memoir. She tells stories of her grandfather who was a curandero or a medicine man and how he passed the tradition to her mother. Her memoir also discusses how both her and her mother suffered amnesia from head injuries. Rojas Contreras’ memoir is a colorful exploration of family ties and what they mean.  

I had the extra privilege of being able to participate in a Zoom meeting with Morgan Talty for one of my English classes. He joined our class to talk about his collection of short stories “Night of the Living Rez.” This collection contains twelve short stories that discuss life on a reservation and “what it means to be a Penobscot in the twenty-first century.” Talty’s stories are both simple and profound as they move through the lives of his characters.   

It is in everyday life where magic and tragedy are found. The stories and language of the Penobscot are woven throughout the collection and add to the mysticism of the book. While totally ordinary days are haunted by both generational trauma and the appearance of mythical monsters, Talty’s storytelling remains grounded and down to earth. His narrator’s no-nonsense tone in recounting what has happened allows the reader to see the narrator in ways even the narrator himself is blind to.   

This collection of stories is a linked story collection. Meaning the twelve stories follow the same narrator: Dee as a child and David as an adult. Placed in an unchronological manner, the reader is left wondering how Dee, a sweet unassuming boy who loves his mother and sister dearly, becomes David, an addict who does his best to be there for his friends and elderly mother, but seems to keep failing them. Despite it all, there is so much heart in this book. Talty’s ability to create scenarios and infuse them with breathtaking emotion in very simple settings keeps the reader engaged in the book from beginning to end.   

Being able to attend the UND writer’s conference every spring is one of my favorite parts of being a student. It is such an amazing opportunity to explore new authors and attend events hosted by them. If you’re interested in any of the authors and their work, the UND Bookstore may still have copies available for purchase. I highly recommend this conference and encourage all students to attend regardless of major. 


Aubrey Roemmich is a Dakota Student Section Editor. She can be reached at [email protected]