Six authors will arrive in Grand Forks on April 2 for UND’s 45th annual Writers Conference, which attracts thousands every year and is free and open to the public.
The conference will revolve primarily around featured authors, who will be doing various readings and panels over the course of the three day event. The authors are Robert Pinsky, Jessica Lott, Sarah Leavitt, Brian Maxwell, Colson Whitehead and Geoffrey Dyer, each of whom has a unique background and relationship with literature.
Pinsky served as United States Poet Laureate for a rare third term after proving to be such a good fit for the role during his first two. Thousands of Americans have had the chance to share their favorite poems through his Favorite Poem Project, which is still operating.
The multi-talented Pinsky will take part in two of the three panels and, instead of doing a reading, will perform with the UND Jazz Ensemble on of April 3.
Lott also is multi-faceted in her involvement with literature. The Boston University graduate writes fiction and also is involved in art criticism. She also has won numerous awards in both categories.
Another diverse branch of literature will be represented by graphic novelist Leavitt, who celebrated her first novel, “Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me” in 2010.
Embodying the short story form, Maxwell is coming from Florida to UND, where he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing. One of Maxwell’s stories, “Listen and the Bells,” has been translated into Italian.
Currently living in Brooklyn, N.Y. with his daughter, Whitehead has won several awards and been a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The essayist and novelist was called “The coolest writer in America” by Esquire magazine, and he has over 116,000 Twitter followers.
Dyer is a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York and brings the experience of having several essays and four novels published, the fifth of which will come out this May. Dyer will be reading on the first evening of the conference.
Although these six writers form the Writers Conference’s core, they share the spotlight with anyone interested in sharing his or her work. From 10 to 11:30 a.m. on each day of the conference, participants can sign up to read their work for 10 minutes each. Those interested can go to the UND Writers Conference website and sign up.
UND professor and Director of the Writers Conference Crystal Alberts designed the upcoming conference for people to make connections and meet others interested in literature.
“The UND Writers Conference is also deeply committed to building strong and enduring off-campus relationships,” Alberts said. “(It) is proud to count among its attendees many from the Greater Grand Forks community, around North Dakota and beyond, totaling between 1,000 to 3,000 per year on average.”
Alberts encourages anyone and everyone to attend and said she likes to hear the wide array of stories.
“I enjoy spending time talking to the people who are attending the conference, whether authors or community members, because there are always fantastic stories being told,” Alberts said.
This year there was some scare regarding the funding for future conferences, but thanks to UND alumni Alice Carlson’s commitment of $35,000 per year, there is a little cushion.
However, Alberts said this isn’t enough.
“We are very grateful for Alice Carlson’s gift of $35,000 per year to help ensure the longevity of the UND Writers Conference,” she said. “However, there is still quite a lot of work to be done.”
North Dakota Museum of Art Director Laurel Reuter, who will be moderating the panel “Literature, Art and all that Jazz,” said she hopes the Writers Conference remains free for years to come.
“Charging to attend would be a great loss to UND students who often discover the pleasures of literature through the Conference,” Reuter said. “It is here that students hear the voice of the writer for the first time — voice in its broadest literary sense.”
Reuter was a student at UND during the first Writers Conference and called the first Conference 45 years ago “A grand celebration of literary life.”
In more recent years, the Conference has experienced varying amounts of attending guests, and it is smaller this year, with only six writers compared to last year’s eight authors and 2012’s seven, but Alberts hopes to see the event outlive her.
“I’m pretty sure that I personally will not see it reach its 100th Anniversary, but I would very much like to see it continue for that long and then some, as it is a unique experience for all who attend and an important UND tradition,” Alberts said. “I hope that others feel the same way.”
Marie Monson is the multimedia editor for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]