Writers Conference emphasizes ‘all women’

Audience members laugh during a Friday reading by author Roxane Gay (pictured at right) during a UND Writers Conference session. Photos by Jackson Smith/The Dakota Student.

Last week UND hosted its 46th annual Writers Conference, comprised of all women writers for the first time in 42 years, and the response to the conference being all-women was a positive one.

“I believe that most attendees found it to be timely and thought-provoking,” Conference Director Crystal Alberts said. “Although there were two or three evaluations that stated that the conference could be improved by inviting or including ‘more men,’ nearly everyone else understood that this was a historical event —the first allwomen conference in 42 years— and were open to discussing and thinking about women’s issues without necessarily labeling it a ‘feminist’ conference.”

UND student Sandi Kruse agreed.

“Crystal (Alberts) couldn’t have picked better authors to come together to have a cohesive and intelligent discussion,” Kruse said. “I kept thinking how important it was that this all woman conference was happening in Grand Forks. The message of women as serious, intelligent, and talented artists and writers needs to be pushed into our minds more than ever.”

The writers themselves were also excited to be a part of a historical year for the Writers Conference.

“I’m especially honored to be here when it’s the all-women year, because I think it has a special kind of energy,” author and presenter Bonnie Jo Campbell said. “It shouldn’t seem radical, but it does. I haven’t seen a conference that’s all women, that is truly a literary conference.”

Also unique was the inclusion of a visual artist among the guests.

Artist Alexandra Grant, who uses language in her paintings, brought another layer to the conference.

“Alexandra Grant may be a visual artist, but she is also a translator, who is well-versed in philosophy and literature,” Alberts said. “She is an absolutely brilliant and amazing human being. And, I’m not the only one who thinks that.”

Each author or artist participated in at least one panel discussion and also had the opportunity to read her work aloud, or in Alexandra’s case, show slides and talk about her art.

More than 1,600 people attended the events over the three days, which all took place at the Memorial Union.

Author Roxane Gay, who has attended several conferences, said she was particularly impressed with the range of attendees.

“I’ve been really surprised about some of the audience members,” Gay said. “When I go to a lot of these events, there’s a certain demographic that seems to really gravitate towards my work — young women in their twenties — and there’s certainly been some of that audience here, but there are people that are part of the community that have come, and have gotten great things out of the panels, and that’s been awesome.”

Also at the conference were authors Gish Jen and Carol Muske-Dukes.

Because of a last minute family emergency, author Tara Betts had to cancel, but in her stead was Torill Stokkan, who is the director of Litteraturuka i Sarpsborg, a literary festival in Grand Forks’ sister city Sarpsborg, Norway.

Despite the snow on Wednesday and the last minute dancing around of authors, the conference is being called a tremendous success.

“I was delighted with this year’s speakers,” UND student Gary Suchor. “They worked together so well and did so with impeccable cohesion. I’ve heard many members of the community say this was the best Writers Conference they have attended thus far. I agree with their analysis. It was by far the most successful conference I have attended.”

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].