“Citizen” discussion

English associate professor Crystal Alberts poses a question to author Brian Greene during the 2016 UND Writer's Conference at the Memorial Union ballroom. Nick Nelson/ Dakota Student

Nick Nelson

English associate professor Crystal Alberts poses a question to author Brian Greene during the 2016 UND Writer's Conference at the Memorial Union ballroom. Nick Nelson/ Dakota Student

Matt Eidson, News Editor

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Continuing a 47-year tradition, the University of North Dakota is set to kick off the 2017 Writers Conference on March 22.

This year’s Writers Conference is in good hands. Crystal Alberts, Associate Professor of English at UND, has played a part in directing the conference since 2010.

Alberts makes it clear that her interest in the Writers Conference stems from her passion for literature; a passion that helped her escape the small town life in rural Minnesota years ago.

“When I was a kid, growing up in my small town, I didn’t travel,” Alberts said. “The only way I could travel was in books. The only way I could try to understand other people, beyond those around me, were books.”

Bringing that passion to her position as Director of the Writers Conference, Alberts continues to bring art and literature, not only to the students, staff and faculty at UND, but the surrounding community members as well.

“That’s kind of always been part of the point of the Writers Conferences: how can literature and art help communicate beyond those gaps that seem to form based on beliefs or difference or misunderstandings or miscommunication,” Alberts said. “And sometimes the only way it can work is if you have an individual experience. Whether that’s through a character in a novel or meeting the actual author…it might shift your perspective so that you have common ground.”

Even with so many of these events under her belt, Alberts still manages to make each conference a unique experience.

“When I was a kid, growing up in my small town, I didn’t travel. The only way I could travel was in books. The only way I could try to understand other people, beyond those around me, were books.””

— Crystal Alberts

“This conference is different because, one, the people that are coming, but two, the timing,” Alberts said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen when I pitched this subject matter almost two years ago. I didn’t know that Fidel Castro was going to die; I didn’t know who was going to be elected president; I didn’t know any of that stuff. All of those sorts of things, current events, end up in the conversation.”

Understanding that these are turbulent times for the U.S., following the election of President Donald Trump, Alberts acknowledges that the unique subject matter of this year’s Writers Conference is somewhat ironic. As the writers invited to the conference this year have varied cultural backgrounds, Alberts expects the conversation to be interesting, to say the least.

“I’m relatively confident that some of the talks might become contentious,” Alberts said. “But I hope that everybody comes with an open mind to try to sort of see the other side of things. Because what choice do we have?”

Come one, come all

Hoping to challenge the notion that the Writers Conference is only for creative writers, English majors and people who read a lot of fiction, Alberts is steadfast in her assertion that everybody can find something to enjoy at this year’s conference.

“If you are just trying to figure out what’s going on in the world right now from as many perspectives as you can,” Alberts said, “this particular group of authors is going to provide some insight to other perspectives of the country and the world that we don’t always hear in North Dakota.”

Alberts hopes that the community, as well as students, staff and faculty, makes their way to the conference to enjoy the unique events taking place.

“I don’t want people in town thinking that were not accessible when we all literally live in the same town and work together,” Alberts said.

Believing that the ability to make art and literature accessible to everyone is important, Alberts strives to ensure that every Writer Conference is as informative as it is entertaining.

Alberts makes it clear to everyone—including the writers headlining the event—that the event is about coming together and engaging in conversation with one another.

“We work really hard to make sure that whoever comes to the Writers Conference understands that you only get to come if you’re cool with hanging out with the people,” Alberts said.

If you are interested in attending this year’s Writers Conference, you can log on to und.edu/orgs/writers conference for the complete schedule of events.

Matt Eidson is the News Editor for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]

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