KINGSTON-The University of Rhode Island will proudly host the eighth annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference this June, giving aspiring writers a place to learn and grow.
The workshop, running June 19-21, offers writers of all ages a weekend of interaction with professional authors and writers to gain the knowledge and experience they need by partaking in workshops and seminars. This years conference presents new opportunities that have never been at the conference before including manuscript consultations so participants can submit their work and receive guidance, and a graphic component.
During the three-day workshop attendees can choose to study fiction, young adult fiction, creative nonfiction, memoir, poetry and TV screenwriting. Meeting Thursday afternoon, Friday morning and Saturday morning, the conference features workshops led by faculty members giving writers a great place to receive feedback and learn to improve.
The OSSWC includes three accomplished keynote speaker presentations, all free and open to the public. Speakers include graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, poet, theorist and scholar Charles Bernstein and author Percival Everett.
Also offered are master classes on Friday and Saturday, where attendees will have a chance to study with the keynote speakers and work with other instructors and classmates. Master classes include playwriting with Ayad Akhtar, fiction with Amity Gaige and Percival Everett, and poetry with Charles Bernstein and Stephen Burt.
Burt, a poet, literary critic and professor of English at Harvard University, will be leading the master class on poetry and a workshop on advanced poetry. Along with his eight published books, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the Believer and the Boston Review.
Although this will be his first time attending the conference, his experience allows him to provide great advice to aspiring writers.
According to Burt, the best thing he can offer conference attendees is, “Attention, experience reading and writing, familiarity with a lot of the poetry of the past, and a lot of the various kinds and modes of poetry being created, in English, in the present… attention is perhaps the main thing”.
During his master class on poetry, Burt will cover poems from the past and present and attendees own poems, while discussing the use of what poet William Empson calls “complex words”.
One of the most important things that attendees can take away from the conference is the words of wisdom from accomplished authors and writers that could lead to great improvements.
“Read a lot—not only poetry, not only recent books— and translate, or adapt, or do something involving poetry from another language, even if you are not fluent in that language.” said Burt. “Also, try very hard to meet other poets who are at your life stage or your stage as a writer; exchange work with them, and do things for them, don’t just write away and hope things can get done for you.”
The master classes and workshops gives attendees a chance to further improve their writing while gaining the skills to edit and critique constructively, a skill any good writer should have.
“Everyone wants to be told ‘Your poem is just perfect as is!’ But there are plenty of wonderful poems in anthologies, even, where that’s not quite the case,”said Burt.
Before classes on Saturday, a discussion group will be held allowing writers to connect with their inner critic by reading the work of featured keynote speakers and engaging in constructive conversation with a URI English Department faculty member. Faculty leading the discussions are Jean Walton, Valerie Karno, Carolyn Betensky and Peter Covino.
Then there is the conversation portion of the conference where attendees can take part in moderated conversations with writers about the work of writing, each covering a different subject. The six conversations taking place Friday and Saturday will be lead by writers Mary Cappello, Christine Montross, Nicole Walker, Russell Potter, Paul Di Filippo, Elaine Sexton, Malaga Baldi and Maria Mutch among others.
Mutch, a full time writer and previous attendee of the OSSWC, has had her essays and fiction appear in Poets & Writers, Guernica, Necessary Fiction, Fiction Writers Review, Ocean State Review, Bayou Magazine and Literary Mama, among others. During the conference, Mutch will be one of the writers leading the conversation “Difficult Subjects/Uncommon Ways: Literary Nonfiction as Cross-Over Art”.
“ Literary nonfiction, which includes memoir, is a hot topic—the genre keeps growing and changing”, said Mutch. “In our discussion, we’ll be covering (among other things) the challenges of writing about somewhat prickly or taboo subjects, writing outside of convention, and doing research.”
Mutch experienced the challenges of literary nonfiction in her memoir “Know the Night,” which includes her son who has Down Syndrome and autism, making her a great attribution to this specific conversation. Mutch has attended the conference twice before and experienced first-hand how helpful it can be to writers.
“It’s a good way to get feedback, explore what you want as a writer, choose a direction to follow in your work, and offset the solitariness of writing at your desk,” said Mutch. “ As well, you meet local writers—I think a good number of writing groups grow out of conferences.”
Another aspect of the conference are craft sessions, taking place Friday and Saturday, where attendees will read and discuss examples and then complete a short assignment and see the response of others. The 75-minute sessions are each designed around a different approach to writing including creative nonfiction, first person writing, embodied narratives, science fiction, the micro-book, dialogue, television writing and memoirs. Instructors of the craft sessions include Lisa Lebduska, Kristin Prevallet, Robert Leuci, Rob Cohen and Jody Lisberger among others.
Also featured daily for an additional cost, are one-on-one consultations where writers can submit manuscripts prior to the consultation and receive advice and get to know faculty members in a new way specific to their writing. In addition, there are daily readings by local writers and faculty members, and a cocktail reception and dinner Friday night that gives the opportunity to talk with other attendees and speakers in a more relaxed environment.
The OSSWC gives writers a chance to experience improvement and learn new things while networking and meeting new people with the same interests. Writers of all ages and stages in the writing process have the opportunity to grow from attending the conference. For more information and for fees and registration visit www.uri.edu/summerwriting/2014 .