KINGSTON, R.I. – March 13, 2015 – The keynote speakers at the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference this year share more than a passion for the written word. They’re both women.
“This year, once again, we have remarkable prize-winning keynote presenters,” says Thomas Barkman, of Providence, a poet who coordinated the conference last year. “They’re both prolific and lauded writers.”
The speakers are: Tracy K. Smith, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and teaches at Princeton University; and Antonya Nelson, author of 11 books who teaches at the University of Houston and whose work regularly appears in The New Yorker.
The event will also feature 14 other accomplished poets and writers. New this year is a Saturday afternoon festival offering participants more readings and opportunities to apply what they’ve learned. There will also be activities for writers of all ages.
“Every year we focus on the craft of writing,” says Barkman, who earned his undergraduate degree in English and French from URI in 2010 and his master’s degree in English, with a focus on poetry, in 2013. “Creative writing is an art. It takes a lot of work, practice and knowledge.”
The three-day conference, now in its ninth year, is June 18 to 20 at the University of Rhode Island on the Kingston campus. With snow on the ground, that might seem like a long way off, but Barkman says spots fill up fast so early registration is encouraged. Housing is offered in a residential hall on campus.
Master classes with Smith and Nelson are limited to 25 people, and the three-day workshops with various writers are limited to 12 people in each session. Topics include how to structure poems, incorporate all five senses into narrative and write about the ocean.
The conference has come a long way since it started nine years ago with writers mostly from New England. Now it’s a nationally recognized event comparable to established writing conferences, like Bread Loaf in Middlebury, Vt.
This year, as in years past, participants can expect intimate workshops with writers who speak with authority and passion about their craft and offer feedback that is gentle and practical.
This year’s lineup of writers is impressive.
Smith is a professor of creative writing at Princeton. She has three books of poetry, and her most recent collection, Life on Mars, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. She has an upcoming memoir to be published this year by Knopf. Her work explores the importance of submitting to the “ongoing conflict” of life – and surviving.
Nelson has published four novels and seven collections of short stories. Her work has also been published in Esquire, Harper’s and Redbook. She has received National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships.
The keynote talks, free and open to the public, are Friday, June 19. Nelson will talk at 12:15 p.m., and Smith will talk at 4:30 p.m.
Here are the other featured speakers:
* Ru Freeman was born in Sri Lanka, and studied in Australia and Maine before working on humanitarian efforts. Her two novels are widely translated across the globe.
* Karen Brennan, a professor at The University of Utah and National Endowment for the Arts recipient, has seven books in varying genres. Her work has appeared in anthologies from Penguin and Norton.
* Rob Cohen is a writer, director and producer whose work has appeared on CBS, NBC and the Discovery and History channels. Not long ago, he presented a documentary on the holocaust at the United Nations. Cohen, of New York City, will screen his film, “Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald.”
* Brian Leung is the director of creative writing at the University of Louisville. He has received the Asian American Literary Award and a Lambda Literary Award.
* Adam Braver has four books of creative and historical nonfiction. Widely lauded, they investigate the lives of famous people from Marilyn Monroe to President Abraham Lincoln. He is on the faculty and a writer-in-residence at Roger Williams University in Bristol.
* Tina Chang is the first female poet laureate of Brooklyn. Her poems are widely published and anthologized. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and the City University at Hong Kong.
* Richard Hoffman is a senior writer-in-residence at Emerson College. Author of two poetry collections, his latest memoir, Love & Fury, was a finalist for the New England Book Award.
*Gregory Pardlo is a teaching fellow at Columbia University, and an associate editor of Callaloo, a literary journal. His latest book Digest was nominated for the 2015 NAACP Image Award in poetry.
* Derek Nikitas is a novelist and short story writer. Nikitas is an associate professor and director of the Bluegrass Writers Studio MFA in creative writing at Eastern Kentucky University.
The URI faculty members teaching at the conference are: Robert Leuci, a novelist who also has written and produced episodes for “A Current Affair,” exploring problems in American policing; and Jody Lisberger, a short story and nonfiction writer and director of Women’s Studies at URI. Cohen also teaches at URI – film.
For details and registration information, visit OCSWC. There is a $25 discount for people who register for both the three-day workshops and main conference by May 15. Discounts are available for students, alumni and URI faculty.
Pictured above: In red jacket, Antonya Nelson, author of 11 books who teaches at the University of Houston and whose work regularly appears in The New Yorker, and Tracy K. Smith, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and teaches at Princeton University. Both writers are speakers at the 9th annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Smith’s photo is by Rolex/Tina Ruisinger. Nelson’s photo is by Dana Kroos.