The Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference happened this past weekend and I’m taking the day to recover and reflect. This year I didn’t just attend the conference; I really did the conference. I didn’t skip any sessions. I went to the evening readings. I even socialized after hours instead of rushing home to the solitude of my home. I wish I had it in me to write up something cohesive to describe the weekend, but since I’m still feeling whooped and I need to save my writing energy for some revising that needs to be done over the next couple of days, I’ll stick to bullet points.
Here are few things that are sticking with me from the 2012 Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference:
- Barry Lopez started things off with an incredible keynote address. He asked the question, “What is the purpose of a writer in a pluralistic society?” Then he wound around to the answer he’s come up with for himself which is that the writer’s job is to help. So that leaves me asking, am I helping anyone or anything in any way? Am I telling stories that need telling?
- Ann Pancake discussed the tricky territory of writing fiction that delves into political issues. It’s difficult, she said, but when it’s done the right way it has the potential to dispel psychic numbing. I think of The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, a book that I just finished reading for the first time this week. It was relavent when it was written and its relavent today. It’s a book that has helped.
- Valerie Miner, one of University of Alaska Anchorage’s MFA faculty members, suggests that we are all literary citizens. She offered ideas of how to keep the literary conversation going, one of which was simply to take one another’s writing more seriously. And that’s one of the beautiful things about this conference; writing is shared, discussed, taught and discovered in a supportive, friendly, noncompetitive environment. Warm fuzzies pretty much all around.
- Peggy Shumaker. Alaska is beyond fortunate to have Peggy as the State Writer Laureate. Her generosity, professionalism and kindness are a blessing. In her closing address she admonished us to look out for one another—and nobody looks out for writers the way Peggy looks out for writers.
- Back to Barry Lopez. He says to know exactly why you’re writing. It’s necessary to have a solid understanding of your purpose as a base for the rejection you will face. Yikes, but true. This leads me back to the forever question of why do I do this? My answer is forming and changing all the time. He also says that writing is not about intelligence. It’s about telling a memorable story. And for some reason I find that statement incredibly comforting.
Then there are the other, non-classroomy things: I got to hear longtime acquaintances from the library read their work at the open mic and in hearing them discovered a side to them I would likely never have known had I not been there. I ran into an old friend—one I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade—and we had the chance to get caught up with each other’s lives. And of course I got to see lots of my MFA cronies.
The last thing I’ll mention is the bonfire. It was just what I needed after three days of sitting. The wind died down, the rain held off and the bay was calm. Children of attendees ran around, drinks were shared, stories were swapped and music was played. Amy brought her ukulele, Ed brought a guitar, TJ brought his banjo and I brought my fiddle. Since the three of them are infinitely more musically versatile than I am we were able to play tunes into the night. It was a great convergence of a few things that I love.
The 2012 Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference was a great gathering and next year will be too. I mean, Naomi Shihab Nye will be the keynote speaker. Can it get any better than that? Hopefully I’ll see you there.