Write time, right place

UND campus gears up to host national and local authors and artists for annual Writers Conference next week

Writers Conference

The 48th Annual UND Writers Conference opens next week on campus with featured authors that include the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction winner, Viet Thanh Nguyen (middle).

For the next week, Crystal Alberts will be scanning a lot of lists—a list of caterers and vendors, a list of marketing opportunities and a list of more than forty volunteers and their schedules.

But lists stacked on lists are now a mid-March tradition for Alberts. This will be the associate English professor’s eighth year directing the UND Writers Conference. She’s found her flow.

“I know everything that has to happen and I can see the big picture. It’s a lot of adrenaline.” Alberts paused and continued with a smirk, “But that’s okay.”

The 48th Annual UND Writers Conference kicks off on Wednesday, March 22, at UND’s Memorial Union. The three-day event brings in writers and artists from all over the nation to rub elbows with fans and join a community conversation surrounding a central theme.

“This is completely unlike anything else in the country,” Alberts said. “Having this sort of direct access to authors like this for free, and authors of this caliber, is not something that happens anywhere else on this scale.”

Social draw

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the bestselling novel “The Sympathizer” and the newly-released “The Refugees.”

The ballroom may be filled a little fuller for readings and panels this time around with the roster inclusion of 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction winner Viet Thanh Nguyen.

The author of the bestselling novel “The Sympathizer” and the newly-released “The Refugees”—which has garnered much fanfare from critics—has long been a vocal advocate for bringing awareness to the plight of refugees of Vietnam and beyond. Nguyen has gained recent momentum through pop culture avenues—including op-eds for the New York Times, social media commentary and even a talk show appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

“He’s won award after award, and now he’s stepping into the area of celebrity and public scholar, public literary figure. I think it’s great,” Alberts said. “It’s bringing this conversation to an audience that might not otherwise think about coming to the Writers Conference.”

Alberts noted that a number of this year’s speakers are actually in the public eye more than some authors of the past. The conference theme of “Citizen” has pulled together a number of underrepresented voices, many of whom are heavily involved in social activism. Some may find these messages controversial, but Alberts doesn’t want that to keep people away.

“Try to come with an open mind, even if it’s something kind of different,” she said. “People sometimes get so focused in on differences that they don’t see what they have in common.”

Community experience

Jeff Shotts

Jeff Shotts, executive editor of Graywolf Press

Although many come to the conference to hear discussion from their favorite authors, the Writers Conference also serves as an incubator for lovers of literature to push their passion further.

“It’s about helping those in the area and beyond who are interested in creative writing to pick up and continue their craft,” Alberts said. “They can work with and get feedback from other authors, whether they’re professional authors that are being invited to speak or members of the community.”

Community workshops will be held at 2 p.m. March 22 (fiction) and March 24 (poetry), an opportunity for budding writers to hone their skills. These are limited to 20 participants per session, so Alberts advises those who are interested to register early.

An additional presentation will be led by Graywolf Press Executive Editor Jeff Shotts at 2 p.m. March 23, who will explain what it takes to get a work published. No registration is required.

“This is something that people have been wanting for a number of years—what is this process, what does it mean, what are editors looking for? Shotts has made Graywolf Press the big name that it is today,” Alberts said. “He’s going to let people know how to go about doing it.”

Local writers have also been invited to register for public readings Thursday and Friday at 10 a.m. Alberts says many of the 10-minute time slots have filled, but there are still openings available for those who want to share their poetry, fiction or non-fiction.

As for Alberts’ mounting list of lists, there’s one she doesn’t mind seeing grow – an account of memories made and eyes opened to literature.

“I’ve actually sat in the back and watched students who were obviously there for extra credit. They started off texting and not paying attention,” Alberts remembered. “About a half an hour in, some of them were shushing their friends because they were so absorbed.”

For a full schedule of events, author profiles and more information, please visit the UND Writers Conference website.