Sean Hill: Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference

The Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference[1]
at Bemidji State University is back for its third year after a four-year
hiatus. On the BSU campus on the shores of Lake Bemidji—a small university on a big lake in a
small town in northern Minnesota—the perfect place to write and be in the
company of others committed to learning and teaching the craft of writing and
you’re likely to be awakened by the haunting call of a loon or inspired by the
grace of a bald eagle as well as by our great faculty.

This summer the
conference will be held from June 20th to June 26th. This
week-long writers’ conference offers participants intimate writing workshops
and an evening reading series[2].
Established in 2003, the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference provides a
high quality literary experience for the local and state communities and
attracts participants from around the nation. The conference has always brought
in well-published writers who are also excellent teachers to lead the intensive
workshops, which are limited to 13 participants in order to create intimate
learning communities for the writers.

The faculty is there to share their
knowledge and experience of the writing life with their workshops and with the
whole conference in our craft talk series. We also invite a Distinguished
Visiting Writer to speak on the art and craft of writing and share what he or
she has learned over the years. They have included the major American poet Sharon
Olds, the acclaimed fiction writer, Pam Houston, and the recent U.S. Poet
Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, during the year in which she won the Pulitzer
Prize. Our teaching faculty has included NEA fellows and winners of major
awards including the National Book Award.  

For those who want the conference experience but don’t want
to take part in a workshop, we are offering an auditor’s track that includes
access to the daily craft talks, afternoon events, evening readings,
and the conference meals. This option is for writers at any stage of
development who work hard at their writing and want to better understand the
creative act. Auditors will be exposed to and benefit from the knowledge and
experience our teaching artists share in their morning craft talks and be moved
by their work at the evening readings. At $125 plus $28 per night for
convenient newly-remodeled campus housing, the auditor’s track provides an
incredibly affordable writer’s retreat.

Following in our tradition of literary excellence, our Distinguished
Visiting Writer is acclaimed poet, memoirist, and teacher Mark Doty. Doty has published over a dozen books of poetry and
nonfiction. Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems won the National Book
Award. His memoir Dog Years became a New York Times bestseller. Doty’s
poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The London Review of
, Ploughshares, Poetry, The New Yorker,
and The Norton Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. His honors
include the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book
Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, two Lambda Literary Awards, and he is the only
American poet to receive the T.S. Eliot Prize in the U.K. Doty lives in New
York and is Professor/Writer in Residence at Rutgers University.

And our teaching-writers are equally impressive. The poet, Aimee Nezhukumatathil will return this
summer to lead our poetry workshop. Aimee is the author of three poetry collections,
most recently Lucky Fish, winner of the gold medal in Poetry from the
Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for
Independent Books. Her recent honors include a poetry fellowship from the
National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize. 

The novelist Tayari Jones will lead the fiction
workshop. Jones
is the
recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional
Black Caucus Foundation and a winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for
Debut Fiction. She has written for McSweeney’s, The New York Times,
and the Believer. Her previous novels include Leaving Atlanta
and The Untelling, winner of the Lillian C. Smith award. Her third novel,
Silver Sparrow, was included in O Magazine’s Favorite Things
for 2011 and on several prestigious Best Books of 2011 lists including Slate’s and Salon’s. Jones holds degrees from Spelman College, Arizona State
University, and the University of Iowa. 

This year we are offering a
Young Adult fiction workshop led by Matt de la
. He’s the
author of five critically-acclaimed young adult novels—Ball Don’t Lie,
Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here, I Will Save You and The
as well as the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The
story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis.
de la Peña’s second picture book, Last Stop on Market Street, was recently
released by Penguin, and his sixth YA novel, The Hunted (a sequel to The
), will be released by Delacorte. He received his MFA in creative
writing from San Diego State University and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. de
la Peña teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges
throughout the country.

One of our two creative
nonfiction workshops will be led by David Gessner, author of nine books,
including the forthcoming All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace
Stegner and the American West
, and The Tarball Chronicles, which
won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment. He has
published essays in many magazines, including Outside magazine and the
New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best
Nature Essay. Gessner taught Environmental Writing as a Briggs-Copeland
Lecturer at Harvard, and founded the award-winning literary journal of place, Ecotone.

The other creative nonfiction workshop will be led by our
other returning faculty, Joni Tevis. A former Edelstein-Keller Discovery Fellow
at the University of Minnesota, Tevis teaches literature and creative writing
at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Tevis is the well-published
author of a wonder-filled book of essays, The
Wet Collection
. She also has a second collection of nonfiction about ghost
towns, tourist traps, and atomic dread, The World is on Fire: Scrap,
Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse
, due out this spring. Both are from
Milkweed Editions. 

The Conference Fee for workshop participants is $545 before
April 15, 2015 and $595 after, and that includes a daily workshop limited to 13
writers, daily craft talks, publishing and editor Q&As, afternoon events,
and five conference meals. And, as mentioned above, there is an Auditor Option available
for $125 that includes all conference amenities and access to events offered
during the week, but does not include participation in a workshop.
$300 scholarships will be awarded toward the conference fee. Scholarship awards in poetry, fiction, and
creative nonfiction are based on need and literary merit and intended to lower
financial barriers for writers. There is also a scholarship for Minnesota
residents. Apply at by March
15, 2015.
For workshop descriptions, a schedule, online application, and
more information please visit The deadline for
applying for the conference is May 1.  

Here’s a video clip of the Minnesota Northwoods Writers
Conference from LakelandPTV’s Common Ground

Check out Mark Doty reading “A Display of Mackerels” for the
PBS NewsHour! 

Listen to Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poems “Penguin

Check out this excerpt from Silver Sparrow the latest book by Tayari Jones!

Listen to this interview Matt de la Peña with on NPR!

Check out David Gessner talking about his book My Green Manifesto!

Listen to this interview of Joni Tevis up at Orion!



[1] Sponsored by the English Department
at Bemidji State University in collaboration with BSU’s Center for Extended
Learning and a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council and generous donors.
[2]The readings are free and open to the
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