The annual Indiana University Writers’ Conference will be held virtually for the first time in its 81-year history. The four-day event will also feature English professor Ross Gay, who recently won the 2021 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award for his book “Be Holding: A Poem.”
In 2020, conference organizers were ready to celebrate 80 years of continual operation since the event’s founding by Herman B Wells in 1940, but the COVID-19 pandemic cut those plans short. This year, conference director and senior lecturer in English Bob Bledsoe and associate director and third-year MFA candidate L. Renée plan to pick up the celebration where it left off and have made the event more accessible.
“In some ways the pandemic has allowed us to broaden the reach of the conference,” Renée said. “We are registering writers from all over the country who are trying to make art and find meaning during this time, and they will be able to join in a community with people who are doing the same.”
Rates for workshops and classes, which will take place June 3 to 6, are reduced for the virtual conference, and the number of scholarships available has increased this year.
The conference will feature poetry, fiction and memoir workshops, as well as writing craft classes and evening readings online in live/synchronous gatherings. Award-winning conference workshop faculty for the event include ZZ Packer (fiction), Maggie Smith (poetry) and Jaquira Díaz (memoir). Classes will be taught by Joseph Cassara (fiction), Tiana Clark (poetry), Hannah Bae (creative nonfiction), Brando Skyhorse (publishing) and Shawna Ayoub (writing through trauma).
In honor of the 81st anniversary of the conference, Gay will lead a special class for conference participants on lyric archiving, which will feature writing experiments, drawing and collage.
“A successful class for me would be that care happened, listening happened, laughter happened, and probably something that you wouldn’t have made otherwise happened,” he said. Every time he works with writers, Gay said, “I witness people make things that are more beautiful than anything I could ever imagine, and that I could never have coached someone up on making.”
Gay will also be leading a special evening event to read some of his own work and answer questions from attendees. All evening readings are free and open to the public, not just to those enrolled in conference classes or workshops.
The selection of these diverse, award-winning workshop faculty reflects the diversity of the participants in the nation’s second-oldest, continually operating writers conference, Renée said.
“Our conference is open to writers at every part of their journey,” she said. “It allows emerging writers, K-12 teachers and parents, as well as Ph.D. and MFA students and professional writers, to meet with different types of people.”
The conference also provides workshop participants with valuable feedback from faculty and their workshop colleagues, since they submit manuscripts in advance of the conference for review.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to celebrate the history of bringing creative people from all over the world together for this conference and to make these renowned professional writers available to such a wide range of participants,” Bledsoe said.