Writers conference offers daily lectures
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Author Chris Abani participated as a lecturer in the Port Townsend Writers' Conference, which continues this week. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND -- A writers' conclave that was started 36 years ago is thriving, even as it lacks the career advice that permeates modern conferences.

Centrum's Port Townsend Writers' Conference is taking place Fort Worden State Park through Saturday this week.

All lectures are free and open to the public, begin at 4 p.m. and take place at the Wheeler Theater.

Monday's lecturer was Chris Abani, a Nigerian who was jailed after the blueprint of a novel he had written was used in a military coup.

Denise Chavez -- The Last of the Menu Girls, Face of an Angel -- was featured on Tuesday. Martin Espada, called the "the Pablo Neruda of North American authors," will speak today.

The lineup for the rest of the week is Ana Menendez -- Loving Che, In Cuba I was a German Shepherd -- on Thursday, Dana Levin -- In the Surgical Theatre, Wedding Day -- on Friday and Peter Orner -- The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, Esther Stories -- on Saturday.

This year's conference has drawn the largest number in its history.

"We teach people the nuts and bolts of writing," said program director Jordan Hartt.

"This has nothing to do with agents and publishing and marketing. It's all about improving your craft."

Hartt said about 200 writers are taking part in the conference, reflecting a steady increase in attendees over the past few years.

This is attributable to the presence of novelist Bill Ransom, who founded the conference and became involved again five years ago.

"All the same people were coming every year," Ransom said. "It was getting a little stagnant.

"The original idea was to change directors every five years and the new directors would bring in a new faculty, but that wasn't happening."

The people who flocked out of the classrooms and to the lecture on Monday afternoon represented a diverse group, of all types and ages.

Many are published authors while others are just finding their literary footing, Hartt said.

He said about half are from the Olympic Peninsula.

Some are teachers and receive credit for attending.

Others come to the conference only for the writer vibe.

"I don't go to any of the conferences," said Kathleen Concannon of Portland, Ore.

"I just come up here, sit in my little room and work on my novel."

Others come for the conference but fit in other activities, like Toni Van Deusen and Michael Hanner who got married on Monday afternoon.

The couple, who could not be reached for comment, both live in Eugene, Ore.

Scholarships are awarded, and the cost per attendee ranges from $55 to $1100 depending on how much room and board is required.

"We want to keep this affordable for everyone," Hartt said.

Hartt said that writing instruction hasn't changed over the life of the conference and that technology hasn't influenced the craft, even though a workshop about writing a literary blog is offered.

Ransom agrees that writing is still the same, but technology changes how writers are examined historically.

"When I was much younger and I saw Hemingway's notebooks, it was a great relief to me," he said.

"I saw that the same thing that happened to him as a writer happened to me, with crossing things out all the time, even if his process was a greater one.

"Technology is only a tool, although it does not allow other writers to see the process of your work."

The writers' conference continues all this week, with an intense day of workshops followed by a "craft lecture" and an open reading.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 21. 2010 12:22AM
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