Community, creativity catalysts of conference

Creative writing is a solitary and intense endeavor, so it is important for writers to find kindred spirits who can understand, support and inspire them. Writers find their creative community at gatherings such as the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, running June 12-16 at Land’s End Resort.

This is the 14th year for the conference, which has become a nationally recognized gathering for writers at all stages of their careers. This year’s keynote speaker will be Andre Dubus III, the award-winning author of six books. The best known so far is the novel “House of Sand and Fog,” which was a New York Times best seller, a finalist for a National Book Award and made into a critically acclaimed film.

From his home in Massachusetts, Dubus said he enjoys writers’ conferences and looks forward to his first trip to Alaska.

He and Carol Swartz, campus director at the Kenai Peninsula College Kachemak Bay Campus, which puts on the annual event, both cited community as the primary reason that people come to the writers’ conference. For Alaska writers, the conference is a way to build connections with authors and readers and to share the challenges of the writing life.

“They are re-energized,” Swartz said. “It is definitely a way of celebrating the written word.”

Dubus agreed that people come to writers’ conferences seeking like-minded people dedicated to what he called “this weird thing” — the compulsion to put words on paper and share stories.

He teaches writing full time at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and attends about 50-100 writing conferences or meetings a year, but still manages to write almost every day. At present he is three years into his next novel, circulating a screenplay, editing a literary anthology and writing commissioned essays, while his novel “The Garden of Last Days” is being made into a film.

Dubus grew up in a mix of hardscrabble and intellectual environments, described in his 2011 memoir, “Townie,” picked as a New York Times editors’ choice book. The many awards for his work include a Guggenheim Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes.

He credits self-discipline and a compulsion to write for his productivity. “I get my work done,” he said. “Persistence — it’s something you can’t teach.”

Despite his busy schedule, he said that he relishes writers’ conferences and feels that he gets more from them than he puts out. Teaching is a good way to learn, writers tend to be good people and talking about art feeds the passion for writing. 

“In other words, it’s fun,” he said.

During the conference, Dubus will give a keynote address titled “Writing and Human Creativity,” teach a workshop called “Dreaming Our Way Back” and participate in a question-and-answer session during one of the luncheons. On Saturday, June 13, he will give a public reading.

Dubus cautioned that conference participants should not expect visiting writers to praise the limited writing samples or anoint them as geniuses. 

Instead, they should leave their egos and bring to the conference faith, nerve, curiosity and their “whole self.” The conference should be a safe place for people to experiment and share ideas, including sensitive things from their own lives.

Participants will find opportunities to grow as writers, commune with others and  glean useful lessons about the objective tools of wordsmithing. The experience may inspire them to get back to work. But they will need to wrestle on their own with subject matter and the soul of their creativity. The conference should leave writers with more questions than answers, he said.

“There are no answers here,” he warned.

The conference offers registered attendees an array of workshops, panel discussions and presentations to hone their craft and learn about current options in the turbulent publishing landscape. The college brings in top writers from Alaska and the nation to share their writing, inspirations and expertise. Literary agent Andy Ross, book editor Judy Sternlight and University of Alaska Press Acquisitions Editor James Engelhardt will offer feedback. For details, see sidebar, page 9, or the conference website,

It also provides opportunities to network informally with other writers. Swartz said that previous participants praised the conference for the unique accessibility and informality. The event has gained a national reputation for excellence. “It’s definitely known,” she said.

Diverse people from teens to senior citizens at all career stages can discuss writing with each other. 

The numbers back that up. About 120-150 people usually attend, and nearly half of those are returning participants, she reported. The college’s records show that only about a fifth of the registrants are from Homer, with most people coming from the Anchorage area and other parts of Alaska. About one in eight is from another state. Some come to Alaska specifically for the conference, Swartz said.

Even people not signed up for the conference can benefit. The event’s organizers and sponsors put on a series of authors’ readings open to the public for free. In addition to hearing excellent contemporary literature in the writers’ own voices, the readings offer chances to meet writers, purchase their books and obtain autographs.

The last night’s reading includes a silent auction, in which the public can bid for donated items on bookish and literary themes; the proceeds benefit a scholarship fund the college set up to allow writers with limited funds to register for the writers’ conference in future years.



Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference

Conference events requiring registration

4 p.m., Friday, June 12 – Land’s End Resort hotel lobby:
Conference registration and check-in begins.

7 p.m., Friday, June 12 – Land’s End Resort, Quarterdeck room:
Opening dinner, introductions, welcoming remarks and keynote address “Writing and Human Creativity” by Andre Dubus III.

8:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., Saturday through Monday, June 13-15; and 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 16 – Land’s End Resort, various rooms:
Workshops, panel discussions, “open mic” for participant readings, and evening receptions. Food is provided.

5:15 to 6:15 p.m., Saturday-Monday, June 13-15;  9:45-10:45 a.m., Sunday, June 14; and 7:30-8:30 a.m., Monday, June 15 – Land’s End Resort, Harbor Room:
Writing circle (informal hour for individual writing).

8:15-10 a.m., Sunday, June 14: Kachemak Bay Boat Cruise (extra fee). Continental breakfast included.

8:30-9:30 a.m., Sunday, June 14 – Land’s End Resort, Harbor Room:
Kundalini yoga.

4 p.m.,Tuesday, June 16 to 4 p.m., Thursday, June 18 – Tutka Bay Lodge:
Post-conference workshop (extra fee), “Finding the Geography of Our Work” with Afaa Michael Weaver. Cabin lodgings, meals and boat transportation from the Homer Boat Harbor to the lodge included.

Free events open
to the public

8 p.m., Saturday, June 13 – Homer High School Mariner Theatre:
Reading by Andre Dubus III. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., book signing to follow the reading in the commons.

7:30 p.m., Sunday, June 14 – Alice’s Champagne Palace Readings by conference faculty – featured writers are Frank Soos, Peter Trachtenberg, Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Adrianne Harun, Nancy Lord, Afaa Weaver, Joy Castro, Simmons Buntin and Justin Herrmann. Book signings will follow.

7 p.m., Monday, June 15 – Land’s End Resort, Quarterdeck: Silent auction. Bid on literary and book related items to benefit scholarships for the conference.

7:30 p.m., Monday, June 15 – Land’s End Resort, Quarterdeck: Readings by conference faculty – featured writers are John Larison, Alice Friman, Eva Saulitis, Emily Jenkins, Peggy Shumaker, Rich Chiappone, Kim Heacox and Jeremy Pataky. Book signings will follow.

For more information, schedule details or to register for the conference, visit the Kachemak Bay Campus (533 E. Pioneer Avenue in Homer) during regular business hours or go to the website: Registration will be open through June 11.