Writers’ conference gives birth to new careers, friendships — and maybe a real baby

This year’s 18th annual Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference brings together writers and readers of all ages from the Lower 49 states, Alaska and the lower Kenai Peninsula. Add to that group one very pregnant writer from Tooele, Utah.

“I’m really excited,” said Phoebe J. Aubrey, who’s expecting a child on June 28. “I think if I weren’t I would chicken out.”

Aubrey is one of about 17 people from the Outside visiting Homer this weekend for the meeting of writers, poets, readers and agents held June 15-17 at Land’s End Resort. Conference Coordinator Carol Swartz said that about 15% of the attendees are from states like California, Colorado, Maryland, Hawaii and Georgia. Another 28% come from the lower peninsula, 34% from Anchorage and the rest from elsewhere in Alaska.

This year’s keynote speaker, writer and poet Diane Ackerman, will host a free public reading at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mariner Theatre. An author of 24 works of poetry and nonfiction, Ackerman wrote “A Natural History of the Senses,” and is best known for her book, “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which was made into a movie.

Other conference faculty will read at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Alice’s Champagne Palace and at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Land’s End Resort. Reading Sunday are Kazim Ali, Christian Kiefer, Martha Amore, Rosemary McGuire, Barrie Jean Borich, Elena Passarello and Erin Coughlin Hollowell. Reading Monday are Richard Chiappone, Ishmael Hope, Janet Lee Carey, Nancy Lord, Jamie Ford, Tess Taylor and BJ Hollars.

Aubrey, 23, graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She applied for a Blessing/Kagel creative writing scholarship from BYU hoping to work with a mentor in writing. She got the form by mistake for a scholarship to attend a writing conference. She’s expecting her second biological child and also has a step-daughter with her husband, Jerry Aubrey. The timing worked out between graduation and her due date.

“I had to be a little selective because of the due date,” she said. “It was really close but I couldn’t pass it up.”

She found out about the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in a Google search. Swartz said other attendees heard about it through posters, word of mouth, recommendations and an article in Poets & Writers.

“The Kachemak Bay conference really stood out,” Aubrey said. “It was a great location and had a great line-up of speakers — and it was affordable.”

Aubrey said she miscalculated on room rates, though, and didn’t realize prices went up for the summer season. Land’s End Resort helped her with a discount when she explained her situation. Swartz said Land’s End also helps out the conference in general with room donations for visiting conference faculty and other support.

Recently moved to Tooele, Aubrey said she hasn’t been able to connect with any other writers in her town. The author of two self-published, contemporary adult novels, she said she’s hoping to connect with an agent and get more established in her career.

“This is my first writers’ conference,” she said. “I think one of the most valuable parts of a conference is networking. I’m excited to go to a new place all by myself and strike up relationships.”

That’s one of the attractions of the writers’ conference, Swartz said: the community of writers it creates, something people mention on feedback forms.

“Every year people talk about the sense of community, the networking,” she said. “The accessibility to writers, major internationally know poets and essayists and novelists you can just walk up to.”

Unique to the conference is how attendees keep coming back year after year. One Ninilchik writer, Vicky Steik, has been every year but one. Another writer who came to the first conference in 2002 is coming back this year. About half of this year’s attendees have been to a previous conference, Swartz said.

The conference also isn’t just for writers, but for readers, too, she said.

“The conference strives to offer something for readers: to discuss literature and meet writers,” Swartz said.

Knowing how babies can surprise mothers and don’t always come on schedule, Aubrey said she’s contacted midwives at Homer Birth and Wellness should she go into labor in Homer.

“My first kid, I had him in our laundry room,” she said. “I like the out-of-hospital experience.”

Aubrey said she will take measures to avoid having an early birth, like not walking much and drinking lots of water. If the birth happens early, her husband is OK with attending by Skype, she said.

“It’s a dream come true,” she said of attending the writers’ conference. “I couldn’t have done it without a scholarship and people’s help.”

Swartz said the writers’ conference still has space available. People can register online through today at http://writersconference.homer.alaska.edu and on Friday at the conference. They also can call the Kachemak Bay Campus at 235-7743.

The writers’ conference is sponsored by the University of Alaska Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula College, Kachemak Bay Campus. The conference also gets in-kind or financial support from Alaska Airlines, First National Bank Alaska, Caroline Musgrove Coons Endowment, The Atwood Foundation, University of Alaska, the Homer Bookstore, the Homer News, KBBI, Usibelli Foundation, University of Alaska Anchorage, Kachemak Bay Campus-Kenai Peninsula College, as well as many individual donors.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.