An exuberant mood ruled the 14th Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, held June 12-16 in Homer. The public readings crackled with enthusiasm. The radiant weather didn’t hurt, either.
This year 127 attendees shared the power of the written and spoken word, and the inspiring camaraderie of those who write such words.
The keynote speaker was Andre Dubus III, whose work has topped the “New York Times” best sellers list and inspired films. His charm and public speaking skills matched his literary talent and wowed the listeners. At the end of his public reading Saturday night in the Homer High School Mariner Theatre, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
Dubus combined gravity and humor while talking about painful topics. He read a story about a failing romance from his most recent book, the short-story collection “Dirty Love,” and then an essay about the emotional trajectory of his own life. He spoke frankly about incidents from his dysfunctional youth and how writing redirected him.
At age 22, he sat down to write out a scene blooming in his mind. He told the Homer audience how that writing felt like a euphoric high and made time stand still. He realized then that he had to write, and doing so dissipated the anger and aggression that had poisoned his life. He said, “I stopped hating people. I started hating actions.”
Dubus described his current life as full of “sweetness” — living in a house he built and devoting himself to his wife, children and writing.
He urged writers to unleash their imaginations rather than trying to control the story-telling process. That process is more like dreaming than calculated planning. Authentic curiosity is the spark needed to bring writing to life. Writers must be willing to accept inspirations that come to them and also be willing to fail. To create vibrant characters, authors must have the empathy to ask them, “What is it really like to be you?”
Afterward, the real work begins with rewriting, he said.
Following Dubus’s presentation, the writers’ conference provided what Carol Swartz, conference chair and director of the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College, called “an extravaganza of literary readings.”
In addition to his public reading at the Mariner Theatre, there were two more evenings of free readings by other conference faculty. Seventeen writers presented a diverse mix of poems, essays, short stories and book excerpts (fiction and nonfiction) at Alice’s Champagne Palace on Sunday and at Land’s End Resort on Monday evening. The crowds showed their appreciation with raucous applause and cheers.
The annual writers’ conference is organized by the Kachemak Bay Campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage and held at Land’s End Resort. It would not be possible, Swartz stressed, without the campus staff, volunteers on the planning committee and an array of generous benefactors, patrons, contributors and supporters. She also made a point of thanking the adventurous writers from far off places who respond to what she called “the strange email from Alaska.”
Frank Soos, the new Alaska State Writer Laureate, gave the final talk of the conference, pondering both irony and Alaska. “You’ve got to love this place — it’s crazy,” he said.
The gathering ended with Swartz’s announcement of the headliner for the next conference, slated to begin June 10, 2016. The keynote speaker will be Natasha Trethewey from Mississippi, the current U.S. Poet Laureate. That will be the next and 15th installment in the ongoing saga of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference.
“It makes our big state smaller … sharing the written word in this setting.”
– Carol Swartz
regarding the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference
“You can’t force it.”
– Keynote speaker
Andre Dubus III about inspiration
“Art is transferring feeling from one heart to another.”
– A quote from Leo Tolstoy
that Andre Dubus likes to share with writers
“He talked about the writing life in a way that every writer needs to hear.”
– Frank Soos talking about what Andre Dubus presented
“When you are wonderstruck, there is no cognition.”
– Frank Soos talking about intense experiences
“I’ll buy it right now!”
– Unidentified fan calling out to writer Joy Castro from the back of Alice’s Champagne Palace when Castro announced she has a new book coming out