Taos Summer Writers’ Conference Proves a Magical Time for Writers

Saturday, September 14 2013 11:52   Writing the West / Elise McHugh
In July I had the pleasure of attending the Taos Summer Writers' Conference for the second time. Late summer is a beautiful time to visit Taos, New Mexico-although there really isn't a bad time to visit. Any writer looking for a writers' conference that offers both time and a beautiful space to write should look into this conference. It is a gem, both for the literary community and for New Mexico.
sharon_and_evaThis year the conference celebrated its fifteenth year. The conference is the brainchild of Sharon Oard Warner, a professor of creative writing at the University of New Mexico. She began plans for the conference in 1998 and the first conference was held in the summer of 1999. It is held each year at the Sagebrush Inn Conference Center, a historic hotel just inside the town limits. Sharon and the assistant director, Eva Lipton-Ormand, strive to make each year even better than the last.

This conference gives people time, space, and energy to write in an atmosphere of community and friendship. It also encourages people not only to experience writing, but to experience the beauty, history, and art of Taos and, by extension, New Mexico.

The Taos Summer Writers' Conference offers both weeklong and weekend workshops. The range of workshops is wonderful-fiction, poetry, memoir, travel writing, humor writing, the writing life-this year there was even a weekend workshop on publishing. The instructors vary, but are always masters of their fields. This year the faculty numbered twenty-five and included Joy Harjo, Priscilla Long, Jonis Agee, Luci Tapahonso, Wally Lamb, and Trey Ellis, just to mention a few.

People register for either a morning workshop (9 a.m. to noon) or an afternoon workshop (2 p.m. to 5 p.m.). Workshops are broken into two larger categories: general workshops and master classes. The master classes are capped at six people and are designed for those who have a complete manuscript in revision stages. Folks interested have to apply to be accepted, and if accepted, are expected to read all of their colleagues' manuscripts prior to the start of the conference.

This is a fantastic opportunity for people looking for serious feedback before they begin sending their manuscripts out to publishers. The general workshops are capped at twelve people and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. The composition of the workshops depend upon the instructors-some focus more on generating new material, and some focus on both writing and revising in a more traditional workshop format. My suggestion: register early!

As part of the entire experience, Sharon, Eva, and their team arrange for excursions to various places around Taos. The excursions take place both in the morning and the afternoon, which means that everyone at the conference has the opportunity to participate. Each day in a caravan of cars people have the opportunity to visit different sites-Taos Pueblo, the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, the Harwood Museum of Art, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and San Francisco de Asis Mission Church. And of course, there's a small bus system operating in Taos, which has a stop at the Sagebrush Inn and will take folks to Taos Plaza and other cultural hotspots for the enormous price of fifty cents one way and a dollar roundtrip.

But Sharon and Eva have pushed to have the conference do even more for its participants. They offer opportunities to meet and talk with agents and editors, like me. And from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. each day there are roundtable discussions on a variety of topics led by people in the book business-writers, publishers, bookstore owners. For instance, Hilda Raz, our poetry series editor, and I did a roundtable on the Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series and answered questions about the series and about publishing in general.

tswc_2013Each evening there are readings. Sunday night opens with a keynote speech. This year the speech was given by Natasha Trethewey, the current United States National Poet Laureate. Her reading was breathtaking-passionate and full of energy-and set the tone for the entire conference. She set the bar high, and the faculty-who give readings each evening on the weekdays and the weekend-responded with amazing readings each night.

Of course I'd be remiss not to mention both the Moby Dickens Bookshop and the owners and staff of the Sagebrush Inn Conference Center. They are professional and friendly and make the experience even better for participants. Moby Dickens Bookshop, a wonderful local bookstore, runs a brisk business throughout the weekend and carries books by instructors and registered participants, as well as other books of interest. It's fun-and dangerous!-to be around those tables for any length of time.

I have participated in the Taos Writers' Conference both as a conference participant as an editor, setting up a schedule and meeting with potential authors throughout the week. I could wax on for a long time about the benefits of this conference, but I wouldn't manage to actually express the heart of it.

The bottom line is that Sharon Warner
's vision has grown from its original concept to become a thriving opportunity for writers seeking a creative and collegial space to write and a place to talk with professionals about publishing. Add to this she, Eva, and their team give writers from all over the country (and the world) the opportunity to experience the richness New Mexico has to offer, and you have something very special.

For more information about the Taos Summer Writers' Conference visit
www.unm.edu/~taosconf/ .


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