Although we can’t gather in person this week, we are offering an assortment of prompts and curated online content to nurture your writing and reading.

These materials are available for you to view on your own schedule for free; no registration or payment is required (though we won’t say no to a donation — see below for options).

These materials are available for you to view on your own schedule for free; no registration or payment is required (though we won’t say no to a donation — see the left-hand column for options).

Book titles link to Readers’ Books, our long-time conference bookseller. Your purchase supports this beloved community resource. Titles from this series are 15% off all week; the discount is applied automatically online, or if ordering by phone  or buying in person, mention the writers’ conference to claim it. Shipping and curbside pickup available!

Victoria ChangVictoria Chang | Future Faculty Poet – 2021

Writing Prompt: I love the self-elegy  writing prompt. Once you get past the fear of writing about yourself not being here or dying, it really is a wonderful exercise. Read Merwin’s “For the Anniversary of My Death” and Max Ritvo’s “Afternoon,” and write a self-elegy, using the poems as sparks for your imagination. A few considerations: think about the pronoun you will use (first, second, or third); are you lamenting or celebrating yourself, are you elegizing yourself or a part of yourself, is there something you’ve made in your life or broken? Someone you’ve helped? What wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been born? *Some of these questions are borrowed from Emilia Philips who has a great resource for writing exercises on her website.

Latest Work: OBIT

Reading Now: Rick Barot’s The Galleons; Kayleb Rae Candrilli’s All the Gay Saints; Kiki Petrosino: White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia

Essential Viewing: Interview with Victoria Chang,” from BackLit Talks, NYU Shanghai

Online Writings: OBIT [Music],” from; “Dear Daughters, Dear Linda,” from The Normal School blog; “Victoria Chang on the Self and Its Many Deaths”: Interview with Peter Mischler for LitHub


ZZ Packer | Fiction Faculty – 2006, 2009, 2017

Writing Prompt: “Hurt people hurt people” is a psychological truism. Write a scene in which one character’s past hurt prompts them to unwittingly hurt another.

Latest Work: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

Reading Now: James Alan McPherson’s Elbow Room

Inevitably, with any short story collection, one expects a few not-so-stellar pieces, and after having read the first three excellent stories in Elbow Room, I was prepared for the fourth to lag, but after reading it — after reading all of Elbow Room in a single night — I found myself outside, needing a strong dose of the Iowa winter air to keep myself from reeling. I’d had a similar feeling after reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, then Song of Solomon, then — heart attack — Beloved. I’d also had a similar feeling reading the famed ‘Grand Inquisitor’ passage of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, reading Halldor Laxness’s Icelandic epic Independent People, and Invisible Man, written by McPherson’s mentor Ralph Ellison. The difference with reading Elbow Room was that here was a writer whose ear was so finely tuned to the rhythms and cadences of speech in general — and transplanted black Southerners’ in particular — that I felt as though I were riding the Greyhound bus with the lot of them as each unfurled his tale. The beauty of a McPherson story lies in its dead-on characterization, keen sociological observation, high psychological drama, and earnest, folksy conviction that the art of storytelling deserves a place beside that of story writing.

Perhaps more than anything, I was ecstatic that someone finally got it right: captured the hoots and hollers of my great uncles, the superciliousness of certain “fancy” cousins, the unconscious steadfastness of aunts who love and love again despite it all. Here was someone who finally wrote black characters whose happiness came from the same fount as their misery, whose problems were real, not lifted from Hollywood scripts.

Essential Viewing: The Thousands: A Lecture,” delivered at the Radcliffe Institute.

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Even without a physical conference this year, our staff has been on the job, and we anticipate rising costs and increased need for scholarships as we move into planning for 2021 and beyond.

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A percentage of sales July 26-31 of the Writers’ Conference Blend from the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Co. will be donated to the conference.

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