Writers' Conference Bookended by Creativity, Practicality

Jun 18, 2016

Literary agent Miriam Altshuler counsels authors on the process to get their book published at the 15th annual Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference held June 10 to 14 at Land's End in Homer.
Credit Jenny Neyman

The 15th annual Kachemak Bay Writers Conference, held in Homer this past weekend, offered something for everyone, on any end of the writing spectrum.

“I’m going to read you, appropriate to the place, a little Homer, in the ancient Greek,” said Dan Beachy-Quick, a Guggenheim Fellow and creative writing instructor at Colorado State University.

Homer is certainly fitting subject matter for a poetry workshop in the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, held June 10 to 14 at Land’s End Resort in Homer.

But the conference isn’t just about reading, whether new work — or, in this case, very old material. There is some of that, with sharing sessions for participants and public readings by the big-name workshop faculty. Mostly, though, it’s about creating — facilitating the inspiration for writing, and focusing the perspiration required to share it with the world.

Reading the work of Homer was an exercise in the music of words — using rhyme, meter, alliteration, repetition and all the other tools of poetry to create meaning beyond literal definitions.

Beachy-Quick, had his participants freewrite based only on the sounds of words. Adam Mackie, of Anchorage, gave his Homer in Homer a try.

“You better put that in a freaking poem,” Beachy-Quick said.

From the creative end of the spectrum to the practical, literary agent Miriam Altshuler counseled authors on the process to get their book published. 

“It’s an art — and it’s a wonderful art — but publishing is a business, and so we want to know you’re in it, and you understand how to present yourself in this world,” Altshuler said.

Don’t be discouraged as an emerging author trying to get your first work published — everybody starts somewhere. But do put your best, professional foot forward, and be serious about your work.

“List if you’ve been to writers conferences and MFA programs. That does tell an agent you’re serious about things, that you’re really interested. So coming to these conferences can make a difference,” Altshuler said.

In a memoir-writing session next door, the focus was finding universal themes in personal experience. One of the exercise prompts was to think about the concept of work formed as a kid from watching adults.

Scott Banks, of Anchorage, gave that one a try.

Banks has been coming to the writers’ conference for seven years. The keynote speakers offer a rare opportunity for Alaska writers to meet nationally known authors, including Amy Tan, Billy Collins and, this year, Pulitzer Prize-winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey.

Banks also keeps coming back for the community aspect of the conference. Writing is a solitary experience, and it helps to connect — or commiserate — with others who share the same affliction.

“Most the people here are drawn to it and compelled to it. It almost feels like it’s a little bit out of our control not to write, and a lot of people here understand that sentiment,” Banks said.

He recommends the conference to anyone with that itch to write.

“It’s a really welcoming community. And it doesn’t really matter your talent level or skill level. You’re never forced to say anything or reveal any of your writing if you don’t want to do that. If you even have a slight interest or even a passionate you want to explore, this might be a good place to start,” Banks said.

Beth Pope, from Hope, puts herself in that camp. Her husband, Doug, is the writer, she says, doing the master of fine arts program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She does gardening, yoga and whatever else interests her in retirement. But they have friends in Homer, so she decided to join her husband at the conference.

“I don’t think of myself as a writer. It was more just to see if there was anything here for me, because we all have things we want to say,” Pope said.

Beachy-Quick’s session on Music and Meaning caught her ear, and her imagination.

“How you can go much, much, much deeper with language than just the words and how you put them together, but with sounds and rhythm and cadence,” Pope said.

Maybe she’s got a bit of a poet in her, after all. Beachy-Quick would argue that we all do.

“Time isn’t the only condition by which we have to live our lives. Why do you go back to read a poem? Because, for a brief little while, you don’t have to die,” Beachy-Quick said.

Anyone wanting to enrich their own inner poet — or novelist, essayist, memoirist, graphic novelist or any other writer-ist, can mark their calendars for June for the next Kachemak Bay Campus Writers Conference.