Campus News - September 4, 2001

Writers find inspiration in Taos
UNM summer conference doubles attendance

By Laurie Mellas-Ramirez

Place is where stories are painted. For writers, it’s creativity’s canvas.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for three years,” said Whitney Woodward, attendee of the third annual UNM Taos Summer Writers’ Conference in July. “I think as writers we are drawn to the mystique of the area.”

Woodward, who recently earned a master’s in English from UNM, took part in a five-day workshop “Advanced Novel” taught by Joseph Skibell author of “A Blessing on the Moon.” Workshops in fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, travel writing, publishing and historical fiction were offered to quench writers thirst for inspiration.

Author readings and a publishing panel broadened the learning experience for participants and were also open to the public. John Randall of the UNM Bookstore and Michaela Seidel, Ph.D. student in American Studies, staffed a book table.

The conference is self-supporting and with the addition of weekend workshops, attendance has doubled to 130 participants.

“This year, participants came from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska and we had several participants from Canada as well,” said Sharon Oard Warner, conference founder, coordinator and director of Creative Writing in the UNM English Department.

“I am happy to report that more people are coming to the conference from UNM.  Bob Gassaway, associate professor in Communication and Journalism, attended both the weekend and the weeklong workshops,” she added. “We also offer internships for graduate students.”

“Sharon is the conference,” said Leo Love, a project manager for software development in Phoenix, AZ, who attended the conference all three years.

“She is the best organizer that I have run into in this arena. Her standards are so high. She brings in not just big names, but good teachers,” he said.

Love was awarded a 2001 Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. He credits his summer 2000 weeklong workshop with Laurie Kutchins for giving him a creative boost and the courage to submit his work. Love is so impressed with the conference he has become a major donor.

The conference, which takes place at the historic Sagebrush Inn in Taos, offers four merit-based scholarships and a D. H. Lawrence Fellowship for emerging writers.

Faculty this year included noted authors Jonis Agee, Bruce Bond, Pam Houston, Patricia Clark Smith and Marly Swick.
The publishing panel, new this year, featured a seasoned agent from New York-based literary agency Witherspoon Associates and the assistant editor from publishing firm Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Pat Mora, author of family memoir “House of Houses,” taught family stories. Mora’s student Judy Thigpen of Oakland, CA, had the makings of one in Taos. Thigpen attended the conference with sister Amy of Boulder, CO, and their father Robert Thigpen of Ruidoso, NM. “My daughters and I thought it was wonderful. We didn’t want to leave,” Thigpen said. “We thought it was much better than other vacations when you concentrate on leisure.  In Taos, we worked, but we enjoyed it. We read and critiqued each other’s writing, a really great way to enjoy each other and even to get to know each other better.”

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