In 1998 Sharon Oard Warner was an assistant professor at the Creative Program at UNM, newly appointed as the program’s Director. When the English Department Chair asked her what her ideal project would be, she knew immediately: start a writers’ conference in Taos. As Sharon tells the story, she had never even been to Taos. But she knew the D. H. Lawrence Ranch was there. She knew that generations of artists and writers had been drawn by the beauty and energy of the place.
In July of 1999 the first Taos Summer Writers Conference was held at the Sagebrush Inn Conference Center, where it has been held all twelve years since. There were nine faculty members, including Pam Houston, Antonya Nelson, Robert Boswell and Jonis Agee—all of whom have returned, and were among the 2011 instructors. Sixty five participants attended. Summer Wood, now a published novelist and returning instructor, was the first DH Lawrence fellow...read more
A published novelist and the head of the University of New Mexico's creative writing program, Sharon Oard Warner (see picture on right at the D. H. Lawrence Memorial) herself is no stranger to these writerly gatherings. She has attended, as a contributing writer and as faculty, places like Bread Loaf in Vermont and the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. As founder and director of the Taos Summer Writers' Conference, Warner drew on her experiences with other such programs in developing her own. Despite her affiliations with UNM, the conference is its own entity financially. Spiritually, it transcends the walls of the university. It remains important to its founder that the essence of this gathering reaches out to "serve the writing community in New Mexico to the greatest possible degree." But as a cornerstone in this effort lies a distinct conference philosophy that attracts writers from not only all over the U.S., but Canada, Taiwan and West Africa. It begins with place.
"I want this conference to be inclusive, not exclusive," Warner explains, and there are a number of steps she, her staff, and ardent supporters of the project have taken to make this possible. Certain events, such as evening readings by instructors and a publishing panel, are open to the general public. For those who wish to attend workshops, there are opportunities for financial aid. The conference offers five merit-based scholarships, and the D.H. Lawrence Fellowship, awarded each year to an emerging writer with one book in print, is another means of assisting participants financially.
Excerpted in part from June 2001 AbqArts