Wordsmith Schedule

Wordsmith 2019 Schedule

The full Wordsmith schedule is listed below with descriptions and bios. Wordsmith registration will open August 21 at 10 a.m. for Loft members; August 22 at 10 a.m. for the general public. The conference is broken down into five tracks: Career, Community/Networking, Craft, Publishing, and Tech & Tools. Look for the track labels throughout the schedule indicated by the stars below. During each of the breakout sessions, there will be one-on-one pitch and manuscript consultations taking place. These one-on-one meetings will have an extra fee. This schedule is subject to change.

Wordsmith Tracks Graphic

Friday, November 1

PRE-CONFERENCE WORKSHOPS—TIMES VARY

These pre-conference workshops will be an extra charge and will have limited space available. Registration for the Wordsmith workshops is now open.

The Making of a Memorable Poem

When: Friday, November 1, 2–6 p.m.
Where: The Loft at Open Book (classroom)
Cost: $250
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Pre-work: Students are invited to submit one poem in advance of class that will be shared with Richard Blanco and fellow class attendees. In order to take advantage of this opportunity students must be registered and have submitted their poem by Friday, October 11. Full instructions will be provided in the registration confirmation email. Students are also invited to bring a second poem for discussion to class.

We’ve all probably written a number of poems that we consider fairly accomplished or good poems. But what is the difference between a good poem and a truly memorable one?  We will investigate that question through close readings of exemplary poems, discovering those qualities and elements that make poetry truly memorable. In that light, we will then workshop our poems, zeroing-in on transforming a merely good poem into a great, memorable one.

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Generative Nonfiction Workshop

When: Friday, November 1, 1–5 p.m.
Where: The Loft at Open Book (classroom)
Cost: $150
Level: Open to All Levels

In reviewing Hanif Addurraqib's most recent book, the Guardian wrote that he "is blessed with a keen eye for a particularly telling fact, and what seems like digression invariably turns out to make a wider point..." In this generative workshop led by Hanif, students will explore those telling facts and have the chance to generate new paths, ideas, and possibilities for their nonfiction work.

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Query Quandaries

When: Friday, November 1, 1–5 p.m.
Where: The Loft at Open Book (classroom)
Cost: $250
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Pre-work: Students are invited to submit a query letter in advance of class that will be shared with Marly Rusoff and fellow class attendees. In order to take advantage of this opportunity students must be registered and have submitted their query by Friday, October 11. Full instructions will be provided in the registration confirmation email.

Marly Rusoff has worked with dozens of authors and is one of the most respected literary agents in the business. Pitching a work is very different from writing a work, and in this workshop, students will work with Marly to explore how to unpack the core of their story and relate it in a compelling way to editors and agents.

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Writing Home with Ibi Zoboi

When: Friday, November 1, 1–5 p.m.
Where: The Loft at Open Book (classroom)
Cost: $250
Level: Open to All Levels

How do we make setting, home, cities, and countries feel like a main character in our stories? We explore what it means to write home—grounding our stories in the smells, sounds, and colors of our communities in order to bring them to life and make them breathing and speaking characters.

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Saturday, November 2

FEATURED SESSIONS—9:00–10:00 A.M.

Pick one of these three featured sessions to kickoff your Wordsmith conference. 

Finding Your Way as a Writer

As an immigrant son from a working-class family, a gay man, and a professional engineer, Blanco will discuss his unconventional path toward becoming a poet and memoirist, sharing adages, anecdotes, and advice that speak to the negotiation, lessons, and practice of his life as a writer.

What Agents Want

Marly Rusoff helped found the Loft and launch some of the biggest names in publishing as an agent. In this featured session, she will discuss her time as an agent and how to put your best foot forward when trying to get your work out in the world.

Domesticated Chance

In this session, Nami Mun will ask you to throw away your pre-conceived notions and chart a new path forward for your writing. This featured session is intended for anyone seeking ideas to foster new creative connections and pathways for their work.

Saturday, November 2

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 1—10:15–11:15 A.M.

During this breakout session, pitches will take place with Patricia Nelson, Malaga Baldi, Kirby Kim, Veronica Park, Rebecca Gradinger, Laura Usselman and consultations will take place with Laura Zats, Adam Eaglin, Margaux Weisman, Amelia Appel. These sessions require an additional registration and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Ask the Author
Wordsmith Track Publishing

Are there questions you've always wanted to ask a working author about craft, connection, publishing, process, and practice? This session is designed for you. The conversation will start out between the authors and moderator Britt Udesen, but we'll leave lots of time for audience Q&A. Come prepared with questions!

Breaking Down Barriers When You Don't Have an In
Career Track Wordsmith

Despite a lot of change, connections can be very important to publishing careers. Who you know can still sometimes trump what you write, and this puts many writers—particularly writers of color—at a major disadvantage. So how do writers who don't have those insider connections compensate? Kao Kalia Yang has built her distinguished writing career without those connections and she'll talk through her path and potential paths for up-and-coming writers who don't have an "in."

Scrivener Basics Overview
Wordsmith Track Tools

Do you have the writing software Scrivener but are overwhelmed by what it can do? Never fear! In this one-hour overview, we'll dip a beginner toe in the Scrivener pool together.

Poems of Chance
Wordsmith Track Craft

 Poets Sun Yung Shin and Heid E. Erdrich discuss the element of chance in poetry. For both these poets, finding their way to subject and form can be a highly intuitive process that relies more on chance than as it does on plans. Heid and Sun Yung will discuss how research is like a tarot deck, how speculative notions inform their work, and how mistakes of fortune are among the forces that inform their poetry. Participants will roll the dice to create their own poems of chance.

Lonely Arts
Wordsmith Track Community

Writing is such a lonely art form, so let's fix that! This speed networking session is designed to help you find potential critique partners or writing groups. You'll spend a few minutes meeting multiple fellow attendees—by the end of the session, you'll have heard about some of your fellow attendee's writing projects and maybe even find a kindred spirit to help you on the road to building your own writing community.

Saturday, November 2

WORKING LUNCH—11:30 A.M.–1 P.M.

During this working lunch in the main convention hall, tables will be setup with discussion topics. Find some fellow attendees you don't know and start a conversation.

Saturday, November 2

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 2—1:15–2:15 P.M.

During this breakout session, pitches will take place with Meg Thompson, Thao Le, Amelia Appel, Saba Sulaiman, Savannah Brooks, Sonali Chanchani and consultations will take place with Veronica Park, Alexandra Weiss, and Laura Mazer. These sessions require an additional registration and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Ask the Agent
Wordsmith Track Publishing

Are there questions you've always wanted to ask an agent about queries, craft, publishing, or just what they do all darn day? This session is designed for you. The conversation will start out between the agents and moderator Chris Jones, but we'll leave lots of time for audience Q&A. Come prepared with questions!

Public Speaking for Writers
Career Track Wordsmith

Public appearances—whether they’re classroom visits, podcasts, panel discussions or readings—are a great way for writers to share their work and knowledge and boost their profile. But how do you find these engagements, and what do you do once you’ve booked one? Learn tips for identifying and landing public speaking opportunities, developing presentations or talking points, speaking with confidence, and more.

Kickstart Your Book Project
Wordsmith Track Tools

Crowdfunding benefits your book project in two ways: raising funds and spreading your news. Learn the basics of setting up a successful Kickstarter campaign, including estimating a money goal, setting gift levels, the legalities, reaching your donors, and building interest.

Writing on Race: Expanding Our Approach to Craft and the Writing Workshop
Wordsmith Track Craft

As race and identity become more central literary concerns, we find acute critiques of how individuals from marginalized groups are portrayed. We also find critiques of white identity and white based social realities. In what ways do traditional writing rules and workshop practice fail both writers of color and white writers? As fiction writers or memoirists, what tools do we need to explore questions of identity? What, for instance, does it mean to understand race in an historical and literary context? This session will reference writers like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Hilton Als, bell hooks, Gloria Anzuldua, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Gish Jen.

Building Your Author Platform
Wordsmith Track Community

Join the founder of Wise Ink Creative Publishing, Dara Beevas, and book marketing expert Roseanne Cheng as they discuss the three essential elements to creating an author platform. In this session, attendees will learn how to establish themselves as an expert in their field, how to determine the best platforms to use for their purposes, and several strategies for making the most of their platforms with strategic advertising.

Saturday, November 2

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 3—2:30–3:30 P.M.

During this breakout session, pitches will take place with Malaga Baldi, Jin Auh, Adam Eaglin, Patricia Nelson, Stephen Barbara and consultations will take place with Laura Usselman, Savannah Brooks, Sonali Chanchani, and Hannah O'Grady. These sessions require an additional registration and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Behind the Scenes: Editor, Agent, Author
Wordsmith Track Publishing

Learn about the key players in bringing a manuscript from the author's laptop to published book. Join author Anika Fajardo (Magical Realism for Non-Believers) as she talks with her agent Thao Le (Sandra Dijkstra Literary) and editor Amanda Ramirez (Simon & Schuster) about the journey of her forthcoming middle-grade novel made from the query letter to the revising, from the contracts to the editing, and all the points in between.

Pitching Your Work
Career Track Wordsmith

The pitch—whether in writing or in-person—is an art form in and of itself. You can have the greatest manuscript in the world, but if you don't know how to boil it down, it can easily go overlooked. So what are the elements of this art form and what goes into a great pitch? We'll hear from two agents and an editor as they discuss the things they most look for in a pitch.  

Finding Your Digital Community
Wordsmith Track Community

How do you use social media authentically enough to find your people? How do you build that dreaded "platform" that agents want, before you've published any books? How do we maximize reach and connection for our writing despite the constant threat of harassment, especially as a marginalized person?    

If you're wondering the answer to any of these questions, you're not alone. In this session, we will look at ways to plug into online communities, with a particular focus on writers from marginalized communities. We will review the digital strategies of several leaders in the field, and offer resources ranging from helpful hashtags, key resources, good habits and netiquette, and more.

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Simple Editing Tricks to Enhance Your Voice
Wordsmith Track Craft

Editors, agents, and publishers talk often about how they love “voicey” books. The problem is, very few people actually know what this means, including the people who say it! This session will go into exactly what a voice is and explore why some books grab you while others leave you cold. With the goal of leaving this session with a list of actionable steps to fix this issue in your own writing, you will learn simple self-editing techniques to “voice up” a draft without needing to rewrite entire chapters.

Yoga, Meditation, and Self Care for Writers
Wordsmith Track Tools

Writing while seated for long periods of time can cause stiffness and tightness throughout our bodies. In this practice, we'll incorporate gentle movement specific to writers, focusing on shoulders, wrists, and hips. We'll guide you through a meditation to clear the mind in order to make room for creative thought. Finally, we'll end with time for questions and discussion on the topic of self care for writers. All are welcome; no yoga mat necessary. 

Saturday, November 2

NETWORKING HAPPY HOUR—3:45–5:15 P.M.

An informal networking happy hour with most of the conference participants. Take this time to meet fellow attendees and connect with visiting professionals. This is an informal gathering to talk about writing, publishing, and next steps. It is not intended for attendees to pitch their work to everyone in attendance.

Sunday, November 3

WRITING PROMPTS & COFFEE—9–9:45 A.M.

Writing Prompts and Coffee

Join us for coffee, pastries and writing prompts with children’s book author Stephanie Watson as we kick off day 2 of Wordsmith. A fun interactive session for all genres to get your juices flowing.

Sunday, November 3

KEYNOTE—10–11 A.M.

Keynote with Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller's The Song for Achilles and Circe have both won major awards and have spent weeks on bestseller lists. Hear from this master of craft as she discusses her work, the importance of storytelling, and why we write in the first place. 

Sunday, November 3

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 4—11:15 A.M.–12:15 P.M.

During this breakout session, pitches will take place with Jin Auh, Amelia Appel, Veronica Park, Kiana Nguyen, Alexandra Weiss and consultations will take place with Stephen Barbara, Meg Thompson, Thao Le, and Amanda Ramirez. These sessions require an additional registration and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Ask the Editor
Wordsmith Track Publishing

What is the role of the editor? What kinds of things do they look for and what is the best way to approach the editor/author relationship? In this session, moderated by Kathryn Savage, three editors will share their perspectives. There will be lots of time for audience Q&A, so come prepared with questions!

Building a Strong Platform for Your Nonfiction Work
Career Track Wordsmith

Without an author platform, it is much harder to get the attention of a nonfiction publisher. And yet, constructing a platform to promote your writing requires a totally different skillset and mindset than the writing itself. This session will start with the basics and will offer step-by-step instructions for building an author platform. No, it is not just about how many followers you have on social media, although the session will touch on social media and its role in author platforms. Ultimately, your author platform is what will allow you to effectively market your nonfiction work and get the attention of publishers. You will leave this session with a strong understanding of what an author platform is and with the confidence to begin the hard work of building one for yourself.

Spin, Style, Soar: A Digital Brand Cheat Sheet
Wordsmith Track Tools

Trying to clarify your profile and increase your visibility as a writer? If you're not a digital influencer, it's time to become one! Learn how to connect with different media outlets (print and digital); the pros and cons of trending online channels; and insightful tools for how to start building those crucial connections on a local and national level by using effective self-promotion via social media, other web-based platforms and direct interactions in your community.

In Medias Res: Hook a Reader, Tell a Story
Wordsmith Track Craft

A common piece of writing advice—so ubiquitous it has become cliché—is to begin at the very last moment before resolution, when characters are dealing with an extreme, though obscured, crisis (death, fire, gunshot) and then move back in time to tell the story that leads to that moment. How can this technique hook the reader? How can it intensify and complicate both plot and characters? And when is it just a bad gimmick, standing in for actual suspense in the forward-momentum of the narrative? This session will explore when to use the technique as well as how to use it, and will include exercises, tips, and sample texts.

#OwnVoices and Writing Outside Your Experience
Wordsmith Track Community

The #OwnVoices movement is an exciting development in publishing--one in which more writers from marginalized identity groups are starting to get the opportunity to tell their own stories. And as they do, more readers are finding books that provide mirrors of their own experiences, and books that open windows into the rich and varied experiences of others. At the same time, writers who are writing outside their own experience are facing more and different kinds of criticism. But all writing is a combination of insider and outsider authorship--we are always writing ourselves and also writing beyond ourselves. No one can give you permission to write the book you want to write, but we can talk about how authentic characters and worlds are built, and the politics of representation. We can talk about connection and empathy; about due diligence, research, and literary citizenship. Come with questions and leave with better questions about how to challenge yourself and your writing to do the best work it can--on the page and in the world.

Sunday, November 3

LUNCH—12:30–1:30 P.M.

Sunday, November 3

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 5—1:45–2:45 P.M.

During this breakout session, pitches will take place with Laura Zats, Sonali Chanchani, Savannah Brooks, Stephen Barbara, Laura Usselman, Adam Eaglin, and Kirby Kim and consultations will take place with Saba Sulaiman, Rebecca Gradinger, and Jin Auh. These sessions require an additional registration and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Navigating Publishing as a Marginalized Writer
Wordsmith Track Publishing

How does one get published? How do you find an agent? What do agents do? What's it like to work with an editor? How does the production process progress, and what should you expect from a publisher? What about book tours, talks, workshops, and school visits? And if you come from a historically marginalized community, what additional barriers and factors can you expect throughout your publishing journey? Shannon Gibney and Diane Wilson, veteran writers with multiple published books in various genres, will tackle all this and more at this session.

Overcoming Application Anxiety
Career Track Wordsmith

You're ready for the grant/residency/conference/MFA program of your dreams. The only thing standing between you and your personal Valhalla is the application! This session will cover selecting a writing sample, crafting an artist's statement/project proposal, selecting references, and researching residencies/conferences as well as giving behavior of foundations.

Digital Storytelling
Wordsmith Track Tools

Digital storytelling—the single or combined use of text, images, video, audio, social media (like tweets), or interactive elements (like maps)—is a growing and powerful way to tell stories. This session will focus on podcasting, but will discuss other aspects of digital narrative to help you explore whether these tools are right for you. 

Beginnings: First Lines, Chapters, Pages
Wordsmith Track Craft

In prose, there is common advice that your first words, pages, and chapters need to grab a reader's attention and never let go. Agents and editors look at first chapters when evaluating a potential fit. Readers open to first pages to sample an unknown author. But how do you create a compelling start without getting too gimmicky or forced? Award-winning novelist Peter Geye will lead this discussion with Hannah O'Grady and Amelia Appel. They'll explain the groundwork that beginnings need to provide and discuss advice for finding your best beginning.

All Conference Read: Téa Obreht's Inland
Wordsmith Track Community

All conference attendees are encouraged to read Téa Obreht's new novel Inland—and then come to this session to hear the author discuss the book! With Allison Wyss as moderator, we'll explore some of the key craft decisions, revisions, processes, and challenges that went into writing Inland. Come prepared with your own ideas and questions. There will be plenty of time to hear from this master of craft!

Sunday, November 3

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 6—3–4 P.M.

During this breakout session, pitches will take place with Saba Sulaiman, Meg Thompson, Alexandra Weiss, Thao Le and consultations will take place with Malaga Baldi and Patricia Nelson. These sessions require an additional registration and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Best Practices for Submitting to Journals
Wordsmith Track Publishing

Journals are an crucial part of the literary ecosystem, but the volume of publications can be daunting when trying to decide where and how to submit your work. What are some of the best ways to approach this world? In this session, Crystal Spring Gibbins (Split Rock Review) and Chris Fink (Beloit Fiction Journal) will join moderator Kathryn Savage for a conversation around how to find the right home for your work.

Next Steps: Should I MFA?
Career Track Wordsmith

Acclaimed poet/professor/librettist Douglas Kearney, who arrived at the University of Minnesota's MFA Program last year, discusses his journey from the perspective of a student then professor at CalArts with poet/U MFA '16 graduate Su Hwang. They will talk candidly about the pros and cons of different types of MFA programs versus community-based literary organizations, challenges of being a writer of color in academia, and what necessitates certain choices as one navigates a potential career in writing. 

Building an Author Website
Wordsmith Track Tools

Every author needs a website—it is the centerpiece of promoting and selling your work. But how can the technically challenged start to take on this task? It's actually fairly simple these days and Luke Finsaas will help show you the way, both from a content and tech perspective.

Writing About Family in Memoir
Wordsmith Track Craft

Writing memoir is different from writing fiction in that if a reader doesn’t like your main character, you don’t take it personally. When you write memoir, you are a character in the story for the reader. And they judge you. And your life. When the other main characters in your story include family members, publishing affects them, too, and can alter family dynamics. Jill Swenson will post questions to panelists Laurie Hertzel, Laura Jean Baker, and Christie Tate to generate a conversation on how writing about family in memoir is complicated and strategies for handling these issues personally and professionally.

Self-Promotion for Wallflowers
Wordsmith Track Community

A writer needs to be able to wear two hats: the creative hat and the business hat. This session will focus on helping writers build networking and self-promotional skills. This session is ideal for anyone who struggles with the idea of “putting themselves out there” (i.e. promoting their creative work).

Sunday, November 3

ENDNOTE AND EVALS—4:15–5:15 P.M.

Take some time to process and think about next steps. We'll also ask you to help us out by completing your conference evaluations during this session.

You are a Writer and You Need to Keep Writing

Author of three novels and the forthcoming handbook Before and After the Book Deal, Courtney Maum, will close out the weekend by sharing the four most important things she has learned along her publication journey. From finishing a manuscript to finding—or not finding—the right agent for your work to dealing with feelings of envy and inadequacy once the book comes out, Courtney will help close Wordsmith and explain why stamina is an essential writing tool.

Monday, November 4

POST-CONFERENCE WORKSHOP—Noon–4 P.M.

This post-conference workshop will be an extra charge and will have limited space available. More details will be available before registration opens.

Fiction Workshop

When: Monday, November 4, noon–4 p.m.
Where: The Loft at Open Book (classroom)
Cost: $250
Level: Open to all
Pre-work: Students are invited to submit five pages of work in advance of class that will be shared with Téa Obreht and fellow class attendees. In order to take advantage of this opportunity students must be registered and have submitted their pages by Friday, October 11. Full instructions will be provided in the registration confirmation email.

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