The Many Faces of Wordsmith: a Study in Flexibility

Wordsmith 2022 Networking

Wordsmith 2022 wrapped up on Sunday, October 2. As I’ve reflected on the event over the intervening weeks, I realize how much this conference reflects our larger need for community that not only endures during a pandemic but thrives.

Although I had been aware of the Loft since I was a Minneapolis high schooler in the 1980s, I wasn’t actively engaged as a writer until 2018. That year, I had won a novella contest and was eager to work on my first novel.  I participated in an event that spring called a Pitch Conference, which was a precursor to the Wordsmith events. I loved the cozy environment at Open Book on Washington Avenue, and I was dazzled to meet actual working professionals in the publishing industry.

In 2019, the Loft invested in bigger events, and I was ready to embrace it all. Wordplay, a spring book conference for readers as well as writers, featured the likes of Steven King, John Grisham, and Amy Tan. The event featured both indoor and outdoor venues—spreading from the empty lots behind Open Book to Guthrie Theater stages. The weather could not have been more perfect, and the crisp spring sunshine reflected back in every attendee. We celebrated books and a shared love of the written word. 

Wordsmith 2019, which was billed as an event for writers, took place that fall at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center, a much larger venue. Over 200 aspiring writers came together to learn about craft, the writer’s journey, and the business of publishing. And of course, there were agent pitches and consultations.

Everyone was eager to learn, ready to absorb new knowledge. Lunch sessions were lively exchanges about the business, the tools, the stories. It seemed like every session went over time because of all the audience questions. No one went home without having made a valuable new connection or learned something important.

And then, 2020.

It was impossible to imagine in March of that year that we were entering a new way of being together, that sports teams would play entire seasons in empty stadiums, or that children would be distance-learning for the better part of two years. Surely everything would re-open in a few weeks, maybe a month or two at most, right? Right?

It didn’t take long for the Loft to announce a fully remote Wordsmith 2020. I was skeptical that it would be necessary but determined to support the Loft.

By the time September rolled around, I was so grateful to have a remote Wordsmith to attend.  The sessions felt personal, and the unmet need to connect traveled across the video feeds from session leaders who joined us from New York, California, and everywhere in between. It was a breath of possibility, a whisper that we would find our way out of the quarantines and isolation.

When the Loft announced that Wordsmith 2022 would be in-person for the first time since 2019, I signed up as soon as the registration page went live. I carefully selected exactly one agent for a pitch session, read the featured book, O Beautiful by Jung Yun, and poured over the featured authors and editors.

This year’s Wordsmith was back at Open Book, back to the cozy and familiar. Surrounded by exposed brick, original timbers, and book art, about 100 attendees gathered to share ideas, compare notes, and hear from the experts—who were all generously accessible and supportive. The only thing missing was the coffee shop on the main floor, but that’s returning in a few months.

Just as with every writing event, we were encouraged to get to know our fellow attendees, a task that can be challenging for many. At the opening reception, I had the good fortune of joining a table of women who were practicing their agent pitches. Everyone was encouraging and upbeat; they provided me valuable feedback that I used later in the weekend.  

More important than feedback on my pitch, however, was that the smaller event gave me the chance to get to know my fellow attendees better. At larger events, it’s common to have an interesting lunch conversation with someone, but then never cross paths again. Here, we were able to converse throughout the weekend, find out how each other’s pitches and consultations went, and yes, even connect via social media so we can stay connected post-event.

Each Loft event has given me something I needed, when I needed it. It’s inspiring to be part of an organization that can apply its imagination to delivering events that uplift writers in ways that adapt to the world, even as the world changes unexpectedly.