Creative Writing Conference includes U.S. Poet Laureate, NPR host

| March 20, 2015

Charles Wright. Photo by Holly Wright.

U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Wright will spearhead the 2015 Creative Writing Conference at Sweet Briar College with a reading at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 26, in the Boxwood Room at the Conference Center. The conference, which runs March 26-29, also features National Public Radio’s Lulu Miller, who co-hosts the new series “Invisibilia,” as well as poet Dexter Booth and fiction writer Aubrey Hirsch.

All readings are free and open to the public.

Creative Writing Conference founder and director John Casteen, who teaches poetry at Sweet Briar, says he feels fortunate Wright agreed to participate in the conference.

“His poems have meant so much to me and many other former students over the years,” Casteen said. “Charles is a major part of the genetics of my teaching at Sweet Briar; he always looked for ways to help any student sound more like himself or herself, rather than offering advice that would incline a poem in a more Charles-like direction. He was always able to meet a student’s poems where they were.”

Casteen admires not just the teacher in Wright, but also the poet and philosopher.

“I can’t think of any living poet who better encompasses Charles’ concerns: as he says, ‘language, landscape and the idea of God.’ His poems are beautiful, and he’s a kind, generous, thoughtful reader,” he said. “Our students, conference participants and other audience members will find his reading among the most memorable the College has hosted in my time here.”

Lulu Miller

Another reading likely to rank among the conference’s most unforgettable is Miller’s.

While known for her on-air work for NPR and Radiolab, Casteen notes that she’s also “a tireless and inventive writer of both fiction and nonfiction,” adding he “can’t think of another writer quite like her.

“She writes stories that are slightly surreal and fantastic — animals that experience human emotions recur in her work, as do people who seem a little dented,” Casteen said. “Lulu’s approach to writing combines her fascinations with psychology, science generally, auditory experience and reportage.”

The impressive lineup seems fitting — albeit coincidental — considering this will be the last time the event is hosted by Sweet Briar. The College announced last week that it is closing in August.

But until then, business continues (almost) as usual: there are classes to be taught, papers to be graded, and a conference to be held. The latter will draw students from all over the country, as it has every year.

An alumnus of the very first Creative Writing Conference in 2009, Booth — then a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University — is returning this year as a featured presenter. His first collection of poetry, “Scratching the Ghost,” won the 2012 Cave Canem Prize. Booth wrote most of the poems as a student in the M.F.A. program at Arizona State.

Dexter Booth

“It’s a real honor to invite an alumnus back as a visiting writer,” Casteen said.

“Dexter will join [fiction writers] Anna Kovatcheva and Sarah Crossland, alums who return to teach on this year’s conference faculty, as we celebrate a rich tradition of excellence in the literary arts.”

In addition to Kovatcheva, Crossland and Casteen himself, this year’s faculty also includes nonfiction writer Nell Boeschenstein, a visiting assistant professor at Sweet Briar; fiction writer Jeff Martin, who also teaches at Sweet Briar; as well as poet Dave Lucas and fiction writer Michael Croley. All of them will lead workshops and present their own work at different times during the conference.

The fourth featured presenter on the roster is fiction writer Aubrey Hirsch, who teaches creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

Aubrey Hirsch

“Aubrey Hirsch’s stories are about conflicted love — love we recognize not from the clichés about that emotion, but that we recognize from honest, contradictory, ambiguous, complicated real life,” Casteen said. “Her characters may appear irrational, obsessive and inclined to magical thinking — but they come across as all the more real for it.”

Sweet Briar’s annual Creative Writing Conference is an environment where young writers can grow through one-on-one mentoring, peer-review and access to the inspiring beauty of Sweet Briar’s 3,250-acre campus. The conference connects undergraduate writers from colleges and universities all over the country, each chosen by faculty nominators. For more information, visit or email John Casteen at [email protected].


2015 Creative Writing Conference schedule of public events:

Thursday, March 26

8 p.m.
Charles Wright, Unites States Poet Laureate
Boxwood Room, Conference Center

Friday, March 27

10-11 a.m.
Reading and Craft Talk — Anna Kovatcheva
Wailes Lounge, Conference Center

11 a.m.-noon
Reading and Craft Talk — Sarah Crossland
Wailes Lounge, Conference Center

7:30 p.m.
Dexter Booth (poetry), Jeff Martin (fiction) and Nell Boeschenstein (nonfiction)
Boxwood Room, Conference Center

Saturday, March 28

10-11 a.m.
Reading and Craft Talk — Mike Croley
Wailes Lounge, Conference Center

11 a.m.-noon
Reading and Craft Talk — Dave Lucas
Wailes Lounge, Conference Center

8 p.m.
Lulu Miller (nonfiction) and Aubrey Hirsch (fiction)
Boxwood Room, Conference Center

9 p.m.
Panel: The Writing Life (Conference and Visiting Faculty and Guests)
Boxwood Room, Conference Center

Sunday, March 29

10-11 a.m.
Craft Talk — Lulu Miller
Wailes Lounge, Conference Center

11 a.m.-noon
Craft Talk — Aubrey Hirsch
Wailes Lounge, Conference Center

Janika Carey


Category: Creative Writing Conference