The conference strives to create an environment where promising young writers can grow through one-on-one-mentoring, peer review and unstructured creative time spent on Sweet Briar’s scenic campus. In addition to daily intensive workshops for the undergraduate participants, there will be readings and craft talks by visiting writers and conference faculty members that are free and open to the public.
Guest writers include poet and memoirist Sandra Beasley, fiction writer Alexander MacLeod, and Brigid Hughes, founding editor of A Public Space and former editor of The Paris Review.
John Casteen teaches creative writing at Sweet Briar and is the conference’s founder and director. When he and his fellow organizers looked for guest artists to invite, they considered more than their bodies of work. “We chose them because of the vitality of their work, the energy they bring to the community of writers, and their willingness to engage directly with students,” he said.
Casteen and Beasley will read from their poetry at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 7 in the Boxwood Room to kick off the public events. Readings of original works also will be held at 8 p.m. Friday in the Boxwood and 7:30 Saturday evening in the Wailes Lounge. Also open to the public are craft talks by guest and faculty writers from 10:20 to noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Guest faculty members are poet Julia Kudravetz, who teaches at Lynchburg College and is associate editor of the James Dickey Review; fiction writer Aja Gabel, a University of Virginia Master of Fine Arts graduate now working on her doctorate at the University of Houston; and Leah Green, who teaches creative writing, environmental literature and environmental studies at Washington and Lee University.
Again, Casteen looked for writers with essential qualities. “These are teaching writers whose backgrounds, approaches, commitment to teaching, and innovative work make them ideal choices for their roles in the conference,” he said.
Besides Casteen, Sweet Briar’s Margaret Banister Writer-in-Residence Carrie Brown and assistant professor of English David Griffith will lead workshops in fiction and non-fiction respectively.
It was Casteen and Griffith who conceived the inaugural conference in 2009. “We were talking about how great it would be to give all of our best students access to other college’s very best students, and vice versa,” Casteen said. “The idea was to bring in all the best young writers and teachers we could find, immerse them for a weekend with a good blend of stimulation and reflective time, and see if we could teach better.”
Students are nominated for the conference by their home institutions, and the exchange of ideas and exposure to new perspectives with teachers and students from diverse programs is important to the overall experience. It’s the kind of short-term intensive residential conference that isn’t generally available to undergraduate college students, Casteen says.
“Our goal is to establish a community of writers unlike anything else you would find outside of an M.F.A. program,” says the conference website, where more information, including event details and writer biographies, can be found at http://www.sbc.edu/creative-writing/creative-writing-conference.