By Toni Pennello, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes University will hold its third Pennsylvania Writers Conference next weekend, and attendees will hear from a highly decorated poet plus a well-known book critic.
The Aug. 4-5 conference is expecting 80 to 100 participants, who will have the choice of over 24 sessions dealing with fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting and play-writing. There will also be panel discussions with authors, editors, literary agents and film producers between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. both days, with a break for lunch.
According to Dr. Bonnie Culver, the director and co-founder of the creative writing graduate program, the conference debuted in 2004 as the program was launching, and made a comeback last year.
This year’s keynote address will be delivered by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, who was also named the 2012 Poet Laureate of Mississippi and the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States from 2012 to 2014.
Another notable speaker is Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR program “Fresh Air.” Corrigan has also written book reviews for the Village Voice and the Washington Post, is a professor of English at Georgetown University, and an author. She served as a juror for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in fiction.
Corrigan will kick off the second day of the conference, returning after speaking at both the 2004 and 2016 conferences.
“They can’t keep me away,” she joked.
“I was flattered that they asked me to come back again this year. I really think the program at Wilkes is such a strong one and has produced some really terrific writers … I love meeting the students there, but I also love reconnecting with the faculty,” she said.
Corrigan’s lecture will deal with book-reviewing and its role in selling books and helping writers’ careers. She will also discuss how to break into the book-reviewing industry.
Book critics are not usually a staple at writing conferences, Corrigan said. She shared experiences where she visited conferences across the country to be told she was the first critic to ever speak.
“I think in general reviewers are oftentimes not welcomed with open arms at literary conferences and writing programs, because sometimes we’re seen as the enemy almost,” Corrigan explained. “I certainly do write negative reviews, because I think otherwise you’re just a publicist … but I think reviewing itself is an art.”
“Fresh Air” is one of NPR’s most popular programs, with a weekly listenership of around 7 million, Corrigan said.
“To have that kind of reach and then to hear from people about the reviews — it really does feel like, in some ways, that it’s a conversation that the whole country can participate in,” she said.
Along with alumni, students and others connected to the university, Culver said that about half the speakers will come as the result of an open call to creative writing directors, mostly on the East Coast.
She said there is a bigger focus this year on popular fiction sub-genres like romance, fantasy and young adult.
“We try to make it as fun and interactive as possible,” said Culver. “The best thing is it’s a great price. We priced against other conferences of this size, and we’re way low. It’s a good opportunity to come and see national-level people as well as local people.”
A two-day pass is $145, but just $75 for students
Culver explained the conference is set to expand next year.
“We’re making this our transition year to turn this into a national event,” she said. “Our goal for next year is to make it even more accessible to young writers, emerging voices who are starting out, to come and present. Oftentimes, they may not have that opportunity.”
The university’s Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing is the major sponsor of next weekend’s events.