What do you look for in a writer’s conference? Workshops, feedback, panel discussions, agent-editor talks? That’s what I usually look for. But not this year. As a writing instructor, I wanted the immersive experience and sense of community I found while studying for an MFA at Fairfield University here in Connecticut. I’m pleased to say I found it.
As a writer, an educator and an advocate of lifelong learning for diverse writers, I found myself longing for a summer writing experience that included three key components: pedagogy, craft and community. And I wanted a certain level of experience in those elements. What I found was the Postgraduate Writers’ Conference (PWC) at Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA).
When you’re looking for a writer’s conference, you often get a lot of advance hype that isn’t fully realized in the actual event. That wasn’t true here. Described as a “haven for serious, emerging practitioners seeking to connect, recharge, and lift their process and craft to new levels,” the PWC at VCFA was exactly that.
I have to admit I hadn’t heard of the conference before this year. One reason is that over the past eight years I’ve been involved in planning the Ridgefield Writer’s Conference. Since the Ridgefield conference ended its run last year, this year I was free to find an event that offered the same core elements. I started the search in May.
While looking through the Poets & Writers Magazine classifieds, I found a listing for the PWC at VCFA. While the August 9 through 14 timeframe worked with my summer teaching schedule, what drew me most was the conference model description of small workshops of five or six writers led by a faculty member. I recognized the format because it was the same as the MFA at Fairfield and the Ridgefield conference. But the PWC didn’t stop there.
Besides five days of workshops, each writer had an individual instructor consult. And there were faculty and participant readings, craft talks, generative writing sessions and social events. The PWC was so community-oriented, the fact that it was held remotely didn’t detract from the event. For me, it was a plus because it enabled me to attend the conference while working on projects here at home. The other benefit of a virtual event was that the writers and instructors came from across the country.
The one aspect of most writing events that wasn’t part of the VT conference were agent, editor and publisher panels. Honestly, I didn’t miss them. I already keep up with this aspect of the writing life and cover it in my own instruction so it was a breath of fresh air not to have to focus on the industry side of writing for a change.
Another affirming differentiator of the PWC was its focus on writers with graduate degrees. It was a significant benefit to be in workshop with experienced writers who respect each other and offer high-level critique. A further positive was that the conference instructors are both gifted writers and compelling teachers. And teach they did.
As I searched all those online and print conference listings this spring, I was hoping for a safe place where I could improve my writing and connect with other writers. The Postgraduate Writers’ Conference at Vermont College of Fine Arts offered exactly that. While this type of conference may not be right for everyone, whatever your needs, it’s important to know what you want before you sign up. Of course, research helps clarify what you’re looking for and what's out there. Just make sure you don’t settle for less. With all the venues available, you shouldn’t have to.
For more on the conference I attended, visit Postgraduate Writers’ Conference at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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