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Conference Insider: North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference

Hundreds of writers gather in Durham for craft and camaraderie at this welcoming three-day event in November.

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Come for the North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference; stay for the independent bookstores. “There are at least half a dozen bookshops that I can think off the top of my head in Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Wake Forest,” says conference director Ed Southern. “You can easily blow off the conference and spend the weekend just visiting bookstores. We don’t encourage you to do that. But we wouldn’t blame you if you did.”

The conference, held in Durham from Nov. 19 to the 21 this year, includes panels and readings, keynotes and workshops taught by professional authors, open-mic sessions, and manuscript critiques with agents and editors. It attracts hundreds of people from all over the country.

Southern’s favorite part of the event is what he calls the in-between moments. “You know, the conversations that people strike up in the hall going from one workshop to another,” he explains. “Or maybe at the banquet, you find yourself seated at a table with complete strangers, and you end up becoming friends by the end of the night, sometimes even forming critique groups that last for years. We try very hard to be welcoming at our conference.”

What you’ll learn

Podcaster and playwright Tamara Kissane will teach a workshop on how to write scripted audio fiction for podcasts and radio plays. Author and podcast host L.C. Fiore will instruct a class on how to juggle an artistic life with your day job. Donna Campbell and Georgann Eubanks will lead a workshop on tips for conducting a good interview, with an additional focus on ethics. “I hope a lot of people will sign up for that,” Southern says, “because you can get a lot out of talking to other people.”

Author Daniel Wallace will direct a course on adaptations. “Tim Burton turned [Wallace’s] novel Big Fish into a movie,” Southern says. “Wallace has also had short stories turned into short films, and he’s had books turned into plays. It’s going to be a fascinating class.”

The Saturday morning breakfast panel, presented with the North Carolina Folklife Institute, includes a discussion of how folklife and folklore can be resources for writers. “Folklife is defined as any kind of knowledge or craft that is handed down, free of charge, outside of formal schooling,” Southern explains. “So if you learned a recipe from your mother, and she learned it from her mother who learned it from her mother, that can be considered folklife. So can a story that’s been passed down for generations.” Those intrigued by the topic can visit the Institute’s online and traveling exhibitions.

Featured presenters at the 2021 North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference

Poet and professor Tyree Daye will present a poetry workshop at the conference. Fiction/nonfiction author Marianne Gingher will teach a class in creative nonfiction. Other presenters include playwright Ian Finley, poet and spoken-word artist Dasan Ahanu, and poets Fred Joiner and Han VanderHart. New York Times bestselling author and former journalist Cat Warren will lead a workshop on creative nonfiction; she’s the author of What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World.

Agent Kim Lindman of Stonesong will attend the conference, as will Maggie Cooper of Aevitas Creative Management and Cassie Mannes Murray of Howland Literary. Sunday morning’s breakfast includes a panel of agents and editors on hand to answer attendees’ questions.

Advice for first-time attendees

Southern suggests that first-timers to the conference should arrive with a friend, unless they’re extremely outgoing. “Even the most welcoming writers’ conference can be a bit intimidating,” he says. “You have a few hundred writers crowding into a space, and it can be easy to get yourself lost.”

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He hopes writers will feel free to explore a variety of workshops, even sit sitting in on a class about a genre they’ve never tried before. “If you write fiction, I hope you’ll take some of the fiction classes, but I also hope you’ll try a playwriting class,” he says. “And I hope you might try a poetry class as well. You can learn a lot as a writer from playing around in different genres. A fiction writer can learn a lot about dialogue from a playwriting class, and a prose writer can learn a lot about compression and concision from a poetry class.”

While the conference offers almost nonstop programming, writers should feel free to explore the local bookstores and take time out to chat with one another in the halls. “It’s the quieter moments of meeting all those people with a shared passion in one place that I love,” Southern says.

North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference at a glance

Dates: Nov. 19-21, 2021

Cost: Approximately $300

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Location: Durham, North Carolina

Contact: Ed Southern, [email protected]

—Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens. Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart

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