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Conference Insider: Kanab Writers Conference

Capped at 150 attendees, this intimate three-day conference in Southern Utah offers writers a beautiful setting to write and learn.

Kathryn Cunningham writes on a plein air hike at the Bunting Trail Dinosaur Tracks during the 2019 Kanab Writers Conference.
Kathryn Cunningham writes on a plein air hike at the Bunting Trail Dinosaur Tracks during the 2019 Kanab Writers Conference. Photo by Kayeleen Hamblin
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The town of Kanab sits between several different national parks in Southern Utah – visitors can tour Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. Each year, the scenery plays a starring role at the Kanab Writers Conference. We have some of the most beautiful area in the country,” says conference director Kayeleen Hamblin. “We make sure to incorporate it into our event.”

The 2021 conference kicks off on Nov. 4 with an optional plein air hike and writing retreat, led by experienced trail guides who reveal dinosaur tracks and hidden lakes among the red rock landscape. There’s plenty of time for writing and reflection, and participants are encouraged to bring pen and notebook.

“We take you out into nature, and we say, ‘Welcome to Kanab,’” Hamblin says. “We give you a place that’s unique and beautiful and quiet and away from all the hustle and bustle of everything, and you have a couple of hours to just see something different and unique and beautiful, and then write whatever comes to you.”

The plein air hike sets the Kanab event apart, she explains. “Where else can you go and get that first connection to yourself as a writer and to the world around you before a conference? It can be so inspiring.”


What you’ll learn

Writers may register for a Nov. 5 self-publishing seminar hosted by Eschler Editing. You’ll learn about editing, self-publishing platforms and formatting, cover design, and marketing. The next day, C.H. Hung will present a session titled “The Long and Short of It: How Writing Short Stories Can Help You Write Novels.” Adrienne Quintana will present “Self-Publishing Vs Small Press Publishing.” Speculative author C. David Belt will offer a two-part workshop titled “Swords, Spears, and Axes, Oh My! (Medieval Weapons 101).”

Rebecca Blevins will teach “Emotional Resonance: How to Torment Your Readers and Keep them Coming Back for More.” Brock Dethier speaks on “The Psychological Side of Writing: Overcoming Apprehension, Procrastination, and Blocks.”

Cate Hart of Harvey Klinger Literary Agency will lead a workshop on how to create a compelling villain through the use of literary archetypes as explored in examples from TV, film, and literature. Merry Gordon, an editor with Pink Umbrella Books, will teach a workshop on the benefits of imitating favorite established authors.


Featured presenters at the Kanab Writers Conference

Elaine/E.B. Vickers, award-winning author of picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels, will be the keynote speaker on Thursday evening. Carol Ormond, author of The People: The Missing Piece of John Wesley Powell’s Expeditions, is the keynote on Friday; Amy Harmon, a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post bestselling author of historical, contemporary, and fantasy novels, is the keynote on Saturday morning.

Author Shirley Bahlmann will give a presentation titled “From Prolific to Pitiful and Back Again.” Bahlmann published several books and then went through a period of not writing at all. Then, she attended the Kanab Writers Conference. In her presentation teaser on the conference website, she notes, “I was inspired to get serious about writing again. I set a goal to write for at least an hour a day, and this is what happened.”

Hamblin hears a lot of stories like these. “We have people who come to the conference and say, ‘You know, I was ready to throw in the towel,’ and they leave inspired to write again,” she says. “After the event, participants submit books to editors or agents or self-publish.”


Conference attendees may register for manuscript consults with Hart, with an editor at Pink Umbrella Books, and with independent editor Erin Olds, CEO of the editorial collective Salt & Sage. They may also pitch manuscripts to Holli Anderson, chief editor at Immortal Works Press.

Advice for first-time attendees 

Hamblin appreciates the fact that Kanab Writers Conference caps at 150 people. Writers are introverts much of the time, she points out, and going to a conference – particularly if it attracts hundreds of people – can feel frightening. “It might be overwhelming to reach out to somebody new,” she says. “At a smaller conference, it’s easier to say, ‘Hey, I don’t know you. Let’s talk.’ You can make connections and meet people that you wouldn’t otherwise have met.”

The conference is a community event, she notes. On Thursday evening, students from local schools read with the keynote speaker. People from around Kanab are invited to listen to Carol Orman’s Friday evening talk about Native American contributions to John Wesley Powell’s explorations into the Grand Canyon. Writers from around the country can mingle with community members, brought together by the shared love of literature.

You can bond with other writers over your love of nature as well. Just make sure to pack your hiking boots.


Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart


Kanab Writers Conference at a glance

Conference: Kanab Writers Conference

Dates: Nov. 4-6, 2021

Cost: $100


Location: Kanab, Utah

Contact: Kayeleen Hamblin, Conference Chair,
[email protected],