A good writers’ conference or retreat can teach you about craft and business, connect you with industry professionals, and introduce you to colleagues in your particular genre. While it’s a given that you’ll meet other writers at any such gathering, maybe you’d like to refine your network even further. Or maybe you’re simply searching for a safe space to explore your creativity surrounded by people like you.
Each year, several conferences and retreats cater to specific demographics, enabling writers to find a community that understands the challenges inherent in belonging to, and writing in, a particular culture. We’ve identified a few such events below; you can locate others using your favorite search engine, our writing conference listings, or by visiting Shaw Guides at writing.shawguides.com.
Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices
Writers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender or questioning can apply for a Lambda Literary-sponsored retreat – a seven-day intensive workshop on fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or playwriting. “It’s a space in which they can write queer stories with support from other queer writers,” explains program director William Johnson.
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Each faculty member selects 12 fellows who gather at a Los Angeles-area college campus and meet each morning to write and workshop with their genre cohort. “Each faculty member has leeway in designing what their workshop looks like,” explains Johnson. “The overarching idea is to help a person craft and hone a piece of work.”
Lambda fellows spend their afternoons attending lectures focused on diversity and publishing, and then participate in public readings in the evening. “Our retreats draw people dedicated to writing and craft,” Johnson says. “Hearing the fellows read is always amazing. They blow me away with their creativity.”
In 2017, the retreat takes place Aug. 5-12 at Otis College of Art and Design. Garth Greenwell will teach fiction, Malinda Lo will teach YA writing, and TC Tolbert will teach poetry. (At press time, Johnson was still selecting faculty to teach nonfiction and playwriting.)
Several professional authors have emerged from the retreat. Novelist Justin Torres was a fellow, as was Bryan Borland. Last year, fellow Anna-Marie McLemore’s YA novel, When the Moon was Ours, was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Johnson looks forward to further Lambda fellows’ success. “What a brilliant community of queer writers we have in the world,” he says.
“Kundiman is the classic form of Filipino love song – or so it seemed to colonialist forces in the Philippines,” explains the website for the annual Kundiman Retreat, a five-day professional gathering in the Bronx that serves Asian American writers. “In fact, in Kundiman, the singer who expresses undying love for his beloved is actually singing for love of country.”
In partnership with Fordham University, the retreat brings together illustrious authors and poets to conduct workshops in fiction and poetry for intimate gatherings of Asian-American fellows. Past faculty members include American Book Award winner Bich Minh Nguyen, best-selling novelist/playwright R. Zamora Linmark, and prize-winning poet Jaswinder Bolina.
Kundiman fellows meet with an assigned home group during the retreat, and the faculty take turns workshopping with each group. While at Fordham, participants produce new material inspired by prompts and writing exercises. The event also includes readings, writing circles, and social gatherings that explore the unique challenges faced by emerging Asian-American writers.
Since 2004, past fellows have published 78 books and 58 chapbooks. Their work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, The Best American Poetry, Guernica, and many other periodicals, and many have gone on to earn graduate degrees at renowned writing programs across the country. The staff explains the mission of the retreat on the organization’s website: “Our hope is that fellows are able to forge a deeper relationship to their artistic process and are able to encounter their work with renewed focus and energy.”
Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference
“While getting published is not easy for writers of any color, culture, or class, Latino writers face particular challenges and opportunities,” says conference co-founder Marcela Landres. “We specifically designed the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference to provide Latino writers with access, guidance, and community.”
The day-long event takes place in New York City each October. Professional authors, agents, and editors teach workshops on craft across genres, as well as classes on the business of professional writing. Last year’s conference included a series of master classes for children’s, young adult, and adult fiction writers.
Landres describes celebrated author Ana Castillo’s keynote speech as a highlight of the 2016 conference. “She describes how she was so disenchanted with her experience at a major publisher that she was seriously considering self-publishing,” Landres says. “Luckily, she found a great home at The Feminist Press. It is important for the writers who attend our conference – most of whom are not yet published – to hear that being published is not easy even for established authors such as Ana Castillo.”
Co-founder Adriana Domínguez particularly enjoys the conference Pitch Slam, during which participants stand up and pitch their book projects, many for the first time. “It’s a good example of the level of passion and commitment that are required of an author to make it in the publishing business,” she says. “What we keep hearing time and time again from attendees, after five years of organizing this event, is how welcoming it is to all attendees, and to new writers in particular,” she adds. “We’ve had many instances of writers getting ‘hooked’ on the conference after their first time and returning year after year, which certainly helps to build that feeling of community that we are trying to foster among Latino writers.”
National Black Writers Conference
Black Pulitzer prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks would have been 100 in 2017. To celebrate her birth, the Center for Black Literature (CBL) plans a symposium on March 25th at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, titled “Our Miss Brooks: A Centennial Celebration.” Writers and poets, independent researchers, faculty, and students will present papers that examine Brooks’ life and themes in her works.
The Center hosts the National Black Writers Conference, now in its 14th year, which invites writers, industry professionals, and the general public to attend with the goal of – as stated on NBWC’s website – “expanding their knowledge and reading of Black literature and for engaging in dynamic and spirited conversations, panel discussions, readings, workshops, and performances on conference themes and on future trends in the literature of Black writers.”
Last year’s conference included a panel discussion with former Poet Laureate Rita Dove, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and Afaa Michael Weaver. During the same conference, one group of panelists spoke about hip-hop’s connection to literature while another panel discussed the politics of race and gender in the literature of African-American writers. Also as part of the conference, award-winning children’s book authors met with grammar school students and talked about their work.
“There are other organizations that focus on promoting African-American studies,” CBL director Clarence V. Reynolds notes in a post for the African American Literature Book Club, “but we are the only Center for Black Literature in the country still focused on doing this work.”
Voices of Our Nation Arts Workshops
Workshops for writers of color through Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) take place each summer at the University of Miami. Writers exchange their work and discuss craft and process in two separate week-long sessions. Participants can also opt to complete a residency, staying in private dormitory rooms, during which they work one-on-one with a master faculty member and a residency group.
Along with traditional fiction, poetry, and memoir, participants learn about and practice travel and political writing, essay writing, and speculative fiction. In 2016, Daniel José Older taught a workshop in writing for young adults, asking in his course description, “How do we transcend the well-worn coming-of-age clichés and tell stories that rise off the page to say something important about young people and the world today?”
During week two last year, Minal Hajratwala taught LGBTQ writing in a generative workshop prefaced by this description: “Working across genders and genres, prose writers will find their language sharpened by poetic inspiration; poets will find their sense of scale and pacing energized by narrative forms; fiction writers will pull shininess from reality; nonfiction writers will seize the reins of storytelling.”
Any writer – established, emerging, or beginning – is eligible to apply, regardless of previous workshop experience or publication. “The mission of VONA,” staff note on the website, “is to develop emerging writers of color through programs and workshops taught by established writers of color.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and an editor/consultant at Creator & Collector Services. Web: melissahart.com.
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