Conference Insider: Port Townsend Writers’ Conference

Craft and community combine at what event organizers call a “left-coast, Birkenstock-wearing version of Bread Loaf.”

Fort Worden
Port Townsend, Washington. Photo by travis manley/ Shutterstock

For 45 years, the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference has offered writers the chance to write and revise, learn and network in a stunningly beautiful Pacific Northwest location. Participants gather at Fort Worden, a former military base turned state park comprised of 100 historic structures along two miles of coastal shoreline. It’s a fascinating place to explore during down times at the conference alone or with new friends.

Attendees have numerous opportunities to forge new connections with fellow writers. During the week of the conference, they can share three meals a day as well as workshops and lectures and evening readings. Many attendees return year after year. Scholarships are available, and those interested can apply during the registration process.

“What sets the PTWC apart is, I think, its equal emphasis on craft, community, and inspiration,” says Program Manager Jordan Hartt. “Our workshops are intensive, yet our community is supportive and nurturing, and people leave inspired, each and every year.”

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What you’ll learn

Participants can register for a core morning workshop with faculty members; they also have the opportunity to take afternoon workshops taught by visiting writers and editors in the historical Schoolhouse Building. The 2018 conference included core faculty member Jonathan Evison, who taught attendees methods by which to improve time management and enhance workflow by eliminating distractions, and Debra Gwartney, who explored the art of the present-tense memoir to create intimacy and immediacy.

Gary Copeland Lilley taught poets to resurrect and revise work that might be languishing in a drawer, through the cultivation of precise imagery and rhythm. Katie Ferris led a workshop titled “Their Eyes Locked Across the Room (No, Like, Literally!): Figurative Language, Cliché, and Concretizing Metaphor in Fabulist Fiction.”

“We’re a sort of left-coast, Birkenstock-wearing version of Bread Loaf,” Hartt says, referring to the venerable Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference held each summer in Middlebury, Vermont. “The rigors of the work are just as intense, but the spirit is an egalitarian vision, where everyone’s voice is taken seriously.”

Featured presenters

In 2019, conference faculty will include poets Robert Wrigley and Carl Phillips and Paisley Rekdal. Memoirists and essayists Melissa Febos, Kim Barnes, and Gwartney will serve as core faculty members as well. Approximately 15 other professional writers will teach; check the conference website for updates.

Last year’s conference included author Lily Hoang discussing what she terms “oracular storytelling,” poet and prose writer Luís Alberto Urrea talking about the craft of creative nonfiction, and Bill Ransom exploring writing across genres from poetry to nonfiction, fiction to scripts.

Writers who want to visit Port Townsend for the week, but don’t wish to take workshops, can choose a “residency-only” option. This allows participants to write on their own schedule during the day, and then to sit in on craft lectures, open-mic events, and evening readings by faculty authors.

Advice for first-time attendees

New participants should know that in order to get to Port Townsend, located on the Olympic Peninsula, they must take a ferry from Seattle. Conference organizers offer detailed directions to the location on their website, as well as shuttle service from Sea-Tac airport on the first and last days of the event, available for reservation during the registration process.

Once you get there, prepare to be astounded by the panoramic views of two mountain ranges, as well as the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Visitors who want to explore the area further might be interested in the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, the Northwest Maritime Center, and the Jefferson Museum of Art & History.

“The best way to get involved in the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference is to jump in with both feet,” Hartt advises writers new to the event. “People say that it’s the best week of their year. It’s not just the writing, it’s the location of Fort Worden State Park, it’s the connections people make – and return to year after year.”

 

Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Novels to Open Minds, Ignite Empathy, and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Web: melissahart.com.