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Article: Conference sparks writers’ creativity

Conference sparks writers’ creativity
Marcella Ortega

Issue date: 7/20/06 Section: Culture

Daily Lobo of New Mexico

by Marcella Ortega

Carson Bennett has been creatively stuck.

Bennett is a graduate student at UNM and writes creative nonfiction and personal essays. Every year, he seeks rejuvenation at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference.

“It gives me the boost of energy that I ride on throughout the year,” Bennett said.

The conference was held last week. It was founded by Sharon Warner in 1999. Warner is the director of the conference and an associate professor of English at UNM. She said in its first year the conference offered a few workshops on fiction, poetry and nonfiction.

Since then the conference has grown to include 19 different workshops.

Warner said the reason for holding the conference in Taos has to do with 20th-century modernist writer D.H. Lawrence. In 1922, Lawrence arrived in Taos, where he found much of his inspiration. In 1955, his widow gave their ranch to UNM. The conference offers shuttles to the ranch for participants to visit.

“I wanted to make a concrete connection to creative writing with D.H. Lawrence,” Warner said. “I thought it would increase the visibility of the creative writing program.”

The conference, which was held last week, is staffed by graduate students in exchange for free admission to workshop classes as well as a week of room and board. Bennett said it was his second year working at the conference.

“It’s nice to be in a peaceful environment with other writers,” Bennett said. “Everyone supports each other.”

Famous authors Anya Achtenberg and Demetria Martinez taught the workshop titled “Writing for Social Change.” Martinez said the workshop is taught in various places around the country.

“I think the tide is turning away from the idea that creative writers should avoid politics – a peculiarly North American idea,” Martinez said.

Achtenberg founded the workshop….
“I always wanted to write to be heard,” Achtenberg said. “A part of writing is to bring forth what’s silenced. The power of it, the purpose of it is real profound – an urge to speak and not break.”

Alexi Horowitz of Santa Fe Prep High School was among Achtenberg and Martinez’s students. Horowitz said he chose the workshop because the subject was inspirational.

“I think this environment promotes freeing inhibitions of all types of style where you can find your voice,” Horowitz said. “I think being forced to write with their prompts and encouragements, and telling you to press forward with detailed feedback has been helpful.”

Warner said she was interested in more than just famous instructors when she selected the workshops.

“I want people who are going to teach,” Warner said. “There are some (conferences) that are hierarchical. There are so many layers. I don’t want that feel to the conference.”

The conference is open to participants from beginners to professionals.

“Anyone who wants to write is welcome,” Warner said. “It’s what I call inclusive rather than exclusive.”

The conference also included open readings, faculty readings, faculty signings and morning yoga sessions.

Yoga instructor and writer Jeff Davis said the class is based on his book The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing. Davis said it is a guide to bring yoga into the writing process.

Stephany Borges, a participant in the yoga class, said Davis’ exercises can improve a writer’s metaphorical and lyrical language.

“I think it’s great,” Borges said. “We (writers) are all in our head. It helps us find our organic body imagery.”

Davis said the exercises help writers access the deep imagery of the imagination.

“We are studying different experiences to help experience wonder,” Davis said. “We are trying to find the deep source we are writing for.”

Warner said she is open to suggestions for improving the conference and hopes it continues to grow.

“I always try new things,” Warner said. “It’s gotten bigger every year. Next year I may run it two weeks.”