RIDGEFIELD — The first Ridgefield Writers Conference, organized by development editor Adele Annesi of Word for Words, LLC, and author and teacher Chris Belden, both of Ridgefield, will take place Saturday, September 28, in the North Hall of St Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
The all-day conference will feature published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry writers in morning and afternoon workshop presentations, as well as a morning panel on publishing and an afternoon panel on media.
“It has long been a dream of mine to have an event like this in Ridgefield, and I’m hoping it will be the start of a yearly tradition,” said Ms Annesi, who is pleased to include Mr Belden, as well as publicity coordinator, novelist, and food writer Rebecca Dimyan on the conference board.
The conference, said Ms Annesi, is designed to model a master of fine arts (MFA) residency experience, with intensive workshops that combine instruction, writing exercises, tips, resources, critiques, and time for questions and answers.
Formerly with Scholastic, Ms Annesi now specializes in commercial and literary fiction, memoir, culture, the arts, and travel. Her writings have appeared in numerous literary journals, and she has served as managing editor to Southern Literary Review. She is a member of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association, and Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut.
Author Chris Belden runs a private writing workshop in Ridgefield, and has led a weekly creative writing workshop at Garner State Correctional Institution in Newtown for the past four years. The prison authors have published a collection of writings, Sentences, under Mr Belden’s direction.
“I met Adele through the MFA program at Fairfield University,” said Mr Belden, he added he was pleased to be invited by her not only to coordinate the event, but to present a workshop on the Science and Art of Writing Fiction, and to join authors Linda Merlino, Nalini Jones, and Pete Nelson for an evening wrap up with readings of their original works, at the workshop.
Reading ‘Like A Writer’
“The workshop will be run like a graduate level writing workshop,” explained Mr Belden. He hopes to offer participants a better understanding of where they are at with their pieces by the time each session is over.
Teaching novice writers to learn to read others’ works “like a writer” is one of the goals for his workshops.
“What’s the point of view and why? How are the characters created? How does the author deal with plot?” he asked. “Those are different ways writers read, as is noticing the use of language to convey the story,” he said.
“I learn as much and more from other people’s writings, and the critiques, than from my own writing,” Mr Belden said. “When things are humming [in a workshop], I have so much fun. When people are energized and talking about the creative process, there’s nothing more exciting,” he said.
Mr Belden will read from his newest book, out this October, Shriver. He describes it as a “spoof on academia and the literature scene, as well as an exploration of identity.”
Joining Mr Belden and instructors Pete Nelson and Steve Otfinoski are Newtown residents Rachel Basch, author, who teaches creative fiction and nonfiction for the low-residency MFA program at Fairfield University, and creative writing in the liberal graduate studies at Wesleyan; and published poet Carol Ann Davis, who teaches poetry, writing, and publishing at Fairfield University and is on the faculty at Fairfield University for the MFA program.
Ms Basch is a big believer, she said, in writers learning from each other’s work.
“I’m pretty prescriptive in how I have people read others’ pieces,” she said, noting that all of her workshop participants should have the opportunity to read each other’s manuscripts prior to the start of the Ridgefield Writers Conference.
Writing notes on the manuscripts, figuring out what that writer wanted to do and offering suggestions on how to do it, are two important pieces, she said.
“Stand in their shoes,” said Ms Basch, “and pay attention to the element of the craft.”
She will offer writing exercises and her own experiences during the compact day of writing.
“I try to stress why you are writing what you are [to other writers]. That is a piece that tends to be missing, especially with young writers,” Ms Basch said. Once that reason is understood, it is helpful, she tells her classes, to type it out and tape it above the work area.
In 25 years of teaching, leading workshops, and publishing, she has not lost her love of sharing her knowledge.
“I love the process, what happens in that room,” she said. “Everybody is trying to make art. It is amazing what happens in a workshop, and the bonds that form. There is a huge amount of freedom to talk about the thing you’re passionate about and have someone read it in that same seriousness,” she said.
What participants take away from the “Writing Matters: Fiction and Creative Nonfiction” workshop will be defined by the spirit with which that person enters the room, Ms Basch predicted.
“I want them to be greedy for the feedback. I do try to remind people why they came to writing, and try not to lose the joy,” she said.
Ms Basch is currently working on a novel she hopes to publish in 2014. The Listener is about a clinical psychologist in a college counseling center “and her relationship with a student and with his grown daughters,” she teased the work in progress.
A Spiritual Lesson
Carol Ann Davis is also a veteran of presenting at national and regional writers conferences, including many at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where she was editor of the literary magazine Crazyhorse. The relatively new Newtowner has been a writer her whole life, a teacher for 20 years, and has been “seriously writing poetry for 25 years,” said Ms Davis. She is currently on the staff at Fairfield University, as well, teaching in the MFA low-residency program, and led a special poetry group at Hawley School this past spring.
Her narrative and lyrical poetry has been greatly influenced by midcentury American poet Elizabeth Bishop, as well as James Tate, with whom she studied at the University of Massachusetts, she said. She has published two books of poetry, Psalm and Atlas Hour.
“At a workshop, I usually pitch wide. People are looking for diagnostics and have very different problems,” Ms Davis said. Like the other presenters, her philosophy in workshop situations is that it is a learning experience for all, “with deep engagement of everyone else’s problems,” she said. “I see the workshop as a sort of spiritual lesson, too,” she said. “I am not past this: relearning over and over again.”
During her “From the Blank Page: Writing and Revising Poetry” workshop, Ms Davis will not only troubleshoot, but provide exercises to help writers work through any issues.
“It’s great to see people come in self-motivated. The self-consciousness drops away and pretty soon their own problems drop away.
“It’s never about the person but the possibility for the whole person,” she said. “[The workshop] is a reason to get around that common ‘campfire’ and realize you are not alone. Writing poetry,” Ms Davis noted, “can be solitary.”
A third Newtown writer will not be presenting a workshop, but The Newtowner literary magazine Editor and Founder Georgia Monaghan will take part in the Publishing Panel.
Ms Monaghan received her degree in English and History Education at Sydney University in Australia and, prior to establishing The Newtowner, was a freelance writer of travel features for various Australian magazines. She teaches for the Community Learning Project, a home school cooperative, and has led an ongoing adult writing workshop at C.H. Booth Library for the past four years.
She is currently working on a historical novel set on Coney Island at the turn of the 20th Century, “the glory days,” she said.
Picking up from her own experiences with writing workshops, Ms Monaghan said she expects to field questions on how to get works published.
“That is one of the biggest things on writers’ minds,” she said. “There are usually two things people want from a workshop. One is that they need advice on the writing process, and the other is ‘How do I get this into the world? How do I find readers?’” Ms Monaghan said.
As a magazine publisher, she expects to have questions directed to her about how to get published in journals.
“That is really a stepping stone to getting published, and having credits,” she said.
Ms Monaghan will also share what she has learned in starting her own publication. “I’ll talk about the dos and don’ts and what it takes to get it going,” she said. She is looking forward to meeting the participants and sitting in on other workshops to better understand why some of the writers are committing to the day.
“You get a lot more out of the day than what the presenters give,” she said. “It’s not just coming away with ideas and concepts. It’s a sense of belonging to a writers’ community, of camaraderie, and networking. I hope,” Ms Monaghan said, “that they come away from the panel feeling they are among people of like mind, people who value the written word. It’s a fantastic thing to be a part of.”
Ms Annesi stressed that to her, the goal of the September 28 conference is to see writers “equipped with more tools of the trade, and to see them empowered to keep using what they learn to continually improve their craft and art.”
The Ridgefield Writers Conference begins with a breakfast at 8 am, followed by keynote speaker author and professor Dr Michael White. Participants can select from workshops scheduled in the morning and afternoon, the morning Panel on Publishing and afternoon Panel on Media, as well as opportunities for networking, agent consideration, and an evening reading.
The conference is geared toward dedicated emerging and established authors. Participants must provide a one-page sample of his or her work. A payment of $150 is due upon acceptance. Registration is expected to run until the final week in September.
For detailed information and registration, visit www.adeleannesi.com/RidgefieldWritersConference.