Writing, or at least writing well, isn’t the easiest thing in the world. But when the right words fit together in the proper order, the results can evoke any emotion imaginable. The writing down of language is one of mankind’s greatest achievements, and in the thousands of years since its invention, it has had an endless parade of practitioners.
Each year, the Chuckanut Writers Conference works to champion the power and passion of the written word. Held each June at Whatcom Community College and produced through a partnership between WCC and Village Books, this year’s conference takes place Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22. The event features two full days of author panels, speakers, readings, and resource-rich breakout sessions aimed at helping writers improve their craft.
Kaitlyn Teer, conference chair for the CWC, says the event is designed to provide a sense of community, inspiration, and concrete, practical tools to incorporate into your writing practice, regardless of where you’re at in your writing career.
“If you’re a person who has always wanted to write, but can’t seem to find the time or the direction, this is a great place to come for inspiration,” she says. “If you’re further along in your writing career, and maybe you’ve got a novel draft completed, and you’re looking for some ideas as you revise, or you want to pitch to one of the literary agents, those opportunities are available to you.”
This year’s festivities kick off Thursday, June 20, with several pre-conference events. In the afternoon, three optional master classes – featuring conference faculty members Laurie Frankel, Claire Sicherman, and Anastacia-Renee – will be held. Each session, around 3 to 4 hours in length, is limited to about 15 people, and often fills up well before the conference. Teer says the classes are great for those seeking a more intimate teaching and writing experience.
At 6:30 p.m., head to WCC’s Heiner Theater to watch a live recording of the Chuckanut Radio Hour. The radio variety show, streamed on Facebook Live and aired on KMRE-LP 102.3 FM, will feature live music, radio plays, and guest author Terry Brooks, author of the popular “Sword of Shannara” series.
While master classes require an additional cost, all conference attendees will receive entrance to the Chuckanut Radio Hour with their normal registration fee.
The conference both begins and ends with keynote speakers. This year, novelist Sonora Jha will speak Friday morning, while author Omar El Akkad will provide final remarks Saturday afternoon. Both Jha and El Akkad are award-winning journalists turned fiction writers. In addition to keynotes, two faculty members will provide plenary talks during the conference: Western Washington University professor and poet Jane Wong, and memoirist Kate Carroll de Gutes.
Both days provide a variety of breakout sessions to choose from. Lasting 60 to 90 minutes each, the sessions cover fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and feature topics ranging from managing procrastination to creating poems based on photographs. The high caliber of faculty members is one of Teer’s favorite things about the CWC.
“They really make the conference,” she says. “We look for faculty who are not only talented writers, but are also warm, encouraging and enthusiastic teachers. They want to be with other writers. They want to encourage writers at all stages of their careers.”
The conference also features several authors’ panels, featuring four to five writers per panel. In addition, there are author reading, and a book fair where attendees can find writing resources and learn about literary organizations. A conference book store, operated by Village Books, will stock books about writing, as well as works by conference faculty. The latter comes in handy for the conference book signings.
If you’re seeking professional critiques on your work, you can sign up for the conference’s pitch sessions. This year, Sasquatch Books’ Hannah Elnan is seeking adult non-fiction manuscripts, while Natalie Grazian of Martin Literary & Media Management is interested in adult fiction writers seeking an agent. Alice B. Acheson will provide 15-minute marketing consultations. Cost is $10 per five-minute pitch session and $20 for a 15-minute marketing consultation.
The conference concludes Saturday night with a series of open mics in historic Fairhaven, where attendees can sign up to read their creative work.
Registration for the CWC is available online, by phone, mail, or in-person. Early bird registration is $245 through May 21. Later registration is $285. Anyone enrolled at a college or university will receive a discounted student rate of $99. In addition, the CWC Scholarship Fund offers at least four people full tuition to the conference. The scholarships – supported by donations and a small part of each registration fee – make the CWC more accessible to those historically underrepresented in literary publishing and those with financial hardship. Scholarship recipients are still responsible for travel and lodging costs. Applications are due April 1.
Conference attendance is a terrific mix of people, Teer says, at least half of whom are from outside Whatcom County. For those visitors, the CWC is also a showcase of what the area has to offer. Recommendations for the best area lodging, breweries, restaurants and outdoor recreation are provided to visitors, and the Friday afternoon conference reception is a fine example of locally-sourced foods and beverages.
Locals who attend the CWC often serve as volunteers, or act as panel moderators or open mic MCs, Teer says. Regardless of where you’re from, the Chuckanut Writers Conference is ready to welcome both you and your writing aspirations.
“We have a great deal of support in the community,” Teer says. “We’re so proud that Bellingham is a supportive home for the literary arts.”