For 75 years, the Indiana University Writers’ Conference has brought together writers from diverse backgrounds for a week each summer to discuss their shared aspirations, craft, and belief in the transformative potential of writing creatively. For the past three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the conference both as a participant and as director Bob Bledsoe’s first officer.
When trying to explain the conference, I’m tempted to start with the celebrity of past faculty members — names like Raymond Carver, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amy Bloom, Yusef Komunyakaa, Aimee Bender, and Kurt Vonnegut. The conference boasts 21 Pulitzer Prize winners, 16 National Book Award recipients, seven Poets Laureate, and eight MacArthur Geniuses, including Donald Antrim and recent conference faculty member Khaled Mattawa, also a graduate of IU Bloomington’s Creative Writing MFA program.
While we’re proud of the conference’s history, it’s perhaps disingenuous to explain through names and statistics a conference that draws its strength through community, both the one it fosters and the one it shares as a part of IU’s Summer Festival of the Arts and with Bloomington’s thriving Arts scene. And maybe names, awards, and 75th anniversaries bring awareness, but what keeps so many of the participants returning—what made me want to work for the conference—is the shared belief that writing creatively matters.
Writing is often a solitary pursuit, shared more often with one’s laptop and an unhealthy quantity of coffee than with people. And when a writer does send her words out into the world, the likely response is some form of rejection. But, as solitary as the act of writing may feel, most of us who write do so as a way to expand our relationship to the world. Not only does the conference address practical strategies to help with this pursuit, it also provides a space to build friendships, find readers, and share experience.
When we considered our anniversary faculty, we looked for people who were not only inspiring writers and teachers, but who were also connected to the conference, IU, and Bloomington. Lynda Barry, Dan Chaon, and Lou Berney taught together at the conference in 2012. In addition to being a professor at IU, Adrian Matejka participated in the conference twice as an undergrad. Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Alissa Nutting visited us as part of Indiana Review’s Blue Light Reading Series this past spring (2015) to offer classes and readings that were free and open to the public. And if there was any doubt of Gabbi’s love for Bloomington, it was answered with the amazing fruits and flowers she acquired from the Bloomington Community Farmer’s Market as inspiration for her first class.
Rounding out our anniversary faculty was John-Paul Zaccarini, our wildcard. John-Paul is a former circus performer who holds a Ph.D. from Stockholm University and he was an instant hit with classes that explored what it means to “write from the the body’s perspective.” He also delivered a fantastic karaoke performance at the Bluebird with conference attendee, scholarship recipient, and fellow blogger, Jared Robinson.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what the conference is and I’ve only begun to realize how much its focus on community and generation has impacted my own writing and connection to Bloomington’s Arts scene. But, while my tenure as associate director is winding down, maybe we’ll see each other next year. Karaoke is optional but encouraged.