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Friday, June 10, 2016

URI’s Ocean State Writing Conference, June 23-25

Features Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson. Photo by Michael Lionstar.
For years, the University of Rhode Island’s Ocean State Summer Writing Conference has hosted Pulitzer Prize winning authors talking about their craft. This year, the conference is doing that and more: It’s collaborating with the Pulitzer Foundation to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the awards. 

The three-day conference from June 23 to 25 on the Kingston campus will feature Margo Jefferson, who won a 1995 Pulitzer for criticism for her work at The New York Times. 

Her talk on June 24 is part of What is the 21st Century Essay?, a yearlong series in partnership with the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities to commemorate the centennial of the Pulitzers. The lecture at 4:45 p.m. at Swan Hall, 60 Upper College Road in Kingston, is free and open to the public.

Jefferson is a cultural critic and the author of two books, On Michael Jackson and Negroland: A Memoir, for which she received the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography. 

“We are honored to be a part of this nationwide celebration in a way that captures the spirit of inquiry and excellence that motivates the Pulitzer Prizes,” says Marty Rojas, associate professor of English at URI. “In Negroland, Jefferson has written a memoir with the breadth of cultural history, one in which she lovingly vivifies the world of the black elite that is her subject as she precisely appraises that environment and the cultural circumstances of her upbringing.’’

URI’s writing conference has grown into a nationally recognized event since it started a decade ago, attracting students, teachers, novelists, poets, essayists, journalists and memoirists over the years. This year, as in the past, the conference will offer more than 20 writing workshops, craft talks, master classes and publishing sessions.

“Our conference is all about helping attendees be better writers,’’ says Tina Egnoski, 2016 conference director. “The atmosphere is intimate and supportive, and that’s important when you’re sharing your work in a group setting.’’

Rhode Island writers will again play an important role: Maria Mutch, author of Know the Night; Caitlin Kiernan, a fantasy and science fiction writer known for The Drowning Girl andThe Red Tree; and Mike Stanton, a former reporter for The Providence Journal and author ofThe Prince of Providence about the late Vincent “Buddy’’ Cianci. (These talks are open only to conference participants.)

Another highlight of the conference is a legacy tribute on June 23 to honor the roots of creative writing at URI. The program, Inspired Pedagogy, Literary Influence and the Writing Life, will pay tribute to former URI professors, the late Robert Leuci, Dan Pearlman and Paul Petrie. Nancy Potter will also be recognized. (The event also is for conference participants only.)

“These extraordinary teachers and writers influenced so many students at URI and beyond,” says Mary Cappello, a writer and URI English professor. “We felt now was a good time to highlight the history that we and the larger community continue to benefit from and to pass on.” 

The conference will also launch the Robert Leuci Memorial Reading—established by his family and friends to honor his career as a writer and 14 years working in the University’s creative writing program. Cappello and essayist Patrick Madden will give readings. (The June 25 event, at 12:30 p.m. in the Alumni Center at 73 Upper College Road, is free and open to the public.)

New to the conference this year are advanced intensive workshops in novel writing, short fiction writing and poetry. These workshops will give participants more contact with faculty and are intended for experienced writers who want in-depth feedback on their work. 

“This is an exciting addition to the conference,” says Egnoski. “Many of our participants are ready to take their work to the next level. Our faculty members are available to give constructive criticism.’’

Advanced intensive workshop leaders will be Rigoberto González in poetry, Julianna Baggott in novel writing, and Derek Nikitas in short fiction writing. 


González is the author of 17 books, most recently the poetry collection Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. 

Baggott is the author of more than 20 books published under her own name, as well as two pen names, Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. Her novels Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders and Pure were each a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. 

Nikitas is an assistant professor in URI’s English Department and the author of three novels. Later this year, his two thriller novellas, co-written with America's bestselling author James Patterson, will be released. 

The featured readings of Rigoberto Gonzalez and Julianna Baggott are free and open to the public. Gonzalez will read on June 24 at 12:30 at Swan Hall. Baggott will read on June 25 at 1:30 p.m., also in Swan Hall.

The list of workshop instructors is impressive:

Rebecca Walker is the author of The New York Times bestseller Black, White and Jewish. Her first novel, Ade: A Love Story, is currently being adapted for film, with Madonna expected to direct. 

Rachel M. Harper, a Rhode Island native, is a novelist and screenwriter. Her newest novel,This Side of Providence, has been adapted into an original television pilot, entitled City of Providence

Laura Cahill has written screenplays for 20th Century Fox, CBS, Lifetime, Miramax, Universal and others. Her screenplay for HBO’s Hysterical Blindness—starring Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis and Gena Rowlands—debuted at The Sundance Film Festival in 2002. 

Christina Pugh is the recipient of a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry. She’s the author of four books of poetry. A professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, she’s a consulting editor forPoetry magazine.

Patrick Madden is an essayist and the author of Sublime Physick and Quotidiana. He teaches at Brigham Young University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

In addition to Nikitas, the URI faculty members teaching at the conference are: Talvikki Anselm, an award-winning poet whose most recent book is SomewhereIn Space ; Rob Cohen, who teaches film; and Jody Lisberger, a short story writer and author of Remember Love.

Conference organizers hope their collaboration with the Pulitzer Foundation leads to more partnerships with literary groups in the future, as well as more involvement with local writers.

“The prestige and visibility of the conference has grown in the last 10 years,’’ says poet Peter Covino, founding conference director and URI associate English professor. “Going forward, we want to tap into the rich and diverse community of writers that exist in our state. We hope to continue the creative conversation we began in 2006.’’

For the schedule and registration information, visit the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. There is a $25 discount for people who register for the three-day workshops and main conference by May 15. Discounts are available for students, alumni and URI faculty.

Jefferson, the former Times critic, is among Pulitzer winners who are discussing their work at events nationwide throughout the year for the Pulitzer Centennial. Through the Campfires Initiative, a collaboration between the Pulitzer board and the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the Rhode Island council and its partners received $45,739 for local programs. Click here for details about the Pulitzer Centennial.