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Taos writers’ conference opens with Jane von Mehren round table

Jane von Mehren
Random House

The annual Taos Summer Writers’ Conference opens Sunday July 14 with the public invited to hear a reading by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey at the Sagebrush Inn Conference Center at 8 p.m. Admission is free, according to the sponsoring University of New Mexico.

First event at the conference will be a round table discussion, “Making Sense of Today's Publishing Landscape,” led by Jane von Mehren, scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. on Sunday in the Sagebrush Center. Jane von Mehren spent more than 25 years as an editor and publisher at Random House, Penguin, Houghton Mifflin, and Crown Publishers. In response to the rapidly developing e-book marketplace she conceived and spearheaded Random House Readers Circle Deluxe e-books, an innovative e-book program targeted to the book club market.

USA Today rates the week-long work and instructional gathering of writers and instructors as one of the top 10 writers' conferences in the United States. The university has suggested the conference has earned a reputation for its “inclusive, nurturing treatment of authors,” with both weekday and weekend workshops in fiction, poetry, nonfiction and screenwriting.

For Natasha Trethewey’s first term as U.S. poet laureate, she instituted weekly office hours — a professorial approach to an artistic post — inviting members of the general public to visit with her at the top of the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building.

Librarian of Congress James Billington announced earlier that he was appointing Trethewey to a second term. “One of Natasha’s quotes that I like particularly is that there is a poem for everyone,” Billington told The Washington Post recently “We don’t force a broader role on any laureates, but she’s done it so wonderfully.” Her weekly hours at the Library were made possible by her choice — unprecedented in recent years — to relocate to Washington from her home in Georgia, giving her a better venue to receive visiting poetry lovers.

For her second term, Trethewey will expand her venue to the whole of the United States. Her participation in the Taos conference is part of that effort. She plans on visiting places she feels a personal connection to, such as a domestic violence center, an inner-city school, a prison or juvenile detention center, a nursing home, or places that have suffered natural or man-made disasters.

“Prisons, inner-city schools,” Trethewey offers as potential locations. “How poetry helps women tell their stories at domestic violence shelters.” Not necessarily how it contributes to the “healing process,” she has said, but how poetry can help people make sense of their own experiences. The locations she’ll choose are ones that have particular resonance to her own life. When Trethewey was a teenager, her stepfather murdered her mother, and her brother was jailed on drug charges.

“I wanted to bear witness,” she has said, “with personal testimony of why poetry can matter.”

Trethewey’s home base for her second term will be back in Atlanta. She’ll move out of the Washington area home she’s been renting in time for the fall semester at Emory University, where she is a professor of English and creative writing.

According to the University of New Mexico’s background information, the Taos conference began in 1999 and has a reputation for feeling less like a conference and more like a family reunion. Its founder Sharon Oard Warner is Professor of English at UNM, a novelist and the head of the university’s creative writing program. Some conference events, including evening readings by instructors and a publishing panel, are open to the general public.

The conference offers five merit-based scholarships, and the D.H. Lawrence Fellowship, awarded each year to an emerging writer with one book in print. The 2013 Scholarship recipients:

D.H. Lawrence Fellow: Matthew Pitt

Hispanic Writer Award: Donna Gutierrez

Native Writer Award: Shauna Osborn

Taos Resident Award: Jan Smith

Leo Love Merit Scholarship in Poetry: Adam Crittenden

Leo Love Merit Scholarship in Prose: Christine Fadden

The conference includes four master classes on the novel for which participants may pay as much as $1,525.00 including reading fees. There are a dozen week-long workshops limited to 12 participants with a fee of $650.

UNM has published the following list of workshops and their leaders: Robert Boswell - Fiction, Laura Brodie—Intermediate/Advanced Novel-in-Progress, Trey Ellis - Screenwriting, Pam Houston - Advanced Prose, Frank Huyler - Beginning Novel-in-Progress, Wally Lamb - Fiction, Priscilla Long—Prose Style, BK Loren - Beginning Memoir, Demetria Martinez - Beginning Fiction, Brent Spencer - Life Writing, Luci Tapahonso - Poetry, Robert Wilder - Humor Writing.

The master classes include Jonis Agee—Novel, John Dufresne—Novel, Joy Harjo—Poetry, Antonya Nelson—Novel, Emily Rapp—Memoir, Summer Wood—Novel.

The weekend workshop list includes Amy Beeder - Poetry, Stephen Benz - Travel Writing, Annie Dawid - Fiction, Allison Hunter & Alexis Hurley — Two Agents Tell All: Publishing, Daniel Mueller —Flash Fiction, Valerie Martinez—The Writing Life, Hilda Raz/Ouida Touchón- Ekphrastic Poetry.


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