Anyone who’s tried their hand at writing quickly discovers two key traits essential to the art and craft: perseverance and resiliency. That holds true for the 20th Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, back live and in person next month after a year hiatus to regroup and another year held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. The registration fee is $400 through April 30 and increases to $450 after that, space available.
Held for its first 19 years at Land’s End Resort on the Homer Spit, the conference runs Saturday, May 14, through Tuesday, May 17 at a new location. Sponsored by the Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage, it has these changes:
• A new time the week after the end of the UAA semester in mid-May instead of mid-June;
• A new location at the Kachemak Bay Campus on Pioneer Avenue in the heart of Homer;
• Encouraging more diversity in both students and faculty:
• Encouraging more of a connection with college and high school students, and
• An option for people who cannot attend in person the opportunity to view for one month recordings of all sessions.
University officials in September 2019 put the event on hold for 2020 as a result of reduced university funding imposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in that year’s Procrustean budget.
In a press release then announcing the postponement, KBC Director Reid Brewer said the hiatus would “provide campus leadership an opportunity to review the conference’s purpose and scope, and to make changes necessary for its continued success.”
In March of 2020, KBC hired Homer poet Erin Coughlin Hollowell to run the conference. Providentially, with the conference on hiatus right as the pandemic shut down workplaces and tightly restricted travel, organizers didn’t have to cancel it. In 2021 the conference met virtually.
Moving the conference from the end of the Spit to downtown Homer will help reduce costs. The conference has gotten support from the Caroline Musgrave Coons endowment, donor funding and registration fees. Holding the conference with catered meals at a resort hotel incurred contractor costs, Brewer said.
“The hope is that we can offset some of the costs that have been associated with the conference in the past and make that connection with Homer and the greater downtown area,” he said.
Holding the event downtown and close to shopping, bars, restaurants, the Homer Public Library and the Pratt Museum & Park will lead to more interaction with the town, Hollowell said.
“To me it’s a way to get the people who come to the conference into the community and see what Homer’s like, and get local writers who are passionate about community and be able to share that,” she said.
This year’s conference features Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown as the keynote speaker. He’s joined by novelist Marcus Burke, poet Victoria Chang, writer Christina Chiu, poet and writer CMarie Fuhrman, writer Toni Jensen and writer Marie Mutsuki Mockett. Editor Tynan Kogane and literary agent Anjali Singh provide a publishing perspective. Alaska State Writer Laureate Heather Lende will attend and also will give the closing talk on Tuesday.
Open-to-the-public events include a reading by Brown at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at the Mariner Theatre; readings by Burke, Fuhrman and Mockett at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at Alice’s Champagne Palace, and readings at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 16, at the Kachemak Bay Campus. Hollowell said Brown is a dynamic speaker.
“Jericho is an amazing, amazing, warm, funny, outgoing, interactive person,” she said. “He’s going to be a nice way for us all to get back together. He’s going to make us feel warm and welcome.”
The format of craft talks by authors will continue, but after feedback from past participants, this year the large panel discussions will be reduced to two-speaker conversations.
“They (past participants) felt like panels are a little weighty,” Hollowell said. “It’s like watching three people stare at each other while they talk.”
Four local writers also add a new twist to the conference: “Classes in the Community” workshops held off campus and at venues around town. Children’s book writer Ann Dixon, a former Homer Public Library director, will do a talk in — where else? — the children’s section of the library. Nature writer and birder Nancy Lord does a birding walk at Beluga Slough to see shorebirds, ducks, geese and cranes, make naturalist notes and compose a poem or short reflection.
Homer City Council member and writer Donna Aderhold takes participants to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center to explore the center and the Discovery Lab, share observations and write about it. Pratt Museum & Park writer in residence Marilyn Sigman — who recently went to New York to pick up her 2020 Burrows Prize for her book, “Entangled” — will lead a tour of the museum and talk about writing narratives about natural and cultural objects from diverse perspectives.
In a somber note, the conference also holds a memorial for past faculty members Frank Soos and Sherry Simpson, who died since the last live event. The remembrance will offer people who knew the writers a chance to honor them through readings of their works.
Past conferences won praise for how writers came together — many returning year after year — to make a community. Hollowell said the new venue will allow that to happen. Past conferences had catered meals and box lunches, but the only real place to gather was at the hotel bar. This year, the conference has invited local food trucks to park at the KBC lot. Most of the talks and workshops will be held in Pioneer Hall or Bayview Hall. The bright, airy commons in Pioneer Hall with a view of Kachemak Bay makes a great space for people to meet.
“There’s plenty of space inside to actually talk with people in a relaxed setting. That space is gorgeous. There are picnic tables outside,” Hollowell said. “It will be a way to make it so people are able to talk without having a drink to do it.”
As the world eases out of the pandemic with vaccines and better treatments to a sense of normalcy, the conference will be held under university COVID-19 protocols. That includes better air ventilation, diligent sanitation measures like cleaning before and after events, and the availability of hand sanitizer and face masks. Mask-wearing is optional. Attendance is capped at 75, half the usual number of 150 at past conferences, to allow people to spread out more.
This will be the first large event at the campus since the pandemic, Brewer said, and a good test run for future lecture-style presentations.
Hollowell said she wants Homer to know the conference is part of the community.“ We want it to be a place where writers come and continue to come, and have been for years,” she said. “… I think this is going to have a good vibe. It’s going to have a chance to get back together again and remember that writing is a human endeavor. It’s going to be good.”
To register for the conference and learn more, visit http://writersconf.kpc.alaska.edu.