Whatcom County writers unite

By: Tyler Kirk

Wendy, Thor, and Gary Smiling
In order from left to right, Wendy Call, Thor Hanson and Gary Luke talk in between presentations at the 2013 Chuckanut Writers Conference. Thor Hanson will be presenting this year. Photo courtesty of Anna Wolff

This June, Whatcom Community College and Village Books will join forces to host the fourth annual Chuckanut Writers Conference, an event that brings local writers, readers, publishers and guest authors together at Whatcom. This year’s conference runs from Friday, June 27 through Saturday, June 28.

Anna Wolff, an English composition and literature instructor at Whatcom, is serving as the conference chair for her second year succeeding Whatcom’s Community Education Program Specialist Linda Howson.

Wolff’s responsibilities in planning the conference are extensive; she said she is the primary contact for the conference’s entire faculty and is handling all the aspects of their travelling, hotels and accommodations.

Wolff is also responsible for planning the marketing and coordinating partnerships with other community organizations for sponsorships and outreach. She also recruits and organizes a volunteer team for the conference.
“I’m definitely standing on the shoulders of Linda,” Wolff said. “When I inherited the conference, they already had a legacy.”

She explained that this

traditionally includes carefully selecting authors and speakers, keeping a balance between the writing styles of guests, and always keeping Whatcom staff members involved.

This year, Joanna Kenyon from Whatcom’s English department will be presenting at the conference.

Wolff said the committee is highly selective when choosing faculty authors.

“We want to ask people who are great writers and great teachers… It’s very important that we invite people who create a welcoming environment,” said Wolff. “We look for a balance in that.”

One of the conference’s members, Whatcom’s Library Director Linda Lambert, has been involved in planning and hosting the conference for the last two years.

“It’s growing every year,” said Lambert. “People come from all over the place.”

Lambert is also involved with Whatcom Reads!, a “community-wide reading and discussion program,” according to their website. In the past, Whatcom Reads! has brought famous authors such as Sherman Alexie to Whatcom County.

Lambert said that during his time here, Alexie participated in 10 events throughout the county, including a visit to the Lummi reservation and a local juvenile detention center.

The conference will begin on the morning of Friday, June 27. Starting in Heiner Theater, the event will include a full day of featured speakers, including a seminar on non-fiction dialogue by author and biologist Thor Hanson.

Separate breakout sessions led by faculty authors will also take place, where authors will lead discussions on given writing topics. Later in the evening, a reception will be held that will feature readings and signings by the conference’s faculty authors.

The event continues Saturday, which includes another day of breakout sessions, author panels and additional signings. The conference will conclude that night in Bellingham’s Fairhaven district, which will feature open mic readings from conference attendees at several locations throughout the historical district.

Throughout the conference, agent pitch and marketing sessions for aspiring writers will be given by the four industry professionals in attendance.

Wolff said this group is comprised of two agents, one publisher, and one marketing consultant. These sessions must be scheduled in advance.

Village Books, one of the event’s main sponsors, has been deeply integrated in the conference since its inception. The bookstore plans to remain open throughout the conference, selling exclusive works from the event’s faculty authors.

“I really think it’s a great symbiotic relationship between Village Books and the community education department,” Wolff said.

Village Books also hosts monthly open mic nights for both published and unpublished writers where they can share an array of personal work including stories, poems and essays. Open mics are hosted by Washington local Laurel Leigh, a freelance agent and publisher that resides in the Bellingham area. Laurel will also be one of the conference’s emcees.

Of the five students that applied, one student will be selected to receive the Anna Rosemary Harris Memorial Chuckanut Writers Conference Scholarship, a fund created in memory of Anna Rosemary Harris, a former Whatcom student in the Running Start program who died last year. The scholarship covers the entire cost of attendance and Wolff said Harris’s family will make the final selection of the recipient.

Whatcom students have the option to attend the conference at a reduced rate of $159, compared to the regular registration fee of $259. Currently, there is still space to register for the conference. Wolff said students and community members alike are encouraged to attend and participate.



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