September 13, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.

Developing poems and prose

Sinclair Lewis Writers Conference prepares for 33rd year

By BEN SONNEK | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Writers of all stripes will be returning to Sauk Centre the first weekend of October, as the Sinclair Lewis Writers Conference returns for its 33rd year. The event, which can be attended virtually or in-person, has authors and poets share their tips and experience to make it a valuable, engaging time for any wordsmith who wants to improve their craft.

“Our feedback has been consistently positive over the past 32 years,” said Jim Umhoefer, Sinclair Lewis Foundation president. “Many of our participants have been to more than one conference.
 We often hear that our conference is not only informal and informative but also fun. Participants like our manageable group size and the chance for personal interactions with the speakers.”

The event begins the evening of Friday, Oct. 6, with the conference’s fifth annual Cocktails and Conversations at Babbitt’s Wine Bar in Sauk Centre. Starting at 7 p.m., the social time will feature a cash bar, a brief book summation and open discussion around key issues in the subject novel. This year, the conversation will focus on Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 novel “Elmer Gantry,” a controversial story when it was released.

“‘Elmer Gantry’ was chosen following a suggestion from some participants at last year’s Cocktails and Conversations event,” Umhoefer said. “Don Shelby (the 2022 conference keynote speaker) loved the idea.”

There will be no charge to attend the Cocktails and Conversations event, although free-will donations are appreciated.

The writers’ conference itself begins Saturday, Oct. 7, at Sauk Centre High School, 903 State Rd., Sauk Centre, with registration starting at 8:30 a.m. and a welcome and overview at 9:15 a.m. A 9:30 a.m. panel discussion will cover the basics of writing and publishing.

After lunch, the keynote talk will be at 12:45 p.m. in the high school Margaret Shelby Theatre. The keynote speaker, Marcie Rendon, is an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation and the award-winning author of the Cash Blackbear mystery series. She was included on Oprah’s 2020 list of 30 Native American authors to read. Her keynote talk is entitled, “We Are Still Here: Telling Our Stories Through Poetry, Fiction and Nonfiction.”

There will be three hour-long sessions throughout the day, starting at 10:45 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. The presenters are Julie Pfitzinger, writer, columnist and editor, whose session is entitled “Telling Your Story: The First Keystroke to the Final Product”; Thomas R. Smith, author of over 10 books of poems and author of “Poetry on the Side of Nature: Writing the Nature Poem as an Act of Survival,” whose session is entitled “A Year of Writing Dangerously”; and Danny Klecko, author of the award-winning “Hitman-Baker-Casket Maker” whose session is entitled “How to Find an Audience for Your Poems.”

“Our speakers usually are suggested by participants via their feedback forms,” Umhoefer said. “Marcie Rendon, our keynote speaker, was suggested to us last year. The other three speakers approached us about coming. Thomas R. Smith has been here once before but asked to return.”

The conference will conclude with a reception at the Palmer House Hotel, 500 Sinclair Lewis Ave., Sauk Centre, including door prizes and a cash bar.

If interested participants are unable to attend the writers’ conference in person, they can register for the virtual conference and view it at their convenience during the next month.

While the conference mentors writers, Umhoefer wants it to support nearby authors as well. He encourages any area authors to contact him at [email protected] if they want to register for the conference in order to sell their book.

“We are one of the longest-running writers’ conferences in the country, and the conference is a source of pride for the Sinclair Lewis Foundation,” Umhoefer said. “Lewis himself was a mentor to writers, and we are pleased to continue his legacy.”


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