So, what was the most shocking comment made to me by last summer’s Conference goers? That when at first they studied our website, our rates puzzled them—they seemed too low to be believed. That sent me to work, and I’ve since scanned the internet only to discover that yes, our rates were—and remain—stunningly low. Our fees are exactly as they claim: the cost of tuition, room and board, entirely and all-inclusively so. How is this possible, when it is also the case that no other Conference that I can discover has as attractive a participant to staffer ratio (one to five or fewer for novelists, one to ten or fewer for poets and short story writers)? The answer is simply this: Colgate values its Conference enough to support it generously. Everyone who is invited to participate is effectively the recipient of a fellowship. More, the University makes available additional fellowships to those who most need them. Why does it do so? Because it is proud of what the Conference and its people have accomplished (and shared through their publications), and so it is proud to share its resources with the Conference as well.
Speaking of resources, does beauty have a price? It better not at Colgate, considering that The Princeton Review named its campus the “most beautiful” in the nation in 2010. Now to the nuts and bolts. Increasingly, our intensive novel workshops, limited to five or fewer participants, have proven productive and desirable. Brian Hall, Carrie Brown, and Jennifer Vanderbes will return to conduct them. Brian's 2008 Fall of Frost continues to be deeply appreciated, an appreciation that began with Christopher Benfey’s “The Storm over Frost” in The New York Review of Books. Jennifer’s first novel, Easter Island, was named “best book of the year” by The Washington Post. Her latest, Strangers at the Feast (2010), has left us all hungering for more. Carrie Brown will also lead an intensive novel workshop. The author of five novels, her most recent being The Rope Walk, she has won many awards for her work, among them a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, and numerous others.
Jennifer Brice will once again lead an intensive memoir workshop. Her 2007 memoir, Unlearning to Fly, received well-justified praise, among my favorite of which is Natalia Rachel Singer's, for whom Jennifer's memoir is "taut and well-paced, engaging and stunningly visual, original and wise." Jennifer Smith will return to discuss young adult fiction as well as the publishing world more generally. Her 2009 You Are Here, is, as noted by Deb Caletti, "a thoughtful, sensitive story of self-discovery," and, as Lisa Schroeder remarks, it is one that takes you on a "memorable road trip . . . a journey of the heart." Jenny's first novel, The Comeback Season was lauded as “a deeply touching and profound debut” (Bob Krech), and “a wonderfully written story about love, heartache and loss” in the words of sportscaster and reality tv host Tim Green.
John Robert Lennon will lead the short fiction workshop. He’ll have a story he first read at our ’10 Conference, “Portal,” published soon in Weird Tales, and “Hibachi” in Electric Literature. Some of his other works include The Funnies, a comedy about a would-be cartoonist; On the Night Plain, a noir western set in the 1940s; and Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes, a collection of one hundred very short stories. His sixth and most recent novel, Castle, a psychological thriller, was enthusiastically reviewed as a "tale of suspense" by The New Yorker in 2009. Previously, his Happyland had been the first novel serialized by Harper’s in over fifty years. John would make our Conference a Happy Land indeed were he not only to read and instruct us, but also to perform for us with his band, Bemus Point. I’ll go to work on that one.
Peter Balakian returns to guide us in all things poetic. His most recent publication is the epic book-length poem, Ziggurat (2010). Three of the poems of this work have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, and have won the Emily Clark Balch Prize for Poetry. Elie Wiesel called his 2009 Armenian Golgotha "a heartbreaking book," one that The New Yorker found "fascinating." In 2009 a revision of Black Dog of Fate, a winner of the Pen/Albrand Prize for Memoir, was reissued. So, Peter’s richly productive, magnanimous doings and accolades continue, and none of us who’ve had the privilege of working with or near Peter are the least surprised, but only, if that’s possible, increasingly appreciative of him.
On the poetic front as well, Bruce Smith will return for a reading, and, we hope, will bring with him copies of his soon-to-be published Devotions (UChicago). In 2010, the American Academy of Arts and Letters honored him with one of its distinguished prizes.
Other writers and publishing professionals will join us. Our alums, faculty and participants, are loyal, and prolific in their work. Literary agent Andrea Barzvi will join us, as, we hope, will former Senior Editor at HarperCollins, Jennifer Pooley.
We’re particularly proud of the increasing number of Conference alums who return, as well as those who stay in touch with us, and with each other, and continue to partake of the essential creative efforts by which we live more fully. We like to think that the quality of the Colgate Conference experience itself has something to do with the continued success and loyalty of our alums. The accessibility of the senior instructors - an accessibility that makes personal guidance the daily norm and not the exception - causes superb and encouraging instruction to occur. The intimate nature of the workshops - each having ten or fewer participants (and the intensive novel and memoir workshops having five or fewer), with each member remaining in a designated workshop for the entire week - encourages the sort of dialogue that brings out the best in everyone. Consultation and conversation are at the core of what we do: readings, workshops, meals, walks to and fro are all vital, happily productive conversational and creative opportunities. Why does our conference work so well in this regard? Because we keep things small. We are able to do so because Colgate University supports us generously. Do other conferences match our ratio of participants to senior writers? That is for you to investigate. Our ratios are enviable because we have the support of a university committed to creative writing.
In addition to the workshop experience, there are increasingly those of us who come up for the week to engage in a Writers’ Retreat, one in which one refrains from joining a workshop but rather partakes of whatever else of the Conference one wishes: craft and shop talks by professional editors and agents; evening readings; readings of one’s own work to other participants; socializing and sharing. Perhaps you have earned yourself a retreat of this nature?
That our Founder and now departed Frederick Busch has been granted a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters speaks to our pedigree, and more, to the sorts of standards to which we hold ourselves. Our conference should be without parallel. We believe that it is. Your presence may help to make it more so. New participants should know that you are warmly welcome, and that there will be time to write, to talk, to create and to re-create. The food will be good, the residences comfortable. Classrooms and the library are air-conditioned. Tennis courts, an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a retractable roof, a fitness center, miles of wooded paths for running or walking, a boathouse, an 18-hole championship golf course, computer facilities and wireless access throughout campus, all the resources of a major university are ours. In the evening, many of us will meet in the Faculty Club Pub to socialize, or for the tireless among us, to talk shop. For all, the summer evenings will be long, and the week far too short.