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2018 schedule will be available when registration opens on January 31.



June 22*-24, 2017(*Preconference events on June 22)

2017 Program Overview | Whatcom Community College

The Chuckanut Writers Conference pre-conference events start on Thursday, June 22 at 1:00 PM with Master Classes featuring faculty members Priscilla Long and Tod Marshall. The Chuckanut Radio Hour starts at 6:30 PM.

Conference check-in opens Friday, June 23 at 9:00 AM. The conference begins at 10:00 AM with featured speakers and multiple breakout craft sessions, extending into an early evening reception with readings and signings by faculty author presenters. The program continues Saturday, June 24 with a full day of author sessions, panels, and an additional book signing. The conference concludes Saturday evening with concurrent open mics for conference attendees at venues in Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven district.

Plan to arrive by 9:30 AM (or earlier) to park, check in, receive conference materials, and proceed to Heiner Theater for the Welcome/Opening Address beginning promptly at 10:00 AM.

Village Books Conference Bookstore will be open throughout the conference. As co-presenter of the Chuckanut Writers Conference, Village Books will be the exclusive on-site bookseller throughout the conference and will have titles by the faculty authors available for purchase. Village Books is a community-based, independent bookstore located in the historic Fairhaven district of Bellingham, where it has celebrated building community one book at a time since 1980.

Agent pitch sessions, marketing consultations, and editing consultations will be scheduled concurrently with other sessions throughout the conference. Pre-registration for pitch sessions and consultations is required. There will be no sign-ups during the conference.

Thursday | June 22, 2017

Pre-Conference Master Classes

1:00 – 4:00 
Prose Style: Writing Virtuoso Sentences to Increase the Power of Your Prose | Priscilla Long | Foundation Building, Room 105


World-class writers use all the sentence forms, and they use particular forms not at random but to intensify meaning and deepen emotion. This session in developing virtuoso skills in sentencing is designed for writers of all levels—from beginner to advanced— interested in revising across several short works or across a book-in-progress. Virtuoso sentences not only say what they mean but also enact their meaning. They expand or contract a bit like a muscle. Thus in tense situations, muscles go tense (shorten). In putting such a situation on the page, short sentences and short words intensify the tension. This session will lay out a number of strategies for working with your prose at the sentence level, from working with the vowel scale to intensifying a sense of ease or authority or trauma with the form of the sentence itself. We will work on virtuoso openings and other matters. Bring one or two pieces of prose you are working on.

1:00 – 5:00
Exploring the Boarded-Up Houses of Your Triggering Towns  | Tod Marshall Foundation Building, Room 201c 


In this master class, we’ll try to push a little harder on Richard Hugo’s paradigm of writing through a triggering town to “get beyond” that initiating source of inspiration. First, we’ll explore the gritty details of life experiences, the sordid news of the world (from our own lives and the lives of others) and see how those events, experiences, traumas and travails might find a way into our writing. Sharon Olds often ties her practice to the Gospel of Thomas (and the notion of bringing forth that which is painful within you in order to exorcise it); we’ll explore some poets who seem attracted to this aesthetic—Olds, McKibbens, Diaz, and others--and try to bring forth drafts that might originate in subject matter that makes us a little uncomfortable. After this challenging immersion, we’ll step back from this raw and grim material and think about the surrealist writers who sometimes recast the most awful of subjects in imaginative, even playful ways. We’ll use their magical sparks (sometimes silly, sometimes not) to jumpstart (or recharge ) the battery of our own metaphoric engines and, hopefully, find some creative ways to recast, re-see, revise the work that we generated in the first part of this class. To help us with this work, we’ll look at a range of generative exercises aimed at (to continue in the electric mode) short-circuiting rational practices and, perhaps, allow our creativity to arrive at places that we might not have anticipated when we began the day dredging up such challenging and fraught material.

6:30 – 9:00 | Pre-Conference Event: The Chuckanut Radio Hour Heiner Theater

The Chuckanut Radio Hour, a recipient of Bellingham’s prestigious Mayor’s Arts Award, will host a special Chuckanut Writers Conference featuring conference faculty alumni Claire Dederer at Whatcom Community College’s Heiner Theater. Doors open and music begins at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 7:00 sharp! This not-to-be-missed pre-conference event is included with your conference registration, but does require you to register by June 20 for guaranteed seating. Tickets will also be available to the public for $5 through Village Books and at the event, space permitting. We anticipate a full house for this Radio Hour, so pre-registration is strongly encouraged! More details to come!

Friday | June 23, 2017

9:00 – 10:00 | Conference Check-In | Syre Center Lobby

9:15 – 9:45 | Optional Info Session: Getting the Most Out of Your Conference | Syre 108 

Join Conference Planner Paul Hanson in an optional info session on how to get the most out of your conference!

10:00 – 11:00 | Conference Welcome and Opening Address | Heiner Theater

Conference Welcome | Emcee, Bob Winters

Opening Address | Anis Mojgani

11:15 – 12:15 | Breakout Session 1

Of Agents, Editors, and Marketing: Navigating the World of Publishing | Agent and Marketing Panel Discussion and Q&A | Heiner Theater

Featuring: Alice Acheson, Sean Fletcher, Andrea Hurst, and Andy Ross
Moderator: Laurel Leigh

The Elements of Plot | Jonathan Evison | Heiner 208

In which we will discuss major elements of plot: story arc, rising stakes, character development, thematic evolution. We will also explore methods, and identify tools to make your plot revelatory: subversion, mis-direct, emotional charge, point-of-view, and other plot stimulants. Lastly, we will breakdown the fundamentals of Aristotelian dramatics.

Becoming a More Effective Creator | Priscilla Long | Heiner 210

This session will explore how to better reach your goal of realizing work that is accomplished, brilliant, and relevant to your values, and how to then put it out into the world. Open to all writers of all genres, from beginner to well-published. The principles and strategies put forward are based on the instructor’s years-long study of the choices and practices of world-class artists and writers. Her new book on the subject is Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators.

The Elastic Boundaries of Nonfiction | Tod Marshall | Syre 104

The essay continues to be a hot item; at the bookstore, one can find numerous anthologies and countless collections by individual authors; magazines and literary journals are devoting more and more space to this amorphous form; bestselling collections—by Eula Biss and Maggie Nelson, just to name two—are garnering both critical and commercial attention. None of which mentions the hybridity of various recent projects that have received acclaim: Claudia Rankine and Maggie Nelson both recently received MacArthur Fellowships for their work. The essay is a capacious shape that can make bedmates of theoretical esoterica and real world junk. Today, we’ll look at a couple of explorations at the elasticity of Montaigne’s form and, hopefully, figure out a few ways that the flexibility of the form can help our writing.

I Thought Hard For Us All...Then Pushed Her Over the Edge: Moral Dilemmas as Narrative | Kathleen Dean Moore | Syre 108

From William Stafford’s poem, “Traveling through the Dark,” to Les Miserables, truly engaging narratives grip the reader in moral dilemmas – living questions that have no easy answers. In poetry, memoir, essays, or fiction, isn’t this part of a writer’s work, to take on difficult questions and use stories to think “hard for us all”? Using examples, let’s carefully examine the challenges – and the skills – of thinking hard about moral questions, in order to increase the power and the impact of our writing.

12:15 – 1:30 | Lunch

Pre-ordered box lunches available for pick-up in Syre Auditorium. Other lunch options include the Cubano, Cubano food truck, the Dockside Café in Syre Center or nearby eateries—visit the concierge desk for recommendations.

1:30-2:15 | Writers Studio Plenary Session

Punching the Clock -- Fiction's Dependence on Time, and Why We Must Surrender to and Resist its Tyranny | Samuel Ligon | Heiner Theater

2:30 – 4:00 | Breakout Session 2

What Else Is Also True? | Elizabeth Austen | Heiner 208

Good writers know to beware of clichés of thought and feeling as well as language. We’ll use poems by Lucille Clifton and Marie Howe as inspiration to embrace emotional courage and complexity in our work. We’ll experiment with ways to shake up our habitual thought and feeling patterns as we generate and revise. Bring two poems-in-progress, and be prepared to ask yourself discomfiting questions.

Points of View: Exploring New Perspectives | Waverly Fitzgerald | Syre 108

An exploration of the many choices a writer makes about point of view and how they shape the story. We'll discuss the uses of first, second and third person narration, and how they shape our fiction, non-fiction and memoir stories. Then we'll explore more subtle aspects of point of view including level of penetration (how deep the author reveals the inner workings of the character), retrospection (where the narrator is in time), the omniscient or storytelling voice and the skill of shifting POV.

Rewriting Fairy Tales | Kelly Magee | Heiner 210 

Once upon a time, a group of storytellers from far and wide gathered in a little room in the town of Bellingham. Bellingham was filled with old, old stories, and some of these stories were magical. From each one, the storytellers could make dozens, hundreds, of new stories. This session will look at how to creatively (and responsibly) reuse old stories through methods such as scaffolding, updating, modifying, and recontextualizing.

Writing Off Topic: The Art of Beating Around the Bush| Rena Priest | Syre 104

The art of beating around the bush--Is there an experience or event that seems too big to write about? Have you been trying to write about something for ages, and ages, and you can’t quite capture it? We will focus intently on the thing we want to say, while instead try to describe an object, such as a sweater, an apple, a pencil—and see if the thing we cannot say, somehow appears in the periphery.

4:00 – 7:30 | Reception, Faculty Reading, and Book Signing | Heiner Foyer and Heiner Theater

A highlight of the conference!

Be sure to join us for a chance to mingle and converse with authors and fellow attendees, and take advantage of the opportunity to get your books signed. And of course, you won’t want to miss the truly riveting and inspiring readings of our incredible faculty! Appetizers and a no-host bar with beer and wine will be provided.

Saturday | June 24, 2017

9:00 – 9:45 | Early Morning Sessions

How to Thrive in a Critique Group | Roby Blecker | Syre 211

There are strategies to benefit fully from membership in a critique group, and this session will discuss some of them.

The Tao of Writing Daily | Susan Colleen Browne | Syre 108

In this early morning session, we'll explore and share simple, go-with-the-flow ways to start and maintain a regular writing practice.

9:45-10:00 | Announcements | Heiner Theater

Emcee, Bob Winters

10:15 – 11:15 | Concurrent Author Panels

When Our Work Meets Our Politics: A Conversation on Overt and Covert Political Writing | 
Heiner Theater 

Featuring: Ijeoma Oluo, Rena Priest and Kathleen Dean Moore
Moderator: Mary Vermillion 

How to Meet the Reader in Your Writing: A Conversation on Considering Your Audience | Syre 108
Featuring: Anis Mojgani, Jonathan Evison, and Samuel Ligon
Moderator: Bob Winters

Finding that Unexpected Spark: A Conversation on Unusual Inspiration | Heiner 208
Featuring: Waverly Fitzgerald, Priscilla Long and Dan Larner
Moderator: Paul Hanson

What We Keep and What We Keep to Ourselves: A Conversation on Producing Honest Work | 
Heiner 210

Featuring: Daniel James Brown, Paula Becker, and Gary Copeland Lilley
Moderator: Anna Wolff

Finding the Why in What We Write: A Conversation on Finding What Drives Our Work | Syre 104
Featuring: Kelly Magee, Elizabeth Austen, and Tod Marshall
Moderator: Elaina Ellis

11:30-12:15 | Writers Studio Plenary Session

Getting Beyond "I Like": A Contrarian Take on the Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback | Elizabeth Austen | Heiner Theater

The need for validation and encouragement is real, and peer critique groups and facilitated workshops can spur writers' development. But giving and receiving feedback is a skill that requires thought and practice. This talk will posit some opinions about what makes for a useful, encouraging critique group and what gets in the way.

12:15-1:30 | Lunch

Pre-ordered box lunches available for pick up in the Syre Auditorium. Other lunch options include the Papous' Gyros food truck, the Dockside Café in Syre Center or nearby eateries—visit the concierge desk for recommendations.

1:30 – 2:30 | Breakout Session 4

The Nonfiction Novel? What Does That Mean Exactly? How Do You Write One? | Daniel James Brown | Heiner Theater

Daniel will lead a back-and-forth discussion about the intersection between the novel and narrative nonfiction as literary forms—where they are similar, where different. After discussing this intersection, we will closely examine several passages of narrative nonfiction and as a group and analyze how they make use the tools of fiction to further the writer’s narrative goals. Finally, Daniel will discuss and take questions about his own process for writing narrative nonfiction, using The Boys in the Boat as a case study. Please come with a quiver full of questions on any or all of these topics

Magical Realism as Truth Telling in Poetry | Anis Mojgani | Heiner 208

Metaphors are not merely analogous, but rather translations. And as such, magical realism when applied to poetry becomes that much more rooted in being real without losing any of its magic. We’ll use this to explore the truths of our own lives and the world around us to stories that exist in both a different reality while still standing in ours

Social Media as a Medium | Ijeoma Oluo | Syre 108

Over the last few years, social media has become far more than a place to share status updates with friends and family. Professionals and creatives have been utilizing social media to not only promote and share their work, but also as a medium for their work. How can you, as a writer, make social media work for you? In this session, through fun discussions and exercises, we'll discover different ways you can use both Facebook and Twitter to write for a new audience - and how social media can make all of your writing more impactful, regardless of platform.

The Slush Pile Derby: Meaning Before Form | Andy Ross | Heiner 210

I frequently find that I can tell on the first page of a submission, sometimes on the first paragraph, if the author has the kind of talent that I am looking for. In this class, I will present first paragraphs of submissions from my slush pile (unsolicited queries). Some of them I rejected. Some of them I chose to represent. And some of those were published. We will discuss each of the selections and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll ask the participants to put themselves in the role of agents and decide whether they would like to see more of the material or pass on it. It’s a lot of fun and a good way to understand what makes good writing good.

2:45 – 3:45 | Breakout Session 5

Insider Insights and Answers | Alice Acheson | Heiner 208

● the leverage you have before signing a contract;
● what happens after it is signed;
● how to impact the marketing for your title -- and when to do it;
● "the" before-, during-, and after-publication marketing tool.

These answers and more will be provided plus handouts to function as "refreshers" for your 7 P's to publishing success.

"You shared more helpful, nitty-gritty information than I've found anywhere else."
-- Karen Wilson, Former Student

Storylines in Fact and Fiction: Clues in the Public Record | Paula Becker | Syre 108

How does a biographer or fiction writer step into a subject or character's past using the public record? What conclusions or creative leaps can such research prompt? This session will explore the use of use legal records (probate, divorce, property, civil cases, etc) in order to sleuth the past. Focus will be on materials found in Washington state, but lessons should be easily translated to materials available elsewhere.

How to Develop Material | Dan Larner | Syre 104

What do we DO when a good idea seems to dry up or come to a dead end? What do we DO to explore the possibilities the material reveals, and write our way to an ending, so we have in our hands a whole draft to revise? How do we work at a process which has a chance to put flesh on our inspirations and SUSTAIN our writing process through difficulty?

Participants can prepare by writing down an idea they’ve made a start with, but which has stalled or lost its luster. Or, alternatively, describe an idea which seems to you to be a promising one (maybe you are currently working with it), but you don’t know yet where to take it or how to fulfill it. Or you do have some ideas for pursuing the material, and want some feedback. Be frank. Write down enough detail to give us a strong idea of the material. Bring it with you to share. Come prepared to write (paper or laptop), to try some techniques out, to take some chances with your own material. We will do one common exercise, then work with individual material. The atmosphere will be respectful (to and from all who are present), collaborative and encouraging.

Short Fiction and the Inverted Time Telescope | Samuel Ligon | Heiner Theater

In an interview with Willow Springs in 2007, Stuart Dybek said that “fiction is a temporal art. Its main subject is time. Its great power is chronology because chronology has an inescapable way of translating into cause and effect. It’s deceptive and illusory, but that’s the power of linear narrative…. But linear narration is only one way to perceive reality.” And inverting or subverting linear narration might be another way to perceive reality. In this session we’ll read and discuss two stories that establish a present from which the action springboards into the past, never to return to the present, Dybek’s “Pet Milk,” and Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.” We’ll be considering this fundamental question: If the story’s essential revelation is in the past, why is a present introduced from which to travel backward?

Poetry of Witness | Gary Copeland Lilley | Heiner 210

Poems of witness are often thought of as the poems which have document atrocities and social injustices, and as such it presents a voice from those who are targeted and victimized. This genre speaks to the fragile survival of the civilians and soldiers of war, the labor movement, as well as giving voice to those imprisoned for their political beliefs. Of course poets still work those issues, but over the years, the effects of poverty and race seem to have become the more dominant themes in Poetry of Witness, and sometimes the poet may not be someone who has personally experienced such repression, or is a survivor of a specific social justice incident. But we live in a country, and a world, in which we all connected by all the consequences of political actions. This lecture will discuss a group of poets of witness who have refined and refreshed the genre, thereby continually providing examples of what it means to be a credible observer, an informed witness.

4:00 – 4:30 | Closing Address

Write for Your Life: A Call | Kathleen Dean Moore | Heiner Theater

4:30 – 5:00 | Faculty Book Signing | Syre Auditorium

Last chance to mingle with authors and get your books signed!

7:00 – 8:30 | Open Mics

Poetry Open Mic: Book Fare Cafe 

Nonfiction Open Mic: Magdalena's Creperie

Mixed Genre Open Mic: Fairhaven Village Inn

Fiction Open Mic: Village Books Reading Gallery