WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Storytelling science

By on June 30, 2015

Writers conference invigorates valley wordsmiths

Clockwise from top-left: Tobias Wolff, Jewel Parker Rhodes, Nina McConigley, Jeff Greenwald, Scott Lasser and Nahid Rachlin.

Clockwise from top-left: Tobias Wolff, Jewel Parker Rhodes, Nina McConigley, Jeff Greenwald, Scott Lasser and Nahid Rachlin.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Jeff Greenwald, a notable travel writer and author of “Shopping for Buddhas,” strode back and forth across the Center Theater stage Thursday, during his keynote on the first night of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference.

“Stories come to people who tell stories,” he said.

Sure enough, the audience was filled with aspiring authors eager to get their own stories on the page in hopes of one day being in Mr. Greenwald’s shoes.

The 24th annual conference brought in a record number of attendees and a heaping handful of prestigious authors, editors and literary agents. Participants are able to submit 15 pages of their manuscripts to garner helpful critique from the faculty. Some writers might even get the attention of an agent who is interested in representing their work. In addition to the critiques, lectures, keynotes and workshops comprise the three-day conference. With so much information shared, it’s impossible to walk away from the conference uninspired and downtrodden.

I’ve attended the conference five times now, and each time I have ended the weekend with new friends, useful contacts and a refreshed perspective of my own work. Since all writers are (to some extent) introverts, being in a room of 150 other writers can be intimidating and extremely awkward, but that’s half the fun.

You can find yourself answering the question, “So, what do you write?” with each new interaction. Luckily, the conference doesn’t skimp on the cocktail parties. You’ll discover that writers find it extremely easy to talk about their “bestsellers-in-progress” when they’ve downed a few glasses of free wine.

Hosted by local author Tim Sandlin, the conference is well known throughout the publishing world as one of the most valuable and unpretentious conferences in existence. The humble turnout gives attendees the chance to get a lot of one-on-one time with the faculty and guest speakers, and the beautiful weather and location of the event don’t hurt, either. Along with the faculty, a large group of volunteers are instrumental in setting up craft classes, organizing the critique schedules and helping visiting writers navigate the Center for the Arts labyrinth.

This year, authors Tobias Wolff (“This Boy’s Life”), Nina McConigley (“Cowboys and East Indians”), Nahid Rachlin (“Persian Girls”) and Jewel Parker Rhodes (“Sugar”) were some of the main presenters at the conference.

During Wolff’s conversation with local writer Connie Wieneke, Wolff spoke about writing memoir and the impulse to write yourself as the only sane person in the room.

“Remember, you are a part of this fallen world,” he said. “You are not an angel flying above the mess. You’re part of it. You’re in it.”

On the final day of the conference, I attended the student readings and was able to read four minutes of an excerpt from my own novel. Other writers also shared their work. Local poet Cassandra Lee received much-deserved applause for her poem “Drunk Yoga” and another local, Andy Breffeilh, moved the audience with his extremely detailed Civil War tale. 

It’s bittersweet that the Jackson Hole Writers Conference is something of an enigma to many locals. Most people I talk to in town don’t even know it exists, and yet, on the writers conference circuit, it’s known as one of the best. Although the conference still has a good number of local writers (and even a few talented teenagers), there’s something comforting in knowing that during the most popular time of the year, readers and writers of all genres can come together and enjoy solidarity.

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